Gleanings from Stephen’s Faithfulness to the Righteous One

The account of Stephen’s trial, speech, and subsequent martyrdom found in Acts 6:8-7:60 always sets before me afresh the gravity and seriousness of the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ, a life that consists of both dying and hating one’s life in this world to gain the everlasting joys of presence with the Redeemer (e.g. Mark 8:34-38; John 12:24-26). When I need to observe a genuine Christian, a devoted follower of Jesus and reader/doer of his word, Luke’s portrait of Stephen helps me. There are a few more things I gleaned from this text as I read it this time around and I pray they would be beneficial to your faith also.

First, throughout Stephen’s message he makes numerous references to angels of the Lord mediating God’s words (and/or presence) to Moses and to the people (Acts 7:35, 38, 53; [cf. also Gal 3:19]). The text also notes that Stephen’s face “was like the face of an angel” in 6:15, and throughout chapter 7 Luke seems to portray him no differently than those very angels mentioned in his speech, at least in the sense of a kind of mediating deliverer/interpreter of God’s word. Surely, this highlights that the message concerning the Righteous One (Acts 7:52), in accord with the whole of Scripture, was something they rejected not only in Stephen’s day, but throughout the time Moses and the Prophets announced him.

Second, it seems rather obvious from his speech that Stephen not only read his Bible (i.e. the “Old” Testament), but also (and crucially) did so from the standpoint of faith (Acts 6:5), filled with the Holy Spirit (6:5, 10), and in light of its focus and aim, namely, the Righteous One (7:52). Ought we not learn from this faith-filled, Spirit-wrought, Christ-focused reading the Old Testament Scripture? Furthermore, do take note that Stephen finds that Scripture interprets Scripture. He sees that the Prophets interpret the Law when he quotes Amos 5:25-27 to better understand the people’s rebellion in Exodus; and notice that he interprets the Former Prophets (Josh-Kings) by the testimony of the Latter (in this case Isaiah 66:1-2 [Acts 7:44-50]). Surely by reading the Old Testament with Stephen, we might behold the Righteous One as he did, as well as letting it expose our own rebellion and unbelief.

Third, Acts 6:5 highlights that Stephen is a man “full of faith and and of the Holy Spirit.” We do know the others are “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” from Acts 6:3, assuming the Twelve were faithful to this criteria (as this is clearly implied in verse 5). Surely then, Luke repeats this only concerning Stephen because it anticipates the two forthcoming scenarios he encounters. The first points out the foolish arguing of those belonging to the synagogue (who have not the Spirit), in contrast to “the wisdom and the Spirit with which [Stephen] was speaking” (6:8-11). The second exposes the rebellion of the same crowd in that they are “stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, always resisting the Holy Spirit” (6:51). The connection is straightforward: Stephen speaks filled with the Holy Spirit; the people reject Stephen’s message; the people resist the Holy Spirit. Surely this is highlighted again in 7:55-57. 

Fourth, Stephen’s vision at the end of Luke’s narrative serves to confirm Stephen’s testimony concerning the Righteous One and gives hope to suffering Christians. Stephen just finished bearing witness to the Righteous One whom the people murdered (7:52), and he exposes the fact that in this the people did not heed the Law, nor pay attention to the Prophets. At this crucial point the question becomes, “Who has a correct view and interpretation of the Scripture, Stephen or the synagogue officials?” And, for those readers joining Stephen in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of the Gospel, the question becomes, “What shall become of this faithfulness of mine?” The vision leaves Luke’s readers with no doubts: Stephen “gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, that is, Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God'” (7:55-56).

Fifth, Stephen’s salvation-historical overview with special attention to the people’s rebellion against God’s aim/purpose in the Law and temple, for the most part, contains a similar summary and highlights the same conclusions found in Nehemiah’s overview (cf. Acts 7:2 [Neh 9:7], 4-5 [Neh 9:8], 34-36 [Neh 9:9-10], 38 [Neh 9:13-14], 39-40 [Neh 9:16-17], 41 [Neh 9:18], 42-43 [Neh 9:26-27], 45-46 [Neh 9:24], and 51-53 [Neh 9:30]). Here (again), we find clear evidence of the unity of both Testaments, and thus all of Scripture.

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