We are so fortunate to live in America where we can make long speeches with relatively little fear of being killed for our words (although it does seem like our culture is changing ever so subtly in that regard)!
At first read through, it seems that Stephan’s speech is just an oral account of Jewish history, that his audience would have known well. Why would they get so upset?
Well, at the very end, he says something that I think provoked down right fear.
“Look”, he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56)
This very crowd could have been some of the same people who heard Jesus tell the council of religious leaders, “ But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” (Luke 22:68) These were the exact words that sealed the deal on the death sentence for Jesus!
I bet the men who heard those words out of the mouth of Jesus were shocked out of their minds and filled with terror! “Oh no!! His words were true! Stephen is seeing it!! Nooooo, it can’t be!!!”
The fear of knowing one has played a role in killing the Messiah would be overwhelming, don’t you think?! Instead of sinking into despair, anger is another reaction that can be chosen. Anger is useful to repress guilt and get rid of that which is causing the guilt.
It reminds me of how some people respond today to guilt from their past. They may choose to get on a crusade to make what they did wrong into a socially normalized right. And they get angry at people who don’t agree with them.
Sadly, for these people we are reading about and today’s people on their crusade, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”