Acts 7:56
And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(56) Behold, I see the heavens opened.—It is manifest that the vision was given to the inward spiritual eye, and not to that of sense. No priest or scribe saw the glory of the opened heavens, and, therefore, the words which declared that Stephen saw them seemed to them but an aggravation of guilt that was already deep. (See Note on Matthew 3:16.)

And the Son of man.—The words call for notice as the only certain instance outside the Gospels of the use of the name which they record to have been constantly used by our Lord in speaking of Himself. (See Note on Matthew 8:20.) As the speech of Stephen was delivered at least some years before any Gospel was written, and as the whole character of the speech reported, even in its apparent inconsequence and inaccuracy, is against the theory that it was put by the historian into the martyr’s lips, its occurrence here is evidence in favour of the Gospel narrative, as showing that the title, which a few years afterwards, for some reason or other, the disciples ceased to use, was at that earlier date familiar. As uttered by Stephen before the Sanhedrin, it had the special emphasis of reminding them of the words which had been spoken by the Son of Man Himself (Matthew 26:64). It was from their point of view a repetition of what they had then condemned as blasphemy. In Revelation 1:14 we have possibly another instance.

Standing on the right hand of God.—Our Lord’s own language (Matthew 26:64), and that of the Church following it (e.g., Ephesians 1:20; Hebrews 8:1), has commonly spoken of Him as sitting at the right hand of God. It was not, we may believe, without significance that He was manifested to Stephen’s gaze as standing in the attitude of one who rises to help and welcome a follower who had shown himself faithful even unto death.

Acts

STEPHEN’S VISION

Acts 7:56
.

I. The vision of the Son of Man, or the abiding manhood of Jesus.

Stephen’s Greek name, and his belonging to the Hellenistic part of the Church, make it probable that he had never seen Jesus during His earthly life. If so, how beautiful that he should thus see and recognise Him! How significant, in any case, is it he should instinctively have taken on his lips that name, ‘the Son of Man,’ to designate Him whom he saw, through the opened heavens, standing on the right hand of God! We remember that in the same Council-chamber and before the same court, Jesus had lashed the rulers into a paroxysm of fury by declaring, ‘Hereafter ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power,’ and now here is one of His followers, almost, as it were, flinging in their teeth the words which they had called ‘blasphemy,’ and witnessing that he, at all events, saw their partial fulfilment. They saw only the roof of the chamber, or, if the Council met in the open court of the Temple, the quivering blue of the Syrian sky; but to him the blue was parted, and a brighter light than that of its lustre was flashed upon his inward eye. His words roused them to an even wilder outburst than those of Jesus had set loose, and with yells of fury, and stopping their ears that they might not hear the blasphemy, they flung themselves on him, unresisting, and dragged him to his doom. Their passion is a measure of the preciousness to the Christian consciousness of that which Stephen saw, and said that he saw.

Whatever more the great designation, ‘Son of Man,’ means, it unmistakably means the embodiment of perfect manhood. Stephen’s vision swept into his soul, as on a mighty wave, the fact, overwhelming if it had not been so transcendently strengthening to the sorely bestead prisoner, that the Jesus whom he had trusted unseen, was still the same Jesus that He had been ‘in the days of His flesh,’ and, with whatever changes, still was ‘found in fashion as a man.’ He still ‘bent on earth a brother’s eye.’ Whatever He had dropped from Him as He ascended, His manhood had not fallen away, and, whatever changes had taken place in His body so as to fit it for its enthronement in the heavens, all that had knit Him to His humble friends on earth was still His. The bonds that united Him and them had not been snapped by being stretched to span the distance between the Council-chamber and the right hand of God. His sympathy still continued. All that had won their hearts was still in Him, and every tender remembrance of His love and leading was transformed into the assurance of a present possession. He was still the Son of Man.

We are all too apt to feel as if the manhood of Jesus was now but a memory, and, though our creed affirms the contrary, yet our faith has difficulty in realising the full force and blessedness of its affirmations. For the Resurrection and Ascension seem to remove Him from close contact with us, and sometimes we feel as if we stretch out groping fingers into the dark and find no warm human hand to grasp. His exaltation seems to withdraw Him from our brotherhood, and the cloud, though it is a cloud of glory, sometimes seems to hide Him from our sight. The thickening veil of increasing centuries becomes more and more difficult for faith to pierce. What Stephen saw was not for him only but for us all, and its significance becomes more and more precious as we drift further and further away in time from the days of the life of Jesus on earth. More and more do we need to make very visible to ourselves this vision, and to lay on our hearts the strong consolation of gazing steadfastly into heaven and seeing there the Son of Man. So we shall feel that He is all to us that He was to those who companied with Him here. So shall we be more ready to believe that ‘this same Jesus shall so come in like manner as He went,’ and that till He come, He is knit to us and we to Him, by the bonds of a common manhood.

II. The vision of the Son of Man at the right hand of God, or the glory of the Man Jesus.

We will not discuss curious questions which may be asked in connection with Stephen’s vision, such as whether the glorified humanity of Jesus implies His special presence in a locality; but will rather try to grasp its bearings on topics more directly related to more important matters than dim speculations on points concerning which confident affirmations are sure to be wrong. Whether the representation implies locality or not, it is clear that the deepest meaning of the expression ‘the right hand of God,’ is the energy of His unlimited power, and that, therefore, the deepest meaning of the expression ‘to be at His right hand,’ is wielding the might of the divine Omnipotence. The vision is but the visible confirmation of Jesus’ words, ‘All power is given unto Me in heaven and on earth.’

It is to be taken into account that Scripture usually represents the Christ as seated at the right hand of God, and that posture, taken in conjunction with that place, indicates the completion of His work, the majestic calm of His repose, like that creative rest, which did not follow the creative work because the Worker was weary, but because He had fulfilled His ideal. God rested because His work was finished, and was ‘very good.’ So Jesus sits, because He, too, has finished His work on earth. ‘When,’ and because ‘He had by Himself purged our sins, He sat down on the right hand of God.’

Further, that place at the right hand of God certifies that He is the Judge.

Further, it is a blessed vision for His children, as being the sure pledge of their glory.

It is a glorious revelation of the capabilities of sinless human nature.

It makes heaven habitable for us.

‘I go to prepare a place for you.’ An emigrant does not feel a stranger in new country, if his elder brother has gone before him, and waits to meet him when he lands. The presence of Jesus makes that dim, heavenly state, which is so hard to imagine, and from which we often feel that even its glories repel, or, at least, do not attract, home to those who love Him. To be where He is, and to be as He is- that is heaven.

III. The vision of the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God, or the ever-ready help of the glorified Jesus.

The divergence of the vision from the usual representation of the attitude of Jesus is not the least precious of its elements. Stephen saw Him ‘standing,’ as if He had risen to His feet to see His servant’s need and was preparing to come to his help.

What a rush of new strength for victorious endurance would flood Stephen’s soul as he beheld his Lord thus, as it were, starting to His feet in eagerness to watch and to succour! He looks down from amid the glory, and His calm repose does not involve passive indifference to His servant’s sufferings. Into it comes full knowledge of all that they bear for Him, and His rest is not the negation of activity on their behalf, but its intensest energy. Just as one of the Gospels ends with a twofold picture, which at first sight seems to draw a sad distinction between the Lord ‘received up into heaven and set down at the right hand of God,’ and His servants left below, who ‘went everywhere, preaching the word,’ but of which the two halves are fused together by the next words, ‘the Lord also working with them,’ so Stephen’s vision brought together the glorified Lord and His servant, and filled the martyr’s soul with the fact that He not only ‘worked,’ but suffered with those who suffered for His sake.

That vision is a transient revelation of an eternal fact. Jesus knows and shares in all that affects His servants. He stands in the attitude to help, and He wields the power of God. He is, as the prophet puts it, ‘the Arm of the Lord,’ and the cry, ‘Awake, O Arm of the Lord!’ is never unanswered. He helps His servants by actually directing the course of Providence for their sakes. He helps by wielding the forces of nature on their behalf. He ‘rebukes kings for their sake, saying, Touch not Mine anointed, and do My prophets no harm.’ He helps by breathing His own life and strength into them. He helps by disclosing to them the vision of Himself. He helps even when, like Stephen, they are apparently left to the murderous hate of their enemies, for what better help could any of His followers get from Him than that He should, as Stephen prayed that He would, receive their spirit, and ‘so give His beloved sleep’? Blessed they whose lives are lighted by that Vision, and whose deaths are such a falling on sleep!7:54-60 Nothing is so comfortable to dying saints, or so encouraging to suffering saints, as to see Jesus at the right hand of God: blessed be God, by faith we may see him there. Stephen offered up two short prayers in his dying moments. Our Lord Jesus is God, to whom we are to seek, and in whom we are to trust and comfort ourselves, living and dying. And if this has been our care while we live, it will be our comfort when we die. Here is a prayer for his persecutors. Though the sin was very great, yet if they would lay it to their hearts, God would not lay it to their charge. Stephen died as much in a hurry as ever any man did, yet, when he died, the words used are, he fell asleep; he applied himself to his dying work with as much composure as if he had been going to sleep. He shall awake again in the morning of the resurrection, to be received into the presence of the Lord, where is fulness of joy, and to share the pleasures that are at his right hand, for evermore.I see the heavens opened - A figurative expression, denoting that he was permitted to see "into" heaven, or to see what was there, as if the firmament was divided, and the eye was permitted to penetrate the eternal world. Compare Ezekiel 1:1. 56. I see … the Son of man standing, &c.—This is the only time that our Lord is by human lips called THE Son of Man after His ascension (Re 1:13; 14:14 are not instances). And why here? Stephen, full of the Holy Ghost, speaking now not of himself at all (Ac 7:55), but entirely by the Spirit, is led to repeat the very words in which Jesus Himself, before this same council, had foretold His glorification (Mt 26:64), assuring them that that exaltation of the Son of Man which they should hereafter witness to their dismay, was already begun and actual [Alford]. I see the heavens opened; God not suffering any distance to hinder this refreshing sight.

The Son of man; so Christ is frequently called; and St. Stephen would by this inform them, how vain they were in striving against Christ or his truth.

Standing on the right hand of God, as an Advocate, Soldier, or Captain for Stephen; or as one showing the prize unto him, which he was now running for, and had need to be encouraged with the sight of. But it seems strange that St. Stephen should tell the Jews of this heavenly vision, being they did not see it, although in the same place with him; but this he might do.

1. Out of his ardent love to Christ, desiring to magnify him.

2. To invite his enemies to repentance, now heaven was opened, and Christ’s arms were stretched out to receive them.

3. To hinder any from being afraid to own Christ and his truths.

4. To terrify the most obdurate amongst them, by showing them their Judge, and minding them of his avenger.

5. That he might assert himself to be an eye witness of Christ’s being risen again from the dead, which they made such difficulty to believe. And said, behold, I see the heavens opened,.... As they were at the baptism of Christ; see Gill on Matthew 3:16,

and the son of man standing at the right hand of God; he calls Jesus "the son of man"; a name by which he often called himself in his state of humiliation; and that though he was now glorified, it being the name of the Messiah in Psalm 80:17 as was well known to the Jews; and this Stephen said to show that God was on his side, and to let them know what honour was done him, what divine supports and comforts he had, and that he was an eyewitness of Jesus, and of his being alive, and in glory.

And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
56. the Son of man] This title, which in the Gospels is only used by Christ when speaking of Himself, is here first employed by another, and can fitly be so employed now, for the prophecy which Christ uttered of Himself (Matthew 26:64), “Hereafter ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power,” is now fulfilled, and its fulfilment is to be preached to the world.Acts 7:56. Ἰδοὺ, Behold) A confession of faith flowing from a present experimental proof. [From this very moment the eternal life shone upon Stephen more strongly than heretofore.—V. g.]—θεωρῶ, I see) It was not the province of his enemies to see, but to believe, if they had had faith.—τοὺς οὐρανοὺς, the heavens) This expresses more than heaven, in Acts 7:55.—τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, the Son of man) Luke in the preceding ver. calls Him Jesus. Not Luke, but Stephen, saw Jesus. Comp. note on Matthew 16:13 as to the appellation, Song of Solomon of man. [An appellation which none but Christ employed, and of Himself during His life. Nor is it found in the twenty-one Epistles.] The article refers to Daniel 7:13. As Adam is the representative of all his fallen offspring; so Jesus, the second Adam, is the representative-man of all the redeemed sons of men, sustaining their rights and primogeniture. 1 Corinthians 15:47; Hebrews 2:11, where the article is not added, the words being those of David, not Paul. It expresses His manifested state, both the past one in lowliness, and the present and future one in exaltation, as Stephen sees Him, and as He shall appear.Verse 56. - The Son of man. Our Lord's usual designation of himself (see Matthew 8:10; Matthew 26:64; etc.; and also Daniel 7:13), but nowhere but here spoken of Jesus by any other. I see (θεωρῶ)

See on Luke 10:18.

The Son of man

A title never applied to Christ by any of the apostles or evangelists, except here by Stephen. See on Luke 6:22.

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