But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. (verses 55-58)
Stephen’s defence before the Sanhedrin has involved a long survey of Israel’s history, tracing through the stories of Abraham and the patriarchs, Moses and the Promised Land, and David and Solomon and the building of the Temple. In the process, Stephen briefly reminds us that Moses had declared, “God will send a prophet like me from your own people” (verse 37) – a clear, but veiled, reference to Jesus. Beyond that, the only other mention of Jesus comes in the final two verses, where Stephen simply refers to him as the “Righteous One.”
But I have no doubt Stephen had Jesus clearly in his line of sights all the way through his speech. After all, he was on trial for Jesus’ name. He was filled with the very Spirit of Jesus himself. And ultimately, he was seeking to bring conviction to hearts that had, till now, rejected the Saviour and his work.
But the capper comes when Stephen looks to heaven and sees Jesus himself standing in glory at the right hand of God. In that sighting, the whole narrative finds its focus. As Stephen declares what he sees, the spotlight shines on Jesus as the One exalted above all.
Yet Stephen doesn’t actually use Jesus’ name. Rather, he calls him “Son of Man,” a title Jesus had used so often as a self-designation that presumably the Sanhedrin themselves had no doubt about the reference. It’s why they respond with such rage. And the title itself brings to mind Daniel’s vision from the Old Testament when he saw one “like a son of man” coming on the clouds of heaven, approaching the throne of God and receiving all authority, glory and sovereign power.
“Son of Man” speaks of the glory of the exalted Christ.
But it speaks, too, of his humility and sacrifice. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
The totality of the story is brought together in Stephen’s sighting.
And when, in his own death throes, he speaks the words of forgiveness over his attackers, he continues the story, modelling this same humble, forgiving grace of the Master, still loving even those who have rejected him.
Like, for instance, the young man standing there, watching the proceedings, fully approving the execution, glad of Stephen’s death. A young man named Saul.
But that’s a further story.
Lord Jesus, keep my sights on you at all times. You are the holy One, exalted above all things. So, too, you are the One who has given your life as a ransom for many – including me. Praise you, worthy Lord.
Reflect: Pause to lift your sights to Jesus’ exaltation – give him praise. Pause to reflect on the ransom he paid for you – give him thanks. Remind yourself during the day. Pause.