What Did Stephen See?
Upon the stoning of Stephen, it is said that he "looked up stedfastly 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" (Acts 7:55-56). What exactly did Stephen see? Did he see Jesus standing on a big hand belonging to God?
It would be hard to believe that Stephen actually saw a large right hand belonging to God and Jesus standing on it. It brings a picture to my mind of the All State Insurance Company's trademark of a man resting in a large pair of cupped hands with the slogan, "You're in good hands with All State."
The "right hand of God" is not indicative of a locale or physical reality. This is an anthropomorphic expression speaking of exaltation, power, prestige, honor, and strength. Anthropomorphisms are figures of speech, speaking of God in human terminology for the purpose of understanding aspects of His infinity that could not otherwise be expressed to and understood by finite human minds. This is understood by most all prominent Trinitarian conservative evangelical theologians as well. God does not have a body, thus He cannot have a right hand. The language is only figurative.
Psalm 16:8 demonstrates this well when the psalmist said, "I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved." Was the Lord actually at David's right hand? If David would have turned around, would God have moved to his other side, or would He have then been at David's left hand? God is omnipresent and cannot merely be in one locale. This would include being specifically at someone's right hand. This is poetic language expressing the way in which God was a strength to David in his distress.
That the right hand is indicative of power can be seen in Exodus 15:6 where it is said that the Lord's "right hand...is become glorious in power." David said of God's right hand: "Now know I that the LORD saveth his anointed; he will hear him from his holy heaven with the saving strength of his right hand" (Psalm 20:6). Jesus said concerning the meaning of God's right hand (the place to which He was at when seen by Stephen), "And ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven" (Mark 14:62; See also Luke 22:69). Jesus testified that God's right hand was a term speaking of God's power. (See also Psalm 77:10; 98:1; 109:31; Isaiah 62:8; 63:12; I Peter 3:22)
This type of terminology is even used today in our society and culture to mean the same thing. For example, to sit on the right side of an important individual is the most honorable place to sit. It shows your prestige, importance, or honor. He who sits there is said to be at the honoraria's "right hand." When one considers something to be of great value he might say, "I'd give my right hand (or arm) for this." This type of usage can even be seen in the phrase, "He's my right-hand man."
If we are going to view the right hand of God as a physical hand, then we must change our view of God considerably to fit the rest of the Biblical descriptions of Him into our picture too. God must have large feet that He rests on the earth (The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool--Isaiah 66:1), innumerable eyes (The eyes of the Lord are in every place--Proverbs 15:3), a big nose (with the blast of God's nostrils the waters of the Red Sea were parted--Exodus 15:8), and feathers on His wings (He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust--Psalm 91:4). Obviously these are not literal descriptions of God. They are anthropomorphisms, relating God in human terms with the use of poetic language.
The first description of God in the series above is referring to God's omnipresence; the second to both His omnipresence and omniscience; the third to the east wind that God sent to part the waters of the Red Sea; and the fourth is speaking of God's love and protection. If these types of descriptions were real, then truly Jesus would have pulled a large finger from out of heaven with which He used to cast out devils (Luke 11:20). The absurdity of such a view only serves to demonstrate the error one gets into when taking the anthropomorphisms of Scripture too far. In this case here I'm speaking of taking "God's right hand" to be a literal hand in a specific locale.
Now that we know what Stephen did not see, what did he see? It is apparent that he saw Jesus. He even addressed his prayer to Him in verse fifty-nine saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." What may not be apparent is that he saw the exalted Christ. Since the term "right hand" is used with the idea of power, strength, glory, prestige, honor, and pre-eminence and not with the idea of a physical hand in mind, it must be understood that Stephen's reference to the right hand of God was a reference to the same. When he said he saw Jesus standing on the right hand of God, He was conveying that he saw Him in this exalted position as Lord over all. He saw Him in all of His glory, having all authority, might, power, dominion and strength, not physically standing on God's hand.
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