Stephen is described in the Book of Acts chapters 6 and 7 as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” In order to allow the apostles to devout their full attention to the word of God, which was spreading in Jerusalem, The apostles chose Stephen and six others to help care for the widows in the Hellenistic Jewish community. The apostles prayed and laid their hands on them, then Stephen and the six others began their ministries as deacons.
“And Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.”
The tangible effects of Stephen’s ministry coupled with his authoritative words disturbed some members of one of the synagogues. The disgruntled members devised accusations against Stephen and stirred up the people and the scribes and elders. They brought Stephen before the council.
“And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”
When prompted by the high priest, Stephen began speaking to the council about how God had worked through Abraham and the patriarchs and through Moses until the time of David. When Stephen turned the focus of his speech toward the audience, connecting them with the persecution of prophets and Jesus Christ, the situation became heated.
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
When the audience heard this stinging pronouncement from Stephen, as one might imagine, they became extremely angry. But Stephen was speaking under the influence of the Holy Spirit and was able to look into the heavenly realm.
“Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.”
At that point, the counsel simply could not take any more of Stephen’s convicting words. They apprehended him and took him outside the city and began stoning him. During this violent attack, Stephen prayed:
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Stephen is the first person recorded to have died for his faith in Jesus Christ.