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Summary: They cut Stephen’s speech short; they had heard more than enough when Stephen accused them of murdering Jesus. They were filled with uncontrollable rage and gnashed their teeth at him.

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February 3, 2014

By: Tom Lowe

Lesson II.E.3: Stephen’s Death (7.54-60)

Acts 7.54-60 (KJV)

54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.

55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly 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.

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.

59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Commentary

54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.

They cut Stephen’s speech short; they had heard more than enough when Stephen accused them of murdering Jesus. They were filled with uncontrollable rage and gnashed their teeth at him.

55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

At the very moment they were venting their rage against him, God granted him a vision of the open heavens with Jesus standing at God’s right hand.

The question arises, “How could Stephen, in the council-chamber, see heaven at all?” I suppose this question never occurred to anyone other than the critics of Scripture and the religion of Christ. They suggest that he saw it through a window that looked out on a scene in one of the courts in the temple.

The standing position may imply that the Lord Jesus was standing to welcome Stephen.

56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

Stephens’s words were, in effect, an assertion that the claim Jesus made before this same council, that He was the heavenly Son of man, was not blasphemous, as the Sanhedrin had claimed, but was the very truth of God. Many of the members of the Sanhedrin must have been reminded of those words of Jesus, which drew from them the verdict of blasphemy.

And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. (Mark 14:62)

Stephen claimed without a doubt that Jesus had now become the Son of man at the right hand of God. Jesus is usually pictured as seated at God’s right hand, as He is in Hebrews 1:13:

To which of the angels did God ever say, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? (Heb. 1:13)

It is possible He is represented as rising from His throne to greet this martyr. The name the Son of man does not designate Jesus’ humanity; it is a Messianic title based upon Daniel 7:13-14, and designates the Messiah as a heavenly supernatural being:

I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. (Dan. 7:13-14)

This is the only place outside the Gospels where the title is applied to Jesus.

57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,

The response of the Sanhedrin was immediate and violent. They quickly saw the theological implications of Stephens’s doctrine—Israel was guilty; the Law was temporary; the temple must be done away with—so they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.

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.

It is not entirely clear whether Stephens’s martyrdom was the result of a formal execution or of a lynching. A legal execution would require the approval of the Roman governor, and since this wasn’t acquired Stephens death looks like an execution. However, the mention of formal witnesses as required by law (Lev. 24:14; Deut. 17:7) suggests a legal execution. It is possible that the Sanhedrin executed Stephen without securing the official approval of Pilate. Stephen was led out of the city to the place of execution and stoned. Stoning was the punishment prescribed in the law for blasphemy:

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