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The Tent of Witness

17 Dec

Without a doubt Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin is the most important event concerning the community of believers since Pentecost in Acts 2. Luke devotes more space to what Stephen says than any address spoken by either Peter or Paul in the Book of Acts. It stands out as a defining point for the Church. From this point on the Gospel will go to the nations. From this point on, less and less emphasis is placed upon Jerusalem as the center of the faith. It is almost as though God dwelt there in Jerusalem until blood began to be shed, after which he led his people out—not quite true, but the principle that showed the presence of God was not in a specific place, but wherever his people happened to be is defined here with Stephen’s words: “The Most High dwells not in Temples made with hands!”

Stephen reminded his hearers that the Tabernacle of Witness was constructed in the wilderness and brought into the Promised Land by Joshua (Acts 7:44-45), and continued to the time of David. It was Solomon who built a permanent dwelling at Jerusalem, but the Lord never asked for a permanent dwelling:

2 Samuel 7:5-7 NASB  “Go and say to My servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Are you the one who should build Me a house to dwell in?  (6)  “For I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the sons of Israel from Egypt, even to this day; but I have been moving about in a tent, even in a tabernacle.  (7)  “Wherever I have gone with all the sons of Israel, did I speak a word with one of the tribes of Israel, which I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?'”‘

Nevertheless, because David found favor with God (Acts 7:46), the Lord condescended to dwell in a permanent dwelling in Jerusalem. This is not to say that anything that man builds is able to confine the Lord to one place—it cannot (Acts 7:48-50), and this is Stephen’s point concerning blaspheming God or the Temple. The prophets, themselves, declared that God doesn’t dwell in buildings made by men (Isaiah 66:1-2; cp. 1Kings 8:27). Rather God walked with his people wherever they went (2Samuel 7:7). He was with Abraham in Mesopotamia, in Hebron, and in the land of Canaanites. He went with Joseph into Egypt and brought Jacob’s descendents there to dwell. He was with Moses in Egypt and when he fled to Midian and again when he went down to Egypt once more. He was with all of Israel wherever they went in the wilderness whether in war or while at rest. He dwelt with them in the Promised Land and drove out their enemies. He was never fixed in one place, and it was wrong for the Jews to assume that the Temple was **THE** dwelling of God, and that he was only there.

It would have been blasphemy for Stephen to claim that the Name of God could be destroyed form among his people, but this is not what Stephen claimed. His claim was God does not dwell in buildings made by man—as the Scriptures say. It was the Sanhedrin who became blasphemous by killing Stephen, because in doing so they implied God’s name could be destroyed from among his people by destroying the Temple. If that were true, the Jews dwell without God today, because the Romans destroyed the Name of God from among them by destroying the Temple in 70 CE. Nevertheless, this is not so, and the Scriptures show that God goes with his people – Jew or Gentile wherever they are found.

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Posted by on December 17, 2011 in Kingdom of God

 

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