Chapter seven of Acts represents Stephen’s defense, but not just for himself, but of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God with Jesus as Lord or the Messiah. The accusation against him is stated twice in Acts 6, once in verse-13 and then for a second time in verse-14. It is worded differently, but, nevertheless means the same, and in reference to this the high priest (probably Annas) asks Stephen: “Are these things so?”
Stephen’s defense of the Gospel and ultimately his own plea of innocence to the charges against him is a short summary of the history of salvation. Stephen chose the Scriptural accounts of Abraham, Joseph and Moses to illustrate the Gospel and its rejection by those very people before whom he stood.
Indeed, Israel had an exclusive past, in that, they had a wonderful relationship with the God of glory who created them and everyone and everything else that exists. The problem was that, though the patriarchs lived their lives in trust of what God promised in the future, the Jewish nation of Stephen’s day lived out their lives in traditions of a solidified past, forcing their present behavior to fulfill the errors of the fathers they imitated.
Abraham was commanded to come out of the country of his birth and from among his kindred; not knowing where God wished to take him (Acts 7:3). Similarly, the believer is called by God to come out of the world and from among our people (Luke 14:33; 2Corinthians 6:17) to a place we don’t know, and just as Abraham did not enter the promised land until after the death of his father (Acts 7:4), so we could not enter the Kingdom of God until after the death of our Savior, the Everlasting Father (cp. Isaiah 9:6), who is Jesus! Just as is pictured in the living example of Abraham who was not given so much as a place to set his foot upon in the Promised Land (Acts 7:5), so the believer has no inheritance in the Kingdom of God until after Jesus returns (Luke 19:11-27). Indeed, the promises won’t be fulfilled for many generations, and we will be treated abusively, while we wait upon the Lord just as Abraham’s descendents waited for the coming of Moses (Acts 7:6; cp. John 16:1-2, 33 and Acts 14:22).
When the time was fulfilled, God judged Egypt for how they treated Abraham’s descendents before he brought them into their inheritance (Acts 7:6-7). Similarly, the Lord will judge the world for how they received the Gospel and for how they treated those who proclaim it (Matthew 25:310-46). Meanwhile we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, the earnest of our inheritance (Acts 2:1-4; Ephesians 1:13-14) to set us apart to God, while we are in this world, just as circumcision was given to Abraham and his descendents (Acts 7:8).
No single figure in history exactly or completely fulfills the picture of salvation except Jesus. Therefore, Stephen at this point turned from Abraham to Joseph for his next example to express the truth of the Gospel and his own innocence thereby.
Joseph’s dreams were from God, but Joseph’s brethren, the patriarchs, rejected his words about the dreams given him by God (Acts 7:8-9). They wanted to kill their brother and sold him to Egypt, but just as the word of God came to Abraham in the foreign land of Mesopotamia, so, too, God was present with and faithful to Joseph in Egypt—away from the Promised Land—and delivered him out of all his afflictions (Acts 7:10). Stephen used these incidents of Joseph’s life to express how Jesus’ own brethren rejected him and handed him over to the Gentiles to be crucified. Nevertheless, God delivered him out of death through the resurrection.
Joseph’s brethren did not recognize Joseph in his first appearance to them, but in his second (Acts 7:13). At that time Joseph called his brethren and their families to be with him and enjoy all that he had (Acts 7:14). Stephen’s intent in showing this was to express how the Jewish leaders had rejected Jesus during his first appearance on earth, but will be recognized by them when he returns, whereupon he will embrace his brethren and give them their inheritance in the Kingdom of God.