“Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. 45 Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,
“‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’
“You stiff-necked people, 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 announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:44-53 (ESV)
The temple, its place and meaning has always posed a bit of tension in this world. Stephen’s accusers are returning to an old tactic, one they used on Christ himself. They accuse him of forsaking the temple. Christ, in reference to his own body, in which the fullness of deity dwelt, or as John says, the word tabernacled among us, says “tear down this temple and I will rebuild it in three days.” He also prophesied the destruction of the temple. Doubtless Stephen had spoken about Christ as the true temple, and also of the temple’s final destruction.
There was always a tension though, how could there be a house for God? God had ordered the tabernacle to be built as a place of worship. The only place. Later it was replaced with the temple that Solomon built, and this was rebuilt after the exile. Herod had even remodeled it. It was a point of pride for the Israelites. Yes they knew God could be found anywhere, and was everywhere. But they also knew the temple was the place for them to go and receive the grace and mercy of God. Solomon explains this in his dedication of the temple. And God had promised to be here for you. It isn’t that he could not be other places, he is certainly everywhere, but here he is for you with grace and mercy. It is the same today with church, where the gospel is proclaimed and his sacraments administered.
It’s funny, the disciples all still worshiped in the temple. The new Christians like wise. They would though break bread in the homes. That they did not do in public and among the uninitiated, the unbaptized. Still they revered the temple. They did not seek to destroy it, even if they knew it’s destruction would come. But Stephen reminds them that God is bigger than this temple. And they the fathers of Israel had never really comprehended the temple. They were always quick to stone the prophets, they would never listen to God’s word. They would never show the mercy that God showed them in the temple. They broke God’s law. They received it as from angels, and ignored it at the same time. They did as their fathers. But there sons would be building no tomb for Jesus. He lives.