Acts: Chapter 7
Let’s begin with an overview of this chapter, taken from my Zondervan NIV Study Bible:
“Since the author of Acts (Luke) gives more space to Stephen’s speech than any other, it is safe to assume that he considered it particularly important. Broadly speaking, it is not meant to be a personal defense with the hope of conciliating Stephen’s accusers (see vv. 51-52) but an attack on the foundations of Judaism by citing the history of its failures.
It deals with three great pillars of Jewish piety: (1) the land (vv. 2-36), (2) the law (vv. 37-43) and (3) the temple (vv. 44-50), and ends with a resounding denunciation of Stephen’s accusers (vv. 51-52). The speech marks a decisive break between Judaism and Christianity and points forward to the vigorous explanations of the differences between the old faith and the new faith found in the writings of Paul and the author of Hebrews.”
Let’s begin by reading (Acts 7:1-16).
(Verses 1-4) “Then said the high priest, Are these things so? (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 (Haran), (3) And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee. (4) Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran (Haran): and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell.
“The High Priest = likely Caiaphas (see: Jn 18:13-14,24,28, Lk 3:2).
“The God of glory” – A term used only here, and in (Ps 29:3).
“Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran” = From the MacArthur Study Bible: “Genesis 12:1-4 refers to the repeat of this call after Abraham had settled in Haran (ca. 500 mi. NW of Ur). Evidently, God had originally called Abraham while he was living in Ur (cf. Gen. 15:7; Neh. 9:7), then repeated that call at Haran.”
“Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee.” – This is a quote taken from (Gen 12:1).
“The land of the Chaldaeans (“Chaldeans”)” = This was a district located in southern Babylonia. Abraham’s hometown of Ur was located here (Gen 11:28,31)(Gen 15:7)(Neh 9:7).
(Verse 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.”
While God promised land to Abraham, Abraham never actually owned (“possessed”) the “land” God gave him while he was alive. However, since he was the “father” of those who later owned the land, he is said to have “owned the land.” (The only land Abraham “owned” while he was alive was the field and cave of Machpelah, which he purchased from the “sons of Heth” as a burial place: Gen Ch 23.)
This promise that God made to Abraham (Gen 12:7)(Gen 13:15) was made before Abraham had any offspring (Gen 15:1-7). After Abraham had Isaac, God repeated this promise to Isaac (Gen 26:3-4), and then to Isaac’s son Jacob (Gen 28:13-14)(Gen 35:12)(Gen 48:4) (Also see: Ex 32:13)
(Verse 6)(NKJV) “But God spoke in this way: that his descendants would dwell in a foreign land, and that they would bring them into bondage and oppress them four hundred years.”
This is quoted from (Gen 15:13-14). On the surface, this appears to be speaking of the amount of time that the Israelites were in Egypt. However, most scholars have a difficult time reconciling this amount of time with other verses, and believe that the actual time in Egypt was about 200 years. We are not going to go into this debate here though. (Ex 12:40 and Gal 3:17 tell us the amount of time was 430 years.)
We do know that during the early part of the Israelites time in Egypt, which begins in (Gen Ch. 36), the Israelites were treated well by the Egyptians. However, after Joseph died, the Israelites were persecuted until their “Exodus” from Egypt.
(Verse 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.”
This is quoted from (Ex 3:12). The “nation that God judged” was Egypt, and the “judgments” were the 10 plagues (found in Exodus Ch. 7-12). At the end of the 10 plagues, they “came forth” (were released) by the Egyptians. “This place” was Canaan (the Promised Land).
***Note: I believe that the length of the 10 plagues was about 4-5 months, which I discuss here: https://jesusalive.cc/ten-plagues-length.
(Verse 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.”
“Circumcision” of a Jewish male was a physical sign of God’s covenant (the Abrahamic Covenant) with the Israelites. This “covenant of circumcision is first mentioned in (Gen 17:9-14). It was to be carried out from generation to generation.
“The twelve patriarchs” are the 12 sons of Jacob / Israel, who became the 12 tribes of Israel. You can find their names in (Gen 36:22-26).
(Verses 9-15) Verse 9 summarizes what is found in (Gen Ch. 37). Verses 10 and 11 summarize what is found in (Gen Ch. 41). Verse 12 summarizes what is found in (Gen Ch. 42). Verse 13 summarizes what is found in (Gen Ch. 45). Verse 14 summarizes what is found in (Gen Ch. 46). The death of Jacob, verse 15, is found in (Gen 49:29-33).
In (Gen 49:29-33)(Gen 50:13), we see that Jacob was buried in the “field and cave of Machpelah,” which Abraham had purchased earlier (Gen Ch. 23). ***Interesting trivia note: Jacob loved his wife Rachel more than her sister Leah (also his wife) (i.e. see: Gen 29:30-31, Gen 30:14-16). However, in death, he ended up being buried with Leah, not Rachel, who had died earlier, and was buried elsewhere (Gen 35:16-20).
(Verse 16) “And they were brought back from there to Shechem and laid in the tomb which Abraham had purchased for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.”
“They” refers to Joseph (Josh 24:32) and his brothers. Again, this verse is a source of difficulty. While I am not taking the time to explain each “difficulty,” I will do so with this verse by quoting from my “Believer’s Bible Commentary:”
“The death of the patriarchs, and their burial in the land of Canaan… Here it says that Abraham bought a burial place from Hamor. Genesis 23:16,17 says that Abraham bought the cave of Machpelah in Hebron from the sons of Heth. Jacob bought land in Shechem from the children of Hamor (Gen. 33:19). There are several possibilities: (1) Abraham may have bought land in Shechem as well as in Hebron. Later Jacob could have repurchased the plot in Shechem. (2) Stephen could have used Abraham’s name for Abraham’s descendant, Jacob. (3) Stephen may have condensed the purchases by Abraham and Jacob into one for brevity.”
My “Nelson’s NKJV Bible” also adds this interesting paragraph to consider in relation to verse 16:
“Why did Stephen make the point that the patriarchs were buried in Shechem? At the time of Stephen’s defense, Shechem was the center of Samaritan life. Nearby was Mount Gerizim, the site of another temple (see John 4:20). Stephen was charged with speaking against the temple in Jerusalem (Acts 6:13-14) as if this were tantamount to speaking against God Himself. Stephen’s point was that God had been speaking and moving in the lives of His people in and out of Jerusalem, with and without a temple. The most important address God made to His people was at Mount Sinai, which was nowhere near Jerusalem.”
Next, let’s read (Acts 7:17-36).
(Verses 17-19)(NKJV) “But when the time of the promise drew near which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt (18) till another king arose who did not know Joseph. (19) This man dealt treacherously with our people, and oppressed our forefathers, making them expose their babies, so that they might not live.
These verses summarize what is found in (Ex Ch. 1).
(Verse 18) “The people (the Israelites) grew and multiplied in Egypt.” – What began as 75 Israelites who had moved to Egypt (Gen Ch. 46), the Israelites grew to about 600,000 men (Ex 12:37) (603,550 men “able to go to war: Num 1:46), and approximately two million Israelites by the time of the Exodus.
(Verse 19) “Making them expose their babies, so that they might not live.” – The king of Egypt ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill at birth all “male” (not female) children born to the Hebrews (Isrealites). However, “the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive” (Ex 1:17). Seeing that his plan to have the male children killed by the midwives did not work, he ordered all of his subjects to get involved, and “cast all (male) children into the river (the Nile)” (Ex 1:22).
The “Hebrew midwives” are one example in the Bible of people putting the will of God before the will of man. Can you think of other examples in the Bible?
(Verses 20-29) summarize what is found in (Ex Ch. 2).
(Verses 20-21)(NASB) “At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful to God. He was nurtured for three months in his father’s home. (21) And after he had been put outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and nurtured him as her own son.”
Shortly after the decree of Pharaoh, Moses was born. He was a “beautiful child, and his mother “hid him for 3 months” (Ex 2:2). “When she could no longer hide him,” she made a little “ark,” and placed him in the Nile (“put him outside”). Pharaoh’s daughter found him (certainly by God’s providence), and raised Moses as her own.
(Verse 22) “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.”
Having grown up in Pharaoh’s household, Moses would obviously have received a terrific education from the best teachers. The “Zondervan NIV Study Bible” mentions that: “Both Philo and Josephus speak of Moses’ great learning.”
Moses was “mighty in words and deeds.” When God first called Moses, he was fearful of speaking, and may have had some sort of speech impediment (see: Ex 4:10-16). However, if he did, he clearly either overcame it, or did not let it stand in his way for long! Of course Moses, through the power of God, is also shown to perform many “mighty deeds” in the Torah. Can you name some of these?
(Verse 23) “Now when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel.”
The life of Moses was comprised of three 40 year periods: (first 40) being born and growing up in Pharaoh’s house in Egypt (Acts 7:20-23), (middle 40) fleeing to Midian after killing an Egyptian, and living there for 40 years (Acts 7:29-30), (last 40) returning to Egypt, the Exodus, and the events that followed (Acts 7:36)(Ex 7:7). Moses died when he was 120 years old (Deut 34:7).
There is an old saying, attributed to D. L. Moody, which says that: “Moses spent forty years thinking he was somebody; forty years learning he was nobody; and forty years discovering what God can do with a nobody.”
(Verses 24-25)(NKJV) “And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended and avenged him who was oppressed, and struck down the Egyptian. (25) For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand.
Moses clearly knew that the Hebrews (the Israelites) were “his brethren” (verse 23 / Ex 2:11). When he saw one of his “brethren” “suffering wrong” (“being beaten:” Ex 2:11) at the hands of an Egyptian, he killed the Egyptian (“and hid him in the sand” – Ex 2:12).
Moses appears to have believed that God would use him in some way to “deliver” his brethren (the “Hebrews”), even before God officially called him to that in the 3rd Chapter of Exodus. However, if he did believe this, he certainly did not do it in the way God intended (in his own strength). As we will see in the next verses, the Hebrews clearly “did not understand” that Moses would be a deliverer.
(Verses 26-29)(NKJV) “And the next day he appeared to two of them as they were fighting, and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren; why do you wrong one another?’ (27) But he who did his neighbor wrong pushed him away, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? (28) Do you want to kill me as you did the Egyptian yesterday?’ (29) Then, at this saying, Moses fled and became a dweller in the land of Midian…”
This “fight” between “two brethren” is recorded in (Ex 2:13-14). What Moses thought he had done in secret, killing the Egyptian, had been seen by others. When Moses learned this, he fled to the “land of Midian,” certainly fearing that Pharaoh would find out too. (Ex 2:15) tells us that Pharaoh did learn of it, and “he sought to kill Moses.”
(Verse 29)(NKJV) “in the land of Midian, where he had two sons.” The two sons of Moses were named Gershom (Ex 2:21-22) and Eliezer (Ex 18:3-4)(1 Chr 23:15).
(Verses 30-35) summarize what is found in (Ex 3:1-10).
(Verse 30)(NKJV) “And when forty years had passed, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai.”
“An (The) Angel of the Lord” – The “Angel of the Lord” is found throughout the Old Testament i.e. (Gen 16:13)(Num 22:31)(Judg 13:20-22)(2 Kin 19:35). Without going into too much detail, it is this author’s belief that most, or all of these appearances were pre-incarnate appearances of Jesus (called a “theophany” or “Christophany”).
For example, when we look at the “burning bush” in (Ex 3:2,4), we see: “And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him (Moses) in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. (4) And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush…”
Notice, in verse #2, that the Angel of the Lord is the flame in the midst of the bush, and verse #4 says that this is God. But, was this Jesus? If we continue in (Ex Ch. 3), and go to (Ex 3:14), we can see that the Angel of the Lord, who was God, told Moses that His name was “I AM THAT I AM.” It is interesting to note that Jesus claimed the name “I AM” for Himself in (Jn 8:58), for which the Jews were going to stone Him for claiming to be God. Jesus also claimed the “I AM” name for Himself in several other places too: i.e. (Jn 4:26)(Jn 8:24,28)(Jn 13:19)(Jn 18:6).
In the Old Testament, the “Angel of the Lord” also “swore by Himself” (Gen 22:15-17), which only God can do (Heb 6:13), and named Himself “Wonderful” (Judg 13:18), which was a name for Jesus (Isa 9:6). For more examples of “Jesus In The Old Testament,” you can go here: https://jesusalive.cc/jesus-in-the-old-testament.
(Verse 35)(NKJV) “This Moses whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ is the one God sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel who appeared to him in the bush.”
After recounting what God (Jesus) said to Moses in (verses 31-34), we start to see why Stephen has been saying what he has to this point. Moses was “a deliverer by the hand of the Angel,” and he was “rejected” by the people whom God had sent him to “deliver.” This is exactly what the Jews had done to Jesus the “deliverer,” whom God (the Father) had sent (Mt 21:42)(Lk 9:22)(Lk 17:25)(Jn 1:11). (Many “deliverers” that God had sent were “rejected” by the Israelites: Mt 21:33-46.)
Next, let’s read (Acts 7:37-50).
(Verse 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.”
This is taken from (Deut 18:15-18), which was a well-known Jewish prophecy, given by Moses to the “children of Israel,” which pointed to the Messiah (“a prophet”), and which was fulfilled by the coming of Jesus. (“The Prophet” is also mentioned in Jn 1:21,25, Jn 6:14, Jn 7:40, Acts 3:22-23.)
(Verse 38)(NKJV) “This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us”
This is another key verse pointing to the “Angel of the Lord” being God / Jesus. We are told here that the “Angel spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai,” and was the one who gave Moses the “living oracles” (Gr. = “logion” meaning “God’s word and law”). (Other verses using “logion” – Rom 3:2, Heb 5:12, 1 Pet 4:11.)
(Verses 39-41)(NKJV) “whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected. And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, (40) saying to Aaron, ‘Make us gods to go before us; as for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ (41) And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.
Here, Stephen gives another example of the Israelites “rejecting” the leadership Moses. While Moses was on the mountain meeting with God, the Israelites grew weary of waiting for him, so they decided to make perhaps the most well-known “idol” in the Bible: “the golden calf” (Ex Ch. 32). Their “rejection” became so bad that they said they wanted to return to slavery in Egypt (see: Num Ch. 11 for another example)!
My “Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible” adds this interesting information: “The Talmud, the Jewish commentary on the Old Testament, calls the rebellion involving the golden calf “that unspeakable deed.” The rabbis did not want to talk about it, forbidding a translation of the account in the vernacular for the synagogue services. The Jewish leaders wanted to bury the incident, but Stephen wanted to dig it back up.”
***Note: In one of the “it’s not my fault” moments in the Bible, when we see Moses confronting Aaron about making the “golden calf,” notice what he says in (Ex 32:22-24)(NIV), “You know how prone these people are to evil. (23) They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ (24) So I told them, “Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”
(Verses 42-43) “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? (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.”
“God…. gave them up.” When a person (or “people”) continues in unrepentant rejection of God, the Bible mentions here, and in other places i.e. (Rom 1:22-32)(Judg 10:13-14)(Ps 82:11-12) that God will eventually “give them up.” Quoting from the MacArthur Study Bible, this means two things: (1) indirectly and immediately, by removing His restraint and allowing their sin to run its inevitable course (2) directly and eventually, by specific acts of divine judgment.”
“To worship the host of heaven.” The “host of heaven” is the sun, moon, and stars. The Israelites are seen worshipping the sun, moon, and stars over and over in the Old Testament (2 Kin 17:16)(2 Kin 21:3-5)(2 Chr 33:3-5)(Jer 8:2)(Jer 19:13)(Zeph 1:4-6). God specifically warned the Israelites about this sin in places like (Deut 4:19)(Deut 17:3). “Moloch” and “Remphan” (likely “Chiun”) were two “idols” that represented the “heavenly host.”
Stephen then mentions the prophecy that this fulfilled in (Amos 5:25-27). (“The book of the prophets” = the 12 “minor” prophetic books of the Old Testament, which were reckoned as one.)
Let me inject a summary here of verses 25-43 that is taken from the “Believer’s Bible Commentary:”
“History repeats itself. In every generation we can find the same pattern. People are the same. When confronted with God’s message, they do not understand (25). When urged to live at peace, they refuse to listen (27). When given a God-sent deliverer, they reject him (39). When rescued from an evil situation, they prefer useless idols to the merciful God (41). Such is human nature – rebellious, ungrateful, foolish. God is the same. The God who had spoke to Moses was the same God who had spoken to his ancestors (32). This God hears when people are troubled (34). He comes to deliver (34). He leads His people from death to life (36). He surrenders to their own desires those who willfully reject Him (42). Such is our great God – merciful, powerful, holy. He is always the same, whatever happens (Mal. 3:6). For Stephen’s hearers it was a warning not to trifle with God. It is also an assurance that every promise of God stands firm forever.”
(Verses 44-47)(NKJV) “Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen, (45) which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David, (46) who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob. (47) But Solomon built Him a house.”
The Tabernacle was constructed according to plans that God gave to Moses (Ex Ch. 26). It was a “witness” that God was with them wherever they went (Ex 25:8)(Ex 29:42-45).
***Note: The Greek word used for “witness” in (verse 44) is “marturion.” The majority of times it is used in the New Testament, it is translated as “testimony” rather than “witness.” Since the “Ark of the Covenant” contained the Ten Commandments, which are sometimes called the “testimony” of God in the Old Testament (Ex 25:16,21)(Ex 31:18)(Ex 32:15)(Ex 34:29), perhaps Stephen might have been using the term “tabernacle of witness” because the “Ark of the Covenant,” containing the “testimony” of God, was located inside the Tabernacle.
The Tabernacle was used for over 400 years, until it was replaced by Solomon’s Temple (“a house” – verse 47).
David had a desire to build God a permanent structure (the Temple), but God would not allow him to do so because he had “been a man of war” and had “shed much blood.” He told David that his son Solomon would build it instead (See: 1 Chr Ch. 28).
(Verses 48-50)(NKJV) “However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says: (49) ‘Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the Lord, Or what is the place of My rest? (50) Has My hand not made all these things?’ “
Many Jews placed such importance on the Temple (or Tabernacle) that they confined God’s presence to “only” the Temple. Stephen refuted this by quoting (Isa 66:1-2), which points out that God is everywhere. God cannot be contained by the things that He has created (“Has not my hand made all these things?”). They also somehow missed that Solomon, when dedicating the Temple, said that the Temple could not “contain” God (1 Kin 8:26)(2 Chr 2:5-6)(2 Chr 6:18).
Finally, let’s read (Acts 7:51-60).
Stephen now abruptly changes course! He has spent 49 verses laying out Jewish history, and the Jewish forefathers (“fathers”) pattern of rejection of God, as well as their sins against Him. Now in just 3 verses (51-53), and 4 sentences, he accuses the Jewish leaders of committing the same sins. This will result in his death.
(Verse 51) “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.”
“Stiffnecked” = (From “Nelson’s Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible”) “Stubborn, unyielding, arrogant, and proud. The phrase a stiff-necked people is a figure of speech for rebellion and disobedience taken from stubborn domestic animals, such as oxen that turn their shoulders away from the yoke and refuse to follow directions. Israel was stiff-necked in refusing to obey the Word of God and in following after idolatry and immorality (Deut. 31:27; Neh. 9:16-17,29; Jer. 17:23).”
In the Old Testament, this word (Heb “qasheh” + “oreph”) is used in 7 verses: (Ex 32:9)(Ex 33:3,5)(Ex 34:9)(Deut 9:6,13)(2 Chr 30:8), while in the New Testament, it is only used in this verse (Gr. “skelerotrachelos“).
“Uncircumcised in heart and ears” = Although Jewish males were physically “circumcised,” Stephen compares them to the “uncircumcised” Gentiles, who were considered to be unclean, and did not know or understand God in their “heart and ears.”
“Ye always resist the Holy Ghost” – The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit does many things: i.e. teaches us (Jn 14:26), directs us (Acts 20:22), speaks through those belonging to God (Acts 28:25), convicts the world of sin (Jn 16:8), etc… Stephen’s audience, the Sanhedrin, “resisted” these works of the Holy Spirit. They were “lost,” just as their forefathers (“fathers”) in the Old Testament, who “resisted the Holy Spirit” (rebelled against God), were lost.
***Note: This is also a strong verse against the Calvinist teaching of “irresistible grace,” which teaches that God’s will cannot be “resisted.” The Jewish leaders, and their “fathers,” “resisted the Holy Spirit” (God). (For more verses, see: Jn 5:40, Mt 23:37, Mt 21:42, Lk 7:29-30.)
(Verse 52)(NKJV) “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers.”
The forefathers (“fathers”) of those in the Sanhedrin had persecuted (Jer 38:1-6)(1 Kin 19:1-3,10)(Amos 7:10-13), and killed (2 Chr 24:20-23)(Jer 26:20-23)(Mt 23:31-35)(tradition says Isaiah was killed by Manasseh) the “prophets” sent by God in the Old Testament. Those prophets “foretold the coming of the Just One” i.e. (Isa 53:11)(Zech 9:9), who was Jesus (the “Messiah”) (Mt 27:19,24)(Acts 3:14)(1 Pet 3:18)(1 Jn 2:1,29). (***Note: “the words “righteous” and “just” are nearly the same word in Greek)
In other words, those in the Sanhedrin were responsible for persecuting and killing the One who was sent by God (Jesus), just as their “fathers” had been responsible for persecuting and killing those sent by God.
(Verse 53) “Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.”
What part the “angels” played in giving the law is unclear, but the fact that they did so in some way is mentioned here, and in (Deut 33:2)(Gal 3:19)(Heb 2:2). Perhaps it simply means that angels were present when the law was given.
(Verse 54) “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.”
“Cut to the heart” = “Ellicott Commentary” states that these words “literally” mean being “sawn through and through.” Same words used by the Sanhedrin in (Acts 5:33).
“Gnashed in him with their teeth” = In total, the word “gnash,” or a form of that word, is used 14 times in the Bible (5 in the Old Testament). Each time it is used, it is connected with “teeth,” and the “gnashing” is done either in “anger” (here)(Lk 13:28) or in “pain” (Mt 8:12)(Mt 13:42). (For more on this, see: https://jesusalive.cc/gnashing-of-teeth-meaning.)
(Verses 55-56) “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, (56) And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.”
“But he, being full of the Holy Ghost (Spirit)” – This is one of several places in the New Testament that speak of people being “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Also see: Acts 4:8-12,31, Acts 13:9-12). (***Note: This occurs “after” the initial filling of the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” at salvation.) “All” Christians should seek to be “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and this can happen over and over after salvation (Eph 5:18). (***Note: The Greek word for “filled” in Eph 5:18 is “pleuro.” A literal translation of this word is “Be being filled with the Spirit.”
“Son of man” – A name Jesus gave to Himself while on earth (Mt 8:20)(Mt 9:6)(Mt 10:23)(Mt 11:19), and a prophetic name of the Messiah in (Dan 7:13).
“Jesus standing on the right hand of God” – Being at the “right hand” of someone was generally associated in some way with a position of power, strength, or honor. In numerous mentions of Jesus being at the “right hand of God,” we see Him “sitting” (Mt 26:64)(Mk 16:19)(Col 3:1)(Heb 10:12), EXCEPT for here! Here, we see Him “standing! Why do you think He is standing?
(Verse 57) “Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord”
Have you ever gotten angry about something someone was saying, and you put your fingers in your ears and made some loud noise (like “na,na,na,na,na”) because you didn’t want to hear what that person had to say? I think that might be what is going on here.
(Verse 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.”
Stoning (also called lapidation) was a brutal and gruesome way to die. Depending on the method used, the criminal could die fairly quickly, but more often, it would take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours to die. Obviously, this would be more like torture. However, it was a God ordered punishment for those guilty of 11 different sins. One of these was for “blasphemy” (Lev 24:10-16,23), which was why Stephen was stoned (although he had committed no blasphemy).
In addition, no one in the Bible was to be stoned unless their sin could be verified by two or more witnesses, and those witnesses were to be the first to cast a stone at the condemned, followed by all of the people (Deut 17:6-7). (Also see: Deut 19:15, Num 35:30, Jn 8:17, Lev 24:14) We see this being done here, with the “witnesses laying their clothes at Saul’s feet” before stoning Stephen. This stoning usually took place outside of the camp or city walls (Lev 24:14,23)(Num 15:35), and that was what was done here. (More on stoning here: https://jesusalive.cc/how-killed-by-stoning.)
“Laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.” This is the first mention in the New Testament of Saul (Paul). Of course, he will later become a Christian (See: Acts Ch. 9) (perhaps in part because he remembers what has happen here), and the author of the majority books in the New Testament.
(***Note: If you are curious how old the “young man” Saul (Paul) was at this time, I examine this here: https://jesusalive.cc/pauls-age-when-stephen-stoned.)
(Verses 59-60) “And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (60) Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep (died – Jn 11:11-14, 1 Cor 11:30, Acts 13:36).”
Can we pray to Jesus? Many non-Christian “religions” believe it is “sin” or “blasphemy” to do so. These are two of several GREAT verses showing it is perfectly acceptable to pray to Jesus. For more, see: (Jn 14:13-14)(2 Cor 12:8-9)(1 Cor 16:22)(Rev 22:20)(1 Cor 1:2)(Acts 1:23-26).
In these words, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” and “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge,” we see an echoing of the words of Jesus as He was dying:
(Lk 23:46) “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into they hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.”
(Lk 23:34) “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
Two other traits that Jesus and Stephen share are that they both performed miracles, and were tried before the Sanhedrin. (Stephen was the first person other than the apostles to perform a miracle in Acts.)
Stephen’s death in Acts makes him the 1st “Christian” martyr in the New Testament.