The mission of the Holy Spirit was to continue the “Redemptive Work of Christ,” the Son of God. The only way the Holy Spirit can display “His Presence” is through the human body and through the human will, just as He did in Jesus the Christ, who was “Emmanuel” and “God with Us” (Matthew 1:23). The increasing numbers of the believers in Jesus Christ, caused by the healing of the lame man and the death of Ananias and Sapphira, demanded more servants and ministers called “deacons.” The healing and the death also made the Jewish authorities cautiously proceed against Peter, John, and the other apostles. The Jewish leaders detained and warned Peter and John, but they did not kill them. After, and for the last time, Peter and John stood before the leaders and boldly accused them of crucifying the Son of God. Peter and John owed their lives to Gamaliel, who calmed the infuriated council members:
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in the name, yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
When they heard this they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, held in honor by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you do with these men. For before these days Theudas arose, giving himself out to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joining him; but he was slain and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean arose in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”
So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (Acts 5:27-42).
The New Church needed New Leaders
The days of the apostles were numbered. The Jewish high court did not dare to hurt them. But King Herod had no fear of the Hebrew God and he did kill when it pleased him. He was like his father, Herod the Great, who killed the baby boys who were Jesus’ age (Act 12). Herod did kill James. However, Peter escaped and he left Jerusalem. But before the persecution became violent, the people, under the direction of the apostles, chose seven very capable men who became servants of the people and also of the evangelists. Three of these deacons became servants of the Gospel: Stephen was stoned for proclaiming Jesus as the Christ by his own people, Philip explained Christ to the Ethiopian. And Nicolaus, a convert to Judaism, began a Church in Antioch (Headquarters for the Gentile Christians). Stephen was the most forceful advocate of Christ and also the best informed in Hebrew history:
Now in the days when the disciples were increasing in numbers, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they laid their hands upon them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.
And Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of Alexandrian, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, arose and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated men, who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they
came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the lar; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us.” And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel (Acts 6:1-15).
Stephen was Uncompromising in Defending Jesus as the Messiah
Stephen was true to his calling. He was not apologetic, diplomatic, or timid to point the finger at the guilty and at the reason why God was angry at the nation. Stephen had a thorough knowledge of Israel’s history and the reason why Israel lost God’s favor. In his summation, Stephen cited details, which the writer of Genesis did not have. His boldness suggests that he must have heard Jesus himself when he uttered these words:
And I tell you, every one who acknowledges me before men, the Son of man also will acknowledge me before men, the Son of man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but he who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And every one who speaks a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but he who blasphemes against the Holy spirit will not be forgiven. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious how or what you are to answer or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say (Luke 12:8-12).
Stephen’s speech was and still is very important to the Bible student for several reasons. The most important reason was that Jesus was the Prophet Moses was told God would sent to Israel. Stephen furthermore challenged the belief that God was pleased with sacrifices, and that God lived in a tent or in Solomon’s temple. God lived in the Law He gave to Moses! And to disobey the Law was a transgression against the Holy Spirit. Stephen accused the high priest and his members of resisting the Holy Spirit, and that sealed his death. And while Stephen was dying, like his Lord did, so did Stephen, forgive his killers (Acts 7).
Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands; as the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool. What house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’ (Isaiah 66:1-2).
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your father persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Sal. And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul was consenting to his death. And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles (Acts 7:48-8:1).
PERSECUTION BEGAN TO AID THE SPREAD OF JESUS AS THE TRUE CHRIST OR MESSIAH
At this point in the early history of the Church, the disciples had not reached out to Samaria or even into their own country. All the actions and all the events were taking place in Jerusalem. The disciples were in a quarry as to what Jesus had intended for them beyond making disciples, and they were adding many. Some believed that Jesus was soon coming back to restore Israel to a Davidic glory, which would trouble King Herod and Rome. Others, believed that Jesus would come to take them up to a kingdom of many mansions in another world, and that idea must have pleased the Jewish leaders. The truth, however, would come to light when they began to remember, while Jesus was in the flesh, that the Father had not disclosed to his earthy Son a set time to fulfill their hopes. The persecution drove the believers out of Jerusalem and then they were being pursued by a young fanatic Pharisee called Saul of Tarsus:
But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper tobe on the watch. Watch therefore — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning — lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch (Mark 13:32-37).
But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of he Son of man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man.Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth (Matthew 24:36-51).
The Holy Spirit and Philip Partnered Well
The persecution began to move the disciples out of Jerusalem as they had been commanded to do in the first place (Matthew 28:18-20). The first to obey the Holy Spirit was Philip, the deacon, and he went to Samaria where he gathered a congregation that require assistance from Jerusalem. The Samaritans were already baptized in the name of Jesus, but they did not receive the Holy Spirit. Peter and John were sent to help Philip in Samaria to lay their hands on the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit marvelously displayed Himself in the disciples. A sorcerer by the name of Simon tried to buy the magic of the Spirit from Peter and John so he too could perform miracles:
Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power, that any one on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither past nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me” (Acts 8:14-24).
Philip was in the midst of his work in Samaria when a messenger from the Lord had new instructions for him. He was to go and share Christ with an Ethiopian leader who would plant a Christian Church in his country that would become the oldest in the world:
But and angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert road. And he rose and went. And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of Can-dace the Queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure, had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the scripture which he was reading was this: “As a sheep led to the slaughter or a lamb before its shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken up from the earth.”
And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself or about some one else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus. And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized? And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus, and passing on he preached the gospel to all the towns till he came to Caesarea (Acts 8:26-40).