The Book of Acts (Chapter 6-7) (Part 13)
When the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven He sent down gifts to men. These were not spiritual gifts but spiritually gifted leaders. For the first Century church it was primarily the apostles but Paul and others ordained elders in all of the fellowships they started. The first century church was built upon the foundation of the apostles, the prophets with the Lord Jesus Christ being the cornerstone. As Paul writes; “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22).
He gave gifts to men
The ongoing work of ministry to the Body of Messiah was designated by the Lord Jesus to leaders He had gifted for the task. As it is written; “He who descended is the very one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things. And it was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for works of ministry, to build up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:10-12). One thing to always keep in mind is that leadership is foundational in that it holds up and supports the Body of Messiah and does not lord it over the flock. In the Last Days just before the Lord Jesus comes back the five-fold ministry will become the nature of leadership within the Body of Messiah. It will be vastly different than what we see in most denominational churches today concerning the ordained ministry.
Prayer and the ministry of the Word
One of the drawbacks for many pastors who have oversight of their congregations is the matter of administration which for most of them cuts into time that could be spent in prayer and in the study and ministry of the Word of God. This is the primary work of the pastor and teacher also known as the elder, shepherd or overseer, as they all define the same role of the pastor. Because the fellowship in Jerusalem had grown in leaps and bounds the apostles found themselves snowed under with domestic duties within the Body of Messiah. They became hard-pressed to find adequate time to devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.
(Vs.1-2) “Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.”
In His wise beneovlant and loving guidance the blessed Holy Spirit also cares about the practical needs of the Body of Messiah especially where widows and orphans are concerned. (James 1:27) Somehow the apostles in their service to the fellowship had been occupied with practical matters that others could have handled in order to free them up to pray and to preach as this was their primary calling and gifting from the Lord Jesus. It all came to a head when a considerable number of widows were overlooked in the daily serving of food. To solve this problem the apostles summoned the whole fellowship to consider this matter.
While they understood servanthood and the principle of washing the feet of the believers they also sensed that they were neglecting the ministry of the Word of God which was of first importance as the fellowship grew and the need for Biblical discipleship increased. So they approached the whole fellowship. The Holy Spirit in His wisdom gave them a solution. They had come to recognise that leadership gifts extended to those within the fellowship who were more “hands on” disciples and gifted for the more practical tasks needed in the fellowship.
(Vs.3) “Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.”
When it comes to administration matters or other more practical matters, such as the apostles encountered in the matter of the daily distribution of bread to the widows, the apostles recognized that it was not just a matter of choosing just anyone who volunteered for the job. The men had to be of good reputation and full of the Spirit and wisdom. They had to be gifted by the Spirit and recognized and affirmed for this ministry by the whole local congregation. As in all spiritual gifting it is not natural ability or talent that qualifies them but the endorsement and gifting from the Holy Spirit. Some may be naturally talented and gifted and this in itself may indicate their calling and gifting but the real criteria are whether they are called and affirmed by the whole congregation. The final authority in every matter within the local Body of Messiah is the Holy Spirit Himself.
(Vs.4) “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
The most important thing for the leaders in any local fellowship is to hear from the Holy Spirit. So often the focus is on those who have certain natural talents and abilities. They may meet the criteria but are they chosen by the Holy Spirit. Before the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost the apostles drew lots to see who would replace Judas. They had prayed for guidance and made the decision based on the lot drawn. While there was nothing wrong with their method at that point in time it became a different matter after they had corporately received the mighty Baptism with the Holy Spirit.
After that they had the direct leading of the Holy Spirit as we saw in the matter of Ananias and Sapphira. If the leaders are devoted to prayer and to the ministry of the word, then guidance will come from the Holy Spirit in every matter concerning the local fellowship. To be able to minister the Word requires study of the word and prayer for understanding. This is the sole business of a pastor. There are others who can operate in the Holy Spirit where more practical matters are concerned. The pastor cannot do it all himself.
(Vs.5-7) “The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”
They chose seven men for the task of handing out bread to widows and they would have all been filled with the Spirit and wisdom for the task. We are told that Stephen was a man full faith and the Holy Spirit. He had the spiritual gift of faith that enabled him to believe the LORD for extraordinary things. As was the custom the apostles laid hands on these seven candidates to set them apart for their ministry to the Body of Messiah. Before they laid hands on anyone that had to make sure they were mature enough in the LORD to handle the responsibility well. They were not to be hasty with the laying on of hands. (1Timothy 5:22) Those becoming deacons had to be tested first. (1Timothy 3:10)
Now the revival continued and many more were added to the fellowship and it was through the preaching of the word of God. Many of the priests were also coming to faith in the Lord Jesus. When the Holy Spirit is at work he can reach anyone from the rank and file of the common people to the highest office in the land. He knows no barriers in His convicting and converting work. What is impossible for man is possible with God. Nothing is impossible to the blessed Holy Spirit who is God the Spirit. Whether prostitute, drug addict, alcoholic, priest, politician or monarch, He can reach them all even when we can’t. Now these seven men were all undoubtedly spiritually mature men but Stephen was outstanding.
(Vs.8) “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.”
There are three distinguishing marks about Stephen. He was filled with the Spirit and wisdom, he was full of faith, grace and power and it was remarkably obvious to everyone. His gift of faith enabled him to see the blessed Holy Spirit work miraculous deeds of power through him and in all of this he was a humble man. God can trust a man full of grace and power. Grace is mandatory. Many seek for power but do not have the grace to use it wisely so God withholds it from them. Tragically these days there are numerous ‘leaders’ of one sort or another multiplying like rabbits who are always on about ’power’ but they neither have the wisdom, the knowledge, the humility or the grace to handle the real power of God.
Many are like the prophets of Baal as they try to call down God’s power and jump around and make a lot of noise and prophetic predictions but nothing happens. It takes an Elijah to step up and call down the genuine power of God. In the Last Days there will be many more “Stephens” who will be men of faith grace and power but like Stephen will pay a heavy price for their steadfast faith in the LORD and in His word. True prophets have always suffered at the hands of those who resist the word of God.
(Vs. 9-10) “But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. “
Opposition will always rear its ugly head when God is at work. Virtually in all cases it starts with religious people who are not born again and unsaved or even from those believers who are not open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and look down upon those who operate in them. Religious pride is always at the crux of the matter. When the Power of the Holy Spirit is on a man it is very hard to beat him in an argument, in fact those who gang up on him cannot win in the end. They cannot disprove what he says so they attack him for saying it. It is the same today as it was then. They are not fighting men but God Himself and there is no way they can win the fight! Remember what our Lord Jesus said; “When you are brought before the synagogues, rulers, and authorities, do not worry about how to defend yourselves or what to say. For at that time the Holy Spirit will teach you what you should say” (Luke 12:11-12).
As we get nearer to the Second coming of our Lord Jesus this kind of opposition will come more and more, not primarily from the unsaved outside of the Church, but from those within. Well those religious legalists and unsaved men could not silence Stephen so they decided to get rid of him. They were cowardly and unprincipled men. It was some of the same bunch that orchestrated the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus. These connivers bribed false witnesses to bear false testimony against Stephen.
(Vs.11-12) “Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council.”
Of course what they said was lies. In reality they were doing a “Knee jerk” reaction to Stephen because his preaching of the word went against their doctrines and commandments of men. They thought they understood Moses and Torah but they had the right Moses but the wrong Moses. If they had really believed Moses and the prophets they would have seen that the Lord Jesus was the promised Messiah. They just did not want to see this. Now they would do to Stephen what they had done to the Lord Jesus. There may well be theologians who know the scriptures but do not know the God of the scriptures. They may even profess to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ but they do not know Him either. Religious people within the Church cannot handle the supernatural power of God even when they see it. This kind of thing will become common place in the Church in the not too distant future. Most, if not all of the denominations, will hook up to secular powers and together marginalize all those who want to stay faithful to the Lord Jesus and to the word of God. This is where the churches by enlarge are heading towards in the western democracies today.
(Vs.13-14) “They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.”
What happened to the Lord Jesus happened exactly to Stephen. The Lord Jesus was also accused of speaking against Moses and the law and in reference to the destruction of the Temple He had been speaking about the Temple of His body that was to be crucified. Of course the same bunch took the same line of argument concerning Stephen. Everyone in the council saw the face of Stephen. His face was glowing with the purity and radiance of God. It was unmistakable. It was like Moses whose face shone after he had been in the presence of God.
If anyone was a true disciple of Moses and Torah it was Stephen. His presence in that council showed up their hypocrisy and the spiritual bankruptcy of their religious system in which they had placed their hope. Of course in 70AD they knew they were wrong but for them it would be too late! Stephen was full of the Shekinah glory! Some years later the Apostle Peter wrote; “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14).
(Chapter 7:1-50 Read these verses) Now Stephen, full of the power of the Spirit spoke boldly and decisively to the whole council. He was using the word of God for his defence. He spoke to them about three prominent men that God had raised up for His purposes for Israel. These three were Abraham, Joseph and Moses. All three of these men in their character and conduct were examples or types of the Lord Jesus, Israel’s Messiah. In the case of Joseph and Moses Stephen also reminded them about how the people of Israel treated these two servants of God. He spoke about Abraham first as he was the “father of faith” and the architype of someone who had real faith in God and one through whom created the nation of Israel and whose descendants were not only ethnically Jewish but also made up of all those who believe whether they be Jew or Gentile. As it is written; “Abraham is the father of all who believe!” and so Stephen starts with Abraham.
Abraham: (Vs. 1-8) Abraham was a moon worshipper and God revealed Himself to Abraham as the one who created the moon and called him out to go to a land he did not know. Abraham responded in faith and obeyed the word of the LORD. God took him to the land of Canaan (today Israel) and showed him all of the land as far as his eye could see and swore an oath in blood with Abraham to give this land to him and to his descendants as “an everlasting possession.” Abraham responded in faith and believed the God would make His word good. He walked all of his life by faith and saw God’s promises fulfilled by faith. He also saw in the Spirit the Lord Jesus his Messiah.
As the Lord Jesus said; “Abraham rejoiced to see My day!” Through the covenant of circumcision Abraham became a life-long and loyal friend of God. Abraham was called “the friend of God.” Can you imagine that! Furthermore, the Lord Jesus also said that those who follow Him by faith as Abraham had done were the seed of Abraham and also friends of God. Jesus said; “You are My friends if you do what I say.”
Obedience was the key to the blessings of God as had been proven by the patriarchs of faith, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was a covenant of strong friendship sealed in a covenant of blood. Stephen spoke about Israel’s captivity and their deliverance and that God would be worshipped in Israel and specifically in Jerusalem where God had placed His name forever. The main point Stephen was trying to make was that Abraham was justified before God by faith which included faithfulness not just belief. In his willingness to offer up Isaac at God’s command proved he had genuine faith and was willing to put his faith into action even though he did not fully understand this request. We are told that he believed that God would somehow raise Isaac to life again.
Of course in this act of Abraham we see a very clear picture of God offering up His only begotten Son on the altar of the cross. God never required child sacrifice and prevented Abraham from killing his son; however, God did not spare His own Son but willingly offered Him up to be our Passover lamb to be sacrificed for us and for Israel’s redemption. The act of circumcision in the flesh was validated by the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who all walked with God by faith. Starting with Abraham, Stephen was pointing out to these religious leaders, who claimed to be descendants of Abraham that they were in fact not his real descendants after all because they did not have the kind of faith he had. They may have been his physical descendants but did not possess the faith he had. If they did they would have accepted the Lord Jesus and in rejecting Him they were in fact rejecting Abraham and his seed who was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Stephen then mentioned Joseph.
Joseph: (Vs.9-16) In the Old Testament scriptures we have two pictures of the Lord Jesus. One is of King David the all-conquering king who represented the Lord Jesus as KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. However, Joseph is a picture of the Lord Jesus as the suffering servant and when we look at the life of Joseph it mirrors the life of the Lord Jesus when He walked among men. Joseph became a man of faith but was betrayed by his brothers and rejected and ultimately after being in prison was raised suddenly to the right hand of Pharaoh King of Egypt.
The Lord Jesus was betrayed by His brethren and went down into the prison that was Sheol to be with the patriarchs and the Old Testament saints. When Joseph was in prison he was there with two men and one died and one lived. At the cross there were two criminals crucified with the Lord Jesus, one died but the other lived. On the third day the Lord Jesus was raised to life again and ascended to the right hand of His Father in heaven. He went from a place of condemnation to a place of the highest exultation to sit at the right hand of His Father.
Furthermore, Joseph, after he was second only to Pharaoh in the Land of Egypt made it very difficult for his brothers when they were driven to come to Egypt because of the famine in the land of Canaan. Through applied pressure Joseph brought his brothers to a place of repentance and humility before him and when it looked like they were finished he revealed himself to them and the joy and weeping of that reunion was exceedingly great! This of course speaks of the future reunion that the Lord Jesus will have with His wayward brethren in the flesh when He comes back to save Israel.
What a day that will be! Stephen mentioned Joseph because he was betrayed and rejected by his brethren and in pointing this out Stephen was pointing to these religious leaders that they were just like Joseph’s brothers and had done to the Lord Jesus what Joseph’s brothers had done to him. Finally Stephen mentioned Moses and he spoke more about Moses than he did about Abraham and Joseph because the religious leaders boasted that they were disciples of Moses and Torah and they were very proud of this and arrogant.
Moses: (Vs. 17-50) Now Moses was rejected by his brethren and even though this came about because Moses had killed the Egyptian, never the less, he was rejected. After dealing with Moses for 40 years God sent him back to his brethren in Egypt to deliver them out of that land and from the hand of Pharaoh, Egypt’s ‘god.’ When Moses came to his brethren they still rejected him at first. After the people of Israel had seen God deliver them out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses they still rebelled again and again at God’s word coming to them through His servant Moses.
They turned to idolatry and in after 40 years that generation that had come out of Egypt all perished in the wilderness except Joshua and Caleb who received their inheritance in the land. The rest of the people of Israel had rejected God’s salvation and through unbelief had forfeited their right to enter into the Promised Land. Even after the next generation had entered into Canaan their descendants the Israelites turned away from the LORD and He gave them over to judgement and exile.
Then Stephen pointed out that Moses himself had said that God would raise up a prophet like himself in the future and that if the people did not listen to Him they would suffer the consequences. Clearly Moses was speaking about the Lord Jesus who was to come centuries later. The problem was that if these religious leaders had the Holy Spirit in them, which they did not have, they would have seen from the testimony of Moses himself that the Lord Jesus was Israel’s prophesied Messiah. Not only could they not see this but did not want to see this. Stephen was using the word of God and they could not refute what he was saying. After speaking about Abraham, Joseph and Moses Stephen mentioned Kind David and Solomon in regards to the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Temple was the pride and joy and heart of the Jewish nation. No Jew could ever imagine that the Temple would be destroyed yet again. It had happened in 586 BC centuries before because Israel had rejected the prophets who spoke to them the word of God in the name of the LORD. Even in the time of Jeremiah the religious leaders were saying; “the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.” They had placed their hopes in a religious system and infrastructure that they thought could never be destroyed but it was. Now the same situation had occurred in Jerusalem. God’s prophet was now on trial. Stephen mentioned the fact that King David and King Solomon had been the ones through whom the Temple was established and of course it was Solomon who built it. The tabernacle in the wilderness now had a permanent dwelling place in Jerusalem.
However, Stephen drew their attention to the fact that God was not confined to a physical building but someone who could be known and worshipped anywhere and at any time and who did not confine Himself to a specific location even though His presence was also in the Temple. The religious leaders were more focused on their outward physical temple and the ceremonies related to it than they were on the God who created all things and inhabits the whole of the universe. They had made an idol of the Temple itself and their religious structures and thought because they had the Temple they could not be touched. Having taken them through much of their past history Stephen spoke to them directly and pulled no punches.
(Vs. 51) “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.”
Stephen was a true prophet. Like those who had gone before him he spoke the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. He did not mince words or try to preach in a way that would not give offense. Many today water down God’s word as the false prophets did. Stephen was in the same category as John the Baptist who spoke very clearly and direct; “He said therefore to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits that befit repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:7-9). Even the Lord Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and laid out in details their sins and offences against the LORD whom they claimed to believe in. He went on to grieve over Jerusalem because He foresaw what was coming in the future. (Matthew 23:1:39). And so Stephen continued…
(Vs 52-53) “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”
In His discourse on the hypocrisy of the Pharisees the Lord Jesus pointed out that they made a great fuss over the prophets in Israel’s history yet if those prophets had been around in the time of Jesus such as John the Baptist they would do exactly to the prophets what their forefathers did to the prophets. The Lord Jesus said to them; “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?” (Matthew 23:29-33). Stephen was under the same anointing of the Spirit that the Lord Jesus was under. God pulls no punches when dealing with the level of hypocrisy demonstrated by the Pharisees.
(Vs 54) “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.”
God’s sword is sharp! His sword is His word, the Bible. As it is written; “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). These hypocrites were jolted out of their seats. It was like an electric shock! They had been faced with their own hypocrisy and lack of discernment where the scriptures were concerned and they did not like it one bit. They began grinding their teeth in seething anger, a grinding of teeth that they would have to endure in the future in hell where there would be no relief or reprieve! (Luke 13:28).
When the Lord Jesus preached to sinners He told them the truth but saw them as lost sheep without a shepherd and had compassion on them. However, when dealing with the Pharisees He was blunt as they should have known better because they were the custodians of Torah and the prophets and not only did not enter the Kingdom of God but also prevented others from entering it as well. The Lord Jesus ripped their theology and hypocrisy to shreds, yet still wept over Jerusalem. The Lord Jesus fully understood the kindness and the severity of God. (Romans 11:22)
Likewise Stephen was speaking and acting in the character of his Lord Jesus. In the Last Days the LORD is going to raise up the real Biblical prophetic office. Those who will be His prophets will speak the truth in love but also express the anger of the LORD. They will not be prophesying for fame or money and raking in the dollars or speaking soothing words to tickle the ears of their hearers or driving around in limousines, staying at 5 star hotels, wearing expensive clothing and Jewellery and often basking in the adulation of weak willed women if the truth be known. Rather they will be in the character of the true prophets of God who were; “stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11:37-38).
In the state of the Church in the western democracies true prophets will to a greater or lesser degree be marginalized and rejected by their peers and by many who also profess to actually be followers of Jesus. The irony about those who say they love Jesus but reject the word of God for the doctrines and commandments of men, is that they do not love the Lord Jesus at all because He is the Living Word of God made flesh and to reject the Bible is to reject Him!
God must first revive the Church before He can save society! As the prophet Joel writes; “Blow a trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and the nursing infants. Let the bridegroom come out of his room And the bride out of her bridal chamber. Let the priests, the Lord’s ministers, Weep between the porch and the altar, And let them say, “Spare Your people, O Lord, And do not make Your inheritance a reproach A byword among the nations. Why should they among the peoples say, ‘Where is their God?’”” (Joel 2:15-17). Tragically, for the people of Israel the leaders who had been given care of God’s vineyard stoned and killed God’s servants sent to them. They had killed the Son of the Owner of the vineyard and were about to murder another servant of God.
(Vs.55-56) “But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Stephen was full of the Spirit of the Lord. Just like Micah the Old Testament prophet who spoke; “On the other hand I am filled with power– With the Spirit of the LORD– And with justice and courage To make known to Jacob his rebellious act, Even to Israel his sin” (Micah 3:8). Stephen lived his whole life in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of glory and of God always rested upon him. He was so full of God’s power that he saw into the eternal realm where time as we know it here on earth does not exist. He saw the very throne room of God and His Lord Jesus, his great High Priest standing at the right hand of God. In his hour of impending martyrdom he was already seeing into heaven itself. He saw his great intercessor and advocate on high. His eyes were no longer fixed on anything in this world. He was about to depart to be with Christ which would be better by far! This is how the Lord Jesus strengthened His servant Stephen in the hour of his greatest trial. Whatever lays ahead for us as believers whether life or death or imprisonment the Lord Jesus has already got things in hand and whatever we need if martyrdom is our destiny the Lord will fill us with His glory and power as He did with Stephen.
(Vs.57-58) “But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
These unprincipled and wicked men were demonically inspired as they cried out loudly, covered their ears and rushed at him altogether. And once they had driven him out of Jerusalem they started to stone him to death. Now watching this whole event was a young man named Saul, who would later become the Apostle Paul. Now the fact that the witnesses laid their robes at the feet of Saul was because Saul was the one who had most probably overseen the trial and sentencing of Stephen to death. While we are not told specifically it may well be that the death of Stephen profoundly affected Saul. Sometime later when the Lord Jesus revealed Himself to Saul on the Road to Damascus He said to Saul; “is it so hard to kick against the goads.” It would seem that Saul had been under conviction for some time about the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course Saul was a stubborn man and the Lord Jesus had to knock him off of his horse and make him physically blind temporarily that Saul might come to see the light and find the true knowledge of God in the face of the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Vs.59-60) “They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep. Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.”
Even in his hour of death Stephen prayed for his enemies as the Lord Jesus had done when at the cross He had prayed; “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” Stephen, like the Lord Jesus, also understood the kindness and severity of God. He understood the nature of spiritual blindness and recognized that many witnesses were not wilfully blind. Of course the Pharisees and the Sadducees were wilfully blind. In the case of Saul he was a seeker of the truth as he had a zeal for God but not an enlightened one but also having a veil over the eyes of his heart until the Lord Jesus removed that veil. Well after Stephen had prayed for his enemies we are told he fell asleep. In the Bible a true believer falls asleep, they do not die. While their body may die their soul goes to be with the Lord Jesus.
Paul later affirmed this fact when he wrote “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Now some would say when a believer physically dies that they go to sleep, however, the term sleep implies that they will wake up at the rapture and resurrection. Having said this does not mean that there is no consciousness after physical death. The Bible clearly says there is both for believers and unbelievers. (Isaiah 14:9-11) (Luke 16:19-31) (Luke 23:42-43) (Revelation 14:9-11)