By Joe Kelty, MBC Tysons Director of Men’s Discipleship
Here’s a really cool story about the early Christian Church, just after the resurrection of Christ. Jesus had gone back to be with the Father in heaven, and He sent the Holy Spirit to His disciples. Christian believers were now empowered to carry out the Great Commission, spreading the good news of God’s plan of redemption for mankind.
In Chapters 6 & 7 of the Acts of the Apostles we read about a Christian named Stephen. He was preaching to the Jews, telling them how Jesus was truly the Messiah promised from God. The Jews could not contradict the wisdom Stephen spoke because he was speaking through the Holy Spirit. So the Jews decided to falsely accuse him of the crime of blasphemy, and they brought him before the Jewish rulers of the Sanhedrin. The penalty for blasphemy was death.
When asked for his defense, Stephen gave a speech inspired by God. It is one of the most detailed and concise reviews of Israel’s history and their relationship to God found in the Scriptures. Stephen testified that Israel failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and that they murdered him just as they had murdered Zechariah and other prophets throughout the generations.
Stephen was risking his life by standing up to the Sanhedrin like this, but he was determined to bear witness to Jesus Christ as the true Messiah no matter the consequences. So what was their response?
When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 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. Acts 7:54
What did Stephen see when heaven opened up? He saw Jesus at “the right hand of God.” Have you ever heard this phrase in Scripture before? I found at least six references:
- Mark 16:19—After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.
- Luke 22:69—But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”
- Colossians 3:1—Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
- Hebrews 1:3—The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
- Hebrews 10:12—But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…
- Hebrews 12:2—…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
But Stephen saw something different. Jesus was not seated at the right hand of God. Jesus was standing when Stephen saw him. This is the only place in Scripture where someone is standing at the right hand of God.
Why would Jesus be standing? While Scripture doesn’t exactly say why Jesus was standing, I think there are two reasons:
- Stephen is the first recorded Christian martyr. Could it be that Jesus stood to welcome him to heaven with honor?
- Stephen was not one of the original twelve disciples. He’s a second-generation disciple. (The disciples were making disciples!) Perhaps this is the essence of the church Jesus had in mind. Maybe he was standing up and basically saying YES! They’ve got it. The mission to fulfill God’s plan of redemption for mankind (the Great Commission) is theirs now. They own it.
This ownership of their faith and the Great Commission was being advanced through Christ’s disciples passing on their faith to others through a relational approach. The disciples got it and those whom they invested in got it, and there would be no turning back God’s plan to reach the lost. Through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, believers in Jesus Christ—then and now—have the courage and power to boldly proclaim Christ to the unbelieving world and the knowledge that, no matter the results or consequences, they will have eternal life with Him. Amen!