Sunday, June 5, 2011

Stephen, and the Parousia of Christ.

It is so very easy to read certain Bible passages for years and never fully realize what they are saying.

Sometimes we discover (time statements) within Scripture that disturb our preconceived idea and go against what we have been taught over the years that challenge us to rethink our long-held traditional views.

A similar passage is to be found in Acts 6:9-14: Now Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people. Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen, Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and people from Cilicia and Asia, came forward and debated with Stephen, but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke. Then they instigated some men to say, "We have heard him (speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God)." They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes, accosted him, seized him, and brought him before the Sanhedrin.. They presented false witnesses who testified, "This man never stops saying things against this (holy place and the law). For we have heard him claim that this (Jesus the Nazarene will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses) handed down to us."(Acts 6:9-14) New American Bible (emphasis added).

It is really important to understand the historical setting in which this was originally written. These false witnesses were making the claim that Stephen was speaking against the (laws of Moses and the holy place).  In other words, the Holy Temple.  For this they accused Stephen of speaking blasphemous words.  We have to remember when reading this that the Jews had the Torah of Moses and the Holy Tabernacle (later the Temple) which represented (the Shekinah of glory) for over 15,000 years..  They were still hanging on to many of the Judaistic rituals that had been so much a part of their life.   It was extremely difficult for the Jews to accept the superiority of the New Covenant.  It was especially hard for them to make a clean break with the old Mosaic customs.

What is it about these verses that is so challenging to our long-held traditional views today?  Please ask yourself the following question:  If the return or Parousia of Christ is, as you and I have always been taught, a time-ending future event, how in the world could these people falsely accuse Stephen of saying (Jesus the Nazarene will destroy the Holy Temple and change the customs that Moses) handed down to us?"  It is not important if these false witnesses were making false claims against Stephen or not.  The point is, these people had another concept of the (timing and nature of the Parousia of Christ. Sola Scriptura: The Scripture alone should be our standard.

The real purpose of this whole episode is to accuse Stephen of the crime of saying Jesus will destroy the Temple and the Mosaic law handed down to them..  How is it possible for Jesus to return and destroy the Temple and change customs of the Mosaic law handed down to them in our day?  Was not the Temple and the customs of the Mosaic law handed down to them destroyed in A.D 70?

Stephen or his accuser also tied the Parousia of Christ and the destruction of the Temple at the end of the Judaistic (age or world).  Matthew 24:1-3: Then Jesus went out and departed (from the Temple), and His disciples came up to show Him the (buildings of the Temple).  And Jesus said to them, "Do you not see all these things?  Assuredly, I say to you, (not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down)."  Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of (Your coming, and of the end of the age)?" (emphasis added)

Not only had Jesus actually said the Holy Temple would be destroyed, he predicted the entire destruction of Jerusalem along with his Parousia (Luke 21:20-27). The members of the Synagogue of Freedmen, Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and people from Cilicia and Asia, had reason to fear the prophetic declaration of Stephen.  For those who had ears to hear, this was a threatening prediction that Jesus would return in that very generation (Matt.24:34) and destroys the “Temple” and change the customs that Moses handed down to them." (Matthew 24:1-3) Sola Scriptura:

The destruction of the Temple represented a major crisis for Judaism because of all that the Temple had signified for them.  It meant the customs of the Mosaic law handed down to them and the Presence of God the Shekinah of glory, the place of the daily sacrifice (the Cultus), Israel’s place in the election, etc.  Given this reality, why should we not expect that the prophecy of Jesus’ Parousia given by Stephen is to be understood in a non-literal sense?  The early church understood the Parousia of Christ to simply be a reappearance along with the destruction of the Temple.

Stephen’s defense was not a response to refute the charges against him, but took the form of a discourse that reviewed God's Word to Israel, and led to a prophetic declaration, a plea for the hearing of the words.

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