For some reason I find the sermon of the deacon Stephen in Acts 7.2-53 to be one of the most interesting passages of Scripture. Probably it has to do with the reality that as Luke’s retelling of the speech has more to do with Lukan Christology than anything else. On one hand this sermon is the story of Israel through the lens of the early church. On the other hand it says something very specific about Jesus’ ascension in 1.9-11.
Two characters emerge from Stephen’s story: Joseph in vv. 9-10 and Moses in vv. 20-44ff. Joseph is a brother who is rejected whom God makes into a ruler over (1) the nations and (2) the rest of Jacob’s children. Moses is an Israelite who is rejected by his family whom God makes into a ruler over the nation even as he judges Egypt through him.
In vv. 51-52 Stephen moves from providing a narrative to providing a stinging, open rebuke because the nation rejected Jesus. The idea of the sermon is that Joseph (of whom the Patriarchs were jealous, v. 9) and Moses (“whom they disowned,” v. 35) foreshadow Jesus–the “Righteous One” who Israel betrayed and murdered.
As Stephen is being stoned to death for his accusation he sees Christ in a vision. Jesus stands at the throne, watching. Stephen calls him “the Son of Man” who is at the “right hand of God (v. 56).” This echoes the Danielic “Son of Man” given authority to judge by the Ancient of Days. Jesus, the rejected brother, reigns and judges like Joseph and Moses.