The Stoning of Stephen
"When they heard these things [that is, the words spoken boldly by Stephen] they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, 'Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!' Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not charge them with this sin.' And when he had said this, he fell asleep" (Acts 7:54-60).

The Sanhedrin council was infuriated because of Stephen's words of truth; they ground their teeth together in an explosion of rage. Stephen, full of the Spirit, is seemingly unafraid of those full of malice. He is able to see into heaven itself by means of a vision. He saw two things: the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. Why did God permit Stephen to see this? Perhaps He wanted to encourage Stephen (cf. Matt. 10:32) and others who, in the future, would also die for the Lord's cause. We noted back in Acts 2:30,33 that Jesus was previously seated at the right hand of God. There is no great theological significance in the difference between Jesus sitting or standing. In either case, Jesus is still reigning and will continue to do so (cf. I Cor. 15:24-28). Those who believe Jesus and the Father are the same Being cannot explain away the clear distinction that is made here between the Father and Jesus (who is at the Father's right hand).

Certainly Stephen's announcement of what he saw did not help to endear himself to the angry Jewish leaders. They plug their ears and charge at him like a lynch mob. They force him outside the city and stone him to death (cf. Lev. 24:14-16). Here we are first introduced to Saul of Tarsus, a young man who watched the outer garments of those participating in the execution (the outer garments would hinder their aim and force). He approved of what was going on (cf. Acts 8:1) and would emerge as a leader among the persecution efforts directed against the church. It is estimated (due to the Greek word used here for "young") that Saul was likely between 25 - 40 years of age at this time.

As Stephen was being stoned, he did two things: (1) He prayed to Jesus to receive his spirit, and (2) He also asked the Lord not to hold this sin against them. Stephen's words teach us that he believed he had a spirit that would survive the death of his physical body. Furthermore, those who are faithful at death will go to be with the Lord, which implies the continued consciousness of the spirit (cf. Rev. 6:9-11). It is the body that "sleeps," not the soul!

Was Stephen praying for unconditional pardon of these hardened rebels? Of course not. He is expressing his desire that they might have the time, opportunity, and attitude to see the error of their ways and repent, being obedient to the gospel in order to be saved. This prayer was answered for at least one soul who was present (i.e., Saul; cf. Acts 22).

Those who believe it is wrong for men to pray to Jesus acknowledge that Stephen did pray here, but such was allowed, they claim, because of the supernatural circumstances involved with the vision. With all due respect, such reasoning is not valid. The apostle John was not allowed to worship an angel while receiving some supernatural revelations on the isle of Patmos (cf. Rev. 19:10,11). Why not? Because it is always wrong to worship a created being, even one as powerful as an angel. Supernatural activity does not change a sinful act into a holy one. If it is wrong to pray to Jesus, then Stephen sinned on this occasion--but who will accept that conclusion? If he did not sin (which I maintain to be the case), then offering prayer to Christ as deity must be acceptable. Although it is beyond the scope of this present study, a careful consideration of all the New Testament evidence available supports the conclusion that although prayer was typically offered to the Father, it is not wrong to pray to Jesus. Wayne Jackson has dealt with this topic in several excellent articles on the Christian Courier website (e.g., Furthermore, a printed booklet (from August 2010) that goes into greater depth on the subject can be ordered from Christian Courier by calling (888)818-2463.