7:1-60) A Message to the Stiff Necked
Its time to move on with our studies in Acts. Our last study saw
Stephen being dragged before the Sanhedrin Council. The false
witnesses give their accusations, then something odd happens. As
Stephen stands there calmly, it says, "Fixing their gaze on him, all
were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel."
ancient translation has, 'like the face of God.')
What Stephen was on the inside, was shining through his face. This is
what the Lord wishes the world to see in His people. But the story of
Stephen doesn't end with his angelic appearance. What he is about to
share is going to cause a fire storm in Jerusalem. Stephen's message
will become the catalyst for the first general persecution of the Church.
It begins in Jerusalem.
In this study we will see how the Lord calls the leaders in Israel to
account for their deeds. Stephen will speak a 'divine' oracle. Keep in
view the promise made by Jesus; "But when they hand you over, do
not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in
that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the
Spirit of your Father who speaks in you." (Cf. Matt10:19,20)
This is Acts Study #17 (Acts
7:1-60) A Message to the Stiff Necked.
I will comment but little on Scripture portions where Stephen is simply
laying out parts of the history of the Hebrew peoples. But you may wish
to read those portions in your Bible.
"The high priest said, "Are these things so?"
The point of the charge is blasphemy. Stephen is being accused of
preaching against the temple and the Law of Moses, and that Jesus
Himself was going to both destroy the temple, and alter the customs
handed down by Moses. Note that 'false witnesses' have been hired to
make these accusations. Of course the accusations are intertwined
with truth and lies. Not one apostle ever spoke against Moses. They
spoke in agreement with Moses and the prophets.
As for the temple, yes, Jesus said that it would be destroyed. This
probably came out in Stephen's debate with the Hellenist Jews. But
there another point that may not be apparent to the reader. The
statement that Jesus was going to 'alter the customs handed down by
Moses' is a reference to the oral torah, not to the Law of Moses. The
oral torah was also known as 'the traditions of the elders.'
Special note: We will look at the Oral Torah at different points in our
studies. What will be seen is that the intense hatred by the traditional
Jewish leadership against the Jewish Christians, and against Jesus
Himself, did not cease at the destruction of the temple in 70 a.d. That
same hatred spills over into some the writings that make up the
Let's continue ....
"And he said, 'Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory
appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before
he lived in Haran...'"
.... Stephen addresses the Council with respect, and as a fellow
Hebrew. He is establishing rapport with his listeners. This is very
important because later in his address, Stephen will bring charges
against the leadership of Israel.
In these verses, Stephen lays out the history of the Hebrew
people from Abraham to a particular point in the life of Moses. Since
these verses are historical, I won't comment on them. You may wish to
read these for yourself.
"This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, 'God will raise
up for you a prophet like me from our brethren.'"
.... This is where Stephen begins to bring it home. In Jewish tradition
figure known as 'the Prophet' was to be a major player in events
concerning Messiah. Some connected the Prophet directly with
Messiah. Others thought he would be Elijah or someone else.
As for being a prophet, many of the Jews believed Jesus was a
prophet. Some even saw Him as 'the' Prophet. And many others
accepted Him fully as Messiah of Israel, in that the Prophet and the
Messiah were the same person.
Consider these Scriptures:
"They asked him, 'What then? Are you Elijah?' And he said, 'I am
'Are you the Prophet?' And he answered, 'No.'" (John
"And the crowds were saying, 'This is the prophet Jesus, from
Nazareth in Galilee.'" (Matt21:11)
"Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed,
they said, 'This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the
"Some of the people therefore, when they heard these words, were
saying, 'This certainly is the Prophet.'" (John
Now listen to what the Lord said to Moses; "I will raise up a
from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his
mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall
come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall
speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him." (Deu18:18,19)
The point at hand is that as Stephen quotes from Deuteronomy, he is
making Jesus both the Messiah, and the Prophet. But Stephen has
another emphasis in view. He is expressing that the 'Prophet' was not
only to be 'like' Moses, but His authority would exceed the authority of
Moses. Stephen plainly is fixing the authority of Jesus.
The Angel of the Presence
"This is the one who was in the congregation in the
wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount
Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to
pass on to you. Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but
repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt..."
.... Where Stephen says, "This is the one", he is referring
The ancients believed that the covenant of Moses was given through
angels. But there was one angel in particular called 'the Angel of the
Presence,' that communed with Moses in the giving of the Law. Early
Christians viewed this Angel as the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ, that is,
God revealed in angelic form.
Consider what the Lord said to Moses: "Behold, I am going to send
angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the
place which I have prepared. Be on your guard before him and obey
his voice; do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your
transgression, since My name is in him." (Exo23:20,21)
When Moses blessed Israel before his death, he said, "The LORD
came from Sinai, and dawned on them from Seir; He shone forth from
Mount Paran, and He came from the midst of ten thousand holy ones
[angels]; at His right hand there was flashing lightning for them."
.... Stephen continues to build his case; "Our fathers were
be obedient to him [that is, Moses and in turn the Lord], but repudiated
him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt..."
It appears that Stephen is making a case in that the Jews were just as
much sinners in their hearts as were all peoples of the earth. Of
course this would never set well with the self-righteous. But Moses
himself called the Israelites a "perverse and crooked
generation." (Cf. Deut.
Next Stephen goes through a succession of disobedient factors of the
Idolatry, An Issue of the Heart
"...saying to Aaron, 'Make for us gods who will go before us;
for this Moses who led us out of the land of Egypt -- We do not know
what happened to Him.' At that time they made a calf and brought a
sacrifice to the idol, and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. But
turned away and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven; as it is
in the book of the prophets, 'It was not to Me that you offered victims
sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, was it, O house of Israel. You
took along the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of the God Rompha,
images which you made to worship. I also will remove you beyond
..... Stephen skips across Israel's history to show just how idolatrous
they had been as a people, and how rebellious they were to the God of
Abraham. Again keep in mind that Stephen is speaking by divine
oracle, therefore, it is the Lord God Himself who is calling the Council
Note: Did you know that when Israel came out of Egypt, they actually
brought their idols with them? Stephen is quoting Amos the prophet.
God spoke through Amos, saying, "'Did you present Me with sacrifices
and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, O house of
Israel? You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your
images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves.
Therefore, I will make you go into exile beyond Damascus,' says the
LORD, whose name is the God of hosts.'" (Amos
..... Something to ponder --- Is it possible for a Christian to hold to
form of idolatry and not be truly conscious of it? Perhaps. How about
when a religious institution becomes 'lord' of our life? Remember that it
was institutionalized religion that crucified Jesus. It was
religion that persecuted the early believers. It was institutionalized
religion that destroyed so many Jews through the centuries.
Institutionalized religion has been responsible for more Christian
martyrs than any other single source. Think about it.
..... What do you suppose Jesus meant, when He said, "My kingdom
not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants
would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but
as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm."? (John
Let's continue on ....
Stephen highlights Israel's history through Joshua on to
"But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. However,
the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the
prophet says: 'Heaven is My throne, and the earth is the footstool of
My feet; what kind of house will you build for Me?' says the Lord, 'Or
what place is there for my repose? Was it not my hand which made all
.... There is a sense in which the Jews had become temple
worshippers. Stephen knew this. His point was that God doesn't dwell
in temples made with hands. Do we need to learn this lesson?
.... Actually the holiest of holies had been crucified on the cross.
apostle said, "For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily
.... Holiness begins with Jesus and is transmitted to us through His
precious blood. This is why believers are called 'holy ones.' (Saints.)
Stiff Necked Resistance
Now comes the charge. I need to press the point that it is the Holy
Spirit who is speaking through Stephen. The charge is coming from
"You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart
and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your
fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?
They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the
Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now
become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did
not keep it."
.... Who is this group that God calls 'stiff-necked and uncircumcised
heart?' Who is this group that God further charges with being
betrayers and murderers of the Righteous One, and of having
persecuted the prophets, and on top of all, while they claimed to be
keepers of the Law, but were actually perverters of the Law. (Oral
Keep in mind that already many thousands of Jews have received
This is the very same people group that John the Baptist called a
'brood of vipers.' The Lord called them 'a wicked generation,' and
instructed the disciples to beware of their teachings. (Cf. Matt3:7; 16:11;
This characteristic of being 'stiff necked' was often used in Scripture
describe those in Israel who refused to bend to the will of God. They
did not love God, nor did they care for His commandments. When Stephen says that their fathers 'always resisted the Holy Spirit' this was a
reference to the prophets of old. Their fathers killed the prophets, and now
their hatred was fixed on the apostles.
The prophet Isaiah makes an interesting comment about this group.
The Lord said, "In all their affliction He was afflicted, And the
angel of His presence saved them; In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, And He lifted them and carried them all the days of old. But
they rebelled And grieved His Holy Spirit; Therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them." (Isaiah
Is it possible for a believer to grieve the Holy Spirit today?
Truth Pierces the Heart
" Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they
began gnashing their teeth at him."
.... The Greek language here expresses the strongest of anger, to the
extent that the grinding of their teeth could be physically heard. It is
likely that Stephen knew his end was near. But the anointing of the
Lord was flowing so strongly through him, that He cared for nothing
else but that the Lord be glorified.
This is what the Spirit-filled life is really about. The Psalmist said
enough; "Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name give
glory Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth." (Psalm
"But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into
heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand
of God; and he said, 'Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the
Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'"
.... It is interesting to see that Jesus is standing. It is as though
stands to receive the first Christian martyr. It all other places where it
describes Jesus and the throne of God, the Lord is seated. But here,
before the stoning ever begins, Stephen is experiencing the throne.
doesn't say that Stephen heard anything. But perhaps he did. If so,
could it have been, "Come, you who are blessed of My Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."
.... Everything Stephen says is couched in Hebraic thought form. His
Jewish audience would have understood this scene much better than
many of us today. Stephen is describing God's Messiah standing in the hakavod (the glory) of God. This is another way of saying 'the
hand of power,' which was a Messianic expression.
"But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their
ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him
out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside
their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on
stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, 'Lord Jesus,
receive my spirit!'"
.... Covering their ears was a way of declaring Stephen guilty of
blasphemy. But something else is in view here. The penetrating
judgment of God has fallen on them. His Word has afflicted them in
the deepest of their hearts. They want it to stop. Their rage becomes
.... "They rushed at him with one impulse." Can you even
a thing? This is supposed to be a court of justice, with men of integrity
and wisdom, whose leanings are supposed to be towards grace and
.... Stoning was the fate for blasphemy. We may find it interesting
Gamaliel says nothing during these proceedings. Was he there?
Perhaps. It may be that Gamaliel saw when everything was out of
control, to raise his voice would have been only increased the fury.
A Young Man Standing By
.... Now take special note that there is a certain young man standing
by, who, while he doesn't participate in the stoning, was recognized by
the stoning group as someone of authority. They lay their robes at his
feet. This man Saul is a disciple of Gamaliel, and was well known by
the Council, and probably by many in the group itself.
Of course we know who this man was. He was to become the great
apostle Paul. And this stoning incident will become a major issue the
Lord will use to deal with Saul's heart. Paul would never forget the
stoning of Stephen.
"When they had driven him out of the city, they began
stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a
young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called
on the Lord and said, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!' Then falling on
his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin
against them!' Having said this, he fell asleep."
.... Notice that Stephen has two final statements to make. He speaks
directly to Jesus and asks the Lord to receive his spirit. But in his
breath is a prayer, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!"
like Jesus is this Stephen.
What can we learn from the man Stephen? For one thing Stephen
shows the power of spiritual life that belongs to of a true disciple of
Jesus Christ. When Jesus said that the disciples would be His
witnesses, Stephen is a wonderful example.
Being a witness isn't simply in our words. It has to do with what we
have become. Stephen's life had been transformed through his
Messiah. This is the life that God offers us through His Son, Jesus.
Think about the it. The study is open.
Previous: #16 (Acts 6:8-15) The Face of an Angel
Next: #18 (Acts 8:1-24) Persecution, Scattering, and Philip
This study on
Acts was originally part of a
series on the book of Acts given to members of
Hebraic Foundations from July 10, 2002 through January 19, 2003.
They were written by Pastor Buddy Martin, Founder and Senior Pastor of
Christian Challenge International.