Acts 7



Stephen’s Speech—The Jewish Ancestors (7:1-16)

1 “Are these charges true?” the high priest asked Stephen. “Have you spoken these things against our temple and against the Jewish law?”

In replying, Stephen didn’t speak in his own defense. Rather, he spoke in defense of the Gospel of Christ—that is, in defense of this new Christian religion that was being opposed by the Jews.

In his speech Stephen seeks to show that it was never God’s intention to live among men in only one country and in only one temple. God’s true people, that is, those who truly believe in Jesus Christ, can be of any race or of any country. To show this, Stephen in this chapter gives a brief history of the Jewish people beginning with Abraham, the first Jew, and continuing right up to the time of Christ. In his speech, Stephen shows from the Jews’ own Scriptures (the Old Testament) that this new Christian religion is now God’s true religion.

2-3 Abraham was the first Jew. At first Abraham lived in Mesopotamia, which was also called the land of the Chaldeans (verse 4), and is now the modern Middle Eastern nation of Iraq. While Abraham was living there, God spoke to him, saying: “Leave your country … and go to the land I will show you.” So Abraham left his country and went to the place where God led him. In doing this, Abraham has given an example of obedience for all of us to follow (see Hebrews 11:8 and comment).

4 Abraham first went to a city called Haran, which lay to the north of present-day Israel in what is now modern Turkey. After Abraham had been in Haran for some years, God spoke to him again saying: “Leave your country … and go to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). So Abraham left Haran and journeyed to the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:4-5)—that is, Israel—“this land where you are now living,” says Stephen to the Jews.

5 Canaan (Israel) was the land that God had promised to give to Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 17:8). But Abraham himself never took possession of the land—not even a foot of ground. Abraham’s true inheritance was in heaven (see Hebrews 11:9-10).

When God promised to give the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants, Abraham was an old man and had no children. Nevertheless, Abraham believed God’s promise.

6-7 God said to Abraham, “Your descendants will be strangers in a country (Egypt) not their own.” God also told Abraham that after his descendants (the Jews) had been enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years, He would punish Egypt and lead the Jews back to the promised land of Canaan (Genesis 15:13-16; Exodus 12:29-36).

Abraham’s descendants (the Jews) remained for four hundred years in Egypt, as God had said. During that long period, God’s promise to give them the land of Canaan remained unfulfilled. God does not always fulfill His promises immediately; we must learn to wait patiently (2 Peter 3:8-9).

8 Then God gave Abraham the covenant of CIRCUMCISION. Circumcision is the cutting away of the extra skin at the end of the penis. God commanded Abraham and all his descendants to be circumcised; this was to be the outward sign of being a Jew (Genesis 17:10-13). Circumcision was the sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham. And this was the covenant God made with Abraham: “I will make you into a great nation … and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3).

When Abraham was one hundred years old he became the father of Isaac (Genesis 21:2-5). Then Isaac became the father of Jacob (Genesis 25:26). Then Jacob had twelve sons, who became the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel, the Jewish nation (Genesis 35:23-26).

9 Here in verses 9-15, Stephen explains how the Jews first came to Egypt. Joseph was the eleventh son of Jacob. Jacob loved Joseph more than his other sons; therefore, Joseph’s older brothers became jealous of him, and sold him as a slave to some merchants traveling to Egypt (Genesis 37:34,25-28,36).

Just as Joseph’s brothers had been jealous of Joseph, so had the present Jews been jealous of Jesus. Evil men are always jealous of good men.

10 God gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt.40 In particular, God gave Joseph the ability to interpret dreams. Joseph interpreted one of Pharaoh’s dreams, and Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph’s wisdom that he made Joseph ruler over Egypt (Genesis 41:15-43).

11 According to Joseph’s interpretation, Pharaoh’s dream indicated that a severe famine was coming to Egypt and Canaan (Israel), which would last for seven years. This came true, just as Joseph had said. When the famine came, Joseph’s father and brothers living in Israel began to suffer from lack of food. But in Egypt, Joseph had wisely stored up much grain in advance, and no one went hungry (Genesis 41:54-57).

12 Hearing that there was plenty of food in Egypt, Jacob sent his sons there to get grain. The sons did not recognize their younger brother Joseph, whom they had earlier sold into slavery. He was now the ruler of Egypt under Pharaoh! (Genesis 42:1-3,6-8).

13-14 When Joseph’s brothers came a second time to Egypt to get grain, Joseph revealed to them who he was. Then Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his entire family to come and live in Egypt (Genesis 43:12; 45:1-10).

15-16 Jacob and eventually all of his twelve sons died in Egypt. But later their bones were carried to Israel to be buried (Genesis 50:4-9; Joshua 24:32).

Stephen’s Speech—Moses (7:17-43)

17 As the ancestors of the Jews moved from one country to another, God never forgot the covenant He had made with Abraham. God always fulfills His promises at the right time.

God had promised Abraham that his descendants would take possession of the land of Canaan (Israel). When the time came for the promise to be fulfilled, the number of our people in Egypt—that is, the Jews—had greatly increased.

18-19 A new king was ruling Egypt at that time. This new Pharaoh thought that the Jews had become too numerous, so he ordered all the newborn male children of the Jews to be thrown into the river (Exodus 1:7-9,22).

If such terrible persecution had not come upon the Jews, they would never have agreed to leave Egypt and go to the land that God had promised them. In order to fulfill His purposes, God allowed the necessary amount of persecution to come upon His people at the appointed time.

20-22 Moses was born just at this time. For three months, Moses’ Jewish mother and father refused to obey the order of the new Pharaoh to throw the child into the river. Instead, they hid the child in their home, because they saw that he was no ordinary child (verse 20). They were not afraid of the king’s edict (see Hebrews 11:23). Finally, when they could no longer hide Moses at home, they placed him by the river where the Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe. They hoped that she might find him and care for him because of his beauty. And indeed she did find Moses, and she took him home and made him herson (Exodus 2:1-10). Thus, as happened with Joseph in a previous generation, Moses also became powerful in the land of Egypt.

23-29 For forty years no one except Pharaoh’s daughter knew that Moses was really an Israelite, that is, a Jew. For all that time he had remained separate from his fellow Israelites. But finally one day he decided to meet some of them (verse 23).

Moses saw an Egyptian mistreating one of the Jews; becoming angry, Moses killed the Egyptian. Moses knew somehow that he had been appointed by God to deliver the Jews from persecution. But his fellow Jews did not accept him (Exodus 2:11-14).

Not only that, the news quickly spread that Moses was a Jew, and that he had killed an Egyptian. Therefore, Moses fled from Egypt and went to Midian, located on the eastern edge of the Sinai desert (Exodus 2:15). Just as Joseph had been forced by his brothers to leave his own country and go to a foreign land, so Moses now had to leave Egypt and become a foreigner in another land, Midian.

30-34 Moses lived in Midian for forty years. By the end of that time, he had reached the age of eighty. It took God that long to prepare Moses for the work to which He had called him! At the end of the forty years, an angel of God41 appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush (verse 30).

God told Moses that the place where he was standing was holy ground (verse 33). The Jews believed that there was only one “holy ground,” and that was the site of their temple in Jerusalem. Stephen’s point was that in whatever place God is present, that place is “holy.” God appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia (verse 2). Now God had appeared to Moses in the Sinai desert.

Speaking from the burning bush, God told Moses to go back to Egypt. It was God’s plan that Moses should free the Jews from bondage (Exodus 3:1-10).

35 Here Stephen begins to compare Moses with Christ, though without mentioning Christ by name. The Jews at first rejected Moses. Nevertheless, God sent that same Moses to them to be their ruler and deliverer. Similarly, the Jews rejected Christ, whom God had sent to be their Lord and Savior.

36 Moses returned to Egypt and delivered the Jews by means of wonders and miraculous signs. The story of the Jews’ escape from Egypt is told in Exodus Chapters 8-12.

As soon as the Jews left Egypt, Pharaoh and his army began to chase after them. With the Egyptian army close behind them, the Jews came to the shore of the Red Sea. Then, through Moses, God separated the water of the Sea to the right and to the left, so that the Jews could cross on dry land. Thus the Jews crossed to the other side in safety. But when the Egyptian army tried to cross after them, God allowed the water of the Red Sea to fall back over them, and they were all drowned (Exodus 14:5-28).

After that, Moses led the Jews for forty years in the desert of the Sinai peninsula, which lies between Egypt and Israel.

37 Here Stephen quotes Moses’ words to the Israelites (Jews): “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people” (Deuteronomy 18:15). Peter had already told the Jews earlier that Christ was the very prophet about whom Moses had spoken (Acts 3:22-23).

Now we can understand why Stephen has said all these things about Moses to the Jewish leaders of the Sanhedrin: because Christ was that prophet who Moses said would be like himself. Just as the Jews at first rejected Moses and then afterward in the Sinai desert repeatedly disobeyed him, so now the present-day Jews had rejected and disobeyed Christ. Jesus Himself said to the Jews: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me” (John 5:46-47). Stephen is, in effect, saying here: Let the Jews of the Sanhedrin recognize Christ! Christ is the very prophet Moses spoke of. Let the Jews know that this same Christ has been chosen and anointed by God to be their Savior and to deliver them from bondage to sin, just as Moses delivered their ancestors from bondage in Egypt.

38 Moses was in the assembly in the (Sinai) desert. There in the desert were God’s people, His “church.” An angel was also with them—that is, God Himself was with them in the form of an angel (see verses 30-34 and comment). God had said to the Jews: “My Presence will go with you” (Exodus 33:14). The angel, therefore, was God’s Presence. Through the angel, God spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai and gave him the law which God Himself had written on stone tablets—which Stephen here calls God’s living words (Exodus 24:12; 31:18; 32:15-16).

39-41 Moses remained on the top of Mount Sinai for forty days in order to receive God’s law. While Moses was on the mountain, the Jews got impatient and turned away from God. They built an image of a calf out of gold and began to worship it (Exodus 32:1-6).

42-43 Because the Jews deliberately disobeyed God and made an idol to worship in place of God, God gave them over to the worship of the heavenly bodies.42 These disobedient Jews didn’t just worship idols made with their own hands; they also began to worship stars and planets. Here Stephen quotes from the prophecy of Amos in Amos 5:25-27. In this prophecy, God says to the Jews: “Instead of worshiping me, you have worshiped the idols Moloch and Rephan. Because you have done this, I will send you into exile beyond Babylon” (verse 43). And indeed, God later did punish the Jews by driving them out of Israel and sending them as prisoners into exile in Babylon.43

Stephen’s Speech—God’s House (7:44-53)

44 In the Sinai desert, God’s tabernacle of Testimony was with the Jews. The Testimony was God’s testimony—that is, the two stone tablets on which God had written His law (see Exodus 31:18; Revelation 15:5-6 and comment).

God had told Moses exactly how to make the tabernacle (Exodus 25:8-9). While they were in the desert, the Jews did not have a big permanent temple like the one that was later built in Jerusalem. Their tabernacle was only a tent, and wherever the Jews went, they took the tent with them.

45 For forty years the Jews wandered in the Sinai desert. At the end of that time, a new leader, Joshua, led them into Israel, the land that God in the beginning had promised to give to Abraham’s descendants.

At that time a number of Gentile tribes were living in Israel, and with God’s help the Jews drove them out. Finally, in King David’s time, after many battles, the Jews took possession of the entire land.

The Jews took the tabernacle into Israel with them, and for many years, up until the time of David when the main Jewish temple was built, the Jews worshiped God in that tabernacle.

46 King David desired to build a proper temple for God (2 Samuel 7:1-2). But God, through the prophet Nathan, told David He didn’t need to dwell in a big temple. For all the years He had been with the Jews thus far, He had been dwelling in a tabernacle made out of a tent. Why should He now need a big temple? (2 Samuel 7:5-7).

Then God said to David: “I will raise up your offspring (Christ) to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son” (2 Samuel 7:12-14).

47 In the end, David didn’t build the Jewish temple; his son Solomon did. It was Solomon who built the great temple in Jerusalem, where the Jews worshiped right up to New Testament times. In one way, Solomon’s building of the temple was a fulfillment of God’s promise to David that one of his “offspring” would build a house for my Name (2 Samuel 7:13). But in another way, the promise was only fulfilled when Christ came, because it was He who built the true “house” of God. Christ was the true offspring of David. Christ’s throne is a spiritual “throne” that will last forever (Luke 1:30-33). The house that Christ built is a spiritual “house.” God’s true house or temple is not a building; it is people—believers. Believers make up the true spiritual temple of God. This is the temple in which God dwells. The dwelling place of God is in the hearts of all those who believe in Christ. And the chief cornerstone of God’s spiritual temple is Christ Himself (see Ephesians 2:19-22 and comment).

48-50 After Solomon had finished building the temple, he said: “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27). Stephen says here that the Most High (God) does not live in houses made by men (verse 48). Stephen then quotes from Isaiah 66:1-2, where the prophet Isaiah says the same thing. Therefore, these Old Testament prophets—including Solomon himself, the builder of the temple—have all said that God does not need a temple to live in. Let the Jews of the Sanhedrin not accuse Stephen of speaking against the temple; the Jews’ own Scriptures (the Old Testament) have spoken against it! The Old Testament teaches that the true temple of God consists of His faithful and obedient people.

51 Here Stephen begins to openly oppose the Jews of the Sanhedrin. These Jews had accused Stephen of speaking in opposition to God. Now Stephen accuses the Jews themselves of resisting God, of resisting God’s Holy Spirit, through whom the Old Testament prophets spoke. They are just like their ancestors, who repeatedly disobeyed Moses and the other Old Testament prophets. They are Jews who have been circumcised outwardly, but whose hearts and ears have never been “circumcised.” That is, Stephen says, they are just like uncircum-cised Gentiles who neither love nor obey God! (see Romans 2:28-29 and comment).

52 Throughout Old Testament times, God sent many prophets to the rebellious and disobedient Jews to warn them and to lead them to repentance. But the Jews always rejected and persecuted God’s prophets (Matthew 23:29-31). Many of these prophets prophesied about the coming of Christ, and the Jews killed them. But worst of all, these same Jews, who were now accusing Stephen, had betrayed and murdered the Righteous One, Christ Himself (see Acts 2:23;3:13-15).

53 Stephen says to the Jews: “… you who have received the law … have not obeyed it,” because you have betrayed and murdered Christ. The Jews thought they were righteous because they had received the law. But, in fact, they disobeyed their own law. They had disobeyed Moses and the prophets. Now they had disobeyed Christ also.

Stephen says that the law was put into effect through angels. When God gave the law to Moses on top of Mount Sinai, there were many of God’s angels present (see Deuteronomy 33:2; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2).

The Stoning of Stephen (7:54-60)

54-56 On one side were the Jewish leaders, gnashing their teeth at Stephen. On the other side was Christ, standing at the right hand of God. A few years earlier, Jesus Himself had stood before this same Sanhedrin. At that time the high priest had asked Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” And Jesus had replied: “I am. … And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61-62). Now Stephen says to the Jews of the Sanhedrin: “Look … I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (verse 56).

Jesus is at God’s right hand. We don’t need a temple. We don’t need to observe a lot of religious rituals. We have Jesus Christ, the Lord of heaven, standing at God’s right hand interceding for us. Because Christ has gone before us into heaven, we who believe in Him can now come directly into the presence of God (see Hebrews 7:24-26; 8:1-2).

57-58 All the Jews present determined at once to condemn Stephen to death. They were so angry that they didn’t even wait to get permission from the Roman governor. In fact, Stephen hadn’t said anything worthy of the death penalty. Nevertheless, they considered that he had committed blasphemy against God (Leviticus 24:1316). Therefore, they rushed with him to the place for stoning criminals and began to stone him.

The Jews executed criminals by stoning them to death. The person to be executed was placed in a deep pit, and then heavy stones were thrown down upon him. Those who had testified against the person were required to throw the first stones (Deuteronomy 17:7). In Stephen’s case, all the Jews of the Sanhedrin were witnesses against him; therefore, they were all entitled to throw the first stone. They all took of f their outer clothing, so that they could more easily throw the stones. They laid their clothing at the feet of a young man named Saul (verse 58). This Saul later became the Apostle Paul. Paul never forgot how he had given approval to Stephen’s death (Acts 22:20).

59-60 Even as he was dying, Stephen followed the example of his Lord. While He was on the cross, Jesus had prayed for those who were crucifying him: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). In the same way, Stephen prayed: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (verse 60).

Even in the midst of intense suffering, Stephen didn’t look at his persecutors; he looked to God. When trouble comes upon us, what do we see? Do we see our enemies, our bad circumstances? Or, like Stephen, do we see God?

Stephen was the first Christian to be killed for the sake of Christ; he was the first Christian martyr. And ever since, Stephen has been an example of strong faith and steadfastness for countless believers down through the centuries. We also, when great trouble or persecution comes upon us, can, like Stephen, lift our eyes to heaven and see Christ our Savior. And when we see Christ standing at the right hand of God, then we will have no need to fear. If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31). Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—morethan that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (see Romans 8:34-38 and comment).