Stephen’s death (Acts 7:51-60) is probably the most significant chapter in the life of the Church since Pentecost. He is the first believer whose blood was shed in Jesus name, and I don’t believe its significance is fully appreciated in the Church today. It may come as a surprise to know that he was probably stoned on the Day of Atonement 3 ½ years after Jesus’ crucifixion and comes at the culmination of the second half of the 70th week of Daniels 70 Weeks Prophecy. The first half of that week incorporated Jesus’ public ministry which ended in his crucifixion in the “midst of the week” (cp. Daniel 9:26-27). Both halves equal 7 years or the 70th Week beginning on the Feast of Trumpets in 27 CE and ending on the Day of Atonement or 10th day of the seventh month in 34 CE.
In Revelation 12 we see the believing community protected during Jesus’ public ministry (Revelation 12:6-10; cp. Luke 10:17-20). When Jesus was crucified, the believing community overcame the evil one through the blood of Jesus, even risking their lives (Revelation 12:11; cp. Acts 4 & 5), but they were protected for another 3 ½ years (Revelation 12:12-14), the Jewish people represented by the “earth” in Revelation 12:15-16 helped the believing community by swallowing up the power of evil meant to hurt the disciples (cp. Acts 4 & 5). However, as the 70th week drew to a close, the evil one made war with the Hellenist believers within the Church (Revelation 12:17; cp. Acts 6 – 8), and blood was finally shed in the person of Stephen (Acts 7:51-60), one of the “seven” and a leader in the bicultural believing community.
Several dates are important to appreciate the significance of Stephens’s death. First we must understand that the beginning of the 490 years or 70 weeks of years was on the Feast of Trumpets (1st day of the seventh month) when the returning captives first act in the fulfillment of the prophecy was to rebuild the altar of burnt offering and restored the daily offering at Jerusalem (Ezra 3:1-6). The work of rebuilding the Temple and the walls around Jerusalem was completed on the Feast of Trumpets 49 years later or 7 weeks of years. The Messiah was prophesied to come after 62 more weeks of years, and would presumably make himself known on the Feast of Trumpets 434 years after the Temple and walls surrounding Jerusalem were built.
Luke’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry aligns at least five different Sabbaths with first seven Sabbaths occurring in the first three weeks of the 7th month in 27 CE. Jesus announced that he was the Messiah in Nazareth on the Feast of Trumpets (Luke 4:18), and thus began the 70th week of years. Before the month was over he was rejected and accused of being demon possessed and told to offer a sign, but the only sign Jesus would give was the sign of the prophet Jonah, which indicated the amount of time Jesus would spend in the tomb. The Jewish leadership demanded a sign on the Last Great Day of the Feast of Tabernacles or the 22nd of the 7th month. Exactly 1260 days later Jesus was crucified on Passover Day on the 14th day of the 1st month. Remembering that Jesus began his ministry by saying “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” (Luke 4:18) on the Feast of Trumpets, exactly 1335 days later the Spirit fell upon the Apostles on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4; cp. Daniel 12:12). Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday (not Friday) and spent three days and three nights in the tomb. He rose from the dead and became our Wave Sheaf Offering which blessed the whole harvest that followed (see Leviticus 23), and this was on the 18th of the 1st month. Exactly 1290 days later Stephen was killed on the Day of Atonement in 34 CE (Acts 7:54-60; cp. Daniel 12:11).
In a number of ways Stephen typified Christ. He worked wonders among the people (Acts 6:8); no one could properly respond to his arguments (Acts 6:9-10); he was accused of blasphemy (Acts 6:11) by false witnesses (Acts 6:13); he was brought before the high priest and the Sanhedrin (Acts 6:15; 7:1), and was killed while he asked for forgiveness for his persecutors (Acts 7:60). Consider for a moment the theological significance of what occurred. Knowing that Jesus considers persecuting believers the same as persecuting himself (Acts 9:4), then what ever happens to them, happens also to him. He is the head (Ephesians 5:23) and the believing community is his Body (i.e. the Body of Christ—1Corinthians 12:27). Thus through the shedding of blood and loss of family and friends the Gospel would go out to the ends of the earth to embrace the Gentiles and bring them into submission to the God of Abraham.