He Looked Like An Angel
The wisdom and spiritual power of Stephen upset the preferences and plans of Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Unable to refute arguments solidly supported by Scripture, the religious rulers set up false witnesses, stirred up public anger and arrested Stephen, charging him with blasphemy and religious rebellion.
When the council's anger and self-righteousness had vented itself in a furious storm of words and threats, they paused for breath and stared at Stephen daring him to defend himself:
"And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel." Acts 6:15 (ESV)
How many angels had these religious rulers seen? What experiences allowed them to compare Stephen's face with that of an angel?
Their experience with angels was probably limited to only the descriptions written in their holy Scripture. The final book of the Old Testament, written by one of the last authentic Jewish prophet, Malachi, speaks of a "messenger" sent by God:
"Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap." Malachi 3:1-2 (ESV)
"Messenger" is the ESV translation of a Hebrew word that the KJV often translates as "angel":
MESSENGER: malak (a messenger of God, an angel); from an unused root meaning to despatch as a deputy.
Jesus referred to this same prophecy when he spoke to the crowds concerning John the Baptist:
"What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, - Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you." Matthew 11:9-10 (ESV)
The New Testament word translated here as "messenger" also means angel:
MESSENGER: angelos (a messenger, especially an "angel", often implying a pastor
How did Malachi describe the appearance of this angel?
- Uncomprehendable ("Who can endure the day of his coming?", literally, "Who can measure?")
- Overwhelming ("Who can stand when he appears?")
- White hot ("Like a refiner's fire")
- Pure white ("Like fuller's soap")
For these religious rulers, steeped in the Old Testament, the definition of angel was, one who appears uncomprehendably, overwhelmingly white, as white as the hottest flame and as pure as the cleanest cloth.
Stephen's face reminded his persecutors of how they imagined an angel would appear.
Perhaps the Jewish council remembered how Scripture described the angel that appeared to the mother of Samson:
"A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome." Judges 13:6 (ESV)
VERY AWESOME: meod yare (vehemently fearful); from a word meaning to rake together)
To Samson's mother, the appearance an an angel was intensely frightening. All of the angel's power and purity were "raked together" in his face, concentrating awesome force and knowledge in a single look.
There are not many detailed descriptions of angels in Scripture, and not all of them include any mention of terror or fright...but some do. Angels appear in many different forms, especially suited for the purpose sent them by God.
But the few instances in which angels are described as being fearfully powerful and blindingly white are quite sufficient to dispel any notion that angels are cute, smiling babies with wings.
Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, must have been present during Stephen's trial, or more likely, he interviewed reliable witnesses who were there, perhaps even members of the council who later became Christians because of this experience. After the hateful accusations and false testimony, the one event which stood out clearly was the appearance of Stephen as he stood to defend himself.
Stephen's face appeared fearfully and terribly powerful and wise.
He looked like an angel.
For this brief moment, Jesus Christ took over the life of His servant, Stephen. Christ's power and wisdom found expression through the appearance of Stephen's face.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Millions of ordinary Christians have lived and died without it being said of them, "Their face was like that of an angel!" What comfort can this moment of Stephen's life hold for us, as modern, ordinary Christians, who will probably never be facing a death sentence, who will probably never experience having "a face like an angel"?