Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands... Acts 7:48 KJV
The Stoning of Stephen
Stephen was one of the deacons chosen to assist the widows. He is devout man who performs many miracles within the community which enrages the Jews who don't follow Christ. Because of this, they accuse him of blasphemy—which was a very serious crime in Israelite society. When Stephen addresses the issue, he doesn't defend himself. Instead he gives a history of the Israelite nation, pointing out the similarities of his contemporaries to the forefathers who struggled with idolatry. This enrages them even more, so they kill him. Among the Jewish leaders who take part in this is Saul (later known as Paul)! Like Christ, Stephen's last words are a plea of forgiveness for those killing him.
When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.
This marks a major turning point in the history of Christianity. Before Stephen's murder, the gospel was only preached to the Jews. After his death, we see focus shift to spreading the gospel beyond the Israelites. This is important to remember as it often comes up in discussion about prophecy!
The Star of David?
42 Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness? 43 Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: and I will carry you away beyond Babylon.
During Stephen's speech to the Jewish leaders, he quotes Amos 5:26, which mentions the star of a foreign god that Israel has made "their star." The star in reference is the star known today as the Star of David—the hexagram. This star actually represents idolatry. It is interesting that Amos condemned them for it in the Old Testament, Stephen condemns them again in the New Testament, and today that star is on the flag of Israel...
Preaching to the Gentiles
What Does Gentile Actually Mean?
The dictionary definition of Gentile is non-Jew, and this is how most Christians define it. However, if you pay close attention to the Bible, this definition seems amiss. Throughout the text we see Biblical authors refer to Hamites (descendants of Ham) and Semites (descendants of Shem) by their tribe names—Ethiopian, Egyptian, Canaanite, Philistine, etc. We never see the Israelites refer to these people as Gentiles and in Genesis 10:5, we see the "isle of the Gentiles" reference a place where Japheth's descendants reside. Furthermore, the Jews have a particular dislike for the Gentiles that is unlike their "separate-ness" from others. The Israelites frequently intermarry with the tribes from Ham and non-Israelite Semites, and we see in Acts 8 that Philip has no problem speaking to the Ethiopian or the Samaritans. Yet Peter has to get a divine message from God to feel comfortable meeting with the Roman Cornelius, and it is only after Peter shares the gospel with these Gentiles (Romans) that the disciples get together to demand answers.
Acts 8:1-24 covers Philip preaching to the Samaritans. There were already believers in Samaria, many who had already been Baptized—remember when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well? However, the Samaritans had not received the Holy Spirit, so Peter and John were sent to show miracles and bring the Holy Spirit to them. We are told multitudes were saved there.
Among those multitudes was a sorcerer named Simon who converts. Despite believing, Simon still doesn't fully understand. He desires the abilities Peter and John have (giving the Holy Spirit). He proposes paying for the abilities and is promptly rebuked. Simon's desire to skip the work and jump straight to the power is more common than we think. While many of us would not suggest we "pay" for God's gifts, many do have a desire to skip the process of working and expect all the benefits of a full relationship with Christ. Christ Himself said some things can only be done with prayer and fasting, which means we have to grow in our relationship with Him to be able to perform certain miracles (Matthew 17:19-21).
Philip also preaches to a man from "Ethiopia." I put Ethiopia in quotation marks because it is important to remember that here Ethiopia does not reference the country we think of today but rather a broad region in Africa including Cush, Ethiopia, and Nubia. This man is already a believer in the God of Abraham, but he is unsure of how Christ fits into the picture. After asking Philip, he receives the gospel and requests Baptism.
There's a bit of a debate over whether the term eunuch is always literal in the Bible. At the very least it refers to a man who is celibate, though if taken literally, it also means he is celibate because he is disfigured. It was common during the ancient days for those who guarded queens (and concubines) to be emasculated so the king wouldn't have to worry about these guards sleeping with the women [*resists urge to go off on a rant about the sexism involved here*].
Cornelius is a Roman soldier who is a man of God seeking truth. God visits him and sends him to Simon Peter. This is the interaction that requires a vision from God to both men (Cornelius and Simon Peter). When Peter visits Cornelius (and his household), the Holy Spirit falls on everyone in there, including the Gentiles. It is this event that prompts the disciples to convene and discuss whether the Gentiles are to be included in the gospel, ultimately understanding that God has included them in salvation.
Baptism is featured heavily in in these chapters. There are a few things I noticed in these chapters that I wanted to point out. One of the issues I had trying to get baptized in our time is that people don't want to baptize you into the Body of Christ, but into their denomination. When I brought this up to the pastor who eventually baptized me, he made a point about that fact that just as God meant for babies to be born into a family, so He meant for babes in the faith to be born into a family. On the surface this sounds great, but if you read Acts 8, it's apparent that after baptizing the Ethiopian, Philip leaves. Similarly, it does not suggest that anyone stays permanently in Samaria after baptizing the Samaritans.
Another issue I take with the way some congregations/denominations handle baptism is the requirement of baptismal classes. Philip shares the gospel with the Ethiopian, who is baptized on the spot because he truly believes. While we aren't told how much time elapsed during the journey, it doesn't seem to be more than a few days at most and could very well have been a few hours for all we know!
References and Footnotes
- "Gentile". Merriam Webster; visited May 19, 2020
- Joshua J. Mark. "The Candaces of Meroe". Ancient History Encyclopedia. March 19, 2018
- Brent MacDonald. "the Bible and the Kingdom of Cush - so called "Ethiopia"". Not Just Another Book. 2014
- "Eunuch". Bible Study Tools; visited May 19, 2020
- Megan Sauter"Eunuchs in the Bible". Bible Archeology. January 21, 2020
- "Remphan". Bible Study Tools; visited May 19, 2020
- George Lujack. "Star of David or Star of Remphan?". Scripture Truth Ministries. March 21, 2018
- "In Acts 7:43, what are “the tabernacle of Moloch” and “the star of Remphan”?". Hermeneutics - Stack Exchange; visited May 19, 2020