Stephen Brought Before a Council Part 6 of 6
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
Only malignant spite could construe Stephen's preaching the very changes God himself had prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures as blasphemy, either of God or Moses. Therefore it was more than mere twisting what Jesus or Stephen had said, more than mere distortion of their words, which was practiced by the suborned (bribed) witnesses. Their testimony was totally false.
15 And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.
And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him.
“And all that sat in the council” denotes the whole Sanhedrim.
“Looking stedfastly on him” means that they stared intently at him. They were probably attracted by the unusual appearance of the man, his meekness, his calm and collected fearlessness, his innocence and sincerity, and his confidence in God, but more than anything else, they “Saw his face, as (if) it had been the face of an angel,” and they couldn’t take their eyes off of him.
Saw his face, as it had been the face of an angel.
This expression is used in the Old Testament to denote special wisdom (2 Samuel 14:17; 19:27). In Genesis 33:10, it is used to denote special majesty and glory, as if it were the face of God. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, it is said that the skin of his face shone so that the children of Israel were afraid to come near him (Exodus 34:29-30; 2 Corinthians 3:7, 13; Revelation 1:16; Matthew 17:2). The expression is used to denote the impression produced on the countenance by communion with God; the calm serenity and composure which follow a confident committing of all into his hands.
Sayings like this are frequently used by the Jewish writers, who represent God as distinguishing eminent men by causing a glory to shine from their faces. Rabbi Gedalia said that, “when Moses and Aaron came before Pharaoh, they appeared like those angels which minister before the face of the Lord; for their stature appeared greater, and the splendor of their faces was like the sun, and their eyes like the wheels of the sun; their beard like clusters of grapes, and their words like thunder and lightning; and that, through fear of them, those who were present fell to the earth.” Something similar is said about Moses (see Debarim Rabba, fol. 75), that “when Sammael (Satan) came to Moses, the splendor of his face was like the sun, and himself resembled an angel of God.”
It appears that the light and power of God which dwelt in his soul shone through his face, and God gave them this proof of the falsity of the testimony which was now before them; for, as the face of Stephen now shone as the face of Moses did when he came down from the mount, it was the fullest proof that he had not spoken blasphemous words either against Moses or God, for it he had this splendor of heaven would not have rested upon him.
The history of the apostolic Church is a series of wonders. Everything that could prevent such a Church from being established, or could overthrow it when established, is brought to bear against it. The instruments employed in its erection and defense had received all their might and power immediately from God. They work, and God works with them; the Church is founded and built up; and its adversaries, with every advantage in their favor, cannot overthrow it. Is it possible, though, to look at this without seeing the mighty hand of God at work in it? He permits demons and wicked men to work, to avail themselves of all their advantages, and to even seem to prosper— yet He counterworks all their plots and designs, turns their weapons against themselves, and promotes His cause by the very means that were used to destroy it. How true is the saying, “There is neither might nor counsel against the Lord!”
Saul of Tarsus was in that council, and it is reasonable to assume that he reported this phenomenon to Luke. As to what it was, many prefer to view it as merely the radiance of holy and righteous zeal in the person of the martyred Stephen; but it is not safe to limit it to that which is purely natural. As Lange said: "It obviously describes an objective, and, indeed, an extraordinary phenomenon." Whatever it was, Paul never forgot it; nor could he ever erase from his memory the sorrow of that tragic day when the first martyr of the Christian religion sealed his faith with his blood.
In this chapter, we have another example of the manner in which the church of the Lord Jesus was established. From the very beginning, it thrived amidst awful persecution, encountering opposition designed to try the nature and power of religion. If Christianity was an imposture, it had enemies who were perceptive and malicious enough to detect the imposition. The learned, the cunning, and the mighty rose up in opposition, and by using all the sophisticated skills, all the force of authority, and all the fearfulness of power, attempted to destroy it in its infancy. Yet it lived; it gained strength from every new form of opposition; it displayed its genuineness more and more by showing that it was superior to the skills and malice of earth and of hell.
1 Shibboleth—a word or saying used by adherents of a party, sect, or belief and usually regarded by others as empty of real meaning.