THE ARGUMENT FROM THE DIVINE PURPOSE IN THE TENT OF THE TESTIMONY
The issue before the court of the Sanhedrin, or, at least, before this meeting here in Jerusalem was that Moses is alleged to have spoken against this place. It is stated that Stephen taught that this Jesus of Nazareth had come to break down the temple here in Jerusalem, and that now the ceremonial ordinances of the temple and the temple-worship would no longer need to be enforced.
Stephen does not deny the charge. Instead he proceeds to show them from the Old Testament Scriptures that such was indeed the intent of the law; that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes, the Jew first and also the Greek. This is according to the promise to Abraham “in thee and in thy seed shall all nations be blessed”. (Galatians 3:8; Genesis 18:18) And the Scriptures cannot be broken! Stephen will wield the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.
For a correct viewpoint of seeing the meaning and purpose of the Old Testament temple at Jerusalem it is of the utmost importance to remember that the temple was built upon a man’s request, while the tent of the testimony was made upon God’s instructions andcommand. Moses was not instructed to make a “building” but he must make a “tent.” It was David who desired to make to the Lord a temple. After David is established in Jerusalem as king it came into his mind to build the Lord an house. It hurt David that he himself was living in a house made of cedar, while the Lord’s Ark and presence was in a tent at Jerusalem. Even so, not David but Solomon built the temple unto the Lord. Now if a temple, a building were so very important certainly the Lord would not have “tabernacled” in the midst of Israel for more than four hundred and fifty years. Such was the history of the temple that it came really a half millennium after the Lord had given instructions to Moses to build the tabernacle. Let it not be forgotten that when David would build the Lord a house, the Lord sent His servant Nathan to David with the words “Thus saith the Lord, shalt thou build me an house for me to dwell in? Whereas I have not dwelt in any house since the day that I brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, even to this day, but have walked in a tent and in a tabernacle. In all the places wherein I have walked with all the children of Israel, spake I a word with any of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to feed my people Israel, saying, Why build ye not me an house of cedar?”
The house of cedar was really not important.
It could not really enhance the dwelling of God with Israel.
Besides it is a fact of history that the temple of Solomon was built about the year 1009 B.C. and was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 588 B.C. Only half of the time from Sinai to the destruction of the temple was there a building. In 588 B.C. the temple was utterly destroyed, even the Ark of the Covenant. The foundation of the temple of Zerubbabel was laid in 538 B.C. In 19 B.C. Herod rebuilds the temple which was standing in Jerusalem at the time of Christ and Stephen, and which temple was destroyed in the year 70 A.D. Now if a building were so important, why did the Lord not initially instruct Moses to build such a temple upon entering the land? And why did he tell David that it was not important? And why did he allow the temple to be destroyed by the Babylonians? And why was a smaller and lest magnificent temple built by the returning remnant after the captivity? And why, as a matter of history, did God have the temple utterly destroyed at the time of the final destruction of Jerusalem, never to be rebuilt?
In the light of all this can the temple, and this place be important?
That is the issue before the court!
It was indeed important. It was important as a “type.” It was a picture of the heavenly. Moses was told to make it thus by the God of glory who had appeared to Abraham some four hundred years before this. Moses had ascended the Mount of God, Sinai, a mountain in Arabia. (Exodus 24:15-18) Here too he enters into the glory of the law-giving. We read “And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount of God forty days and forty nights.” And here it was that the Lord give directions to Moses concerning the building of the tabernacle by his angel. And after having given specific instructions to Moses concerning the minute details of the tabernacle, its furnishings, and its architecture, he says to Moses “And look that thou make them after the pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount.” Exodus 25:40
The pattern of the heavenly was the important matter.
This is clearly taught in Hebrews 8:5, where we read “Whoserve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle.” Here the writer of Hebrews proves this point by quoting Exodus 25:40 “See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed thee in the mount.”
Since this heavenly is the real tabernacle, and the earthly is but a mere type and not the reality itself, therefore “this place and temple” are to be removed by the Lord when the time of Reformation came in Christ. Says Jesus: break down this temple and I will rebuild it in three days.
Even Isaiah had spoken of this fact, seeing it from afar. When Jerusalem shall be on the top of the mountains, and all nations shall flow to it; when Japheth shall dwell in the tents of Shem—then shall it become evident that the “temple” is not the end in itself, but rather served as a type. Wherefore John says in the Apocalypse “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.”
David may build a temple of cedar to the Lord as executed by Solomon. This temple is no nearer to a fit abode for the Lord God Almighty than is the tent of the testimony. For the heaven of heavens cannot contain God. (I Kings 8:27; II Chronicles 2:6, 6:18). If the heaven of heavens cannot contain God, how much less the beautiful temple which Solomon built. That is at once also the reason why the Lord never told any of the tribes of Israel from Moses to David to build him an house of cedar. Such a house simply is not fitting, as such, for the Lord as a dwelling-place. Wherefore Isaiah says “Heaven is my throne, and earth is—my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place for my rest?” Yes, Solomon built a temple, but that surely must be broken down when the reality comes, and this house is left an utter desolation!
What an apology on the part of Stephen!
It is the stringent proof from the Word of God itself.
The Lord of glory speaks through Stephen.
THE ARGUMENT THAT IDOL-WORSHIPERS SEEK TEMPLES MADE WITH HANDS (Acts 7:39-43)
That there ever was an Israel in name, but not in spirit, which did not desire the glory of God in the law-giving, as it points to the greater glory to come, is also shown by Stephen here before the Jewish Counsel. Wherefore whosoever does not desire to see the “type” of the temple, but clings to the temple itself, as a building made by the hands of men, must needs end in stark and hopeless idolatry of heathendom. Such was indeed the history of the temple, the constant tension and warfare between those who wanted the temple services according to the ordinances of Moses, and those who defiled the holy place with their idolatries. Here is signaled the sin of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat who causes Israel to sin. Some eighty times Jeroboam is mentioned in Scripture, and always in connection with the sin of the golden calves at Dan and Bethel. And the deportation both to Assyria of the ten tribes and to Babylon of the tribe of Judah is on the basis of this sin of Jeroboam, which was the root sin, the sin of departure from the service of God, the breaking of the Covenant as portrayed in the tent of the testimony: I am thy God!
Idolatry made of the temple, the tabernacle of the testimony, a mere shrine! Such a shrine could just as well stand at Dan and Bethel. It was not a picture of the heavenly. Thus also in the time of Jesus the temple had really become a den of thieves and robbers, it was a mere shrine to which pilgrimages could be made, while it had ceased to beckon their thoughts heavenward to the better and abiding tabernacle and promises.
It is one downward running tradition from bad to worse which leads from the making of the golden calf at the foot of Sinai. It is ever the heart which does not desire to be delivered from sin by Jehovah God, which hankers to return to Egypt. The form of the idols may change with the times and seasons; the essence of this idolatry is ever stubbornness and rebellion. Thus spake Samuel to Saul when he says “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.”
It was a resisting of the Holy Ghost!
It was a resisting of the Holy Ghost as He spoke through the shadows and types of better things to come. And to destroy the evidence of the Holy Ghost who spoke in the temple, the temple must be changed into a mere shrine of heathendom. That the Holy Spirit testified in the temple we see in Hebrews 9:8 “the Holy Ghost this signifying that the way into the holiest was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing”. This testimony of the Holy Ghost must be stilled; yea, the Word of God must not be heard, the word of the gospel as portrayed in the temple!
That is the identical thing which these Hellenists and the Sanhedrin are doing here when calling Stephen to account. They prove themselves to be children of their fathers. Howbeit, not children of the believing fathers but of those who were carried away in captivity and into Babylon. They are those who desire to have the temple without the glory of grace. They will have a mere shrine. Essentially they bow down in the temple of those who worship the stars of heaven. They bow down in the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of the god Remphan, figures which they made to worship them!
Such is the line of departure from God’s covenant.
From the golden calf at Sinai to the god Remphan, such is the line of degradation.
Such were ever the stiff-necked and uncircumcised of heart.
Such are these Sanhedrists according to Stephen