The accusation against Stephen was that "Jesus will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us." Stephen then gave a long speech starting with Abraham, through Moses, to David and Solomon, and finally ending with Isaiah 66:1-2 about the house that man will build for God. What is the significance of this long speech that so enraged the Sanhedrin that they made him the first Christian martyr?
Acts 7:1 - 53
ESV - 1 And the high priest said, "Are these things so? 2 And Stephen said: "Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran.
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What is interesting about Stephen's speech is that he did not present it as an argument in his defense, but as an accusation against the council that was interrogating him. Stephen made two points that his audience would have found to be especially offensive. First, Stephen traced a theme through Israel's history that he made explicit in his conclusion; namely, that they had always resisted the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51). Religious Israel in the first century, considered itself separated from the sins of their ancestors. Since the time of the exile, they had fought many fierce battles against idolatry and worked hard at keeping God's law, which they had shed their blood to defend. So, in their minds, how dare Stephen compare their actions to the sins of their fathers or accuse them of not keeping the law? (Acts 7:53) Secondly, Stephen directly accused them of the betrayal and murder of Jesus (Acts 7:52). The council had already forbidden the apostles to either speak of Jesus or teach in his name (Acts 4:18). In fact, they had threatened and punished them for continuing to do so (Acts 5:28, 40). Of course, the final straw was when Stephen openly described his vision of God's glory and Jesus standing at God's right hand (Acts 7:55-56). That is what drove the court and the crowd over the edge. No doubt, it sounded like the very same "blasphemy" of which Jesus had been accused and for which he had been condemned (Mark 14:61-64)
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