Why did Stephen see the Lord standing at the right hand of God (see Acts 7: 55, 56), while in Col. 3: 1, Christ is said to be sitting?

Some have speculated that it is because the Lord had arisen from His seat to welcome into His presence one faithful unto death. However, the martyr’s crown (see Rev. 2: 10), like all rewards, is not given at the point of death, but prior to the Lord setting up His kingdom in power.

   In many ways, the book of Acts is the continuation of the Gospel of Luke—and it is in Luke 19 that we read that “A certain high-born man went to a distant country to receive for himself a kingdom and return … But his citizens hated him, and sent an embassy after him, saying, We would not that this [man] should reign over us” (vs. 12, 14). The parable is clearly intended to correct the feeling of some around the Lord that “the kingdom of God was about to be immediately manifested” (v11), when in fact He would go away to a “distant country” (v12), before coming back again to reign. Now in the story, the high-born man had already left when His citizens sent their message after Him, and it therefore follows that in the historical fulfilment that the embassy must have been sent after the Lord’s ascension. But when exactly?

   In answering that question, we might ask another:  why would the Jews send an embassy after the Lord’s death when killing Him was surely enough of a rejection? The plain implication is that the prospect of His rule over them had resurfaced. Clearly the resurrection made such a thing possible—but in resurrection the Lord only ever appeared to His own, not the Jews generally. No, what infuriated the Jews was that five weeks after His death, His disciples began to testify that Jesus had risen from the dead, and that He was Israel’s rightful king. Thus, in Acts 2, Peter declares to the “Men of Israel” (v22), that “God has made him, this Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (v36). The Jews had rejected the rule of “this Jesus” at the cross and God had responded by reiterating that Man’s title to rule, raising him from the dead (see v24) and exalting Him to His right hand (see vs. 33, 34). Then in Acts 3 a lame man is raised up “in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazaraean” (v6). The miracles of the Lord in the Gospels were signs of the Kingdom (see Is. 35: 5, 6 etc.) and those signs now continued under the apostles. That the lame man had been raised up in the name of the King that had been rejected was hugely significant. Following the miracle, Peter puts the crucifixion down to a sin of ignorance (see Acts 3: 17) and promises the Jews that if they repented of their sin in putting Christ to death, then “times of refreshing” (v19) would come from God. The Jews would understand “refreshing” to speak of a rejuvenated earth in the Kingdom (see Matt. 19: 28 etc.); Christians by contrast are promised suffering (see John 16: 33; Phil. 1: 29 etc.). That the heavens would receive Christ “till [the] times of [the] restoring of all things” (Acts 3: 21) is also a reference to the kingdom, when everything would be put back in its proper order—“of which God has spoken by the mouth of his holy prophets since time began” (v21). In addition to all this, the Lord (the Jehovah of the OT) promised—if they repented—to “send Jesus Christ” (v20) to them. This is a Messianic and not a Christian hope (which is to go to be where the Lord now is—see John 14: 3). Yes, we know now that Christ’s return would be delayed for many centuries, but that is not how it would have been understood at the time. The reason the promise was delayed is not because it could not have been fulfilled then, but because the nation did not repent (Peter’s preaching leads to his arrest—see Acts 4: 3). Of course, God knows the end from the beginning, but neither does God make empty promises. If they had repented, the Lord would have returned (comp. Matt. 11: 14).

   The fall out from the healing of the lame man continues into Acts 4, and there are then more miracles in Acts 5: 15, 16 and 19. In Acts 6, Stephen “wrought wonders and great signs among the people” (v8), and in Acts 7 he delivers his withering résumé of Jewish history. This culminates in his testimony to the Lord standing at the right hand of God—the place of exaltation and honour. It is at that point that the Jews hold their ears, and stone Stephen to death. They would not have Jesus Christ reign over them. Of course, if they had repented, then He would have been sent to them—which is why He is pictured standing (and therefore ready to return). It would perhaps be too dogmatic to confine the fulfilment of the prophesied embassy of Luke 19: 14 to Stephen’s martyrdom but his death encapsulates the consistent message of the Jews in the book of Acts. Acts describes a transitional state, and it is not until we get to the epistles that we find Israel finally set on one side and the Assembly manifested in its mystery character as Jew and Gentile equal in one body. Thus, in Colossians 3: 1 the Lord is sitting at the right hand of God as the prospect of the Lord returning to His people Israel had then retreated far into the future.