Saul Ravages the Church – Acts 8

Paul the Apostle, Russian icon from first quar...

Paul the Apostle, Russian icon from first quarter of 18th cen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first three verses of chapter 8 really belong with chapter 7 in this writer’s opinion because they really mark the end of what could easily be considered the first section of the book of Acts. The significance of the previous chapter’s cold-blooded murder of murder of Stephen cannot be understated. A t the end, they stoned Stephen to death, laying their garments at the feet of Saul. Verse one begins

And Saul approved of the execution.

The reality of those words from verse one would haunt the apostle Paul for the rest of his life. Known at this time as “Saul of Tarsus,” Paul was himself a Pharisee, having been “educated at the feet of Gamaliel” (Acts 22:3), a much revered member of the Sanhedrin council.  Though himself not a member of the Sanhedrin, the last few verses confirm that Paul did enjoy a somewhat revered status himself. That status afforded him some authority as well. The fury over Stephens speech was not quenched by his death by way of stoning. The wrath of the council was then turned upon all Christians, and Saul acted upon their authority as he “was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison (verse 3).

The tremendous growth of the church from the day of Pentecost up until Stephen’s death had been a great blessing mixed with the growing pains we saw in chapter 6. Now as the church scattered, that growth would ensure that many more in many other places would be taught, as well as become teachers of, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The apostles, of course, remained where they were.

(This year’s reading plan for Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Chronicles averages just 15 verses per day – 5 days per week!)
Schedule for this week

Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Acts here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 2 Chronicles here

/Bob’s boy
___________________

some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please visit this site’s menu item “The Author’s Books” for info on the author’s books, website, and Facebook page.

All of my comments in this blog are solely my responsibility. When reading any commentary, you should always refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word.

 

 

 

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The Stoning of Stephen – Acts 7

Pietro da Cortona, Stoning of Saint Stephen, 1...

Pietro da Cortona, Stoning of Saint Stephen, 1660. Acts 7:55 says that, as he was dying, Saint Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Stephen prepares to wind down and get to the ultimate point in his history lesson to the Sanhedrin, comes to the house of worship. He speaks of the tabernacle that Moses had built under God’s direction (verse 44, Exodus 25). He speaks of the Israelites bringing it into Canaan under Joshua, where it remained until David’s time. Then Solomon built a house for the Lord. But he reminds them in verses 48-50, that God does not dwell in the temple, and for all its glory, His own hands made everything in it.

He then addresses the council more personally, and speaks of their own vile rejection of “the cornerstone” and their betrayal of God and His son, saying:

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears,
you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.
Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?
And they killed those who announced beforehand
the coming of the Righteous One,
whom you have now betrayed and murdered,
you who received the law as delivered by angels
and did not keep it.”

Stephen had not only turned the tables on his own accusers as having gone against God, but had called them the murderers that they were! Their fury had to have been something to see. Then verses 55-57 read:

But he, full of the Holy Spirit,
gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God,
and Jesus standing pat the right hand of God.
And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened,
and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

I believe this is a literal account of what the Spirit showed Stephen before he died. It must have been a most comforting sight, knowing that he would be with the Lord soon. So they dragged him out of the city, and laid their garments at the feet of a man named Saul (stoning was hard, sweaty work) before they stoned Stephen to death.

(This year’s reading plan for Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Chronicles averages just 15 verses per day – 5 days per week!)
Schedule for this week

Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Acts here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 2 Chronicles here

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please visit this site’s menu item “The Author’s Books” to find out about my published and upcoming books, and for a link to my Facebook Author’s Page.

All of my comments in this blog are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word.

 

Stephen Preaches On Rejecting God – Acts 7

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments, painting by Rembrandt (1659) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stephen continued speaking to the Sanhedrin, tells them that Moses had told the Israelites that “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers” (Deuteronomy 18:15-18). He tells of Moses’ encounters with the angel of God, of receiving “living oracles” for them from God (the Ten Commandments). And he reminds them how the people rejected this prophet again — how they rejected God, and had Aaron make them the golden calf to worship.

He then reminds them of how God turned away, and quotes from Amos 5:25-27, and 1 Kings 11:7, saying:

‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices,
during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
You took up the tent of Moloch
and the star of your god Rephan,
the images that you made to worship;
and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’

The council would like to have believed Stephen to be ignorant, blasphemous, and disrespectful of all that is holy.  His inspired words prove otherwise, and even they cannot deny it. But it’s about to get more personal.

 

(This year’s reading plan for Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Chronicles averages just 15 verses per day – 5 days per week!)
Schedule for this week

Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Acts here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 2 Chronicles here

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please visit this site’s menu item “The Author’s Books” to find out about my published and upcoming books, and for a link to my Facebook Author’s Page.

All of my comments in this blog are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word.

 

 

Stephen On the Rejection of Moses – Acts 7

A depiction of the Hebrews' bondage in Egypt, ...

A depiction of the Hebrews’ bondage in Egypt, during which they were forced to make bricks without straw. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Stephen continues his speech, he tells of how the Israelites went from less than a hundred welcomed guests of the Pharaoh to over 600,000 men plus women and children (Exodus 12:37), who were now slaves. But slavery, as Stephen says, was not the worst of their problems. Their children were being murdered to try to keep their growing numbers down. This clearly is to illustrate the fulfillment of Gods promise to Abraham to “multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore” (Genesis 22:17).

Moses himself had to be hidden to escape death (Exodus 2), and it is here in verse 23 that we learn that Moses, having been raised in Pharaoh’s own house, was 40 years old when “it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.” After striking dead an Egyptian that was beating one of them, Stephen illustrates in verse 26 the betrayal of this prophet of god by one of his own people, after which he fled from Egypt.

Then he tells in verse 30 that it was another 40 years before Moses’ encounter with the burning bush at Sinai (Exodus 3). It is these inspired details from Stephen that help us piece together Moses’ age at different intervals in the Old Testament. But Stephen’s point is that it was this man (led by God, of course) who led them out of bondage — the one they had rejected.

(This year’s reading plan for Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Chronicles averages just 15 verses per day – 5 days per week!)
Schedule for this week

Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Acts here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 2 Chronicles here

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please visit this site’s menu item “The Author’s Books” to find out about my published and upcoming books, and for a link to my Facebook Author’s Page.

All of my comments in this blog are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word.

 

Stephen Preaching On Joseph – Acts 7

English: Joseph and His Brethren Welcomed by P...

English: Joseph and His Brethren Welcomed by Pharaoh, watercolor by James Tissot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin continues with the account of Joseph. He recounts how his brothers were jealous of him and sold him into Egypt. But he says that God was with him — that He gave Joseph favor and wisdom before Pharaoh so that he was made to be a ruler over Egypt. An important point to note here (and in the rest of Stephen’s Spirit-filled account of history) is that in each section of time, Stephen continues to show God’s unfailing love and care in all sorts of circumstances.

He goes on to talk about the famine and how Jacob and his family came to live there after Joseph made himself know to his brothers. Stephen mentions 75 coming to live there, whereas Exodus 1:5 says there were 70. But the differences in the Hebrew and the Septuagint can be explained and they harmonize fine (as if it really matters). A good explanation of that subject can be found in this article at ApologeticsPress.org.

(This year’s reading plan for Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Chronicles averages just 15 verses per day – 5 days per week!)
Schedule for this week

Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Acts here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 2 Chronicles here

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please visit this site’s menu item “The Author’s Books” to find out about my published and upcoming books, and for a link to my Facebook Author’s Page.

All of my comments in this blog are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word.

 

Stephen Begins to Speak – Acts 7

Annas and Caiaphas

Annas and Caiaphas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The chapter begins with the high priest asking Stephen whether “these things” were so. What he meant by “these things” was the false witness that had been given about Stephen as he was arrested back in Acts 6:12-14. Although the text doesn’t say, the high priest was officially Caiaphas until 36 A.D., according to Josephus. But as we saw in Acts 4:5-6, the deposed Annas was still regarded as such.

Instead of answering the question directly, though, Stephen instead begins a speech saying “Brothers and fathers, hear me.” He begins with God’s promises to Abraham. At first, it doesn’t seem like Stephen is answering the question of blasphemy at all, but we will see by the end of the chapter that what Stephen has to say does in fact deal with the worst kind of blasphemy.

When Stephen refers to God sending Abraham from Mesopotamia to Canaan after his father died, he is speaking of Terah (Genesis 11:32), who was about 8 generations descended from Shem. He reminds the council he is addressing of the 400 years they spent in bondage to Egypt before God led them out, and into the land they now occupied. But his focus for the time being is still on Abraham, the promise, and through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob, the twelve patriarchs (verse 8).

As Stephen was speaking the word of God, these men had no quarrel with what he had to say at this point. Things were going to change, however.

(This year’s reading plan for Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Chronicles averages just 15 verses per day – 5 days per week!)
Schedule for this week

Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Acts here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 2 Chronicles here

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please visit this site’s menu item “The Author’s Books” to find out about my published and upcoming books, and for a link to my Facebook Author’s Page.

All of my comments in this blog are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word.

 

A Face Like an Angel – Acts 6

Verses 8-9 tell us of Stephen’s wisdom, grace and power, and the signs and wonders that he worked.  But not everyone was impressed by either his words or the miracles he worked. Verse 9 speaks of different groups from different synagogues that rose up and disputed with him. The Freedmen means just what it sounds like. These were former slaves, who had been freed. The other groups mentioned were from various geographic areas.

The Transfiguration Lodovico Carracci 1594

The Transfiguration Lodovico Carracci 1594 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The point that the text makes is that these groups of Jews not only did not believe, but they were determined to silence him. When they argued with him, Stephen’s wisdom with the word of God, being filled with the Spirit, prevailed. They could not counter Stephen’s wisdom because it was the wisdom of God. So they sent men around secretly, telling the people, the elders, and the scribes that Stephen was speaking blasphemy against Moses and God Himself.

So they arrested him, and spoke their false charges against him, even saying that he was teaching that Jesus would “destroy this place” (meaning the temple), and will “change the customs that Moses brought to us.” The last verse of chapter 6 says that everyone on the council (the Sanhedrin) saw that his face was “like the face of an angel.” We can speculate what that means, but lit is likely that it had a sort of radiance somewhat like Jesus at His transfiguration to some degree. Clearly, it was a remarkable sight to behold.

One would think that itself would have been enough to alert the council that God might have something to do with what was going on. But some people never learn because of their hardened hearts.

(This year’s reading plan for Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Chronicles averages just 15 verses per day – 5 days per week!)
Schedule for this week

Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Acts here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 2 Chronicles here

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Please check out my Books and my Facebook Author’s Page. You will find the links at this site’s menu item “The Author’s Books“.

 

Acts 7 – Stephen’s Speech and Stoning

Before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council, Stephen gave a stirring sermon about Jesus. For this, he was stoned to death, becoming a martyr for Jesus (Acts 7:1-34).

Chapter 7 opens with Stephen at the Sanhedrin being asked by the high priest “Are these things so?”  The charges against Stephen from lies and twisted quotations of Jesus were that he “never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law,” and that they had heard him say “that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us” (Acts 6:13-14).

Did Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, already know the fate that awaited him?  Perhaps.  The possibility must have been obvious.  He does not actually address the charges against him, which hints that he must have known that such would be pointless. Instead, the speech that follows is a long account of the history of Israel, their continued blessings given by God, and their rejection of the Lord time and time again.

The Spirit brought him to full remembrance of the Scriptures in this account; and he concludes in verses 51-53 with a direct accusation on his own accusers.  He first quotes God’s own description of their forefathers as stiff-necked people (Exodus 33:3), uncircumcised in heart and ears (Ezekiel 44:7).  He goes further though, first referring to their father’s having killed the prophets, as Jesus had spoken in Matthew 23:29-31,37.  Then he turns the tables on them completely – charging them in verses 52-53 with the murder of “the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

Saul watches approvingly while men stone Stephen to death (Acts 7:35-60). Later, when Saul became Paul the Apostle, this scene must have given him great sorrow and remorse, deeply regretting his part in Stephen’s martyrdom.

This indictment by Stephen of these men was received with so much rage that mob rule prevailed.  Stephen was taken from the city and stoned to death.  The Jews who had no legal right to execution under Roman law nevertheless had it carried out with haste as their anger burned.  In verse 58, the so-called “witnesses” cast the first stones, according to the law (Deuteronomy 13:9).  These laid there garments at the feet of young Saul of Tarsus (stoning was hard work, and the outer garments would be in the way), who stood by and watched, as Stephen was killed.  The vision Stephen had in verse 56 of Jesus at the right hand of God was undoubtedly for his own encouragement.

Read or listen to audio of ESV version of this selection from this link.

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog.  All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.  For questions and help, please see the “FAQ” and “Summaries” pages there.

Acts 6 – Stephen is Seized

Seven men were selected to serve the needy in the early church, which freed the apostles to preach the Gospel (Acts 6:1-15).

In verse one, the phrase “in these day,” accompanied by the context, implies that some time had passed.  The number of the disciples was still increasing.  The Hellenists were Jews of foreign birth and Greek education.  It is likely that many had ended up staying in Jerusalem after the events of Pentecost and the beginnings of the church had profoundly affected them.  But a complaint arose from them that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food and such.  The New American Standard version translates the issue as they “were being overlooked,” and it is likely that it was unintentional.  The language difference would also result in some separation physically as well, so such an oversight in such great numbers could be expected.

When brought to the attention of the Apostles, it would of course be remedied, but they recognized that the work they were doing of preaching the word of God could not be neglected.  So they told their brothers to choose seven men “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.”   There is some discussion as to whether these were the first deacons, but as Coffman notes:

“…the record here does not so name them, nor is there very much similarity between their status and that of the deacons Paul commanded Timothy to appoint. The men here were not assistants to elders of the church, but to the Twelve; and, furthermore, they were endowed by a laying on of the hands of the apostles.”

Stephen’s Gate, Jerusalem- This gate in the eastern wall of Jerusalem is named for Stephen, the first-century martyr.

The point is academic however, as the scripture does mention the Apostles using the words “serve tables.”  The significance to us is mostly the selection of Stephen as one of the seven.  He is described as full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, grace and power; and “was doing great wonders and signs among the people.”  But before moving to Stephen’s story, let’s not overlook the significance of verse 7’s description of the growth in numbers – that “a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”  We are not told what is meant by “a great many” but the lower echelon of the priesthood numbered in the thousands; and conversion of a significant number of them would offer some explanation of why the Pharisees reacted so viciously in their treatment of the early Christians.

In a dispute that evolved into a conspiracy of lies and false witnesses, Stephen is seized and brought to the Sanhedrin.  Verse 15 says “And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”  Although we do not know precisely what that means physically, it is clear that the Holy Spirit was at work in Stephen.

Read or listen to audio of ESV version of this selection from this link.

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog.  All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.  For questions and help, please see the “FAQ” and “Summaries” pages there.

Stephen, the Sanhedrin, and Saul \ Week 38 summary posted

Paul escaping Damascus in a basket

We are continuing in Acts this week with the selection of seven “table servants” – one of which is Stephen.  Then we will read of his arrest, his appearance before the Sanhedrin, and his historic, eloquent, and aptly accusatory speech to them – a moving and unforgettable account of the bravery of this man.  Then, we will move to chapter 8 to find Saul of Tarsus ravaging the church, as he persecutes and even brings about the death of more Christians – deeds that he would very soon come to great sorrow for, as he encounters the Lord.  His life is forever changed, and we are all the better for it.  But this week will also give us Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch; and Peter will have an important revelation.  What a week in God’s word!

Summing Up

Each weekend, I am now posting a small PDF of one week of chapter summaries (on the website’s “Summaries” page), current to the beginning of the previous week.  I have posted the summary for Week 38 (September Week 3) of the schedule I am following.  This short PDF document contains condensed comments about Matthew 27, 28, John 20, 21, and Luke 24, with hyperlinks to the ESV version of each chapter for listening or reading, and joins the summaries for other weeks already posted there.

/Bob’s boy
___________________
image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog.  All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.  For questions and help, please see the “FAQ” and “Summaries” pages there.