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Acts 7:51-60 (web)

The Stoning of Stephen

7:51 "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, 
you always resist the Holy Spirit! As your fathers did, so you do. 
7:52 Which of the prophets didn't your fathers persecute? 
They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, 
of whom you have now become betrayers and murderers. 
7:53 You received the law as it was ordained by angels, and didn't keep it!" 

7:54 Now when they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, 
and they gnashed at him with their teeth. 
7:55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, 
and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, 
7:56 and said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" 
7:57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and rushed at him with one accord. 
7:58 They threw him out of the city, and stoned him. 
The witnesses placed their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 
7:59 They stoned Stephen as he called out, saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit!" 
7:60 He kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, "Lord, don't hold this sin against them!"
When he had said this, he fell asleep. 


Reaction to Rebuke

Jesus and Stephen really weren't killed for teaching heresy. They were really put to death for humiliating proud elite institutional leaders. A man's level of humility can be seen by how they react to rebuke. The proud become irrationally angry and bloodthirsty, seeking revenge. They cannot be reasoned with. God filters out the proud from entering the kingdom by laying the path to righteousness upon a road of humiliation that only the humble will travel.

Stephen's Vision

Once again we see a parallel to Jesus' trial. For at his trial Jesus proclaimed to the high priest, "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." Mark 14:62 But he was not sitting for Stephen. Rather he was standing in honor of him. This was an even greater insult and blaphemy from the point of view of the religious leaders.

Stephen's Death

"Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints."Ps 116:15

Stephen would be the first Christian martyr. It is apparent that he tried to conform his death to that of Christ, as we can see in his two expressions of faith.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Acts 7:59 Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last." Lu 23:46 
Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep." Acts 7:60  Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Lu 23:34

It seems significant that in the end he prayed not to the Father, but to Jesus. And it is also clear that to him "Lord" was synonomous to "Jesus". For those who reject the diety of Christ I ask: Who are you going to pray to when you die? And who are you going to ask concerning the forgiveness of sins? Furthermore those who are of a Catholic background may have been indoctrinated with the impression that the Bible advocates praying to dead people. Just the opposite is true. The Law says, "Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft,  or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead." Deut 18:10,11 As such the Catholic practice of praying to dead people is satanic. King Saul called up the prophet Samuel from the dead through a medium, who then rebuked him for doing so. And today Catholic necromancers prophecy in the name of the Virgin Mary. I know of no examples in the Bible of the righteous praying to anyone other than God the Father or Jesus. Praying to Jesus puts Jesus in the place of God. As such the unbelieving Jews reckoned it the final blasphemy and so stoned him to death.

Forgiveness of Sins

Another significant aspect of this is that Stephen's prayer implies that Christians can actually get God to forgive the sins of unbelievers to a degree. Or are we to say that Stephen in vain or for showed prayed for this particular sin commit against him to be forgiven them? I don't think so. I think that on judgement day God will actually pass over this particular sin committed by these people. But this is not to say that He will pass over other sins committed in their lives. Yes you can affect even the eternal judgement of unbelievers by asking God to forgive the sins committed against you. But I think this is limited to sins committed against us personally. If they end up among the unredeemed in the judgement, I infer their punishment will be reduced somewhat through such forgiveness.

The Apostle Paul may largely been a fruit of Stephen's death. It may have been in deference to Stephen's prayer that God chose His 12th Apostle among those who murdered him. Stephen had a clear grasp of the concept of God's grace, of which Paul would be most exemplary. And we note also that in previous chapters when the other apostles were beaten by the council they only rejoiced in faith. But Stephen went further in that he prayed for them even to death in an intercessory fashion one can only liken to Moses who prayed for the idolatrous Israelites after they made the golden calf.

Then he fell asleep

When Jesus and the New Testament authors speak of the death of the righteous they often refer to it as falling asleep. For eternal life is not a physical state of the body, but a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. (John 17:3). Such a relationship continues even after death while we await our resurrection from the dead. But in contrast to this there are those walking around us who are dead. "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." 1John 5:12

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jun 09,2023