|Then and There, Here and Now|
Standing for Christ before a Hostile Age (7)
And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
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Stephen’s outburst against his accusers probably sealed his fate. But what he said after that fed the irrational rage of the religious leaders so that they moved as one to murder him even without seeking approval of the Roman authorities.
I think sometimes we miss the significance of Stephen’s heavenly vision. Many of us probably find it extraordinary that he was somehow enabled to see through the veil that separates time from eternity, to be granted a glimpse of the glorious throne room of the resurrected and living Christ. After all, how many of us have ever seen that? Even though, as Paul explains, we have been seated there with Christ (Eph. 2:6), and even though he commands us to focus our thoughts on that heavenly scene (Col. 3:1-3), still, I suspect that most Christians have never really seen with the eye of faith what Scripture plainly tells us is true and all around us, all the time (Eph. 1:15-23).
So when we see Stephen seeing this, we think this must be some highly unusual experience reserved only for, you know, real saints. Like Stephen.
But I believe that Stephen’s surprise upon seeing the Lord was not the fact that he actually saw him in glory. I think Stephen had the kind of faith that lived beyond this mundane world, past the daily grind without passing it by, within the veil of eternity while never leaving his existence in time. Stephen was filled with Spirit and manifested the face of one who lived in the presence of God’s glory. Seeing Christ in His eternal glory was nothing new for Stephen.
Seeing Him standing was.
Stephen’s boldness in confronting the enemies of the Gospel, exposing the foolishness of their charges and claims, and indicting them for the wicked rebellion against God came as the outflow of a life lived daily in the presence of the risen Christ. You can’t stare death in the face and fearlessly call its bluff unless you live somehow further along the path than where death takes his stand to meet you. Stephen lived in the then and there, here and now. He experienced the risen Christ on His throne in glory, precisely as He is described in many places in Scripture. Stephen lived his life from that vantage point, that base of operations, and so he understood that this world is not only not our home, but also that this bodily life is not our real and final existence.
Where does the boldness of Stephen come from which empowered him to confront the enemies of the Gospel and pull their skirts up over their heads? Not from memorizing handy answers to Gospel objections. Not from avoiding conflicts and just being nice to people. Such boldness – such willingness to lay down one’s life for the Truth – comes only from living day by day in the presence of our exalted King and Savior, Jesus Christ. For Stephen, as for most of the early Christians, the Christian life could be defined as practicing the Kingship of Jesus (Acts 17:1-9). They knew Jesus as Lord. They experienced Him with them always, to the end of the age, or the end of their lives. And they knew Him where He was, in His glory, surrounded by saints and angels, seated in royal splendor and majesty, advancing His Kingdom, upholding the cosmos and everything in it, putting His enemies under His feet, and working all things together for the good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.No, Stephen’s surprise was not in seeing Christ. It was in seeing Him standing rather than seated – standing, we can be sure, to welcome home a faithful witness and martyr whose life stands as a gauntlet for every believer in Christ.
Do you and your Christian friends have a clear and compelling vision of the unseen realm? A vision like Stephen’s? Talk with some of your friends. Discuss what you know about this realm, and what it means to “set your mind” there (Col. 3:1-3). Begin developing your sense of spiritual vision until it becomes as clear and compelling as Stephen’s.Start your own ViewPoint discussion group. This week’s series “Standing for Christ before a Hostile Age,” is available in a free downloadable PDF format, suitable for group study.
For more insight to this topic, order the book, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power and the Only Hope that Matters, by Timothy Keller, from our online store. You might also benefit from reading the article, “Why Wait Till Marriage?” by Jimmy Williams.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.