The Acts of the Apostles
Introduction – In this Session we cover Acts Chapter 7, and experience the trial of the Stephen the “crowned one”, as he is falsely accused before the Sanhedrin. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would empower His children with His words when they were brought before the authorities. See Matthew 10:19. Stephen being full of Holy Spirit will stand trial in front of the same authorities that condemned Jesus to death. Stephen was martyred in approximately AD35, about 2-3 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
Stephen’s testimony is the last appeal to the unbelieving religious of Israel from the Lord. From this point on they were considered enemies of God and enemies to the gospel because of their rejection of Jesus and the apostolic witness of the church in Jerusalem. After Stephen’s martyrdom we see that the Jerusalem Church is scattered by persecution, and the Lord is no longer outreaching the Sanhedrin to bring them into the New Covenant.
This is a heartbreaking reality that God’s elect rejected Him for a final last time.
Stephen’s testimony to the Sanhedrin recounted the sad state from Israel’s history that they had continually resisted the leading of the Lord, and they were repeating the same error now.
It is important to note that the New Covenant proclaimed Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophetic salvation narrative of the Law and the Prophets. From this point on it is abundantly clear that the message of the Messianic believers is contrary to the dead religion of the Law.
As we continue in Chapter 7, we see the fullness of the wicked fruit of the spirit of religion; which is death to believers by persecution and spiritual death to the unbelieving.
Since Chapter 7 is Stephen’s long and vast retelling of Israel’s salvation history and their continual resistance to God, we will cover Chapter 7 from a macro-view and move through this chapter quickly.
Acts 7:1-8 Abraham the man of faith
a) The high priest questions Stephen and asks if the false accusations are true. Stephen never enters in to debate with the Sanhedrin. Those under the spirit of religion are impossible to dialogue with. These men were not interested in the truth, but were motivated by jealousy and wanted to put Stephen to death for blasphemy.
b) Notice that Stephen shows them honor and appeals to their true identity as “brothers and fathers”.
c) Stephen begins his Spirit-filled witness by reminding them of the faith of Abraham. Abraham was called by the Lord to leave everything behind, and embrace a journey of trusting the Lord and being led by Him. In a similar way, the Sanhedrin and the priesthood were being called by the Lord into that same type of faith.
Acts 7:9-16 – Joseph the prophetic picture of Jesus Christ
a) In verse 9, Stephen begins to highlight the serial pattern of Israel resisting the leading of the Lord and not partnering with God’s good intentions and destiny for Israel.
b) Stephen recounts the sin of the patriarchs in selling Joseph into slavery in Egypt. Joseph is a prophetic picture of Jesus Christ, who, though rejected by His own, becomes their Savior and deliverer.
Acts 7:17-29 – Moses the man of God and the deliverer from Egypt
a) Stephen continues to testify by the Spirit and presents to them the history of Moses and their deliverance from Egypt.
b) Notice Stephen mentions that the Lord was beginning to fulfill His promise to Abraham. The interesting thing is that Abraham’s promise was for a child of promise, Isaac, and that his descendants would be as large in number as the stars in the sky and he would become a great nation. See Genesis 15:1-5. Many times prophetic promises are larger in scope than we realize. Abraham did not see the fullness in his lifetime, but God is faithful, and Abraham saw the fullness from a distance. See Galatians 3 for deep explanation of this concept.
c) Verse 25 – Moses thought that his people would realize and respond to God’s purpose in him. They resisted Moses. Stephen is keeping with theme of resistance to the plans and purposes of God.
Acts 7:30-36 Moses’ encounter with the Lord and Israel’s resistance
a) Moses 40 years in Midian teach us that God is committed to His plans and purposes for each of us. Moses may have been rejected by the people, and failed in his first attempt at destiny, but the Lord reengaged Moses at just the right time. 40 in Scripture is the number of breakthrough, testing and completing a season.
b) Verse 35 continues to highlight the salvation narrative of the Lord and His interactions with Israel.
Acts 7:37-43 Stephen shows them Jesus in the Law
a) Stephen reminds the Sanhedrin that Moses prophesied Jesus who would be like Moses in that He would introduce a New Covenant. The Law prophesied the Christ. John 5:39-40 – “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life”.
b) God’s Word is living word. Jesus was the living Torah and the word of God under inspiration of the Holy Spirit is living and active. See Hebrews 4:12
c) Verse 39 points the Sanhedrin to the fact that they were partnering with the same
unbelief that plagued Israel when Moses as on the mountain receiving the Law. Just as the prophets testified to their unbelief and backsliding, Stephen is standing in the place of a prophet as he is prophesying to the Sanhedrin. Just as Israel turned to idols, their religious system that was purposed to lead them to Messiah was about to become an idol.
Acts 7:44-50 – The Temple was only a prophetic symbol
a) Now Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit continues to testify about the Temple. The Temple/Tabernacle was patterned after a heavenly reality.
b) The Sadducees, Pharisees and the Sanhedrin were all clinging to a covenant that was intended to be a transitional prophetic picture and a temple that was pointing to the greater reality of Jesus and the true temple.
c) In a very basic explanation the temple represented God dwelling with people, and the temple was His meeting place to resolve the issues of broken relationship and a place to meet with Him in worship. The temple pointed to the New Covenant reality that the people are now the Temple of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 6:19 – “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;”.
Acts 7:51-53 – Stephen brings heaven’s charge against the Sanhedrin
a) Circumcision was the prophetic picture of having the dead and dull carnal nature of man removed, and the reality that one was in covenant with God in a state of purity and obedience to Him. See Galatians 5:6
b) This charge was an arrow of truth that pierced their hearts. Stephen was comparing the to the disobedient and unfaithful of Israel. Jeremiah 31:31-33 – “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
c) The Sanhedrin had become the pinnacle of religious hypocrisy and resisted the Lord Jesus to the point that their decisions had determined their destiny as enemies to the gospel and the Church.
Acts 7:54-60 Stephen Stoned
a) Stephen’s testimony climaxed to the full demonic manifestation of the spirit of religion in the Sanhedrin.
b) The Lord encourages Stephen with a vision to strengthen him. Stephen testifies to the vision in the same language that Jesus testified to this Sanhedrin. See Matthew 26:64 – ““You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
c) Just as Jesus was killed outside the city, Stephen suffered and was killed outside the city. They covered their ears! The truth had become unbearable. The
religious spirit is deaf to truth.
d) We are introduced to Saul, who would later be the Apostle Paul. Listen to what Paul testified about himself. See 1 Timothy 12-17 and Philippians 3:4-9. We will spend much more time studying this man, but let’s recognize the extent to which he persecuted the Church of Jesus Christ.
e) Stephen models the same intercession of love, courage and faithfulness as Jesus did. Stephen would have been very familiar with the account of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Stephen being full of the Holy Spirit was still under the anointing until the time of his death.
f) The Scriptures present death as sleep for the body. See 1Corinthians 15:42-54. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 – “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”
g) Finally, Stephen becomes the first martyr to take his place under the altar in heaven. Revelation 6:9 – “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.”