Search Bible Outlines and commentaries




What kind of a world was it back in the early church when a godly man like Stephen could be stoned to death? What type of religious persecution of Christians do we see in our time – at the hands of fanatical, ungodly extremists? News briefs from Voice of the Martyrs website:

Iran: Government Cracks Down

Since Christmas, more than 70 Christians have been arrested in Iran in a large, well-coordinated strike. Most of those arrested belong to the house church movement. Many were released from custody . . .

Indonesia: House Churches Closed

On Dec. 12, seven house churches were forcibly closed in West Java, Indonesia, by Muslim extremists who claimed the buildings were being used for “illegal church meetings . . .

Afghanistan: Christian Imprisoned

On Jan. 3, a judge told Shoaib Assadullah that if he did not renounce Christ within one week he would face up to 20 years in prison or even be sentenced to death. Shoaib was arrested on Oct. 21 . . .

Laos: Pastor Continues Meetings

On Jan. 4, 2011, at 7 p.m., district police arrested Pastor Wanna at his home in Nakoon Village, Laos. They also arrested 10 other believers as they ate a meal together in Pastor Wanna’s home . . .



Tremendous contrasts presented here: Setting sail in different directions

– Between Spirit-controlled Stephen and the out-of-control, angry mob;

– and between Stephen and Saul — One is full of the Holy Spirit; the other becomes the leader in persecuting the church of Jesus Christ


2 Snapshots Contrasting Sanhedrin and Stephen:

A. (:54-56) 1st Snapshot — Mob of Earthly Rage vs. Man of Heavenly Vision

1. (:54) Mob of Earthly Rage

“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.”

“Now when they heard this” – Review of last week’s stinging indictment against religious phonies – they oppose God’s Rule, God’s Representatives and God’s Revelation

Possibly cut short this long sermon by Stephen – maybe he would have gone on to say more about Jesus and the resurrection

2 Images conveying the strong emotion of being infuriated and enraged

– cut to the quick — divide with a saw; emotionally cut in half; painfully wounded; infuriate; [only passive in the NT] be infuriated, be enraged (Imperfect passive) – convicted and angry at being blamed for killing the Righteous One

Acts 5:33 – same reaction against Peter and the apostles when they replied that they should obey God rather than man – but stopped that time by the counsel of Gamaliel

– gnashing their teeth — grind the teeth, be furious; Job 16:9; Ps. 35:16 “Like godless jesters at a feast, they gnashed at me with their teeth … Rescue me from their ravages, my only life from the lions” – Stott: snarling like wild animals

this activity of frustration commonly associated with Hell

[word for “teeth” = English “orthodontist”]

“at him” – their fury was personally directed against Stephen

2. (:55-56) Man of Heavenly Vision

“But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’”

Let’s break down some of these phrases and look more closely at Stephen’s remarkable vision:

“full of the Holy Spirit” – this has been the emphasis in this section and provides the major contrast to the Sanhedrin members – Hopefully we have learned much over the past months about our responsibility to be controlled by the Holy Spirit; this fullness seems to have some special moments of intensification like we find here in Stephen’s experience as he breathes his last breaths on earth

look intently, fix one’s eyes Lk 4:20 – eyes of those in the synagogue fixed on Jesus as He explained Messianic prophecy from the book of Isaiah; Ac 13:9; 2 Cor 3:7, 13. Israelites could not look intently on the face of Moses as he came down from Mt Sinai and shone with the reflected glory of God — Gingrich

So important not to be overwhelmed by the circumstances – cf. Peter getting out of the boat and walking on water to meet Jesus – where are we gazing intently today??

Glory of God:

1. brightness, radiance, splendor Lk 9:31f; Ac 22:11; 1 Cor 15:40f. Glory, majesty as ascribed to God and heavenly beings Ac 7:2; Ro 1:23; 1 Cor 2:8; Phil 3:21; Col 1:11; Hb 1:3; Js 2:1; Rv 15:8; with connotation of power Ro 6:4. Reflection 1 Cor 11:7. Magnificence, splendor of kings, etc. Mt 4:8; 6:29; Rv 21:24, 26.—2. fame, renown, honor, prestige J 5:41, 44; 8:54; 12:43; Ro 3:23; 1 Th 2:6, 20. Praise as enhancement of reputation Lk 2:14; Ac 12:23; Ro 11:36; 1 Cor 10:31; Phil 2:11; Rv 19:7. — Gingrich

Our ultimate concern should be the glory of God – that He have the preeminence in all things; that He be praised and magnified for who He is and what He has done

“opened up” – used in spiritual sense of God opening up the eyes, mind and heart of people to see and understand spiritual truths –

Mk 7:34; Lk 2:23; 24:31, 45; Ac 7:56; 16:14. Explain, interpret Lk 24:32; Ac 17:3.* — Gingrich

Bock: points to a revelatory experience . . . Usually in the NT means that the perception of a person is opened up, but disclosure is also often an additional point of the verb

Look at all of the spiritual insight that God has opened up to us in His Word; what a privilege; we have far more that will be shown us in the future

“Son of Man”

Bock: “Son of Man” – only time the exact title shows up outside the Gospels. This was Jesus’s favorite self-designation. Late in his ministry, he used the title to refer to the one with judgment authority from the right hand of God (Matt. 26:64; Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69) . . . So Stephen declares that he sees a judging Jesus standing beside God. The crucified Jesus is both alive and at work. . . If Jesus is a judge, then he is Stephen’s advocate and witness. The vision means that heaven stands opposed to the Jewish reaction to Stephen.

Toussaint: repeats the claim Christ made at His trial before the high priest (Mark 14:62).

Constable: This was a title of the Messiah that implied the universal aspect of his rule that Daniel used (Dan. 7:13-14).

“standing at right hand”

[Perf act participle] — Come up, stand, appear Mt 27:11; Mk 13:9; Lk 24:36; Ac 10:30; 11:13. Resist Eph 6:11, 13, Stand firm, hold one’s ground Mt 12:25f; Mk 3:26; Ro 14:4a; Eph 6:14; Rv 6:17. Pf. and plupf. I stand, I stood Mt 27:47; Lk 23:10; J 7:37; Ac 1:11. Be, exist Mt 12:46f; 26:73; Lk 18:13; J 11:56; Ac 7:55f; 21:40; Rv 18:10. Fig. stand, stand firm Ro 11:20; 1 Cor 7:37; 2 Ti 2:19. Stand or be Ro 5:2; 1 Cor 15:1; 2 Cor 1:24 — Gingrich

Stott: Why standing?? He had stood up either as his heavenly advocate or to welcome his first martyr

Jesus is alive, active, in position of power to plead our case, ready to welcome us to glory

B. (:57-60) 2nd Snapshot: Violent Lynch Mob in a Frenzy vs Gracious Servant of the Lord at Perfect Peace

1. (:57-59a) Violent Lynch Mob in a Frenzy

“But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears, and they rushed upon him with one impulse. And when they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him, and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they went on stoning Stephen”

Sanhedrin saw these words of the vision of Stephen as utter blasphemy and so responded violently

cry out, scream wordlessly Mt 14:26; 27:50; Mk 5:5; 9:26; Lk 9:39; Ac 7:57; Rv 12:2. — Gingrich

expressing raw emotion and violent intent – like football players revving themselves up for their gladiator combat – not trying to communicate intelligently; here trying to drown out the convicting words of Stephen

ridiculous image of adult men covering their ears so they could not hear Stephen

set out, rush (headlong) Mt 8:32; Mk 5:13; Lk 8:33; Ac 7:57; 19:29. — Gingrich

Cole: The Greek word for “rushed” is used of the herd of demon-possessed swine rushing off the cliff into the ocean after Jesus cleansed the Gerasene demoniac.

with one mind or purpose or impulse Ac 1:14; 4:24; 8:6; 15:25; 19:29; Ro 15:6; together Ac 5:12. — Gingrich

drive out, expel lit. throw out more or less forcibly Mt 9:25, 34; 21:12, 39; 25:30; Lk 9:40; 11:20; J 2:15; Ac 9:40. — Gingrich

Debate over whether this was a legitimate legal proceeding or a mob action:

Stott: Yet it had a small semblance of justice, since according to the law, the first to begin stoning the condemned person must be “the witnesses”, which means his accusers, whether in Stephen’s case these were the false witnesses of 6:13 or Sanhedrin members.

2. (:59b-60) Gracious Servant of the Lord at Perfect Peace

“as he called upon the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ And having said this, he fell asleep.”

Kent: Stephen followed the example of his Savior in praying for his slayers, as well as for himself. Part of the answer to his prayer was the conversion of Saul, whose presence at the scene was noted by Luke.

Augustine: The church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen.

Barclay: However hard he tried Saul could never forget the way in which Stephen had died. The blood of the martyrs even thus early had begun to be the seed of the Church.

F. F. Bruce: “fell asleep” — an unexpectedly beautiful and peaceful description of so brutal a death

No limbo, no purgatory, no soul sleep taught in the Bible

Pray for those who abuse you – Luke 6:27-28

Wiersbe: A heckler once shouted to a street preacher, “Why didn’t God do something for Stephen when they were stoning him?” The preacher replied, “God did do something for Stephen. He gave him the grace to forgive his murderers and to pray for them!” A perfect answer!

Stoning seems so archaic … we have so many more sophisticated weapons today that radical zealots and ungodly fanatics can use in their acts of terrorism … yet just turn on the TV yesterday and you see the piles of stones and bricks in the streets of Egypt as the prepared ammunition for the next riot … just as we piled up our snowballs as kids …. Here you have grown men and women preparing to do battle with stones in an angry, mob fashion – the heart of man has not changed


Transition: while persecution provides a climate that ultimately proves healthy for the church of Christ; it also provides a climate that brings out the worst in fanatical extremists


A. (:1a) Ungodly Extremists Have Lost Their Moral Compass

“And Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.”

Should be a sobering thing to execute another human being and take the life that God has created; not something that should be carried out with the frenzy of a vigilante, mob mentality

No coercion here; Saul readily supported this rash action and was a contributing player

B. (:1b) Persecution Can Accomplish God’s Plan for Church Growth

“And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”

Boice: here for the first time we find persecution not only of the leaders but also of the membership of the church at large. . .

There are different words for “scattered” in Greek. One means dispersed so that the item is gone from that point on, like scattering a person’s ashes on the ocean’s waves. That is not the word used here in verses 1 and 4. The word used here means scattered in order to be planted. It is exactly like the Hebrew word jezreel, meaning “scattered” but also “planted.” It is what God did with Israel, scattering the Jews throughout the world because of their sin; but he also brought them back and planted them in their land.

Bock: We have moved from a warning (4:21) to a flogging (5:40) to martyrdom (7:58-60) to persecution.

Remember the key verse (1:8) describing the movement of the gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth – here we see a major step forward in that divinely planned progression; God’s promised power went along with this persecution

C. (:2) Moderating Voices Have Only Superficial Impact — Aside

“And some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him.”

Not everyone was part of this frenzied mob scene; voice of moderation and reason – but could accomplish nothing in terms of stemming the tide of anger and violence; yet they did what they could to give Stephen a decent burial

Longenecker: certain devout Jews who were open to the Christian message volunteered to ask for Stephen’s body and bury him, much as Joseph of Arimathea did for Jesus (cf. Luke 23:50-53).

Remember the instructions Jesus gave to His disciples about Fear – Don’t fear men; the worst they can do is kill the body – that ends up in the grave (dust to dust); Fear God who can cast the soul into hell

D. (:3) Fanaticism Expresses Itself in Extreme Cruelty

“But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house; and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.”.

Learn a lot about the evil side of Saul in this passage; no wonder he marveled at the grace of God in saving him, the chiefest of sinners, the one who led in the persecution of the church

harm, damage, ruin, destroy; impf. ἐλυμαίνετο he was trying to destroy — Gingrich

These men and women had families who experienced great loss

Toussaint: The word for “destroy” (used only here in the NT) appears in the Septuagint in Psalm 80:13 about wild boars that destroy a vineyard. Saul’s zeal was so great against Christians that it was as if he were wildly raging against them.

Cole: Saul later described his own behavior as being “furiously enraged at them” (26:11).

Examples down through church history – every conceivable type of torture and cruel death you could imagine – detailed in Fox’s Book of Martyrs;

Story of John Huss

CONCLUSION: Final applications:

– Persecution is inevitable for the godly; don’t be surprised by it; Prepare!

– Persecution accomplishes God’s overall goals for the health and growth of His church

– We can fortify ourselves by studying the grace that God provided to His servants who gave the ultimate sacrifice down through church history

– We should have solidarity and prayer support for our brothers and sisters who are under direct attack

– We should be confident in our ultimate victory as we focus on the vision of heavenly glory and the Advocacy on our behalf by the Righteous One