Rembrandt Stoning of Stephen

BSF Study Questions Acts Lesson 5, Day 5: Acts 7:54-60

Summary Acts 7:54-60:

Of course, the Sanhedrin weren’t happy with this attack, gnashing their teeth.  But Stephen looked up and saw the glory of God and Jesus at His right hand.  Appalled, the Sanhedrin attacked Stephen and stoned him to death. Stephen prayed for the Lord to forgive his attackers, while Saul looked on–something of profound significance coming up.

BSF Study Questions Acts Lesson 5, Day 5: Acts 7:54-60

12) God showed Stephen His glory, as well as Jesus sitting at His right hand.

13a) He prayed that the people’s sin of stoning him would not be held against them. Jesus prayed the same thing while on the cross before he died. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

b) Personal Question. My answer: It’s difficult every day of my life when I’m a sinner, trying to do what Jesus would do in every situation and fighting against that and sin.

14) Personal Question. My answer: Even in death, Stephen is at peace. It gives me hope to one day have Stephen’s heart and to one day have Stephen’s peace.

Conclusions BSF Study Questions Acts Lesson 5, Day 5: Acts 7:54-60

The peace Stephen had at the end of his life while he is being stoned is what we all should strive for. To have others on your mind in the midst of terrible pain, agony, and anguish. To have a heart of Jesus when it’s so very difficult in this world.

Stephen was tried and executed because he upset the establishment. Yet, he died breathing forgiveness, giving us Paul as a result.

Going against the grain when led is what we are called to do as Christians. In today’s culture, this is harder than ever. Where do you stand?

End Notes BSF Study Questions Acts Lesson 5, Day 5: Acts 7:54-60

The Sanhedrin were angry because Stephen was right. Instead of submitting to the Holy Spirit, admitting they were wrong and asking for forgiveness, they stoned Stephen instead.

Can you imagine grown men gnashing their teeth? The idea of gnashing at him with their teeth can’t help but remind us of the imagery of Hell. Seven different times, Jesus described Hell as a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12). These men were prominent, successful, and appeared to be religious; yet they were rejecting God and associating themselves with hell, not heaven.

Jesus Standing

It is significant to note Jesus is standing here, as opposed to the more common description of Him sitting in heaven (Matthew 26:64Colossians 3:1), at the right hand of God the Father.

  • Jesus may have been standing in solidarity with Stephen at this moment of crisis. He does not react impassionately to the problems of His people.
  • Jesus may have been giving a standing ovation to Stephen, whose fate made him unique among believers. Among all the followers of Jesus, Stephen was the first martyr.
  • Jesus may have been standing to plead Stephen’s case before God the Father, assuring that though he was found guilty and punished on earth, he was found righteous and rewarded in heaven.

Jesus said, Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven (Matthew 10:32).

When Stephen declared that he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God, it was too much. The Sanhedrin reacted quickly, violently, and together. When Jesus, before this same body of men, declared that He would sit at the right hand of God, they had the same reaction and sealed his death as a blasphemer (Matthew 26:64-66).

death of believers

Stephen Stoned

“For Stephen to suggest that the crucified Jesus stood in a position of authority at the right hand of God must have ranked as blasphemy in the thinking of those who knew that a crucified man died under the divine curse.” (Bruce)

The reaction of the Sanhedrin seems extreme, but is typical of those who reject God and are lost in spiritual insanity

Ran at him: This uses the ancient Greek word hormao. This is the same word used to describe the mad rush of the herd of swine into the sea (Mark 5:13). This was an out-of-control mob rushing at Stephen.

The extent of their rage was shown by their execution of Stephen, which was done without regard for Roman law, and which was performed according to traditional Jewish custom (stoning).

Saul stood there as the supervisor of the operation. As a member of the Sanhedrin, he had also approved of Stephen’s execution.

Young man literally means, “a man in his prime.” It certainly does not mean that Saul wasn’t old enough to be a member of the Sanhedrin. In Acts 26:10, Paul says I cast my vote against them, and the plain implication was that he had a vote as a member of the Sanhedrin.

Stephen’s life ended in the same way it had been lived: In complete trust in God, believing that Jesus would take care of him in the life to come.

God heard Stephen’s prayer, and Paul is the evidence of it. We have no idea how greatly God can use us in our times of suffering.

Augustine said, “If Stephen had not prayed, the church would not have had Paul.”

Stephen displayed the same forgiving attitude that Jesus had on the cross (Luke 23:34). He asked God to forgive his accusers, and he made the promises loudly and publicly.

The text describes the passing of Stephen as tenderly as possible. Instead of saying simply that he died, it says that he merely fell asleep – with the idea that he woke up in a much better world.

  • If Stephen fell asleep, the church had to wake up.

Many have little idea of how greatly they can be used of God as they walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.

stubborn people

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BSF Study Questions Acts Lesson 5, Day 5: Acts 12

Summary of passage:  King Herod arrested James, the brother of John, and executed him.  He seized Peter as well with the same fate in mind.  But the Feast of Passover was occurring so Herod had to postpone his plans for Peter.  Meanwhile, people were praying for him.  Then, an angel of the Lord appeared to Peter the night before his execution and rescued him.

Peter went to the house of Mary mother of John to tell them he was okay.  Many people were there praying for him.  The servant girl Rhoda was shocked as was everyone else at Peter’s escape.  He told his tale and told them to tell James and the others.  Then Peter fled for safety. Herod then killed all the guards who let Peter escape.

God then struck Herod down and the word of the Lord continued to spread.  Then Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem from Antioch (Acts 11:25-6) with John also called Mark.

Personal Questions:

13)  Prayer works miracles.  The people prayed for Peter.  An angel rescued him.  If you do evil, God will judge you in the end.  Herod was evil to the core.  God struck him down.  Despite all the persecution, the truth of God’s word prevails.  Man cannot conquer God.

14)  God protects those who believe in Him even when things seem hopeless.  He rewards those who do not give up.  The bad guys will get their due reward in the end.  I can trust God to deal with evil people and vindicate the good guys.

Conclusions:  Do you ever wonder why Peter was rescued but not James?  I wanted more information on this from the Bible.  I’m assuming the Lord’s work for Peter was not done and James’ was.  James’ death had a purpose as did Peter’s remaining life.  Interesting to think on though.

End Notes:  There were several Herods throughout Roman history spanning approximately 100 years from about 30 BC to 64 AD–all ruling over parts of present-day Israel.  I’m assuming this Herod was the one involved in Jesus’ trial (Luke 22-23).  If you have a Bible Dictionary, look up Herod.  I found three pages in mine all about the different Herods.

The most profound thing I discovered was the Herod dynasty kept the peace in this region (hard even today) during this time frame, which gave the early church the time it needed to grow.  It postponed the inevitable clash which was coming of the Romans versus the Jews over religious differences. (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary by J D Douglas and Merrill C Tenney)

Tyre and Sidon were the principle cities of Phoenicia (modern-day Lebanon).  See map HERE.

Great historical background on both cities HERE.

BSF Study Questions Acts Lesson 5, Day 4: Acts 11:19-30

Summary of passage:  Those who had been scattered when Stephen died  traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch preaching to the Jews there.  However some men from Cyprus and Cyrene began to speak to the Greeks as well in Antioch about Jesus.  As a result, many Greeks believed.

Jerusalem sent Barnabas when they heard the news to help.  Then Barnabas traveled to Tarsus to bring Saul to Antioch to help preach the Good News.  For a whole year Saul and Barnabas preached the Good News and it was here at Antioch that the term Christians was first coined.

More prophets arrived from Jerusalem.  One of them, Agabus, predicted a severe famine for the entire Roman world (which was most know places).  The disciples decided to help the Roman people during this time.

Questions:

11)  1) Men from Cyprus and Cyrene preached to the Greeks at Antioch and converted a great number of people. 2) Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to help convert people.  3) Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul and he brought Saul back to Antioch to convert people.  4) More prophets came down from Jerusalem and one named Agabus predicted a severe famine in the Roman world (which was most of the known world at that time).

12)  At every turn, more and more people converted.  It was so successful, Jerusalem kept sending more and more missionaries to help out.  Antioch is in the Greek world, a pagan place, and there is no mention of persecution of any kind during this time.

Conclusions:  God can do anything and the power of His message is demonstrated here in Antioch where people in masses believed.

According to my study bible, Antioch was the third-largest city in the Roman empire.  It sat at a crossroads between the Mediterranean and the easter world.  It was a huge trading center and had a large Jewish and Greek population.  It was the first church with a large number of Gentile members and from here the first missionaries were sent out to spread the Gospel.

End Note:  Map of Cyrene in North Africa:  http://bibleatlas.org/regional/cyrene.htm

Great historical site and map (showing Antioch) fitting in the Bible with Roman times:

http://www.forumancientcoins.com/articles/the_travels_of_paul.htm

BSF Study Questions Acts Lesson 5, Day 3: Acts 10:1-11:18

Summary of passage:  A Roman Centurion (a very important man) named Cornelius was living in Caesarea.  He was God-fearing and gave generously to the poor.  One day he had a vision of the angel of God.  The angel told Cornelius to send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter, which he did.

Peter had a vision that same day of a large sheet being let down from heaven with all kinds of four-footed animals, reptiles, and birds on it.  A voice told Peter to kill and eat these animals.

Peter freaked out.  He couldn’t possibly eat anything unclean (as the laws for centuries have been).  The voice corrected him, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

While Peter was pondering this vision, Cornelius’ men arrived and the voice said to go with these men, which he did.

The next day when Peter arrived, Cornelius had invited all of his relatives and close friends to hear what Peter had to say.  Peter reminds everyone it is against Jewish law for Jews to associate with Gentiles but God has said otherwise through this vision.

Cornelius repeats his vision to Peter.  Peter finally understands his dream:  God now accepts every man into His kingdom; the Jews are no longer singled out as God’s chosen people.  With Jesus’ death, everyone is eligible for Salvation.

Peter explains how God chose people to be witnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection and to preach to the people and testify that God is the one and only judge of the living and the dead.

The Holy Spirit then came upon all who were listening, much to the astonishment of the Jews present with Peter.  Then they were baptized.

Peter’s actions shocked the Jewish community and he was questioned when he went to Jerusalem.  Peter retold the story of his meeting with the Centurion, explaining who was he to oppose God who blessed these Gentiles with the Holy Spirit. (Great explanation by the way!).

Finally, it began to dawn on the Jewish leaders that God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life and given everyone the gift of Heaven.

Questions:

5a)  He was a devout, God-fearing man and gave generously to those in need.  He prayed to God regularly.  He was a strong man, authoritative, and loyal to be a Roman Centurion (commander in the Roman army).  He must have been respected, admired, and a good leader.  He obeyed God and yearned to know Him more.

b)  Personal Question.  My answer:  Loving mother, good wife, homemaker.  Different than I would.

6a)  Unclean

b) Jesus’ death.  He made everything clean with his blood.

7a)  10:13:  “Get up, Peter.  Kill and eat.”

b)  10:34  When he heard Cornelius retell his tale and finally understood his vision meant tall were now clean and accepted into God’s arms.

c)  10:44-5; 11:15-17

8 )  Personal Question.  My answer:  Openness to the absurd, sharing with others.

9)  Peter is speaking about the possibility of coming into God’s family.  Everyone is eligible to be in God’s family through Jesus.  No one is excluded as previously taught/thought.  God will accept men from every nation.  He does not discriminate.

John 14:6:  “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.'”

John 10:9:  Jesus says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”

Acts 4:12:  “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Peter speaking about Jesus.

10)  For centuries God’s chosen people has been only Jewish.  God himself has said do not marry foreigners or associate with them.  Jews were accustomed to only thinking God’s words were for them (which it was–they were the chosen ones).  For only 3 short years, Jesus taught otherwise and then overnight, with his death, everyone was made equal and included in God’s kingdom.

This was a MAJOR paradigm shift.  This could be akin to the Equal Rights Movement in the US. When people grow up with a culture and a thought so ingrained in their mind it takes a while for it to change–usually a long while.

So for the Jews to accept the Gentiles would be a process.  We are human after all.  Most can’t just flip a switch and get rid of past prejudices that have been ingrained in us since childhood.

Conclusions:  I liked the last question.  It’s hard (at least for me) to visualize what life was like almost 2000 years ago.  We are so used to thinking in our world and in our terms that we don’t understand why people did things they did so long ago.

But we’re all human.  We’re the same now as we were then:  just more advanced in some ways. But fundamentally we’re not.  So for me, getting my mind back in the first century AD is huge in understanding the Book of Acts.