and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."Acts 7:56(NASB)
Stephen was a young man who converted to Christianity at the start of the Church age and was given a leadership role because he was filled with the Holy Ghost and imbued with godly wisdom. He was full of faith and power, and Stephen performed great wonders and miracles among the people, causing many to come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
There were certain leaders in the synagogue who were displeased with his teaching and started disputing with Stephen, but were unable to resist the wisdom he had from above. The religious leaders became increasingly concerned about the rapid spread of Christianity. They persuaded certain people to falsely accuse Stephen of blasphemy against both Moses and God, resulting in his wrongful arrest before being dragged away to stand trial before the Sanhedrin - the religious council of the Jews.
It was under these conditions, that Stephen began to offer his defence of the gospel by delivering a comprehensive oration about Israel's decline into rebellion and apostasy. He began with Abraham, who left the land of his birth to go to the Promised Land. He spoke of the covenant given to Abraham and his descendants. He detailed the lives of Joseph and Moses. He reminded them of Israel's deliverance from Egypt and their disobedience during their wilderness wandering. He spoke of Israel's rejection of God and the greater honour they gave to the Tabernacle in the wilderness and the Temple built by Solomon.
Stephen reminded them that God cannot be confined by man. God does not dwell in a building made by men's hands. God is not restricted by mans' limitations. Heaven is God's throne and earth is His footstool... but Stephen accused apostate Israel of giving homage to the Temple of God rather than worshipping the God of the Temple. He accused them of resisting God's messengers and finally rejecting His beloved Son.
Stephen gave the assembled company a most thorough history lesson of the Israel apostasy, where their forefathers turned the Temple of God into an idol... before turning the same, blistering accusation onto the very members of the Sanhedrin before whom he stood: "You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears!" he exclaimed, "you always resist the Holy Spirit; just as your fathers did before you."
Just as Israel rejected Moses in the beginning, so they continued by reject God's messengers throughout their history, before finally rejecting the King of Glory: "Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?" he continued, "Your fathers killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, and you now have become His betrayers and murderers."
The assembled company had plotted to kill Jesus, just as they slaughtered prophets of God before Him because He did not line up with their ill-conceived notion of the coming Saviour. They expected a warrior who would come with a battle-plan to save Israel from Roman oppression... not a suffering Servant Who would give His life to redeem the world from sin and Satan, death, and hell. Just as they rejected Moses, they rejected Jesus and handed Him over to the Gentiles to be crucified.
The truth that fell from Stephen's lips infuriated the assembled company. They covered their ears, were cut to the heart, they gnashed on him with their teeth, rushed at Stephen, and cast him out of the city to stone him. But Stephen, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing on the right hand of the Father, and said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God."
There are many passages in both the Old and New Testaments that describe Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father, but here we see Him STANDING at the right hand of the Father. In the Psalms, the Gospels, and the book of Hebrews, Jesus is always pictured SITTING at the right hand of God until He returns to earth to complete His mission: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool." And yet as Stephen was being martyred, Jesus stood up - and Stephen said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."
There are those that wonder if Jesus was standing in support of Stephen or standing in opposition to those who were stoning him. Some suggest that this gesture was to welcome the first Christian Martyr into God's presence, while others think Jesus, our heavenly Mediator, was pleading Stephen's case before the Father or fulfilling His promise to confess Stephen before His Father in fulfilment of Matthew 10: "Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father Who is in heaven."
Is it possible that Jesus stood up at this point because He was prepared to return to earth to "make His enemies His footstool; to bring in everlasting righteousness; to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place." Could it be that this was the appointed time to seal up the vision and prophecy, to place all enemies under His feet, to be anointed as King, and set up His Millennial Kingdom? Is it possible that Jesus might have been ready to return and consummate all things... but that Stephen prayed - and his prayer caused the Lord to withhold His wrath for a season - to postpone Christ's return for a further two thousand years as the grace of God began to flood the Gentile world? For Stephen 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.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the godly witness of Stephen, who was filled with the Holy Spirit and spent his life pointing people to Jesus as He preached the gospel among the people. Thank You for the many lessons we can learn from the bold witness of these early disciples who were ready to stand fast on the gospel of truth and die for their faith. Thank You that Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father and that, by grace through faith, we are seated with Him in heavenly places. Open my eyes, more and more, to see Jesus and to pray into Your will for my life. This I ask in His name, AMEN.
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