Acts 7:1-16 – Stephen’s Trials Begin
Acts 7:1-16 – Stephen’s Trials Begin
Acts 7:1-16 The calling of all Believers is found in 1 Peter 3:15 But in your hearts set apart Messiah as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. This is exactly what we see Stephen doing here. As this chapter opens, Stephen’s trial begins. The main part of this chapter consists of Stephen’s defense against the false charges brought against him. He stood accused of blaspheming God, Moses, the law, and the temple, the most serious charges imaginable in Jewish society; these are the charges that Jewish Believers stand accused of today, with the exception of the Temple since at this point we do not have one in Jerusalem.
Stephen reviews Israel’s history as the groundwork for his defense. Another goal in Stephen’s speech was to demonstrate that his accusers had gone against the prophets and were guilty of rejecting the promised Messiah. He shows them that by rejecting the Messiah, they were imitating those in the past, who rejected Joseph, Moses, and even God Himself. Stephen wanted them to see that he was not the blasphemer, they were. Stephen sought to present to them Jesus as the Messiah, using Joseph and Moses as types of Messiah.
The high priest (probably Caiaphas, who was in office until 36 c.e.) began the proceedings by asking Stephen, Are these things so? He was asking, “How do you plead to the charges against you: Guilty or not guilty?” Stephen addresses first the accusation of blasphemy against God. He testifies that he believes fully in the God of Israel, and that God’s covenant to Israel has not been done away with but fulfilled in Messiah Yeshua.
His purpose in this summation was to show the promise of Scripture. He begins by appealing to his judges as brethren and fathers, showing his solidarity and respect for them as the leaders of the Jewish people. His opening line, established his belief in the sovereignty of the God of Abraham and the fatherhood of Abraham over Israel. He was testifying that he was neither a blasphemer of God nor a traitor to his people. Stephen affirms his belief in God’s sovereign control of Israel and describes the call of Abraham.
Abraham’s obedience under God’s sovereignty accomplished God’s purpose for his life. Stephen focuses on Abraham as a man of faith who obeyed God’s call and left his homeland, not knowing exactly where he was going. All he received was God’s promise to give him the land as a possession to his children at a time when he had no prospects of having children. The closest Abraham came to seeing these promises fulfilled was the birth of Isaac.
He describes the extent of God’s word to him including a stay in Egypt and the Exodus. He reaffirms the covenant to Abraham’s descendants through circumcision. Stephen lays the groundwork for his rebuke of his judges by describing the story of Joseph. Joseph’s brothers rejected the very one God had set apart by Jacob their father for special blessing.
They were an illustration of the same kind of spiritual blindness and ill treatment they demonstrated in the case of Jesus. Stephen makes clear that the sons of Jacob were guilty of opposing God and His purpose. They sold Joseph, but God rescued him. The nation’s rebellion against God in Stephen’s day began with the history of Joseph. As Joseph was falsely accused by his brothers so too were Jesus, and Stephen. Joseph and Yeshua both were from the nation of Israel. Jesus, like Joseph, was delivered up out of envy (Mark 15:10).
Jesus was condemned to death by the testimony of false witnesses; Joseph was imprisoned because of the false accusations of Potiphar’s wife. Just as God freed Jesus from the prison of death and exalted Him, so also did He free Joseph from prison and exalt him to high office. As Joseph was able to deliver his sinful brothers from physical death, so Jesus delivers His brothers from spiritual death. Because of the severity of the famine, when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent his sons there the first time.
It was not until their second visit, however, that Joseph made himself known to his brothers. It is only just before Yeshua’s second coming that Israel will recognize Him for who He is (Zechariah 12:10-13:1;14).
Acts 7:17-37 Stephen continues with his historical survey. In the first sixteen verses, he covered the period from Abraham to Joseph, from the call of Abraham to the captivity of Israel in Egypt. Now he moves into the second great period of Israel’s history, from Moses to the Babylonian captivity. The time of the promise refers to the time when God would fulfill His promise to Abraham concerning the land. He begins this section describing the events of Passover beginning with the rise of another king over Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph.
This pharaoh mistreated them, initiating a racial elimination by ordering all Jewish males to be killed. God had prepared His deliverer, Moses. Pharaoh’s daughter raises Moses as her own and so he winds up as the adopted grandson of the pharaoh, which made it possible for Moses to be educated in all the learning of the Egyptians. Moses’ natural leadership, coupled with the most comprehensive education in the ancient world, made him uniquely qualified for his task that God called him to.
God’s call came when he was approaching the age of forty. At that time, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel. Although raised in Pharaoh’s household, Moses had never forgotten his people. This came from his mother during the years God had providentially arranged for her to serve as his nurse (Exodus 2:7-9). He decided to help his beleaguered people. Seeing one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian.
By taking that murderous action, Moses supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him. His goal in visiting them was not to pay a social call but to deliver them from their oppressors. They, however, did not understand.
Although Moses had shown his commitment to them by killing an Egyptian, they failed to recognize or acknowledge him as their deliverer. On the following day he appeared to two of them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, “Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?” Moses saw himself not only as the deliverer of the nation but also as a peacemaker among individuals. His efforts were not appreciated, however, and he was rejected.
The one who was injuring his neighbor pushed him away, saying sarcastically, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us?” Then he added ominously, “You do not mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday, do you?” (Exodus 2:14). Realizing his killing of the Egyptian had become widely known, Moses fled, and became an alien in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons (Exodus 2:15,22). No doubt viewing him as the leader of a Jewish insurrectionist movement, Pharaoh sought unsuccessfully to execute him (Exodus 2:15).
Israel’s foolish rejection of Moses served to lengthen their time in bondage by forty years. That, too, is analogous to Israel’s rejection of the messianic Deliverer and consequent lengthened forfeiture of blessing.
Moses lived among the Midianites for those forty years. At the end of that time, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning thorn bush (Exodus 3:1ff.). The fire represented the presence of God. When Moses saw it, he began to marvel at the sight; and as he approached to look more closely, there came the voice of the Lord: “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). God was renewing the covenant, as the reference to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob indicates.
Unlike many today who gratuitously claim visions of God, Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look. God’s presence called for reverential fear, not flippant familiarity.
Therefore the Lord said to him, “Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). Like the Holy of Holies in the temple, the area around the burning bush was made holy by the presence of the Holy One of Israel.
After forty years in the desert, the time had come for Moses to lead the people to the Promised Land. “I have certainly seen,” God told him, “the oppression of My people in Egypt, and have heard their groans, and I have come down to deliver them (Exodus 3:7); come now, and I will send you to Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). Although His people were continually unfaithful to Him, God remained faithful to His covenant.
Stephen reaches his point. The very Moses whom they disowned, saying, “Who made you a ruler and a judge?” is the one whom God sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush. This is a constant pattern in Israel’s history—spiritual pride coupled with spiritual ignorance that causes them to reject the deliverers God sends them.
It is sometimes argued that Jesus could not have been the Messiah, or else Israel would have recognized Him. As Stephen points out, however, they rejected both Joseph and Moses. This was their typical response to those God sent to deliver them. Jesus spoke of this attitude in Matthew 21:33-46.
Moses accomplished his mission and led them out, performing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. Israel’s further rebellion against God under Moses, in spite of the wonders and signs they had seen in the land of Egypt and in the parting of the Red Sea and in the wilderness, caused them another delay.
Because of that rebellion, they wandered outside the Promised Land for forty more years.
From Stephen’s discussion of Moses, it is obvious that he has the utmost respect for him. The charge of blaspheming Moses is as false as that of blaspheming God. Indeed, Stephen turned the tables on the Sanhedrin, showing that the nation itself had been guilty of rejecting Moses. The Jews’ response to Moses’ life, like their response to Joseph’s, parallels their response to Christ.
Stephen reminds them that Moses predicted Messiah would come, prophesying to the sons of Israel, “God shall raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren.” That passage, taken from Deuteronomy 18:15, was well known to all of Stephen’s contemporaries. In John 6:14, the crowd said of Jesus, “This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world.” They affirmed that He was the One Moses had promised would come, an affirmation with which these Jews would not agree.
They were thus doing again what their fathers had done—rejecting the God-sent deliverer. Only this was more serious than all the others combined. This was the Messiah they were rejecting.
Had the Sanhedrin been willing to consider the facts, they could not have missed the parallels between their nation’s history and their behavior toward Jesus. Nor could they have missed the parallels between Jesus and Moses. Moses humbled himself by leaving Pharaoh’s palace; Jesus humbled Himself by becoming man (Philippians 2:7-8). Moses was rejected at first, so was Jesus (John 1:11). Moses was a shepherd; Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14). Moses redeemed his people from bondage in Egypt; Jesus redeems men from bondage to sin. The history of Moses foreshadows the history of Jesus Christ.