Acts 7:1-53

Stephen's Speech to the Council

Much of Stephen's speech involves an overview of the Old Testament as it was generally accepted at the time. What I would like to do is simply to give some hightlights which bring out what I think is Stephen's main points. The accusations against him had to do with Moses, the Law, and the Temple, the concept of a holy place. 

A. God's model for his people is one of sojourneying on the earth rather than one of settling down

1. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the twelve Patriarchs were sojourners, living in tents, even in what would later become the land of Israel. Abraham in fact was a Gentile from the land of the Chaldeans. Moses also was a sojourner. As was Israel when they were wandering through the desert. This leads to the second point.

2. God's Temple was originally a tent and not a building. For the pattern of the Tabernacle given to Moses in the desert was a tent. In was only in deference to King David that God allowed a Temple be built. But in fact God does not limit his presence to a building.

Additional Comments

This will be one of the themes of the New Testament as both the gospel itself advocates not viewing this life as home and also not limiting the gospel to one location, like Israel, but spreading it throughout the world. Here are some verses about the righteous being foreigners in the world.

"Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially,
live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear." 1Peter 1:17 

"By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God." Hebrews 11:9,10

"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country-- a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." Heb 11:13-16

 "They are not of the world, even as I am not of it." John 17:16
 

Applications

1. Part of walking as Jesus did is to view our lives here as not our ultimate destiny or our home, but we are simply passing through on our way to our true home. As such we should regard what we have as simply on loan from God. And we should not conform ourselves to worldly ways, but accept the fact that we are foreigners in a foreign land and behave as those who are born from above.

2. The Church is not the building. Yet why is it that the word "church" is often associated with a building? Christians don't really "go to church". They are the Church. "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?" 1Co 3:16 The Church is not a building located on a corner of a street. The Church is wherever the Christians happen to be.  Obsession over the institutional aspects of the Church is a worldly leavenous influence in the Christian community which has led to a great deal of corruption, just as it had among the religious elite Stephen was addressing. But if you question the institutional aspects of the Church, you could end up being stoned to death. And this was quite literally the case in the dark ages. 
 

B. Far from being devoted to God, the history of Israel has shown it to be primarily characterized as rebellious and idolatrous, rejecting God's Word and God's prophets.

1. Their forefathers rejected Moses who was symbolic of Christ, whom they rejected

Moses said, "God will send you a prophet like me from your own people."
That prophet was Jesus

Moses
Jesus
The king tried to kill him at birth
Save God's people from Egypt
Affirmed by miracles
Rejected by his own
Spoke the Word of God
The king tried to kill him at birth
Saved God's people from their sins
Affirmed by miracles
Rejected by his own
Spoke the Word of God
His point is also made clear if we replace the word "Moses" with "Jesus"

Acts 7:25  Moses (Jesus) thought that his own people would realize
that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not.
27  "But the man who was mistreating the other pushed Moses (Jesus) aside and said,
‘Who made you ruler and judge over us?
35  "This is the same Moses (Jesus) whom they had rejected with the words, 
‘Who made you ruler and judge?’
He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself
through the angel who appeared to him in the bush.
37  "This is that Moses who told the Israelites, 
‘God will send you a prophet (Jesus) like me from your own people.’

39  "But our fathers refused to obey him. Instead, 
they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt.
40  They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us.
As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt— 
we don’t know what has happened to him!’
41  That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf.
They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made.

2. Just as their forefathers, their religious service is idolatrous
Acts 7:42 But God turned away and gave them over to the worship of the heavenly bodies. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets: 
"'Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the desert, O house of Israel?
43  You have lifted up the shrine of Molech and the star of your god Rephan,
the idols you made to worship. Therefore I will send you into exile' beyond Babylon.

In verse 43 Stephen quoted the prophecy of Amos concerning the exile into Assyria. 

Amos 5:25-27  "Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the desert, O house of Israel?  You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god—which you made for yourselves.  Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus," says the LORD, whose name is God Almighty."

But this was also prophetic, for in 70 AD these Jews he was speaking to would themselves be exiled from Jerusalem while the Romans sack the city and even destroy the temple. (Which is somewhat along the lines of what Stephen was accused of preaching)  Indeed if we continue in Amos' prophecy we read in Amos 6:14 " the LORD God Almighty declares, "I will stir up a nation against you, O house of Israel, that will oppress you" Amos was referring to the Assyrians, but in applying this prophecy to the Jews in Acts this oppressive nation would be the Romans. Thus we an example here of the dual fulfillment of prophecy.

Application

This also is a warning to Christians. For though we may be doing Christian things, just as the Jews were carrying out their temple sacrifices, but in fact if we are not doing them in the right spirit, such activities may be reckoned as service to Satan rather than service to God. And there were religous people among the pagans who also worship their gods in their temples. Paul says to them,  "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands." Acts 17:24  If we limit our concept of God to a man-made temple or an institutional church, then perhaps we're viewing Him more as a "god" as the pagans and Mormons view Him, rather than as the Lord of heaven and earth. And let us not be like these religiously zealous unbelieving Jewish leaders, who obsess over the letter and miss the spirit. For they resist the Spirit in all their religous zeal and end up themselves trying to destroy God's true temple.

A Final Note: Where does God really live?

"For this is what the high and lofty One says-- he who lives forever, whose name is holy: "I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite." Isa 57:15

Does God have a home in your heart?


Verses taken from the NIV


The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jul 29,2015