QUESTION: If the spirit of a man has no existence apart from the body, why does Stephen just before his death in Acts 7:59, pray to Jesus to “receive my spirit”? How could Jesus receive Stephen’s spirit if a man’s spirit ceases to exist when the body dies?
If you read the surrounding context it plainly says that Stephen fell asleep in death as a result of the Jews stoning him. As everyone knows, while we are asleep we are not conscious.
Furthermore, in the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul explained that the resurrection of those in union with Christ who are asleep in death will not occur until the parousia. It was, in fact, a teaching of apostates in the first century that the resurrection had already occurred.
Another thing to take into consideration is that Jesus said virtually the same thing as he was nearing death. Luke 23:46 states: “And Jesus called out with a loud voice and said: ‘Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.’ After he said this, he expired.”
Now, did Christ saying he entrusted his spirit to God mean that Jesus continued on with some sort of conscious existence at the moment he expired? No. Absolutely not. Even a child in Sunday school learns that Jesus died and was sealed in a tomb for parts of three days, and then miracle of miracles – God resurrected him! If Jesus had already been alive then that would mean that all the apostles were false witnesses since their preaching and writings all testified that God raised Jesus from the dead.
The reason Jesus entrusted his spirit to God is because Jesus had been born again. His being born again meant that God had called him to be a spirit son. Because Jesus knew he would not be resurrected in the flesh, he entrusted his future life as a spirit to God when he breathed his last breath.
Stephen also had been born again. That’s why Paul said Jesus was the firstborn of many brothers. That being the case, Stephen also had the hope of being resurrected as a spirit. He knew however that he would have to sleep in the grave, just like Jesus had, until such time as the Lord returns. Hence, Stephen entrusted his spirit to Jesus, whom he knew to be the Resurrection and the Life.