Key Text: Acts 7:54-60
When Christians are being persecuted or even simply mistreated because of our expression of faith in Jesus, we have the empathetic attention of Jesus. Whether we express our faith through current events or ancient scriptures, the truth is the truth, and it sometimes brings great pain when worldly people reject it. They are contributing to the afflictions of Christ, which we share in. Realize Colossians 1:24 can become a reality in our life. Remember Stephen is preaching before the old High Priest, here we may suggest that this is another late attempt by God to help His enemies accept the truth, or be left to the destructive devices of the Roman Empire in just about 30 years.
Jesus is seen more clearly by ourselves when we grow with the Holy Spirit, bearing His fruit. We are also commanded to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, 2Pt. 3:18, Gal. 5:22-23. When we are growing spiritually, we see the Spirit of Christ. There are stories galore, that while martyrs are under pain of death, they often see visions of Christ, and there is no reason to suspect it’s a lie. Notice Stephen only sees Jesus, he doesn’t hear him or receive a new revelation. One day, we will all gaze upon his glory, Rev. 1:7. Meanwhile, we should ensure that we are truly Christians by His presence in our heart, read, 2nd Cor. 13:4-6. When Stephen announced the opening of Heaven, he offended the Jews, who believed no one could share God’s place in heaven. The phrase is a variation on Psalm 110:1. The last time we saw the Heaven’s opened, was at the baptism of Jesus and no doubt they were opened when Jesus ascended, Mt. 3:16. When Stephen calls Jesus the “Son of Man”, he is telling his enemies that their Messiah is victoriously glorified, see Psalm 80:17. We too, have every right to proclaim Jesus as the only hope of winning in this life, to our neighbors and enemies.
Since Jesus is standing when Stephen sees him, it may imply Christ is ready to receive Stephen into paradise, Lk. 16:22. Christ promised to confess our name in heaven before the Father, whenever we confess His name before men on earth, Mt. 10:32. Therefore it is an honor that Jesus would stand in glory to receive us on the last day, 2nd Thess. 1:10. When Stephen actually saw Jesus, he experienced a transcendent state that was probably similar to Ezekiel’s gaze upon Jerusalem from Babylon, Ezk. 8:1-8. But of course Stephen’s view was far more glorious. Why was his eyes not blinded, as Saul’s on the road to Damascus? Because Stephen was a saint and Saul was an enemy!
When we understand how offended and incredible the statements of Stephen are, to his enemies, we can appreciate how they would stop their own ears and rush to condemn him without any kind of trial, their angry rejection of the truth, spilled over into unjustified violence. Later after they calmed down when Stephen was dead, they could self-justify their execution as avenging God of Stephen’s blasphemy. Jesus prophesied this kind of behavior in John 16:2.
Where did Stephen find the strength to pray like Jesus on the cross? By keeping his eyes fixed on Jesus. The Hebrew writer reminds us of this same duty that we have, Heb. 12:2. The irony of this stoning, is that this crime is exactly what Stephen just preached to them about, which is condemning themselves, 7:52. One such Jew guilty of this condemnation was Saul, here Jesus sees Saul’s heart and knows it is being ‘goaded’, with the truth of Stephen’s message. The words of Jesus about being hard to kick against the goad, is only in a few manuscripts, (Arabic, Syriac, and 11th century Greek), but it reflects the omniscience of Jesus, he knew Saul’s heart, Stephen’s heart and ours.