THE JUDGES INDICTED BY STEPHEN Acts 7:51-53
Stephen was evidently led by the Holy Ghost. It was the Lord Jesus Himself who was speaking here through Stephen, as the former was standing on the right hand of God as the Son of Man. He who “stands” here at the right hand of God is “standing” here before the Sanhedrin. He stood here some months before in His humiliation when he had said “from henceforth ye shall see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God and coming with the clouds of heaven.” They would see the fulfillment and unfolding of the counsel of God as revealed already to Daniel in the visions upon his bed. (Daniel 7:13, Matthew 26:64) Such is the drama here in this courtroom; it is the confrontation of this “court” with the fundamental constitution of Israel, which they had ever knowingly set aside for their own. In the place of judgment there was iniquity!
First of all, the members of this Sanhedrin and all unbelievers in Israel are judged by Stephen as to the deepest condition of their depraved hearts. Stephen does not here simply wax angry so that he precipitated the wrath and fury of these Jews. He has come to the end of presenting the evidence of the Word of God concerning the, meaning of “Moses” and “this place” according to the Scriptures and the testimony of the Holy Ghost. He opened the Scriptures to them, which were to them a closed book. He showed them the “key of knowledge!” And this key they willingly rejected.
They are, first of all, a “stiff-necked” people! This term is only used in the New Testament here by Stephen. The reason is that the term is the term which the Lord uses throughout in the Old Testament to pinpoint the terrible unbelief of Israel over against all of His mighty deeds in the salvation of Israel out of, Egypt, leading them like a flock through the great and terrible desert, feeding them with manna and giving them water from the rock, Christ. And always Israel, and the mixed multitude in their midst, murmured and rebelled. Why? Because the Lord was not caring for His people and protecting them according to His sure promise? No, they are a stiff-necked people. They are exceedingly stubborn! That is not simply the hasty conclusion of a Moses, but it is the verdict of God, who looked down from heaven. Basically this stubbornness, witch-craft, unbelief revealed itself in its full meaning and potentiality under the old covenant of Sinai at the foot of the mountain at the very time when Moses is receiving the oracles of God by the dispensation of angels. (Exodus 32:9; Galatians 3:19) Repeatedly it is stated that Israel is such that they must “understand that the LORD thy God giveth thee not the good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiff-necked people.” (Deuteronomy 9:6, 13)
That all Israel was not destroyed is because God has mercy on whom he has mercy, and whom he wills he hardens!
Surely this was language which the members of the Sanhedrin had often read! It was the verdict of God! Here Stephen applies this very word also to these “stiff-necked” who are the culmination of all this unbelief in having crucified the “Just One,” the Lord of glory!
Secondly, they are “uncircumcised of heart.” The wonder of grace which saves is not their portion. They do not belong to Christ, the Messiah, and, therefore, they are not Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. They are indeed circumcised in the flesh, but not in their heart; they are not born again, and, therefore, are no different than Sodom and Egypt. (Revelation 11:8) Hence, they too will be destroyed as was Sodom and Egypt. They are not under the Blood of the Covenant! Here, too, Stephen is led by. the Spirit to utter the terrible indictment against Israel according to the flesh which was uttered by Moses already, as recorded in Leviticus 26:41, and by Jeremiah the prophet upon unbelieving Judah in his day, when he writes “To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? Behold their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the Lord is to them a reproach; they have no delight in it.” (Jeremiah 6:10) And again we read in this same prophecy, “Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will punish all them that are circumcised with them that are uncircumcised, Egypt, and Judah, and Edom, and the children of Ammon, and Moab, and all that are in the utmost corners, that dwell in the wilderness: all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart.” (Jeremiah 9:25, 26) And this word the Spirit of God was binding upon the hearts of this Sanhedrin, convicting them of sin, righteousness and judgment at the very moment that Stephen speaks to them! They are, as were their unbelieving fathers who were destroyed in Babylon, spiritually Sodom and Egypt.
Such is the indictment of God here by the mouth of Stephen.
We have just stated that the Sanhedrin was “convicted” here of sin, righteousness and judgment through the Holy Ghost. Unbelief is resisting the Holy Ghost. It is saying “no” to the Holy Ghost. The Remonstrants of 1610 erroneously conclude from this that “grace” is resistible, and that God is powerless where man resists. It ought to be evident on the very surface that Stephen does not teach resistible “grace;” grace is the work of almighty God; but rather teaches that unbelief ever resists the clear testimony of the Holy Ghost as this comes to them from the dealings of the God of glory as testified of in all the law and the prophets, the shadows and types, as they have their end, their telos, in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It may be well to say just a word about the term in the Greek here employed by Stephen. The verb “resist” in the King James Version is the translation of the Greek “antipitete” which is a component verb form from the preposition “anti” (against) and “piptoo” (to fall). Hence, it means to fall against, to cast one’s self against. It is quite likely an indirect quotation from the Septuagint rendering of not simply one passage from the Old Testament Scriptures, but rather from various passages. If this be true then we may conclude that it is a rather free rendering of such Hebrews verbs as are used in Numbers 27:14 and Isaiah 63:11, 14. In the former passage we read “For ye rebelled against my commandment in the desert of Zin, in the strife of the congregation, . . . . .” The term here in the Hebrew and rendered “strife” in the KJV is really the word “Meribah.” This was the first, fundamental and basic contention of Israel with God; it set the pattern of all further rebellion and therefore is cited both in Psalm 95and Hebrews 3:8-10 as the classic example and prototype of all Israel’s unbelief. This term “bemeribah” is translated in the Septuagint by the infinitive used as a noun “en tooi antipiptein,” that is, “in the resistance.” Evidently; that is the notion here retained by the term here employed in Acts 7:51b. It is the contention of Meribah and Massah, so often referred to in the Scriptures. Confer such passages as Exodus 17:7, Numbers 20:13, 24; Numbers 27:14; Deut. 32:51; Deut. 33:8; Psalm 81:7.
This was a basic resistance of unbelief. The prophet Isaiah speaks of this sin as the sin of Israel and of Judah when he writes “But they rebelled, and vexed his Holy Spirit, therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them.” (Isaiah 63:10) Always unbelieving Israel vexed, put to grief the Holy Spirit by going contrary to the Word of God, and they ever contumaciously worked contrary to the testimony of the Spirit in God’s dispensation in Israel as all things pointed toward Christ as the fulfillment of the law for every one who believes, the Jew first and also the Greek!
Ever unbelief walked the hard way of kicking against the pricks.
They ever stumbled at the Stone of stumbling and the Rock of offense.
Such was the indictment of the prophets against Israel, and such is the indictment here in the presence of the Sanhedrin by the Lord through Stephen!
And this indictment is pinpointed here against this Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin is guilty of the transgression. Possibly this is the purpose of the law, as given by Moses and relating to this place, the temple, namely, that “it was added because of the transgressions, till the Seed should come.” (Galatians 3:19) For the transgression than which there is none more heinous is that of being betrayers and murders of the “Just One.”
Stephen indicts all the fathers of the Sanhedrin as being those who had killed all the prophets and persecuted them without exception. Such was the history of the prophets. And particularly those who before announced the “coming of the Just One.” But now something far more horrible has taken place. This very Sanhedrin has become guilty of the sin of “betrayal” and of “murdering” the Just One. They hated Him without a cause. In them and their deed is culminated all the unbelief of Israel. Their house will be left desolate forever.
STEPHEN AMONG THE FAITHFUL PROPHETS IN HIS DEATH Acts 7:54-60
There is an enmity between the Seed of the woman and the seed of the Serpent which has been there since God’s first revelation of the Mediator in the Protevangel. Always there has been the dragon ready to devour the child of the woman as soon as it was born.(Revelation 12:1-4) However, never was that enmity so strong as when the Son of God actually came on earth, and that, too, most emphatically between the Israel of the flesh and the Israel of God according to election of grace. This we see here enacted in the court of the Sanhedrin, where our Lord Himself once was crucified.
We read the following particulars as to the manifestation of the hellish hatred of these unbelievers in Israel of old. The words of God by Stephen stung them to the quick. Like a sharp sword they went into their very bones, so to speak. They were “cut in their hearts.” In these hearts no love of God had been shed abroad by God’s Spirit. Only hatred is in these hearts; and the floodgates of hatred are opened and all their resistance against the Holy Ghost who spoke through Stephen manifests itself against the speaker. It was really against God that they fumed. They grind their teeth against him. They cry out with a loud voice their hatred, and they stop their ears. There is the sound of blood. It is the blood of the Son of God which indicts them. And they will stop the mouth of this one more prophet who speaks of Him. The gates of hell would prevail. With one accord they rush upon him, cast him out of the city and destroy him. They cease to be a court. They are a mad mob! They defy the God of heaven and crucify anew the Son of God against themselves. They stone Stephen as being worthy of death—only because He spoke the Word of God.