Friday, February 3, 2012

The Stoning of Stephen and its Significance

The Stoning of Stephen
photo by Ted Bobosh

Jesus stood in heaven to honor the death of the first Christian martyr.

Jesus Was Sitting at the Right Hand of God

The Old Testament of the Holy Bible often relates the "right hand of God" with the Messiah. Several of the Psalms, including 17, 18, 60 and 78, indicate God saves and sustains His people by his right hand. Psalm 44 says that Israel won their land through God's right hand. Psalm 110, the great Messianic psalm sung by David, shows God the Father saying to Christ, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."

Hours before His death on the cross, Jesus said He was going to go sit at the right hand of His Father, and Mark 16:19 corroborates that He did exactly that. The gospels in the New Testament present Jesus as sitting at this special place near God after His ascension to heaven.

The Stoning of Stephen

Stephen was a godly man, able to perform miracles in the name of Jesus and chosen by the twelve apostles to be one of the first deacons. He was getting a lot of attention in first century Jerusalem, and a group of visiting Jewish foreigners called the Synagogue of the Freedmen were very disturbed. Stephen was boldly teaching about Jesus being the Messiah and calling his countrymen, fellow Jewish citizens, to repent from their sin and follow Jesus, too.

These visitors from the regions of Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia stirred up the local people, elders and teachers against Stephen. He was brought before the Sanhedrin, the judicial body, with charges of blasphemy, which was a very serious offense. Stephen was questioned, and his reply was a long, bold speech about Israel's history leading up to Jesus Christ, and a comparison of the distinguished members of the Sanhedrin to their corrupt ancestors from the darkest periods of Israeli history.

The Sanhedrin members were angry at Stephen's beliefs and audacious disrespect, losing all sense of self-control. They gnashed their teeth in rage, yelled at the top of their lungs, rushed at him and dragged him out of the city. These dignified, elite judges administered Stephen's supposed sentence themselves, quickly and without a fair hearing, breaking his body with stones until he was dead.

When Jesus Stood

Jesus was sitting at the right hand of God while Stephen was being grilled by the Synagogue of the Freedmen and the Sanhedrin. However, the first murder of one of His followers was an occasion to be recognized, and He did something very unusual to show honor to His servant.

He stood.

At that precise moment, Stephen was allowed a special vision, as he "looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56, NIV)." 'Look,' he said, 'I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." This is the only time Jesus is described as standing at God's right hand, indicating the profound significance of Stephen's sacrifice.

When reading about the early church, it is apparent the Lord regarded Stephen's martyrdom as very holy. The passage shows Jesus acknowledging the beginning of Christian persecution and the high degree of esteem He gives those who pay the ultimate price.


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