Facing a hostile and apostle-weary council, Stephen is asked by the high priest “Are these things so?“. A simple question to determine, in all likelihood, whether Stephen lives or dies.
Stephen then proceeds to give a wonderful panorama of Old Testament history. Beginning with the call of Abraham (v.2), including Joseph (v.9), Moses (v.20), the Exodus (v.36), wandering the wilderness (v.44), David (v.45), Solomon (v.47), and the general persecution of the prophets (v.52), Stephen paints a picture of God’s people being stubborn and stiff-necked and resisting the Holy Spirit. His point is that they had all the information and evidence to hand to welcome Jesus as Messiah but didn’t. Not only this, but they betrayed and murdered Him (vv.52-53).
This response outrages the council (v.54) and seals Stephen’s fate. Stephen, again, experiences the perfect peace of God knowing that he has honoured the Lord (v.56) and sees the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God, whilst those convicted with the truth of their sin feel only anger and resentment towards the herald of this truth (v.57).
Stephen is forcibly taken outside of the city limits and stoned according to traditional Jewish customs. As this torturous ordeal is taking place his last words were
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then he fell to his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”
(Acts 7.59-60, NET)
Stephen’s last words were of compassion and forgiveness towards those who killed him, and we should be very thankful that they were. Among those present was a man named Saul who went on to write much of the New Testament after his own miraculous vision of the Lord Jesus.
The first to be martyred for proclaiming the truths of Jesus, Stephen’s death paved the way for the church to move beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem and into the next phase of what was promised in Acts 1.8.