Acts 7:1 - 8:25

Thursday Evening Bible Study

September 20, 2007


Stephen has been having a tremendous impact on people’s lives. God has been working miracles through him. God has been giving him wisdom as he tells people about Jesus. But some people were offended and Stephen is arrested and put before the Sanhedrin. Stephen is being charged with saying bad things about the Temple and about Moses.

(Acts 6:13-14 NKJV)  They also set up false witnesses who said, "This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; {14} "for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us."

Acts 7

:1-8 God called Abraham

:1 Then the high priest said, "Are these things so?"

This is Caiaphas.

:2 And he said, "Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran,

Philip is going to have a single theme that weaves through his message – that the leaders are treating the Christians like the rebellious Jews have always treated their prophets.

:3 "and said to him, 'Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.'

I wonder if part of Stephen’s thought process was to remind the Sanhedrin that Abraham was used to do something new, something different – a bit like Jesus.

:4 "Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell.

:5 "And God gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on. But even when Abraham had no child, He promised to give it to him for a possession, and to his descendants after him.

:6 "But God spoke in this way: that his descendants would dwell in a foreign land, and that they would bring them into bondage and oppress them four hundred years.

:7 'And the nation to whom they will be in bondage I will judge,' said God, 'and after that they shall come out and serve Me in this place.'

:8 "Then He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham begot Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot the twelve patriarchs.

:9-16 Israel in Egypt

:9 "And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt.

Could Stephen be hinting that the Sanhedrin is jealous of Jesus and the Christians?

Stephen is going to establish how the nation got down to Egypt, but there’s going to be another subtle theme to what he’s talking about.

But God was with him

:10 "and delivered him out of all his troubles, and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.

:11 "Now a famine and great trouble came over all the land of Egypt and Canaan, and our fathers found no sustenance.

:12 "But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first.

:13 "And the second time Joseph was made known to his brothers, and Joseph's family became known to the Pharaoh.

:14 "Then Joseph sent and called his father Jacob and all his relatives to him, seventy-five people.

:15 "So Jacob went down to Egypt; and he died, he and our fathers.

:16 "And they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem.

Joseph was persecuted by his brothers, and yet he saved his family and nation from the famine. Jesus too was persecuted, and He is the one who saved us from our sins.

:17-36 Moses

:17 "But when the time of the promise drew near which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt

:18 "till another king arose who did not know Joseph.

:19 "This man dealt treacherously with our people, and oppressed our forefathers, making them expose their babies, so that they might not live.

:20 "At this time Moses was born, and was well pleasing to God; and he was brought up in his father's house for three months.

:21 "But when he was set out, Pharaoh's daughter took him away and brought him up as her own son.

:22 "And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.

:23 "Now when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel.

:24 "And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended and avenged him who was oppressed, and struck down the Egyptian.

:25 "For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand.

Jesus came to deliver His people also, and they did not understand.

:26 "And the next day he appeared to two of them as they were fighting, and tried to reconcile them, saying, 'Men, you are brethren; why do you wrong one another?'

:27 "But he who did his neighbor wrong pushed him away, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?

:28 'Do you want to kill me as you did the Egyptian yesterday?'

:29 "Then, at this saying, Moses fled and became a dweller in the land of Midian, where he had two sons.

:30 "And when forty years had passed, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai.

:31 "When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he drew near to observe, the voice of the Lord came to him,

:32 "saying, 'I am the God of your fathers; the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' And Moses trembled and dared not look.

:33 'Then the LORD said to him, "Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.

:34 "I have surely seen the oppression of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their groaning and have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt."'

:35 "This Moses whom they rejected, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and a judge?' is the one God sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel who appeared to him in the bush.

:36 "He brought them out, after he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years.

Do you see the parallels between Moses and Jesus?

Moses was rejected, yet he was the one God sent to deliver the nation. Jesus was also rejected, and He is the one God has sent to deliver us from sin.

:37-43 Israel’s rebellion against Moses

:37 "This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, 'The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.'

This is one of the same Scriptures that Peter quoted in the Temple when the lame man was healed and Peter was preaching to the crowd (Acts 3:22), t(Acts 3:22 NKJV)  "For Moses truly said to the fathers, 'The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you.

he passage comes from Deut. 18:15.

(Deu 18:15 NKJV)  "The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear,

I find it interesting to see some of the parallels between the various messages in the book of Acts. It might be a simple coincidence, it might be the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it could also be a hint that they all learned from each other.

:38 "This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us,

:39 "whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected. And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt,

:40 "saying to Aaron, 'Make us gods to go before us; as for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.'

:41 "And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.

:42 "Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets: 'Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?

:43 You also took up the tabernacle of Moloch, And the star of your god Remphan, Images which you made to worship; And I will carry you away beyond Babylon.'

Moloch … Remphan – these were Canaanite gods that the Israelites had gone astray to.

Stephen is quoting from Amos 5:25-27.

(Amos 5:25-27 NKJV)  "Did you offer Me sacrifices and offerings In the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? {26} You also carried Sikkuth your king And Chiun, your idols, The star of your gods, Which you made for yourselves. {27} Therefore I will send you into captivity beyond Damascus," Says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts.

What’s Stephen’s point?

Stephen is being accused of trying to change the customs and teachings of Moses. So Stephen reminds them that the whole nation used to rebel against Moses and Moses himself prophesied of a “prophet” that would come – Jesus.

:44-50 The True Tabernacle

Remember that part of the accusation is that Stephen is also speaking bad things about the Temple.

:44 "Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen,

:45 "which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David,

:46 "who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob.

:47 "But Solomon built Him a house.

:48 "However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says:

:49 'Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the LORD, Or what is the place of My rest?

:50 Has My hand not made all these things?'

Stephen is quoting Isa. 66:1-2.

Stephen is warning the Sanhedrin about making too much out of the physical building they call a temple. God does not dwell in houses made with hands.

:51-53 The rebuke

:51 "You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.

:52 "Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers,

:53 "who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it."

Stephen has shown that the nation has a history of not following the people that God sends to them. They have a history of persecuting the prophets, just as they did to Jesus.

They have been a nation blessed to have received God’s Word, and yet they have not kept it.

:54-60 Stephen is killed

:54 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth.

:55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,

Notice the work of the Holy Spirit involved here. What a clear example of what Peter will write later:

(1 Pet 4:14 NKJV) If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.

(1 Pet 4:14 NLT)  Be happy if you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God will come upon you.

:56 and said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!"

Stephen has a vision. He’s going to die, but this isn’t something he sees as he’s dying, it’s something he sees before the stones start hurling. He is awake and he sees something. He sees Jesus.

:57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord;

:58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Tradition has it that Stephen was stoned at “Jeremiah’s Grotto”, the same place where Golgotha was, where Jesus was crucified.

This is Saul of Tarsus who would later meet the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. As a Christian, he will be known by another name, Paul.

I think there’s a reason we’re told about Saul being here.

We’re told this because this event would have an impact on Saul’s life.


They’re watching

How I respond to persecution will affect those who are watching.
It does make a difference how I respond to people.

:59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

:60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Stephen is the first martyr. He dies for his faith. And He forgives them.

Jesus taught His disciples:

(Mat 5:43-48 NKJV)  "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' {44} "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, {45} "that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. {46} "For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? {47} "And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? {48} "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

It’s one thing to read about Jesus’ words in the Bible, but to be faced with a situation where someone seems out to destroy you, it’s not easy to be able to say what Stephen says.

Acts 8

:1-4 Saul persecutes the church

:1 Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

:2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.

:3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

This was not a period of life that Paul would just “forget” about. Paul often thought about what kind of life he came from when he met Jesus. I found at least five places where Paul refers back to these days when he persecuted the church. (Acts 22:19-20; 1Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13; Phil. 3:6; 1Tim. 1:13)

(Acts 22:19-20 NKJV)  "So I said, 'Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You. {20} 'And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.'

(1 Cor 15:9 NKJV) For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

(Gal 1:13 NKJV)  For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.

(Phil 3:6 NKJV)  concerning zeal, persecuting the church…

(1 Tim 1:13 NKJV)  although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.

:4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.

Acts 11:19 tells us they went to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch.

(Acts 11:19 NKJV)  Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only.

When Jesus told His disciples about the coming power of the Holy Spirit, He said,

(Acts 1:8 NKJV) "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

Jesus told them they would be witnesses in more places than just in Jerusalem. Yet up to this point we don’t have any record of them ever venturing beyond the city limits of Jerusalem.
It’s not until the persecution comes that the gospel begins to spread throughout the world.


Good comes from difficulties

We think of the tragedy that is happening to our lives when difficult times come.
But what if God was simply allowing the hard thing in order to get us to move to where he wants us to be?
(Rom 8:28 NKJV) And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Look at the life of Joseph – sold as a slave by his brothers, falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, forgotten in prison for two more years, all to get him to the point where he could interpret Pharaoh’s dream and save the world.
In my life I’ve seen disappointments used by God to lead my family and I. When our longtime Baptist pastor left our church to be promoted in the denomination, it helped push me out the Baptist door to Calvary Chapel where I belonged. When certain circumstances caused me to struggle after having been an assistant for eight years at Calvary Anaheim, it got me thinking about my first calling in life, to be a Sr. Pastor – I needed to be uncomfortable in order to get back on track with my calling.
Do you have any examples in your life where something difficult happened, and later you found out that God was using it to lead you?

:5-8 Mr. Philip goes to Samaria

:5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them.

Philip leaves Jerusalem to go north to Samaria.

:6 And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.

There was a marvelous openness to the gospel by the Samaritans.

Some of the apostles didn’t like the way the Samaritans treated Jesus on one trip – they wanted to see them all fried.

(Luke 9:55-56 NKJV)  But He turned and rebuked them, and said, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. {56} "For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them." And they went to another village.

Jesus had planted seeds in Samaria – the woman at the well (John 4)

(John 4:23-24 NKJV)  "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. {24} "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."

:7 For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed.

:8 And there was great joy in that city.

:9-25 Simon the magician

:9 But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great,

This fellow is sometimes referred to as “Simon Magus”, meaning “Simon the Magician”.

:10 to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, "This man is the great power of God."

This man had developed his own following from his magic tricks.

:11 And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.

:12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.

The people were turning away from Simon and were turning to Jesus (not Philip).

:13 Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.

Simon the magician becomes a believer.

:14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them,

:15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.

:16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

These people were believers, they had been baptized, but they had not received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit was a separate experience.

:17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Peter and John lay hands on the people and the Holy Spirit comes upon them.

:18 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money,

Apparently there was something outwardly happening as the apostles laid hands on the people.

:19 saying, "Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit."

powerexousia – power of choice, the power of authority.  Simon isn’t asking for the ability or power (dunamis) itself, as much as asking for the authority to use this power.

It is a common thing for magicians to buy new tricks. For Simon, this just seemed like some new trick that the apostles were performing. It might sound like an innocent request, but Peter will have some insight into Simon’s request.

There is a practice called “Simony”, which stems from this fellow. It’s the practice of “buying” a position in a church. In some denominations, the pastor “buys” the church from the previous pastor. In some periods of church history the papacy was sold off to the highest bidder.

:20 But Peter said to him, "Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!

The “gift of God” refers to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost Peter called it the “gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

:21 "You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God.

:22 "Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.

:23 "For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity."

bitterness – we aren’t told what made Simon bitter. Perhaps Simon was bitter over the fact that he had lost his following. The people who had once followed him had now come to believe in Jesus Christ, and after they had been baptized, they no longer followed Simon.


Deal with the root

(Heb 12:15 NKJV) looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;
When I was a kid, my parents would sometimes assign me the chore of weeding out in the backyard. When a kid weeds, they usually tend to just pluck off the leaves on top, leaving the root. And the weeds always grow back. As an adult, when I deal with weeds I know I need to get as much of the root as I can.
Bitterness is a root cause of problems in life.

If I don’t deal with the root, the thing that has caused me to be bitter in the first place, then I’m going to have all kinds of problems continually popping up.


Dr. S. I. McMillen illustrates in a chapter entitled “The High Cost of Getting Even,” from his book, None of These Diseases, how physical maladies including ulcers, high blood pressure, and strokes are connected to harboring resentment and hatred toward others. He says, “It might be written on many thousands of death certificates that the victim died of ‘grudgitis.’” Dr. McMillen describes how hating a person enslaves the one who hates:

The moment I start hating a man I become his slave. I cannot enjoy my work anymore because he even controls my thoughts. My resentments produce too many stress hormones in my body; I become fatigued after only a few hours of work. The man I hate may be miles from my bedroom, but more cruel than any slave driver he whips my thoughts into such a frenzy that my inner-spring mattress becomes a rack of torture. I really must acknowledge that I am a slave to every man on whom I pour out my wrath.

A man and his wife were having some problems at home and were giving each other the silent treatment. The next day the man realized that he would need his wife to wake him at 5 am for an early flight to Sydney. Not wanting to be the first to break the silence, he finally wrote on a piece of paper, “Please wake me at 5 am.” The next morning the man woke up, only to discover it was 9 am, and that he had missed his flight! Furious, he was about to go and see why his wife hadn’t awakened him when he noticed a piece of paper by the bed. It said, “It’s 5 am, wake up.”
Paul wrote,
(Eph 4:31-32 NKJV) Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. {32} And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.

:24 Then Simon answered and said, "Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me."

What happened to Simon? We don’t have any further mention of him in Acts.  History records him to be a heretic in doctrine and an immoral life.

John Gill (1700’s) writes: “There is no reason to believe he truly repented, from the accounts given of him by ancient writers; who always represent him as an opposer of the apostles and their doctrine, as the father of all heresies, as a blasphemous wretch; who gave out that he was the Father in Samaria, the Son in Judea, and the Holy Ghost in other places; and as a very lewd and wicked man, who carried about with him a whore, whose name was Helena; whom he called the mother of the universe, and gave out the angels were made by her, and the world by them; with many other errors, blasphemies, and impieties”

:25 So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.