The First Martyr of the Early Church
The Bible in the book of Acts chapter 7 tells us that Stephen was the first martyr in the early apostolic church. Stephen was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). Not much is recorded about his personal life. Tradition has it that Stephen and Philip were both of the Seventy, sent into every city and village to announce that the Messiah had come (Luke 10:1–11).
The Scriptures tell us that Stephen “did great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). He was also one of the seven men chosen to handle a church “complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution” (Acts 6:1).
But what led to his final crisis started with a conflict that arouse when a certain group “called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia)” disputed with Stephen (Acts 6: 9). And when they could not resist his wisdom, they secretly induced men to say that he said blasphemous ideas against Moses and God (verse11). As a result, they brought Stephen to the Jewish council for judgement (verse 13). There, the Holy Spirit fell upon him and his face shown as “an angel” (verse 15).
In his defense, Stephen gave a very detailed history of Israel and their relationship to God. And he accused Israel of rejecting Jesus as the Messiah and murdering Him. And he added, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute” (Acts 7:51,52).
When the Jews heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. And he, being full of the Holy Spirit, was taken in a vision to heaven where he saw “the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55,56).
The Jews could no longer hear his holy words and took him outside the city to stone him. There, he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:60). Just before his death, Stephen was pleading for their forgiveness which showed his forgiving spirit that had characterized his Master (Luke 23:34).
And when he had said this, he gave up his life (Acts 7:59,60). He was the first martyr of the early church. Stephen’s battle was over and he won the victory. His life and death is an honorable example of a true Christian who was willing to face death in order to preach God’s truth.
In His service,