Stephen, who had been arrested and brought to the council on the false charges of blasphemy, delivered a powerful message to all who were present. Drawing from the history of the Israelites, Stephen exposed the people’s hypocrisy of venerating the holy place and the law while persistently rejecting God’s servants. He ended his speech with the indictment that they had betrayed and murdered the Just One as a result of their stubborn rebellion against God.
Stephen’s speech infuriated the crowd, who cast him out of the city and stoned him to death. Luke records the final moments of Stephen’s life. Stephen had his eyes fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ and he prayed for his persecutors even as they were stoning him. Stephen lived as a witness for Christ and died as a witness for Christ. From his ministry and martyrdom, we see a true example of a Spirit-filled Christian life.
Did You Know...?
1. The tabernacle of Moloch (7:43) referred to a small portable tent used to cover the idol Moloch. Moloch was the god of the Ammonites with the head of a bull and a pair of out-stretched arms. Children were placed onto these arms, and were burnt to death by fire underneath. Although Moses forbade such practices, it continued for several centuries (Lev 18:21, 20:2;
2. The star of Remphan (7:43) is another name for Saturn. This star was worshiped by the Arabs, Phoenicians and Egyptians. Children were also offered as sacrifices in the same manner as they were to Moloch.
Whom did Moses prophesy about to the children of Israel? Why was this message significant? Did the Jews heed the words of Moses?Hide Answer
Moses said to the children of Israel, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear” (7:37). This was a Messianic prophecy pointing to the Lord Jesus (Acts 3:22-26). Moses, one of the most honored OT figures, prophesied about the coming of Jesus Christ and commanded his people to hear the words of Christ. But most of the Jews had refused to heed his words and rejected the greatest Prophet, Jesus Christ.
The Jews stressed the observance of the laws of Moses (cf. 6:14). But what did Stephen point out about the Israelites’ response to the living oracles God gave through Moses?Hide Answer
God had given His commands to the Israelites through Moses, but the Israelites rejected Moses and the commands he passed down to them. Instead, they offered sacrifices to idols. Although the chosen people had the living oracles of God, they did not do them any good because they refused to obey them.
The Israelites had the tabernacle in the wilderness. But what does God say about what tabernacle the people actually took up?Hide Answer
The tabernacle of Moloch (43).
What does this say about the true place of God and his tabernacle in the Israelites’ hearts?Hide Answer
The Israelites had the tabernacle among them as a sign that they were worshippers of God. But there was actually no place in their hearts for God. Out the outside, they seemed to be serving the true God, but in their hearts, they were inclined to the tabernacle of idols.
The Jews held the temple as the symbol of God’s presence among the people. But what did Stephen say about the temple?
The Jews regarded the temple as sacred (cf. 6:13-14), but they tried to destroy the true “temple.” What was this temple (Jn 2:19- 22)?
The Jews who opposed Jesus Christ venerated the holy place and the law, but they had actually rejected God’s ways. In what ways do we sometimes hold fast to a superficial religion while going against God’s will?Hide Answer
We may sometimes fool ourselves with doing things that seem Christianlike, such as quoting from the Bible, praising the name of Christ, participating in church activities, thinking that God is pleased with us, when we have actually failed to obey God in our daily lives.
What charges did Stephen make against his accusers and the council?Hide Answer
1. They were stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears (51).
2. They always resisted the Holy Spirit, just as their fathers did (51).
3. Like their fathers, who killed the prophets, they had become the betrayers and murderers of the Just One, Jesus Christ (52).
4. They and their fathers had received the law by the direction of angels but had not kept it (53).
What does the expression “uncircumcised in heart and ears” mean?Hide Answer
The Scripture uses the expression “uncircumcised heart” to refer to an unbelieving and unyielding heart (Lev 26:41; Deut 10:16, 30:6; Jer 4:4, 9:26; Ezek 44:7, 9; Rom 2:29). So we can understand “uncircumcised ears” in the same light. Circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant with His people, and “the uncircumcised” was a term that referred to Gentiles who were outside God’s covenant. In the same way, hearts and ears that are “uncircumcised” are hearts and ears that are foreign to God’s laws and decrees.
The Jews who opposed Stephen were also well-versed in their history, but they failed to learn from history. Why is that a person who knows the Bible well may sometimes completely miss the message that God wants to convey to him through the Bible? What is needed besides knowledge in order for us to really see and hear God’s will?Hide Answer
Conceptual knowledge is not enough to save us if it is not accompanied by a heart felt desire to obey God. The Israelites saw the works of God and heard His words for forty years, but they did not respond to God’s words and works with faith, and their hearts were hard (Heb 3:7-4:1-2). In order to see and hear God’s will, we need to humble ourselves and seek God with all our hearts. When we are willing to surrender ourselves to God, then we will be able to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom 12:1-2).
Why were the people so furious at Stephen’s words?Hide Answer
1. Stephen infuriated the multitude by exposing their misguided veneration of the holy place and the law of Moses. He reversed the charges made against him by pointing out that it was they who had rejected the laws of Moses and murdered God’s servants, including Jesus Christ the Just One.
2. Stephen then related his vision to them, saying that he saw the heavens open and Jesus, the One they had hated and murdered, sitting at the right hand of God. Hearing what they considered to be the ultimate blasphemy, they lost control and went into a murderous frenzy.
Why was Stephen so calm in the midst of the crowd’s violent reactions?Hide Answer
Stephen was able to rise above the angry and violent reactions of his accusers because he was full of the Holy Spirit and was able to see the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
Have you been accused falsely? How did you conduct yourself at such times?(The answer is empty)Hide Answer
What can we learn from Stephen when we face great persecutions and adversities?Hide Answer
When we try to endure persecutions and sufferings with mere human effort, we soon discover that our perseverance is very limited. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we, like Stephen, can do what is humanly impossible and transcend the anger, grudges, and dismay in severe trials. So we must turn our eyes to God and ask His spirit to fill us. If we gaze into heaven and focus on God’s glory, we will also be able to rise above the slanders, ridicules, and sufferings that others may impose on us (cf. Rom 8:31-39;
2Cor 4:17 18; Heb 12:2-3).
Upon his death, what did Stephen pray to the Lord for?Hide Answer
1. He asked the Lord Jesus to receive his spirit.
2. He asked the Lord not to charge the people who stoned him with the sin of murdering God’s servant.
What were Stephen’s actions as he prayed for those who stoned him?Hide Answer
He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice (60).
What does this tell you about Stephen? What lessons can we learn from this?Hide Answer
Stephen did not hate or revile those who were stoning him. Even at the verge of death and in the midst of great pain, he remembered the need of these murderers for God’s forgiveness. Moreover, the fact that he knelt down and cried out shows how sincere and earnest he was. He was not praying for them half-heartedly, but he gave the last bit of his strength to pray for those who hated him. Through the Holy Spirit in him, Stephen had left us a perfect example of how we are to love our enemies.
What does the Bible call Stephen’s death? Why?Hide Answer
Luke states that Stephen fell asleep (60). Even though believers may die physically, this death is only temporary. Unlike the unsaved, who will face the second death, believers in Christ do not experience spiritual death (Rev 20:6, 14-15). Even now, believers who have died physically are with the Lord in spirit. On the last day they will rise again to everlasting life (Jn 5:28-29; Rom 6:5;