Seal of the Great State of Texas.
Monday, 6 June 2022
Now Saul was consenting to his death.
At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Acts 8:1
Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen).
You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).
Chapter 7 ended with the death of Stephen. Chapter 8 will now build upon that as the persecution of the church takes hold. This begins with the person, Saul, who was just introduced in verse 7:58 –
“Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; 58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’” Acts. 7:57-59
Of him, Luke records, “Now Saul was consenting to his death.” Luke uses a noun found only here in Scripture, anairesis. It is “a taking off,” or “a taking away.” In other words, Stephen’s life was taken away from him. As such, the word can indicate the state of death, murder, slaying, and so on. The ESV gives a good translation of this by saying, “execution.” Another way of conveying the thought might be, “And Saul was consenting to his termination.”
As for Paul himself, by allowing the clothes of the witnesses to be watched over by him, he agreed with what was occurring and may have even prompted each person to give his best shot, or “make that apostate pay.” With this setting the tone for the start of the chapter, the words continue with, “At that time.”
The Greek reads, “in that day.” There was no delay in moving from one event to the next as “a great persecution arose against the church.” The idea here is that if Stephen is apostate, then all those aligned with him – and who are teaching the same doctrine – are as well. There was guilt by association and those people who were aligned with him were to be weeded out.
Stephen died based on his words to the council, and they felt his words could not be condoned in others. Therefore, the persecution immediately began against the church, meaning the people who comprised the church, “which was at Jerusalem.”
Jerusalem was the focal point of all that had occurred, and it had become an established body of believers, united in their belief that Jesus is the Messiah. They met together, worshipped together, and were well established there. This has all been evidenced so far in Acts.
With the doctrine of Stephen now openly brought forth, the council perceived that his thoughts about the apostasy of the leaders did not die with Jesus, but that it had continued on with the apostles and disciples. They could not tolerate this.
Having consented to the death of Jesus, the connection made by Stephen to the past where Israel’s leaders had put the previous prophets to death could not be swept under a rug. The writings of the same prophets who were rejected by the leaders in the past had become a part of their own Scriptures!
What Stephen said was true, but in their arrogance, they rejected his words because they had already rejected the words of Jesus. Surely, they were “different” than their fathers before them. But deep inside, they knew the words against them were true. And so, the witness of these followers had to be extinguished as well. As a result of this new persecution, Luke next records, “and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.”
The words now set the tone for what Jesus had said in Acts 1:8 –
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
The actual fulfillment of His words will be seen in just a few verses. But this persecution now is the seed that will germinate and take root in those areas. The death of Stephen, and the persecution that now follows, is the means by which Jesus’ words would begin to take effect.
These people in the church probably came from those other areas and had simply settled down in Jerusalem to learn from the apostles. With the persecution now taking hold, they would return to where they were from. That is all “except the apostles.”
The apostles probably told each disciple something like, “You go. Get back to your hometown and tell the good news about Jesus. We will stay here and keep the church united, even in its dispersion.” They would be a focal point for people to return to and hear about others who had gone off to different areas, thus the church could be kept united through the efforts of the apostles.
Life application: What may seem like a catastrophe may be just the opportunity needed to get things going in a new direction. This is certainly the case with the church in Jerusalem. There was a time when people needed to separate and begin sharing the news about Jesus beyond the walls of their own houses. The persecution of the church was the spark that lit the fire of this new chance for growth in numbers and expansion in territory, but at the time, it certainly did not seem either pleasing or of great value.
The Lord, however, has plans that go beyond our own limited thinking, and so let us attempt to look for His hand in tragedies, trials, and difficulties. Let us accept that His will is to be done, and if what has happened or is happening is a part of that, we should be thankful that He can use us in such a state to continue His redemptive purposes.
When we look back someday, the wisdom displayed now, and that may be hidden at the time, will become evident. Let us trust in this.
Heavenly Father, how many times have we experienced trials and troubles, and later looked back to see just how perfectly they fit into a greater plan. And yet, the ones we face now seem daunting and even overwhelming. Help us to remember that You worked out what happened in the past, and so we can trust that You are working out what is happening now. We know that You are with us. Help us to see Your hand in the events and to remain steadfast through them. Amen.