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The Book of ACTS
THEME: Stephen's speech and martyrdom
In this chapter, Luke tells us of Stephen's defense before the council. It really is NOT a defense. Instead it is a history of the nation Israel and of their resistance and rebellion against God. Stephen charges the council of being betrayers and murderers of Jesus. That incites bitter hatred of Stephen and leads to his being stoned.
In his inspired survey of the history of the nation, Stephen makes it very clear that there never was a time when the entire nation worshiped God. Yet there was always the believing remnant, a small remnant (Mat.7:13-14) of true believers . . . and it is so even today.
Stephen's Address (Acts 7:1-53)
Acts 7:1-2 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, (KJV)
Stephen is questioned as to the truth of the charges made against him. He makes NO attempt whatsoever to clear himself. In fact, he does not even mention the charges they have made against him.
What a way he starts! He calls them "brethren." They are his brethren in the flesh. He calls the older men fathers. He is a younger man and shows them this respect. This young man will be the first martyr in the church.
This speech of Stephen is masterful. He reviews the history of the nation beginning with Abraham, where the history of the nation Israel began. They did not go back any farther. You will find the same thing in the Gospel of Matthew, which traces the genealogy of Jesus Christ back to Abraham. If you want to trace it all the way back to Adam, you must turn to the Gospel of Luke. Stephen starts his speech with Abraham, a man of faith.
There is great diversity of opinion among commentators, as to the logical bearing and connection of this Passage. If we regard it as a defense, a formal response to the charge would have been needed, BUT . . . it contains no direct answer to any of the charges. Stephen neither admits nor denies what was charged in reference to the destruction of the temple by Jesus and the changing of the customs delivered by Moses. His silence may be regarded as an admission that the witnesses had spoken the truth on these points.
Neither does Stephen answer to the charge of blasphemy against Moses and against God, or against the holy temple and the law. The only thing in the speech that has even an indirect bearing in this way, is his frequent reference to facts contained in the writings of Moses, which has been understood, by some commentators, as intended to indicate a very high degree of respect for Moses, which would have been inconsistent with the charge to speak blasphemy against Moses.
Personally, I think the charge against him was pure hypocrisy, and his judges had no intention to check it out, but were simply using it as an excuse to condemn him to death. They were now giving him a "trial." This was just to put up a front before the people. I really do think Stephen knew that it would be useless to offer any defense. He sees clearly that his persecutors were identifying themselves, by their actions, with the unbelieving and persecuting portion of their forefathers, and he seems determined to make them show the people their true position. he selects his material from the writings of Moses, and shows that his accusers are with the persecuting party, while his Master and himself are side by side with Moses and others whom they had persecuted. He hurls back on them, and fastens on them, successfully, the charge which they had falsely made against him.
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 shew thee. (KJV)
WHY did God call Abraham away from his home? Because the land was full of idolatry. God wanted Abram out of there!
Acts 7:4-5 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. 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. (KJV)
Stephen tells the story of Abraham, which clearly reveals to us the faith of Abraham. God promised Abraham a child, and God had promised him the land. Even though Abraham had neither one, he believed God.
Acts 7:6-8 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. 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. 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. (KJV)
Stephen then moves from Abraham to the patriarchal rule of Israel.
Acts 7:9-16 And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him, 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. 11 Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan, and great affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first. 13 And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph's kindred was made known unto Pharaoh. 14 Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls. 15 So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers, 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. (KJV)
Stephen speaks of Joseph's brothers, motivated by jealousy and hatred, who sold Joseph into Egypt. But, God overturned their wicked plan and used Joseph to save them. What we really have here, is the Holy Spirit's interpretation of the Old Testament. This is a most remarkable section.
Acts 7:17-21 But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt, 18 Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph. 19 The same dealt subtilly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live. 20 In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father's house three months: 21 And when he was cast out, Pharaoh's daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son. (KJV)
Stephen now speaks of another era in the history of Israel. He is going to remind them of their Godly deliverance out of Egypt. God made Moses the deliverer. And he shows that at first the children of Israel refused to follow Moses and that Moses had trouble with them all the way. Moses was rejected by his countrymen, when he was seeking to deliver them from bondage, according to the Promise of God.
Acts 7:22 And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds. (KJV)
If Rameses II was the pharaoh during the oppression, Moses could have been the next pharaoh. Pharaoh's daughter brought him up as her own son. This pharaoh had no sons, so Moses would have been the next in line. He was brought up in the wisdom of the Egyptians. Too often we do not give the Egyptians credit for what they knew. They had developed mathematics, chemistry, engineering, architecture, and astronomy to a very fine point. Consider the pyramids. The colors found in the tombs have stood firm for centuries. They knew about embalming. They had calculated the distance to the sun. They had a highly developed culture and were not an ignorant people.
Moses had all the great advantages, being raised as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He had been taught in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. Moses was outstanding . . . BUT . . . he was NOT prepared to lead God's people. All the wisdom of the world of that day could not equip him to lead God's people. All the worldly wisdom of today is not enough for people to understand the Word of God. WHY? Because the natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God. These things are foolishness to him and he cannot know them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14). Although Moses was educated in the wisdom of his day, he was not ready to deliver God's people. So, after 40 years of learning in Egypt, God put him out into the desert. There God gave him his G.D. (Godly) degree, and prepared him to become the deliverer.
Acts 7:23-25 And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. 24 And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian: 25 For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not. (KJV)
Moses did what his heart told him to do. To visit his brethren . . . is it possible that Moses saw the burden on his brethren and felt compassion? When he visited, he saw an Israelite being beaten by an Egyptian (Ex.2:11-12) and he killed him. It seems that the desire to deliver them was infused into his mind by the Spirit of God; and the effect of this desire to deliver his oppressed countrymen was his refusing to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter (Heb.11:24). He had faith in God's Promises, forsaking his honored position, for the sake of his people.
Moses was 40 years in Pharaoh's court, 40 years in Midian, and 40 years he served God.
Acts 7:26-28 And the next day he shewed 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? 27 But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday? (KJV)
Now Moses was scared. Someone saw what he had done. (Ex.2:13-14)
Acts 7:29-31 Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons. 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. 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, (KJV)
Moses ran away to Midian (Ex.2:15), where he married and had two sons. It was in Midian where the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flaming bush that would not burn up (Ex.3:2). I believe the "angel of the Lord" in the Old Testament was the preincarnate Christ.
Acts 7:32-34 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. 33 Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground. 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. (KJV)
This is NOT just a regular angel! THIS is the Lord JESUS! NO one can tell me differently! (Ex.3:6-10). He told Moses, "I have heard their groaning." God saw their need and provided a saviour, Moses. That was the reason He delivered them. It was for the same reason that He provided a Saviour for you and me. It was NOT because we are such great people. God looked down and saw nothing but us corrupt, rotten sinners. We were all lost in iniquity. But, He loved us and He sent Jesus! (John 3:15-18).
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. (KJV)
The ministry of the angels in Israel's history was very common, and God gave the Law to Moses through the ministry of angels (Gal.3:19).
We hear a lot about the angels in the Bible: they had messages for the people of Israel: for Hagar (Gen.16:7), for Lot (Gen.19:12-16), for Ishmael (Gen.21:17); for Abraham (Gen. 18:2,10-14; 22:11-12), for Jacob (Gen. 28:12), for Israel (Ex. 14:19; 23:20; Ps.34:7; Isa.63:9), for Elijah (1 Kings 19:5), for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Dan.3:28), for Daniel (Dan. 6:22), for Mary (Lu.1:26-27), for Joseph (Mat.1:20; ), for Zacharias (Lu.1:11-12), for the shepherds (Lu.2:8-9), for the apostles (Acts 1:10), for Phillip (Acts 8:26), for Cornelius (Acts 10:3,22,30), for Peter (Acts 5:19; 12:7-8), for Paul (Acts 27:23-24), and many places in Revelation. Angels also tended to Jesus (Mat.4:11; Mark 1:13; Luke 22:43). Guardian angels (Ps.91:11; Mat.18:10; Luke 4:10; Heb.1:14). We shall be "carried into abraham's bosom (Heaven)" by angels (Luke 16:22).
God does not send messages through angels to the church today. There are some bold-faced preachers today who claim otherwise, but as far as I am concerned, they are liars! Angels did appear and bring messages from God to members of the nation Israel and to the early church members, but not today.
Now Stephen will describe the 40 year wilderness experience.
Acts 7:36-38 He brought them out, after that he had shewed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years. 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. 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: (KJV)
Quite clearly Stephen makes his point. This Moses whom Israel refused, God had sent to be their ruler and deliverer. If those listening that day failed to see the point, the next verse makes it clear. This is that Moses . . . this rejected Moses who was chosen by God to be a prince and a saviour hath said, A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up . . . like me. . . of your brethren; like unto me . . . rejected and despised by Israel; like me, exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour by God. (Deut.18:15-19).
Stephen not only presents, in a most forceful manner, the contrast between the rejection of Moses by his brethren, and his appointment by God to the very office of ruler and deliverer, which they refused, but has also now adds some more toward his final purpose, by introducing the prophesy uttered by this same Moses concerning the Messiah. This prophesy was important, because it disproved the charge that Stephen had spoken blasphemy against Moses, in saying that Christ would change the customs appointed by him.
Acts 7:39 To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt, (KJV)
Israel did not go back to Egypt in their physical bodies, BUT, they went back in their hearts many times. In the same way there are so many people today who say they hate certain sins of the world and sins of the flesh. It is always so easy to point the finger at someone else and condemn him for his sin. A question we need to ask ourselves is: Would I do the same thing? Where is our heart? Israel went back to Egypt in their heart.
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. (KJV)
The Jews knew the Old Testament. Stephen tries to keep in the minds of those listening to him that day how Moses was really treated. He wants them to realize just how badly Moses was treated at Israel's hands in the wilderness journey. He brings up how Aaron had given in to the mob and made them the golden calf idols (Ex.32:1-4). That instance of their rejection of Moses was much worse than before. They didn't know what had happened to Moses, or why he had not come down from the mountain, and they didn't care. They had rejected Moses.
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. (KJV)
The Israelites had NO patience with Moses or with God. When Moses went to Mt.Sinai to get the tables of stone on which God had written the 10 Commandments, he was gone 40 days and 40 nights (Ex.24:18). During that entire time he did not eat bread or drink water (Ex.34:28; Deut.9:9). Moses' body and soul were sustained by the refreshing Presence of Almighty God. No earthly support was needed. Elijah too fasted 40 days and 40 nights, sustained also by God (1 Kings 19:8); and so did our precious Lord Jesus, just before He was about to begin His public ministry (Mat.4:2).
While Moses was gone, the people revolted and demanded that Aaron make the idols, which they worshipped. Exodus 32:5-6 And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the LORD. 6 And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play. (KJV)
These circumstances also show more striking the comparison which Stephen is about to develop between him and Jesus; for he also had been rejected, notwithstanding the admission, by his enemies, that he had wrought miracles.
Stephen summarizes the unbelief, disbelief and waywardness of Israel under Moses. The point is to show that the rejection of Christ harmonizes with their past history. (Ex.16:3; 17:4; 32:1-14; Deut. 4:19).
Stephen is showing them that Israel has always been rebellious.
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? (KJV)
Stephen is quoting from (Amos 5:25-27). The emphasis is on God. Then God turned . . . from being a Father to them, to a harsh Judge to punish them; where before He had blessed them. When God gave them up . . . He really delivered them to Satan. God DOES withhold His grace from sinners who abuse Him! That is clear in the following: Rom. 1:21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (KJV) Rom.1:25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. (KJV) . . . And: Rom. 1:24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: (KJV) Rom. 1:26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: (KJV) Rom.1:28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; (KJV)
The host of heaven . . . the angels are so called (Lu. 2:13); but the sun, moon and stars, are also so called (Deut.17:3; Isa. 40:26). Rom.1:20-21 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: 21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (KJV)
Have ye offered to me slain beasts . . . this positive question denies that they had offered any sacrifices unto God while they were in the wilderness . . . BUT instead they had offered sacrifices to idols, thus they had corrupted God's worship. Their sacrifices were as NO sacrifices unto Him (Isa.43:23-24).
Acts 7:43-45 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. 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. 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; (KJV)
Israel went into idolatry in a big way. That is why Moses, and later Joshua, pleaded with the Israelites to choose God and turn from their idols. Moloch was the idol of the children of Ammon, and the Israelites were strictly forbidden to worship (Lev.18:21; 20:2). BUT they did worship him (2 Chron. 28:3; Jer. 7:31) and there was a high place built by Solomon for him (1Kings 11:7-8). Solomon's wisdom left him when he did that!
Remphan, a name of Saturn, called Chiun in Amos 5:26, the star god of Babylon. It was customary for idolaters of all nations to carry small images of their gods on their journeys and in war. They were put in tiny temples called tabernacles or shrines (Acts 19:24). The Israelites carried these idols, imitating the Moabites, Ammonites, etc. Because Israel carried these idols, God told Amos that Israel would go into captivity beyond Damascus and Babylon (Amos 5:25-27).
Israel was carried into Assyria and Media (2 Ki. 17:6). AND soon after Stephen's sermon, Israel WAS carried to the utter most parts of the Earth. But, one day she shall be restored (Isa.11:11-12; Mat.24:31; Mk.13:27).
Acts 7:46 Who found favour before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob. (KJV)
Stephen now speaks of David. Desired to find a tabernacle . . . David wanted to build a permanent temple (2 Sam 7:2). But David was not permitted to build the temple because of his abundant shedding of blood (1 Chron.22:8).
Who found favour before God . . . God granted David great prosperity, and delivered him from his enemies, and allowed him to write many Psalms. Psalm 132:1-18 tells of this.
Acts 7:47-50 But Solomon built him an house. 48 Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, 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? 50 Hath not my hand made all these things? (KJV)
Howbeit . . . why Stephen added this, is not clear. He was accused of speaking against the temple. He had now shown that he had great reverence for it, saying that it had been built by the command of God. But, now he adds . . . that God does not need such a temple. Heaven is His throne; the Universe His dwelling-place (Isaiah 66:1; 1 Kings 8:27; Acts 17:24; Mat. 5:34).
Now Stephen boldly condemns the religious rulers.
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. (KJV)
Circumcision is the cutting away the foreskin, performed on all Hebrew males on the eight day. (Gen.17:10; 17:14,23; 21:4; 34:15,22; Ex.4:25; 12:44; Lev.12:3; Josh.5:3; 5:7; Luke 1:59; 2:21). Physically, the Jews that day that were listening to Stephen, were physically circumcised, but in their hearts and ears, they were uncircumcised.
Of the circumcism refers to the Jews (Acts 10:45; 11:2; Rom. 3:30; 4:9; 15:8; Gal.2:8-9; 2:12; Eph.2:11; Phil.3:3; Col.4:11 ).
Uncircumcised symbolizes all those whose hearts do not belong to God, Gentiles, heathens (1 Sam.17:26; 17:36; Eze. 28:10; 31:18; 32:32; 44:7; Acts 11:3; Eph. 2:11).
Spiritual circumcism refers to all who have believed God and accepted His Word as Truth. It is yielding to, being in agreement with Him, flexible. It is the opposite of stubborn, rebellious and stiffnecked.
For spiritual circumcism see: Deut.10:16; 30:6; Jer.4:4; 9:26; Eze.44:9; Acts 7:51; Rom. 2:28-29; Col. 2:11.
The word stiffnecked is often used in the Old Testament, to indicate stubbornness and rebellion (Ex. 32:9; 33:3,5, 34:9, Deut.9:6,13, 10:16, etc. It is a figurative expression taken from oxen that were unruly, and that would not submit to be yoked. Applied to men, it means that they were stubborn, wayward and unwilling to submit to the restraints of law.
Circumcision was a sign of being a Jew and of acknowledging the authority of the laws of Moses. It was also symbolic of purity and submission to the law of God. Uncircumcised in heart means Jews who are not willing to acknowledge the law, and submit to it. They had hearts filled with immoral and unsubdued affections and desires.
Resist the Holy Ghost . . . Stephen told them that they opposed the message which was brought by the authority of God, and the inspiration of His Spirit just like their ancestors did. The message was brought by Moses, by the prophets, by the Saviour, by the apostles and now by Stephen.
Acts 7:52 Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: (KJV)
He goes on to tell them they persecuted and killed the prophets of old.
Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? . . . the questioning form here is a strong way of saying that they had persecuted ALL the prophets. It was the characteristic of Israel to persecute the messengers of God. This should be taken as a general truth; for is was their national characteristic (Mat.21:33-40, 23:29-35). They abused and mistreated the prophets (2 Chron.36:16; 1 Thes.2:15).
And they have slain them . . . they have killed the prophets, whose main message was that the Messiah was to come, and then they killed the Just One (Jesus, Acts 3:14-15). They put to death the messengers which foretold the greatest blessing that the nation could receive. They not only resisted the Spirit but also have killed those inspired by Him.
Acts 7:53 Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. (KJV)
The Jews wouldn't hear God any more than their ancestors did. In his masterful speech, Stephen reminded them of their deliverance out of Egypt, and how God had made Moses the deliverer, their saviour, but the children of Israel refused to obey him. The wilderness experience was a constant series of rebellions against God, brought to a climax in the making of a golden calf. A plague of idolatry broke out again in the land and resulted in the Babylonian captivity. Stephen ends with Joshua, who led them into the land, and Jesus, who made the way possible to Heaven. He tells them that the Law was given to them supernaturally by the ministry of God's Holy angels, and they did NOT keep it. It is possible that they knew that the birth of Jesus was announced by angels (Lu.2:8-18). It was extremely clear that they were betrayers and murderers of Jesus.
Martyrdom Of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60)
Stephen became the first Christian martyr. Also, in this part of the chapter, we are first introduced to Saul of Tarsus.
Acts 7:54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. (KJV)
WOW! What a speech from Stephen! Oh! How they hated Stephen for saying what he did! They were furious!
They were cut to the heart . . . they were angry to the point of madness. They gnashed on him with their teeth . . . They refused to listen to him no more. They were filled with rage and it seems thirsted for his blood.
Gnashing of teeth is the curse of the damned (Mat.8:12), which men by their sins do prepare for.
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, (KJV)
Stephen's eyes were fixed intently on Heaven. I feel certain that he foresaw the danger, even before he started his speech, and knew what was about to happen.
With the effect his speech had on them, he knew there was no safety in those rulers, and no prospect of justice at their hands. He looked to Heaven and sought comfort from there. Any time that danger threatens us, our hope of comfort, peace and safety lies in Heaven.
Being full of the Holy Ghost . . . Acts 6:3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. (KJV) Acts 6:5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: (KJV) . . . Remember, Stephen was one of the seven chosen by the apostles to serve as deacons in the church.
WHAT did Stephen see that day? He saw the glory of God! What else did he see? He saw Jesus standing on the right Hand of God! Jesus is at God's right Hand!
What is the glory of God? This phrase is often used to mean the visible symbols of God; a magnificent representation; a splendor, light, fire . . . something that is a fitting and proper exhibition of the Presence of God, (Ex.13:21-22; 16:10; 24:17; Lev.9:23; Neh.9:19; Mat.16:27; 24:30; Luke 2:9). In Stephen's case, there is every indication of a vision, or a supernatural representation; something much more than faith. What it really was, we don't know, but objects were often represented to prophets by visions; and it is highly probable that something like that happened there that day. It was a grand representation of the glory of God! Did Stephen really see the Saviour with his eyes? Someday we can ask him.
On the right hand of God . . . this is an exalted place of honor and power in the heavens (Mat.26:64; Heb.1:3; 8:1; 12:2). Stephen says he saw Jesus standing on the right Hand of God . . . there are verses stating Jesus is seated at God's right Hand (Mk.16:19; Lu.22:69; Col.3:1; Heb.1:3). The fact that our Lord Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God indicates that His work was completed, it is finished (John 19:30) . . . our redemption is completed, there is NO work we have to do. Jesus paid it all.
So . . . if God is a spirit (John 4:24), how can there be a right Hand of God? The phrase the right hand of God indicates the place of prominence and honor. God had promised Christ Jesus that He would glorify Him and give Him a Name that is above every name (Eph.1:20-21; Phil.2:9). Jesus Christ is exalted by God the Father. He is at the right Hand of God. But that doesn't mean He has stopped working on our behalf. There He was, standing, ready to receive His first martyr.
Acts 7:56-58 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. 57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, 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. (KJV)
Here we see two young men mentioned together . . . Stephen and Saul of Tarsus . . . they are together here, the one and only time. They are enemies on opposite sides of the Cross.
I see the heavens opened . . . is a symbolic expression, meaning that Stephen was permitted to see into Heaven, or to see what was there (Eze.1:1).
Acts 7:59-60 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. 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. (KJV)
Stephen dies fell asleep. Jesus puts his body to sleep to wait for the Rapture (1 Thes.4:13-18). Stephen's eternal soul/spirit goes into the awesome Presence of Christ our Lord, who is standing with open arms to meet him. Stephen is the first martyr of the church to go to be with the Lord.
The other young man there that day was a Pharisee, and he probably thought he had everything. I am certain that He looked up into Heaven when Stephen said that he saw the heavens open. I am sure that Saul looked up and said "I don't see anything". Stephen was a tremendous witness to Saul. I think Stephen was the one who readied Saul for that amazing event that would soon happen to him on the Damascus road.
Book of Acts
Ch.1 . . Ch.2 . . Ch.3 . . Ch.4 . . Ch.5 . . Ch.6 . . Ch.7 . . Ch.8 . . Ch.9 . . Ch.10 . . Ch.11 . . Ch.12 . . Ch.13 . . Ch.14 . . Ch.15 . . Ch.16 . . Ch.17 . . Ch.18 . . Ch.19 . . Ch.20 . . Ch.21 . . Ch.22 . . Ch.23 . . Ch.24 . . Ch.25 . . Ch.26 . . Ch.27 . . Ch.28