For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
Stephen, the Precursor
The defense and death of Stephen has a special connotation, added to the very important one of being the first martyr. To perceive it, we have to give special attention to the accusations they made against him, due to which he was taken to the council. The last accusations were the following: "And they brought false witnesses saying: This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and against the law; because we heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and change the customs Moses gave us" (Acts 6:13-14).
The falseness of these accusations was not due to Stephen having announced the end of the temple and the dispensation of the law, but because in their thinking he had spoken blasphemous words against that. To the Jews, this was a blasphemy, because they were unable to understand this, but undoubtedly, this was the purpose and will of God. The Lord Himself had told His disciples that in that place there would not remain a stone upon another stone that would not be removed.
Later, the discourse of Stephen, which comprises almost the whole chapter 7 of Acts, proceeds from this false accusation. And Stephen soars to the very beginning of the history of the people of Israel to lay the foundation of his defense. His report is ample and profound, it even throws fresh light on some passages of the Old Testament. However, we must not lose sight from where Stephen begins and where he ends. His purpose was not to demonstrate what a good Jew he was, and how much he knew of the history of his people. The point of his discourse was something very different.
To see this clearly, we must go to his last words. The final point -the climax- of his words is his alluding to David and Solomon, where he retakes directly the theme of the temple. "This (David) found grace before God, and requested to provide a tabernacle for the God of Jacob. But Solomon built Him a house" (v. 46-47). This is the last historical fact narrated by Stephen. Immediately, he makes a fervent appeal: "Although the Most High does not dwell in temples made by hand, as the prophet says: "Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? The Lord says; What is the place of My rest? Did not My Hand make all these things?".
His argument concludes, in other words, in this manner: "Although God allowed two of His best servants to build Him a house, God does not dwell in temples made by hand. There is no created thing that can worthily be My home. Therefore, you should not think it strange if this house is going to be destroyed. God has decided to dwell among men in another way".
Stephen intuited beforehand the purpose of God in regards to the temple and at the time of the change of the dispensation, which would be developed later by Paul in a more ample way. But here in Stephen is the seed of the revelation about the Church as the new dwelling of God. Stephen was the Precursor of this revelation. And, as it happens every time that the truth of God strongly shines the first time, it blinds the eyes of the religious traditionalists, and turns them against God.