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Stephen: First Christian Martyr Who Was Stoned to Death

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.

Stephen being stoned to death

Stephen being stoned to death

Stephen was one of the first deacons in the Jerusalem church. He is widely known for being the first Christian martyr. He was accused of blasphemy during his trial. He was stoned to death because he spoke out against the Jewish authorities. Stephen was just 29 years old when he was killed.

What the young deacon was preaching and teaching angered the Jewish elders. He was given a trial where Stephen gave a long speech which led to his death.

Stephen: One of Seven Deacons

Deacons were appointed because there was a mixture of Greek-speaking widows and Hebrew-speaking widows in the Jerusalem church. The Greek widows were being overlooked while the Hebrew widows received preferential treatment when it came to the daily distribution of food and other charitable gifts. Therefore, seven deacons were appointed to fairly distribute food and provide help to the poorer members of the church which included many widows. Stephen was chosen along with six other trustworthy men to help with that task.

Stephen's Trial

Stephen was outspoken about his religious beliefs. He was an excellent orator. At his trial before the Sanhedrin, he gave one of the longest speeches in the entire Bible. His speech is so long that it covers almost all of Acts 7. The young deacon gave a detailed view of Israel beginning with Abraham and continuing with the other patriarchs. He talked much about Moses who gave the laws for the Israelites to follow after he delivered them out of slavery in Egypt. They were ungrateful and turned to other gods.

The religious leaders did not like the things Stephen said. They accused him of blasphemy against God and falsely accused him of preaching against the Mosaic Law and the temple. The Jewish elders challenged his teachings and became furious. By the time Stephen finished his speech, the religious leaders had made up their minds to stone him for his religious beliefs.

Stephen: The First Christian Martyr

A martyr is a person who willingly suffers death instead of renouncing his or her religious beliefs, principles, or causes. An example of a martyr is a religious person who refuses to deny his religion and is killed for it.

How Stephen Was Stoned

When Stephen knew he was going to be stoned, he looked up and cried, "Look! I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God!" It is important to note that Jesus usually sat at the right hand of God. To stand when a person enters a room is to acknowledge his presence and give him respect. This is the only recording of Jesus standing from His sitting position. Jesus stood to welcome Stephen.

Stephen was dragged from the court and out of the city. He was then stoned to death according to the law at that time. Saul was there, but he did not participate in the stoning. He stood by to watch over the coats of those who took pleasure in stoning Stephen to his death. In other words, Saul approved of what was taking place (Acts 8:1).

Stephen prayed that the Lord would receive his spirit and his attackers would be forgiven. Then he sank to his knees, and "fell asleep." (Acts 7:58-60).

Stephen: A Type of Christ

Stephen was like Jesus in several ways. Therefore, he is known as a type of Christ. They both were killed because of their beliefs. Stephen was stoned to death because that was the capital punishment at that time. Jesus was crucified on the cross because that was the capital punishment at that time. Stephen was killed because of religious reasons while Jesus was killed because of political reasons. One might think that it should have been the opposite.

Jesus and Stephen's last words from the cross were a prayer of forgiveness for those who were killing them. Jesus' very first words from the cross were "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). Stephen prayed that God would forgive those who were stoning him, according to Acts 7:60.

Notice the rocks around Stephen's head and on his shoulders.

Notice the rocks around Stephen's head and on his shoulders.

Stephen Is Commemorated

Nobody knows exactly where Stephen is buried. It is believed that he was initially buried in a grave to the north of Jerusalem. His body was later exhumed and moved to a new grave outside the Damascus Gate where his stoning is believed to have taken place.

Stephen is the patron saint of deacons because he was one of the first seven deacons in the Jerusalem church. He is often pictured carrying a pile of rocks or with rocks on his head. Notice the photo above with rocks on his head and on each shoulder that represent how he was killed.

St. Stephen's Day is celebrated every year on December 26 by some Jews. Many churches and other places commemorate him. There are two sites in Jerusalem at the place where he was stoned that bear his name. Churches and other sites all over the world are named Saint Stephen.

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