And Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and
signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the
Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyre'nians, and of the Alexandrians,
and of those from Cili'cia and Asia, arose and disputed with Stephen. But they
could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they
secretly instigated men, who said, "We have heard him speak blasphemous
words against Moses and God." And they stirred up the people and the
elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him
before the council, and set up false witnesses who said, "This man never
ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him
say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the
customs which Moses delivered to us." And gazing at him, all who sat in
the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
It is as if Luke was wanting to tell us about the problem of food distribution to give some background to what happened a short time later. Stephen, chosen because he was "full of faith and the Holy Spirit", became well-known. We can imagine that some of those reading this book a few decades after these events, would have had a vivid memory of Stephen and his impact. This servant of God may not have lived long, but God made him a success in the true sense of the word.
So Luke's discussion of how food distribution was handled is also to inform us how Stephen came to public attention. He began to do great works. But then, almost immediately, this fanned the flames of jealousy and opposition.
Among those chosen with Stephen was Nicola'us, a proselyte of Antioch. Luke tells us where this gentile worshipper of the God of Israel came from because later on his influence is apparent when we hear about the church at Antioch. At Antioch were a group of believers from Cyrene, in Egypt, among them Simon who had carried Jesus' cross. It was also from Cyrene that members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen came. They were intent on destroying Stephen. They were committed to the temple as the place where God was to meet them, so much so that they were even prepared to lay false charges and to organise lying witnesses. They were part of something deeply evil.
Luke is also telling us that the trial of Stephen signalled the beginning of a great persecution that led to a mass migration for non-Jews. The persecution of Stephen had long-term consequences. But the Holy Spirit was not taken by surprise. Neither for that matter was Stephen. He was not panicked. Luke tells us that all the people present at the trial were impressed by his calm and angelic demeanour. Stephen's trial clearly reminded Luke of the trial of Someone Else.