7:1 Then the high priest asked him, “Are these charges true?”
7:2 To this he replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran.
7:3 ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’
7:4 “So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living.
7:5 He gave him no inheritance here, not even a foot of ground. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child.
7:6 God spoke to him in this way: ‘Your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.
7:7 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,’ God said, ‘and afterward they will come out of that country and worship me in this place.’
7:8 Then he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. And Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him eight days after his birth. Later Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs.
7:9 “Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him
7:10 and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt; so he made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace.
7:11 “Then a famine struck all Egypt and Canaan, bringing great suffering, and our fathers could not find food.
7:12 When Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers on their first visit.
7:13 On their second visit, Joseph told his brothers who he was, and Pharaoh learned about Joseph’s family.
7:14 After this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five in all.
7:15 Then Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our fathers died.
7:16 Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money.
7:17 “As the time drew near for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt greatly increased.
7:18 Then another king, who knew nothing about Joseph, became ruler of Egypt.
7:19 He dealt treacherously with our people and oppressed our forefathers by forcing them to throw out their newborn babies so that they would die.
7:20 “At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for in his father’s house.
7:21 When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son.
7:22 Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.
7:23 “When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his fellow Israelites.
7:24 He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian.
7:25 Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not.
7:26 The next day Moses came upon two Israelites who were fighting. He tried to reconcile them by saying, ‘Men, you are brothers; why do you want to hurt each other?’
7:27 “But the man who was mistreating the other pushed Moses aside and said, ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us?
7:28 Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’
7:29 When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he settled as a foreigner and had two sons.
7:30 “After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai.
7:31 When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to look more closely, he heard the Lord’s voice:
7:32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look.
7:33 “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals; the place where you are standing is holy ground.
7:34 I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.’
7:35 “This is the same Moses whom they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush.
7:36 He led them out of Egypt and did wonders and miraculous signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the desert.
7:37 “This is that Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will send you a prophet like me from your own people.’
7:38 He was in the assembly in the desert, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living words to pass on to us.
7:39 “But our fathers refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt.
7:40 They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’
7:41 That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made.
7:42 But God turned away and gave them over to the worship of the heavenly bodies. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets: ” ‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the desert, O house of Israel?
7:43 You have lifted up the shrine of Molech and the star of your god Rephan, the idols you made to worship. Therefore I will send you into exile’ beyond Babylon.
7:44 “Our forefathers had the tabernacle of the Testimony with them in the desert. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen.
7:45 Having received the tabernacle, our fathers under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David,
7:46 who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.
7:47 But it was Solomon who built the house for him.
7:48 “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says:
7:49 ” ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be?
7:50 Has not my hand made all these things?’
7:51 “You stiff-necked [cf. Ex. 33:3; stubborn] people, with uncircumcised hearts [evidenced by religious activity but no real relationship with God] and ears! You are just like your fathers [disobedient and rebellious]: You always resist [through disobedience or rebellion] the Holy Spirit!
After his accusers rested their case, the high priest asked Stephen: “Is this true?” Using drab colors from the pallet of Jewish history, Stephen painted a troubling portrait. Beginning with Abraham, he sketched a panoramic view of Jewish history that accentuated their unbelief, disobedience, and rebellion. Using the language of the prophets, he concluded by accusing his accusers of having ears that did not hear the truth, hearts that were unreceptive to the truth, and stiff necks that refused to bow to the truth. They were guilty of resisting the Holy Spirit, just like their forefathers.
7:52 Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed [cf. Jesus’ words in Matt. 23:37; Lk. 11:47-48 and 20:9-19; see also Heb. 11:35-38] those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One [the Messiah, Jesus Christ; term used by Peter in his temple sermon (3:14)]. And now you have betrayed and murdered him [Jesus; Peter also accused his audience of having murdered the Righteous One (3:14-15)]—
7:53 you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.”
Their own history attested to the truth of Stephen’s words. Their fathers had persecuted and killed the prophets. They had constantly rejected God’s messengers and had even killed those who announced the coming of the Messiah, the Righteous One.
Like their fathers, they too failed to see what God was doing in their midst. Their treatment of Jesus was proof they had not learned from their fathers’ mistakes. And just as Peter had done (Acts 3:14-15), Stephen charged his audience with having betrayed and murdered Jesus, the Righteous One. They were the ones who had received yet failed to obey the law.
Stephen exhibited boldness in his defense by intelligently anchoring his case in Jewish history. We exhibit boldness and wisdom when we anchor our Christian beliefs and values in both history and experience as a way of defending ourselves in the face of false accusations.
7:54 When they heard this, they [the seventy members of the Sanhedrin] were furious [enraged; cf. Acts 5:33] and gnashed their teeth at him [a sign of anger; cf. Ps. 35:16].
Although Stephen’s defense was brilliant, he offered it to men who were afraid of the light. Rather than considering Stephen’s words, the seventy members of the council became enraged in their hearts. They had listened to Stephen’s defense with clenched teeth and were absolutely furious that he had placed them on trial. With their faces distorted with rage, the council became a lynch mob. Stephen’s fate was sealed.
One of my seminary professors once remarked that he would rather be a sinner in the hands of an angry God than a sinner in the hands of an angry sinner. Stephen would find neither mercy nor grace at the hands of these religious leaders.
7:55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit [the source of Stephen’s strength], looked up [where we should fix our gaze when things “look down”] to heaven and saw the glory of God, and [first mention of the appearance of the resurrected Christ since his ascension] Jesus standing [cf. Mk. 14:62; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3,13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2 re: Jesus “seated” upon completion of His work] at the right hand [the place of honor] of God.
In contrast to the enraged religious leaders, Stephen was filled by the Holy Spirit, the source of his strength and courage. As the situation became worse, Stephen gazed into heaven where he saw God’s glory and Jesus standing at God’s right hand.
This is the first mention of the appearance of Jesus since His ascension. Others passages of Scripture speak of Jesus being seated at God’s right hand, the place of honor, upon completion of His work. However, Stephen saw Jesus standing. Perhaps Jesus was standing to welcome the first Christian martyr into heaven.
7:56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open [cf. Lk. 3:21-22 re: baptism of Jesus] and the Son of Man [only time in NT this messianic title (Dan. 7:13-14) used by anyone other than Jesus] standing [perhaps to honor and welcome the first Christian martyr into heaven] at the right hand [the place of honor] of God.”
Stephen described his vision just before his death. He said that he saw the heavens opened, just as they had opened on the day that Jesus was baptized (Luke 3:21-22). Stephen also saw the Son of Man or Jesus. This is the only time in the New Testament that this messianic title is used by anyone other than Jesus and the last time it is used in the Bible.
Stephen saw Jesus standing at God’s right hand. Stephen had faithfully acknowledged Jesus before men. And now, Jesus stood and acknowledged Stephen “before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8).
7:57 At this [Stephen’s testimony of his vision of Jesus standing at God’s right hand] they covered their ears [to keep the truth out] and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all [like one man] rushed at him,
Upon hearing Stephen speak of seeing Jesus standing at God’s right hand, the religious leaders did three things. First, they screamed at the top of their voices in an attempt to drown out Stephen’s voice. Second, they stopped or covered their ears to keep from hearing more of what they considered to be blasphemous words. Finally, the enraged religious leaders took on the demeanor of a violent lynch mob and rushed together against Stephen with the intent of doing him harm.
7:58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone [process: criminal thrown down from a height and then stoned by witnesses] him. Meanwhile, the witnesses [according to Mosaic law, the witnesses were required to cast the first stone; cf. Deut. 17:7; Lev. 24:14; Jn. 8:7] laid their clothes at the feet of a young man [Gr. neanias; probably between ages of 24 and 40] named Saul [likely later related the details of this event to Luke; Saul (Heb. name) later changed to Paul (Gr. equivalent) when he began ministry to Gentiles].
The enraged mob dragged Stephen out of the city where they began to stone him. The Sanhedrin did not have the authority to execute Stephen without permission from Roman authorities and made no attempt to stop this illegal action against him. The usual process of stoning was to throw the criminal down from a height. If the fall did not kill the victim, then, according to the Mosaic law (see Deut. 17:7), the witnesses were required to cast the first stone (see John 8:7).
In Stephen’s case, the angry mob laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul and then pelted Stephen with stones. Saul, whose name would later be changed to Paul, was in agreement with putting Stephen to death (Acts 8:1).
7:59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus [this must have further offended his opponents and Saul], receive my spirit [Jewish children taught to pray this prayer (based on Ps. 31:5) at bedtime; cf. Lk. 23:46].”
Stephen’s final moments of life were marked by behavior that was different than that of his opponents. His final words echoed those spoken by Jesus just before He died on the cross (Luke 23:46). As Stephen felt the painful impact of each stone, he prayed a prayer based on Psalm 31:5 which Jewish children were taught to pray at bedtime: “Into your hands I entrust my spirit.” However, Stephen directed his words to the Lord Jesus, which must have further offended his opponents and Saul.
7:60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them [cf. Lk. 23:34-36].” When he had said this, he fell asleep [a euphemism for death; cf. 1 Cor. 11:30; 15:6,18,20; 1 Thess. 4:13-15; from Gr. word “ekoimethe” from which we get our Eng. word “cemetery”].
Seconds from death, Stephen fell on his knees and cried out with his last breath, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” Instead of cursing those who were mistreating him, Stephen prayed for them as Jesus had taught (Luke 6:27-28). The Holy Spirit enabled Stephen to forgive and to intercede on behalf of those who stoned him.
One final stone was hurled at Stephen and ended his life. He fell asleep, a euphemism for death, with a vision of the Lord Jesus. Stephen demonstrated boldness to the end by referring to Jesus’ place in heaven and by seeking forgiveness for those stoning him. Saul, who likely related these events to Luke, heard and remembered Stephen’s last words.