After research and analysis, Luke wrote Theophilus with an orderly account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:1-4). Luke followed that volume with a report of the events that took place in the early church. Themes of expansion and persecution and further expansion surface throughout Acts 6-8. Analyzing how Stephen and Philip viewed texts of the Old Testament in light of Christ provides a grid for understanding God’s redemptive work in history.
(1) In Acts 7:3, 6 Stephen began his defense by stating that God appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia, promising Abraham land and lineage even before Abraham was in Canaan. In Gen 12:1-3 and 15:13-14, God made a covenant with Abraham, establishing Abraham as the patriarch of a nation that would be a blessing to many nations through their occupation of Canaan. Stephen was accused of speaking against the temple and the law (Acts 6:13-14). He concluded his defense by stating that God does not dwell in temples made by hands—a note he foreshadowed in his opening statement. By establishing that God appeared to Abraham outside of Canaan, Stephen portrayed a theological point of reference that the Sanhedrin could not refute. In effect, Stephen argued that the temple-centered religion of the Sanhedrin was idolatrous, making the temple concomitant with God.
(2) In Acts 7:27-35 Stephen noted that after Moses fled from Egypt, God appeared to Moses at the burning bush in the wilderness. Stephen advanced his theological argument that God did not dwell in the temple by citing that God appeared to Moses while Moses was on the run from Pharaoh. In Acts 7:27 and 35 Stephen noted that Moses fled when a Hebrew rejected Moses for killing an Egyptian (Exod 2:14). Stephen’s point was that the Hebrew people rejected a man to whom God had chosen to reveal Himself. At the burning bush, God revealed Himself as holy and commissioned Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt (Exod 3:5-15).
(3) In Acts 7:37, Stephen cited Deut 18:15 as Moses’ prophecy that God would raise up a prophet like Moses—to whom God appeared on Mount Sinai. In Deut 18:9-22, Moses commanded Israel to avoid imitating the religious practices of the nations in Canaan. He told the people that God would raise up a prophet from among their brothers so that they could understand God’s word through the prophet and not through signs and wonders, as He demonstrated when He spoke to Moses and the people at Mount Sinai. God’s word to Moses on Mount Sinai advanced Stephen’s argument further still. The Lord appeared to Abraham when Abraham was in Mesopotamia and the Lord appeared to Moses twice, at the burning bush and at Mount Sinai. The Sanhedrin proposed that the temple was God’s special place of dwelling and Stephen cited various instances in Israel’s history that demonstrated otherwise. God was not bound to a place, Stephen argued.
(4) In Acts 7:40, Stephen referenced Israel’s hard-heartedness when they rejected Moses’ instruction and demanded that Aaron make them a god to worship. Stephen looked back at Exod 32:1, 23—when Israel demanded an idol—through the lens of Deut 18:15, which was written after the events recorded in Exodus 32. Stephen’s point was that Israel had rejected Moses repeatedly—even though the Lord had directly revealed Himself to Moses. Further, Stephen’s reference to the golden calf in Acts 7:40-41 was his attempt to note that humanity tends to worship products of their own hands. And the temple, Stephen later argued, was made by hands and was thus unable to house the Most High (Acts 7:48).
(5) In Acts 7:42-43, Stephen recalled when Amos rebuked Israel for their hand-made idols that represented the heavenly stars. In Amos 5:18-27, the prophet confronted Israel because they longed for the day of the Lord without knowing that that day would bring destruction upon them for their idolatry. Amos chastised the people because they were no different than their ancestors who committed idolatry during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Stephen took up Amos 5:25-27 to reinforce that hand-made images could not capture the greatness of the God who created the heavenly host.
(6) In Acts 7:49-50, Stephen cited Isaiah’s prophecy that God dwells in the heavens and not only in the temple. At the conclusion of his prophecy, Isaiah confronted Israel’s empty religious practices. The people sacrificed here and there but their hearts were not humble, and they did not tremble at God’s word (Isa 66:2). Isaiah stated that their problem was theological. They did not recognize God as the One seated on His heavenly throne, not needing a man-made house as His dwelling (Isa 66:1). In Acts 7:49-50, Stephen saw in the Sanhedrin exactly what Isaiah identified in his audience in Isa 66:1-2.
(7) In Acts 8:32-33, the Ethiopian eunuch was reading Isa 53:7-8 and Philip interpreted it for him as a reference to Jesus’ sufferings. On that desert road, Philip interpreted for the Ethiopian the events that had recently occurred in Jerusalem. Isaiah’s pointed description of a sufferer portrayed the sufferings of Christ. Philip helped the Ethiopian understand that the good news of Jesus was based upon Jesus’ suffering just as Isaiah the prophet had predicted (Acts 8:32).