The Church – An Extension of Christ
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

8 – The Issue is Jesus
(Acts 7:51-60)

In our last study of the early church, we were introduced to Stephen, one of the seven Greek-speaking Jews chosen as the first deacons of the Christian church.  This man was not only recognized as an honest person but he was full of the Holy Spirit.  As a result, he went beyond the call of duty as a deacon and became a powerful preacher of the gospel.  Acts 6 ended with his arrest for preaching Christ and chapter 7, our study this time, records what happened when he was brought before the Sanhedrin.

By the time Stephen was brought before this council, the charges against him had been reduced to two very specific offenses.  The first was that he was speaking against their sacred temple, and the second, he was undermining the laws given to them by Moses.  Acts 6:13-14:

They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.  For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

You will notice that Stephen’s accusers had brought in false witnesses.  This means they twisted what Stephen had preached, probably taking him out of context.  Looks like things have not changed since then.  But because these false witnesses had misrepresented him, it was impossible for Stephen to answer these two charges with a simple “yes” or “no” when the Sanhedrin asked him, “Are these charges true?” (Acts 7:1).

Beginning with verse 2 of Acts 7, up to verse 50, we have recorded for us Stephen’s brilliant defense of what he really believed and preached.  What he does is to give the council a brief history of Israel.  By doing so, he answers the two charges brought against him.  He first begins with Abraham, pointing out that this father of the Jewish nation was a man of faith and believed the promise God made to him, and the other two fathers of Israel, Isaac and Jacob, about a coming Messiah.

Then he turns to Moses, through whom God had given Israel the law, the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament.  Listen to what he reminded the council of regarding what Moses himself had written about another prophet appearing on the scene and changing things.  Acts 7:37:

This is that Moses who told the Israelites, “God will send you a prophet like me from your own people.”

Then he raised the question, “How do you think our fathers responded to Moses and the things he commanded them to do?” Verses 39-43:

But our fathers refused to obey him.  Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt.  They told Aaron, “Make usgod 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!”  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.  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?  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.

Following this, Stephen turns to the Sanctuary that God had asked Moses to built.  Note how he refers to this tabernacle, which was later replace by the temple in Jerusalem.  Verses 44-47:

Our forefathers had the tabernackle of the Testimony with them in the desert.  It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen.  Having received the tabernacle, our fathers 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, who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.  But it was Solomon who built the house for him.

What did Stephen mean when he called the sanctuary “the tabernacle of the Testimony” (NIV) or, as the NKJV renders it, “the tabernacle of witness”?

To answer that question, we need to turn to an incident in the life of Christ Himself.  John 2:13-22:

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.  So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here!  How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market.!”
His disciples remembered that it is written:  “Zeal for your house will consume me.”  Then the Jews demanded of him. “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
The Jews replied, “It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”  But the temple he had spoken of was his body.  After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said.  Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

Here, in this passage, we find that the temple represented none other then Jesus Himself.  What Stephen was trying to get across, by calling the sanctuary “the tabernacle of witness,” was that it was God’s visual aid to the Jews of the exodus regarding the plan of salvation to be fulfilled in Christ, the reality of the temple.

But the great mistake the people of Israel had made, Stephen went on to say, was to take this visual aid and make it the reality.  Thus they locked God in a building made by human hands.  Verses 48-50:

However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men.  As the prophet says:  “‘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?  Has not my hand made all these things?’”

This is the same mistake the Roman Catholic church has made regarding the presence of God.

Having answered the two charges brought against him by laying down the facts, Stephen now turns to his hearers and brings his own charge of blasphemy against his accusers and the Sanhedrin.  Acts 7:51-53:

You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears!  You are just like your fathers:  You always resist the Holy Spirit!  Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute?  They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.  And now you have betrayed and murdered him — you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.

Before we turn to the effect and response this charge had on his hearers, we need to go back to the passage we read in John 2:13-22:

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.  So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here!  How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market.!”
His disciples remembered that it is written:  “Zeal for your house will consume me.”  Then the Jews demanded of him. “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
The Jews replied, “It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”  But the temple he had spoken of was his body.  After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said.  Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

The temple leaders had demanded of Jesus a sign that would prove to them that He was the Messiah sent from God.  The sign Jesus gave to them was His resurrection, three days after He was put to death.  To make sure this would not happen, the chief priests and officers of the temple did two things.

First, they insisted from Pilate that Christ be put to death by crucifixion.  John 19:5-6:

When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”  As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify!  Crucify!”

In those days, crucifixion was identified with hanging on a tree.  Acts 5:30:

The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead — whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.

Acts 10:39:

We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.  They killed him by hanging him on a tree.

Acts 13:29:

When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.

According to Moses, hanging on a tree represented the irrevocable curse of God.  Deuteronomy 21:22-23:

If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight.  Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.  You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.

This is what we would call the second death:  good-bye to life forever, with no hope of a resurrection.

Secondly, they insisted that the tomb Christ was buried in was to be sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers.  This was just in case His disciples would steal His body and claim that Christ had risen.  Thus, by these two actions, this same Sanhedrin, who were now accusing Stephen, were sure Christ would never rise again from the dead.

Therefore, when Christ did rise from the dead by the glorious power of the Father (Romans 6:4), God was giving the Jewish nation the final sign they had demanded of Jesus.  There would be now no excuse for rejecting Him as the Messiah.  That is to say, rejecting Him now would, therefore, be the unpardonable sin, the point of no return.

This is the sad history Stephen reminded the Sanhedrin of, and all those who witnessed his defense argument, incidentally, three and a half years after the resurrection of Christ.  How do you think they respond to this charge made by this godly deacon?  Here is the record.  Acts 7:54-60:

When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.  Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.  While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Some 600 years before Christ, the prophet Daniel was told by the angel Gabriel that God had determined 70 weeks of years for his people.  This would be the time of the end for Israel, their final probation period as a nation.  Note what Daniel recorded.  Daniel 9:24-27:

Seventy “sevens” are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy.  Know and understand this:  From the isuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven “sevens,” and sixty-two “sevens.”  It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.  After the sixty-two “sevens,” the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing.  The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.  The end will come like a flood:  War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.  He will confirm a covenant with many for one “seven.”  In the middle of the “seven” he will put an end to sacrifice and offering.  And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.

This period began in 457 B.C. and ended in 34 A.D., the stoning of Stephen.

But this prophecy God gave Daniel was really the interpretation of the prophecy given to him in Daniel 8:14:

He said to me, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.”

However, because Daniel thought this prophecy was referring to the earthly sanctuary, then lying in ruins, we have to give a double application to Gabriel’s explanation.  The second application applies not to the Jewish nation but the Gentile world.  Consequently, the time of the end for the Gentile world began in 1844.  This is our probation period.

What can we learn from this study?  The most important lesson is the issue the early church faced.  That issue is Jesus Christ.  This is the same issue we will have face in these last days.  However, the issue will be more complicated.  For the issue today is not whether Christ is the Saviour of the world, but which of the many gospels proclaimed today is the true one.  This is how Paul expressed his concern.  2 Corinthians 11:4:

For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

But just as God gave the Jewish nation a clear sign that Jesus was indeed the Messiah by the resurrection, so will He give us clear evidence which of the many gospels preached within Adventism is the true one.  My prayer is that, when that happens, may none of us turn our backs to it.


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