This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel,* 'The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.' "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, whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected. And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, 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.' And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets: 'Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? You also took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, Images which you made to worship; And I will carry you away beyond Babylon.'*
Acts 7:44-50 God's True Tabernacle
"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, 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. 47But Solomon built Him a house. "However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says: '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? Has My hand not made all these things?'*
Acts 7:51- 53: Israel Resists the Holy Spirit
"You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 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, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it."
Acts 7:54- 60: Stephen the Martyr
When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!"
Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 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. (NKJV)
(Part Three) Verses 37 to 60
Continuation: Trial Closing: Stephen’s Closing Response and Martyrdom
Stephen continues to review the history of the Hebrew people as he stands in to defend his innocence against the trumped up charges of Blasphemy against God, Moses and the temple. In the last outline, we covered the life years and ministry of Moses through the first 80 years of his life Stephen now continues to explain his innocence as well as prepares to deliver a stinging conclusion and strong rebuke to the Sanhedrin Council by God Himself.
Stephen Addresses Israel’s Rebellion Against God (Verses 37-41)
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. (vs. 37)
Stephen continued to offer his defense, in verse 37. Here, he quotes what Moses said in Deuteronomy 18:15 and in verse 18 of that same chapter. The reason he did so was to remind the Sanhedrin that Moses, the one God held in high esteem was told by God in the future that a Prophet (Messiah) one day would come. He would come out of the Hebrew genealogy. Moses admonished them to listen to him when he came. Stephen then tied what Moses said to what Peter said in Acts 3:22. It's here Stephen makes 2 valid points:
Stephen’s first point was as the Israelites of yesteryear were told by Moses when that future prophet came, (Jesus) they were to listen to whatever that Prophet said. Remember, Jesus came first as a Prophet, fulfilling the Law in every way even in the redemption work He did on the cross. He now sits in heaven at the right hand of Jehovah God as our Great High Priest and divine intercessor. Finally when He comes back through the clouds, Jesus will come back to earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Stephen’s second point here was to drive home the same message Peter drove in Acts 3:22, that is to remind the Sanhedrin that along with the many Jews who rejected Jesus as Messiah, Prophet actually rejected the very future prophet Moses prophesized about. Jesus is the Messiah and the words He spoke must be heeded by all, including the Sanhedrin.
This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spoke to him in the mount Sina, (Sinai) and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us: (vs. 38)
Stephen said Moses received the law by the ministry of angels and as a prophet of God, he was only a mediator between the angel of God and the Israelites, your forefathers. Moses received the WORD, the “lively oracles” the words that were the doctrines of life. It was these oracles, these doctrines and their obedience to every one of them which entitled them, by the promise of God, to a long life upon earth, which spoke to them of that spiritual life which every true believer has in union with his God, and promised that eternal life which those who are faithful unto death shall enjoy with him in the realms of glory.
Note: Oracle comes out of the Greek word “logion” which means “divine revelation.” Divine revelations are communications from God to us, whether verbal, written in Scripture of sent to us and spoken by the angels he sent. The oracles (divine revelations) they had in their possession is the Mosaic Law and at some point the Old Testament in general. (Romans 3:2, Hebrews 5:12, 1 Peter 4:1)
Your forefathers rejected Moses and the Oracles (verses 39-43)
To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt, 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. And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.
Stephen referred to what Moses wrote in Numbers 11:1-6 and in Exodus 32:1
“Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the Lord and the fire died down. So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the Lord had burned among them.
The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, "If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost — also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!" (Numbers 11:1-6) ( NIV)
It's here Stephen points out that the Hebrew forefathers rejected Moses leadership and wished to return to Egypt. They openly regretted they had come out of Egypt. They verbalized their desire to have those things they had in Egypt once again, showing their open disdain for the things God provided for them in the desert.
Note: There are some ancient scholars that suggest that this passage meant they didn’t desired literally to "return" to Egypt, but that "their hearts inclined to the habits and morals of the Egyptians."
The truth is they forsook God, and imitated the idolatries of the Egyptians. What is true is their desire to go back to a place in their past where they were in bondage after God delivered them and started them toward the "promised land" is a sure indication they have rejected God’s plan of salvation and deliverance in their life. They had a genuine desire to return to Egypt and the making of and the worship of the golden calf near the foot of Mount of God.
Point of Power: If a person desires to go back to the place they were in bondage and embrace the rudiments of being bound after God rescued you and brings you out of bondage into His marvelous light is a strong indicator that person does not embrace their opportunity for a new way of life and reject God's plan of salvation through Jesus Christ.
God’s Response to their Rejection (vs. 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: 'Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? You also took up the tabernacle of Moloch. And the star of your god Remphan, Images which you made to worship; And I will carry you away beyond Babylon.'* (NKJV) (vs. 42-43)
Stephen brings these things up to remind the Council that historically, Israel was prone to disobey and reject God and walk in the ways of sin. God, in responding to their sin rejected them. That is, God turned away from them; abandoned them, left them to go forth to their own desires.
Note: The Book of the Prophets refers to the “minor prophets” , This is the book containing the writings of the twelve minor prophets that was compiled into one volume. This book contained these several prophecies, Daniel, Hosea, Micah, etc. They were small "tracts" separately, and were bound up together to preserve them from being lost.
This passage is not quoted literally by Stephen; it is evidently spoken from memory; and though in its main spirit it coincides with the passage in Amos, yet in some important respects it varies from it.
Pertaining to the Sacrifices offered to God in the wilderness: God raises this question:
Have ye offered to ME (exclusively and with an upright heart) slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years? Why?
It is certain that the Israelites did offer various sacrifices to God, while in the wilderness; and…
It is as certain that they scarcely ever did it with an upright heart. They were idolatrous, either in heart or act, in almost all their religious services.
These sacrifices were imperfect that they were counted for nothing in the sight of God. Those forty years were no more than a tissue of rebellion and idolatry.
In Fact…..According to God’s Indictment…….Their actual guilt........
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. (vs. 43)
Moloch and Rephan were two deities associated with the stars. The idolatry of the Jews' worship of the calf at Sinai and their formal, unspiritual worship of God through sacrifices in the wilderness led finally to their worship of pagan star deities. Because of this apostasy, God brought upon them the judgment of captivity beyond Babylon.
While they worshipped Yahweh and offered animal sacrifices to Him, God said they were also practicing idolatry and worshipping other gods: Molech and Rem-phan respectively. (worshipping the planets Saturn or Mars) They would as the heathen did carried these hand made carvings of the idols in small containers that represented their temples. For this action, God caused them t be in captivity beyond the time of Nebuchadnezzar. (Babylon)
Concerning God’s True Tabernacle (vs. 44-50)
"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, 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, who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob. But Solomon built Him a house. "However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says: '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? Has My hand not made all these things?'*
Addressing the charge of Blasphemy against Moses and the Tabernacle
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. (vs. 44)
Note: The tabernacle was called a tabernacle of "witness," or of "testimony," because it was the visible witness or proof of God's presence with the. It was the visible evidence that God was their protector and guide because when Moses built this temple, it was dedicated to Yahweh.
Stephen said: the two tables of stone written by the finger of God were laid up, as a testimony that he had delivered these laws to the people, and that they had promised to obey them.
Purpose: Stephen was showing that while they claimed to follow the Law, the laws that they placed too much dependence on were those pertaining to outward privileges. They had not used the law, the tabernacle, the temple, nor the temple service, for the purpose of their institution. Simply put, they were guilty of misusing the Law.
Now, Stephen brings this up also because he’s attempting to bring them under conviction because of misuse, and even more importantly, to remind them that God did not confine His worship to one place, or form because He was worshipped without any shrine in the times of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc.
He was worshipped with a tabernacle, or portable temple, in the wilderness. He was worshipped also in the fixed temple projected by David, but built by Solomon.
Stephen asserts further that His infinite majesty cannot be confined to temples, made by human hands; and where there is neither a tabernacle nor a temple (in any part of his vast dominions),God still can be worshipped because He can be worshipped acceptably by the upright in the heart of an individual.
As a result, Stephen proves that neither the tabernacle nor the temple are essentially requisite for the true worship of the true God.
Important: when we worship the Lord, we must always remember that we can’t limit out worship to Sunday morning when we assemble here at the church building.
Stephen Addresses Israel’s Resistance to the Holy Spirit (vs. 51-53)
As Stephen brings his defense to a close, the Holy Spirit now takes this opportunity to bring God’s indictment upon the Sanhedrin and the Jews in general who, even after the demonstration of God’s power through healing the man at the temple gate still resist accepting Jesus Christ. It's obvious at this point the Sanhedrin was very irate and indignant at Stephen because he has openly rebuked them and reminded them once again they were guilty of the crucifixion of the Messiah God sent, Jesus Christ.
"You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 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, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it." (vs. 51-54)
The belief in verse 51 is that at some point the Sanhedrin began to get the gist of where Stephen was taking his counter argument and realized that several times, he had laid accusation against them and was saying they were hypocrites and not serving God as they so wanted the people to believe. So apparently the more Stephen said about the history and then ties history into how they were guilty of disobedience to God in many ways, especially in the area of pure worship and sincere homage to Jehovah, because they rejected Jesus, the more they became agitated and interrupted his speaking his defense, So in verse 51, Stephen lets loose in open rebuke of them…3 things we should observe......
First Stephen accuses them of having “uncircumcised hearts. This means Stephen said the Sanhedrin were guilty of professing to uphold the Law, yet were not willing to submit themselves to it, because their hearts were filled with vicious and unsubdued affections and desires.
Second, he accused them of tuning God out because they refused to hear the Word of God. They were just like Jesus said they were: “whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones”
Third, Stephen accused them of opposing the message which is brought to them by the authority of God and the inspiration of his Spirit. The same message brought by Moses was spoken by the prophets. The same message the Old Testament prophets spoke was realized and spoken by Jesus Christ; and that message is being spoken by the apostles that Jesus Christ is the Messiah Moses spoke about in the beginning and the Prophets that came after him through out history by the infallible direction of the Holy Spirit-they and their fathers opposed. Stephen said you have rejected the message and now resist the Holy Spirit in your rejection..
So in essence, in the truest sensed of persecution, the Stephen said it was people like the Sanhedrin that killed the prophets. Any prophet that spoke of Jesus as being the promised Messiah was killed in some way. The tragedy of it all is these messengers had the greatest message that could ever be delivered to the Hebrew nation. Stephen said you resemble those who rejected and put to death the prophets. You have even gone beyond them in guilt, because you have put the Messiah himself to death. All of you are betrayers because you paid Judas Iscariot to betray Him. Even though you used Judas to betray Jesus, it is just as if you did it yourselves.
The Murder of Stephen “Martyrdom” (vs. 55-60)
Their Reaction to Stephen: enraged and indignant (vs. 54)
Stephen’s Response: Being full of the Holy Spirit, he looks straight up toward heaven and sees the Glory of God and Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father. (vs. 55)
Stephen fixed his eyes intently on heaven. Foreseeing his danger, and the effect his speech had produced; seeing that there was no safety in the Great Council of the nation, and no prospect of justice at their hands, he cast his eyes to heaven and sought protection there.
Important message to us: When dangers threaten us, our hope of safety lies in heaven. When people threaten our persons, reputation, or lives, it becomes us to fix our eyes on the heavenly world; and we shall not look in vain.
Stephen then says the following words:
Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. (vs. 56)
Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, 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.
Stephen Final Response: 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. (vs. 59-60)
And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 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.
Note: As he was dying from being stoned, Stephen addressed the exalted Jesus as God Himself, praying Jesus to receive his spirit. His dying word was a prayer for forgiveness for his executioners. Sleep is a common Biblical metaphor for death.
Stephen remained steadfast in his convictions in the face of certain death at the hands of the same council that had Jesus Christ crucified. There are several important things we all can take from the death of what had been recorded in Biblical history as the first "Christian" martyr.
(1) That it is right to address to the Lord Jesus the language of prayer. We should, if able pray to the Lord with our dying last breath. We should even offer prayers of forgiveness to those who wronged us in our dying hour.
(2) It is definitely in order it in the time of afflictions, and in the prospect of impending death. We should desire to leave the face of the earth holding no ill will toward anyone, regardless of what they had done.
(3) Sustaining grace will be given and found in our trials, chiefly from a view of the Lord Jesus. If we can look to him as our Savior; see him to be exalted to deliver us; and truly commit our souls to him, we shall find the grace which we need in our afflictions.
(4) We should have such confidence in him as to enable us to commit ourselves to him at any time. To do this, we should live a life of faith. In health, and youth, and strength, we should seek him as our first and best friend.
(5) While we are in health we should prepare to die. What an unfit place for preparation for death would have been the situation of Stephen! How impossible then would it have been to have made preparation! Yet, it has been said the dying bed is often a place as unfit to prepare as were the circumstances of Stephen. When racked with pain; when faint and feeble; when the mind is indisposed to thought, or when it raves in the wildness of delirium, what an unfit place is this to prepare to die! I have seen many dying beds; I have seen many persons in all stages of their last sickness; but never have I yet seen a dying bed which seemed to me to be a proper place to make preparation for eternity. The only conclusion we can come to in this situation is every day, we should live each day unto God and as if that day could very well be our last day. A often quoted bed time pray contains the words that bears this out: "Now I lay me down to sleep...I pray the lord my soul to keep...If I should die before I wake...I pray the Lord my soul to take...AMEN"!
(6) How peaceful and calm is a death like that of Stephen. When you compare the calm in the spirit of Stephen with the alarms and anguish of a sinner who dies without the assurance of eternal life in Jesus Christ. One moment of such peace in that trying time is better than all the pleasures and honors which the world can bestow. To obtain such peace then, the dying sinner would be willing to give all the wealth of the world he might possess, and all the crowns of the earth. As for me personally, So when it is my time to depart from this world, it is my sincere prayer and desire that I die serving the Lord Jesus, who I love and having peace like Stephen and the attitude of Apostle Paul when he said: "I fought a good fight....I kept the faith...I finished my course....Now I'm ready to be offered up...to that "Righteous Judge" that will judge me in that day.
When we take a parting view of the world; when we turn our eyes for the last time to take a look of friends and relatives and when the darkness of death descend and come around us, then, at that moment, may we be enabled to cast the eye of faith to the heavens, and say, "Lord Jesus, receive our spirits." Then, may we fall asleep, peaceful in death, in the hope of the resurrection of the just, to hear those faithful words: "Well done thy good and faithful servant. Enter in to the joys of the Lord."
Dr. William Edward Boddie