Scripture Reference:Acts 6 and 7.
The Death of Stephen - Story Summary:In the early Christian church, a few years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the believers in Jerusalem put all their resources together. However, the Greek Christians complained that their widows were being ignored in the daily distribution of food.
Stephen performed great wonders and miracles among the people of Jerusalem. Jews of the outer provinces began to argue with him, but they could not win against his spirit-filled wisdom. So in secret, they convinced false witnesses to lie, accusing Stephen of blasphemy against Moses and God. In ancient Judaism, blasphemy was a crime punishable by death.
The accusers brought Stephen before the Sanhedrin, the great council, where the false witnesses said they heard Stephen say Jesus would destroy the Temple. Stephen launched into a powerful defense, detailing the history of the Jews from Abraham through the prophets. He concluded that the Sanhedrin had murdered the prophesied Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.
The crowd became furious at him, but Stephen looked up to heaven:
"Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." (Acts 7:56, NIV)
At that, the mob dragged Stephen out of the city and began to stone him. They laid their coats in front of a young man named Saul of Tarsus. As he was dying, Stephen prayed to God to receive his spirit, and further asked God not to hold the sin against his killers.
Stephen "fell asleep," or died. Other believers buried Stephen and mourned his death.
Points of Interest from the Story:
- All seven appointed deacons, including Stephen, had Greek names, showing that the members of the early church considered it a universal institution, not just another sect of Judaism.
- Under Roman law, Stephen's death was illegal. The Sanhedrin was not authorized to impose the death penalty, but the stoning appeared to be the result of mob action. There is no mention in Acts of anyone being punished for the death of Stephen.
- Stephen was the first martyr of the Christian church. His final words were similar to Jesus' last words on the cross. Stephen was the only one to say Jesus was standing, instead of sitting, at his Father's right hand.
- Two strange things happened as a result of the death of Stephen. First, Saul began a vicious personal persecution of the Way, as the early Christian church was called. Second, Jesus struck down Saul on the Damascus Road, converting him into the Apostle Paul, one of the greatest missionaries in the history of the church.
Question for Reflection:Today, people still persecute Christians. Stephen knew what he believed and was able to defend it. Are you as well-prepared as Stephen to defend against unbelievers' attacks on Jesus?
Jack Zavada, a career writer and contributor for About.com, is host to a Christian website for singles. Never married, Jack feels that the hard-won lessons he has learned may help other Christian singles make sense of their lives. His articles and ebooks offer great hope and encouragement. To contact him or for more information, visit Jack's Bio Page.