Friday, April 23, 2010

The Significance of Jesus Standing in Acts 7:55–56

What is the significance of Jesus standing at the right hand of God, as recorded in Acts 7:55? Why is Jesus portrayed as standing rather than seated as per Ps 110:1 and Acts 2:33–35?

It should be noted that we not only have a narrated account of Jesus standing on this occasion in v. 55, but Stephen also gives a verbal report of this in v. 56: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” These words are actually the conclusion to Stephen’s speech which began all the way back in Acts 7:2. Furthermore, this conclusion follows immediately upon Stephen’s strongly worded accusation that old covenant Israel was a rebellious nation:

You stiff-necked people, 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? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it (Acts 7:51–53).

The immediate context for Jesus standing, therefore, is Stephen’s blatant accusation of covenant rebellion on the part of the ancient nation of Israel.

It is also significant that Stephen’s reporting of the vision of Jesus standing in heaven creates a parallel with Dan 7:13, where one like the son of man comes into the presence of the Ancient of Days, and is presented before him. It is most natural that this son of man would have been standing before God during his presentation. So the idea of Jesus standing as mentioned by Stephen seems to allude to Dan 7:13. This allusion functions as a bold presentation by Stephen of the Christian claim in the polemical context of the time. The claim was that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of Man in fulfillment of Dan 7. In addition, the conceptual parallel between the giving of the kingdom to this son of man in Dan 7:14 and the giving of the kingdom to “the saints of the Most High” in Dan 7:27 brings the courtroom scene of Dan 7:26 (where the power of the evil little horn is taken away) into the picture.

Altogether, therefore, Jesus standing in Acts 7:55 conveys his authority as the Son of Man, along with his power to judge the enemies of God’s people. Jesus standing particularly highlights his role as Judge: “the court shall sit in judgment” (Dan 7:26); “[the Father] has given [the Son] authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man” (John 5:27).

The fact that Stephen’s opponents “cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him” (Acts 7:57) as soon as he had spoken about Jesus standing at the right hand of God shows that they understood the christological import of Stephen’s description of Jesus. In sum, Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father in Acts 7:55–56 conveys that Jesus is the Messiah (in fulfillment of Ps 110), and the Son of Man (in fulfillment of Dan 7), who has the authority to execute judgment on behalf of God and his people. Viewed in the context of Stephen's speech, it is as if Jesus is standing to confirm the veracity of the accusation that Stephen had brought against the nation of Israel, and to indicate that he is the Son of Man of Dan 7 who will judge those who persecute “the saints of the Most High” (Dan 7:27). Stephen's death, like that of the prophets and the Righteous One before him (Acts 7:52), would not be in vain.

12 comments:

jeff miller said...

wow, thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

Thanks very muchif

Anonymous said...

It all so shows when you stand for Jesus, he stands for you. He is our biggest fan. He is our cheerleader. Jesus is not our judge, Jesus is our attorney.

Robin said...

Thanks so much for explaining this. I've wondered about it for a long time.

Steven Coxhead said...

No worries. Glad you found it helpful.

Ninja in training said...

This was excellent. Thank you for sharing. The insight is fantastic.

Doug Clark said...

So this was the only time mentioned of Jesus standing as to being seated at the right Hand of God?

Anonymous said...

So God the Father and Jesus Christ are 2 separate beings.

Steven Coxhead said...

Yes, these verses from Acts are the only two verses in the Bible that speak of Jesus standing.

Steven Coxhead said...

In the Bible, God the Father and Jesus Christ are distinguished, but at the same time Jesus taught that he and the Father are one (John 10:30). The Father and the Son are two distinct beings, but the Son is also the presence of the Father in the world, or as the Apostle Paul puts it: Christ is "the image of invisible God" (Col 1:15). There is unity as well as distinction.

Steven Coxhead said...

In part it also depends on how you define the word being. In the homoousion debate in the first few centuries, the orthodox wing of the church argued that the Son was one substance or one being with the Father. But if by being you have in mind the idea of a self-contained entity that can be distinguished from other entities, then God the Father and Jesus Christ can be spoken of as being two separate beings.

Steven Coxhead said...

The classic doctrine of the Trinity speaks of God as one being but three persons. God the Son is the eternal self-expression of the Father, and Jesus Christ is God the Son incarnate.