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Acts 7-8    Listen Podcast

Stephen gets caught preaching the Gospel (Acts 7:1-50)

1 Then the high priest said, “Are these things so?”
2 ¶ And he said, “Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran,
3 and said to him, “Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.’
4 Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell.
5 And God gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on. But even when Abraham had no child, He promised to give it to him for a possession, and to his descendants after him.
6 But God spoke in this way: that his descendants would dwell in a foreign land, and that they would bring them into bondage and oppress them four hundred years.
7 “And the nation to whom they will be in bondage I will judge,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and serve Me in this place.’
8 Then He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham begot Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot the twelve patriarchs.
9 ¶ “And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him
10 and delivered him out of all his troubles, and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.
11 Now a famine and great trouble came over all the land of Egypt and Canaan, and our fathers found no sustenance.
12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first.
13 And the second time Joseph was made known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to the Pharaoh.
14 Then Joseph sent and called his father Jacob and all his relatives to him, seventy-five people.
15 So Jacob went down to Egypt; and he died, he and our fathers.
16 And they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem.
17 ¶ “But when the time of the promise drew near which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt
18 till another king arose who did not know Joseph.
19 This man dealt treacherously with our people, and oppressed our forefathers, making them expose their babies, so that they might not live.
20 At this time Moses was born, and was well pleasing to God; and he was brought up in his father’s house for three months.
21 But when he was set out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and brought him up as her own son.
22 And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.
23 ¶ “Now when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel.
24 And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended and avenged him who was oppressed, and struck down the Egyptian.
25 For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand.
26 And the next day he appeared to two of them as they were fighting, and tried to reconcile them, saying, “Men, you are brethren; why do you wrong one another?’
27 But he who did his neighbor wrong pushed him away, saying, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?
28 Do you want to kill me as you did the Egyptian yesterday?’
29 Then, at this saying, Moses fled and became a dweller in the land of Midian, where he had two sons.
30 ¶ “And when forty years had passed, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai.
31 When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he drew near to observe, the voice of the Lord came to him,
32 saying, “I am the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and dared not look.
33 “Then the LORD said to him, ‘Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.
34 I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt; I have heard their groaning and have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.” ’
35 ¶ “This Moses whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ is the one God sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel who appeared to him in the bush.
36 He brought them out, after he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years.
37 ¶ “This is that Moses who 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.’
38 ¶ “This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us,
39 whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected. And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt,
40 saying to Aaron, “Make us gods to go before us; as for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’
41 And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.
42 Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets:
“Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness,
O house of Israel?
43 You also took up the tabernacle of Moloch,
And the star of your god Remphan,
Images which you made to worship;
And I will carry you away beyond Babylon.’
44 ¶ “Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen,
45 which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David,
46 who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob.
47 But Solomon built Him a house.
48 ¶ “However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says:
49 “Heaven is My throne,
And earth is My footstool.
What house will you build for Me? says the LORD,
Or what is the place of My rest?
50 Has My hand not made all these things?’

We first hear Stephen's name in Acts 6:5 (see notes) when he is listed as one of the new men appointed by the Apostles to serve in a new office within the local assembly at Jerusalem, presumably as what would later be called "deacon." He fully embraced his new position; he preached Jesus as the Messiah to the point that he had become an irritant to the Jewish leadership wanting to quash the Messianic message of Jesus. Stephen, beginning in Acts 6:9, is preaching his farewell message to "the council" aka the Sanhedrin. (Click here to see details on the Sanhedrin.) Among his audience is the High Priest.

In these verses, Stephen seeks to show the Jewishness of Christianity as the next step in a progression that began with Abraham. His message is rich with name dropping - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his sons...along with Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David and Solomon. Incidentally, in verse 45, "Jesus" (KJV) is a Greek transliteration for the Hebrew name Joshua. The reference in this verse speaks of Joshua, the successor of Moses, as indicated in the NKJV. Stephen gives a Jewish history lesson with an indirect reference to Christ in verse 37, "This is that Moses who 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.'" While this may not seem so obvious to us, it would have been to the Jewish audience of Stephen. This is clearly a Messianic reference found in Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (see notes) that was recognized by Jews in that day to be such. See the article on this prophecy found in the box to the right of this page, or click here to see it in full screen.

Stephen's Jewish history lesson here has a point. He weaves into this lesson a pattern of Jewish rejection toward those over the centuries who had been sent for their deliverance, beginning in verse 9.

Note the following instances of Jewish rejection in Stephen's message:

As Stephen draws this message to a close, he quotes Isaiah 66:1-2 (see notes) in verses 48-49 to make his point that God does not need the temple made with human hands; God's own hands made everything, as he declares in verse 50. Here's where Stephen makes his transition from a history lesson to application with his recount of the sordid history of rejection after rejection after rejection. Stephen now feels it's time to tie it all together in Jesus Christ. we go for tact here...or do we just go ahead and proclaim that this Jewish audience killed the Messiah? Well...Stephen isn't in a tactful mood this day.

Stephen gets to the heart of his message (Acts 7:51-53)

51 ¶ “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.
52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers,
53 who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”

Forget tact! Stephen pulls no punches at the invitation of his message. He tells them in verse 51, "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you." He goes on to say in verse 52, "Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers." That's all it took. Stephen has just accused these prestigious Jewish leaders serving on the Sanhedrin of betraying and murdering the God-sent Messiah. The pattern of rejection continues.

They stoned Stephen to death (Acts 7:54-60)

54 ¶ When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth.
55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
56 and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
57 ¶ Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord;
58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

When you don't want the truth, you don't want the truth. No question - these Jewish leaders did not want the truth. We see in verse 54 the intense emotion of anger as his audience "gnashed" (i.e. to grind) their teeth at him. They stopped up their ears (verse 57) to keep from hearing anymore of Stephen's message...then they stoned him to death. So...when an innocent man is being stoned to death by an angry mob, what should be his last words? Notice those of Stephen in Acts 7:60, "Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not charge them with this sin.' And when he had said this, he fell asleep." Those words had to have given those executioners nightmares for years following this cruel act of mob violence.

Saul (Paul) was a baaaaad man! (Acts 8:1-3)

1 Now Saul was consenting to his death. ¶ At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
3 ¶ As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

We get our first look at Saul of Tarsus in these verses. He approved the execution of Stephen, and he ravaged the church. He even went into the homes of Believers and arrested them, presumably while they were having house-church services. Paul (aka Saul) would later testify to the Philippians about this in Philippians 3:6 (see notes), "concerning zeal, persecuting the church." No question - Saul was an enemy of the early church.

But it didn't stop Philip (Acts 8:4-8)

4 ¶ Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.
5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them.
6 And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.
7 For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed.
8 And there was great joy in that city.

Verse 4 is quite significant here, "Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word." Why did those early Jerusalem Believers leave their homes and go preach the Gospel according to Christ's command in Acts 1:8 (see notes)? Persecution! Think about that; a horrendous experience for these early Believers provided the motivation they needed to take the Gospel outside Jerusalem. Philip, another of the first seven men appointed in Acts 6:5 (see notes), heads to Samaria to preach. By the way, Christ did mention Samaria as the next mission field in Acts 1:8. They loved him there! People there received Christ as Savior. But wait! The church at Jerusalem had never ministered to anyone except Jews up to this point. Salvation had been regarded as a Jewish thing, you see.

Who are these Samaritans anyway? The Jews separated themselves from Samaritans; remember Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4 (see notes)? Why the disdain for Samaritans by the Jews? Here's their history: After the death of Solomon, Israel split into what became known as the Northern Kingdom and Southern Kingdom. The Southern Kingdom was committed to always having a descendant of David on their throne. The Northern Kingdom adopted a two-golden-calf worship right from the beginning and never served God...all the way down to their fall in 721 B.C. The name “Samaritans” in II Kings 17:29 (see notes) refers to the Israelite inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom. In subsequent history, it denotes a people of mixed origin. This mixture consisted of the people brought by the conqueror from Babylon and elsewhere to take the places of the expatriated Israelites and those who were left in the land in 721 B.C. when the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians. A product of Gentile intermarriage, these Samaritans were considered half-breed Jews and were avoided by observant Jews.

Let's call the experts in (Acts 8:9-25)

9 ¶ But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great,
10 to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God.”
11 And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.
12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.
13 Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.
14 ¶ Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them,
15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.
16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 ¶ And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money,
19 saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
20 ¶ But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!
21 You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God.
22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.
23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”
24 ¶ Then Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.”
25 ¶ So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.

What's this about some Samaritans getting saved? This must be investigated by a representative from the home office in Jerusalem - Peter himself. When Peter shows up to validate Philip's ministry to the Samaritans and do a little preaching himself, he meets Simon; he's a magician. Oh, and he's simply amazed that when Peter lays hands on the people, they receive the Holy Spirit. Simon gets saved also, and wants to learn this magic trick. Incidentally, there must have been an accompanying miracle like the three-fold miracle of Acts 2 (see notes) i.e. wind, cloven tongues of fire along with speaking in tongues. Even though we aren't told what the visible signs on this occasion were, I'm convinced it was this three-fold miracle of Acts 2. Otherwise, what did Simon (the magician) see that amused him? He even offers to buy the magic trick. He wants to become the first Gospel magician. "Hey! Simon! This isn't magic; it's God!"

Let's put this event into perspective: Earlier, the Day of Pentecost experience in Acts 2 had included an all-Jewish audience, but now are we going to include these much-despised Samaritans in our newly-formed church? The Holy Spirit affirms, "Yes!" And Peter is the moderator, just as he was on the Day of Pentecost. Could this have something to do with Matthew 16:13-20 (see notes)? To get a full perspective, you must understand this in the context of Peter's role on the Day of Pentecost. He was the messenger on that occasion as well when the Holy Spirit was introduced to the Jews there in Jerusalem in Acts 2 (see notes). By inducting first the Jews and now the Samaritans into the newly-formed church, could it be that Peter is exercising some sort of authority given him by Christ that day? It certainly appears that the church leadership in Jerusalem was looking to Peter for validation of this Samaritan event. I believe we see Peter using his Matthew 16 keys here to open door #2 (the Samaritan door) just as he had used them to open door #1 (the Jewish door) in Acts 2. Is there a door #3. If you use Acts 1:8 (see notes) as a template (Jews, Samaritans, uttermost part of the earth), there must be another door to open. We'll see that last door in Acts 10 (see notes) as the Gentiles are invited in.

Philip comes across an influential Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40)

26 ¶ Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert.
27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship,
28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet.
29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.”
30 ¶ So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
31 ¶ And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this:
“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
33 In His humiliation His justice was taken away,
And who will declare His generation?
For His life is taken from the earth.”
34 ¶ So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?”
35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.
36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”
37 ¶ Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” ¶ And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
38 ¶ So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.
39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.
40 But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.

Philip, while out looking for more evangelism opportunities, comes across this Ethiopian Eunuch, a man who occupied a leading position as treasurer at the court of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. The man is reading from Isaiah 52-53 (see notes) and is troubled with his lack of understanding. These are Messianic prophecies and the Ethiopian eunuch just does not get it. He realizes there's more there than meets the eye, but could use a little spiritual insight. Specifically, he wants to know if the one suffering in Isaiah's prophecy is Isaiah or someone else. Enter: Philip. After an explanation of the passage demonstrating that it refers to Jesus, the suffering Messiah, the Ethiopian wants to be baptized. Philip explains that baptism follows a profession of faith in Christ (verse 37). The Ethiopian is all over it; the baptism takes place right there and then. For more information regarding Christian baptism, click here to see the notes on Romans 6:1-14.