St. Stephen was a Jew who likely came to believe in Jesus during his ministry on earth. Stephen may have been among the 70 disciples sent out as missionaries by Christ, who traveled with no possessions, preaching the coming of the kingdom of Heaven.
Stephen was ordained as a deacon, along with six other men. He preached about Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament law and prophets. Some members of the local synagogues had him brought before their authorities, claiming he was trying to destroy their traditions.
Stephen’s response to these charges is recorded in the seventh chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. He described Israel’s resistance to God’s grace in the past, and accused the present religious authorities of “opposing the Holy Spirit,” and of rejecting Christ.
Before he was put to death, Stephen received a vision of Christ in Heaven, saying, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
The council remained unmoved, and stoned Stephen to death. In Acts 7, St. Luke writes: “While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.”
One of the witnesses to Stephen’s death was a Pharisee named Saul, who would later undergo his own miraculous conversion and become St. Paul, another martyr for the faith.