God’s New Temple, part 2


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 2 is about the history of “place” and Stephen’s prophetic rebuke of the Sanhedrin.

The history of “place”

Stephen recounted the history of Israel for his listeners in the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, an assembly of rabbis appointed to sit as a tribunal or court system.

He spoke about God’s call to Abraham, who left Ur and traveled to Canaan, and of the hardships the patriarch’s descendants would endure.

6 “God spoke to [Abraham] in this way: ‘Your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.
7 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,’ God said, ‘and afterward they will come out of that country and worship me in this place.’”
–Acts 7:6–7 NIV

Stephen echoes his accuser’s words, mentioning place, a special location where the Israelite people one day would worship God.

Stephen also mentions place elsewhere in his speech. He refers to the presence of the Lord in the burning bush:

“Then the Lord said to [Moses], ‘Take off your sandals; the place where you are standing is holy ground.’”
–Acts 7:33 NIV

Stephen then recounts a short history of the tabernacle:

44 “Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the covenant law with them in the wilderness. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen.
45 After receiving the tabernacle, our ancestors under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David,
46 who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.
47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him.”
–Acts 7:44–47 NIV

The tabernacle was a temporary dwelling place for God among the Israelites during their wilderness sojourn. David’s dream was to provide a permanent place for God to dwell among His people. David gave his son Solomon plans for this “house,” the temple.

Stephen then reaches the crux of his argument:

48 “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:
49 ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?’”
–Acts 7:48–50 NIV

The Jews of that time considered place of utmost importance, but God was never confined to a place, whether it be a tabernacle, a temple, or a house (1 Ki. 8:27).

In the past God had mocked their cries of “the temple of the Lord! the temple of the Lord! the temple of the Lord!” Israel gave lip service to God’s great temple, but they desecrated it by their evil deeds, showing they had no heart relationship with God (see Jer. 7:3-15).

Stephen’s prophetic rebuke

Stephen recounted Israel’s rebellion in the desert (Acts 7:39-43). Even though Israel had the tabernacle, the place where God dwelled with them, they rejected God and refused to obey.

Stephen spoke the truth and accurately assessed the hearts of his listeners. Like their forebears, they “reverenced” the temple but denied their faith in God by spurning what God was saying by the Holy Spirit through Stephen.

Stephen rebuked them.

51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!
52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him—
53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
–Acts 7:51–53 NIV

Strong words. What happened? We’ll find out next time.

More information:
God’s New Temple, part 1
God’s New Temple, part 3

God’s New Temple, part 1


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.

More information:
God’s New Temple, part 2