In the first century, sometime after 30 AD a Jewish zealot was fearful that the Jesus movement would ruin his religion. Thus, Saul used the Synagogue of the Freedmen as a pawn to attack the character of a newly appointed apostle. While Jesus choose to remain silent when brought him before the Council (Sanhedrin, Jewish High Court), Stephen defended his faith. Just as religious leaders accused Jesus of de-emphasizing some of the ten commandments, Stephen was of charged with committing blasphemy against Moses and God. Luke records Stephen’s entire defense in Acts 7.
Now when they heard this [accusation and understood its implication], they were cut to the heart, and they began grinding their teeth [in rage] at him, Acts 7:54.
Without any notes, Stephen gives an unshakable defense of his faith. As if reading the Bible which wasn’t available for another 300 years, Stephen summarizes the Bible from the patriarchs to the crucifixion of Jesus. The passage above is the response of the Sanhedrin. These men were convicted and enraged at the same time. Luke’s choice of words give the appearance of a pack of wolves ready to pounce upon their prey. Despite this reaction, Stephen didn’t apologize, backdown or retract his previous comments. Rather, Stephen was prepared to become the first Christian martyr post Jesus.
But he, being full of the Holy Spirit and led by Him, gazed into heaven and saw the glory [the great splendor and majesty] of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Look! I see the heavens opened up [in welcome] and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they shouted with loud voices, and covered their ears and together rushed at him [considering him guilty of blasphemy], Acts 7:55-57.
On the verge of death, the Holt Spirit fixed Stephen’s mind on his future destiny in heaven. Just as this council was about to pick up stones to form a firing line, Stephen gazed into heaven. This vision is verbalized causing Sanhedrin members to take off their outer robe so that each could throw their stone as hard as possible. Unfazed by this commotion, the Holy Spirit enabled Stephen to drown out the noise. Instead of focusing on the gory details of death, Luke simply states that Stephen fell asleep, unshakable until the very end of his life.
by Jay Mankus