STEPHEN’S ACCUSATION, DEFENCE, AND MARTYRDOM
Few readers, or even students of Scripture perceive much force in Stephen’s defence, given at such length in the seventh chapter of the Acts. It appears to them only a rambling citation of portions of the patriarchal and Israelite history, having little, or no bearing on the accusations brought against him. They think too, that probably it was broken off, before it reached its intended completion, by violence apprehended or already begun. Hence they are unable to perceive, why his enemies were so exasperated with the speech.
With the Lord the Spirit’s help, I think to be able to set the reader at such a point of view, that he shall perceive the martyr’s defence to be full of force, strongly bearing against the views of his accusers, and a real and triumphant refutation of their charges.
Stephen was one of
the seven Greek-speaking Jews appointed by the church at
*Meaning Jews, who were once Roman slaves, but had been made free by their masters.
In the conflict he proved victorious, by the wisdom and grace of the Holy Spirit given him. This vexed the beaten party, and they sought to slay him. It is easier far to kill a man of God, than to refute the arguments he draws from Scripture.
They accuse him, then, of blasphemy against Moses and against God. They set him before the religious council of the nation, and bring against him false witnesses who affirm:-
“THIS MAN CEASETH NOT TO SPEAK BLASPHEMOUS WORDS
Stephen’s reply indirectly presents to us the arguments generally used by Jewish opponents of Messiah. We see in them the men of the flesh and of law, full of self-righteousness, confident that they were better than their fathers, and entitled to expect the fulfilment of the blessings promised to Israel by Moses and the prophets: Luke 18: 9; Matt. 23: 30. We see them here expecting a reigning Messiah, and refusing a suffering one. Among the accusers of Stephen too, were Sadducees, men who believed that the only rewards and punishments were received in this life; the immortality of man being to them only a Pharisaic dogma. Such men would measure the criminality of each by his history. If trouble befell him, it would be a proof of guilt, and of his being refused by the Most High: Luke 13: 1-5.
The arguments, then, of the Jewish opponents of Stephen would take some such form as this:-
‘Jesus is not the Christ.’
1. ‘How could he be the Messiah, who never received from God the
throne and septre promised to the Son of David? Psa. 72, 89. Jesus often spoke
2. ‘Did not Scripture promise, that Messiah’s foes should be cut off? Psa. 89: 23; 72: 9; 97: 3. How came it to pass, then, if Jesus were Messiah, that the disciples of Moses who resisted His claims, and slew His people, were not destroyed by miraculous judgments, as the prophets foretold?’
That this argument was considered very powerful and satisfactory, we see, from the appeals made to Jesus upon the cross. Passengers, scribes, elders, chief priests, the spectators, the soldiers, the robbers, all, Jew and Gentile alike, joined to challenge Him to come down from the cross and deliver Himself, if He were indeed the Christ, the King of Israel, the Son of God: Matt. 27: 39-44; Luke 23: 35-46. It was supposed therefore, that His death was the destruction of His pretensions.
3. Another argument
against the claims of our Lord, was founded on the judicial
decision of His own nation against Him.
‘The wise, the learned, the powerful, had
rejected His claims, and given sentence of death against Him. The scribes and chief priests in their council
had condemned Him as a blasphemer. Now
the law said, that the decision of the priests and
This argument also was considered of great weight, as we see by the discourse of the two disciples going to Emmaus. ‘Jesus,’ they said, ‘was a prophet mighty in word and deed before God and all the people.’ Yet the chief priests and rulers gave Him up to the Romans to be put to death and crucified Him. If His own nation refused Him as an impostor, how could He be the Messiah? The Messiah’s people were to be His willing subjects, as the Psalmist declared: Psa. 110; Luke 24: 19-21.’
4. ‘How again could He be the Messiah, if He threatened to destroy the temple, and change the customs of Moses? Were not all the godly kings of David’s line, zealous for the maintenance of the whole law, restoring it when it had fallen into disuse?’
5. ‘Lastly, how could Christians be ‘the children of the kingdom’ of Messiah, as they supposed, when they were despised, imprisoned, and robbed? Instead of being exalted, they were losing even the privileges which they had gained by the law of Moses. If Jesus were indeed their Head, how was it, that He did not defend them? Why did He not avenge them on those who ill-treated them? What had become of Him? If He were risen, why did He not show Himself, that they might see and confess Him as risen indeed?’
Now the speech of Stephen conveys, principally in the way of narrative, a reply to these and like arguments. Viewed from this point of view his defence is a well-directed battery, every shot of which told, and irresistibly laid low his opponents.
The martyr takes the histories of ABRAHAM, JOSEPH, and MOSES, and by these two or three witnesses establishes every word.
1. Take first the case of ABRAHAM.
If now we are to judge by circumstances, how would they prove their views by the life of Abraham?
The Most High began by stripping him of his country, his relations and friends. He was to leave them all for a foreign land, of which he knew nothing. He promised him that the (1) LAND should be his, and that a (2) POSTERITY numerous as the sands of earth, and as the stars of the sky, should be given him.
Had the Most High then fulfilled to him these promises?
(1.) Did He give him the
He promised the
land to his SEED. Did
(2.) Did he see the fulfilment of an innumerable SEED? For long years “HE HAD NO CHILD.”
What did God say about his seed? That they should be strangers in a foreign land, enslaved and ill-treated, for four hundred years!
How then must they judge concerning Abraham, if they dealt out the same measure to him, that they did to Jesus Christ? They ought to say, ‘That it was clear, that Abraham was deluded, or an impostor; for he never yet had enjoyed the promises, which as he imagined the Almighty had made to him!’
But if the treatment of Abraham’s seed for four hundred years was to be so severe as foretold, then it was no proof that believers in Jesus as the Christ were deluded, because they were troubled and persecuted in their own land, and for as long a time.
Then too, it was no proof against Jesus being the Individual Heir, and the chief promised Seed of Abraham, that He was refused and rejected even unto death.
How would they reply? - ‘We admit all that; but another time is coming, in which Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, shall be raised from the dead, and their seed shall then enjoy the land, and become innumerable; while other promises will be fulfilled to them that are included in the reign of Messiah, the great Heir of Abraham. Moreover God promised, at the very time that He ratified the covenant to Abraham, that He would judge the nation that persecuted them, and bring them out of their bondage to serve him in wealth and freedom.’
To this plea the reply was evident at a glance.
‘We agree with you.
But if the future time of retribution, and of
the fulfilment of promises avails in the case of Abraham, it avails for us too.’ We also say, ‘Judgment
is coming on those who persecute Abraham’s spiritual seed, the children of his
faith. And Abraham’s true sons shall
have a greater deliverance, and better riches, than those which rescued
‘Of the time of trouble which was to precede the deliverance,
Jehovah gave an emblem, which ought to confirm our faith. When the covenant was ratified, a
furnace of smoke preceded
the torch of fire: v, 17. That is, the
brick-kilns and rigour of
Stephen’s observation too, that the God of glory showed Himself to Abraham in Mesopotamia, long before he dwelt in Canaan, is a commencing refutation of their idea, that the service of Jehovah could only take place in the holy land and holy city.
The martyr then speaks of the covenant of circumcision, (Gen. 17,) which followed on the first covenant, (Gen. 15,) and then traces the line of the circumcised posterity of Abraham up to Joseph.
‘What think you, ye Hebrews, of Joseph?’
‘He was great and wise, the favoured of his father and of his
God, ruler of the world, and deliverer of
But what of his earthly history, both amidst his own family, and the Gentiles?
moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt.” They hated
him, and could not even speak peaceably to him.
Man’s rejected one was God’s accepted one. The same conduct then on the part of Israel against Christ, prompted by the same spirit of envy, is no proof that Jesus is not the Christ, the beloved Son of God: Matt. 27: 18; Mark 15: 19. Joseph was sold for twenty pieces of silver: Jesus for thirty. Joseph was delivered up to Midianites; Jesus to Romans.
Did affliction and
humiliation prove Joseph to be forsaken of the Most High? If it did not, neither does the same
affliction avail as an argument against Jesus.
God was not only with him, but “delivered him out of
all his afflictions, and gave Him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of
Perhaps, then, it
might be true that Jesus despised,
sold, falsely accused by his brethren, might be not only delivered out of all his
trials by resurrection, but promoted on high before the King of kings, to be
ruler of the world, and Lord of God’s household, whether angels or men! Joseph, rejected by his own family, and
forgotten, found a home and glory in
The first half of Joseph’s life is heavily laden with affliction. “Till the time came that his cause was known, the word of the Lord tried him.” The second half of it was glorious beyond all former example, and without a break. Might it not be thus one day with the rejected Nazarite also!
Do you say, ‘How should He be the Messiah and Deliverer of Israel, who could not deliver Himself from the degrading death of crucifixion?’ Try the same reasoning on Joseph! Could he be the exalted of God, and the deliverer of his nation and of the world, who could not save himself from being put down into a pit, sold for less than a slave’s price, and thrust as a malefactor into a dungeon under false accusation?
Soon there came
judgment on his persecutors. Famine
The second time of the patriarchs seeking Joseph, he is discovered to them, and he makes known his kindred to Pharaoh.
So Jesus, the rejected at His first coming, may at His second coming make Himself known to His brethren of Israel, and forgive them; while He sets them on high above the nations of the world; and reassembles them to their own land.
Jacob and the
other patriarchs died in
* “Our fathers died,
and were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the
sepulchre, that Abraham bought for the sum of money of the sons of Emmor (the
father) of Sychem.” ‘Has not
Stephen’s memory here tripped? Was not
the sepulchre that Abraham bought purchased of Ephron
the Hittite? Gen. 23. And was not the
We come now to the critical history of Moses.
‘Apply now to Moses the same principle whereby you condemn Christ. What would you have thought of him, if judged by the circumstances of his life?’
‘That he was rejected of God! Though he led on his nation with the hope of the land flowing with milk and honey, he was himself shut out of it by the judical decision of God. Does not that overthrow your estimate of Moses? Neither let a like lot undo your view of Christ!’
But let us with Stephen enter more particularly into this history.
1. Moses was born as the time of promised deliverance drew near, yet he was in peril from his birth. That Jesus then was born in like circumstances was no proof against him, but rather an evidence that He was the predicted prophet like unto Moses, whom he began to resemble, even from the time of His birth.
Moses was “fair to God.” So the margin gives it, and so it ought to have been rendered. Much more, was not Jesus beautiful God-ward, as proved by the songs of angels glorifying the Most High at His birth? And what was Jehovah’s testimony at His baptism? “This is my beloved Son; in whom I am well pleased.”
Moses was taught
Moses, had he
pleased, could have dwelt in a king’s house, far above the afflictions which
befell his people; and was a fair way to be next the throne of Egypt, if not on
the throne itself. But his heart of
compassion yearned over his oppressed brethren. He left therefore, voluntarily, his glory, to
take part with the afflicted people of God, when he was forty years of age, and
fully competent to weigh the consequences of such a choice. Might not Jesus then be the Prophet like
Moses, if He stooped from a loftier throne, moved by compassion for
Was not this His becoming ‘a prophet like Moses,’ while yet he was superior to him?
Moses bent on his
people’s welfare, on one occasion stepped forward, by overt act, to testify how
fully he had taken the side of
[*That is, during the time of His First Advent on earth, but it does not apply in the future: “I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reigns and hearts: and I WILL GIVE UNTO EACH ONE OF YOU ACCORDING TO YOUR WORKS” (Rev. 2: 23, R.V.) - Ed.]
disappointed in his attempt to engage his people’s afflictions. “But he supposed,
that his brethren would understand, that God by his hand is giving them
salvation; BUT THEY UNDERSTOOD NOT.” (Greek.)
Perhaps then the cause of Jesus
was like this! God was giving a
higher salvation to
We have next the
crisis of Moses’ effort depicted. His own people were divided among themselves; the
unrighteous part prevailing. Their
discords he would gladly have removed, as a first step towards their rescue. But the doer of wrong to his neighbour, refused him both by word and deed. He thrust him away, and denied his mission of
deliverance, reproaching with his very act of favour towards his countryman. Might it not be then, that the kindness and
grace of Jesus toward
Which of the two
parties then would they say was right in word and deed
on the occasion of old? Moses? Or
Could God love
Moses, and be with him in spite of
Moses thus refused
is in peril of life, and flees. For
forty years he tarries in another land; and finds a wife, and has a family
there. Jesus rejected might have fled,
but would for others’ sake give up His life. As
We come next to
Moses’ second and successful visitation of
Of Moses it might
be said, that his first attempt to deliver
But of the mission
of Jesus this could not be said. God appeared
to Jesus at His baptism. The new name of
God, as Father, Son, and Spirit, was there displayed in act. Moses is obliged to ask the name of God which
he is to bear to
But if it be said, ‘The appearance to Moses took place after his rejection and flight,’ we still find new resemblances unfolding themselves, and new superiorities. At the intercession of the descended Christ, as Peter testifies, the Holy Spirit, as the angel (or sent One) of the Lord, descends in fire on the disciples of the rejected Christ. Might they not then be the bush that was burning, yet unconsumed? Moses wondered at the sight. And did not men of Israel out of all nations wonder, when the [Holy] Spirit coming down in wind and fire, gave to the 120 to speak with new tongues, while tongues of fire that consumed not, stood on their heads? Out of the fire of the bush came forth the voice of Jehovah, testifying that He was the God of the fathers. Might not then the testimonies of the inspired apostles be true; that this new manifestation came from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Acts 3: 13, 25; 5: 30; 22: 14.
Where was it that
this manifestation of God in Moses’ day took place? In the holy land and its
temple? Nay, but before either
tabernacle or temple were built, in the
[* See Acts 5: 32.]
While Moses was refused,
“Now come, I will send thee into
“THIS MOSES whom they denied, saying, ‘Who made thee a ruler and a judge?’ THE SAME did God send to be a ruler and deliverer with the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush.”*
[*Moses said: “Take my life”: “Jesus gave His life.”]
The nation denied
Moses, and drove him away. Denied him in
those very aspects, in which, as he saw, the God of Israel meant to use him. Was the nation right in its denial?
They would say, No! Might not the nation then be wrong in
another denial before Pilate?
The Holy Spirit had charged
it upon them. “The
God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers glorified His
servant* Jesus whom ye delivered up, and DENIED** in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him
go. But ye DENIED the Holy One
and the Righteous, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; but ye killed
the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from among the dead:” Acts 3: 13-15. May not Jesus, then, though the rejected
* Reference to the “righteous servant” of Isaiah. Paul is the first to witness to Christ as “the Son:” Acts 9.
** Same word as in Acts 7.
Moses in the work
of deliverance, was not alone. A Divine Person attended with His divine
command to arrange all, and to put down all human power with divine force. And had not the same been in part shown, when
the Divine Spirit, at Jesus’ baptism, descended on Him? Then He began publicly to act in the wisdom of
God, and the power of God. Was that not
something higher than Moses’ commission in the desert? And what had come to pass since then? Had not all
“The same (Moses) brought them out and showed wonders and signs in
Again and again does the speaker thrust upon his unwilling audience the identity of the chosen One of God, with the denied One of their fathers! They spoke of Moses in that olden day with contempt. “This Moses!” So were men of Stephen’s day with like contempt treating the Lord of glory. “This Jesus the Nazarite!” In Stephen’s day the whole nation stood up to avenge on the martyr a supposed slight against Moses, even though but an uttered word! Perhaps, then, one day the tables might so turn with regard to Jesus, and the nation might worship and rejoice in Him as their deliverer whom their fathers persecuted and slew!
Did Moses, who at
the first appearing to
For a period of
forty years miracles in
“This is the Moses which said unto
the children of
Moses, the once
“To him shall ye hearken.”
O then, this new Prophet is also to be a law-giver, an issuer of divine commands! Perhaps those commands may be a repeal of some, or of all of those of Moses! Then it would be no blasphemy against Moses to testify, that the prophet he foretold had come; and that the new prophet was to be listened to, in preference to the old. Did not Moses change the fathrers’ customs? To be like Moses, then, Jesus should change theirs!
Was Moses meek? Jesus was meeker still. Moses once, under strong provocation prayed against his opponents. Jesus allowed them to proceed to scourging, spitting, gibes, and crucifixion!
Here, then, the martyr turns on his accusers with immense
accuse me of blasphemy against Moses. Do
you yourselves obey him? Are you not in
conspicuous opposition to him? He
foretold a successor to himself, who was to be guide to
“This is he who was with the congregation in the wilderness,
with the angel that spake to him in
Moses’ glory was
seen not only in the deliverance out of
But Moses was not
alone in his work in the wilderness. With him went the angel of the Lord, the angel
of the covenant, the One who spoke to him in
Did God of old
speak in the wilderness? He was at that
moment speaking to
Were Moses’ oracles “living”? The oracles of Christ by the Holy Ghost were life-giving. They witness to One who is Resurrection and Life.
“To whom our fathers were unwilling to become obedient, but
thrust him away, and turned back in the hearts unto
The parallel and
its force still continues, and deepens. Even after
Moses, because of his absence, invisible on high, but appearing in the presence of the Lord for their sakes, was despised and thrust aside by the tribes, and with him his God. But what said the men of Stephen’s day tauntingly of Jesus? ‘What is become of your Christ?’ The same taunt did their father’s launch at Moses. The same reply was to be given concerning Moses, as Jesus’ disciples gave concerning Christ. ‘He is on high in the presence of God for us.’ But Aaron’s mouth was stopped from bearing that witness; for he with the other elders had, in unbelief left the height which Moses had assigned him: Ex. 24: 14.
The contempt which the Jews of that day were expressing for Jesus - ‘This Jesus the Nazarite will destroy this place’ - their fathers had uttered in the same manner against Moses, “As for this Moses who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him.” This was particularly stinging. Some six or seven times does the martyr make use of their word of contempt to glorify Moses, and to discover to them the opposition between God’s thoughts of Moses and the nation’s. “This Moses whom they refused, the same did God send:” 35. “This (Moses) brought them out:” 36. “This is that Moses that said:” 37. “This is he that was in the church in the wilderness:” 38.
41. “And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their hands.”
The result of
This is shown us in Rev. 9: 20, 21. In Moses’ day they worshipped a calf. In the last days it will be the worship of Satan and his Wild-Beast-King: Rev. 13. With the refusal of the Lamb and his Father, Satan and his blaspheming king and false prophet, step in.
“Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of
heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets, ‘Did ye offer me slain
beasts and sacrifices for forty years in the wilderness, O house of
With that act of
idolatry in Moses’ day God was displeased, that He judicially gave them over to
worship the starry host. And answerably
thereto arose a
system of false worship, mocking
the promises and hopes given by Jehovah. They carried in the wilderness a rival
tabernacle, dedicated to Moloch (king), the
king of heaven. They carried also the star of Remphan.
‘Healer.’ Then in place of “Jehovah the Healer,” (Ex.
15: 26, Jehovah Ropha,) and the star to come
out of Jacob, with the sceptre to rise out of
This passage of
the speech, then, is directed against certain fallacious pleas and ideas of
Not so. God has never forgiven
The part of Stephen’s speech which ensues, refers to the charge of his blaspheming the temple.
44. “The tabernacle of witness was (intended) for our fathers in the desert, as He commanded who spake to Moses, that he should make it after the pattern which he had seen.”
They boasted of the temple and of Moses. But Moses and their fathers had only a moving temple. That alone was suited to their frequent change of place. It was also “the tabernacle of witness,” or of testimony, not “the temple of fulfilment.” This edifice bore testimony in several directions.
their idolatry. Was not Jehovah’s
tabernacle a testimony against that of Moloch’s? As Jehovah’s tabernacle that bore His ark of
the covenant, was a witness of the better things to come according to His
promises; so the tabernacle of Moloch could but be a
token of the dark days of God’s judgment yet to be. As the one proclaimed, that the land should be
entered, and the enemies of the tribes scattered; so the other betokened the
(2) But the
tabernacle of witness made by Moses, was also a
testimony to a system of things yet to come, far superior to itself. For Moses as mediator of
“Which (tabernacle) also our fathers with Jesus (Joshua) having received, brought in (to the land) at the time of taking possession of the nations, whom God drove out from before our fathers, up to the days of David; who found favour before God, and asked to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob. But Solomon built him a house.”
The place of worship
under Moses, and even for four hundred years was only a tent, removed from
place to place. David desired to build a
house for the Lord, yet though he found great favour with Jehovah, he was not
permitted. It was very significant, that
Moses could not lead his people into the land of promise. He must give way to Jesus. (Joshua, in Hebrew). Might it not be then, that the Jesus whom they
despised might be the conqueror, who should give them possession of their land
in a day to come, and overthrow the Gentile enemies of
48. “But the Most High is not dwelling in houses made with hands, as the prophet saith, ‘The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool, what kind of a house will ye build me? Or what is the place of my rest? Hath not my hand made all these things?’”
While, then, the
Lord has promised one day to
Thus the martyr
has shown, that Jehovah was not tied to any one place
of manifestation. He had discovered
Himself to Abraham in
“Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they slew those who beforehand spoke of the coming of the Righteous One, of whom ye have now become betrayers and murderers: Ye who received the law at the command of angels, and observed it not!”
Their circumcision was the boast of Israelites. This boast the martyr takes away from them. They had circumcision in the flesh, but not in the spirit; the sign, not the thing signified. Their own Moses had reproached them, as the stiff-necked, rebellious against God, and blind. They refused to be turned from evil by any testimony: Lev. 26: 41; Deut. 10: 16. Their hearts refused God’s commands. Nay, they refused even to hear the Lord’s words, uttered by Stephen the inspired, as they presently afterwards show.
Were the men
before him better than their fathers? By
no means! They refused the Son of God. After the Spirit’s descent to bear witness to
the Son, they refused the Spirit too. They had rejected the prophets, and persecuted
them. Even those
into whose mouth God had put messages of hope, concerning the Deliverer to come,
were maltreated and slain. How then
could they imagine, that their national and official condemnation of Christ,
really disproved His claims? It only
condemned themselves. It only showed, that
the spirit of
There was one distinguished above the world of sinners as “Jesus Christ the righteous.” How had they served Him? They had betrayed Him to the Romans, and put Him to death.
But were they not strict observers of law? No! Though angels spoke it, they and their fathers had all along disobeyed it, specially in their refusal of the prophet foretold by Moses, and the crucifixion of the Righteous One.
Such was the Holy Spirit’s testimony against these self-righteous ones. Such the breaking up of all their arguments! A quiet statement of undeniable facts given of God, scattered all their objections of confidence. The effect of the speech is strikingly given: more so in the original, than in the translation.
54. “Now while they were hearing these things they were being sawn through in their hearts, and gnashed their teeth at him.”
They refused to accept the testimony. Hence they were troubled by the truth. It could not be denied. It was stronger than their hearts. They might resist like wood; but the truth was strong as iron, sharp with many teeth like the saw. Each statement was a new point to pierce them. It was delivered with power of the Holy Ghost. They would not yield. But they displayed their hatred of the truth, by rage. They were like the damned themselves. “Gnashing of teeth” is one of the characteristics of the lost. Here the transgressors gnash their teeth at the inspired of the Holy Ghost, the man who was righteous through faith. For so it was written. “The wicked plotteth against the righteous, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth. The Lord shall laugh at him, for he seeth that his day is coming:” Psa. 37: 12, 13; 112: 10; 35: 16.
The Lord’s messenger was hated with a malice that could not restrain even its visible expression. This shows how completely the whole speech told against their feelings and their arguments.
They lacked but one more point.
“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. And he said, ‘Behold, I contemplate the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’”
He had proved the argument, that God was not bound to any place on earth. He had adduced the testimony of Moses, that there was a better sanctuary of God, than the one of man’s building on earth. He had cited from the prophet a proof, that in this dispensation, God is not dwelling in temples made by hands upon earth. But now he is further to be made an eye-witness of the true temple, and of the glory of God in heaven. There he beholds the Jesus whom they rejected, stationed in the place of the highest honour with God, neither Moses nor Elijah being seen there.
The speech had showed, that despite their condemnation of Jesus, He might have gone up into the heaven. But now Stephen, his eyes opened by the Spirit of God, can testify - ‘He is in heaven, I see Him.’
He calls Jesus “the Son of Man.” This is His title in Dan. 7: 13, 14. It was of Him, then, that Daniel spoke, as the Ruler of all the earth. That is the title of the Governor of all things in heaven and earth, (Psa. 8,) in the promised day of glory.
This was not to be endured. Like the deaf adder, they stop their ears; refusing to listen to the truth: Psa. 58: 4. They rush on him with feet swift to shed blood. They cast stones, and in this way many could take part in his death.
They cast him out of the city, as they did our Lord: for the disciple that is perfect shall be as his Master.
He prays to Jesus,
as the Saviour when departing prayed to His Father – “Lord
Jesus, receive my spirit.” The
Redeemer, then, is ‘the Lord’ of Psalm 110. The Father hath made the rejected Jesus both
Lord and Christ. Stephen, therefore,
owns him as Adonai, or ‘Lord,’
‘Lord Jesus.’ ‘Lord lay not this sin to their charge.’ The old High Priest is against him, but the
new High Priest in heaven is on his side; a Divine Help. With the blood of the new covenant is come a
new spirit also, far beyond that of the old. When the Spirit of God inspired the son of Jehoiada to testify against the idolatry of
In the present martyr’s case, earth closed against the man of faith, the inspired by the Spirit of Christ. But heaven opened to him, and in the vision of the glories there, he can overlook the storm of earth. Death to him is robbed of its sting. He only “falls asleep.” At the first and blessed resurrection he shall reign with his Master.
From the whole
argument, then, we see, that a new dispensation must
arise in order to fulfil the promises made to the
Now is the time of God’s patience, calling on an evil world to repent;
calling to the men of faith to come out from the world, and to work and suffer
for, and with, a rejected Christ. The kingdom of glory to come is set before us, as our
comfort under trial for Christ, and as the reward and prize of
our calling: Phil. 3. Soon “the days of vengeance”
for the martyrs’ blood will fall on the earth; and the watchful disciples will be caught out of the
hour of temptation which is coming upon all the inhabitable earth, to test its dwellers,
and to exhibit their sinfulness: Matt. 23; 24; Rev.
16. In that day the glory of
Jesus will fill heaven and earth, and
Courage, then, Christians who suffer for Christ! The inferior seed of Abraham was left in bondage and trials four hundred years. What wonder, if the superior seed of Abraham’s faith are called to suffer too, and for a longer period? It is not our calling to set the world right, and to find our portion here below, in this fleeting life. But we are to wait till the Redeemer comes, till the dead in Christ awake, and the Saviour dispenses His rewards to His faithful servants. May we meet in joy “IN THAT DAY”!