The first Christian martyr, Stephen was almost certainly a Hellenistic Jew, well-known in the Greek-speaking synagogue in Jerusalem. Outspoken in his defence of the broader, deeper convictions of Jesus regarding the meaning of Judaism, he roused the enmity even of the Hellenistic synagogue and of Saul of Tarsus, and so died for his faith. Stephen had been the first recorded to declare that Jesus was God.

Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business... And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost... And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord lay not this sin to their charge. And when he said this, he fell asleep. About 200 Christians, with Nicanor, one of the seven deacons, suffered martyrdom during the persecution that arose about Stephen.

Not only did his winning personality make him a charmer among men he was also an intellectual giant. Deeply spiritual, he saw things in the Old Testament which related to Christ that even the apostles didn't know. He was absolutely fearless for the Lord. His words were backed up by miracles. It was impossible for anyone to stand against his wisdom. He was undefeatable, a powerhouse for Christ. This would explain why he was the first to be chosen as a deacon. Next to Peter, he was the most popular Christian of that day. Stephen was of the seventy disciples that Jesus sent out.

Stephen soon became well known as a debater for Christ. The synagogues were the customary places for men to argue the questions involved in the Jewish law. Stephen carried on the argument in the same place but for a different cause. It was inevitable that he should meet opposition. Death by stoning, a punishment from Mosaic law, was a form of execution use for blasphemers. Such a mob set upon Stephen when he courageously professed his belief in Jesus.

Stephen's death marked the beginning of severe persecutions in Jerusalem, forcing the Christians of Greek name and culture, who had had Stephen as their servant, to abandon that city and disperse to eastern Jordania, Judea, Samaria and Syria where they established strong Christian communities. This dispersion as it was called, gave impulse to the missionary spirit in the early church, so that by the end of the first century it had taken root in nearly all the lands bordering the Mediterranean. Most of the apostles, apparently spared in this persecution because they still observed the law, remained in Jerusalem with the Judaic Christians.

Had Stephen lived he should have ranked with the greatest of the apostles. His career can hardly have lasted more than a few months, or even weeks, and he is given to us as the ideal man. There is a slight favor of Alexandrian culture in his speech e.g. the word wisdom occurs four times and nowhere else in Acts. Stephen was not satisfied to do nothing but relieve the necessities of the poor.
[Acts, 315, 18, 327, 329, 345, 356, 15, 291]

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