He kneeled down - That he might die as the subject of his heavenly Master - acting and suffering in the deepest submission to his Divine will and permissive providence; and, at the same time, showing the genuine nature of the religion of his Lord, in pouring out his prayers with his blood in behalf of his murderers!
Lay not this sin to their charge - That is, do not impute it to them so as to exact punishment. How much did the servant resemble his Lord, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do! This was the cry of our Lord in behalf of his murderers; and the disciple, closely copying his Master, in the same spirit, and with the same meaning, varies the expression, crying with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge! What an extent of benevolence! And in what a beautiful light does this place the spirit of the Christian religion! Christ had given what some have supposed to be an impossible command; Love your enemies; pray for them that despitefully use and persecute you. And Stephen shows here, in his own person, how practicable the grace of his Master had made this sublime precept.
He fell asleep - This was a common expression among the Jews to signify death, and especially the death of good men. But this sleep is, properly speaking, not attributable to the soul, but to the body; for he had commended his spirit to the Lord Jesus, while his body was overwhelmed with the shower of stones cast on him by the mob.
After the word εκοιμηθη, fell asleep, one MS. adds, εν ειρηνῃ, in peace; and the Vulgate has, in Domino, in the Lord. Both these readings are true, as to the state of St. Stephen; but I believe neither of them was written by St. Luke.
The first clause of the next chapter should come in here, And Saul was consenting unto his death: never was there a worse division than that which separated it from the end of this chapter: this should be immediately altered, and the amputated member restored to the body to which it belongs.
"I. The place of stoning was without the sanhedrin, according as it is said, bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp, Leviticus 24:14. It is a tradition, the place of stoning was without three camps. The gloss tells us that the court was the camp of the Divine Presence; the mountain of the temple, the camp of the Levites; and Jerusalem, the camp of Israel. Now, in every sanhedrin, in whatever city, the place of stoning was without the city, as it was at Jerusalem.
We are told the reason by the Gemarists, why the place of stoning was without the sanhedrin, and again without three camps: viz. If the Sanhedrin go forth and sit without the three camps, they make the place for stoning also distant from the sanhedrin, partly lest the sanhedrin should seem to kill the man; partly, that by the distance of the place there may be a little stop and space of time before the criminal come to the place of execution, if peradventure any one might offer some testimony that might make for him; for in the expectation of some such thing: -
"II. There stood one at the door of the sanhedrin having a handkerchief in his hand, and a horse at such a distance as it was only within sight. If any one therefore say, I have something to offer in behalf of the condemned person, he waves the handkerchief, and the horseman rides and calls back the people. Nay, if the man himself say, I have something to offer in my own defense, they bring him back four or five times one after another, if it be any thing of moment that he hath to say." I doubt they hardly dealt so gently with the innocent Stephen.
"III. If no testimony arise that makes any thing for him, then they go on to stoning him: the crier proclaiming before him, 'N. the son of N. comes forth to be stoned for such or such a crime. N. and N. are the witnesses against him; if any one have any thing to testify in his behalf, let him come forth and give his evidence.'
"IV. When they come within ten cubits of the place where he must be stoned, they exhort him to confess, for so it is the custom for the malefactor to confess, because every one that confesseth hath his part in the world to come, as we find in the instance of Achan, etc.
"V. When they come within four cubits of the place, they strip off his clothes, and make him naked.
"VI. The place of execution was twice a man's height. One of the witnesses throws him down upon his loins; if he roll on his breast, they turn him on his loins again. If he die so, well. If not, then the other witness takes up a stone, and lays it upon his heart. If he die so, well. If not, he is stoned by all Israel.
"VII. All that are stoned, are handed also, etc." These things I thought fit to transcribe the more largely, that the reader may compare this present action with this rule and common usage of doing it.
First, by revealing his will to Abraham, and giving him the rite of circumcision, which was to be preserved among his descendants.
Secondly, to Moses and Aaron in Egypt.
Thirdly, to the whole congregation of Israel at Mount Sinai, and variously in the wilderness.
Fourthly, by instituting the tabernacle worship, which was completed in the promised land, and continued till the days of Solomon, when the temple was builded, and the worship of God became fixed.
Fifthly, by the long race of prophets raised up under that temple, who had been all variously persecuted by their forefathers, who departed from the true worship, and frequently became idolatrous; in consequence of which God gave them up into the hands of their enemies, and they were carried into captivity.
How far St. Stephen would have proceeded, or to what issue he would have brought his discourse, we can only conjecture, as the fury of his persecutors did not permit him to come to a conclusion. But this they saw most clearly, that, from his statement, they could expect no mercy at the hand of God, if they persisted in their opposition to Jesus of Nazareth, and that their temple and political existence must fall a sacrifice to their persevering obstinacy. Their guilt stung them to the heart, and they were determined rather to vent their insupportable feelings by hostile and murderous acts, than in penitential sorrow and supplication for mercy. The issue was the martyrdom of Stephen; a man of whom the sacred writings give the highest character, and a man who illustrated that character in every part of his conduct. Stephen is generally called the proto-martyr, i.e. the First martyr or witness, as the word μαρτυρ implies; the person who, at the evident risk and ultimate loss of his life, bears testimony to Truth. This honor, however, may be fairly contested, and the palm at least divided between him and John the Baptist. The martyrdom of Stephen, and the spirit in which he suffered, have been an honor to the cause for which he cheerfully gave up his life, for eighteen hundred years. While Christianity endures, (and it will endure till time is swallowed up in eternity), the martyrdom of Stephen will be the model, as it has been, for all martyrs, and a cause of triumph to the Church of God.
And he kneeled down - This seems to have been a “voluntary” kneeling; a placing himself in this position for the purpose of “prayer,” choosing to die in this attitude.
Lord - That is, Lord Jesus. See the notes on Acts 1:24.
Lay not - Forgive them. This passage strikingly resembles the dying prayer of the Lord Jesus, Luke 23:34. Nothing but the Christian religion will enable a man to utter such sentiments in his dying moments.
He fell asleep - This is the usual mode of describing the death of saints in the Bible. It is an expression indicating:
(1)The “peacefulness” of their death, compared with the alarm of sinners;
(2)The hope of a resurrection; as we retire to sleep with the hope of again awaking to the duties and enjoyments of life. See John 11:11-12; 1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:10; Matthew 9:24.
In view of the death of this first Christian martyr, we may remark:
(1) That it is right to address to the Lord Jesus the language of prayer.
(2) it is especially proper to do it in afflictions, and in the prospect of death, Hebrews 4:15.
(3) sustaining grace will be derived in trials chiefly from a view of the Lord Jesus. If we can look to him as our Saviour; see him to be exalted to deliver us; and truly commit our souls to him, we shall find the grace which we need in our afflictions.
(4) we should have such confidence in him as to enable us to commit ourselves to him at any time. To do this, we should live a life of faith. In health, and youth, and strength, we should seek him as our first and best friend.
(5) while we are in health we should prepare to die. What an unfit place for preparation for death would have been the situation of Stephen! How impossible then would it have been to have made preparation! Yet the dying bed is often a place as unfit to prepare as were the circumstances of Stephen. When racked with pain; when faint and feeble; when the mind is indisposed to thought, or when it raves in the wildness of delirium, what an unfit place is this to prepare to die! I have seen many dying beds; I have seen many persons in all stages of their last sickness; but never have I yet seen a dying bed which seemed to me to be a proper place to make preparation for eternity.
(6) how peaceful and calm is a death like that of Stephen, when compared with the alarms and anguish of a sinner! One moment of such peace in that trying time is better than all the pleasures and honors which the world can bestow; and to obtain such peace then, the dying sinner would be willing to give all the wealth of the Indies, and all the crowns of the earth. So may I die and so may all my readers - enabled, like this dying martyr, to commit my departing spirit to the sure keeping of the great Redeemer! When we take a parting view of the world; when our eyes shall be turned for the last time to take a look of friends and relatives; when the darkness of death shall begin to come around us, then may we be enabled to cast the eye of faith to the heavens, and say, “Lord Jesus, receive our spirits.” Thus, may we fall asleep, peaceful in death, in the hope of the resurrection of the just.
Both in public and in private worship, it is our duty [There are instances where Ellen White stood at the desk while offering prayers of consecration during church services.] to bow upon our knees before God when we offer our petitions to Him. Jesus, our example, “kneeled down, and prayed.” And of His disciples it is recorded that they, too, “kneeled down, and prayed.” Stephen “kneeled.” Paul declared: “I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 3:14). In confessing before God the sins of Israel, Ezra knelt. Daniel “kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God” (Daniel 6:10). And the invitation of the psalmist is: “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Psalm 95:6). AG 91.4Read in context »
The seventy weeks, or 490 years, especially allotted to the Jews, ended, as we have seen, in A.D. 34. At that time, through the action of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the nation sealed its rejection of the gospel by the martyrdom of Stephen and the persecution of the followers of Christ. Then the message of salvation, no longer restricted to the chosen people, was given to the world. The disciples, forced by persecution to flee from Jerusalem, “went everywhere preaching the word.” “Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.” Peter, divinely guided, opened the gospel to the centurion of Caesarea, the God-fearing Cornelius; and the ardent Paul, won to the faith of Christ, was commissioned to carry the glad tidings “far hence unto the Gentiles.” Acts 8:4, 5; 22:21. GC 328.1
Thus far every specification of the prophecies is strikingly fulfilled, and the beginning of the seventy weeks is fixed beyond question at 457 B.C., and their expiration in A.D. 34. From this data there is no difficulty in finding the termination of the 2300 days. The seventy weeks—490 days—having been cut off from the 2300, there were 1810 days remaining. After the end of 490 days, the 1810 days were still to be fulfilled. From A.D. 34, 1810 years extend to 1844. Consequently the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14 terminate in 1844. At the expiration of this great prophetic period, upon the testimony of the angel of God, “the sanctuary shall be cleansed.” Thus the time of the cleansing of the sanctuary—which was almost universally believed to take place at the second advent—was definitely pointed out. GC 328.2
Miller and his associates at first believed that the 2300 days would terminate in the spring of 1844, whereas the prophecy points to the autumn of that year. (See Appendix.) The misapprehension of this point brought disappointment and perplexity to those who had fixed upon the earlier date as the time of the Lord's coming. But this did not in the least affect the strength of the argument showing that the 2300 days terminated in the year 1844, and that the great event represented by the cleansing of the sanctuary must then take place. GC 328.3Read in context »
“That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.” DA 619.1
The scribes and Pharisees who listened to Jesus knew that His words were true. They knew how the prophet Zacharias had been slain. While the words of warning from God were upon his lips, a satanic fury seized the apostate king, and at his command the prophet was put to death. His blood had imprinted itself upon the very stones of the temple court, and could not be erased; it remained to bear testimony against apostate Israel. As long as the temple should stand, there would be the stain of that righteous blood, crying to God to be avenged. As Jesus referred to these fearful sins, a thrill of horror ran through the multitude. DA 619.2
Looking forward, Jesus declared that the impenitence of the Jews and their intolerance of God's servants would be the same in the future as it had been in the past: DA 619.3Read in context »
“Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for My name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.” All this the Christians suffered. Fathers and mothers betrayed their children. Children betrayed their parents. Friends delivered their friends up to the Sanhedrin. The persecutors wrought out their purpose by killing Stephen, James, and other Christians. DA 629.1
Through His servants, God gave the Jewish people a last opportunity to repent. He manifested Himself through His witnesses in their arrest, in their trial, and in their imprisonment. Yet their judges pronounced on them the death sentence. They were men of whom the world was not worthy, and by killing them the Jews crucified afresh the Son of God. So it will be again. The authorities will make laws to restrict religious liberty. They will assume the right that is God's alone. They will think they can force the conscience, which God alone should control. Even now they are making a beginning; this work they will continue to carry forward till they reach a boundary over which they cannot step. God will interpose in behalf of His loyal, commandment-keeping people. DA 630.1
On every occasion when persecution takes place, those who witness it make decisions either for Christ or against Him. Those who manifest sympathy for the ones wrongly condemned show their attachment for Christ. Others are offended because the principles of truth cut directly across their practice. Many stumble and fall, apostatizing from the faith they once advocated. Those who apostatize in time of trial will, to secure their own safety, bear false witness, and betray their brethren. Christ has warned us of this, that we may not be surprised at the unnatural, cruel course of those who reject the light. DA 630.2Read in context »