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 verb ἑστῶτα means the right hand of God is the place where Jesus is. It does not always mean standing.
85.40 ἵστημιa: to cause to be in a place, with or without the accompanying feature of standing position -- Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 726). New York: United Bible Societies.
I would not read too much into the text, Acts 7:56. Yes, there are other passages of Jesus seated at the right hand of God, (that is, in the place of honor, power, and authority). Acts 2:32-36.
Stephen was the first "martyr" who gave a witness for Jesus at the cost of his life. Maybe Jesus rose to welcome him? And whether or not Jesus is sitting or standing at the right hand of God He is still deserving of being in the place of honor, power, and authority.
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.' "
I was recently struck with the fact that Daniel said that Michael would "stand up" in the great tribulation:
[Dan 12:1-4 KJV] (1) And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. (2) And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (3) And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. (4) But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.
[Rev 22:10 NKJV] (10) And he said to me, "Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand.
[Rev 12:7-9 NLT] (7) Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. (8) And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven. (9) This great dragon--the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world--was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.
[Jhn 12:31 NLT] (31) The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out.
Please see also:
[Isa 66:4 NKJV] (4) So will I choose their delusions, And bring their fears on them; Because, when I called, no one answered, When I spoke they did not hear; But they did evil before My eyes, And chose [that] in which I do not delight."
[2Th 2:9-12 NLT] (9) This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. (10) He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. (11) So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies. (12) Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth.
KJV unless otherwise noted.
Does Jesus sit or stand at the right hand of God?
Psalm 110:1 A Psalm of David. The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.
Acts 7:55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently into heaven and saw the glory of Godand Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
The LORD'S invitation to Jesus to sit.
Standing at the right hand of God. Stephen was the first to bear witness that he had seen Jesus in heaven and standing at the right hand of God, as prophesied at Ps 110:1. In this Psalm we read the the LORD’S invitation to the Davidic king to sit down at his right hand reflects the king’s position as the LORD'S vice-regent.
Jesus sitting is figurative of the many truths already expressed.
Stephen is totally reliant in the spirit (being 'full of the spirit' according to God's provision for this occasion) on Jesus and his God for the support and every spiritual gift to enable his proclamation to the Jews and the subsequent stoning.
Until this vision, nothing had happened to him - he had simply told them off for their hard and stubborn hearts.
To see Jesus standing is an encouragement for Stephen to know that his Lord is actively with him and providing what is necessary - rather than sitting which denotes a more inactive/inattentive participation in Stephens moment of trial.
But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” John 5:17
While the mission of defeating evil and death is already finished at the cross. Jesus and his Father are still working. Jesus, the new Lord, is the chief one through whom the Father is doing everything - giving life, sending the Spirit, judging etc.
There is much yet to do in the lives of the saints present and to come and Jesus hasn't got a moment to waste, idly sitting around! He is girded for action symbolised by his standing with Stephen - ever ready!
Put on the full armour of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Eph 6:11
The word in question is ἵστημι, histēmi:
And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56 ESV)
καὶ εἶπεν ἰδοὺ θεωρῶ τοὺς οὐρανοὺς διηνοιγμένους καὶ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκ δεξιῶν ἑστῶτα τοῦ θεοῦ
Stephen debated with other Jews in their synagogue, and from the speech he gives to the Sanhedrin, he argues from Scripture:
9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. (Acts 10 ESV)
Stephen was a Hellenist, a Greek speaking Jew. Therefore, his use of Scripture would have been from the LXX. The first use of ἵστημι, in Genesis means establish:
And I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives together with you. (LXX-Genesis 6:18 NETS)
The translation of the participle ἑστῶτα corresponds to adding "-ing" or "-ed" to the basic verb. In the case of Acts 7:56, either standing or established. Perhaps what Stephen is saying is better understood along the lines of the significance of being at the right hand, not as standing: Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man established at the right hand of God.
In which case, Stephen saw a fulfillment of one of Daniel's visions:
13 I was watching in the night visions, and lo, as it were a son of man was coming upon the clouds of heaven. And he came as far as the ancient of days, and the attendants were present with him. 14 And royal authority was given to him, and all the nations of the earth according to posterity and all honor was serving him. And his authority is an everlasting authority, which shall never be removed — and his kingship, which will never perish. (LXX-Daniel 7 NETS)
Daniel saw the Son of Man being given royal authority. That is, He was at the right hand of the Ancient of Days. Stephen saw the heavens opened and the Son of Man established at the right hand of God. Stephen would not be speaking of a physical position such as standing; in actuality He may have been seated. But Stephen is making a statement which placed emphasis on His authority, established at the right hand.