Jesus Is Standing

This would be his very last sermon. In a short time, Stephen’s preaching career would come to an abrupt end — as would his life. The Sanhedrin had heard all that it could stand. Its members found Stephen’s message so offensive that they brutally murdered him. The “sword of the Spirit” (cf. Hebrews 4:12) had laid their hearts asunder (Acts 7:54), and in a frenzy of raw emotion the group forced the preacher outside of the city walls and then stoned him to death (Acts 7:60). J.W. McGarvey concludes this sad occasion by noting, “This was a strange way for a court to break up; the whole body of seventy grave rabbis, whose official duty it was to watch for the faithful execution of the law, leaving their seats and rushing in a wild mob, amid hideous outcries, to the sudden execution of a prisoner uncondemned and untried.”1/
One particular element of this tragic story is especially compelling. Stephen was literally on the threshold of eternity. His death was imminent. During those last desperate moments of his life, inspiration records that the veil of heaven was somehow opened before him and that he was permitted a glimpse into the court of heaven. “But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!'” (Acts 7:55). A few observations on his passage are in order:
1. Note the Lord’s POSITION. He was standing. Typically, Jesus is portrayed in Scripture as sitting (cf. Psalm 110:1; Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3) on heaven’s throne. But in this passage, the Lord is fixed in an erect posture. Even though Stephen was about to “cross over Jordan,” he was sustained by the image of the risen Lord standing — as a witness, on his own behalf. “Stephen had been confessing Christ before men, and now he sees Christ confessing His servant before God. The proper posture for a witness is the standing posture. Stephen, condemned by an earthly court, appeals for vindication to a heavenly court, and his vindicator in that supreme court is Jesus, who stands at God’s right hand as Stephen’s advocate…”2/
2. Note the Lord’s PROXIMITY. He was “at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56; cf. 5:31; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). The phrase suggests an exalted position of honor, power and majesty. “Who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him” (1 Peter 3:22). Despite the fact that his servant lay dying, Jesus exercised his sovereign rule over this affair. He allowed Stephen to die a martyr’s death in order to finally qualify him for the kingdom of heaven. And he allowed the hypocritical Sanhedrin a temporary triumph, but his righteous judgment would fall upon them in the end (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:6; Romans 12:19).
Believers today can find great comfort in these sublime truths: a) Jesus is not passively unconcerned when we are dying. On the contrary, he metaphorically “rises to his feet” in silent testimony to our offerings of life-long devotion (cf. Romans 12:1,2) to him, and b) from his lofty place “at the right hand of God,” the Lord is not only mindful of our suffering and distress, but he promises to render justice on those who have persecuted us (cf. Psalm 98:9; Acts 17:31; Romans 2:5-8; Revelation 16:7). And while we find no delight in the pain which our foes will experience, their punishment will mean our vindication and also demonstrate our identity as sons of God (cf. Galatians 3:26; 2 Thessalonians 1:4,5).
1/ J. W. McGarvey, “Stephen is Stoned, and the Church is Dispersed,” New Commentary on Acts of the Apostles, p. 132. Cf. Leviticus 24:14; Numbers 15:32-36
2/F. F. Bruce, “Stephen’s Defense,” Commentary on the Book of Acts,” p. 168

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Mike Benson

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