Acts Chapter 7: Stephen’s Last Witness and Martyrdom

Jan 27th, 2010 | By | Category: Acts, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Acts Chapter 7: Stephen’s Last Witness and Martyrdom

Acts 7:1 Then said the high priest, Are these things so?

After the charges were leveled against Stephen, the high priest asked him, “Are these things true?” Stephen did not say yes or no but gave his answer in his own way, as we will see. His response is a good example to show that we are not obligated to answer just yes or no. The high priest at that time was either Annas or Caiaphas.

Acts 7:2 And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran,

Notice Stephen’s composure. Calmly and without fear, he started way back with Abraham, using a historical approach. He was accustomed to defending his views, and this current situation was just another occasion (Acts 6:10). Stephen was very learned, perhaps as learned as Paul before his conversion. “Charran” is Haran.

Q: Whom was Stephen addressing in starting his defense with the words “Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken”?

A: The judge and the jury were the higher echelon of religious authority in Israel. How many others were present, we do not know.

Acts 7:3 And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show thee.

In tracing the Israelites’ beginning, Stephen started with Abraham, not Jacob. Stephen wanted to show that Jesus was a son of Abraham.

Acts 7:4 Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell.

What was Stephen emphasizing here? Abraham left the land of the Chaldeans and dwelled in Haran until the death of his father Terah. Earlier Stephen was accused of blaspheming “this place” (Acts 6:13,14). Now he was trying to show the history of “this land.”

Acts 7:5 And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child.

Stephen continued the tactful part of his defense, looking like an angel, showing no sign of animosity, and not speaking dictatorially or as a teacher. Otherwise, he would have been stopped much sooner, and the sermon was long. At first, he just peacefully recounted the history of the Israelites, showing his knowledge of the Old Testament. His hearers could find no fault thus far, but they knew he was leading up to some point. He had been charged as a blasphemer of God and as a critic of and a nonbeliever in the Law, so He was proving that he was in harmony with the Law and that he believed the Old Testament.

Acts 7:6 And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years.

Stephen quoted Genesis 15:13 about the Israelites’ being evilly entreated for 400 years.

Ishmael’s antagonism toward Isaac marked the beginning of the 400 years. A 215-year period expired before the Israelites entered Egypt, and then the Israelites resided in Egypt for another 215 years. Thus a total of 430 years elapsed from the time of Abraham’s entrance into the Holy Land until the Exodus. Since Ishmael was not born immediately, only 400 years were mentioned here.

Acts 7:7 And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place.

Egypt was judged with the ten plagues and the many deaths in the Red Sea at the time of the  Exodus. Afterwards the Israelites came forth to serve God “in this place.” Again Stephen emphasized the Holy Land (Acts 7:4). In a masterful way, Stephen was bringing the listening Jews up to the year AD 33, the present year.

Acts 7:8 And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs.

Stephen showed his knowledge was as thorough as that of any who were judging him.

Acts 7:9 And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him,

Acts 7:10 And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.

In showing that he had a complete grasp of the Old Testament, Stephen continued to undercut the charge that he was a blasphemer and that he was against Moses and the Law. Because of envy, “the patriarchs,” that is, Joseph’s brethren, sold him into slavery. That comment disturbed those who were now judging Stephen, for they were the current “patriarchs,” as it were, and they were also moved with envy. With Jesus’ persecutors, who were the religious leadership of the nation, envy was a motive too. However, Stephen’s tactfulness and subtlety kept the Jews from stopping him.

Acts 7:11 Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan, and great affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance.

Acts 7:12 But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first.

Acts 7:13 And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph’s kindred was made known unto Pharaoh.

From a prophetic standpoint, the “second time” corresponds to the Second Advent, when the antitypical Joseph will disclose his identity to Israel, his Hebrew brethren. What inspired testimony!

Acts 7:14 Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls.

Acts 7:15 So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers,

Acts 7:16 And were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor the father of Sychem.

Q: Verse 14 states that Jacob and kindred, whom Joseph called to come to Egypt in the famine, totaled 75 souls. How do we harmonize this figure with Genesis 46:26,27, which states, “All the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt, … besides Jacob’s sons’ wives, … were threescore and six; And the sons of Joseph, which were born … in Egypt, were two souls: all the souls of the house of Jacob, which came into Egypt, were threescore and ten”?

A: The difference can be easily reconciled, but doing so takes time. Since we harmonized the figures in the Genesis study, we will not take time now.

Jacob and Leah were buried in Hebron with Abraham and Isaac and their wives, but Joseph’s bones—actually his embalmed body—were transported out of Egypt in the Exodus to Shechem (Nablus) in northern Israel.

Acts 7:17 But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt,

Acts 7:18 Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph.

The “time of promise” was the end of the 400 years. The 70 males who entered Egypt mushroomed into 2 million people in just 215 years. As the time of the Exodus drew near, “another king arose, which knew not Joseph.”

Acts 7:19 The same dealt subtly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live.

Acts 7:20 In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father’s house three months:

Acts 7:21 And when he was cast out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son.

Acts 7:22 And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.

Stephen was still following an accurate, sequential historical line of reasoning, which his detractors could not fault. All the while, he showed that he had a thorough grasp of the wisdom of Scripture. He was on a level with the learned men who had gone to rabbinical schools, yet he was supposed to be a blasphemer.

Moses, who was born about 65 years after Joseph’s death, was multi-talented and very capable. His learning occurred within the first 40 years of his life.

Comment: The following, from the Expanded Biblical Comments, summarizes some Reprint information about the astounding breadth of Moses’ abilities.

Moses was learned—[He was] educated at the University of Heliopolis, where he had access to 20,000 books. He learned arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, medicine and music. His long experience in the Egyptian court gave him insight into the affairs of government. God’s providence prepared this suitable person as the prototype of Messiah.

In words and in deeds—Tradition says that he was also an able general in the Egyptian army, [having] … defeated with great slaughter the Ethiopian army which invaded Egypt in his early manhood. A great and powerful genius, an organizing, constructing mind [were his]. He invented boats, engines for building, instruments for war, hydraulics, hieroglyphics, [and] division of lands. [He was] a lawmaker, organizer, general, historian, poet, orator, and a saint who walked with God. The laws given through him have been the foundation for the laws of all civilized nations.”

Reply: Scriptural clues, tradition, and old Egyptian writings preserved by the historian Josephus substantiate these facts.

Acts 7:23 And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel.

Acts 7:24 And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian:

Acts 7:25 For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.

Stephen gave his interpretation, saying Moses realized that his rearing in the court of Pharaoh was providential in connection with the deliverance of the Israelites.

Comment: Stephen commended Moses’ defense of the mistreated Israelite as a good thing—as an act of faith and courage.

Reply: Yes, in this patriotic act of defending an Israelite and slaying an Egyptian, Moses jeopardized his whole career, life, and standing in Egypt. He realized his position before the nation, but the Israelites did not. Prejudice caused them to improperly interpret his act.

Moses was a “full forty years old” before he acted. The number “40” usually signifies a period of testing. In talking about Moses, Stephen mentioned “forty years” four times (verses 23, 30, 36, and 42).

Acts 7:26 And the next day he showed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another?

Acts 7:27 But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?

Acts 7:28 Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday?

The very next day Moses tried to arbitrate a dispute between two Israelites. He was not trying to hide but showed himself openly to his people. The two consecutive incidents were providential, occurring just after Moses reached age 40. However, the Israelites, who were not in the attitude of looking for a deliverer, asked him, “Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?”

Comment: Stephen’s purpose in showing the Israelites’ rejection of Joseph, Moses, and the prophets was to lead up to their rejection of Jesus.

Reply: Yes, and it took time for the listening Jews to realize what he was doing. The historical narration ended with a rebuke of the leaders.

Acts 7:29 Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons.

Acts 7:30 And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush.

Acts 7:31 When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the Lord came unto him,

Madian is Midian. Moses’ two sons were Gershom and Eliezer (1 Chron. 23:15). Moses spent the second 40 years of his life in the Wilderness of Sinai, and the years must have been long ones for him. He was now 80 years old.

The “angel of the Lord” and the “voice of the Lord” both refer to the Logos, the Word of God, who represented Jehovah. Exodus 3:2 says “the angel of the LORD” (all caps). Jesus was not Jehovah but merely an (arch)angel speaking on His behalf.

Acts 7:32 Saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold.

Acts 7:33 Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground.

Acts 7:34 I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee into Egypt.

When the “voice” said, “I am the God of thy fathers, [that is,] the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” Moses trembled and looked down at the ground. Then he was instructed to remove his shoes, for the place where he stood was holy ground.

Comment: The Father personalized the account: “I have seen.” “I have heard.” “I … am come down to deliver them.” “I will send thee into Egypt.”

Reply: The words “I … am come down to deliver them” made the deliverance seem imminent.

Acts 7:35 This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? The same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush.

Acts 7:36 He brought them out, after that he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years.

Acts 7:37 This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear.

Stephen rubbed in the fact that “This Moses whom they [the Israelites] refused” was to be their ruler and deliverer. Moses brought them out with “wonders and signs in the land of Egypt [the plagues], and in the [opening of the] Red sea, and in the wilderness.” The years in the wilderness were another 40-year testing period. Moses predicted that of the Israelites, God would raise up a prophet like unto him, namely, Jesus.

Comment: God sent Moses “to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel [the Logos] which appeared to him in the bush.”

Reply: It took a great deal of courage for Moses to appear before Pharaoh and give a strong message.

Acts 7:38 This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:

Acts 7:39 To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt,

Acts 7:40 Saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us: for as for this Moses, which brought us out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.

Moses was “in the church [congregation] in the wilderness.” God spoke to him on Mount Sinai through “the angel,” the Logos. Stephen emphasized that the fathers would not obey Moses, for “in their hearts [they] turned back again into Egypt.” Their disobedience was a picture of those Christians who do not obey Jesus after consecrating. Their consecration is short-lived, and they go back into the world.

Comment: The term “lively oracles” reminds us of Peter’s words after Jesus’ resurrection: God has “begotten us again unto a lively [living] hope” (1 Pet. 1:3). The Law was thus being called the living Word.

Acts 7:41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.

Acts 7:42 Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness?

Acts 7:43 Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: and I will carry you away beyond Babylon.

The golden calf, a product of their own hands, pictures Papacy. Stephen quoted from the Book of Amos: “Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves. Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the LORD, whose name is The God of hosts” (Amos 5:25-27). Back there the Israelites worshipped idols in their private homes, much as many Roman Catholics do today.

Acts 7:44 Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen.

Acts 7:45 Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David;

Acts 7:46 Who found favour before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.

“Jesus” should be Joshua, who desired to find a resting place for the Tabernacle.

Acts 7:47 But Solomon built him an house.

Acts 7:48 Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet,

Acts 7:49 Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? Saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest?

Acts 7:50 Hath not my hand made all these things?

Stephen continued to show, in a consecutive fashion, his thorough knowledge of Israel’s history.

Acts 7:51 Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.

Acts 7:52 Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:

Acts 7:53 Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.

Stephen’s conclusion, which he had been leading up to, was an abrupt change. The Israelites of old were indifferent to the prophets and persecuted them, and the current generation was the same. Stephen used strong words of rebuke, calling these Jews “stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears.” Of course the “Just One” was Jesus. Stephen was speaking so powerfully now that it is amazing the religious leaders let him continue.

The Mosaic Law was received by the disposition of literal angels. Galatians 3:19 confirms that the Law was “ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.” Literal angels were involved in Moses’ receiving the Law Covenant. And the Logos was involved in Moses’ getting instructions from God.

Acts 7:54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.

Acts 7:55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

Acts 7:56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

Comment: Acts 2:37 said the people were “pricked in their heart,” but there the result was favorable: repentance.

Reply: Yes, here the reaction was a hardening of the heart. The Jews “were cut to the heart, and gnashed on him [Stephen] with their teeth.” There are two kinds of gnashing of the teeth in the Scriptures: (1) disappointment and/or chagrin and (2) anger. Here the Jews were angry.

Comment: The Greek word translated “pricked” in Acts 2:37 means “to stab” or “to be pierced thoroughly.” Hence there was a thorough excision of the heart both with Peter’s words earlier and now with Stephen’s words here, as indicated by the expression “cut to the heart” in verse 54. In one case, the excision of the heart was for good, and in the other case, it was for bad.

After Stephen saw that the hearers were not receptive to his words of truth, he looked up to heaven and had the unusual experience of seeing a vision of God and Jesus. The vision increased the angelic look on Stephen’s face, thus making an even more powerful witness against his accusers, including Saul (verse 58). Saul was prejudiced at the time but could reflect back on Stephen’s words and demeanor later. God rewarded Stephen for his boldness, which was a needed lesson for the others. Stephen was bold before the elders of Israel, who were venerated for their wisdom and schooling.

Jesus’ death was a victory, for he was now on the right hand of God as a reward for his faithfulness. Like the Apostle Paul later, Stephen gave a long and learned discourse.

Acts 7:57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,

Acts 7:58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.

Acts 7:59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

Acts 7:60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

The stoning of Stephen took place outside the city walls on Golgotha, where Jesus had been crucified. The signification of being put to death outside the city was that the individual was accursed and apart from God and the holy city. The custom was to first push the person off Golgotha hill and then dispatch (kill) the fallen victim with stones.

Comment: Verse 58 shows that Saul had a leadership position.

Reply: Yes, his learning and position were respected. And after this incident, he was given great authority.

Q: Why did the stoners shed their outer garments and lay them down at Saul’s feet?

A: Without these garments, they would be unencumbered in stoning Stephen. Also, the act showed their respect for Saul.

Comment: Imagine stoning a man who was in prayer posture!

Notice that Stephen “fell asleep”; that is, he did not go to heaven at that time, even though this incident occurred in New Testament times and after Jesus’ resurrection. The Old Testament records that both good and evil ones fell asleep in death. Some in the evangelistic churches disparagingly use the term “soul sleepers” for those who believe in death as a sleep, yet both the New and the Old Testaments teach this concept. Out of their own mouths, these professed Christians show their lack of familiarity with what the Scriptures teach on the condition of death.

What a long—and learned—discourse Stephen gave before his judges! His qualifications were similar to those of Paul, yet he was only a deacon.

Q: Stephen’s words, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge,” sound like the spurious words of Jesus in Luke 23:34. Shouldn’t the sin, at least to the extent that it was willful, have been laid to their charge?

A: Yes. However, Moses said (paraphrased), “Expunge me if that will bring the salvation of Israel” (Exod. 32:31,32). Stephen’s sentiments were good, but the persecutors were responsible for their willful sins. In fact, Paul was stoned as retribution for consenting to the stoning of Stephen (2 Cor. 11:25). When any of the consecrated commit willful sins against the Holy Spirit, they must be requited now, in the present life. With the world of mankind, the retribution can be later, that is, in the Kingdom.

In verse 59, the word “God” is supplied and should be deleted. The thought is, “And they stoned Stephen, as he was calling and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

(1991–1992 Study)

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