By Tyson Thorne

June 17, 2014

Conspiracy large

The storm brewing would take form as a conspiracy (Acts 6.8-8.1). When last we read acts it was discovered that a large number of priests became followers of the Messiah, threatening the power-base of the high council and giving credence to the testimony of the apostles. Luke doesn’t provide details to anything that he wasn’t present to account for, but by reading between the lines we can flush out the secrets of the Sadducees.

Needing to quash the Jesus movement they had already empowered Saul to arrest followers of Jesus and even gave him the authority to carry out capital punishment against those belonging to the Way. He was the first century Jewish James Bond, complete with a license to kill. The authority to execute notwithstanding, the Jesus movement was growing and already had large numbers. To take down this sect would require cloak and dagger techniques, not overt threats and arrests like the high council had performed to date. Which is why I think Saul was behind the conspiracy to kill not only a Christ-follower, but the entire movement in a single stroke.

It is conjecture on my part, but think it likely that Saul contacted the Synagogue of the Freedmen and enlisted their assistance in laying a trap that could only end in bloodshed. The Freedmen had certain advantages to their synagogue. First, while Jewish in belief its constituents were multi-nationals which distanced them from the high council providing plausible deniability to the temple chiefs. Second, the congregation was made up entirely of ex-slaves. These were men who knew desperation and who didn’t mind inflicting on others pains they themselves had endured. Saul convinced them to challenge the newly founded deacons of the early church to a public debate.

We know from the first few verses of chapter six that all seven of the deacons were remarkable men, godly in life and deed. Among these men was Stephen, a man of such spiritual fortitude that, like the apostles, he was able to perform miracles. Intelligent and a good communicator, no one was better suited to take on the challenge of the Freedmen. He debated them publicly and convincingly, using the Torah to carefully construct his arguments. While he won every point, the Freedmen were carefully laying their trap arguing specific points about the temple and Jewish law they could then turn into accusations of blasphemy. The trap sprung closed, and Stephen was arrested.

Twisting Stephen’s words and arguments they convinced some of the people and of course the high council of his guilt. A stoning was coming, but not until at least some semblance of order would be wrought. Stephen would be permitted to defend himself before the high council. It may have been a futile act, but Stephen’s speech – the longest recorded in the book of Acts – reveals some of the best thinking early Christianity had to offer. We’ll examine his speech in greater detail in the days to come.

The trap was set, sprung, and now Stephen was captured with the temple priests moving in for the kill. Interestingly there is Saul in the background, likely orchestrating the events like a seasoned puppet master, and giving his approval (Acts 8.1). This was the first and largest step in his plan, from this day forward he would simply have to mop up the rest of the Jesus-followers.

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