The reference in Acts 7:56 is the only time we ever read of Jesus “STANDING on the right hand of God.” All other references speak of Him “SITTING on the right hand of God” (see Mark 16:19; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). So, we can be sure there is an important reason why, in this one instance, Stephen saw Jesus “STANDING on the right hand of God.” There are two prominent views as to why Jesus rose to His feet during Stephen’s martyrdom:

1) Jesus STOOD to welcome Stephen into heaven. This is by far the most popular view. Those who hold this view say that Jesus was honoring His faithful servant Stephen in this way. As far we know (from Scripture) he was first Christian martyr and to honor and encourage Stephen Jesus STOOD, knowing that he would soon be “absent from the body and present with the Lord” (2nd Corinthians 5:8).

2) Jesus STOOD as Stephen’s “Divine Advocate.” Stephen had been judged as guilty by the Jewish Sanhedrin and thus we read in verses 54, 57-58, “When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth….Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him.” They believed Stephen was guilty of BLASPHEMY when he condemned the nation for their unbelief and then said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God!” Blasphemy was worthy of death by stoning (see Leviticus 24:14 and Deuteronomy 17:5-7) and they felt justified in stoning him. Yet some believe when Jesus STOOD He was DECLARING HIM INNOCENT and CONDEMNING THE SANHEDRIN. This view could also be linked with your thought that “Christ was standing to return to rule His people,” for IF they had repented He would return (see Acts 3:19-20).

Perhaps both of these views are true. Jesus certainly knew that the Jews were going to reject Stephen’s testimony and be stoned to death, so it is not unreasonable at all to think that Jesus, in love for His faithful servant, stood to welcome him to heaven. Yet Jesus also knew that Stephen’s testimony was, as you said, a final offer to the nation to repent and to accept Him as their Messiah (i.e. King), so He could have given Stephen this vision so he could tell his Jewish brethren that Jesus was standing, indicating to them that he was innocent and that they were guilty. If they had heeded Stephen’s words, they would have believed them, repented, and received Jesus Christ as their long-awaited King.

But their hearts were hardened and from that moment on God would turn to the Gentiles with the gospel of His grace. And to magnify His grace, He would (as you said) convert the zealous Saul of Tarsus (who had actually consented to Stephen being stoned…see Acts 8:1) and send him forth as the Apostle to the Gentiles (see Acts 9:15; Romans 11:13; Galatians 2:7-8 and Ephesians 3:8). You mentioned the “dispensation of grace” and these are the exact words the Apostle Paul used in writing to the saints at Ephesus. “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles—if indeed you have heard of THE DISPENSATION OF THE GRACE OF GOD which was given to me for you” (Ephesians 3:1-2). Stephen’s martyrdom surely ended God’s offer to the Jews to repent and Saul’s conversion and mission to the Gentiles ushered in fully “the dispensation of grace.” Yet when this dispensation is completed (at the Rapture of the church…see 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18) God will once again turn to the Jews and make good on all the promises He gave to them through Abraham and others (see Romans 11:25-36).  (379.1)  (DO)