Stephen the First Martyr of the Early Church AD35

Found under Martyrs

“And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.”

Acts 6: 8-10

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His witness would sow a seed in the heart of a young man called Saul that would ultimately spring up and bring him to the revelation that Jesus is Lord.

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“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1: 8

The word for witness comes from the Greek word, martus, which is where we get the word martyr. A witness is one who is to bear truth to what they have hear and seen. They are to only tell the truth. If you have been to court or through a court process you will appreciate that the witness will suffer for their testimony and it will be challenged and every effort made to discredit it. That is why we as believers need to know Him, truly know Him. John wrote…

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of life- the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.”

1 John 1: 2

We as believers are called to bear witness. Some have paid the ultimate price for their witness and given their life, but in reality we all should live a laid down life. That is, as Paul described, we have died and the new life we live is Him in us and through us. That is part of what made the early church so powerful as well as the heroes of faith, they consider themselves dead to this world and alive to Christ. We are meant to be simply passing through. Our lives are meant to bear witness to His life in us, working through us. A true encounter with Jesus must for ever wreck you in terms of this world and all it has to offer. The things of this life should lose their luster as the things of heaven consume you.

 

It essential that we fix our eyes on Jesus Who is the Author and Perfector or our faith. Life is too difficult without Him. These heroes who gave their life discovered that He was with them in the fire. The testimonies of the early church and what they endured yet appeared oblivious to the torture is a testament of His mercy.

 

Ken Chant wrote…

“Until now you have known nothing mightier than the gates of hell- but I am about to create a new thing, my church, against which the gates of hell will be as impotent as a paper sword against granite.”

 

In those days, the term, “gates of hell” was an idiom which implied the strongest possible force. As we look at church history, the Lord’s promise has proven to be true.

Eusebius wrote of the early church…

“Words cannot describe the outrageous agonies endured by martyrs…They were torn to bits from head to toe with potsherds like claws till death released them. Women were bound by one foot and hoisted high in the air by machines, head downwards, and with their bodies completely naked, without a morsel of clothing, thus presented to all onlookers a most shameful, brutual, and inhuman spectacle. Others were tied to the branches and trunks of trees, and died horribly; for with the aid of machinery, the persecutors drew together the stoutest boughs, fastened the limbs of the martyrs to them, and the let the boughs fly back to their normal positions- thus they instantly tore apart the bodies of their victims. In this way they carried on- not for a few days or weeks, but year after year… (there were occasions) when during a single day a hundred men, as well as women and little children were killed, after being subjected to a succession of ever-changing torments… (they were) torn apart with hooks broken on the rack, mercilessly flogged, subjected to countless tortures too terrible to describe, in endless variety, until they were finally given to the flames. (Some) died under the torture itself, others were starved to death (but always showed) a most wonderful ardor, the kind of truly divine energy and zeal that belongs to those who believe in the Christ of God. For as soon as sentence was pronounced against (one martyr), another and still another would rush to the judgment seat and confess that they were Christians. They regarded with indifference the terrible cruelty, and the many different tortures, and with undaunted boldness declared their devotion to the God of the universe. They received the final sentence of death with joy, laughter, and gaiety. Until their very last breath they sang offering hymns of thanksgiving to the God of the universe.”

With the death of each martyr another one took their place. As Tertullian stated…

 

“Excellent governors, you may torment, afflict, and vex us; your wickedness puts our meekness to the test; but your cruelty is of no avail. It is but a stronger invitation to bring others to our persuasion. The more we are mowed down, the more we spring up again. The blood of Christians is seed.”

 

Stephen AD 35

 

The name Stephen comes from the Greek work, Stephanos, and means crown. Paul wrote just before he was martyred…

 

“Finally, there is laid up for mea crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that Day, and not to me only, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

2 Timothy 4: 8

Stephen is one of the most interesting characters in the New Testament. In the world there are artist who have been one hit wonders, yet their one hit could have had a major impact on that generation. Stephen did not have a long or complex story, but he did have an intense and powerful one that changed that generation. Little did they know what would happen in the natural and spiritual realms that day as Stephen laid down his life for Jesus.

His story starts in Acts chapter six. In verse five, we see he is called as a deacon and to be part of the helps ministry.

“And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.”

Acts 6: 8-10

When you start walking in power people will arise against you. You become a threat. As soon as Stephen became dangerous in the spiritual realm the devil wanted him stopped. The attack always comes from religious hypocrites. They claimed to be freed men but instead they were bound with hate. When we walk in the Spirit we are not held by this world and the enemy has no control over us.  We truly are free people. The devil so hates that because you witness that life and freedom and thus threaten his kingdom.

 

“Speak every time, my dear brother, as if it were your last; weep out, if possible, every argument; and compel them to cry, ‘Behold, how He loves us.”

George Whitefield

Stephen was arrested and false witnesses brought against Stephen in order to convict him. Stephen’s response was to preach the Word.

 

“Scripture is the Word of God, and it judges man thoroughly. It lays bare the very roots of his nature- it opens up the foundations of his moral being.”

  1. H. Mackintosh

“it does not say, make your light shine. If it is really a light it will shine in spite of you- only don’t hide it under a bushel. Let it shine Confess Christ everywhere.”

  1. L. Moody

The Word declares that “and all who sat in the council looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as an angel,” (Acts 6: 15). Stephen boldly preached the Word to them and finished with this powerful statement…”You stiff necked and uncircumcised of heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you,” (Acts 7: 51).

Needless to say his words caused a reaction.

“When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth.”

Acts 7: 54

Wow! What a reaction. The response of Stephen was totally different if we read on…

“But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopping their ears, and ran at him with one accord. And they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man names Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice ‘Lord do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he said this, he fell asleep.”

Acts 7: 55-60

Stephen is moved by compassion to intercede for them and ask that the Father does not hold what they are doing against them. This is a powerful statement of the heart and how He changes us. The natural man can’t respond to such hate with such love. As a consequence God moved on a young man in the crowd that day. Who knows how the message of Stephen impacted him and how when he encountered the Lord, the words of Stephen must have rung in his heart and head. When the Lord begins working on us He starts with the heart and so very often the mind rebels and struggles. Sometimes people who persecute the greatest are in a season where they are being heavily convicted in their heart and their mind is refusing to receive it.

It is also important to point out that Jesus was standing, and note the term Stephen used for Him, “The Son of Man.” This brings up visions of the Book of Daniel. When we see the Lord standing on the Old Testament it was because He was about to judge.

So Stephen is declaring Jesus as the Son of Man as spoken of by Daniel and therefore the promised Messiah. Further, He is standing ready to judge. If Stephen was right then they were in desperate need of repentance.

Religious leaders hate to be proven wrong and in need of repentance. In this life we either walk under the influence and power fo the Holy Spirit or the spirit of the world, the devil. The fruit of which we chose is self evident.

The church was to tarry in Jerusalem until they received power from on High. However, the church remained at Jerusalem. However, after Stephen’s death they were finally forced to go into Samaria and Judea as Jesus had stated. During this time of persecution around two thousand Christians were martyred along with Nicanor, one of the seven deacons, (Acts 6: 5), per John Foxe.