It is important that I learn from Stephen. He is very important to a disciple of Jesus as he is the first martyr to be killed for His faith in Jesus. Acts 7 is devoted to his speech at his trial.
Stephen starts with Abraham. That is the start for our faith in the God of glory. It is a good place for me to start as well. Abraham establishes what it is like to obey God and move in faith. God says go. Abraham does not knowing where he is going. God doesn’t say leave and go to Jerusalem. Nope, just go, I’ll show you.
Abraham is our model. Stephen sets the religious elite straight on that and much more.
Then the Chief Priest said to Stephen, “What do you have to say for yourself?”
Stephen replied, “Friends, fathers, and brothers, the God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was still in Mesopotamia, before the move to Haran, and told him, ‘Leave your country and family and go to the land I’ll show you.’ | Acts 7:1-3 (The Message Bible)
Acts 6:5 introduces a faithful man of God named Stephen: “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” It is noteworthy that there have always been those faithful believers whose love for and commitment to the Lord seem to shine through so greatly that others around them notice, and Stephen was such a man. Nothing is known about the personal life of Stephen—his parents, his siblings, or whether he had a wife or children; however, what is known about him is what is truly important. He was faithful, even when faced with certain death.
Stephen was one of the seven men chosen to be responsible over the distribution of food to widows in the early church after a dispute arose and the apostles recognized they needed help. He was also “full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people”. Opposition arose, but the men who argued with Stephen were no match for the wisdom given him by the Holy Spirit. So, the men decided to falsely accuse Stephen, labeling him a blasphemer and having him arrested.
Stephen faces conflict when Jewish Hellenists of the Diaspora oppose him and his ministry. In a manner reminiscent of the trial of Jesus, Stephen is brought before the Sanhedrin, where false witnesses charge him with blaspheming Moses, God, and the temple. Although the witnesses are false in their intent, the content of their accusations is relevant. Stephen made some kind of reference to Jesus’ teaching about the Law and the future status of the temple.
Stephen is the first named member of the Hellenists in Acts 6:1 who brought cultural diversity to the Church. This kind of diversity represented obedience to Jesus’ mandate to preach to the nations. Stephen is also the first non-apostle to defend the faith before the Sanhedrin and was the first to be martyred for the faith.
Stephen does not categorically reject the Law and temple. However, he is not satisfied with his opponents’ interpretation of the Law and rejects their narrow view of the temple. His critique is carried forward by a retelling of the history of Israel. He starts with God’s covenant with Abraham and continues on to the voice of the prophets who foretold the coming of the “Righteous One”. His overview contains two major themes:
- It is not he who has dishonored the Law, but it is his opponents and their forefathers who have continually disobeyed the Law.
- God’s presence cannot be restricted to a building.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
Simmons, W. A. (2016). Stephen. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.