Josh. 24:2 π Mt. 26:59-63 π Jn. 2:18-21 π Acts 6:9-14 π Acts 6:14 π Acts 7:2-53 π Acts 7:2-4 π Acts 7:9-10 π Acts 7:26-28 π Acts 7:35 π Acts 7:38-43 π Acts 7:48 π Acts 7:48-50 π Acts 7:51-53 π Acts 7:58 π 2 Tim. 3:12 π Jas. 1:27
Conventional wisdom has given us a maxim that says, "Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are destined to repeat them." And many among us hold the common belief that history repeats itself - though it probably would be more accurate to acknowledge that history is not really repeating itself, but rather it is different men committing the same actions and experiencing similar consequences that produce similar histories in different times. The effect is so similar that it is not worth arguing the point. Unarguably, the same things seem to happen over and over again.
For those of us who are witnesses and participants of God's movement among His people at this time, we are seeing yet another instance of the repetitiveness of history. Let us look first at Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin and I want us to look specifically at the basis of the trial: the specific accusations and charges which were filed against Jesus.
In our legal system, we are so accustomed to the accusations setting the tone and conduct of the trial that we don't often think about this aspect of Jesus' trial. Today, we would not get upset at someone having to appear at traffic court - but we would be deeply disturbed by the trial of a rapist or serial killer even if it turned out later that the person was innocent of the crimes with which he was charged. It is the accusation made against the defendant that indicates the seriousness and determines the level of severity with which he is to be treated.
So too with Jesus. The crimes with which He was charged were, in the eyes of the Jewish leaders, worthy of His death. What were their accusations for which they sought to kill the Son of God? Matthew records:
Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. But at last two false witnesses came forward and said, "This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'" And the high priest arose and said to Him, "Do You answer nothing? What is it that these men testify against You?" But Jesus kept silent. ( Mt. 26:59-63; top )
The accusation against Jesus is that He would destroy the temple of God and rebuild it. There is some oddity involved in this, so let's look a little more closely.
First, this is a misquote and a complete misunderstanding on the part of the witnesses. John records:
So the Jews answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" But He was speaking of the temple of His body. ( Jn. 2:18-21; top )
In the statement for which He is being accused of threatening the Jewish religion, He was actually prophesying to them about what they were going to do to Him! He was actually telling them, "You're going to crucify Me but, after three days, the temple of God, My body, will be resurrected." The irony of the blindness of the Jewish leaders is a terrible thing to witness.
But let's analyze the Jewish leaders even more closely on the basis of what they were thinking. They believed that Jesus was threatening their temple, the building in Jerusalem where sacrifices were brought and moneys collected. Why, He was seditiously advocating a way of religion that would severely disrupt their status quo and their paychecks too! How dare this upstart young prophet who drew crowds out into the wilderness think He could come into Jerusalem and start changing their religious power structure? We'll show Him! - And they did. Or at least they thought they did.
Let's look now at what church historians like to call "the first martyr of the church," Stephen. And let's look specifically at the accusation made against him. Luke records:
Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilici and Asia), disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. Then they secretly induced men to say, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God." And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. They also set up false witnesses who said, "This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us." ( Acts 6:9-14; top )
It's the same accusation all over again. Perhaps some members of the council recalled how successful these charges were in bringing Jesus down and thought to reuse them to silence Stephen. But whatever the reason, it is a thinly veiled response to the threat that Stephen posed to their status quo. Hear how the Amplified version translates their accusation:
"For we have heard him say that this Jesus the Nazarene will tear down and destroy this place, and will alter the institutions and usages which Moses transmitted to us." ( Acts 6:14 Amp. - emphasis added; top)
Here is the ultimate threat which the council had to silence - Stephen was a direct threat against the status quo institution and religious power structure of his day. For that crime his life was forfeit.
But let's look at his defense. One of the longest chapters in Acts ( Acts 7:2-53; top ), his defense contains more depth than can be covered in this discussion. But let us outline his defense and look at certain key points.
The bulk of his defense is a recital of the history of the Jewish people including Abraham, the twelve patriarchs, Moses and Aaron and even David and Solomon. But his perspective of the history focuses on the hard hearts of the people and how they routinely rejected God's leaders and resisted whatever God was doing at the time. Consider Abraham's disobedience to God:
The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, "Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you." Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell. ( Acts 7:2-4 - emphasis added; top)
God told him to leave his relatives - but Abraham brought his father along! And it was only after his father, a practicing idolater ( Josh. 24:2; top ), died that God brought Abraham to live in the land of Canaan.
Consider the hardness of heart of the patriarchs, the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel:
And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him and delivered him out of all his troubles... ( Acts. 7:9-10; top )
Consider the hardness of heart of the people under and after Moses:
And the next day [Moses] appeared to two of them as they were fighting, and tried to reconcile them, saying, "Men, you are brethren; why do you wrong one another?" But he who did his neighbor wrong pushed him away, saying, "Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you did the Egyptian yesterday?" 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: 26-28 , 35; top )
This [Moses] is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us, whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected. And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, saying to Aaron, "Make us gods to go before us; as for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets: "Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? Yes, you took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, images which you made to worship; and I will carry you away beyond Babylon." ( Acts 7:38-43; top )
After speaking of David and Solomon's desire to build a house for God, Stephen concludes his history recital by saying:
However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says: "Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the Lord, Or what is the place of My rest? Has My hand not made all these things?" ( Acts 7:48-50; top )
This reminder that God is much bigger than the house that Solomon had built for Him is the segue into Stephen's direct answer to the specific charges brought against him: that he was advocating the destruction of the temple and altering the Jewish religion. Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, rebuked the council and said:
"You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it." ( Acts 7:51-53; top )
In Jesus' case, the council made a legal show of things and took Him before Pilate, the Roman governor, who alone held the legal right to pronounce the sentence of execution. In Stephen's case, they were so filled with rage that they simply took the law into their own hands, rushed him out of the city and stoned him to death. ( Acts 7:58; top )
Be sure you witness the brutal savagery with which these religious leaders defend their status quo, their institution, their power base - for, if you wish to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, you will see it again to one degree or another. ( 2 Tim. 3:12; top )
At this present time, God is restoring the bride of Christ so that she will be spotless and blameless, maturely ready for His return. Perhaps "restoring" is not the most accurate word to use for, in some ways, she will be more glorious than she ever has been in the past. But that is a subject for another discussion. Suffice it to say that God is moving His people in such a way that the filthiness she has accumulated over the centuries is being discarded and exchanged for robes of the genuine righteousness of Christ.
The bride (also known as the ekklesia, the called-out people, and the body) of Christ is discarding all of the devil's schemes and the traditions of men which have deceitfully robbed her of her rightful place of power and prestige in God's kingdom. Key among these deceptions is that of the church building and the religious power structure of the clergy, the "pastors."
God is teaching His people that they are His temple and that He does not live in any building made by human hands - exactly what Stephen told the council. ( Acts 7:48; top ) Further, He is teaching them that the building made by human hands is a clever trap laid by the enemy to divert time and resources from the truly needy. ( Jas. 1:27; top ) It also makes it possible for one man to stand as a "bridge" between the people and God, teaching them that they don't need to hear God for themselves; they can let the "pastor" do it for them.
The distinction between "church" and ekklesia has been so blurred by centuries of deception and tradition that very few know what the original ekklesia was all about nor what "church" stole from ekklesia to remain alive in its clever disguise. There is such a blend of "church" and ekklesia today that anyone speaking against "church" has to tiptoe through a minefield of misconceptions before he can speak of the power, beauty and truth of the ekklesia.
And it is incredible the lengths to which "pastors" and "church"-goers will go to defend their "right" to meet in a "church" building! If you want to see disproportionate anger and indignation, suggest to a "church"-goer that his "church" building is an abomination to God and you will see incredible passion. But the truth is that there is absolutely no basis for that "church" building in Scripture - and they will go to great lengths to ruin the reputation of those who challenge their abuse of authority and resources. It will not be long before they increase the level of their violence against the people of God who are free of their tyranny and free of their malpractice of the Christian faith. In some places around the world, this is already happening. "Church" leaders and "church"-goers are very abusive of those who speak the truth of God's people, His ekklesia, His bride, His body.
It is the same thing as what happened to Jesus and Stephen, just one big circle, history repeating itself.
So when the bride stands up and says, "Jesus Christ is alive and on the earth today in us, His bride," the "church" leaders respond with slanderous cries of "False prophets! False teachers!" when in fact they are the ones who have wrongfully usurped false titles unto themselves and taken on positions of authority for which there is no Scriptural basis.
When the bride stands up and says, "We are the temple of God - we have no need of your 'church' buildings," the "church" leaders are deeply offended and their lifestyle and positions of power are threatened. They must respond with violent persecution - or else they have to resign their positions and join the ekklesia, a transition that will require more faith and sacrifice than they wish to experience.
When the bride stands up and says, "We have no need of the 'pastors'' Nicolaitan power structure; we have the apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists and shepherds given by God to equip and edify us," the "church" leaders recognize that the security of their paycheck is threatened. They recognize that if the truth were known by the people of their congregation, they would soon be out of a job - that job that gives them great visibility, prestige, power over and even worship from other people.
When the bride stands up and says, "We have no need of your religious rituals that have a form of godliness but no power," the "church" leaders add yet another "ministry" program to their repertoire and hope to catch at least two unwary religious consumers for every one sincere seeker of truth who abandons their sinking ship.
When the bride stands up and says, "You stiff-necked people! You have always resisted the leading of the Holy Spirit. Whenever He granted you a revelation about the elementary things of Christ, you built an altar and camped there while the pillar of smoke and fire, the Holy Spirit, kept moving on toward the land of promise," the "church" leaders have no option but to condemn such ones as heretics and divisive radicals and make every effort to silence such a bold one.
If they could, they would stone us. Someday they probably will - and they will think that they are doing God a favor.
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