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THE STONING OF STEPHEN
The entire Sanhedrin, on hearing that Stephen ‘saw the heavens opened,’ “cried out with a loud voice, [‘Blasphemy! Blasphemy!’] They stopped their ears, and ran at Stephen with one accord, casting him out of the city to stone him...”
They flung Stephen to the ground next to a heap of stones that were stacked on the place of execution.
Then, silence suddenly fell upon the mob. They were watching Stephen closely to anticipate his response.
Probably, they were waiting for him to plead for mercy — and to confess his “blasphemy” while crying out that he now denies this strange Christ!
But Stephen, laying defenselessly at their feet, his face in the dust, did not attempt to escape or to reason with them again.
He willingly submitted to his fate; knowing he would soon see Jesus.
Stephen knew that death by stoning was not an instant form of execution. Stoning was meticulous, ceremonial execution. The stones were large enough to kill, but not big enough to kill instantly. Stoning is a terrible ordeal of agonizing pain and splattering blood and flesh; slowly building up to a terrible, lingering death.
So that the blood of God’s martyr would not splash on their fine ceremonial temple robes, the Sanhedrin and the rest of the priesthood began to meticulously take off their fine, religious garments to “lay down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul,” (Acts 7:57-60.)
This reverent act proves that Saul was the ringleader of those demonic murderers.
Saul, who would later become the born again Paul, quietly “consented to Stephen’s death” as he guarded the clothes of those who would commit this atrocious murder before his eyes. Saul, too, was a staunch adherent of the unpitying Rabbinic Law, and a fanatical leader in the Hebrew pursuit of ‘a kingdom of god now’ here on earth. Saul was personally overseeing Stephen’s murder because he zealously fought for the Judaist, National vision of a restored Israeli state; eventually free from Roman oppression, and firmly cast in the concrete of the ousted temple order and its polished, ceremonial law, (Heb. 8:13; chapters 7-9.)
[Paraphrased from the example of a recent religious stoning.] By now, Stephen probably got to his feet, just to be kicked down on his knees before the Sanhedrin. Maybe, they allowed him to stand facing them — or they could have buried him to his waist in the ground to magnify his helplessness. Most likely, he looked them straight in the eye as he calmly waited for the first stone to tear into his flesh.
It would have been the ‘honor’ of the high priest to cast the first stone.
“For God! Do it for God!” they would have chanted; eagerly awaiting their turns to throw stones at Stephen.
Stephen must have instinctively covered his face with his arms as the high priest calculatedly turned the stone in his hand before hurling it at him.
Possibly, the stone hit him in the head, stunning him and knocking him to the ground, followed by a thundering cheer of praise to God from the crowd. But as they did not wish to kill Stephen quickly, perhaps the first stone struck him in the chest.
In the fashion of incarnated devils, the mob would have loudly congratulated the high priest with his excellent shot. Those closest to him joyfully tapped him on his back and shoulders, and hugged him in brotherly union.
The second in charge of this murder then got his chance. And then another. And another.
With short intervals, after shouting more abuse, they hurled more stones at Stephen in the Name of God.
Each blow drew blood; forcibly tossing Stephen’s body vulnerably to and fro.
With each strike, the crowd would have cheered while ecstatically jumping and shaking their fists in victory.
They tried to inflict the maximum amount of pain and humiliation before killing him, cheering one another on, making their brutal murder of Jesus’ innocent disciple into a brilliant religious feat.
Then, as Stephen collapsed, the stones began to come at him with greater frequency, mashing his flesh and crushing his bones.
Saul stood completely unaffected while Stephen groaned in pain, instinctively cradling his head in his arms as the stones slowly thrashed him to the ground. Without twitching a muscle in remorse or choking on the smell of dust and blood, Saul, calmly watching from the sideline, listened to the beastly, bloodthirsty cries and curses of his fellow religionists, which mingled with their praises to God and the muffled sound of the stones that were pounding Stephen’s blood-soaked body to a pulp.
Not even the dying man’s prayer could soften Saul’s religious heart of stone.
Still trying in vain to cover his face, the dying man sobbed through blood-soaked lips, “Lord, receive my spirit! Do not charge them with this sin!”
More and more stones rained on him until Stephen slipped away.
Eventually, his tortured body grew limp.
As his innocent blood seeped into the dry dirt underneath him, his breath slowly left him.
Stephen ‘fell asleep’ in the undeserving soil of Israel, that great, Old Covenant country of God, which would claim millions more lives in the ages to come in the futile effort to preserve the Israeli religion, which Jesus completely ousted at the cross on Golgotha, (Heb. 8:13; chapters 7-9.)
Maybe Saul did not know that Jesus had forewarned His disciples, saying, “They will put you out of the synagogues; [and churches; all their religious systems.] Yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service,” (Jn. 16:1-4.)
In Saul and his religious companions’ minds, they sincerely believed they were ‘offering God service.’ After all, they were diligently protecting ‘God’s’ Kingdom-Now vision for Israel. Even if it took a thousand crusades, they would relentlessly pursue them all, and murder every one of Jesus’ Followers of this “sect, known as The Way” – they so hated that resurrected Man Jesus, Who dared to call Himself the Hebrew Christ! – [Acts 24:14; 28:22.]
M.H. Commentary, “See the strength of corruption in the persecutors of [the true Gospel and disciples of Christ:] satanic malice in perfection, hell itself broken loose, when men become incarnate devils, and the serpent’s seed are spitting their venom.
“Christ’s receiving our spirits at death is the thing we are to be careful about, and to comfort ourselves with. We ought to be in care about this while we live, that Christ may receive our spirits when we die… [so that we can] escape being the prey [of the evil one that goes about like a] roaring lion. [Therefore we] commit our [spirits] to Him daily, to be ruled and remain sanctified, and made meet for heaven, and then, and not otherwise, He will receive [our ever living, human spirits into heaven for all eternity...]”
In Stephen’s prayer for those who murdered Him in God’s Name, he followed the example of his dying Master, “because prayer may preach… First, [so that they may be convicted of] their great sin, which, if divine mercy and grace did not prevent, would be laid to their charge, to their everlasting damnation. Second, notwithstanding their malice and fury against him, Stephen was in charity with them, and was so far from desiring that God would avenge his death upon them [with everlasting damnation,] that he would rather not have this crime laid to their charge [should they die before they could repent.] If they had not repented, it would certainly be laid to their charge; but he, for his part, did not desire that woeful day [when a soul dies without Christ to suffer eternal life in hell.]”
This confirms the truth of Scripture, which states, “The bloodthirsty hates the upright, but the just seeks his soul,” – Prov. 29:10.
THE FOLLOWERS OF THE WAY FLED WITH THE GOSPEL
Saul, one of the most bloodthirsty persecutors of Jesus’ Followers of The Way, “consented to Stephen’s death.” After that, “a great persecution arose against the [body of Christ and their assemblies] at Jerusalem, and so, they were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria… As for Saul, he made havoc of the ecclesia; entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. [But the baptism of fire through persecution actually tremendously enlarged the ecclesia’s area of evangelism,] as those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the Word.”
One would think that the religious-political destroyers of this world would have learnt their lesson when they crucified the Savior, because they accomplished exactly the opposite of what they intended! Yet now, the harlot and the beast, (or religion and politics, as described in Revelation Chapters 17 & 18;) not understanding the complete provision that Jesus had made for His spiritual body of believers to carry out His commission, thought they could crush God’s Spiritual Kingdom by detaining and snuffing out the physical life of His ‘called out assembly.’
Instead of pulverizing the Followers of The Way physically, emotionally, and spiritually, the persecutors actually kept them at Jesus’ feet. In complete reliance upon God, they fled with the Word to not only save their lives, but to obey Jesus’ commission to “go into all the world and preach His Gospel, baptizing His disciples in water, and teaching them everything He had said,” (Mt. 28:18-20.)
“[When Saul saw this,] still breathing threats and murder against the disciples, went to the High Priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that, [on his journeys in search of them,] he found any who were of The Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem,” (Acts 91-2.)
This is where God intervened on the road to Damascus to turn Saul the slayer of The Way into Paul the follower of The Way. It is a great misconception that Jesus came to bring us outward prosperity and great physical comfort and wealth in this dark realm — although He promised to fulfill our every need. Jesus is much more concerned about our spiritual welfare and the “coming of His spiritual Kingdom” in the born again hearts and renewed minds of His disciples. He will never light His Gospel in the spirits and souls (hearts and minds) of His believers, and place them in the ‘light,’ as that would be lives unproductively and ingloriously lived here in this dark dimension. Instead, He places His ‘lights’ in the darkness, to shine forth His Kingdom of grace in the darkened souls or minds of lost, cursed, and spiritually bound men and women.
Readers Digest wrote in ‘Jesus and His Times,’ ‘The fury of Saul and those like him had an effect they did not anticipate, for it caused the Word to be carried wherever the scattered Followers of The Way went… And so, communities of Followers were established among the Hebrews of Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Damascus, and many other cities of the Diaspora.’
THE DUAL BEAST OF REVELATION 13 BEGAN IT’S WORLDWIDE FEAST ON BLOOD AND THE SOULS OF MEN
When God met Saul on the road to Damascus, He delivered Saul from the ranks of religious riot and murderous control. And Paul’s own baptism of fire began to portray the astounding deception and political power of the religious beast from the earth. For instance, when God used Paul and Barnabas to heal a cripple man in Lystra, the people wanted to worship Barnabas as Zeus, (father of the Greek gods,) and Paul as Hermes, (messenger of the gods – known to the Romans as Jupiter and Mercury.) “But they… Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes and cried, ‘We also are men… Turn from these useless things to the Living God…’ [Yet] they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them.”
Then the secret agents of that instigating secret society, the Hebrew Sanhedrin, who undoubtedly knew Paul very well, arrived on the scene. They immediately began another slanderous campaign to sway public opinion, and once again, almost instantly, they changed the hearts and the minds of the multitudes, who then “stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead,” (Acts 14.)
Such is the power of Satan’s underhanded, back-biting, secret agents of all sorts. One moment Paul was revered as a Greek god; the next moment those people stoned him like a rabid do and left him for dead outside the city! One moment the multitudes were shouting ‘Hosanna to the King,’ and only a few days later, under the same malicious influence of this secret society, they scourged and crucified Jesus for blasphemy against God and political revolt against Caesar.
Officially, the brother of Peter – Andrew, who preached the Gospel to many Asiatic nations, became the body of Christ’s second martyr. ‘Foxes Book of Martyrs’ explains, ‘On arriving at Odessa, the governor of the country, named Egeas, threatened him for preaching against the idols they worshipped. Andrew, persisting in his [preaching, was eventually] crucified. He was fastened to the cross, not with nails, but cords, that his death might be more slow. In this situation he continued two days, preaching the greatest part of the time to the people, [until he finally died.]’
“Then Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass the Followers of The Way. And he killed James the brother of John, (who asked Jesus to sit next to Him in His Kingdom in Mt. 20:20.)
“Because Herod saw that it pleased the Hebrews, [the Judaist Sanhedrin,] he proceeded to seize Peter also,’ and threw him in prison.”
Here, once more, we clearly see the manipulation and control of the bloodthirsty, religious harlot, as she was riding the political beast, (Acts 12.)
However, an angel released Peter, which so enraged Herod that he ordered the guards of the dungeon to be put to death.
“Peter, after various miracles, retired to Rome, where he confounded the magic of Simon Magnus, a great favorite of Emperor Nero. This caused both Peter and Paul to be apprehended. During their confinement, [God saved] two of the captains of the guard and 47 other persons. After nine months in prison, Peter was brought forth for execution.
“Peter was severely scourged, and crucified with his head downwards.” – [Foxe.]
Eventually, all of Jesus’ disciples succumbed to the fury of the Dual Beast.
“At Iconium, Paul and Barnabas were [again] near being stoned to death by the enraged Hebrews; on which they fled to Lycaonia. At Philippi, Paul and Silas were imprisoned and whipped; and both were again persecuted at Thessalonica. Being afterwards taken at Jerusalem, Paul was sent to Caesarea, but appealed to Caesar at Rome. Here he was imprisoned for two years…”
“On Paul’s release, he was again arrested and finally beheaded by the order of Nero.
“About the same time James, Philip, Matthew, Mark, Matthias, Jude, Bartholomew, Thomas, and Luke also suffered martyrdom for the cause of Christ. John [the beloved disciple…] founded [home assemblies or ecclesias] at Smyrna, Pergamos, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, and Thyatira, to which he directs the Book of Revelation [while imprisoned on the island of Patmos.] Being at Ephesus, John was ordered by the Emperor Domitian to be sent bound to Rome, where he was condemned to be cast into a cauldron of boiling oil.
“But here [an astounding] miracle was wrought in his favor. The oil did him no harm, and Domitian, not being able to put John to death, banished him to Patmos, to labor in the mines, in A.D. 73…
“John was the only disciple who escaped a violent death, and lived the longest of any, being nearly 100 years old at the time of his death.”
NERO, THE BRUTAL BEAST FROM THE SEA OR THE POLITICAL WORLD, ESCALATED THIS BINGE ON BLOOD
In 54-68 A.D., Nero became Caesar of Rome after the death of his father Claudius, and he arose as the main political beast that functioned in tandem with the secret societies of the religious beast to accost Jesus’ Followers of The Way, (Rev. 13.)
“The [assemblies’] first [full-scale political] persecution… was under Nero. The barbarities he inflicted on the [Followers of The Way] were such as wakened the sympathy of even the Romans themselves. Nero… had some sewed up in the skins of wild beasts, and then worried by [starving] dogs until they died. Others dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees, and were set on fire in Nero’s garden… [Many thousands,] whose names have not been recorded, suffered.
“Among other diabolical outrages, Nero ordered that the city of Rome should be set on fire… While the city was burning, he went up to the tower of Maecenas, played upon his harp, sung the song of the burning of Troy, and declared that he wished the ruin of all things before his death…. [The devil does not come except to steal, kill, and destroy!] Then he charged the whole [fiasco] upon the [Followers of The Way] to excuse himself and have an opportunity of fresh persecution.” - [Foxe.]
“But the savagery of this inhuman monster, so far from crushing the faith which he hated, [also] tended, in God’s good providence, to its [further] extension.”
During the late sixties of the 1st century A.D. under Nero’s rule, the unknown writer of Hebrews chapter 11 recorded, “We understand… that without faith, [constant, inexhaustible trust,] it is impossible to please God. For he who comes to God must believe that He [really] Is [God,] and that He Is a Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him…”
Thousands of other believers also ‘had trials of mocking and scourging, and of chains and imprisonment. “They were stoned, sawn in two, tempted, [provoked,] slain with the sword. They [wore] …goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves… And all these, having obtained a good testimony… did not receive… [a kingdom of peace and prosperity here on earth, [because such a kingdom does not exist in this dimension;] God having provided something better for them;’ [His Spiritual Kingdom in their hearts, and an everlasting destination when they die - heaven.]”
Even in the face of all those infinitely cruel persecutions, the Followers of The Way continued to preach the Gospel and glorify God. Nearly all of them met their violent deaths singing praises to their Savior King, the Lord Jesus Christ, and God delivered many high-ranking Romans as well as ordinary Roman citizens through their testimony. “And so, many Romans too, had to endure the uncontrolled fury of Nero. Simon of Jerusalem was crucified as a political activist, also speaking against the Kingdom-Now theology. Flavia, the daughter of a Roman senator, was banished to Pontus; and a cruel law was made that no [follower of Christ…] should be exempted from punishment without renouncing his or her belief in the risen Christ.” - [Readers Digest, ‘Jesus and His Times.’]
Nero also accused the Followers of The Way of ‘indecent nightly meetings, [as they had to meet secretly or be arrested;] a rebellious spirit, [being declared “enemies of the State” as the so-called “Ana Baptists” were during the Protestant Reformation,] and cannibals, [these were later schisms of The Way that converted to early Roman Catholicism, and participated in the breaking of bread as the “literal flesh and body of Christ” as the Roman Catholic dogma of Transubstantiation still teaches.]
“Such [became] the infatuation of the pagans that if famine, pestilence, or earthquakes afflicted any of the Roman provinces, it was [blamed on the followers of The Way, and those who were converting to the Roman Catholic Church; renamed as “Christians,” (Acts 11:26.)
“The persecutions multiplied the number of [secret societies that infiltrated the assemblies of believers and operated as] informers; and many, for the sake of gain, swore away the lives of the innocent. When [sincere Followers of the Way] were brought before the magistrates, a test was proposed, when, if they refused to take the oath, [Mt. 5:34-37, ‘Swear not at all… let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes..’] or if they confessed themselves [Followers of Christ,] death was immediately pronounced against them.” [‘Jesus and His Times,’ Readers Digest.]
The various kinds of punishments for obedience to God were imprisonment, racking, searing, boiling, burning, scourging, stoning, and hanging – or rather, a 15-20 minute long strangulation on the end of a rope, feet dangling in the air.
“Many were lacerated with red-hot pincers, others were thrown upon the horns of wild bulls. Among the most distinguished martyrs of this period was Timothy. During this time the pagans were about to celebrate a feast, the principal ceremonies of which were that the people should carry sticks, go masked, and bear about the streets the images of their gods – [just as during the Roman Catholic carnivals, which the Christian church-fathers gleaned directly from paganism.]
“When Timothy met the procession, he severely reproved them for their idolatry, which so exasperated them that they fell upon him with their clubs, and beat him in so dreadful a manner that he died two days after.”
John wrote during 70-95 A.D., “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the Word of God and for the testimony which they held,” (Rev. 6:9; 20:4.)
When God finally called John the Beloved home, the era of the body of Christ known as The Followers of The Way, (the bravest, boldest disciples of all time,) ended. Those who saw Jesus Christ; those who sat under His teaching – those who witnessed His death, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of His Spirit, and shared in His suffering through His baptism if fire, all finally fell asleep in Him, (Mt. 11:12.)
Those Followers of The Way have played their parts in history, and they excelled magnificently in glorifying Christ Jesus, their Spiritual King.
Their seeds were sown; their labor of love was done.
Although millions would follow in their footsteps, as a whole, the body of Christ was not, even until our day, manifested in all God’s Truth and Way as shortly after Jesus ascension and Pentecost. Hence, Paul wrote in Rom. 8:18-39, “I consider that the sufferings of this present world are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us... [When the saints will return with Christ to claim all the kingdoms of this world,] (Rev. 11:15; 19:7-9; 1 Ths. 4:16-17.)
“We… eagerly wait for the… redemption of our [mortal] bodies… [at the return of Christ.] What then, shall we say of these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? …Neither death nor life, nor angels nor [demons]… nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come… nor any [other] created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Continue to PART 3, The Roman Catholic Assault from Within the Midst of Jesus’ Assemblies
Read Part 2 again, Martyrs at the gates of Hades; the Baptism with fire
· Repent from all false doctrine and accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior
· “Sell your cloak to buy a sword.” What was Jesus really saying?
Find the following discussions inside the book, ‘WITCHCRAFT, (pagan & Christian,) WHAT IS THAT’:
Casting Lots to Determine the Will of God for a Particular Situation — is it still valid under the New Covenant?