Monday, June 15, 2020

Acts Study, Session 18

Today we cover Acts 53-8:1 as we complete Stephen's message to the nation and are introduced to Saul, the future apostle to the Gentiles.


Teaching Notes
VERSES 46-50: Who found favour before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob. (47)  But Solomon built him an house. (48)  Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, (49)  Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? (50)  Hath not my hand made all these things? This speaks of David, who had found favor with God, desired to build a permanent and grand dwelling place for the Ark of the Covenant which dwelt in a tent  (Psa 132:1-5), but was denied (1Ch 22:8), but his son would be allowed to do so (1Ch 22:9). The question is, "Why is Stephen going here?"

One commentary says that Stephen is giving a type "of how the Lord came to Israel the first time in the tent of a human body (cf. 2Peter 1:13-14), but will return in a body that is so much grander, it will be like the difference between the tabernacle of Moses and the temple of Solomon. It goes on to say, "And He will then give Israel the kingdom they refused the first time He came. That illustrates the point Stephen’s been making, that just like Israel wasn’t freed from Egyptian bondage during Moses’ first appearance to Israel, but was on his second appearance, so the Jews didn’t get their kingdom during the Lord’s first visit to Israel, but will at His second." Of course, this is where Stephen began to lose them because he was saying that God did not dwell in their temple that had been made with hands (v.48) by referencing Isa 66:1-2. 

In these verses in Isaiah, God is basically asking, Where is the place of my rest? The assumption is that if indeed God needed a resting place, he would not ask a man to build it since he could do it on His own (Gen 1:1). Some would say that what Stephen is saying is that God may not dwell in the temples you guys have made, but He does dwell in this man that you crucified (Isa 66:2). Of course, this is where he lost them! 

VERSES 51-53: Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. (52)  Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: (53)  Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. Now he flat accuses them of being stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart. In other words, too hard-headed to listen to the truth. Obviously, he saw the crowd beginning to turn on him and knew the time of invitation had passed! No doubt, Stephen's choice of the word stiffnecked brought images of Exo 32:7-10 and Exo 33:5). Unlike far too many in the Body of Christ, the Jews knew their Scriptures. Shocked at how ignorant we are today. 

Many commentators will say that Stephen's entire message was a defense, no, it was an indictment from beginning to end. Stephen had done exactly what Peter had done in Acts 5:28. Also, as Randy White points out, Stephen was not practicing evangelism as we know it in these verses either. It was pure condemnation of them and their actions. Of course, just like with the messages of Peter, had the nation repented, the Kingdom would have come. 

Now, I have found that there is some disagreement in regards to that last statement about the coming Kingdom. Shouldn't the Tribulation take place first? I believe so, but some would say that the Time of Jacob's Trouble was conditional upon their repentance. Um, still working on that supposition.

Notice in v.53 where it says Who have received the law by the disposition of angels and have not kept it. In other words, even though God and the heavenly hosts gave you the Law, you still have not kept it. Again, nothing but condemnation. They lost it! 

VERSES 54: When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. As a result of Stephen's words, they became, as Albert Barnes puts it, enraged and indignant that he would dare accuse them of Jesus' death. Religion always produces a fleshly response. Understand, these had rejected the King and his Kingdom, there was nothing spiritual about them. They were responded in the flesh. 

VERSE 55: But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, Notice that this verse clearly show the Trinity. 

VERSES 56-58: And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. (57)  Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, (58)  And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. Notice that when Stephen said that he saw the Son of Man, the cried out, stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord. Even in his next to last words, he was accusing them of killing their Messiah. 

Make no mistake, have you ever tried to share the Gospel with someone whose' response was outright hostility? Why was Jesus standing when everywhere else in Scripture we see him sitting? I have heard some fanciful reasons in the past, but as I mentioned earlier, the knew the Old Testament Scriptures and the last time the heavens opened was in Eze_1:1 and Eze_2:3-7 and it was followed by judgment. 

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit
I will submit to you that this is where the nation committed the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that Jesus warned them of in Matthew 12:31. Can we commit this sin today? Yes and no. 

Saul Introduced
Notice that Saul, who would become Paul was present, and consenting to it as we will see in Acts 8:1. In other words, he gave approval. We see this in Galatians 1:13. This leads us to believe that he was just an innocent bystander, but the primary leader. Why? Because he believed Jesus to be an imposter. He did it in ignorance, just like the rest of the nation. 

VERSE 59: And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. (60)  And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. These verses are important and are too often just read-over. Stephen, even though he saw Jesus standing in preparation for judgment, was asking Him not to. We will see in the very next chapter that God is now going to send someone else to the Gentiles since they had refused (Isa 43:1; Isa 49:5-6; Isa 59:20-21; Isa 60:1-3).

Chapter 8
VERSE 1: And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. As a result of the persecution, the church that was in Jerusalem was scattered abroad, except the apostles. This begs the question, "Why?". I used to teach that God used persecution to scatter the church to take the gospel outside of Jerusalem to fulfill the Great Commission. If that is correct, the apostles were the most disobedient of them all! Also, those who were scattered, who did they preach to (Acts 11:19)? The church as we know it is not in view yet! 

Of course, many have no problem today with second-guessing the actions of the apostles. I heard it all of the time in Bible College and in Seminary, e.g., they should not have chosen Matthias, Peter should not have quoted Joel 2, they should have already left Jerusalem in fulfillment of Mat 28:19 (note the works; go, teach, baptize), etc. (cf. Mar 16:15-18). And yet we have the audacity to insinuate that they were confused. I don't think so. How about taking the opposite approach of they knew EXACTLY what they were doing and you are confused because you are trying to force your theology into the text? It is only after you distance yourself from that kind of thinking that you are able to see it with fresh eyes, e.g., Matthew 24. So, the question is, "Why were they remaining in Jerusalem?" This was by all accounts anywhere between four to five years after Pentecost. 

Here is the answer: they knew that before the Kingdom could come to Israel, all of Jerusalem and its leaders must repent and accept that Jesus Christ was the long-awaited Messiah. They had not done that yet. It would only be then, that God would use the nation of Israel to reach the Gentile nations as we discussed at the end of chapter 7!

All throughout the Old Testament, there is prophecy after prophecy in regards to this. Israel had to be saved first and that had to start in Jerusalem! Even then, understand, that had they accepted it, they still would have gone out only the Jew. The way I see it is that once the Jews excepted the Gospel of the Kingdom, he would then use them during the Kingdom to reach the Gentiles (Zech 8:20-23). This is when the nation would become a Kingdom of Priests!

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