“Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison” (Acts 8:1-3).
Knowing the work of grace the Spirit of Christ would later do in Saul’s life, we might be tempted to think that the young Pharisee didn’t really mean to kill Stephen. After all, he didn’t actually participate in the stoning. He only consented to it. Even then, he was just caught up in heat of the moment. Scripture, however, is very clear.
The word translated “hearty agreement” (NAS), “consenting” (KJV), “approved” (ESV) is a double-compounded term. Two prefixes attach to the root, focusing its meaning. The root word means to suppose, seem good, or please. It’s what we mean when we say, “okay,” or give a thumbs-up sign. It conveys agreement. Saul favored the manner and extent of Stephen’s penalty.
The primary prefix adds the nuanced feeling of “well,” as in “well-pleased.” When John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, everyone heard God the Father say about Jesus, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Mt. 3:17). The prefix elevates the sense from simply nodding approval to taking real pleasure in a thing. It makes the thing a delight, which is why the NAS adds the description “hearty.” It’s not a matter of joviality, but of real pleasure. Saul genuinely enjoyed watching Stephen’s execution.
The secondary prefix means “with,” and links the verb to the following noun, “putting him to death,” which means to murder, kill, put out of the way, or destroy. So, Saul took great delight, not only in silencing Stephen, but in brutally and viciously murdering him.
If anyone ever opposed Jesus Christ so thoroughly, it was Saul of Tarsus. He embraced a personal satisfaction in disposing of anyone associated with the name of Jesus. Stephen’s death only whet his appetite for more. He ravaged (“made havoc of,” KJV) the church; that is, he assaulted Christians with the cruelest contempt possible, attempting to obliterate the name of Jesus entirely.
The kind of hatred that Saul felt for those who loved the Lord Jesus in his day is alive and well in ours. Hatred seems to be the defining quality of humanity. One group gets media attention for demonstrating their hatred. Then, the internet rings with the hatred of those who hate the haters. Pride fuels our hate. We (all of us) justify our brand of hate as those ours is of a higher, purer, or nobler quality than that of those we hate. All the while, Satan laughs in our faces as we dance to his tune.
The hate of mankind will never accomplish the will of God. When we hate, we dishonor God – whoever we are and whomever we hate. What are we to do when we someone doing hateful things? Should we turn a blind eye? That would make us an accessory to their hate. Should we applaud them? That would make us their accomplices. Christ gave another answer:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt. 5:43-48).
How would the world look today, if, instead of hating the haters, we learned to love our enemies, really love them and to pray for those who persecute us? We might not end the atrocities people commit, but we would change ourselves. Instead of becoming haters ourselves, delighting in a taste for death with the rest, we would rejoice in Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.
Wouldn’t that be glorious?