Acts 6:14

Yee Haw. Again.

Tuesday, 5 April 2022

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 6:14

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)

You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).

False witnesses were presented before the council to speak against Stephen. They began with “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law.” They will now state the actual words they claim Stephen said. That begins with, “for we have heard him say.”

In order to make a charge of blasphemy against another, the words that are claimed to have been said must be presented. Further, according to the law, there had to be at least two or three witnesses in order for the words to be accepted as true. Hence, they say “we.” It is not that two false witnesses have come forward, each with his own different statement. Rather, they combine their voices into one accusation. When this is not done, the charges cannot be accepted. This was seen at the trial of Jesus –

“Then some rose up and bore false witness against Him, saying, 58 ‘We heard Him say, “I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.”’ 59 But not even then did their testimony agree.” Mark 14:57-59

There must be a minimum number of witnesses, and if they are making the same charge, the charge must be consistent with any others coming forward with the same accusation. In this case, they jointly state their words, saying, “that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place.”

The first point of these words concerns the way the Greek is structured, there is great contempt for the name they refer to – “Jesus of Nazareth, this.” It sets the tone for their testimony as being biased against the Lord. Also, there are two possible references to what they are speaking about –

Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
20 Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”
21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said. John 2:19-22

Then, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, He said, “These things which you see—the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down.” Luke 21:5,6

In the first example, the reference – as John notes – was clearly to Jesus’ body. It is something that could be easily defended against because the apostles had already proclaimed that Jesus resurrected on the third day.

The second point to consider is what “this place” means. As noted in Acts 6:13, it could be either the temple or the entire city of Jerusalem. Jesus also said in Luke 21 –

 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. 22 For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. 24 And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Luke 21:20-24

Either way, Jesus did not say that he would destroy the temple or Jerusalem. Rather, His words were a prophecy against the temple and the city, confirming that they would be destroyed. As distasteful as that may be to the Jews listening to the charges, it is not something that they could condemn Stephen or anyone else over.

A comparable passage is found in Jeremiah 26:1-19. Jeremiah prophesied against the temple and the city. The people wanted to stone him to death, but then Scripture provided previous testimony that what Jeremiah prophesied would come to pass. Therefore, they could not stone him without being guilty of his blood.

With the first charge stated, the second charge is next given, saying, “and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.” Charles Ellicott says the following concerning these words –

“The words seem to have been used in a half-technical sense as including the whole complex system of the Mosaic law, its ritual, its symbolism, its laws and rules of life, circumcision, the Sabbath, the distinction of clean and unclean meats (Acts 15:1; Acts 21:21; Acts 26:3; Acts 28:17).”

He is correct in this analysis. It is an all-encompassing ending of the Mosaic Law. In whatever way Stephen worded his statement, it certainly included the words of Jesus that a New Covenant had been instituted. The author of Hebrews explains the meaning of this, and it is something that the young church took time to grasp. But it appears to be something that Stephen understood from the outset –

“In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” Hebrews 8:13

Again, the Jews may dislike what he has said, but it is nothing that was not already fully supported by their own Scriptures –

“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— 32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34

As this is the case, and as Jesus claimed to be the Initiator of that New Covenant, the burden of proof now rested on the council to prove that it was not so. Stephen has past precedent and also the weight of prophecy in Scripture on his side, both from the same source – Jeremiah the prophet. When the accusations were rightly considered within the context of when and how Jesus spoke His words, there could be no doubt that Stephen was innocent of the charges against him.

Life application: The Bible is a big book, filled with wonderful stories, prophetic utterances, praises to God, insightful analyses of what God is doing in the stream of time and human existence, and so much more. It is a self-confirming word as well. One section may seem to bring in an impossible to resolve dilemma, and then another section will come along and take care of the issue, confirming that the Lord is in control of all things.

However, the only way you will ever be able to know how these various things are presented is to … … … read your Bible. Until you read it, you cannot know the treasure and wonder that is to be found in it. It is God’s gift to you. Open it up and revel in it. You can start today by reading Jeremiah 26:1-19 which is referred to above.

How precious is Your word, O God! It is more delightful than the sweetest honey. Thank You for Your wonderful word. Amen.