From our two previous articles, Stephen was introduced by Luke as "a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit." His evangelistic work was unknown, until he and six others were summoned and selected by the Jerusalem church Acts 6:5, at the request of the apostles, to handle an urge need, regarding the daily needs of the Grecian widows, who were being neglected by the Hebrews.
Through the apostle's work, assisted by Stephen and the others, the word of God increased, and the number of disciples multiplied in Jerusalem vs. 7 Among, these new converts, Luke adds "a great company of priests were obedient to the faith" vs. 7. "But God be thanked that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness" Romans 6:17-18.
Luke, in mentioning the priests is significant, "The peculiar relation which the priesthood sustains to any religion must always render the priests the chief conservators of old form, and the most persistent opponents of revolutionary change. When they begin to give away, the system which they have upheld is ready to fall. No fact previously recorded by Luke shows so strikingly the effect of the gospel on the popular mind in Jerusalem. The remark made concerning these priests, that they "were obedient to the faith", shows that there is something in the faith to be obeyed" New Commentary on the Acts of the Apostle, McGarvey, pgs 109-110.
With the needs of the Grecian widows, now satisfied; in vs. 8 Stephen is back preaching the gospel. Almost immediately, he encounters certain ones from the synagogue of the Freedmen NASB, Libertines KJV, former slaves, Cyrenians, Alexandrians and other of Cilicia and Asia. These Hellenistic Jews, who had come to Jerusalem, spoke Greek, as did Stephen. Who himself most likely had been a member there. Some from this group arose disputing with Stephen, "but they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking" Acts 6:10 NASB. "When men whose chief concern it is to vindicate themselves rather than the truth are defeated in debate, they very commonly resort to vituperation or violence. Both were tried against Stephen. The Pharisees, who had the management of the case, entered upon the same line of policy which they had pursued successfully in the prosecution of Jesus" McGarvey, pg.113.
In an effort to stop Stephen, false witnesses or accusers, were covertly assembled and selected. Their testimony was bogus as to what Stephen had been heard to say, against Moses and against God. Now through the devil's chosen liars, the people, the elders and the scribes, had been stirred, and as a result, Stephen was not escorted into the hall, but rather dragged into the council, which was a mild display of their inimical behavior and utter contempt for him.
Now, before the Sanhedrin, Stephen is confronted with even more false witnesses, who charged blasphemous words, against him, regarding this holy place and Jesus of Nazareth who would destroy this place and change the customs of Moses, and the law. It's obvious, that Stephen was being singled out; neither the apostles nor any other of the disciples are mentioned.
As chapter 6 of Acts closes, we see the council "looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel". From what had already transpired and now before an unlawful assembly, Stephen knew his probability of being released, was slim to none. In spite of all this, his countenance reflected a man, at peace with God and with himself, knowing that God would never leave him nor forsake him, because he'd been obedient to the Father's will and comfort soon awaited him on the other side in Abraham's bosom Luke 16:22, 25.
As we enter Chapter 7, the longest in the book of Acts. Verse 1, opens with a question ask Stephen by the high priest, "Are these things so?" If the high priest was expecting a yes or no answer, he was greatly mistaken. "His question to Stephen was equivalent to the question: "Guilty or not guilty?" "This gave Stephen the opportunity to make his defense" Acts of the Apostles, H. Leo Boles, pg. 102. All eyes were upon him and all ears were attentive to Stephen, "a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit".
The council and audience being Jews were also an assembly of accusers. "A historical statement was the best way of securing the attention of the council. Had he entered on an abstract defense, he might expect to be stopped by their cavils or their clamor'' Albert Barnes, Acts, pg. 117 Stephen in an effort to stimulate their minds with respect to the past, begins the Holy Spirit guided historical discourse, recorded in Acts 7, with the introduction found in verses 1-8, in verses 9-16, the case of Joseph, in verses 17-37 the case of Moses in Egypt, in verses 38-41 the case of Moses in the wilderness, in verses 42-43 God's final rejection of Israel, in verses 44-50 the tabernacle and the temple, and in verses 51-53 Stephen's appllcatlon" Acts, McGarvey, pg.116-129, the historical accounts just stated, spanned a period of 2000 plus years, to their present, the first century.
I can somewhat visualize the setting, after a short pause; where "Stephen is now prepared to spring upon his accusers the concealed application of the facts which he had arrayed. The historical introduction had paved the way for the following analogies. In verse 9, the patriarchs moved with envy, sold Joseph, in verses 23-28, Moses at 40 years old going to his brethren, who were slaves in Egypt in an effort to help them, but was rejected by them, to become a fugitive in Midian, but in verses 37-41, was sent back by God of their fathers to actually deliver them; as Moses, after leading them out of Egypt, was again and again rejected by them; and as all the prophets had met with similar mistreatment; so now, the final prophet of whom Moses and all the later prophets had spoken, sent to deliver them from a far worse bondage, had been rejected and slain by the sons of those persecuting fathers. The force of all analogies is concentrated in the few words which follow: "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. 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: Who have received the law by the disposition of angel, and have not kept it" Acts, McGarvey pgs. 129-130. "These were unwilling to submit to the restraints of law They had hearts filled with vicious and un-subdued affections and desires, unwilling to hear what God says, thus resisting the message of the Holy Spirit" Albert Barnes, Acts, pg.133.
In verses 54-60, "When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth". Stephen looking steadfast into heaven saw the Lord, standing at the right hand of God. He was cast out of the city and stoned, while calling on the name of the Lord. The witnesses laid their garments at the feet of one whose name was Saul. Stephen kneeled down, cried with a loud voice, lay not this sin to their charge and fell asleep, "making him the first Christian to die the death of a martyr". Truth Commentary, Acts, Stringer, pg.125.
What a great man, indeed he was "a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit" What Stephen preached in order to make one a disciple was the same as his colleague Philip preached, in Acts 8:12, "But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized both men and women".
Don Craven is a member of the McArthur Heights Church of Christ and can be reached at doncraven @juno.com.