And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
Understanding And Applying the Text
Here we see God’s sovereignty at work. Christ’s final words before ascending to heaven were. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
The church was doing a good job preaching in Jerusalem. But they ignored Judea, Samaria and the rest of the world. So God kicked them out of Jerusalem. The church scattered. And they went throughout Judea and Samaria. The Gospel spread as Christ commanded.
Luke tells us the same day they stoned Stephen, the church came under persecution. All feeling of humanity had left the Jews. Once they shed innocent blood, an unquenchable blood thirst came over them. Once they started they would not stop.
The church scattered first to Judea and Samaria. God tore down the wall the Samaritan and Jews had built between them. Samaria was the first fruits of the calling of the Gentiles.
Luke says they all scattered except for the apostles. Why did not the apostles leave? They had Christ’s command and they too were under persecution. And it was not like they could keep a low profile. Luke does not tell us. But my guess is two-fold. First, there was still a lot of work to do in Jerusalem. Second, Jerusalem was the hub. Fleeing would discourage the church.
We know also that Luke’s use of the word all (they were all scattered) does not mean, “every single one.” Otherwise, Saul would have had no one to persecute.
The Jerusalem church remained active after this. Luke used “all” as hyperbole. It is possible to argue that only the Hellenistic Christians scattered. The fact the Hellenistic Jews are the focus of Acts 6-8 helps support this thesis. One could also argue the Jews focused on Hellenistic Jews because of Stephen. Stephen is a Greek name. He was probably a Hellenistic Jew.
Stephen became the church’s first martyr. Devout Christian men wrapped his body and buried him. They exercised their faith in doing so. They did not leave his body to the wild beasts,
The men who buried Stephen mourned his death. They wept and cried. As a rule, lamentation was not allowed for someone stoned to death. (Sanhedrin 6:6). Luke’s remark points to an unjust death.
They had lost a pillar in the church and good friend. Some have claimed a Christian should not weep when another Christian dies. They are wrong!
It is like what happened after I married my wife. I was in the Marine Corps. We were married a week. I was transferred to another duty station. My wife could not come. I knew we would be back together. I knew she was still my wife. I knew this was not permanent. But I missed her presence then and there. I wept at leaving her. The same is true when a loved one dies. Even though we know we will see them again, we miss them now. It is not improper to weep when a loved one dies.
The men who buried Stephen stood firm in the face of persecution. The Jews had killed Stephen. What would make these men think the same would not happen to them too.
Godly men mourn for Steven and buried him. They show him honor but no one prayed to him. There is no mention or enshrinement of relics.
While the Church was burying Stephen, Saul began his persecution of the Church. The Greek verb is strong. It means more than harassment. This was an attempt to destroy the church.
Saul went door-to-door dragging Christians out and imprisoning them. Young and old men and women, they were all thrown in jail.
As you read later in Paul’s letters this was an action that haunted him the rest of his life.
While he believed he was doing God’s will. He was actually fighting against God. Let us be wary of our own actions.