I SEE THE SON OF MAN STANDING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD
Acts 7:1-59-7:60 KV: 7:56
“I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
In last week’s passage we learned how the Apostle’s focused on seeking God’s wisdom when practical matters arose in the early church. By not abusing their power or ignoring the pleas of their members they were able to appoint men of wisdom and the spirit and all were pleased by this. As well we came to meet Stephen one of the seven deacons, who was full of wisdom and the spirit. He preached the gospel courageously to his countrymen and when they could not answer his arguments instead had false charges of blasphemy brought against him. But Stephen was full of peace because he could see Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
In today’s passage we want to learn why Stephen gave this long account of the Old Testament instead of a well structured legal defense. We want to come to know how Stephen could pray for his attackers and murders. Finally we want to learn about how to not become stiff necked believers in our day by seeing Jesus at the right hand of God.
Part I – Stephen’s graceful response (1-53)
Stephen was now on trial before the furious Synagogue of the Freedman and the Sanhedrin. Look at verse 1, “Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these charges true?”” Being on trial in court for speeding ticket is nerve racking enough. Imagine being on trial before the ruler of your people! Stephen was asked to make a defense before the tribunal. What kind of defense would you make?
He was charged with blasphemy—meaning teaching against what God said or something untrue about God. Especially he was accused of violating the teachings and customs of Moses—very serious charges that required the death penalty. This situation seems familiar to us doesn’t it? When we remember the conclusion of all four gospels, we find our Lord and Savior Jesus, on trial as well facing the exact same charges before the same Sanhedrin (John 18:19-24, Lk 22:66-71, 14:53-65, Mt 26:57-68). Stephen did not defend himself either but instead looked to the Scriptures.
First - The Land (1 - 19)
The land of Israel as the Promised Land is deeply integrated to the religious leader’s identity and accusations against Stephen. In an impassioned defense Stephen goes into the Scripture and explains where the land came from. Look at verse 2, “To this he replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran.” Stephen is clear in showing that God called their forefather Abraham to the land. Stephen made the point of saying, “the land where you are now living.” God granted the land and even though Abraham had no land of his own and no descendants to give an inheritance God promised all the land of Israel to them (4). Stephen is trying to show the religious leaders that the Land of Israel was given to Abraham because he obeyed God.
At the time of Stephen’s defense the religious leaders did not possess the land—they were merely renting it from the Romans. In fact there had not been a prophet in Israel in the previous 400 years. Why? Because of their disobedience to God. Stephen mirrored Israel’s captivity in Egypt to the current Roman occupation by sharing the purpose of it. Look at verses 6 and 7, “God spoke to him in this way: ‘For four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated.” “But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,’ God said, ‘and afterward they will come out of that country and worship me in this place.”
After the captivity the Israelites would come out and worship God in this place, meaning in Israel. Abraham received the promise and received the land for his offspring when he obeyed God. The Israelites received the land when they became a nation that worshipped God. But when they disobeyed God—they lost possession of the land. The current religious leaders who did not obey God by listening to Jesus did not possess the land they were claiming to defend as their right and heritage. The Leaders had not obeyed God – did not accept God’s sovereign will and had no relationship with God – Abraham had a relationship with God through the promise.
Stephen continued in his defense from the scriptures by moving to the story of Joseph. Look at verse 9a, ““Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt.” Here we see that Joseph’s brothers became jealous because of Joseph’s blessing from God and tried to sell him as a slave. But God protected him in Egypt, look at verse 9b and 10, “But God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt. So Pharaoh made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace.”
What was Stephen trying to teach by telling Joseph’s story? The people who sold Joseph in this passage weren’t just ordinary people—they were the Patriarchs of the twelve tribes—connecting this story to the religious leaders of the Stephen’s day. God also shows that he can work outside of his promised land when those in it become disobedient to his will. God chose the disciples instead of the religious leaders when they rejected Jesus. God protected Joseph in Egypt. We see in the book of Acts that God protected the early church--those who were faithful. God made him ruler of Egypt even though he was sold as a slave—just as Jesus became King and Lord even though he was crucified and buried. Even though leaders were disobedient and persecuting God’s servants, God used this for his sovereign will. Here we learn that God is more powerful than the sin of man and that God is faithful to true believers.
Second - The Law (20-43)
One of the main accusations against Stephen in chapter 6 was that he was speaking blasphemy against Moses and against God. The religious leaders defined themselves in John’s gospel as disciples of Moses (Jn 9:28). Who is Moses? The Bible tells us that he was no ordinary child (20) and from birth he was prepared by God for some special work.
As Moses grew older—after being raised in Pharaoh’s household he decided he would visit his enslaved countrymen. One day he intervened to help, but how did his people react? According to verse 25-29, the people were indignant and although Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, they instead ridiculed him and asked, “Who made him judge and ruler over them?” Moses was rejected by his people.
Even though the people of Israel rejected Moses and he went into exile, God had another plan. In verse 30-33 God reveals himself in the burning bush, God revealed that he is God of your fathers, the living God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, and that he is the Holy God. Through this training God was preparing Moses to go back to Egypt and rescue his people. People rejected Moses as ruler – but God established Moses as ruler and judge. Look at verse 35-36, ““This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. He led them out of Egypt and performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness.”
After all the miracles, mighty works of God, and of God’s mercy shown through Moses—how did the people react? Verse 39 and 42 shows us how well the forefathers listened to Moses and the Law, ““But our ancestors refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt” “This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets: “‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel? You have taken up the tabernacle of Molek and the star of your god Rephan, the idols you made to worship...” Not only did the people turn their hearts back to Egypt—they also built idols and worshipped God’s of evil—sacrificing even their children to Molek—against God’s commands.
Why recount all this history to the religious leaders? Stephen is reminding them that their own history is filled with rejecting God’s prophet Moses and turning to idolatry—which is what they were doing right now in rejecting Jesus as the Messiah. All Israel received grace through Jesus—just as their forefathers received the word of God through Moses--but ignored him and even had Jesus killed—even after witnessing his miracles and resurrection—they didn’t want to hear the truth from God. Stephen was accused of Blasphemy against Moses but the passage shows that even their forefathers rejected Moses. Moses told them in verse 37, “‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’ It was Jesus who fulfilled this prophecy—yet the religious leaders of Stephen’s day rejected the Law and the one prepared by God. They claimed to hold Moses in high regard yet they rejected his words and failed to follow Jesus.
Third - The Temple (44-50)
In verse 44, Stephen briefly speaks about the great blessing of the tabernacle and the Temple from Solomon’s time. ““Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the covenant law with them in the wilderness. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen.
His point was that their ancestors had received the tabernacle from God. God’s presence was with them. No other people had received such blessings. The Amorites did not receive it, the Girgashites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Hittites, Egpytians, no one received any prophets, no one received the Law direct from God, no one received God’s presence in the tabernacle. No other people had such privilege. Though they now had a temple, it had been had been destroyed once before and would be again in A.D.70 by the Romans. Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks (Jn 4:23)” The leaders tried to accuse Stephen of plotting to destroy the temple yet, yet God is not restricted to the temple. God is the ruler of heaven and the earth is his footstool (49). Stephen wanted to help the leaders understand that the privilege was not the building but was the fact that God was in their presence when they obeyed him.
Fourth - Stephen’s rebuke (51-53)
Suddenly in verse 51-53 there is a context switch in the narrative. Look at verse 51, “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” Though they claimed to be the religious leaders descended from Abraham and Moses, yet they are just like their forefathers—stiff necked people—always resisting the will of God. To be stiff necked means to actively resist—imagine someone trying to force your head into somewhere you don’t want to go. The tightening of your neck muscles in resistance means stiff necked.
Verse 52 tells us, ”Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him…” Just to name a few Isaiah was sawed in two, Jeremiah kidnapped and taken to Egypt, remember John the Baptist, and of course our Lord Jesus to name a few. Stephen’s final point is in verse 53. “You who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”” Stephen proclaimed that they were repeating the errors and sins of their forefathers in rejecting God and ignoring his blessings.
Part II – I see Jesus at the Right Hand of God (54-60)
The religious leaders and people of the Synagogue were furious with Stephen for pointing out their sins and stiff necks towards God. Instead of repenting this truth it brought them to a furious rage. But during the physical attack Stephen did not fight back. Stephen should have cursed them all as infidels and could have prescribed some nasty retribution for them. But full of the Holy Spirit at this time, look at what he said in verse 56, “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.””
Such beautiful words uttered in such a serious time. Stephen was under physical attack at this time. No one can say these words under this condition. It is humanly impossible. Stephen reveals what his secret is in this moment. It is to look to Jesus, the Son of Man, and see him standing at the right hand of God. This picture has significant meaning. What does the right hand of God mean? We know that God doesn’t have hands like a man does. But here “Right-hand” means the position of power, authority, and the place of anointing. No man can ascend to God’s right hand—yet Jesus was placed there.
When we see Jesus at the right hand of God it means that we see him as the Messiah, the one who fulfilled all of God’s promises to his people, and the one God prepared to save all mankind from our sins. During this attack by God’s grace and wisdom Stephen looked up to heaven and God revealed Jesus standing at his right hand as a sign of hope and encouragement. Stephen looked to Jesus.
It is easy to look at the Old Testament record and see how the people were stiff necked. It is easy to look at other churches now and see how they are stiff necked people. But how do we as believers make sure that we do not become stiff necked people—resisting the Holy Spirit? The main way to prevent from becoming a stiff necked – spirit resisting person is to look at how you view Jesus. Do you see Jesus as your friend? Do you see Jesus as Buddy Jesus? Or as Martyr Jesus? Or like Stephen do you see Jesus as the Son of God—standing at the right hand? Is Jesus Lord and Christ, the anointed one of God? Is he the commander of your life and the captain of my soul?
The reason the title is “I see the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” it shows how to prevent from becoming stiff necked believers. The religious leaders could not see Jesus at this time but Stephen could. The Spirit of God filled his life and words of Jesus and Scripture filled his heart. In this way he could obey everything Jesus taught. Stephen could have hope in the kingdom of God. Without seeing Jesus as standing at the right hand of God, eventually Jesus becomes a stumbling block to our desires and we need to “change” him to fit our needs or even like the religious leaders cast him aside.
Finally look at verse 59 and 60, “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 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.” With this faith in Jesus and this heart for Jesus, Stephen prayed for his enemies. Like his Lord Jesus Christ, he committed his spirit to God knowing that Jesus will always deliver his people. Stephen also asked forgiveness of the sins of those stoning him—same as Jesus on the cross. Without seeing Jesus as the Messiah, there is no way that one could undergo this situation and actively be at peace. Impossible. But at this time, Stephen’s was peaceful.
You may be saying that, “What can I do? I am not a theologian, I haven’t even read the entire Bible, I have work and kids to take care of.” All that is true but you can start with one thing, or if you are doing this please continue. Luke 11:1, the disciples asked Jesus, ““Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”” It is to pray. We cannot go and meet God in a location, but through his Son Jesus Christ we can come before him and ask to know his will and what our will in life should be. In this way we get to know God and when we understand his will we will no longer be stiff necked people resisting his will.