In the conclusion to his sermon, Stephen claims the current generation is just as stiff-necked and rebellious as the Wilderness generation, and will therefore fall under the same judgment (7:51-53). The conclusion to Stephen’s sermon draws on themes found throughout the Hebrew Bible.
- First, resistance to the apostolic message represents resisting the Holy Spirit. The people are called stiff-necked. The word appears only here in the New Testament and it appears 8 times in the LXX, usually in the context of covenant unfaithfulness (Ex 33:3, 34:9 and Deut 9:6). To be “stiff-necked” means to “be stubborn, obstinate, or rigid” (HALOT).
- Second, they are also described as having “uncircumcised hearts.” This phrase is also associated with covenant unfaithfulness (Jer 9:25, Lev 26:41, Jer 6:10, Ezek 44:7, 9).
- Third, the people are resisting the Holy Spirit. “Resistance” is a rare word in both the New Testament and the LXX, appearing only here and Num 27:14, where it describes the rebellion of the people in the Wilderness of Zin. The present generation has not accepted the word of God as it has been revealed to them.
Stephen therefore claims the leadership of Israel has the Law but they refuse to obey it. Is it true that Israel has not obeyed the Law? One might argue that they have kept most of it since they do the sacrifices correctly and practice the Works of the Law which sets them apart as Jews (Sabbath, circumcision, etc.) But as the prophets, John the Baptist, and Jesus have all pointed out, the external doing of the Law means nothing if there is not a change of heart – sacrifice without obedience with worthless.
Stephen accuses the present generation of the same hard-headed resistance to the word of God which was demonstrated by the worst of Israel’s kings. Persecuting and killing the prophets who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. Those who persecuted the prophets would include Ahab and Jezebel in the northern kingdom, Manasseh in the south (who was reputed to have killed Isaiah and any other true prophet who challenged him), but also the temple authorities who persecuted Jeremiah. Jeremiah spoke against the Temple and was nearly killed, Jesus also challenged the Temple and was killed.
The most stinging part of this critique is that these prophets predicted the coming of the messiah and were silenced by the appointed authorities of the nation. Most likely the Sanhedrin would have agreed with Stephen on this point, the prior generations were corrupt – but not so the current administration.
This generation has done the same to the Righteous One himself! At this point Stephen joins the Apostles instating that the execution of Jesus was in fact killing the Messiah. That Stephen refers to Jesus as the Righteous One he is emphasizing the fact that he has suffered and died innocently, at the hands of the men assembled to hear this speech! Little wonder they react with such fury.
Finally, Stephen accuses the Sanhedrin (and that entire generation) receiving the Law, but not keeping the Law. They had the Law and the Prophets which testified to the coming of Jesus, yet when he came he was not accepted, but rather he was executed as a criminal. The speech is therefore not critical of the Law or the Temple; it is a stinging condemnation of the people who had received the Law in the first place.