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- CHAPTER 7 COMMENTARY
What is the function of the historical survey in vv.2-46, the lion’s share of the speech? A careful reading of the survey, with attention to the Old Testament traditions Stephen chose and the linkages between his treatment and the earlier speeches of Acts, shows a definite “slant” in Stephen’s interpretation of Jewish history…Two recurring themes stand out:
- God can never be tied down to one land or place and correspondingly that his people are closest to him when they are a “pilgrim people,” a people on the move.
- Israel’s pattern of constantly resisting and rejecting its God-appointed leaders. The second theme has accompanying it a subtle Christological emphasis, which is ultimately the main goal of the speech. Israel’s past points to the present. The pattern of rejection in the past foreshadows the ultimate rejection of God’s appointed Messiah in the present.
- Other themes: Fulfillment of Israel’s true worship is in the Messiah.”
- Worship acceptable to God is not confined to the Jerusalem temple.”
v.12-13: “What Stephen did emphasize…was the seemingly insignificant detail that the brothers made two visits and only recognized Joseph on the second. Why this emphasis? The same would be true of Moses later on in Stephen’s speech. His fellow Israelites did not recognize him either on his first visit but rejected him (vv.27-28). Only on his second visit did they recognize him as the one God had sent to deliver them from Egypt (vv.35-36). One is strongly tempted to see here a reference to the two “visits” of Christ. The Jews had rejected him on his first coming. Would they now accept him when confronted by Christ through Stephen’s preaching?”
v.23-29: “Both of Stephen’s central themes are emphasized – Israel’s rejection of its divinely appointed leader and the “pilgrim” motif. The theme of rejection is given the major treatment and is developed in vv.23-28, which relates the story of how two quarreling Israelites refused Moses’ intercession in their dispute. Stephen’s version follows fairly closely the account given in Exod 2:11-15 and quotes Exod 2:14 directly in vv.27b-28.
…Just as clearly as Stephen established the role of Moses as God’s emissary he depicted also the flat rejection of his leadership by the Israelites. This began with Stephen’s interpretive comment in v.25. The Israelites did not recognize Moses as their God-appointed deliverer and leader.”
v.35-36: “With the emphasis on Moses himself, his relation to Christ was more explicitly drawn. Stephen reminded his hearers of the Israelites’ rejection of his role as “ruler and judge” over them. They denied Moses, but God “sent” him (v.35). It is a familiar pattern that already has appeared frequently in Peter’s speeches with reference to Christ – Israel rejected him, but God affirmed him. The comparison to Christ becomes even stronger in the reference to Moses as “deliverer/redeemer” of Israel. It is the only occurrence in Luke-Acts of the noun “redeemer”; but the verbal from, “the one who was going to redeem Israel,” is applied to Christ in Luke 24:21. The word “redeemer” is virtually equivalent to “Savior” (cf. 5:31), and the comparison to Christ is unmistakable. Moses was a type of Christ. Both were sent by God to deliver Israel. Both were denied, rejected by those they were sent to save…Moses performed “wonders and miraculous signs” in Egypt, the Red Sea, and in the wilderness (v.36)…but one cannot fail to remember how Jesus also performed signs and wonders and that he had granted the same power to his apostles through his name.”
 J. Pohill, p.188.
 A. Fernando, p.246.
 J. Pohill, p.192.
 J. Pohill, p.196.
 J. Pohill, p.199.
- Acts 6:8-7:60 (ESV)
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” 15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
7 1 And the high priest said, “Are these things so?” 2 And Stephen said:
“Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’4 Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living. 5 Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child. 6 And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years. 7 ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ 8 And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs. 9 “And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him 10 and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. 11 Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit. 13 And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh.
14 And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all. 15 And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, 16 and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.
17 “But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt 18 until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph. 19 He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive.20 At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, 21 and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. 22 And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.
23 “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. 24 And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. 26 And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ 27 But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?28 Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.
30 “Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord: 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look. 33 Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.34 I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’
35 “This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. 37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ 38 This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.
39 Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. 42 But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:
“‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices,
during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
43 You took up the tent of Moloch
and the star of your god Rephan,
the images that you made to worship;
and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’
44 “Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. 45 Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, 46 who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,
49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
50 Did not my hand make all these things?’
51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
- Study Questions: Acts 6:8-15, Acts 7:54-60
- What was Stephen like and what kinds of things was he doing?
- What ended up happening to Stephen?
- How does this challenge my notion of discipleship and following Jesus?
- When finally given a chance to protect himself against these false accusations, Stephen delivers a sermon that highlights the work of God. Reading his sermon closely up to v. 50, what are the parts that would have offended the members of the council? [See the commentary section for additional information.]
- Notice that Stephen’s sermon follows the typical pattern of the apostolic preaching that we’ve seen in Acts thus far: Christ is Israel’s true Messiah spoken of through Moses and the Prophets. What can I learn from the fact that this was more threatening to the council than if the disciples had been espousing a foreign religion?
- In vv. 51-53, Stephen finally confronts the council with strong words based on his Scriptural understanding of Israel’s response to God. Consider if Stephen’s message simply ended with v. 50. What is the role of confrontation and of direct application of God’s word in Christian proclamation?
- How does Stephen’s response to the council—his countenance (6:15) and his sermon—challenge me?