In chapter seven of Acts Stephen’s defense of the Gospel, which ultimately included proof of his own innocence of the charges of blasphemy brought against him, was presented in the form of a summary of the history of salvation in the persons of Abraham, Joseph and Moses. In a previous blog I wrote of his illustrations of Jesus and the infancy of the Church in the lives of Abraham and Joseph, but by far the main body of Stephen’s testimony lay in his illustration of Moses’ life.
Luke, in the person of Stephen, refers to the time of fulfillment of God’s promise, or something connected with that promise, in different ways in chapter 7. For example, in Acts 7:17 the phrase: “When the time of the promise drew near” refers to the coming of Israel’s redeemer, i.e. to Moses’ birth. Luke/Stephen uses Moses’ birth and the dangers and threats incorporated in that event to point to the threats and dangers surrounding Jesus’ birth and the birth of the Church, which was still in its infancy. Similarly, the next forty years of Moses life is used to indicate the time-frame of Moses’ rejection by his own people (Acts 7:23). Moses chose to help his people, reaching out to save them, but he was rejected. This, too, pointed to the rejected Prophet who would be like Moses and the rejected Body of Christ who was preaching salvation in his name.
Stephen used the next 40 years of Moses life to indicate the time of God’s leading Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness (Acts 7:30), and a final 40 years to indicate the time of the fulfillment of the promises (Acts 7:36). Each period of time in Moses life was significantly important to the fulfillment of the promise of God to his people.
In Acts 7:17 when Stephen mentioned the fulfillment of God’s promise drew near, he says Israel “grew and multiplied” in Egypt. Luke uses this same Greek phrase in Acts 6:7 where the believing community “grew and multiplied” in Jerusalem. It seems Luke through Stephen’s address before the Sanhedrin is showing us that the Messianic community in Stephen’s day was repeating some circumstances that presented themselves about the time when Moses was born. Of course the “hiding” of Moses by his parents points to Mary and Joseph having to take Jesus to Egypt to escape those who sought his life, however, what occurred to Christ at birth repeated itself in the infancy of the Body of Christ in the first century CE.
It was Pharaoh who sought Moses’ life just after his birth (Acts 7:18-19), and in Jesus’ case it was Herod. However in the issue of the believing community, it was Annas, the high priest, who sought to slay the infant Church of God. These rulers dealt subtly with God’s people to the end that their children might not live (v.19). Moses was hidden by his parents for 3 months (v.20); Jesus was hidden by his parents in Egypt for about a year and a half (cp. Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23), but the Messianic community, though persecuted, their lives were protected by God for 3 ½ years (Revelation 12:13-14; cp. Acts 4:1-3; 5:12, 17-18) there in Jerusalem under the very nose of the enemy. Whenever their lives were in danger the “earth” (Revelation 12:15-16), i.e. the Jewish people, helped the Apostles, because the great works done through them by God for the benefit of the Jewish people kept the people friendly to them and a threat to the injustice of the Jewish authorities during the first 3 ½ years after Pentecost 31CE. Nevertheless, at the end of this period the enemy “made war with”, i.e. persecuted to the death, the “remnant of her seed” (Revelation 12:17). These were the Hellenist believers, the “children” of the Gospel (cp. Acts 7:19), of whom Stephen was a leader.
When Moses was cast out (Acts 7:21), he was nourished by Pharaoh’s daughter and he learned all the wisdom of the Egyptians and became “mighty in word and deed” (v.22). Egypt was the land that persecuted God’s people, killing some and keeping the rest in bondage. Jerusalem is referred to spiritually as Egypt in Revelation 11:8, which is shown as the place where Jesus was crucified.
Stephen said Moses was “mighty in word and deed”. This same Greek phrase was used by Luke in his Gospel, where he applied it to Jesus (Luke 24:19). Stephen’s point is, just as Moses was brought up in the land of the enemy of his people and was instructed in all their wisdom, so, too, Jesus was brought up in the Jewish community, as an adopted Son, being instructed in all their wisdom (cp. Luke 2:46-47, 52). The Apostles also learned and practiced the Oral Law of the Jews, just as they were instructed to do by Jesus (Matthew 23:1-3), and although the mighty deeds they did among the people in Jesus name (Acts 3:1-9; 5:12-16, 26) kept the enemy from carrying out his murderous will against them (cp. Acts 5:33), when the children of the Gospel began to do likewise (Acts 6:8) in the person of Stephen, “war” (cp. Revelation 12:17; cp. Acts 8:1-4) broke out against them through the subtlety of the enemy (Acts 7:19; cp. 6:11-14 & 7:1).