In Acts 2:37, we see deep conviction come upon those who hear Peter’s sermon. Stephen’s speech also arouses a deep feeling. But it was resentment (v. 54), not repentance. Stephen pulls no punches (vv. 51–52). His manner and content is not that of a man looking for acquittal. Yet again we are told by Luke of his fullness in the Spirit in verse 55, as we were previously told in Acts 6:5 and 6:8.
Stephen inflames the situation further by claiming to see the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (v. 56). To the Jews, identifying Jesus, a mere man, as the Messiah (Son of Man) was clearly blasphemous, for God is one. So, out of control with rage, they rush to stone him (vv. 57–58). Jesus had ascended to sit at God’s right hand (Acts 2:34). Here He stands to welcome His first martyr into heaven.
Luke now introduces one of the main characters of his narrative, Saul. He will become better known by his Roman name, Paul (Acts 7:58; 8:1). Saul has clearly heard Stephen and approves of what is happening—as the crowd casts the first stones, they leave their cloaks in Saul’s care. Stephen is very much like the Lord Jesus in death—“receive my spirit” (v. 59; see Luke 23:46), “do not hold this sin against them” (v. 60; see Luke 23:34). Was Stephen’s prayer effective? In the case of Saul, it was!
The focus in the narrative now begins to shift, for God’s gospel is on the move: from Jerusalem to Samaria, from Jew to semi-Jew and then to Gentile, from Jerusalem to Antioch, and from Peter to Paul.
Change is a constant for the Christian. But the gospel never changes, though is always on the move, conquering lives wherever it goes. Even through the suffering and pain of its carriers, it continues on in triumph, as we shall see in Acts 8. God uses the death of Stephen to fling His messengers further out towards the ends of the earth. He is the sovereign God who will glorify himself through our lives and even through our deaths.
Why do you think the Jews of the Sanhedrin were so angry with Stephen?
Why does the death of the apostle James (Acts 12:2) get such a brief mention compared with the death of one of the seven chosen men, Stephen (Acts 7)?