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). Part 4 is about the persecution of the Church and the house of the Lord.
Stephen’s death results in persecution
In a strange way, Stephen’s message was confirmed. Place no longer mattered for Jews who had accepted Jesus as Messiah.
Proof of this became apparent when persecution broke out against the fledgling Church, and they scattered everywhere (Acts 8:1-4).
The “house of the Lord”
In the Old Testament it was the tabernacle and then the temple—the “house of the Lord”—where the people gathered to worship God and experience God’s presence.
The phrase “house of the Lord” occurs 234 times in the King James Version of the Bible. All of these references appear in the Old Testament, and they refer to the building of the temple. Here are a few examples:
One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
–Psalm 27:4 NIV
I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
–Psalm 122:1 NIV
1 Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who minister by night in the house of the Lord.
2 Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.
–Psalm 134:1-2 NIV
The house of the Lord was a physical building where the Israelites were required to gather and worship the Lord. It was there that God met the people by God’s Spirit, as in the days of Solomon.
10 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord.
11 And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.
12 Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud;
13 I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell forever.”
14 While the whole assembly of Israel was standing there, the king turned around and blessed them.
–1 Kings 8:10–14 NIV
God had designated Jerusalem as the place of worship where God’s people must bring their sacrifices. (See Deut. 12:4-7,11-14; 2 Sam. 7:5,13; 1 Ki. 11:36; 14:21.) But God could never be confined to any building.
Jesus predicted that temple worship would come to an end (see John 4:21-24). Those who would worship God would worship “in spirit and in truth.”
Before his stoning, Stephen argued that “‘the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands’” (Acts 7:48 NIV).
When Jesus hung on the cross and surrendered His spirit to the Father, the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies in the temple was rent in two—from top to bottom—showing that this was the work of God, not people. (See Matt. 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45.)
It was the initiation of prophetic fulfillment of this passage from Ezekiel:
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
–Ezekiel 36:26-27 NIV
See also Jeremiah 31:31-34.
Through Christ’s sacrifice, God opened “a new and living way… for us through the curtain, that is, [Christ’s] body” (Heb. 10:20 NIV).
This new access was not only to lead believers into a deeper worship experience within a special building. Rather, it signified that God was letting His Spirit out to touch the entire world.
Through God’s new house, the Church. We’ll learn more next time.