Finale of Part 1, part 2
Three years of uneasy coexistence between Spirit filled Christianity and first Century Judaism has blown up. Stephen is now on trial before the Sanhedrin, who will pass their official verdict on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The last half of yesterday’s reading, as well as today’s and tomorrow’s, form the longest recorded speech in Acts as Stephen defends Christianity with the skill of a barrister. Although he is on trial, he is turning the tables to put them on trial. They are trying him on charges of blasphemy against the temple, God and His law, but what Stephen will say shows that they are the blasphemers.
God had appeared to Abraham in Ur, Joseph in Egypt and Moses at Mount Sinai. All of those places were outside Israel. Even when Joshua took them into the promised land, God dwelt in the tabernacle not in Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin are obsessed with Jerusalem and putting God in a box in a building. Stephen quotes Isaiah 66:1-2, which corresponds to Solomon’s word in 1 King 8:27 – the temple can’t contain God.
The Sanhedrin is the highest Jewish court in the land, consisting of the high priest, the chief priests and the elders of Israel. They are the real blasphemers. Their predecessors had rejected Joseph, Moses, God’s prophets and even God, preferring to worship a golden calf rather than God himself.
That’s enough for the Sanhedrin – they are indeed stiff necked and have uncircumcised hearts. They are worse than their rebellious forebears, because they have rejected the Messiah. They must repent and receive the gospel or face the consequences.
The obsession with Jerusalem and the temple is a rejection of Jesus and what He has achieved on the cross.
The old covenant – ‘the meek shall inherit the land’ – Psalm 37:11 has become ‘Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth’ Matt 5:5. As so often with God, the promises have got bigger. It is no longer about the land of Israel, it is about the whole earth. As yet the early Christians have not grasped that God is creating one new man out of Jews and Gentiles in Christ. But God has revealed that He is exploding out of the box He has been put in by religious men. Soon the Christians will grasp that Jesus was the temple and that, filled with the Spirit, we are God’s temple – the place of God’s presence in the world, for the world. For now Stephen’s speech is the finale of part 1 of the early church and over the next few days we will see how finally the Gospel will begin to go to the ends of the earth, even to us!