Acts 7:1-8:3

A Bible Study led by Dr. Larry Reynolds

March 26, 2009

God does not call His people to a life of ease.  There are always difficulties and challenges to be faced.  Anyone who becomes a committed follower of Jesus expecting the path to be easy is in for a rude awakening.  Jesus repeatedly warned His followers that the way of discipleship is difficult and demanding.  For example, He said:

·         Matthew 7:13 – “For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.”

·         Matthew 10:16-18 – “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves.  But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues; and you shall even be brought before governors and kings for My sake…”

·         Matthew 16:24 – “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”

The principle that following Jesus if often difficult can certainly be seen in Acts 3-8.  We have seen that this section of Acts recounts five events which, at their heart, represent the attacks of Satan on the young fellowship.  The events in this section of Acts include the following:

·         The arrest of Peter and John after the healing of a lame man in the temple (Acts 3 & 4)

·         The attempt of Ananias and Sapphira to deceive the apostles (Acts 5)

·         The arrest, miraculous release, re-arrest, and release of the apostles (Acts 5)

·         The controversy between the Hellenistic Jews and native Hebrews (Acts 6)

·         The death of Stephen, the first disciple to be martyred and the subsequent persecution of the church led by Saul (Acts 7 & 8)

How the young Christian fellowship responded to these events provides us an excellent model for dealing with the attacks of Satan in our lives.


The last in this series of five attacks on the church is told by Luke in three movements:

1.      The arrest of Stephen (Acts 6:8-15)

2.      Stephen’s defense (Acts 7:1-53)

3.      The death of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60)

After telling the story of Stephen’s death, in the first few verses of Acts 8 Luke explains what occurred because of his death.


Stephen’s Defense (Acts 7:1-53)

Acts 7 contains the longest sermon in the book of Acts.  Luke and the early church obviously attached great significance to this address.  In the interest of time, we are going to deal with Stephen’s address in a summary way.  At the end of Acts 6 the authorities accused Christians in general and Stephen in particular of wanting to destroy the temple and to change the religious customs of Judaism.  In his speech Stephen does not directly address those allegations.  Instead, demonstrating extensive knowledge of Jewish history, he sets forth some basic spiritual principles that the Jewish religious system of the 1st century failed to grasp.  These principles include:

1.      God’s presence is not limited to Jerusalem.

2.      God does not limit Himself to dwelling in a physical structure.

3.      God’s purpose is often missed by His people.


God’s presence is not limited to Jerusalem

·         Acts 7:2-8 – God had been with Abraham in Mesopotamia.  The phrase “God of glory” in verse 2 is significant.  To the Jews of the 1st century, the temple in Jerusalem represented the glory of God.  As long as the temple stood, they had a visible representation of God’s glory, meaning His character, power, and presence.  But Stephen reminds them that the “God of glory” appeared to the father of Judaism in a pagan land.

·         Acts 7:9-16 – God had been with Joseph in Egypt.  Notice the phrase “…yet God was with him…” in verse 10.

·         Acts 7:17-29 – God had been with Moses in Egypt.  Notice the phrase “...and he was lovely in the eyes of God…” in verse 20.

·         Acts 7:30-37 – God had been with Moses in the land of Midian.  Notice the phrases “…an angel appeared to him…” in verse 30 and “…there came the voice of the Lord…” in verse 31.

·         Acts 7:38-44 – God had been with the Israelites in their long journey from Egypt to the promised land.  Notice the phrase “Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness…” in verse 44.  The tabernacle was a temporary place of worship, symbolizing the presence of God with the Israelites as they moved from place to place.  The plans for the tabernacle are given in great detail in Exodus 26.  Hebrews 8 reminds us that the tabernacle was a foreshadowing of the redemptive work of God in Christ Jesus.  While we could spend hours studying the symbolism of the tabernacle, the point Stephen is making is that it symbolized God’s presence with the Israelites in their journey to the promised land.


God does not limit Himself to dwelling in a physical structure

·         Acts 7:45-50 – Stephen reminded the Jewish leaders that the temple was never designed to be the exclusive dwelling place of God.  When Solomon dedicated the temple he prayed, “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Thee; how much less this house which I have built.” (2 Chronicles 6:18)  In verses 49-50 Stephen quotes from the prophecy of Isaiah stressing that God cannot be confined to a building.  One writer puts it this way:

Pagans think temples contain gods and to threaten a temple is to threaten a god.  But it’s not a biblical idea.  It makes God out to be small and distorts people’s perception of him, confusing him with religious institutions, “sacred” places, and man-made traditions.  God is none of these “religious” things.  He is the Most High—too great to be stuck in a man-made structure.  Not even the universe can contain him, for heaven’s sake!  [The Book of Acts: The Smart Guide to the Bible]


The New Testament teaches that the real temple of God is the people of God.  He dwells within the hearts and lives of His people.

o   I Corinthians 3:16 – “Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

o   Ephesians 2:22 – “…in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”

o   I Peter 2:5 – “…you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house…”


God’s purpose is often missed by His people

·         Acts 7:9-16 –Joseph’s brothers rejected him and sold him into slavery even though he was God’s favored one.

·         Acts 7:20-43 – The people of Israel questioned and rejected Moses even though he was the one God sent to free them from slavery.

·         Acts 7:51-53 – The Jewish leaders in the 1st century rejected Jesus even though He was the Promised Messiah.  These verses are a ringing condemnation of those who were accusing Stephen of heresy.  The accused becomes the accuser!


The Death of Stephen (Acts 7:54-8:1)

“cut to the quick” (v.54) – Same phrase as is used in 5:33.  It literally means “cut to the heart.”  Stephen’s words found their mark!


“gnashing their teeth at him” (v.54) – The image is that of a pack of hungry, snarling wolves attacking their prey.


“Jesus standing” (v.55) – Only place in Scripture where Jesus is portrayed as standing at God’s right hand.


“right hand” (v.55) – The place of highest privilege and authority.


“Son of Man” (v.56) – Only place in Scripture where this phrase is used by someone else to describe Jesus.  It was Jesus’ favorite way of referring to Himself.


“rushed” (v.57) – The word is used in Luke 8:33 to describe swine rushing down the slope of a hill and over an embankment when Jesus cast the demons from a man called Legion into them.


“a young man named Saul” (v.58) – Verse 8:1 tells us Paul was in complete agreement with their actions.  More than likely he was the source of the great detail with which tells the story.  This event was burned into the mind of the Apostle Paul and must have haunted him all of his life.


Notice the similarities in verses 59 – 60 between the death of Stephen and the death of Jesus.



“Father, into Thy hands I commit my Spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” (Acts 7:59)

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

“Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60)



The Events Following Stephen’s Death (Acts 8:1-3)

“great persecution” – While the persecutions to this point had been targeted toward specific individuals (Peter and John, the apostles, Stephen), this persecution was more general in nature being aimed at the entire church in Jerusalem.


“were all scattered” – The imagery suggest the sowing of seed.  As the early church father Tertullian put it, “The blood of martyrs is the see of the church.”


“throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” – See Acts 1:8.


“except the apostles” – Perhaps the leaders in Jerusalem were still afraid to persecute them because of their popularity with the people.  Or perhaps the bulk of the persecution was aimed toward the Hellenistic Jews who were generally discriminated against anyway.


“But Saul began ravaging the church…” – The root of the word translated ravaging means outrage.  This is the only place the word is used in the New Testament.  By any standards, Saul’s actions against the church were outrageous.


Practical Application of Acts 7:1-8:3

1.      Before we talk about what the Bible means we need to know what the Bible says.  Stephen was able to give an accurate, concise summary of biblical events in making his case for Christianity.

2.      It is possible to know what the Bible says but not follow it.  See Acts 7:53.

3.      God gives special grace for our times of need.  It is evident that the Holy Spirit equipped Stephen for his time of crisis. 

4.      We must not be too quick to judge whether an event is good or bad.  God has a way of making our snap judgments look foolish!  The death of Stephen and the persecution which followed spurred a great mission movement on the part of the church.