Welcome back to our journey through the book of Acts! Work and travel interrupted our blog; however, we are back with a review of Acts chapter seven.
We ended chapter six introducing Stephen and the message he continued to share, after he was appointed by the twelve apostles to serve in the daily distribution of food. This text opens with the high priest asking Stephen if the accusations against him were true. Waiting on a response, the Sanhedrin Council looked intently at Stephen and saw his face like the face of an angel. “Stephen, like Jesus, is transfigured before them, yet the transformation does not result in their conversion or deliverance.”[i] According to Boring and Craddock, “Stephen is accused of blasphemy, which is punishable by stoning according to Lev. 24:10-23. He becomes the first Christian martyr (martyr is derived from the same root as ‘witness’’ see on 1:8).”[ii]
Stephen begins telling the history of Israel, beginning with Abraham and Sara, the promise God made to them and their descendants (Isaac and Jacob), the Israelites in the land of Egypt, Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, and the building of a temple by Solomon. “Stephen’s speech, the longest in Acts, stands at a transitional point in the story line that will introduce Saul, the hero of the second half of Acts.”[iii] There is so much in Stephen’s speech, that we will not do it justice by trying to cover it here. Instead, I encourage you to spend some time reading through it.
After his walk through the Hebrew scriptures, Stephen abruptly shifts the conversation. He accuses those listening of being stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in their hearts and ears, forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as their ancestors used to do. He accused them of murdering the one who the prophets foretold would come, “the coming of the Righteous One.”
“In Luke’s view, the leading motif of the Hebrew Scriptures is that of promise. God promised a land to resident aliens, a nation to a childless couple, and deliverance from Pharoah to powerless slaves. Luke sees the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Christ event, and the continuing history of the church, of which the Old Testament stories are prototypes. Luke also sees Moses and David as prototypes of Christ.”[iv]
When the Sanhedrin Council heard these things, they were enraged. Stephen told them that he saw the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. “The Jewish leaders realize that the claim Jesus is now enthroned in heaven is not a speculative Christological point. If Stephen really sees the risen Christ at God’s right hand, then the Jewish council has become God’s enemy, as Gamaliel had warned (5:30).”[v] The people covered their ears, and with a loud shout they rushed against Stephen.
They dragged him out of the city and stoned him. Witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul (see note above). While they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He cried that the Lord would not hold this sin against them. After this, he died. With Stephen’s stoning, we see some parallels to the death of Jesus: “taking him outside the city (Luke 4:28-29), and Stephen asking God to receive his spirit (breath) – like Jesus, Stephen dies with a psalm of trust on his own lips (Luke 23:46).”[vi]
Prayer: Dear God, here we read of the first Christian martyr, Stephen. He used his gifts and his voice to share your message. Just as with Jesus Christ, they accused him falsely, and killed him. During this Eastertide, we remember Jesus, who rose from the dead, giving witness to our Christian story and history, through the life of Stephen. Thank you for your word. Help us to affirm Luke’s interpretation, as the writer of these events. Help us to be enlightened and encouraged as we read it together. In Jesus’ name, Am
[i] Boring, M. Eugene and Fred Craddock, The People New Testament Commentary, pg. 387.
[ii] Ibid., pg. 391.
[iii] Ibid., pg. 387.
[iv] Ibid., pg. 391.