The 7th chapter of Acts is of vital importance because it records another appeal on the part of the Holy Spirit to Israel. The message is concerning the King and the kingdom and it is borne, this time, by Stephen not Peter.

Stephen was placed before the council in the closing verses of chapter 6. The eyes of every member of that unjust council looked steadfastly upon the Spirit-filled Stephen. These evil men were impressed by the expression in his face—”And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel. Then said the high priest, are these things so?” (Acts 6:15-7:1).

In the opening of Stephen’s message, he addressed them as “Men, brethren, and fathers” (Acts 7:2). This identified both the council and himself with Israel. In this second verse he also referred to the appearance of “the God of glory” unto father Abraham. In referring to Abraham he was careful to say, “Our father Abraham.”

The reference to God being “the God of glory” does not mean that His outward, physical glory was manifested to Abraham. It means that the glory of His free grace was shown forth toward him, an idol worshipper. We know that Abraham was, before his call, a Syrian ready to perish—”And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God, a Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and so-journed there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous” (Deuteronomy 26:5)

Prior to the flood, in the days of Noah, the earth was filled with violence; following the flood it was filled with idolatry. The grace of God made it possible for Noah to save the seed of the woman when the judgment of the flood fell, and the grace of God manifested toward Abraham, made it possible to deliver the chosen seed from idolatry. Neither Noah nor Abraham were worthy of the positions that God gave them. They were called on a basis of grace that God’s name might be glorified.

Notice how quickly the Holy Spirit sweeps through the history of God’s chosen people in this message delivered by Stephen—”The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, and said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I will shew thee. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into the land, wherein ye now dwell” (Acts 7:2-4). In these few verses Stephen led his audience along with Abraham, the father of Israel, from the day of his call to his settlement in the land of Israel wherein they were then dwelling.

The Holy Spirit was careful to use Stephen in bringing out the very truth which pertained to Israel, the seeds of Abraham. He let them know in verses 5 to 7 of the bondage through which they must pass before enjoying the inheritance—”And He gave him (Abraham) none inheritance in it (the land), no not so much as to set his foot on: yet He promised that He would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child. And God spake on this wise, that his seed should so-journ in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years. And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: And after that shall they come forth, and serve Me in this place.”

This promised land was guaranteed to Abraham and his seed after him. The covenant of circumcision marked them as a separated people unto the God of glory. “And He gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs” (Acts 7:8).

In verses 9 to 16, Stephen set forth before his accusers the persecution and deliverance of Joseph—”And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him, and delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house. Now, there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and of Canaan, and great affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance. But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt he sent out our fathers first. And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph’s kindred was made known unto Pharaoh. Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls. So Jacob went down into Egypt and died, he, and our fathers, and were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor, the father of Sychem.” In these seven short verses, we find the story of Joseph and his brethren from the day he was sold unto the death and burial of Jacob.

After reminding the council of the treatment which Joseph had received at the hands of his brethren, and how God had delivered him and exalted him to be their saviour, he takes up the story of Moses, his ministry, and rejection—”But when the time of the promise drew nigh which God had shown to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt, till another king arose, which knew not Joseph. The same dealt subtilly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live. In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father’s house three months; and when he was cast out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son. And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds. And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian: for he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not. The next day he showed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another? But he that did his neighbor wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? Wilt thou kill me, as thou didst the Egyptian yesterday? Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Midian, where he begat two sons. Andwhen fortyyears were expired, there appeared unto him in the wilderness of Mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the Lord came unto him” (Acts 7:17-31). It is interesting to note that Stephen spoke highly of Moses—in verse 20, he said that Moses “was exceeding fair,” and in verse 22, he declared that “Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.” In this, Stephen rebutted the charge that was brought against him in chapter 6, verse 11, wherein he was accused of speaking blasphemous words against Moses. He also brought out the fact that the people of Israel flatly rejected the leadership of Moses, saying, “Who made thee a ruler and judge over us?”

The wilderness wherein Moses saw the burning bush was a holy place. There the Lord spoke unto him, saying, “I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and Burst not behold. Then said the Lord to him, put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground. I have seen, I have seen the affliction of My people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groanings and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee to Egypt.” Here Moses received his call and commission to deliver the people of Israel who had rejected his leadership forty years before. His first effort was put forth in the strength and learning which he received in Egypt. It seems that it took God forty years to get the Egyptian wisdom out of the heart of his servant Moses. Many of our present day preachers who have degrees from theological seminaries need a long term of desert training in order that they might get rid of some of the modernistic teaching which they received at the feet of seminary professors.

Notice the attitude in the hearts of the people of Israel toward Moses, their deliverer—”This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? The same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush. He brought them out, after that he had showed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years. This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; Him shall ye hear. This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us: to whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt.”

They not only turned their hearts toward Egypt, but they longed for the idols of Egypt—”saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us; for as for this Moses, which brought us out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what has become of him. And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven: as is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to Me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness? Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god, Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: and I will carry you away beyond Babylon” (Acts 7:40-43).

The fact that Israel in the wilderness offered sacrifice unto the golden calf, “rejoiced in the work of their own hands,” worshipped the stars of heaven, and “took up the tabernacle of Moloch” is set forth in verses 40 to 43 of this 7th chapter of Acts.

Stephen is here bringing to the attention of the council that the church in the wilderness did all these evil things in the sight of the God of glory who had wrought for them such great deliverance through Moses. Even though, the people did turn from the tabernacle of God to the tabernacle of Moloch, yet He maintained His tabernacle of witness in the wilderness. Stephen declared—”Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He had appointed speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen” (Acts 7:44).

This tabernacle was brought into the promised land by the fathers “with Jesus (Joshua),” and it continued until the building of the “house,” or temple which was first “desired” by David and finally built by Solomon (Acts 7:45-47).

After outlining the history of the tabernacle and the temple, Stephen made it plain that the God of glory was not dwelling in “temples made with hands”—”Howbeit the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is My throne and earth is My footstool: what house will ye build Me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of My rest? Hath not My hand made all these things?” (Acts 7:48- 50).

The truth of these verses must have brought the fire of resistance from the enemy; because at this point the trend of Stephen’s message changed from statements concerning Israel in general to a direct thrust at the very ones who were before him. He said—”Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it” (Acts 7:51-53).

This positive message was given in the power of the Holy Spirit and the hearers were privileged to yield themselves to the truth, and allow the Word to pierce their hearts and bring forth conviction and repentance: but they would not. On the other hand, they continued in the path of their fathers. In place of yielding they resisted—”When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth” (Acts 7:54). Notice, their hearts were not pierced, but cut. If their hearts had been pierced they would have responded as Peter’s audience did in Acts 2:36-37. But, being “cut to the heart,” they took the same attitude as is recorded in Acts 5:29-33.

The Death of Stephen

Stephen is the first New Testament martyr that we have any record of. We call your attention to the fact that when Stephen looked steadfastly into heaven, he saw “Jesus standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). Later, the apostle Paul reveals the fact that the risen Christ is seated at the right hand of the heavenly Father (Ephesians 1:22- 23). Still later, John beheld Him standing again (Revelation 5:6). It is interesting to note that in both of these places where Christ is seen standing, He is being presented to Israel as her King, and Christ seated in the heavenlies, according to Paul’s revelation is officiating as the “Head over all things to the church, which is His body.” It seems that when Stephen sealed his testimony with his own blood, Israel’s Saviour was standing in the heavenlies ready to return the moment His chosen people believed the Kingdom message. Upon their rejection of this message, He took His seat as the Head of the church, which is His body. When the body is completed, and called home to glory, He will again stand in the heavenlies while the kingdom message is being borne by the tribulation saints, according to Revelation 5:6.

The testimony of Stephen in verse 56, clearly reveals the fact that his hope was anchored in the return of Christ to the earth and not in the catching up of the church into glory. He said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.” The title “Son of Man” is never used in connection with the heavenly work of Christ, but is always used in connection with His earthly ministry, either during His first advent, or in relation to His second coming. The heavens were thrown open before the eyes of this New Testament martyr. The next time God did such a thing for one of His servants is recorded in Revelation 19:11-16 where John says, “And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse; and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns; and He had a name written, that no man knew, but He Himself. And He was clothed in a vesture dipped in blood: and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations: and He shall rule them with a rod of iron: and He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He hath on His vesture, and on His thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”

After Stephen had spoken these striking truths concerning his vision, the chief priest and those that were with him “cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus receive my spirit” (Acts 7:57-59).

It seems clear that the words of Stephen, “Lord Jesus receive my spirit” proves to us that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:8). His body went back to the dust but he, himself, was received into glory. When Christ returns, Stephen will be among the number that God will “bring with Him” (I Thessalonians 4:13-14).

The kneeling martyr used his last breath in prayer for those who were stoning him. He cried with a loud voice, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”

As we compare the prayer of Stephen with that of Jesus on the cross, we find interesting truth. Jesus said, “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Stephen did not ask the Father to forgive. He said, “lay not this sin to their charge.” That is, give them another chance. God heard the prayer, saved Saul of Tarsus and sent him forth to the Jews as an able minister of the new covenant (Romans 1:16 with II Corinthians 3:6).

The sin that provoked the prayer of Jesus on the cross was sin against the Son of Man, which Christ Himself had promised would be forgiven (Matthew 12:32). Therefore, He could scripturally pray, “Father, forgive them.” But the stoning of Stephen was sin against the Holy Ghost, a sin which Christ had declared should not be forgiven, “neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (Matthew 23:32). Therefore Stephen did not ask for forgiveness, but that the sin be not charged unto them at that particular time.

Even though Stephen’s prayer was heard and the apostle Paul delivered the new testament to Israel faithfully for more than twenty years, they continued to resist the Holy Spirit and were finally cut off as a nation through Paul’s last testimony to them in Acts 28:23-28.