In our last study, we learned the beliefs of the 12 Apostles about the Deity of Jesus Christ. They all believed Jesus is the Son of God – the Eternal God. Those were exciting and dangerous days following the Lord’s return to Heaven. The Apostles preached the Gospel of the Kingdom and called on the people and leaders of Israel to repent of their wickedness in killing the Son of God. Even though they were arrested and warned not to preach in the Name of Jesus, the Apostles continued to speak boldly about the Messiah that the leaders had killed but God had raised from the dead.
As we read through the early chapters in Acts, we see the Apostles’ primary message was that Jesus Christ was Israel’s Messiah – “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:42). The number of believers in Jerusalem continued to grow and the Apostles needed help so they could continue in prayer and preaching. That led to the selection of seven godly men to help in the daily distribution of food to the Grecian widows. One of those men was named Stephen. Stephen was “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). Stephen was full of faith and power and did great wonders and signs among the people. Some Jews from the Synagogue of the Freedmen tried to dispute Stephen’s claims about Jesus being the Messiah, but they were not able to resist his wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. Those Jews induced men to lie about Stephen, saying he spoke blasphemous words against Moses and God. They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes to seize Stephen and drag him before the Sanhedrin Council. They set up false witnesses who continued to say that Stephen spoke blasphemy against the Law of Moses and the Temple of God.
The Council gave Stephen the opportunity to answer the charges against him and he did so with great power. Stephen rehearsed the history of Israel and things seemed to be going along alright until he said these words:
“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” Acts 7:51-53
Those words cut so deep into the minds and hearts of Stephen’s enemies that they gnashed at him with their teeth. Then, Stephen did something that brought everything crashing in on him. Being full of the Holy Spirit, Stephen 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!” The leaders of Israel instantly understood that Stephen was identifying Jesus with God and ran at him with one accord. They pushed Stephen outside the city and stoned him to death.
Before we move on, let’s look at the term Son of Man. Jesus referred to Himself as the “Son of Man” more than 80 times during His Ministry. It was a term the Jews of that time knew well because it was part of a famous prophecy in the Old Testament concerning the promised Messiah.
“I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14
Jesus often called Himself the Son of Man while describing activities ascribed only to God. Here are some examples from Matthew’s Gospel.
“But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins’—then He said to the paralytic, ‘Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” Matthew 9:6
“For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:8
“The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 13:41-42
“When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, ‘Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?’ So they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 16:13-17
“So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Matthew 19:28
“Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Matthew 24:30
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.” Matthew 25:31
“Jesus said to him, ‘It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Matthew 26:64
No wonder that the leaders of Israel attacked Stephen with such rage. He was accusing them of murdering Jesus and saying that Jesus was alive in Heaven and standing at the Right Hand of God Himself!
“And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul … Now Saul was consenting to his death.” Acts 7:58; 8:1a
This was the beginning of a great attack on those who followed Jesus. Saul of Tarsus was a young law student who was determined to destroy the sect of the Way in Jerusalem.
“At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.” Acts 8:1b-3
Saul led the charge against those who believed in Jesus Christ, but God had other plans for him – as we’ll see in the next part of our study.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”