Rejection by the Nation
By Arlen L. Chitwood
Illustration above: The Rejection of the Message; and the stoning of Stephen, the Holy Spirit filled Messenger.
Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed 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.
When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
Then they 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 (Acts 7: 51-58a)
there was a climactic point in the offer of the kingdom of the heavens to
In the original offer, the climactic point is seen in the events recorded in Matthew, chapter twelve. Christ, in this chapter, had performed a miraculous sign in the presence of the people. He had healed a person possessed with a demon, who was both blind and dumb. And the people, seeing this miraculous sign, asked, “Is not this the son of David?” (v. 23).
The way in which the question is worded in the Greek text indicates that the people were in a state of confusion. The Scribes and Pharisees had been following Christ about the country, seeking, at every turn, to speak against that which He was doing. And the people, hearing Jesus and seeing His miraculous signs on the one hand and then hearing a false report by their religious leaders on the other, didn’t know which way to turn.
The question which they asked after seeing Christ heal a man possessed with a demon, who was both blind and dumb, could be better translated, “Is it possible that this is the son of David [with their thoughts leaning more toward the negative than the positive]?” And their attitude toward Christ and His ministry in this respect was undoubtedly caused by the previous influence of the Scribes and Pharisees (cf. Matt. 23:13ff).
Then, when the Scribes and Pharisees heard about the healing of the man possessed with a demon, who was both blind and dumb, they had a false explanation for Christ’s miraculous signs ‑ an explanation designed to completely discredit Christ in the eyes of the people. They simply attributed, to Satan, the power through which Christ performed miraculous signs (v. 24).
Christ was performing miraculous signs through the power of the Holy Spirit, after the manner in which God exercises His power (v. 28; cf. Gen. 1: 2); and the accusation of the Scribes and Pharisees was called by Christ, “the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” something which would not be forgiven the nation of Israel for two ages ‑ the present age and the coming age (vv. 31, 32 [the word “world” in the Greek text (v. 32) is aion and should be translated “age”]).
Then, immediately afterwards, the Scribes and Pharisees answered Jesus by stating, “Master, we would see a signfrom thee” (v. 38). The intimation was clear. The Scribes and Pharisees had declared that the previously manifested sign was not from Christ, and they now requested to see a sign from Him. Thus, Christ responded after a fashion which was in complete keeping with their unbelief, false accusation, and ridiculing request:
“An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah: For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth...” (vv. 39, 40; cf. vv. 41 - 45).
This is where the ministry of Christ changed in the gospel accounts. Because of that which the Scribes and Pharisees had done, their attention, rather than being directed to a sign having to do with the kingdom, was directed to a sign having to do with Christ’s subsequent sufferings - sufferings which must precede His [millennial and eternal] glory. Then, later that same day, after all of this had occurred, Jesus went out of the house, sat by the seaside, and began to speak to the people in parables (Matt. 13: 1ff).
the symbolism of the passage, the “house” refers
The word “parable” is simply an Anglicized Creek word ‑ from parabole ‑ which means, “to cast alongside.” The reference is to one truth placed alongside of a previous truth to help explain the previous truth. Thus, parables were given to further explain previously revealed truths.
However, for most of the nation, the parables would be meaningless. The people had heard but had not understood; they had seen but had closed their eyes (vv. 14, 15). They had rejected the previous truths. Therefore, additional truths given in the form of parables to help explain the previous truths would be meaningless to them.
But for others in the nation ‑ those who had heard and had understood, those who had seen and had not closed their eyes (v. 16) ‑ the parables would provide additional information so they could better understand the message which they had previously received. They had heard (and, through parables, were about to hear more) things which “many prophets and righteous men” had desired to see, but hadn’t been allowed to see in their day (v. 17; cf. 1 Peter 1: 9-12).
though, by going out of the house in Matt. 13: 1,
wasn’t through with
Shortly afterwards Christ called attention to the Church for the first time (Matt. 16: 18), and the Cross began to move more and more to the forefront (16: 21; 17: 22, 23; 20: 17-19). Then, shortly before the events of Calvary, Jesus, through using a parable, called attention to that which the nation had done and was about to do - rejection, followed by crucifixion (21: 33-42).
And, following this, Christ made the announcement which had been anticipated ever since the events in chapters twelve and thirteen:
“Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (21: 43).
kingdom (that part of the kingdom which had been offered, the kingdom of the heavens, here called “the
They, through continually speaking against Christ’s message and miraculous signs, were the ones directly responsible for the nation’s unbelief. And, resultingly, they were the ones not only directly responsible for the nation’s rejection of the message but also for the rejection and subsequent crucifixion of the Messenger as well (Matt. 23:1ff).
But even after
a period extending over approximately the first thirty-two years …
in the original offer, miraculous signs were in view; and also, as in the
original offer, the religious leaders in
Stephen then brought his lengthy address to a close by calling their attention to one central fact. Unbelief and rejection had marked the nation’s history from the beginning, and the present generation had done no more than climax the actions of their ancestors from preceding generations.
“Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers” (Acts 7: 51, 52; cf. Matt. 23: 34-38).
The conclusion to this message is built on several key elements in the message itself; and that which happened immediately after Stephen concluded his message - things occurring both in heaven and upon earth - can be understood only if one first understands Stephen’s message. And this message must be understood within the framework of the way God gave it, the same way Stephen expected the Jewish religious leaders to understand it.
And this requires an element of spiritual perception. A person must see beyond the letter of Stephen’s message (beyond the mere historical content, see that of which the history speaks) in order to understand the events which occurred both in heaven and upon earth at the conclusion of this message (vv. 54ff).
A fourfold description is given of Stephen in this respect. He was a man full of faith, the [Holy] Spirit, grace, and power (Acts 6: 5, 8 [“faith” in v. 8 should be translated “grace”]). “Faith” is simply believing that which God has to say about a matter, which portends that a person possesses a knowledge of the Word of God (cf. Rom. 10: 17); and “grace” is that which God is able to do, completely apart from human merit.
And a person in this position, filled with the [Holy] Spirit (empowering the individual), can proclaim the Word, with results following. God, completely apart from any merit on man’s part, can take His proclaimed Word and bring about the desired results.
Thus, Stephen, in this position, knowing the Old Testament Scriptures to the extent that he did, could go beyond the letter to the spirit of the matter (cf. 2 Cor. 3: 6-18). He knew what the Scriptures taught, and he possessed the spiritual insight to be able to take these Scriptures and put them together after the manner in which the [Holy] Spirit of God had intended that they be put together. And this is exactly what he did through calling attention to selected portions of Jewish history covering approximately 1,000 years.
he did it so well that, at the conclusion, activity both in heaven and upon
earth reached an apex in relation to the message surrounding the re-offer of
the kingdom to
FROM ABRAHAM TO CHRIST
address in Acts, chapter seven, can be
divided into several parts. He began
with events during Abraham’s day in order to introduce God’s promise concerning
a seed, a land, and an inheritance in that land (vv. 2-7). Then, for most of the remainder of the
address, he centered his thoughts around the
experiences of two individuals ‑ Joseph and Moses (vv. 8-43). And
drawing the address toward a conclusion, he briefly mentioned events in
then concluded his address by making an application which these religious
leaders should have been able to easily understand, in
its entirety, apart from his saying anything further. Stephen had called their attention to a
sequence of events, designed in chronological order, to reveal three things: 1)
knowing that these religious leaders should have possessed this insight,
Stephen brought the matter to a close after a fashion which could only have
triggered the whole of the matter within
their thinking. He accused them of doing
exactly what their ancestors had done - rejecting, and even slaying, those whom
God had sent unto them. And, as a basis
for his remarks, he had previously set before them both Joseph’s rejection by his brethren and Moses’ rejection by his brethren (vv. 51, 52; cf.
vv. 9, 23-28). Then, these religious
leaders, seeing what they had done in the antitype (“the
betrayers and murderers” of Christ), should have easily been able to see
the remainder of the matter as well (revealing
1. OVERALL SCOPE OF STEPHEN’S ADDRESS
address moves from the promise which God gave to Abraham while he was still in
The promise was given to Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees, in Mesopotamia, when he was seventy years old,
five years before he departed for the land of Canaan (cf. Gen. 12: 14; 15: 13-16; Ex. 12: 40,
41; Gal. 3: 17, 18). And,
though the theocracy was established at Sinai when the tabernacle was completed
and the Glory of God filled the Holy of Holies, there was no temple in the land
until the days of Solomon. It was during
Solomon’s reign as king over
In this respect, Stephen’s address, covering many types, forms one overall type. It covers the whole scope of the matter - from the promise to the realization of the promise (though the full and complete realization is seen in the antitype, not in the type).
And the fact that there would be a complete, future realization of the promise given to Abraham should have been evident to the religious leaders hearing Stephen’s address. Knowing that God would keep His promise to Abraham, they should have been able to clearly see three things: 1) the promise was not realized in its fulness during that time in history when the kingdom was at its greatest height (in the type); 2) there was, at the time Stephen gave his address, no existing kingdom in Israel; and 3) the type, set forth through events during Solomon’s day, necessitates [in the near future] a complete, future fulfilment in the antitype.
theocracy had been taken from
would be in complete fulfilment of the promise given to Abraham ‑ a
promise which must be brought to
pass; and it would fulfil the type set forth during Solomon’s reign ‑ a
type which, in the antitype, must be fulfilled.
These are the two points beginning and ending Stephen’s message ‑ the promise given to Abraham – [which can only become effective after his resurrection] - and the theocracy during Solomon’s day. And through beginning with the promise and ending with the theocracy, Stephen called attention to the entire scope of revealed Jewish history.
Then, between these two points, in order to drive the whole matter home, Stephen spent most of his discourse dealing with two individuals - Joseph and Moses. These religious leaders, after Stephen had put the whole matter together for them, should have been able to clearly see what their own Scriptures plainly taught.
They, with the spiritual perception which their position portended, should have been able to clearly see exactly what had happened, what was then happening, and what was about to happen. Stephen had outlined the whole matter, from their own Scriptures. He had laid the whole matter out for them. And, at that point, they should have been able to reflect on this sequence of Scriptures and see these things for themselves.
The [Holy] Spirit of God had given this complete, overall type extending from Abraham to Solomon in order to explain the complete, overall antitype. And the various, individual types, making up this larger, complete type, were given for the same reason. Stephen laid before them, from their own Scriptures, that which would explain exactly what had happened, what was happening, and what was about to happen. It was all there for them to see. And, again, they should have possessed the spiritual insight to grasp the matter at this point. Their eyes should have been opened, as had previously occurred with the two disciples on the Emmaus road (Luke 24: 25-31).
2. JOSEPH, MOSES, CHRIST
Stephen, drawing from the Old Testament Scriptures, built his discourse mainly around two points in time ‑ events surrounding Christ’s first coming, and events surrounding Christ’s second coming. The generation of Jews to whom he spoke had witnessed and participated in events surrounding Christ’s first coming, and they were being offered an opportunity to witness and participate in events surrounding Christ’s second coming as well, wherein the prophesied blessings lay.
Stephen dealt with the time Joseph went to his brothers and was rejected. And he also dealt with that later time when Joseph again stood in the presence of his brothers, with his brothers, this time, accepting him (vv. 9-13). Then Stephen called attention to exactly the same sequence of events occurring in Moses’ life - rejection at the hands of his brethren, followed by their accepting him when he appeared again at a later date (vv. 23-36). And the acceptance, in both cases, led into a type of that time also typified by Solomon’s day, where Stephen drew his review of Israeli history to a close.
Note once again what Stephen did in this discourse. He began by laying the groundwork through calling attention to the promise given to Abraham – [i.e., an inheritance in the land.] Then he moved through three separate parts which all ended at the same point in time - the Messianic Kingdom. He moved through the days of Joseph, the days of Moses, and the days of Solomon.
And the religious leaders, hearing this message, should have had no trouble at all grasping the whole of that which Stephen had laid out for them. The message was clear.
Joseph’s brothers had rejected him, and a time of intense trouble followed. The seven years of famine which followed forced them to go to Joseph in Egypt; and this second meeting of Joseph and his brothers resulted in their accepting him, with deliverance and blessings following (Gen. 37: 18-20; 41: 56 - 42: 6; 45: 1ff).
Moses’ brethren had rejected him, and a time of intense trouble followed. The bondage under the Assyrian (Isa. 52: 4) became so great that the Israelites were forced to cry out to the God of their fathers; and God, hearing their cry and remembering His covenant, sent Moses back, resulting in the people accepting him, with deliverance and blessings following (Ex. 2: 14; 17 - 10; 12: lff).
And the parallel concerning that which had happened in the antitype couldn’t be missed. The Jewish people had rejected the One Whom both Joseph and Moses typified; and, according to the types, a time of trouble could only follow (specifically, the Great Tribulation spoken of so much in the Old Testament, to occur following the present dispensation when God resumes His national dealings with Israel [though all the anti-Semitism throughout the dispensation would, in a respect, be in view]).
This is exactly the point Stephen drove home at the end of his discourse. Stephen used words designed to provoke these religious leaders to the point that they would be forced to see from their own Scriptures, that which had been done. And knowing that they would be provoked to the point of seeing this much of the matter, the hope and expectation was there that they would also go on to see the remainder as well.
Between the rejection and acceptance lay trouble. Christ had been rejected, and only trouble awaited the nation. But still, even though this was set forth in the types, which couldn’t be broken, that generation was given a choice. The wrong could be rectified, and the nation could move into that prophesied era of blessings lying beyond Joseph’s rejection, beyond Moses; rejection, and beyond Christ’s rejection. They could move into that prophesied era typified by the manifested Glory during Solomon’s day.
choice left to
LOOKING UP INTO HEAVEN
simply laid out before
Everything was in readiness in heaven, and the
decision was left to
[* The sequence of events are different: it was not the nation’s rejection of Stephen’s inspired words, but the their rejection and crucifixion of their own Messiah’s words, which, according to Peter, means: “He (Messiah-Jesus) must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything…” (Acts 3: 21, N.I.V.)]
1. THE HEAVENS OPENED.
Beyond Acts, chapter seven, there are only three instances in Scripture of the heavens being opened. However, only the last instance corresponds with events following Stephen’s message.
The heavens were opened in Acts 10: 11 to allow Peter to see a vision, revealing that God no longer distinguished between the Jews and the Gentiles in relation to the message being proclaimed (vv. 12-14, 28, 29; cf. Matt. 10: 5-8), though it was still “to the Jew first” (Rom. 1: 16).
Then the heavens will be opened when Christ breaks the sixth seal during the coming Tribulation (Rev. 6: 12-17), allowing the earth-dwellers to see the source of the wrath coming upon the earth.
the heavens will be opened when the “King of kings, and Lord of lords” comes forth at the end of
the [Great] Tribulation
to put an end to the times of the
Gentiles, to re-establish
only this last time that the heavens are seen opened corresponds to the heavens
being opened in Acts, chapter seven. The heavens being opened following Stephen’s
address anticipated the possibility that Christ would come forth, restoring the
kingdom with its Glory to
than perceiving the whole of that which Stephen had laid out before them, they
apparently saw no farther than the events surrounding
And, as a consequence ‑ though the message continued to be proclaimed, with the door remaining open for Israel to repent (continuing to remain open for almost three more decades) ‑ the heavens would not be seen opened again in relation to Christ’s return and the restoration of the kingdom with its Glory to Israel until that future day following Israel’s greatest time of trouble, in Rev. 19: 11ff (cf, chpters. 6 - 18).
2. THE GLORY, THE SON OF MAN
Glory was removed from
can be no restored theocracy during “the times of the
Gentiles.” But this period of
also one day end, with the
Glory and the theocracy subsequently being restored to
And the expression, “Son of man,” is a Messianic title, drawn from the Old Testament Scriptures (cf. Psa. 8: 4-6; Dan. 7: 13, 14; Heb. 2: 5-10). This expression was used by Christ on numerous occasions during His earthly ministry, referring to Himself (e.g., Matt. 9: 6; 10: 23; 11: 19; 12: 8; 13: 37, 41).
Stephen’s use of this expression, describing to
more powerful message could not have been delivered to
the one hand, the heavens were opened, revealing movement within the Godhead
itself; on the other hand,
(And herein is a truth which needs to be instilled within every minister, along with every other Christian, in the country. If an individual, in his ministry and witness, wants to proclaim the type message which will result in movement among those both in heaven and upon earth, there’s only one way in which it can be done. It can be done only after the same fashion that Stephen did it.
This is why Paul told Timothy, “Preach the word...” [2 Tim. 4: 2]. And note the context of Paul’s exhortation - Christ’s appearance to judge man and to rule and reign in His kingdom [vv. 1‑8])
Thus, with a message of the nature Stephen proclaimed, is it any wonder that the nation found itself at this climactic place, with Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, coming into the picture immediately afterwards? Stephen’s message, with its conclusion, is the apex in the Book of Acts.
The course which the nation would take for the next two millenniums was set at this point, with all the sufferings which the nation would have to endure. And, with Stephen’s death, the progression of events in the Book of Acts began to increasingly go in a completely different direction.