Jesus Christ: Why did He stand at the stoning of Stephen?
In Acts 7 we have Stephen giving a summary of the history of Israel. Then in these two verses we have part of the record of him being stoned to death by his fellow countrymen who had been listening to him. Let’s look at it.
55 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,
56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. [Emphasis added]
We know from the Bible that after the resurrected Christ ascended into Heaven God the Father seated Him at His right hand. But on this occasion, we see that He rose from that seat of honor as Stephen was being stoned to death by his fellow countrymen. Why did He do this? Some people think it was akin to a standing ovation, but Scripture does not tell us that. Some articles you may find on this say Christ stood to welcome him into Heaven. While it may be true that Jesus welcomed Stephen into Heaven, there’s no evidence from Scripture that this was the reason Jesus stood. But surely there was a reason for this, and there was. The first thing we need to realize is that Stephen was a man of God functioning in submission to Him. Note what the Scriptures say about him.
8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. [Emphasis added]
Here this man is standing before Israel’s ruling body known as the Sanhedrin. Here he gives a complete summary of Israel’s history of unbelief and disobedience of God. He doesn’t “sugarcoat” it but states it all in plain, blunt terms.
51 Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.
52 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:
53 Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. [Emphasis added]
What an indictment! Here he’s publicly accusing the religious leaders of Israel of being hardened criminals. Then we see the immediate reaction of these men.
54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed [BRUCHO = to gnash or grind] on him with their teeth. [Emphasis added]
No, they didn’t bite him; they bit down and ground their teeth in frustration and anger concerning what he had said. They didn’t take Stephen’s rebuke well. But the writer, Luke tells us that what Stephen said was the truth they needed to hear.
55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost [being fully under the influence of the Holy Spirit], looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
Then Stephen verbalizes what he sees.
56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. [Emphasis added]
These religious Jews are infuriated by all this because they knew what this meant. Because of their knowledge of the Scriptures, they were aware of the prophetic significance of this. All this was information these religious leaders did not want to hear. Luke gives a clear description of their reaction.
57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,
58 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 [who would later be known as the apostle Paul].
59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. [Emphasis added]
To say that these Jews were mad is an understatement. Again, they knew what all this meant. They knew that Jesus’ standing was going to affect them, not Stephen. Certain principles and certain prophesies from Scripture immediately came to mind. Again, these men knew the Scriptures well, but they were not men of faith. They were not at all ones we would speak of today as faithful believers.
1 The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. [Emphasis added]
Then we have verses like these that make this clearer for us.
1 Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered: let them also that hate him flee before him.
2 As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God. [Emphasis added]
13 The Lord standeth up to plead, and standeth to judge the people. [Emphasis added]
Here we have the meaning of His standing. Yes, they knew Stephen’s words meant divine judgment for Israel. By no means did they want to face it or even be reminded of it. But here Stephen is pronouncing judgment upon them.
A year or so earlier when Peter preached to Israel on the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after Christ’s crucifixion, they were warned. They were then told that this Jesus of Nazareth they had crucified was exactly who He claimed to be.
34 For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,
35 Until I make thy foes thy footstool.
36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. [Emphasis added]
Here, again, we have a quote from Psalm 110:1. In this passage we have not only information about how this Jesus of Nazareth had been glorified, but that He was coming back to bring judgment upon all unbelieving Israel.
This Acts 2 passage tells us that some responded, eager to know what they needed to do to be saved.
37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent [METANOEO = change your mind (about Him being a false teacher)], and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
39 For the promise is unto you [Israel], and to your children, and to all that are afar off [Israelites in foreign lands], even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward [SKOLIOS = crooked] generation. [Emphasis added]
Did they heed the warning? Did they respond with faith, accepting this Jesus as their Lord and Christ? Some did, but the vast majority did not. We have Paul’s words about this at the end of the timeframe of the book of Acts.
25 And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers,
26 Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive:
27 For the heart of this people [Israel] is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
28 Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it. [Emphasis added]
From then on everything would be directed to the Gentiles, not the nation of Israel. For some years, Paul went to the Jews first, but that would no longer be the case. This present time of which we are a part today had fully come. But back at the time of Acts 2, it was not yet known to them what Israel would do. The offer of a kingdom on Earth for them was still being made. But the establishment of that kingdom on Earth hinged on their attitude toward this Jesus of Nazareth. If they accepted Him, the promised kingdom would come.
19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when [HOPOS = so that] the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.
20 And he shall send Jesus Christ [a reference to His second coming], which before was preached unto you: [Emphasis added]
By the time of Acts 7 things are still all about Israel. But a change was about to begin. With their continued rejection of their Messiah and the stoning of Stephen, their judgment would then be certain. God’s wonderful extension of grace to them was exhausted. First, they had rejected God the Father through their rejection of John the Baptist.
6 There was a man sent from God [the Father], whose name was John. [Emphasis added]
Then they rejected God the Son
15 But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar. [Emphasis added]
And finally, there was their rejection of God the Holy Spirit. It is this that is spoken of as their unpardonable sin—blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.
According to prophecy the next event of history for them would be the expression of God’s wrath.
4 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.
5 Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex [H/W–BEHEL= trouble] them in his sore displeasure. [Emphasis added]
30 And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.
32 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call. [Emphasis added]
Around a year after the events of Acts 2 the leaders of Israel knew judgment time was near when Israel heard Stephen speak [at the time of Acts 7]. They wanted to avoid it, but they adamantly refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah to prevent it. That judgment was moments away, but God had other plans. This is where He interrupted the timeline of prophetic history. Right after the stoning of Stephen, we have the salvation of the greatest rebel of them all, Saul of Tarsus, who became the apostle Paul. Instead of dispensing judgment, God dispensed grace. And there was not even one word in prophecy that predicted this.
2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me [Paul] to you-ward:
3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, [Emphasis added]
This apostle Paul becomes the first member of what is now called the Body of Christ.
1 Timothy 1:16
16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. [Emphasis added]
We can all thank God that His wrath has been postponed. It was not cancelled but put off to a future day. So far roughly two thousand years have come and gone since then. What a gracious God we serve!
It is fascinating to note that the one now called the apostle Paul was the one who held the coats of those who stoned Stephen. At that time Paul and all the others knew nothing about what was about to happen. While he was on the road to Damascus to persecute more Messianic Jews, the risen, ascended, glorified Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him. He was then saved and commissioned. Then many years later he writes about these things concerning himself in a letter to a young man named Timothy. Here he’s reminiscing about his past.
1 Timothy 1:13-14
13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.
14 And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. [Emphasis added]
Today God appeals to all, Jews and Gentiles. He wants all people to come to a change of mind and accept this wonderful work God did through Jesus Christ to provide a way of salvation for all. But bear in mind that this offer has a deadline. The day will come when Christ will rise up from His seated position to bring judgment upon the Earth.
25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. [Emphasis added]
So, don’t delay! If you’re not already, today is the day you should be saved. What you must believe to gain salvation has been clearly stated. All this is good news for all of us.
1 Corinthians 15:1-4
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel [EUANGELION = good news] which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: [Emphasis added]
The day is coming when the last person who wants to be saved in this manner will be saved. That which is called the Body of Christ will then be complete and caught up to meet the Lord in the air to enter Heaven. The time of the Tribulation will then begin and end approximately seven years later with the personal return of Jesus Christ to the Earth. That, along with many other prophesies, will then be fulfilled. God keeps His word. Every promise He has made will be perfectly kept and fulfilled. What a wonderful God we have!