WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 4
SCRIPTURE: Acts 7
This chapter is a direct continuation of the previous chapter. Yesterday we met Stephen who was one of the seven set aside and ordained for serving the church. We also discovered that God equipped him with a passion for sharing the Gospel and then accompanied that sharing with miracles and signs. Stephen was subsequently arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. He was wrongly accused.
As chapter seven opens, the high priest actually gave Stephen an opportunity to speak. And boy did he speak. This is the longest address in Acts and one of the most important. Stephen is going to provide a quick but accurate history of the nation of Israel. And as he does that he points out the history of Jewish religious leaders taking a stand against the plans of the Lord and the people He called to implement those plans.
This chapter is sandwiched between two important phrases. In verse 2, as Stephen begins his speech, he speaks of “the God of glory”. In verse 55, the Bible says Stephen saw “the glory of God”. Much of the sad story of Israel has to do with their missing God’s glory and God’s glory departing from them. That is even true about Jesus. John 1:14 says that God’s glory had come in His Son, Jesus. When the nation of Israel rejected Him, the glory of God departed from them one more time.
As Stephen came to the end of his speech, he was pretty direct in his accusation. The men that he was speaking to were guilty of betraying and killing Jesus.
Stephen was given a magnificent vision before he died. The heavens opened and there was Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. Jesus stood no doubt in honor of Stephen who was about to be martyred for the faith. But Jesus also stood to receive one of His own.
Although Stephen died in a different way than Jesus, there is much in common between those two events. One, it was the same religious body that was responsible for both. Two, beginning in verse 59, the last two recorded statements of Stephen were very similar to some of the last things Jesus said.
There are two more things that I want to call your attention to in this chapter. One, we first meet Saul here. Although he didn’t participate in the stoning of Stephen, he consented to it by standing there and watching over the garments of those who were stoning Stephen. He would never forget this. (Acts 22:17-21)
The other thing is the statement about Stephen falling asleep. This is not a literal sleep. When believers die, their souls are immediately in the presence of God. The Bible says to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. But the body that is left behind looks like it is asleep. And there is a day in the future when the souls of those believers who have died will reenter those bodies and those bodies will get up (be resurrected) as someone rising from sleep.
So, the death of a believer is much more than sleep. But we should be comforted by the fact that it can legitimately be compared to sleep. We should be encouraged that our physical death is certainly not the end of our existence.