He knew it would be his death speech! Although this is somewhat speculation, it is what came of it. Stephen, one of the 7 selected to “wait tables” discussed in Acts 6 (first few verses) was doing a lot more than WAITING TABLES to be dragged before the Sanhedrin Council. A problem we sometimes run into in reading scripture is that all languages do not have direct translations of many original manuscript words or wording meaning. Sometimes we don’t even have a word into which to translate a word or two from scripture. In a sense, this is one of those times. To “wait tables” takes most of us to a restaurant scenario where the host or hostess waits on our table. This is NOT what Luke means per “wait tables” (Acts 6:2) (see end of article comment).
Stephen, one of the seven selected to “wait tables” was not brought before the Sanhedrim for being a bad waiter. His role in “waiting tables” included his testimony and street ministry seeking the lost with the message of the cross. He begins his message to the Sanhedrin in Acts 6:8-10. In short the wise guys in the Jewish sect of Judaism could not argue or dispute his rebuttals to all of their charges. This more than disturbed them…it perturbed them. Stephen was “waiting their tables” with ‘servings of’ truth and actuality they could not defend against.
The setting and charges against Stephen is found it Acts 6:13, 14…
“This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.”
Holy place? Their Hebrew Law of Moses? Destroy this place? Change the customs or traditions of their way? It is obvious that even these religious leaders of Judaism could not find a charge against Stephen and his views of God. The closest they come to anything set in worshiping is when they say “this Holy place.” We experience this too much today. We have tried to make the church building or sanctuary by creating rules for its use; no coffee or beverages allowed, no running in the sanctuary, take you chatter outside, etc. We have heard these claims but where does the purpose of worship fit into the mix? Far too many so-called church denominations are bent on bible compromise leaving the Holy Spirit outside knocking on a window hoping HE might come in during their worship(?) service.
A church sanctuary as we identify it is not a Holy Place; now and it never was. The only place God identified as a Holy Place was the inner workings of the Temple (Tabernacle during the Wilderness experience) called the Holy of holies (Habakkuk 1; Hebrews 9; Matthew 27:50-51). It is the body of believers that is to be holy, not the building. When someone is more concerned about the carpet in the building than the soul next to him/her or the person carrying a bottle of water either into the building or walking the streets, are we like them or unequally yoked with semi-believers or religious nonbelievers in a less than worship attitude?
Stephen was up against this when his accusers were defending the building, their traditions, customs, and their man made laws, not the spiritual concerns of individuals and the former nation of Israel’s relationship with their one true God. God’s purpose for creating man never enters Stephen’s appearance before the Sanhedrin. (JIV NOTE: Neither is God mentioned by Jewish leadership when any of the Apostles were dragged before this “holier than thou” bunch of priests, Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and other related individuals).
Acts 7 is Stephen’s defense (witness) to the charges against him and in actuality, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In Acts 7:1 the High Priest asks Stephen, “Are these things (charges) so?” In verse 2 Stephen immediately takes them back to the historical root of their problem. It begins with God speaking to Abraham some 2000 years earlier. Stephen takes those who were judging him from the beginning of their Israeli identity to their point in time.
Before we give you the short version and sequential history of Israel, as did Stephen before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7:2-53, let’s pause at one line in Acts 7:43. It reads:
You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’
I will send you into exile BEYOND Babylon. At this point in Stephen’s reciting of their history they hadn’t yet entered the Promised Land. Here is a now fulfilled prophecy hidden within Stephen’s review of their history as a people; a house of Israel. The Sanhedrin members, as did all of Israel, knew that by now, 800 years later, they were dispersed amongst other nations; no longer a nation themselves. In essence, Stephen was pointing out that their authority was limited by proximity, not national domain. He pointed out that they were stuck in the past and no longer were in touch or reality with their modern times under Roman authority. This is very similar to many church groups today. They fight to defend their customs and traditions but haven’t a clue how to lead someone to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Acts 7:49… Stephen points out that God is no longer in their Temple as it was made by hands of man. Heaven is HIS throne. Earth itself is but a foot stool of God. What kind of “house” can one build for a God of this nature? Their sanctuary meant nothing to God anymore. The veil had been rent or torn in two. Their temple then, as are our churches today are man-made.
Acts 7:50… Did your hands create any or even a part of creation? This verse is ripe for the picking and could be a message or article in and of itself…but not here. (sorry)
Acts 7:51… Why do you always (yes, always! ἀεί) resist the Holy Spirit as did your fathers in the past? ἀεί means to resist change or accept anything that suggests change. What in actuality Stephen is pointing out the Sanhedrin’s inability to recognize the Holy Spirit. They had a god, mostly of their making by this time, and refused to be influence by HIM. They are “stiff-necked and uncircumcised.” A stiff-necked person refuses to look left or right staying focused on the trail they have chosen, not one God has chosen for them. Their heart is uncircumcised meaning covered over… a form of remaining in the dark rather than exposed to the light of day.
In Acts 7:53 Stephen hits hard. His judges and (false) accusers want to judge by the Law (of Moses) but only selectively living by it. This does it. They rush upon him dragging him out of the city to be stoned. Enter stage left…Saul, soon to be known as the Apostle Paul.
As said earlier on in this article per chapter 7, who was actually on trial here; Stephen or the Sanhedrin?
Review of Stephen’s history of Israel.
- Abraham told by God to leave his country.
- Abraham sojourns to the “future” Promised Land of Israel
- God did not give any of this land to Abraham (Lot) but promised it to a future generation
- Abraham told his future GREAT-grand kids would live and multiply in a “different” land (Egypt)
- This future generation will be mistreated in Egypt living there for 400 years.
- A deliverer will be sent to retrieve these people from Egypt. In this Promised Land they will worship me. A prophecyof the New Jerusalem as would be their dispersion after Babylon.
- Circumcision becomes a symbol of Israeli descendants. (Ishmael at 13; Isaac at 8 days old)
- The jealousy of 11 brothers against Joseph and sold to those in a caravan heading to Egypt
- Joseph finds great favor in the eyes of Egypt and he is made 2nd in command of this land.
- A great famine comes over Egypt, Canaan and surrounding lands in the westerly Middle East
- Jacob with his 75 member household hear that there is grain to be purchased in Egypt
- The brothers minus Benjamin are sent to Egypt to purchase grain.
- A second time they are sent to Egypt for grain and Joseph finally reveals to them who he is.
- Pharaoh meets Joseph’s father and ‘some’ of his brothers. Gad is not introduced by Joseph.
- 75 of Joseph’s (Jacob’s) clan move to prime land in Egypt as shepherds in Goshen.
- Jacob dies in Egypt but is buried in Shechem where Abraham had purchased land years earlier
- The descendants of Jacob multiple greatly in Goshen, Egypt to a point of outnumbering locals
- A NEW PHARAOH who knew not about Joseph takes the throne of Egypt; a foreign ruler
- He subjects the Israelis to hard labor lest they overthrow him due to their population numbers
- Moses is born when the new Pharaoh fears this large number of Israelites inside his kingdom
- Babies of Israeli DNA are slaughtered but Moses is saved and raised in Pharaoh’s household
- 40 years Moses is instructed in the cultural ways of the Egyptians and warfare
- At 40 years of age he decides to visit his Israeli brethren unannounced.
- Moses sees one of his brethren being abused by an Egyptian slave master and kills the Egyptian
- Moses assumed his brethren would accept him as their redeemer/rescuer. NOT!
- Moses visits his people finding them quarreling. He steps in to act as a facilitator, ruler, judge
- The fight turns against Moses and he is told he is a murderer. If they know, so does Pharaoh
- Moses flees Egypt to Media for 40 years for fear of the wrath of the Pharaoh
- He has two sons (not mentioned here but they are Gershon and Eliezer – Exodus 18:3,4
- Mt Sinai, angel, voice of God, burning bush, ordered to return to Egypt and rescue his people
- Moses is to rescue the very same people who rejected him 40 years earlier (He is 80 years old)
- Moses redeems his own DNA and the Red Sea incident in history
- 40 more years he spends ruling and judging the people of Israel in the Wilderness
- Moses receives the oracles (10 commandments) on Mt. Sinai
- Israelis’ turn against Moses and God and in their hearts wish to return to the old world Egypt
- Aaron make an image of gold for Moses has seemingly vanished; they are now leaderless
- God condemns these people for they turned to god’s made by man
- God warns them of a far distant future when they will be dispersed as a people first by the Assyrians, 720 B.C. then by the Babylonians in 597, 587, and again in 582 B.C.
- Stephen’s Sanhedrin judges and accusers are reminded of the Wilderness Tabernacle designed by God and how Israel took this architecture with them into the Promised Land
- The Tent Tabernacle exists until the time of King David. King Solomon builds the first Temple
- “The Most High God does not live in houses built by human hands” (Acts 7:49)
- Stephen accuses the Jewish leaders of being self-righteous refusing to give hearts to the God
- “You are always against what the Holy Spirit wants you to do. That’s how your ancestors were, and you are just like them!” (Acts 7:51b)
- The prophets they rejected in their past. Now they reject the answer to this promised Messiah
- They received God’s Law through Moses but personally reject it in their personal daily living; in a real sense, they use it to their advantage, not as a way of life.
It is at this point the Sanhedrin falls into a great rage dragging Stephen from the court room to stone him. Stephen see heaven open with “the Son of man” seated next to the God creator of all things.
PS; Yes, Stephen was appointed to “wait tables.” He knew exactly what the Sanhedrin bunch needed for their lunch and he delivered it to them. A large portion of truth!