Question:

In Acts 6:14, Stephen is charged with saying that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place. How is this a false statement if Jesus was speaking of the destruction of the temple in Matthew 24?

Thank you.


Answer:

The charge against Stephen was, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God" (Acts 6:11). It is mentioned again in Acts 6:13, "This man never stops speaking blasphemous words against this holy place and the law." The evidence of this supposed blasphemy was "For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us" (Acts 6:14).

The problem is blasphemy is to tell lies about another to ruin his reputation. What was reported that Stephen said was true, in that Stephen likely did say these things, but those words were not blasphemous because they were the truth. The Law itself predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. "And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; And the people of the prince who is to come Shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, And till the end of the war desolations are determined" (Daniel 9:26). And the Law stated that the Law would change. "Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD" (Jeremiah 31:31-32). To teach what the Law taught is not blasphemy, even if the people did not want to hear the message.

Besides, reporting what someone else stated does not make the messenger guilty. Stephen repeated what Jesus taught, but it was a message that the Jews did not want to hear, especially when it is connected with the man they put to death.

"Then said the high priest, Are these things so?" (Acts 7:1). I've studied the entire 7th chapter and still don't understand where Stephen answers this seemingly simple question. Could you point out in the Scriptures and explain where Stephen answers this question in this 7th chapter please?

Thank you.

First, we need to determine what "things" the high priest was referring to. At the trial, false witnesses were used to accuse Stephen, "They put forward false witnesses who said, "This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us"" (Acts 7:13-14). Thus, there are two basic charges: that Stephen taught that Jesus said he would destroy the Temple and that the Law, handed down by Moses, would change. This was called blasphemy (Acts 6:11), but as we already pointed out the charge was false because it is not blasphemy to tell the truth. Therefore, the high priest was asking Stephen if he taught that Jesus said he would destroy the Temple and whether he claimed that the Law would be changed.

Stephen's response was that God gave Abraham and his descendants the land of Canaan (Acts 7:2-5). In other words, the land that the Jews occupied wasn't their by any intrinsic right. It was given to them as a gift and by implication, this gift could be removed at any time by God. The only land owned by Abraham was the tomb he bought for Sarah's burial. A tomb that is later used by his descendants (Acts 7:15-16).

Stephen then gives a brief history of the prophets. Joseph was a prophet of God, but is sold into slavery by his own brothers (Acts 7:8-10). After the prophecy of slavery came to pass, God provided Moses who is raised in Pharaoh's own household. But when Moses attempted to help his people he is rejected. "Who made you a ruler and judge over us?" (Acts 7:27). Moses flees as a result, but forty years later God appears Moses and does the very thing Moses was rejected for. "This Moses whom they rejected, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and a judge?' is the one God sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel who appeared to him in the bush" (Acts 7:35). After many miracles, it was Moses who prophesied that God would raise up another prophet like Moses (Acts 7:37). This becomes an important point because Moses is the one who brought in the Law (Acts 7:38). The implication that a prophet like Moses would also be bringing in a law. This answers the charge that Jesus would alter the Law Moses brought.

Continuing his point, Stephen reminds them that the Israelites rebelled against Moses and had rejected the Law that Moses brought to them (Acts 7:39). God gave them over to their idolatry that they carried with them all during the wilderness wandering (Acts 7:41-43). As a result, God promised to remove them from the land and send them to Babylon. In other words, God removed them for rebellion before, so it would not be surprising if God does it again.

Stephen then focuses on the Temple. Moses had a tabernacle built according to the pattern God gave him (Acts 7:44). That served Israel for hundreds of years until David came and wanted to build a temple for God. But it was Solomon who built it. However, Solomon and later Isaiah both emphasized that God doesn't dwell in a human built building. In other words, God doesn't need the Temple to continue. This answers the charge that Jesus said the Temple would be torn down.

Besides, they don't even have Solomon's Temple. That was destroyed in the Babylonian captivity. Zerubbabel oversaw the building of a replacement, but even that one was torn down and Herod built the current temple, and Herod was not even an Israelite by birth (he descended from Edom). From God's point of view, a loss of the current Temple would not be significant.

Stephen then sums up his points. The stubborn rebellious Jews have always resisted God and those present were no different from their ancestors. Their ancestors were not heroes. They persecuted and killed every one of God's prophets, including the Prophet that Moses told them was coming -- Jesus. They had violated the very Law that came to them by the hands of angels. In other words, these people did not deserve the Law, the land, or the presence of God in the Temple. Stephen answered the high priest's question, but the answer proves that not only did Stephen teach these things, but that he charges Israel's leaders with rebellion and murder. For that, the Jews murdered Stephen.