What Is the Temple?
Stephen is regarded as the first Christian martyr, or the first to be martyred explicitly for his Christian faith. We noted yesterday that the Jews could not withstand his wisdom nor the Spirit speaking through him. So he found himself standing before the council like Peter and John before him – and dying like his Master, calling out for the forgiveness of his murderers.
Stephen’s address before the council is lengthy, the longest discourse in all of Acts. He narrates the history of the Jewish people beginning with Abraham and his family through slavery in Egypt and the exodus to the wilderness wandering with Moses. It was customary for the Jews to rehearse their history, something we should do more often in our culture which is always dreaming of an unknowable tomorrow. His recitation rushes forward to Solomon’s building of the temple in which he says, not that Solomon sinned in building it, but that no building could contain God, a clear reference to Isaiah 66:1-2 and Solomon’s own words recorded in 1 Kings 8:27. The Jews had been guilty of placing too much faith in the temple before (Jeremiah 7:4; 26:1-24), and perhaps Stephen saw the same false hope and idolatry in his day. And if that were not enough, he ends his sermon with a direct accusation that in killing the Righteous One, they were only following in the footsteps of their fathers: stiff-necked, uncircumcised of heart, and always resisting the Holy Spirit … which, unfortunately, sounds like many in the Church today.
But I wish to speak of the matter of the temple. Hebrews 10:1 tells us that “the law was but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities.” The temple served as such a shadow, for now the temple has been superseded by the Church of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:17; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Ephesians 2:19-22) and even by individual believers in whom the Holy Spirit resides (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The Book of Revelation speaks of a temple but not in temporal terms but of the heavenly realm. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70 as Jesus foretold (Matthew 24:1-2). This was necessary for the reasons just stated. God was building a new temple, one not made with hands, “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Hebrews 9:24). The temple today is the living, breathing Church of God which looks forward to her wedding day where she shall adore her Husband, inhabiting the heavenly temple, forever.