At this point, Stephen a series of three saviors who are rejected: Joseph, Moses & and then Jesus. The odd movement here is between the Temple to Jesus
Joseph the Rejected Savior
In verses 9-16, Stephen speaks of Joseph who was sold by his brothers into slavery. From his state of slavery, Joseph rises to ruler and saves the people of Israel. Joseph is then brought back to Shechem and buried in Abraham’s tomb (the only part of the promised land which Abraham obtained was a grave, Gen. 24):
Acts 7:9–16 (ESV)
9 “And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him 10 and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. 11 Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit. 13 And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. 14 And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all. 15 And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, 16 and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.
Thus, the man rejected was their savior.
Moses the Rejected Savior
The story begins with the miraculous salvation of Moses to also rise to a position in Egypt. The story proceeds to Moses:
Acts 7:23–25 (ESV)
23 “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. 24 And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand.
Moses is rejected as a savior by Israel:
Acts 7:26–29 (ESV)
26 And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ 27 But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.
Here it appears that the plan of salvation has failed, but God returns Moses to Egypt as savior:
Acts 7:30–34 (ESV)
30 “Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord: 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look. 33 Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’
The Israelites reject Moses who saved them and also reject God:
Acts 7:35–43 (ESV)
35 “This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. 37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ 38 This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us. 39 Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. 42 But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:
“ ‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices,
during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
43 You took up the tent of Moloch
and the star of your god Rephan,
the images that you made to worship;
and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’
This passage is interesting for many reasons. Here are two. First, Stephen notes the prophecy of Deuteronomy 15:
Deuteronomy 18:15–22 (ESV)
15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— 16 just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. 20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.
The second point of interest is the way in which Stephen uses Amos to tie the Golden Calf to the subsequent history of Israel:
Amos 5:25–27 (ESV)
25 “Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 26 You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god—your images that you made for yourselves, 27 and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.
The rejection of Moses was the rejection of their true savior God.
At this point, it would seem that Stephen could merely move to Jesus and say, In like manner, you rejected the salvation of God in Jesus Christ. But he does not. Stephen moves to the temple. This is peculiar. The people — who have already and continually rejected God — have brought into the land the Temple (and I don’t see the temple as a negative here):
Acts 7:44–50 (ESV)
44 “Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. 45 Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, 46 who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,
49 “ ‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
50 Did not my hand make all these things?’
The people have come into the land, built a temple to worship — and yet as Stephen has already said they turned back in their hearts to Egypt and have been worshipping false Gods.
The solution here goes back to Acts 7:7 where Stephen reworks the original material in an interesting way:
The Lukan Stephen also paraphrases the quotation from Exod 3:12. First, note that a quotation from Exodus has been retrojected into the time of Abraham, to explain that the act of Israel’s worship went right back to the time of the Abrahamic covenant. Second, the phrase in Exod 3:12, “on this mountain,” has been replaced with in this place as the site of the returning exiles’ worship (7:7). In the immediate context, “this place” is to be understood as referring to “the land” promised to Abraham (Johnson 1992, 116), but the connection back to the accusation in 6:13–14 (“this man never stops saying things against this holy place”; “we have heard him saying that this Jesus, the Nazarene, will tear down this place”) cannot be missed. First, Stephen again forcefully but indirectly addresses one of the charges against him. He acknowledges that the command to worship in the temple goes back to the very origins of Israelite faith. By making such a positive statement about the temple Stephen creates more tension: “How could the same God command the Israelites to worship Him in this place (indeed, he set them free so that they could do this) and then, at the high point of Israel’s history (in Christian eyes), intend the destruction of the holy place of worship?” (Kilgallen 1976, 39). Stephen’s explanation and resolution of this problem will come later in the speech.
Mikeal C. Parsons, Acts, Paideia Commentaries on The New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 92–93.
The coming into the land was for worship which did not happen.
This leads to the question: How does this involve Jesus?