THE DEFENCE OF THE COURAGEOUS STEPHEN
The great challenge between Judaism and Christianity now became publicly focused upon a direct denunciation of the Judaistic tradition, brought to a climax by the stoning of Stephen.
The High Priest exercised his authority to listen to the defence of Stephen, but the Sanhedrin ultimately could not bear the force and point of his arguments. Stephen was indicted because he taught that the present order and worship, so familiar to the Jews, was but temporary.
He was accused of blasphemy because he alleged that true worship was possible apart from the temple and ordinances of the Law.
He answered his critics by showing that God had never intended to restrict His purpose with the earth to the narrow limits of exclusiveness as perceived by the Jews (vv. 2-50); that these things, so precious to the heart of the Judaiser, were only means used to an end, and that was God manifest in faithful individuals; that in rejecting Christ and crucifying him, they had repeated the error of their fathers, and thus were guilty themselves of blasphemy in rejecting the salvation of God expressed through His Son (vv. 51-53).
Enraged because they were unable to challenge the power of Stephen's arguments, the Jews lost control and stoned him to death, thinking to do God service. Instead they continued the same treatment that had been given by their forefathers throughout the centuries, to God's faithful men, prophets, and His own Son (Mat. 23:31-38).
However, due to the remarkable twists of circumstances, this terrible crime against Stephen led to the ultimate conversion of one of the foremost Pharisees, Saul of Tarsus, who was then consenting unto Stephen's death" (ch. 8:1).
Out of the abyss of violence and crime, rose one of the Truth's greatest proponents, a light to shine to the Gentiles, as Stephen's face had earlier shone to the Jews (Acts 6:15), and yet he never forgot his part in this tragic incident, in which wicked hands stoned Stephen to death (Acts 22:20).
But for the moment, we listen to the remarkable speech of Stephen, a courageous exposition of divine truth and wisdom, which clearly revealed the purpose of salvation designed by Yahweh. It must have been a stimulating experience for the ecclesia as they saw one of their brethren placed prominently before the whole community in order to preach the Word; yet their joy would have quickly turned to dismay as they saw the change of circumstances, when the cruelty of the Jewish leaders brought death to a beloved brother.
The Christadelphian Expositor - Acts
2 And he [Stephen] said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran,
Unnamed here in contrast to ch. 4:6, implying that a new appointment had been made.
History records that Vitellius appointed Jonathan Ben Hanan in AD36. Tiberius was emperor from AD 14-36. Apparently Pilate had already been recalled, and succeeded by Marcellus.
"Are these things so?"
The question invited Stephen to deny the alleged "blasphemy" and to uphold the position of the Sanhedrin in its care for the religious exercises of the nation.
The Christadelphian Expositor - Acts
Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? v52
Acts 7 shews us a brother accused, and replying to his accusers with a "mouth and wisdom," which they were "not able to gainsay or resist" as Jesus promised. At first sight, it seems strange that the inculcation of the way of truth should lead to enmity. It only seems so to inexperience, and, therefore, to ignorance.
Deadly opposition has been the uniform fortune of the truth in every age of the world. Therefore it must be a natural result of the forces at work. We find upon investigation it is so, and this may help us to accept our own share of this experience without undue dismay.
The reason or the opposition to Stephen is more obvious than opposition sometimes is. The authorities in Jerusalem had condemned and (by the Romans) killed Jesus as a deceiver. The apostles in a variety of ways proved that he was the Christ. In this demonstration, Stephen took a leading part. He was an active controversialist. He entered the lists with the Alexandrian Jews who were in repute for superior acumen. They
"could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spake,"
so, as is usual in such cases, they resorted to calumny and false accusation. Under cover of this accusation, they were able to do what is now out of the power of the most malignant foe. They handed him over to "the power and authority" of the magistrates, who in Jerusalem were the priests and scribes. Arraigned before them, we find him delivering an argument which was too strong to be answered on the merits, and which they met by stopping their ears and marching him out to execution.
The question turned upon the murdered Jesus: was he or was he not the Christ? It was one of the Jewish arguments that he could not be the Christ, because he had been crucified. Had he been the Christ the nation would have accepted him; he would have delivered himself from the hands of his persecutors.
Stephen's answer fastens on Moses of whom these rulers made their boast. He reminds them of the circumstances connected with the appearance of Moses as the deliverer of Israel. Israel would have none of him.
"Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?"
was the question with which they first greeted his interpositions on their behalf; and Moses had to fly. Yet this Moses whom they refused was afterwards established and accepted as their leader and deliverer. Their rejection of Jesus was therefore no new thing. Nay, they had rejected all Yahweh's servants age after age.
"Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?"
"the prophets who shewed beforehand the coming of the Just One, of whom ye have now been the betrayers and murderers?"
They made it an objection that Jesus was from among themselves instead of being, as they contended the Messiah would be, of an unknown origin. Stephen reminds them that Moses himself had told them that the Lord would raise them up a prophet like unto him from among themselves. And now that he had fulfilled his word, they had despised and rejected him. Concluding with fiery emphasis, Stephen said,
"Ye do always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so also do ye."
The argument was powerful; its effect was exasperating; its consequence to Stephen was fatal. It cost him his life, and he now sleeps in the dust. He will presently awake none the worse, but glad rather at having, even at the sacrifice of his life, born to Christ a testimony that has blazed before the eyes of men in all the dark ages since, through the inscription of his stirring speech on the page of inspiration.
May we catch his spirit and emulate his example, and be found with him and his fellow heirs when the age of conflict is passed, and when there has been established in all the earth the rest that remains for the people of God.
The Christadelphian, June 1886
7 And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place.
...even in a foreign land they would be protected and their enemies punished.
The Christadelphian Expositor
The word krino has here been rendered "judge." It means "to consider, to separate, come to a decision, pronounce final judgment." Krino defines the entire process of judgment, from the consideration of the evidence to the carrying out of the appropriate verdict.
It is a most interesting word in this context. The Egyptians were given many opportunities to bow before the will and purpose of Yahweh, and to humbly submit thereto. Consistently and with hardness of heart, they refused to do so. They thus brought upon themselves the fearful judgment of Almighty God.
And what of these people before whom Stephen stood, defending the faith in which he so ardently believed? Had not these people, again and again, been given similar opportunities? And would they not receive — circa AD70 — the destructive force of divine judgment for the very same reason as had the Egyptians, so many centuries earlier? Is not the parallel strikingly obvious?
And what of those who regard themselves as the spiritual Israel of God, as the end of the Gentile times draws towards its close and the nearness of Christ's coming becomes more evident daily? Will there be "a people" made "ready," and "prepared for the Lord" at his coming?(Lk. 1:17). That is a question each individual must answer.
Bro John Ullman
8 And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs.
Why should "Christ the Lord" be circumcised?
Because he was the seed of Abraham and of David, according to the flesh (Rom. i. 3: Matt. i. 1). But why should that be a reason for circumcision? Because it had pleased God, in carrying out His purpose towards the house of Israel (not yet fully accomplished), to proceed by covenant, and to appoint circumcision as the sign of that covenant in all their generations (Gen. xvii. 10-14; Rom. iv. 11).
Any descendant of Abraham neglecting circumcision was outside the covenant, as God told Abraham, and would be cut off from Yahweh's regard (Gen. xvii. 14). Jesus was a descendant of Abraham, and in a preeminent sense, "the seed" of Abraham (Gal. iii. 17), whose special mission it was to "confirm," or make sure the promises made unto the fathers (Rom. xv. 8).
For circumcision to have been omitted in his case, therefore, would have been for the covenant to have been broken in its most essential application. But this failure was not possible; therefore the child Jesus was circumcised.
Nazareth Revisited Ch 8
25 For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.
Why did he entertain such a thought before God had appeared to him? Probably, because the time spoken of by God to Abraham having drawn near, he concluded that his own elevation to a position so near the throne of Egypt was a providential indication that God would make use of him in accomplishing the promised deliverance.
In this thought, events ultimately proved him right; but in proceeding to act upon it without authority, he made the mistake of beginning 40 years before the time, and had to flee from the country and take refuge in Midian where the chapter read from Exodus shows him to us at the end of forty years. Forty years! Consider the length of this time under such circumstances.
We glibly say "40 years;" but in no light or rapid manner would forty years pass with Moses as a tender of flocks and herds in the solitudes of the Midian desert. Look back forty years, and see what it means. Most of us here can look back forty years. In a certain way, it does not seem a long time to look back upon, but how sufficiently long it is for a man's ardors to abate, we all know.
The impulsive zeal of Moses had evidently cooled all down. It turns out that he did not circumcise the children born to him during this time. This would indicate, not exactly the abandonment, but certainly the subsidence of the hopes and convictions that led him to slay the Egyptian. And now he sees a bush all aflame on the hillside, but not consuming. He draws near to inspect the curiosity. He discovers that the hour has come for God to commence the work of Israel's deliverance, and that he, after all, is to be employed in it.
30 And when 40 years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush.
In his address to the Sanhedrin, Stephen told them that "there appeared to Moses, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, an "Angel" of the "Lord" in a flame of fire, in a bush; and that the "Voice" of the "Lord" came to him, saying: "I am the 'God' of thy fathers". This was a Spirit-manifestation.
In his address to the Sanhedrin, Stephen told them that "there appeared to Moses, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, an "Angel" of the "Lord" in a flame of fire, in a bush; and that the "Voice" of the "Lord" came to him, saying: "I am the 'God' of thy fathers" (Acts 7:30). This was a Spirit-manifestation.
The Messenger was a spirit -- a Son of power --but not the Supreme Power, "whom no man hath seen at any time"; but an organised spirit-body, through whom the Supreme Power, by His Spirit, conversed with Moses; and with whom He was veiled. The words of the messenger were the Voice of the Spirit that came to Moses; so that when we read what was spoken, we do not read the words of the angel, but the declaration of the Spirit by whom he was angelized, or sent with a message.
Moses was commanded to return to Egypt, from which he had fled forty years before, and to go to his oppressed countrymen, and tell them that "the Elohim of their fathers" had sent him to deliver them from the power of the Pharaoh. Though they served the gods of the Egyptians, they had not forgotten their own history. They would remember the three Elohim that visited Abraham and partook of his hospitality (Gen. 18:1-5), and which is termed "Yahweh appearing to him."
They would not have forgotten about their departure to Sodom, and how Lot invited two of them to sojourn with him, saying: "My lords, turn in, I pray you"; and how they said: "Yahweh hath sent us to destroy Sodom." The vision of Jacob's Ladder was not forgotten, in which he saw angels of Elohim -- messengers sent of Elohim -- of their number, and above them all, at the top of the ladder, Yahweh; and He said: "I am the Elohim of Abraham, thy father, and the Elohim of Isaac" (Gen. 28:13).
They would remember this, and, consequently, not be ignorant of a plurality of Mighty Ones. But these Mighty Ones were not the Mighty One of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; they were only the official spirits who performed service for them as heirs of salvation; for He that stood at the top of the ladder, above all the ascending and descending Elohim, said ani Yahweh Elohai Avrahhahm,
"I Yahweh Elohim of Abraham."
Phanerosis - The memorial name
35 This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush.
Stephen's answer fastens on Moses of whom these rulers made their boast. He reminds them of the circumstances connected with the appearance of Moses as the deliverer of Israel. Israel would have none of him, "who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?" was the question with which they first greeted his interpositions on their behalf; and Moses had to fly. Yet this Moses whom they refused was afterward established and accepted as their leader and deliverer. Their rejection of Jesus was therefore no new thing. Nay, they had rejected all Yahweh's servants age after age. *
37 This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear.
...the issue that has been formed and debated between Jews and Christians during the past eighteen hundred years is this,
Is Jesus of Nazareth that personage of whom Moses and the prophets speak, or is some other individual he?
This question may be affirmed traditionally or Scripturally, and the opposite.
The multitude affirms it traditionally; a few affirm that Jesus is that person; because having examined the Christianity of Moses and the prophets, they are convinced that it is germinantly inaugurated in Jesus, but not yet fully developed in him.
A Jew intelligent in Moses and the prophets is not content to receive Jesus as the Christ as he is traditionally confessed. We do not blame him for this. Indeed we do not see how such a Jew can honestly confess the Messiahship of the character styled Jesus by the Pope, the kings, the clergy, and the people of "Christendom."
An ignorant Jew or a Gentile ignoramus can confess anything and not excite our surprise, but not so an intelligent and honest-hearted Jew. He says, and we also say, to the Methodist or other sectarian, you affirm that
"God has cast Israel away; that Jesus has nothing to do with them in the future but to punish them in the flames of hell for rejecting him, and that he will only return to the earth to withdraw his elect and then to reduce it to ashes in a final conflagration!"
If that be true, then Jesus is not that Christ who is styled in Isaiah
"Yahweh's servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the desolations of Israel;" "a covenant of the people to raise up the land and to cause to inherit the desolate estates;"
a Christ who has no good things for Israel; who is not the Repairer of their breaches, and the Restorer of the paths to dwell in, Isai, 58:12, is not the Christ for Israel; neither is he the Christ of Moses and the prophets, nor of the New Testament.
The New Testament Jesus is to return hither and to do all that is written concerning Christ which may not have been already fulfilled in him. Read Acts 15:13-18, in connection with Amos 9:11-15, and you will see that the crucified Nazarene is to "return" and set up David's kingdom as it was in David's time; and to possess himself of all the enemies of Israel; and to plant the Jews in Palestine, from which they shall thenceforth be
"pulled up no more."
But in our addresses at this place we could not elaborate sufficiently for want of time. An endeavor from behind was tried to cut us short, but it was met by a voice from the meeting-"Go on till morning!" We proceeded till half past nine, and then, of necessity, ended without finishing as usual.
It was gratifying to learn that many were deeply interested. After one of our arguments a Jew came up to us and said,
"Why, sir, if all the Jews and infidels could hear you, they would all believe! Why, you could convert the universe!"
Alas! thought we, how little thou knowest of that universe! If Jesus and his apostles could not convert Judah, our efforts are as nothing in the scale. He continued to speak in high terms of Jesus, waiving the question of his divinity, and condemned in unqualified terms the High Priest and rulers who compassed his death.
Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, Aug 1857
52 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:
The reason for the opposition to Stephen is more obvious than opposition sometimes is. The authorities in Jerusalem had condemned and (by the Romans) killed Jesus a deceiver. The apostles in a variety of ways proved that he was the Christ. In this demonstration, Stephen took a leading part. He was an active controversialist. He enters the lists with the Alexandrian Jews who were in repute for superior acumen. They "could not withstand the wisdom and spirit with which he spake," so, as it is usual in such cases they resorted to calumny and false accusation. *
53 Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.
They made it an objection that Jesus was from among themselves instead of being, as they contended the Messiah would be, of an unknown origin. Stephen reminds them that Moses himself had told them that the Lord would raise them up a prophet like unto him from among themselves. And now that He had fulfilled His word they had despised and rejected him . . . The argument was powerful . . . its consequence to Stephen was fatal. *
59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
Deadly opposition has been the uniform fortune of the Truth in every age of the world. Therefore it must be a natural result of the forces at work. We find upon investigation it is so, and this may help us to accept our own share of this experience without undue dismay. *
*Bro Roberts. Exhort 217
Receive My Spirit
No one contends that Stephen had no spirit. The question is, what was it? Human philosophy in the philosophic theology of the day, says it was Stephen himself in an invisible, immortal form.
The Bible says it was God's spirit:
"Thou sendest forth thy spirit; they are created" (Psa. 104:30). "If God should gather to himself his spirit, all flesh should perish" (Job 34:14). "The spirit of God is in my nostrils" (Job 27:3).
It is by a portion of the Spirit of God that we live. While it is in us it is ours, but not "we," though contributing a part while we have it. The identity expressed by the pronoun "we" is the joint result of "body, soul, and spirit." When death dissolves this union, "we" vanish and the spirit returns to God who gave it. If God give it not back, we shall never live again. Hence it is natural that a righteous man in the act of dying should commit his spirit to God "against that day"-the day of resurrection.