Featured Devotionals ACTS 02

God Cannot Be Localised

Day 17 – Acts 7:1-53

Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin, the highest court of Judaism, falls into three sections:

  • Verses 2–16: The Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—God’s presence in Israel’s history.
  • Verses 17–43: Moses and the Law, dealing with the charge of blaspheming against Moses.
  • Verses 44–50: The temple and the charge of blaspheming against God.

Stephen reviews Israel’s history to demonstrate that Israel has always rejected God’s messengers, culminating in the murder of God’s righteous one (v. 52). It is similar to Psalms 78 and 107:

  • Verses 2–16 recount God’s covenantal relationship with Israel’s patriarchs, and yet even here there is rejection of Joseph (v. 9).
  • Verses 17–43, where Israel rejected Moses (vv. 27–29) and turned their back on him, making the golden calf (v. 41). Stephen is being accused of blasphemy of Moses, yet Israel’s history is one of rejection of Moses (v. 39).
  • Verses 44–50 relate to the place of worship. Although Solomon built God’s temple (v. 47), the idea of God being tied to a place is never taught in Scripture (vv. 49–50). The whole world is God’s temple (Isaiah 66:1–2), and Solomon himself said as much (2 Chronicles 6:18). By attaching excessive importance to a man-made temple, his accusers are resisting the Holy Spirit (v. 51), rejecting God’s prophetic word of the change to come.

Stephen makes it clear that God cannot be localized. He was with Abraham in Mesopotamia (v. 2), with Joseph in Egypt (v. 9), and with Moses at Mount Sinai (v. 30). He could not be limited to a calf, a tabernacle, or a temple—He is the pilgrim God.

As to blasphemy against Moses, the nation has always been guilty of that. As to blasphemy against God, Israel has not only localized God to the temple but, at the same time, has rejected God’s true temple, the Lord Jesus, for it is in Him that God and people meet.

Stephen condemns the Jews as being like the pagans—stubborn, resistant, and unrepentant (v. 51). They have consistently rejected God’s messengers, despite the advantage of receiving God’s law (vv. 52–53). This is supposed to be a speech by the defence, but as in Peter and John’s appearance before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4), Stephen is on the attack. His accusers are the ones being accused.

Why does Luke give so much space to the speech? Probably for two reasons: first, the death of Stephen marks the beginning of a series of events that will result in a major advance of the gospel to Gentile lands. Secondly, we see a model defence of Christianity in the face of Jewish antagonism.

Think Through:

In what ways is the experience of Stephen, the church’s first martyr, like that of Christ?

In verse 42, God “gave them over” (see also Romans 1:24, 26, 28). Does God still deal with people the way He dealt with Israel in verses 39–43?

Taken from Journey Through Acts: 50 Daily Insights from God’s Word by David Cook.