“You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”
You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit. Having made his point, Stephen comes up with his counter accusation. These men had resisted the Holy Spirit from the point of God-consciousness to the point of Gospel hearing. Therefore said to be uncircumcised in heart. While they had physical circumcision, they did not have spiritual circumcision in this sense of an uncircumcised heart, which means that when they came to Gospel hearing they were negative toward God. So they rejected the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word.
Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it. Stephen then compared the Sanhedrin with the exodus generation. They refused to believe the Word of God; that generation refused to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (Jehovah). The compound word here for “resist” means to push against. So they had pushed against the Holy Spirit and therefore had opposed or resisted Him. In other words, they had heard the Gospel from Jesus Himself, had heard Him not only speak the Gospel but demonstrate it in many ways. They had seen the signs of His uniqueness, the signs of His Messiahship in the miracles that He performed.
Christ Himself was rejected when He preached the Gospel, but even before that the prophets of old were rejected when they preached the Gospel. These were the prophets who were true to the Word, the prophets who proclaimed Christ. The coming of the Righteous One is not the Second Coming, it refers to Christ coming the first time—the Incarnation. The Incarnation of Christ was the subject of the Gospel teaching of the prophets and it was rejected. So the Righteous One was betrayed and murdered by them. They had rejected Christ even as the prophets who proclaimed Christ in the past were rejected by them.
You who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it. Remember that in Acts 6:11 they accused Stephen of rejecting the Mosaic Law. He now accuses them of having rejected the Law because the purpose of the Law is to reveal Christ as Savior and they have rejected Him. Ordained by angels means that when Moses first received the Law he had angels for his teachers. So in the receiving of the Law in the past angels actually taught the Law and made it real. We know this from Psalm 68:17 and Galatians 3:19. But even though the law has one purpose—to reveal Christ and to make the Gospel clear—they had rejected it, even when it was taught by angels. Therefore they were the ones who were guilty, not Stephen.
“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ Having said this, he fell asleep.”
Cut to the to the quick is a reference to the thinking part of the mind. The Greek word for “cut” is diaprio [dia = through; prio = to cut or to saw] which eventually meant to open up something and understand what is inside of it. So what it actually means here is that they had analyzed the speech of Stephen and they understood what he was saying about them. They understood all of the implications of Stephen’s message, and having understood they react in an extremely violent way. Gnashing their teeth at him was a physical reaction to a mental condition of anger and hatred.
But being full of the Holy Spirit is not an ordinary Greek verb. The Greek verb “uparxo” means to exist or to subsist. In other words Stephen had been filled with the Spirit during this entire time of his trial and ultimate execution. This is a verb for constant existence; Stephen kept on being this way, existing or subsisting in the filling of the Spirit.
Stephen had dying grace. One of the characteristics of dying grace for Stephen was occupation with the Person of Jesus Christ. The “glory of God” was Jesus Christ and He was standing at the right hand of God (not seated). Perhaps Jesus was applauding one of the great messages of all time given to the Jews in approval of Stephen and welcoming Him into eternity. Notice that when Stephen gave his message to the Sanhedrin there wasn’t a single believer in his audience, outside possibly Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea—a supreme court of 70 men.
Their attitude toward Stephen was one of great negativity, but now we see what Heaven thought of this speech; it received a standing ovation. When Stephen looked around and saw this negative reaction from the Sanhedrin he described what he had seen as a part of dying grace. “And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” In other words, he told them that while they were negative in their attitude that Heaven itself gave him a standing ovation.
But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. They were all agreed about one thing and that was to kill him. “Covered their ears” simply means they held their hands over their ears; they didn’t want to hear any more of this. They couldn’t stand it. They “rushed at him with one impulse” means to rush at him in an emotional frenzy. In other words, they stopped thinking. They turned off their minds and became animalistic. Whenever man is without God he lowers himself to the level of animals, sooner or later.
Emotion can be a hindrance to the plan of God and a distraction to the perception of doctrine, as noted in II Corinthians 6:11-12, Romans 16:17-18. The emotional revolt causes emotion to become the criterion, rather than the doctrine. Therefore, emotional revolution in the soul causes the total failure of the Christian life and makes God’s plan impossible to fulfill.
Instead of responding to doctrine in the soul, emotion revolts and takes command of the soul. With the emotion in command, all capacity, love, and happiness is gone. Instead of responding to doctrine in the soul, the emotion responds to mental attitude sins, approbation and power lust, and human good. Then the emotion reacts and revolts and cuts off any doctrine in the soul. Once emotion revolts against the soul and becomes the aggressor, you lose all capacity for life and come under the influence and domination of the sin nature. Your soul controlled by the Holy Spirit must control your emotional pattern for spiritual advance. Believers who live by their emotions are believers whose emotional revolt has produced chaos of the soul.
When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. The witnesses are the ones that actually throw the stones. If you witnessed against someone under Jewish law and an indictment is brought in, then the witnesses had to perform the execution. Saul of Tarsus, before he was saved he was the worst sinner who ever lived because he was the most religious man who ever lived.
Stephen was under dying grace, he was calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Do not destroy them now, in other words, give them a chance to be saved. There were some people present who would be saved and Stephen’s very prayer made it possible for some of the people in that crowd, who were either consenting to his death or actually throwing the stones, to be saved later on. Saul of Tarsus was saved because of this prayer.
Sleep is used to describe Christian death. The body sleeps in anticipation of resurrection. (I Corinthians 11:30; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; Daniel 12:2; 1 Corinthians 15:51) The impact of his life and the impact of his death were fantastic.