This five-part series explores how the early Church separated from the Jerusalem temple, where the first Christians often met (Luke 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:20-21).
Some time after Pentecost (Acts 2), God began to move by the Spirit in a new way in the fledgling Church.
It was time for the new believers to be pushed out of the nest into the world to fulfill the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). This developed through persecution, brought on by the preaching of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
Stephen, a man full of God
Stephen was not an apostle, but Acts 6 describes him as a disciple “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (v. 3), “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (v. 5), and “a man full of God’s grace and power” (v. 8).
Stephen was elected as a deacon—someone who waited on tables and distributed food to widows (Acts 6:1-6)—yet he was on fire for God, moving in the revelation of the Holy Spirit and preaching the gospel boldly.
Stephen “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” (Acts 6:8 NIV). These signs were God’s confirmation of the message he was preaching.
Whatever the message was, miracles and healings should have brought rejoicing. Instead, Stephen’s message met with opposition.
Stephen’s controversial message
9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen,
10 but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.
–Acts 6:9–10 NIV
What Stephen preached was controversial. Some people opposed his message and argued with him.
Stephen wasn’t sharing personal opinions, though. He spoke the wisdom of God by the Spirit of God.
11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.”
12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin.
13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.
14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
–Acts 6:11–14 NIV
These religious leaders persuaded some men to testify falsely against Stephen so they could condemn him. (This is the same tactic the Sanhedrin used on Jesus [see Matt. 26:60-61].)
Jesus had prophesied that the temple would be reduced to rubble (Matt. 24:1-2; Mark 13:1-2; Luke 21:5-6). He also said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19 NIV; see also Mark 14:58). But He was referring to the temple of His body.
The accusations of the synagogue men contained a measure of truth. However, if Stephen spoke the wisdom of God by the Spirit of God, he certainly wasn’t blaspheming Moses or God.
But the message he was spreading did pertain to abolishing worship in the temple—which they called “this holy place” (v. 13), and “this place” (v. 14).
As a result, “they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin” (Acts 6:12 NIV).
Stephen’s prophetic speech before the Sanhedrin is recorded in Acts 7. Next time, we’ll study this passage to discover what exactly Stephen was preaching.
God’s New Temple, part 2