In our class on Acts, we went over the short chapter 6 and the much longer chapter 7. Acts 6 in many ways was about fairly practical things. The number of the disciples had increased so much that just managing the physical side of things got to be too much for the apostles. [The live class audio can be heard here.]
So they said, “It is not fitting for us to leave the Word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren appoint seven men from among you that we can set over this business. But we will give ourselves to the Word of God and prayer.” (Acts 6: 2 & 3) Everyone felt right about that; then the apostles laid hands on the seven who were chosen and prayer for them.
Well, in our class that we had, we got into a rather big discussion at one point about Acts 6:7 where it says “a great companion of the priests were obedient to the faith.” Some in the class put forward the idea that this didn’t say or mean that the priests had become believers in Jesus but just was commending them for their obedience to Judaism and the laws of Moses.
I certainly don’t teach it like that. A good number of the priests in Jerusalem were moving out of the circle they had been in and into the circle of the Christians. But there’s the rub. It’s like Jesus said about “old bottles and new bottles” (Luke 5:37-39). A continual question at the time of the Early Church was how much of the old ways and traditions of Judaism should be carried over into the new moment and society that was being formed. “No man having drunk old wine straightway desires new.” (Luke 5:39). This is a continual theme as we go further through Acts. And like some said in the class, this is still a big question for many believers in our times.
All these events in Jerusalem, around 35 AD, were against the backdrop of Bible prophecy. In Daniel chapter 9, the angel Gabriel had forewarned that after the Messiah was cut off, the city and the sanctuary would be destroyed again. God knew that this was going to happen in the lifetimes of many of those people. And it did happen in 70 AD when the Roman legions of Titus invaded Israel, surrounded Jerusalem and destroyed the city and the temple. Israel was effected ended as a nation, over 1 million were killed and the Jews were scattered among all nations for the nearly the next 1900 years.
So, considering all that, it’s amazing to see the intense work of the Holy Spirit to win the hearts of the people of Jerusalem at this time, that they accept and receive their risen Savior and get on board with the way God was moving, even to the saving of their own physical lives in the next few decades to come.
The climax of all this was in Acts chapter 7. One of the seven men who’d been chosen in Acts 6 to be deacons and to oversee the physical side of things was Stephen, “a man full of faith and the Holy Ghost” (Acts 6:7), who also worked miracles at that time.
In the same way that Peter and John had been hauled before the religious authorities, Stephen was brought before them after they couldn’t stop his preaching and miracles. Stephen, in his witness to this religious council, gave a long and learned account of the history of his people to those assembled to judge him. But as he recounts the history of Israel, Stephen doesn’t exactly glorify the Jewish people. He glorifies God, but he brings up incident after incident in the history of Israel where the people had rejected the messengers God had sent to them.
At the end of his speech to his accusers, Stephen said this to them. “You stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You do always resist the Holy Ghost. As your fathers did, so do you!” (Acts 7:51 & 52) His accusers rushed on him and the Bible says they even bit him with their teeth. Next they dragged him out of the city and stoned Stephen to death.
Thus ended the first phase of the history of the Early Church. Stephen’s martyrdom in Jerusalem precipitated a huge persecution against the Christians there and the Bible says very many of them fled the persecution, moving out to other nearby cities and towns. And “they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4)
So it’s an amazing, significant, griping chapter in the history of Christianity. The live audio class is 48 minutes long and you can hear it here. I hope these classes are a blessing to you if you’re listening to them. For me, it’s such an inspiration and a check on my heart and spirit to read these things again and to let the Word of God search my heart and draw me towards the acts and deeds and commitment of the early Church. God bless you!