Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Stephen's Trial & Death (part 2)

Sure there was a pernicious and damaging rumor making its rounds that Jesus had been raised from the dead; and though this was of some concern to the council in Jerusalem (which is demonstrated by the fact that Stephen was brought before the council in the first place), the leaders of the people remained quite confident that Jesus had not been the “Righteous One” of whom Stephen spoke.  This position was reinforced by the fact that He had been crucified by the Romans (rather than overthrowing and driving out the Romans), with things in Israel continuing as they had for quite some time. 

Now, one such as Stephen could have certainly argued that Jesus did not have the opportunity to drive out the Romans (though this had clearly not been His goal) because He had been sent to His death by the very men who would now claim that He could not have been the messiah because He was crucified by the Romans, dying at their hands rather than driving them out.  Such an argument, however, would be viewed as somewhat beside the point of the proceedings, and rejected out of hand. 

Had this Jesus truly been the messiah---the long awaited Righteous One and embodiment of Israel’s God---He would not have allowed Himself to be crucified, so the fact that He was, regardless of who instigated the proceedings that resulted in crucifixion, clearly demonstrated that He was not the messiah.  Even if He had been raised from the dead, the thinking would go, His death by crucifixion and the fact that Rome was still in power over the land and people of the Creator God would trump that fact, and thus readily continuing to prove that He was, in fact, not the messiah.  Yes, such thinking could very well have been much self-delusion, as an ongoing attempt to justify themselves and excuse their having brought about the death of the man that might very well have been the messiah, but at this point, there could be no back-tracking. 

Yet with all that under consideration, the anger was there and it was real and it resulted in Stephen’s death.  Indeed, this was not the first time that somebody had spoken to the council in such a way, and it was not the first time that such speaking had resulted in the speaker’s death, as shall be seen.    

Who was that other person to have spoken words to the council that resulted in death?  Well it was Jesus, of course.  In the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus is placed before the Sanhedrin and there was an attempt “to find false testimony against Jesus so that they could put Him to death” (26:59b), Jesus was instructed to “under oath by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (26:63b).  Jesus replied by saying, “You have said it yourself.  But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (26:64).  When pressed by the council, Stephen, echoing the words of Jesus, said “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:56) 

Upon hearing the words from Jesus, it is said that “the high priest tore his clothes and declared, ‘He has blasphemed!... Now you have heard His blasphemy!  What is your verdict?’” (26:65a,c,66a)  The council answered with “He is guilty and deserves death” (26:66b).  Mark and Luke both provide a similar record, though Luke omits the high priest’s tearing of his clothes.  The beastly response that Stephen’s words received has already been noted, so it does not need to be rehearsed here, but it will suffice to say that it was also determined that he had blasphemed and was deserving of death.  Both Jesus and Stephen, according to the record of Scripture, were ultimately driven outside of the city, whereupon the prescribed sentence was set upon them. 

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