Acts 7:54-59 – Stephen’s Vision
The text for the sermon this Sunday was Acts 7:54-59, in which Stephen is granted a glorious vision of the risen Lord, for whom he is suffering death as a witness of His lordship. This vision gives Stephen perfect joy, strength, and resolve to stand firm, facing their persecution against him.
I. Howard Marshall writes concerning this passage, “Looking up to heaven as the place from which succor comes is natural, but to see the glory of God in such a context is unparalleled; the nearest approach is where people worshiping in the Old Testament see the glory of God.” He then references Isaiah 6:1, almost as if the passage is not related directly, but just some other time when the glory of God was seen.
My question is this: Is Marshall correct in saying that Stephen’s experience is unparalleled?
In one way, I think this vision is almost exactly paralleled. Looking at Isaiah 6:1-11, Ezekiel 1.1-3:7, and Revelation 5:1-14 we see the heavens opened and the glory of God on display. In the Isaiah and Ezekiel passages, we see the prophets sent to speak to the house of Israel. In each case, there is a rejection from the house of Israel to the Message. Revelation has the same imagery…the Lord in the heavenly glory while the Church is undergoing persecution for proclaiming the Gospel. This is precisely what is happening to Stephen. He is speaking the Gospel of the promised Messiah to Israel, but they are rejecting him.
So, we may say that Stephen’s vision is paralleled with these passages. However, I think there is another way to view this and see that it is quite unparalleled. This is the only place in which this vision comes to one who is in the midst of the battle. Isaiah was being called, not persecuted, when he received the vision. Ezekiel was in exile, but not facing physical threats. John also was in exile, but was in the Spirit on the day of the Lord. The reason Stephen’s vision is different is that it is the active power of the Lord that the others were told of in their visions. In other words, the Lord is not only revealing himself as the Lord who is able to come to the aid of those who will suffer as they preach the Gospel of Christ, this passage shows us the amazing and active work of the risen Lord helping Stephen as he is going throught it!
Sometimes, we wonder if we would have the faith of Stephen if we were going through the persecution that he went through. This is the wrong question! Do not wonder if you will have such faith then, for your focus is in the wrong place. Instead, ask yourself if you have faith now that Jesus, the risen Lord will be a divine comfort and help to you, as He has promised! He is faithful! As the Almighty revealed to Isaiah, to Ezekiel, and to John, he demonstrated in Stephen.
Now, consider the vision of Christ that Stephen gazes intently at (and remember that the Jews who persecuted him were gazing intently at him in hatred as shown in Acts 6:15) and sees Jesus standing. This may seem a bit odd to us, as we know that Jesus if often pictured now ruling his kingdom and sitting on his throne. Why is He standing?
Darrel Bock writes “Jesus arises as the judge and receiver of Stephen’s testimony.. .Jesus is seen as an advocate for Stephen, a vindicator of his claims. This also implies that the Jewish judgment against Stephen will serve to leave the audience subject to the judgment of God and the Son of Man. If Jesus is a judge, then he is Stephen’s advocate and witness. The vision means that heaven stands opposed to the Jewish reaction to Stephen.”
I agree whole-heartedly with Bock on this. I also believe that there is another connection to Revelation 4-5 that the standing Lord connects us with. In Revelation 5.6, the vision shows Jesus now in heaven and he appears standing as a lamb that has been slain. What is a slain lamb doing standing?
This vision ought to be terrifying to those who oppose the Gospel and the glory of Jesus. Jesus is standing because he is alive, not conquered by death. And, specifically related to Stephen and any other who is struggling through persecution for preaching the Good News, Jesus does not sit as if He is disconnected from the struggle of His people, but he stands as the judge and receiver of our testimony.
He stands for us!
My friends, let us hold forth the Gospel. Let us be His testimonies. For He is able to deliver us. He is at the right hand of God and we may have faith that He will come to our aid.