and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man ~standing~ at the right hand of God.” Acts 7:56 (NASB)
All of the time, except for this time, Jesus sits at the right hand side of God.
Why is He standing rather than sitting?
There are about 16 New Testament references to Jesus or the Son of Man being at God’s right hand. Acts 7:55-56 is unique in describing the Son of Man as standing (twice), four verses describe him simply as “at” God’s right hand (Acts 2:33, 5:31; Rom.8:34; and 1Pet.3:22), and the remainder describe him as seated (Mt.26:64; Mk.14:62, 16:19; Lk.22:69; Acts 2:34; Eph.1:20; Col.3:1; Heb.1:3, 8:1, 10:12, and 12:2). Mark 14:62 is typical of the latter:
Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Though the full statement is missing, the image is likely rooted in Daniel 7:13-14:
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
On the Day of Pentecost Peter also drew on precedent, Ps.110:1, declaring:
“God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:32-36)
Though the distinction between being merely “at the right hand” and “seated at the right hand” is not explicit in the texts, many commentators find meaning in the Son of Man being seated in authority and judgement, his work complete and his footstool a typical ANE icon of dominion over his foes. The 'Session of Christ', as it is called, is one of the doctrines specifically mentioned in the Apostles' Creed.
This makes Stephen’s vision of Jesus standing all the more curious:
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55-56)
Just as Stephen declares the bankruptcy of the Jewish religious system and accuses the Sanhedrin of betraying and murdering God’s prophet, Stephen has a vision of Jesus standing. The text does not explain the significance, but it may parallel Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin; where he once stood accused, he now stands vindicated. Or, more typically, commentators see in the story of Stephen's vision a picture of the Savior standing beside those who testify on his behalf, or perhaps the Good Shepherd greeting the soon-to-be-martyred saint.(1)
(1) F.F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of the Acts (Eerdmans, 1964), pp.167-168.
The background of Stephen's vision from an intertextuality perspective (which is, I believe, a distinctive feature of the scriptures and perhaps the most eloquent testimony to the divine provenance of the scriptures) is, I believe found in the interaction between Jehoshaphat and Micaiah, a true prophet of the LORD.
Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah approached the king of Israel and asked him to inquire of the LORD whether he would grant them victory. So the king gathered 400 prophets together and they all, in various gestures and prophecies assured that they should go to war and the king that God would grant the king victory:
1Ki 22:6 Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said unto them, Shall I go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And they said, Go up; for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king.
However, Jehoshaphat seems to have had a nagging sense that the prophets and their prophecies could not be counted on so he asked if there were another prophet available that they could consult:
1Ki 22:7 And Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the LORD besides, that we might enquire of him?
The king of Israel said that there was this other prophet named Micaiah but he never seemed to say the things he wanted to hear!:
1Ki 22:8 And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may enquire of the LORD: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so. 1Ki 22:9 Then the king of Israel called an officer, and said, Hasten hither Micaiah the son of Imlah.
It was for this reason that he had heaped together the "agreeable" prophets:
[2Ti 4:3 KJV] 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
Micaiah, mocking the king, told him what they wanted him to hear:
1Ki 22:10 And the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah sat each on his throne, having put on their robes, in a void place in the entrance of the gate of Samaria; and all the prophets prophesied before them. 1Ki 22:11 And Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made him horns of iron: and he said, Thus saith the LORD, With these shalt thou push the Syrians, until thou have consumed them. 1Ki 22:12 And all the prophets prophesied so, saying, Go up to Ramothgilead, and prosper: for the LORD shall deliver it into the king's hand. 1Ki 22:13 And the messenger that was gone to call Micaiah spake unto him, saying, Behold now, the words of the prophets declare good unto the king with one mouth: let thy word, I pray thee, be like the word of one of them, and speak that which is good. 1Ki 22:14 And Micaiah said, As the LORD liveth, what the LORD saith unto me, that will I speak. 1Ki 22:15 So he came to the king. And the king said unto him, Micaiah, shall we go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall we forbear? And he answered him, Go, and prosper: for the LORD shall deliver it into the hand of the king.
1Ki 22:17 And he said, I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd: and the LORD said, These have no master: let them return every man to his house in peace.
But the still small voice inside the king persisted:
1Ki 22:18 And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, Did I not tell thee that he would prophesy no good concerning me, but evil?
So Micaiah tells him the dreaded truth that the army of the LORD would side with their enemies:
1Ki 22:19 And he said, Hear thou therefore the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left.
The rest of the chapter is an excellent read about how God would "choose their delusions" but I think that gives enough background to appreciate the allusion. Stephen was being pressured to give "the right answer", but when he didn't they killed him. But before he died he saw a vision of the "son of man" (the Messiah) at the head of the heavenly armies, preparing to judge Israel!
In other words, by alluding to the prophet's vision of the LORD's army prepared to destroy Israel he assured the leadership of Israel that had rejected the Messiah and the spirit within his anointed servants that in their rebellion against Rome they would be fighting against the son of God, heading the Armies of the LORD.
There is further evidence that Stephen's vision (or whatever it was) was suggesting that because they rejected the prophets they would be visited by an invading army:
[Zec 7:11-14 NIV] 11 "But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. 12 They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry. 13 " 'When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,' says the LORD Almighty. 14 'I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land they left behind them was so desolate that no one traveled through it. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.' "
KJV unless otherwise noted.