Stephen was the first Christian martyr. He was an authority in the early church and performed miracles. After being unjustly arrested, Stephen was killed because of his preaching, but he forgave his enemies.
The Bible does not tell us much about Stephen’s life, but it does give us important information about his character. Stephen was a faithful Christian, with a good reputation in the church.
After the day of Pentecost, the early church grew very quickly. The apostles led the church but it got to the point where they needed to delegate some responsibilities to other people. For this reason, the church chose seven men of excellent character to serve at the tables and care for widows ( Acts 6: 2-4 ). One of the seven men was Stephen.
In addition to his practical responsibilities in the church, Stephen became known for being filled with the power of God and performing miracles ( Acts 6: 8 ). Some Jews were not happy and tried to catch Stephen in discussions. But God gave Stephen a lot of wisdom and no one could refute his argument.
Stephen’s judgment and death
Stephen’s enemies then decided to end him. They invented blasphemy charges against the temple and against the Law of Moses. The crowd was agitated and Stephen was arrested and taken to the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court ( Acts 6: 12-14 ). But, despite being angry with him, everyone recognized that Stephen looked like an angel!
When the time came to defend himself, Stephen gave a long speech telling the story of the Jewish people and how all the leaders raised by God suffered rejection and persecution from the people. Stephen also pointed to the prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament and rebuked his people for their rebellion and rejection of the truth ( Acts 7: 51-53 ).
The rebuke did not fall well on the Sanhedrin’s ears and they were angry with Stephen. But Stephen was not concerned about that. He was receiving a vision of Jesus in Heaven ( Acts 7: 55-56 ).
Furious, they dragged Stephen out of the city and stoned him to death ( Acts 7: 57-58 ). One of the men who were there, consenting to Stephen’s stoning was a young man named Saul, who would become a great persecutor of Christians (but then he would radically change his life – see his story here ).
Stephen gave his spirit into the hands of God and asked Him to forgive his murderers . After that last act of kindness, Stephen died ( Acts 7: 59-60 ).
See also: what is the persecuted church?
Stephen’s death was a moment of great sadness and marked the beginning of the first ferocious persecution of Christians. But at the same time, this event caused the gospel to be preached in many new places , making the church grow even more! Stephen’s example gave (and still gives) courage to many other Christians who faced great dangers for their faith.