Summary of Acts 7:1-53
Stephen begins his defense by citing history. He reminds the Sanhedrin that God appeared to Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia and told him to go to Haran. So he did. Then God told him to go to Canaan and he did. God promised him he and his descendants would possess that land even though at the time Abraham didn’t. They would be enslaved for 400 years but afterward they would worship Him.
He gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. Isaac was born. Isaac had Jacob who became the father of the twelve patriarchs.
He retells the story of Joseph, how these same patriarchs (Joseph’s brothers) sold him into slavery into Egypt. But God was with him and Joseph became Pharaoh’s right-hand man. Famine struck Canaan so Jacob and his whole family went to Egypt to survive and live with Joseph.
Their ancestors grew over this time but became oppressed by a different ruler of Egypt. Around this time, Moses was born and he was brought up by Pharaoh’s daughter and educated in the Egyptian ways.
When Moses was 40 he visited his fellow Israelites and interceded when one was being mistreated by an Egyptian and killed the Egyptian. However, the Israelites did not trust Moses so he fled to Midian.
Another 40 years passed when an angel appeared to Moses in the burning bush where God then spoke to him. God told him he was sending him back to Egypt to rescue his people, the same people who had rejected Moses before.
He led them out of Egypt and wandered for 40 years. During this time, the people still questioned Moses leadership and decided to make a golden calf to follow instead. God got mad at this and told them they would be punished by exile in Babylon (much later on in history).
Moses had the tabernacle and it remained in the land until the time of David and Solomon built a dwelling place for it and the Lord. But Stephen says God does not live in houses built by men.
Now Stephen attacks the Sanhedrin, accusing them of resisting the Holy Spirit and persecuting prophets and ultimately killing Jesus.
BSF Study Questions Acts Lesson 5, Day 3: Acts 7:1-53
6) Acts 7:1-38: Stephen’s point is to recount the history of Israel from the Jewish point of view, including the story of Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. He points out how Moses was rejected by his own people, but God sent him to rescue them anyways.
Acts 7:39-50: The Israelites rejected Moses and instead made idols. David had the tabernacle made, completed under Solomon. But God does not live in tabernacles.
Acts 7:51-58: Stephen calls his listeners traitors and murderers and shows them how they have always rejected prophets (including Moses) and now Jesus. They killed Jesus and have rejected and disobeyed the law as well.
7) The Sanhedrin were accusing Stephen of blasphemy against Moses and God, saying how Jesus was going to destroy the temple and change the law. Stephen told the Sanhedrin that they were the ones rejected the law, disobeying God, and destroying the temple.
8 ) He proves his words using the Bible and shows the Sanhedrin just what hypocrites they are. The Sanhedrin stir up the people, produce false witnesses, and lie about him. Stephen uses the Bible as his weapon, but he does resort to name calling (stiff-necked). He shows them how they have resisted the Holy Spirit, are hypcrites, and are ungodly. Stephen was calm and angelic. The Sanhedrin were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. Stephen used words as his weapon. The Sanhedrin used stone.
Conclusions BSF Study Questions Acts Lesson 5, Day 3: Acts 7:1-53
This is perhaps one of the best, most succinct summery of the history of the Jewish people anywhere. Stephen hits all of the main highlights beautifully, and you see immediately how the people have always rejected God and are still doing so today. From Moses talking to God while the people below make a golden calf to the people rejecting Jesus as Lord and Savior in favor of their own way, mankind always stays the same.
End Notes BSF Study Questions Acts Lesson 5, Day 3: Acts 7:1-53
The high priest mentioned here was probably still Caiaphas, the same one who presided over the trial of Jesus (Matthew 26:57).
What was Stephen’s point in front of the Sanhedrin?
The high priest invited Stephen to explain himself in light of the accusations recorded in Acts 6:11-14. Stephen was accused to speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God, and against this holy place [the temple] and the law. Additionally, they accused him of saying that Jesus would destroy both the temple and the customs delivered by Moses.
In his response Stephen gave a panorama of Old Testament history. We shouldn’t think Stephen instructed the Sanhedrin on points of Jewish history they were ignorant of. Instead, Stephen emphasized some things in Jewish history they may not have considered:
- God never confined Himself to one place (like the temple)
- The Jewish people had a habit of rejecting those God sends to them.
Stephen was proclaiming the truth about Jesus in a way people could understand.
“Stephen seems to have perceived…that the old order of things was passing away and a new order was coming. This becomes particularly clear when he talks about the temple. It was cherished by the Jews. But it was destined to pass away, and Stephen seemed to have sensed that. His speech is a transition speech that paves the way for presenting the gospel to the Gentiles, which begins in the very next chapter of Acts.” (Boice)
God is greater than the temple. God, His glory, and His work was not confined to the temple.
Abraham’s partial obedience did not take God’s promise away. Instead, it meant the promise was on hold until Abram was ready to do what the Lord said. Abraham is an example of one who grew in faith and obedience.
Stephen emphasized a relationship with God on the basis of faith and not outward evidences like a temple or the structure of institutional religion and its customs.
Stephen emphasized the spiritual presence of God with Joseph all the time. Joseph did not need to go to the temple to be close to God – there was no temple. Instead, God was with him all the time. Stephen mentioned the story of Joseph because he is a picture of Jesus, in that the sons of Israel rejected Joseph, who later became a savior to them (and the only possible savior).
Genesis 46:27 says there were 70 altogether of the family of Israel, when Stephen in Acts 7:14 said it was 75. Stephen quoted from the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, which says 75. The number in the Septuagint is not wrong, just arrived at in a different way, specifically adding five more sons (or grandsons) of Joseph born in Egypt.
How was Moses like Jesus?
- Moses was favored by God from birth and preserved in childhood.
- Moses was well pleasing to God without the temple or the customs of institutional religion.
- Moses came down and cared for his people.
- Moses was rejected by the people with spite.
Moses was God’s chosen deliverer despite rejection. Moses promised that there would come after him another Prophet and warned that Israel should take special care to listen to this coming Prophet. But just like Israel rejected Moses, so they were rejecting Jesus, who is the Prophet Moses spoke of.
It wasn’t that Stephen spoke against the temple, but against the way Israel worshipped the temple of God instead of the God of the temple. Just as Israel worshipped the calf in the wilderness, so now they were worshipping the works of their own hands.
Stephen took the passage from Amos and changed it slightly to bring the point to his listeners. Amos said, “beyond Damascus” (Amos 5:27), but Stephen changed it to “beyond Babylon.”
Boice explains: “Stephen, who quotes the text, alters it, because he is not talking to the people of the northern kingdom but to the leaders of Israel in the south. It is their history that he has in mind.”
God giving man over to his sinful desires in Romans 1:24-32.
Stephen’s point was that the presence of the tabernacle or the temple did not keep them from rejecting God and His special messengers. Yet God is too big to fit in any temple man could make. Christians today do the same thing when the only time they meet with God is church. The rest of their lives God is absent.
Drawing on concepts from the Old Testament, Stephen rebuked those who rejected Jesus as stiff-necked (as Israel is described in passages like Exodus 32:9), and as uncircumcised in heart and ears (as Israel is described in passages like Jeremiah 9:26).
Deuteronomy 10:16: Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.
- Almost 20 times in the Old Testament, God calls Israel stiff-necked. These religious leaders were acting just as their forefathers acted.
Israel prided itself on the sign of circumcision because it separated them from the Gentiles. Stephen essentially said, “You are just like the Gentiles in your rejection of the Lord.”
Final Message of Stephen’s Speech
The council prided themselves on their obedience to the law.
- Though the temple was a wonderful gift from God, it was wrong to overemphasize it as “the house of God.”
- Israel at that time was guilty of what they had often been guilty of: rejecting God’s messengers.
- Jesus said that it is impossible for old wineskins to hold new wine (Matthew 9:17). Through Stephen, the Holy Spirit showed how the old traditions of Judaism (especially the over-emphasis on the temple) could not contain the new wine of Christianity.
Results of Stephen’s Impending Martyrdom
God used Stephen’s coming martyrdom to send the church out into the entire world, but God also used Stephen’s message to show that there was no theological reason to prevent the gospel from going to the Gentiles.
The whole idea behind a permanent, stationary temple is “you come to me.” This is why Israel, though they were a light to the nations, mainly thought in terms of the world coming to them for salvation. Through the church, God would show a different heart: “I will come to you,” including to the Gentiles.