Acts 6-7 records a controversy between Stephen and those in the synagogue of the Libertines (Acts 6:9-10). The controversy concluded with Stephen being taken and tried before the Jewish council. There he was charged with speaking against both the temple and law for his accusers said they had heard him say that “Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place and change customs Moses delivered unto us” (Acts 6:14).
When Stephen was allowed to speak in his defense, he began by recounting the origin of the nation with Abraham, passing through to the brothers of Joseph who sold him into bondage. Joseph’s rise to the position of second in the kingdom, his bringing his family to Egypt, and their decline from a favored role with Egyptians to a place of slavery which position became severe indeed. It was during this period of bondage that Moses was born, and as a baby would have been drowned because the Egyptians had decreed that all Israelite male babies were to be thrown into the river. But Pharaoh’s daughter took pity on him and reared him as her own son. He was educated in all the knowledge and learning of the Egyptians. The time came, however, when Moses became concerned about his people’s well-being. Moses attempted to rectify some wrong an Egyptian was doing to an Israelite, and in the process killed the Egyptian. The next day Moses visited his people again, saw two Israelites contending with other, and when Moses tried to reconcile the two, the one who was wrong asked Moses, “Man, who thee a ruler and judge over us? Will you kill me as you did the Egyptian?” (Acts 7:27).
Stephen continued his history of his people. He showed how that although Moses had been rejected by his people, God later sent him to deliver them from their bondage, and that God had shown He approved of and had sent Moses by working many miracles by him in Egypt. Thus Moses became both their deliverer and lawgiver. Yet, during the time of his leading the people through the wilderness, they were a rebellious people and when they should have appreciated what he had done for them, they murmured and complained against him continually. They even made a golden calf which they worshipped. As a result, all the people of the nation who were adults when they left Egypt never saw the land for which they longed. They died in the wilderness. Even of those who entered Canaan, the spirit of the nation’s fathers against God’s leaders continued: through the years they persistently mistreated or killed those whom God sent.
During Moses’ leading them, he told them that God would raise up a prophet unto them, like him. Unto that prophet they were to harken in everything he commanded, and that the person who would not harken to that prophet would be utterly destroyed from among the people (Deuteronomy 18:15). That prophet who would be like Moses was Jesus (Acts 3:20-26). Just as the nation had treated Moses, so they treated the Prophet who was like him.
Abruptly Stephen changed the tenor of his speech. He said, “Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed them that showed before of the coming of the Righteous One, of whom ye have now become betrayers and murderers; ye who received the law as it was ordained by angels and kept it not” (Acts 7:51-53). Like fathers, like sons. Stephen’s words were more than his judges, his hearers could tolerate. Although they were cut to their heart, they gnashed their teeth against him, stopped their ears against his words, seized, and killed him. They had, like an ancient Israelite before them, said to the Prophet like Moses whom God had sent before Him, “Who made thee a ruler and judge over us?” for to reject those whom Christ sent was to reject Him.
Men still say to Jesus, who was approved of and sent by God, “Who made thee a ruler and judge over us?” Psalm 2 describes those with these words, “Why do the nations rage and the people meditate a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against Jehovah and against his anointed saying, Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord will have them in derision. Then will he speak to them in his wrath and vex them in his sore displeasure. Yet I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion” (vv. 1-6).
Who can resist God? God’s Son is our ruler and judge and has set a day in which He will judge all men regarding how we have received Him and His Word. “Today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8).