DID ACTS 7:60 PREDICT OUR DISPENSATION OF GRACE?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Turning to Acts chapter 7, we read: “ And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.  And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
My personal Bible has a layout that forces a page break after verse 59. Verse 60 is on the next page. Thus, for years, I overlooked verse 60. Whenever I read chapter 8, that verse was right above it on the page, so I would pair the closing verse of chapter 7 with the opening of chapter 8. I never made the connection that God the Holy Spirit wanted me to make. When I did discover verse 60 one day, I was startled. Stephen was praying that Israel not be held accountable for his death. Yet, for some years prior, I had been under the impression God had punished Israel for Stephen’s stoning. Many people have gotten into great theological trouble because they mishandle Acts 7:60 (we will deal with that controversy later). Did God answer the prayer of Stephen? If so, why? If not, why not?
Stephen is said to be a Spirit-filled man; he is God’s spokesman to Israel. Acts 6:5 had already stated, “And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:….” And, verse 55 of Acts chapter 7: “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God….”
In Acts chapter 7, the Holy Spirit uses Stephen to preach God’s Word to Israel’s unbelieving religious leaders. His extensive sermon covers the nation’s history of unbelief from Abraham some 2,000 years earlier all the way to Jesus’ death only a year prior. Israel has rejected her Messiah (Jesus) and crucified Him on Calvary’s cross. Moreover, in the Holy Spirit’s post-resurrection ministry through the Little Flock, Israel persists in her unbelief and opposition to Christ Jesus. They do not want to hear the Apostles preach about Jesus’ resurrection (because His resurrection validates His message). They do not want to hear about His return. They persecute this Little Flock of believing Jews by contradicting them, intimidating them, beating them, imprisoning them, and so on. See Acts chapters 2–5, if necessary.
Back to verse 60 of Acts chapter 7: “And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” If you are a Bible student, this verse should remind of you something uttered in Scripture a year earlier. While Jesus was hanging on the cross, the Bible says in Luke 23:34, “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.” This is very important.
God the Father sent John the Baptist to turn the nation Israel to faith in Jesus Christ (John 1:6-8,29-34; cf. Luke 1:13-17). Alas, Israel allowed King Herod to behead John (Matthew 14:1-12). They have rejected God the Father. When the Lord Jesus Christ began His earthly ministry, they scorned Him and finally demanded that Roman governor Pontius Pilate crucify Him (John 1:9-11; John 19:14-18). They have rejected God the Son. In Luke 23:34, the Lord Jesus prays to His Heavenly Father that He not set Israel aside. Father God honors His Son’s prayer by sending the Holy Spirit to give Israel a renewed opportunity of repentance.
The Holy Spirit is poured out in Acts chapter 2, filling and enabling Israel’s believing remnant (Little Flock, remember—Luke 12:32) to bear witness of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Through the 12 Apostles and others (Stephen, for instance), God the Holy Spirit pleads with Israel for one whole year (Acts chapters 2-7). While some 8,000 Jews are converted to Christ (Acts 2:41; Acts 4:4), there is overwhelming opposition and widespread unbelief. This is where we find Stephen now in chapter 7.
As recorded in the Scriptures, the following happened as Stephen begins to wind down his message:
“ Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.  Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:  Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.
“ When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.  But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,  And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.  Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,  And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.  And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
“ And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep [died].”
In verse 60, Stephen is simply going by what information he knows from the prophetic program. God has not revealed to him or anyone else anything about the mystery program. There is no way that Stephen understood our Dispensation of Grace, otherwise he would have spoken about it instead of Paul. It would not be rightly called a “mystery” to mankind if someone knew about it prior to Paul (Romans 16:25-26; Ephesians 3:1-11; Colossians 1:23-29). The Holy Spirit did not reveal the mystery program to Stephen, and Acts 7:60 in no way predicted the Dispensation of Grace. It is impossible to find mystery in prophecy! An important dispensational distinction will be obscured if we say otherwise.
God did not honor Stephen’s prayer because He had already determined to break away from Israel’s program at that point. Stephen meant well in that he wanted God to have mercy on His people—the people who deserved nothing but wrath. It was no different than when the Lord Jesus hung on Calvary’s cross and asked Father God for an extension of mercy to Israel. By the point of Acts chapter 7, however, God could give her no more mercy. Her time to repent had expired. There was nothing left on the prophetic calendar but judgment. She had resisted JEHOVAH God the Father, JEHOVAH God the Son, and JEHOVAH God the Spirit. Now, God’s justice demanded that His righteousness be enforced. The only way for God to offer grace to Israel—yea, all the world—was to begin a new program. This is exactly what He did. In Acts chapter 9, unexpectedly, the Lord Jesus Christ saved Saul of Tarsus and made him Paul the Apostle. Paul is called “the apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13).
Some people, such as the “Acts 28ers,” claim that God did answer Stephen’s prayer. They believe that God continued to operate Israel’s kingdom program until the end of Acts (chapter 28). They think that Paul’s ministry during Acts was part of the prophetic program, and that our Dispensation of Grace did not begin until the Book of Acts closed. This is far, far from the truth. Some people have simply been misled here. Others (unfortunately) want to be confused because they have a denominational system or theological speculation to maintain.
The fact of the matter is that God’s wrath did fall on Israel in Acts chapter 7. Yes, that she fell nationally is no secret to us now. We can sense something different happened in Acts here, but we do not read about it in the Bible until we come to Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon.
Paul wrote in Romans 11:11-14, during the Acts period (roughly chapter 20): “ I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.  Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?  For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:  If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.” Israel, according to the Holy Spirit, has already fallen—and the Acts period is not yet closed!
He had written in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, during the Acts period, and possibly as early as chapter 18: “ For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews:  Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men:  Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.” Israel, according to the Holy Spirit, has already fallen—and the Acts period is not yet closed!
Jesus Christ Himself said that after His three years of earthly ministry, Israel would be given a one-year opportunity of repentance. Luke chapter 13: “ He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.  Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?  And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it:  And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.” This one-year extension of God dealing with Israel is Acts chapters 1-7. By his own words, He could not continue operating Israel’s program once the Israel crossed the line of persistently rejecting the Holy Spirit’s testimony. The prophetic program ended long before Acts did (unless, of course, we adopt the erroneous idea that all of Acts covered a mere 12 months!!). God will resume Israel’s program one day, exactly where He paused it long ago (see Romans chapters 9–11). For now, the Dispensation of Grace will continue… until the Rapture.