As I’ve previously stated, I don’t believe that God consists of three separate persons. The scripture places emphasis on the fact that God is one (Deut. 6:4). Jesus Christ is both man and God (1 Timothy 2:5). The Father was in the Son (John 14:10). God was manifested in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16). Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15) . The fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him bodily (Col. 2:9).
If that is true, who did Stephen see when he looked into heaven?
But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
A. Literal Interpretation
Did Stephen see Jesus standing to the right of God? There are some obvious contradictions if we try to interpret this literally.
1. God is an invisible Spirit and no one has seen Him.
1 Timothy 6:16
Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.
2. God is omnipresent. He fills everything and is not limited to one location. Can you possibly stand to the right of everywhere?
Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.
3. Jesus is the Almighty God. This passage does not say that Stephen saw Jesus standing on the right hand of the Father. It does not distinguish Father and Son. It says, “on the right hand of God.” Surely, we all agree that Jesus is God. Can Jesus stand to the right of Himself?
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
B. Figurative Interpretation
Since this passage can’t be literal, the “right hand” must be a figurative expression. Not only is it used figuratively in this context, it is used throughout the Bible to describe God’s power rather than a physical location. It is similar to the expression “right hand man” that we use today. Anyone operating in the power or authority of the Spirit of God was experiencing His “right hand.”
We find obvious proof that this expression was used figuratively to describe the glory of the resurrected Christ in the New Testament.
But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?
If Jesus is literally sitting on the right hand, are his feet literally on top of his enemies?
The New Testament authors and audience would have been familiar with the symbolism of the “right hand” because of its use in the Old Testament.
Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.
Did a huge right hand fall from the sky and crush the enemy, or is this describing God destroying the enemy with His glorious power?
According to thy name, O God, so is thy praise unto the ends of the earth: thy right hand is full of righteousness.
Is this more likely to be describing the righteousness of God’s power, or has God found a way to literally fill his hand with an abstract idea like righteousness?
Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
We don’t have to guess what is the appropriate interpretation. Jesus explained it for us. The Son of man is sitting on the "right hand of power." If the “right hand” is a physical place, Jesus would need to be standing there (Acts 7:55-56) and sitting there simultaneously (Matthew 26:64). He also would need to be sitting at the right hand and coming in the clouds simultaneously (Matthew 26:64).
C. What did Stephen see?
The passage never says that Stephen saw God. It says that he saw “the glory of God.” What is the glory of God?
2 Corinthians 4:4, 6
In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them…For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is the glory of God. He is God demonstrated to us. The invisible Spirit is seen visibly in the man Jesus Christ. The only way to see the Father is in the bodily form of Jesus Christ.
Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?
Stephen saw Jesus, but He was different than when He was last seen on earth. While He was here, He veiled His glory and humbled Himself, but now that He is risen in power, He supersedes all authority and powers on earth and in heaven.
Similarly, when John, His beloved disciple, saw Jesus in the first chapter of Revelation, he described Him as “like the Son of Man.” He was still in bodily form. He looked like the man that John had known, but He was now radiating with power. He was white like snow, His eyes were like fire, His voice sounded like many waters, and His face shined like the sun.
Jesus does not dwell bodily on earth. He is no longer experienced as the suffering servant. He is ascended into heaven, demonstrating all power (right hand), and proclaiming His full Deity as the King of kings and Lord of lords.
His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns…And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King Of Kings, And Lord Of Lords.
The disciples had known Christ primarily as a man. While we recognize that He has true humanity, we now know Him primarily as the all-powerful God.
10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings…
Stephen not only knew the suffering Christ but just before dying, Stephen got to see Him as He truly is, in the power of His resurrection.
The book of Ephesians explains Christ's ascension to the right hand and explains how this applies to believers.
Ephesians 1:19-20, 2:6
And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places...And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
The exceeding greatness of God's mighty power, His right hand, was revealed when Christ was raised from the dead. We also have the opportunity to figuratively "sit together in heavenly places" at the right hand in Christ Jesus. Just as Stephen saw Christ in His power, we should see and show the power of God in our lives. This same Jesus dwells in our hearts, and works in us.
Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,
Anything is possible because we have access to God's right hand!