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Stephen (Part 2)
a commentary on Acts 7 (Interpretation)
Thank you, Lord, for this day. May it be used for your glory!
Good morning everyone and welcome back to Biblit!
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In today’s Biblit, I want to break down Stephen’s sermon a bit more, figure out exactly why he said what he said, what it all means, and end it with some really fascinating interpretation behind his final moments on earth.
Let’s jump in!
My commentary made a point that Stephen’s sermon is really made up of 2 parts. The first part is a historical narrative of the Old Testament.
The summary in my opinion of his historical narrative was establishing the pattern that God is always with His people, God always sends a savior for His people, and His people always reject the savior.
The second piece of Stephen’s sermon is the gospel message and a harsh chastisement.
He essentially tells the religious leaders that once again, God is with His people, God sent THE savior, Jesus Christ, and once again you all are rejecting Him.
Let’s talk about each section a bit more in-depth.
Setting the Stage
Before we look at the individual pieces of history that Stephen talks about in his sermon, let’s first figure out why he’s bringing these up.
What is his main point?
To figure out his main point, let’s move backward and reiterate why Stephen is in this position.
Remember, he’s not giving a sermon to a group of people at the synagogue. He is on trial, giving a sermon to a group of people he knows hate him and are trying to trap him.
If we recall, these religious leaders were accusing Stephen of two things:
Disobeying the law of Moses
Defaming/blaspeming the Temple of God, saying it will be destroyed
Stephen realizes in that moment a few things. Much like Jesus calls them out, Stephen realizes that these men do not worship God, they worship the law.
Jesus Himself told them this:
“You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me. But you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40 CSB).
Next, Stephen realizes that they believe God dwells in the Temple like His life depends on it. It’s almost like they believe if the Temple is destroyed then God is destroyed and they can never speak to Him again.
Or something like that.
Even though Solomon himself says this when he consecrates the exact same temple:
“But will God indeed live on earth? Even heaven, the highest heaven, cannot contain you, much less this temple I have built.” (1 Kings 8:27 CSB).
Thus, Stephen sets out to disprove these hypocrites and show them that while they know a lot of facts about the Bible and the temple, they are just as clueless to the actual meaning as a newborn baby.
Stephen talks about a lot of history, but I want to narrow in on 3 prominent figures he talks about and how this disproves what the Sanhedrin wrongly believed.
The first person he brings up is Abraham.
I think the beauty to this sermon/argument is that Stephen is going to bring up facts that the Sanhedrin know like the back of their hands, but he’ll talk about them in a way that also disproves their own fallacies.
His main argument here is against this claim that the temple is the be all, end all. That God simply can’t be with His people if the temple doesn’t exist.
So he goes on to say that Abraham was around before the law, the temple, or even the nation of Israel at all. Yet, we know God was with Him and guided Him from the land that wasn’t even the promised land.
Next, Stephen moves on to talk about Joseph. In the same respect we see that after Joseph is sold into slavery, God is with him during his time in Egypt.
Guiding him, giving him wisdom to interpret dreams, working hard and justly, and eventually rising up to become one of the most powerful rulers in Egypt.
Was there ever a temple for God in Egypt? Nope.
Thus, God is still with Joseph despite no temple.
Finally, to bring home the argument, Stephen talks about Moses. He breaks up Moses’s life into 3 sections.
First, he was born into Egypt and lived there, and God was with him.
Then, after he murdered the Egyptian he ran away for 40 years to Midian, where God was still with him.
Finally, Moses encounters God as a burning bush in the middle of the wilderness. And God was clearly with him there too.
And thus, Stephen makes his point that God is with his people, not with the temple.
They missed the point that Jesus is the purpose of the temple. That it all culminated with Him. That God doesn’t desire some law-abiding group of people so he can dwell in some man-made structure.
He desires a relationship with His people so He can dwell within His people!
Furthermore, Stephen never says the temple was wrong to build. It was God’s will and plan so He could temporarily dwell with Israel and they could have an intermediary go between God and Israel. But they missed the point that these buildings were not God’s home.
John Stott summarizes this section well, listen to this quote:
“A single thread runs right through the first part of his defense. It is that the God of Israel is a pilgrim God, who is not restricted to any one place…He has pledged himself by a solemn covenant to be their God. Therefore, according to his covenant promises, wherever they are, there he is also.”
Finally, Stephen brings it home. If you recall from yesterday, Stephen finishes by basically saying, “yes, someone here is guilty of blaspheming the law and the temple, but it ain’t me. It’s all of you.”
He points them to the truth, that Jesus is the true fulfillment of the temple, the reason behind the whole thing. That Jesus is the final savior, basically pleading with them not to reject the savior again.
His Final Moments
But…as we know, they continued to reject Jesus and killed Stephen over it.
There are 2 really powerful things I want to talk about in Stephen’s final moments.
A Standing Ovation
Whenever Christ is talked about in His state of exaltation, He is always shown as “sitting” at the right hand of God.
Yet, here in Acts 7, Stephen looks up to Heaven and sees Jesus “standing” at the right hand of God.
Theologians cannot be 100% sure why this may be. But some suggestions are that this could be a sign of honor. That Jesus is honoring Stephen and acknowledging his good works for the gospel in front of God the Father.
It could also be a sign of welcome. Like when a friend you haven’t seen in a long time comes in your house, you stand up to welcome and embrace them.
This could be Jesus saying, “welcome home, brother, the race is over, now you can rest.”
I don’t see why it can’t be both and perhaps other amazing things too.
Either way, we know from the Scripture that this was an incredible encouragement to Stephen. And perhaps gave him the strength to pray over his persecutors in his final breaths.
A Prayer Answered
In Stephen’s final breath, much like Jesus, he prays for the forgiveness of the people stoning him.
It is such a powerful prayer filled with every ounce of grace you can imagine.
But there is one more thing in this passage that we shouldn’t miss.
As we saw yesterday, before Stephen is stoned, the people lay their clothes at Saul’s feet. Many of you know, and if you don’t, then spoilers. But Saul will soon meet Jesus and his life will be transformed. So much so his name will become Paul.
See, Paul is the answer to Stephen’s prayer. How amazing is that!