Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
This is the story of Stephen's last hour. Luke draws for us the full extent of the Council's inability to take what he had said seriously. The Council is depicted in frantic denial of themselves, their history, the meaning of their life, the law of God, their customs. In their defence of the Temple, they wilfully ignored that it had become the historical pawn in the jealous hands of rival groups. Those whose special pre-eminence was threatened made their appeal to the temple as the place where God was supposed to reside.
It is likely that the writer of the Letter of James later became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. His letter identifies himself as Jesus' brother. He wrote this:
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom that is above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
James, Jesus' brother, had taken some time to accept that this Jesus was indeed Lord and Christ, his Lord and Christ. But when he did he realised he could not run away from the kinds of problems that he knew were part of his make-up - bitter jealousy, selfish ambition and so on.
Stephen called on the Council to come to term with their bitter jealousy and selfish ambition - they should take a lead and work to bring the entire nation of Israel to their knees in adoration and love for the God who triumphs so fully that not even His people's rebellion can be any barrier to their restoration. This merciful God offers full forgiveness and full restoration. This is what He has always promised for His people. Stephen proclaimed this triumph with His dying breath. His calm prayer contrasted with the fanaticism of those who wanted him dead.