Somewhere along the line I stumbled onto this comparison between the death of Jesus and Stephen. I wrote them down for our Bible study group’s study in the book of Acts but looking them over again last evening I thought the readers of this blog might find them interesting and thought provoking.
Both trials were before the high priest and Sanhedrin.
“They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, the elders and the teachers of the law came together.” Mark 14:53
“So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin.” “Then the high priest asked Stephen, ‘Are these charges true?’” Acts 6:12; 7:1
Both trials featured false witnesses.
“The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him.” Mark 14:55-57
And at Stephen’s trial, “They produced false witnesses, who testified, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.’” Acts 6:13
Both trials concerned the destruction of the Temple.
“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made by hands.” Mark 14: 58
“For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” Acts 6:14
Both trials bring up the idea that the new Temple will be made without human hands.
“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made by hands.” Mark 14:58
Stephen in his speech at the trial reveals, “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands.” Acts 7:48
The Sanhedrin understood in both Jesus’ and Stephen’s accusations that the Temple would be destroyed and replaced with the Spiritual. For these leaders this was unthinkable. Without the Temple they were once again in captivity (think Babylon, Egypt). Furthermore, if the Temple was no longer the center of their religious ceremonial life then it must mean Jesus and Stephen are talking about a replacement—something far greater. Jesus and Stephen were talking of the Messianic age and this scared the religious leaders to the bone. The High Priest even blurts out, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus’ response “I am.” Mark 14:61, 62a
Both trials involved Jesus and Stephen referring to “the Son of Man.” This is the Messianic divine name of God as portrayed in Daniel. The Sanhedrin couldn’t miss the implications of the title.
“ ‘I am,’ said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Mark 14:62
Stephen, as he is about to die, cries out, “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Acts 7:56
Both trials revolving around the breaking down of the Temple and the declaration of Jesus as “Son of Man,” would lead to blasphemy charges.
“‘You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’ They all condemned him as worthy of death.” Mark 14:64
“Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, ‘We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.’” Acts 6:11
Both trials end in death and a committal of the Spirit.
“Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last.” Luke 23:46
“While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Acts 7:59
Both Jesus and Stephen cry out with a loud voice at the end of their lives.
“And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) Mark 15:34
“Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep.” Acts 7:60
Now, here is what really speaks to me about the comparisons in the trials and the real reason I wrote on them this morning. Both Jesus and Stephen ask forgiveness for the people who are killing them. From Jesus we expect forgiveness but it is an amazing sign of love and a converted heart that allows Stephen to cry out to God for the forgiveness of these despicable men.
“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” Luke 23:34
In Acts 7:60, which we have already mentioned, Stephen cries out, “Lord do not hold this sin against them.”
An interesting aside to Stephen’s death. It was there that we are first introduced to Paul (Saul) and it was Stephen’s testimony that drove him to a fervent hatred for Christians. However, on the Damascus road Saul becomes Paul with his personal encounter with the risen Savior Jesus Christ.
My friend Mark reminded us the other evening in our Bible study that a Christian is martyred every six minutes somewhere in this world. It is Jesus death and resurrection that free us from sin, Satan, and death, but it is the example of men like Stephen that give us courage and strength in our times of deepest discouragement and sorrow.