Rudolf Gwalther (1519-1586), Swiss reformer and son-in-law to Zwingli, was a popular preacher whose translations of his father-in-law’s works helped disseminate them throughout Europe. In his commentary here on Acts 7:54-60, he sees in Stephen’s cruel death a means of reframing the sting of our own deaths in light of faith and love:
When Stephen was put to this cruel death, we learn three things about him. First, he called on the Lord, something we believe he continually used to do. His entire sermon is summarized [in this]: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” These words have in them the confession of a true faith and [the] token of a great and strong belief. Surrounded by imminent death, still he acknowledges and confesses that Christ is his Savior, following the example of the thief crucified with Christ. Further, he believes that the souls do not die with the body in death but pass to the state of a better life, for he knows that even in death through faith in Christ, believers find life. [. . .]
Second, Stephen models love, which cannot be separated from faith. For following the example and commandment of Christ, he prays for his enemies, that God would not punish them for their sin, as they deserved. . . . Let us learn to extend our charity, even to the ungrateful, and with godly prayers commend to God those who most grievously offend against us. [. . .]
Last of all Stephen, having thus spoken, fell asleep. . . . The Scripture often uses this word sleep speaking of the death of the godly. For so is the condition and property of death set forth. Death is the resolution or dissolution of a human being, consisting of soul and body. In this death the soul neither dies nor sleeps but passes into life everlasting, as Christ says. So death has aptly been called a passing into heaven. The body is said to sleep because it is laid in the earth as it were to sleep, out of which in the end of days it shall be raised up by Christ, that it may also enjoy the bliss of heavenly life.
Let us place Stephen before us as an example, so that when we depart this life our souls cross over into that home of blessing [heaven], and in the end our bodies are also gloriously resurrected, so that we may enjoy the inheritance of heaven through Christ Jesus our Lord.