At the time of the early church, the Jews had by and large become really focussed on their temple and their system of worship with animal sacrifices. Many of them disregarded Jesus who was sent as their Messiah. God got so fed up with the whole thing that He arranged for the Romans to come over in 70 A.D and utterly destroy the Temple. It has never been rebuilt. I call that a strong message from the Lord of Heaven and Earth to the people of Israel about what God does and does not accept by way of religion.
Before this terrifying judgement happened, in the days of the early church, one of the main contentions of the Jewish opposers of the gospel was that the Christians wanted to tear down the temple – that they speak evil of “this holy place”. This seems to have been one of the charges brought against Stephen the early preacher and first martyr for the gospel.
Act 6:13 They also set up false witnesses who said, “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law;
Act 6:14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”
It is typical of religionists who oppose the work of the Holy Spirit to put all the emphasis on their building and on religious customs. People cling to these things when they want to be religious without having a relationship with God where they actually know His voice and do His will.
When you read through Stephen’s defense in Acts chapter 7, it is not obvious at first what his point really was. Why did he go through so much of the history of Israel and especially Moses? I think the key to the answer can be found in this verse:
Act 7:37 “This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, ‘THE LORD YOUR GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN. HIM YOU SHALL HEAR.’
There are many ways in which Jesus was similar to Moses in His earthly life. With both of them, the devil tried to arrange their death as babies through the ruling powers of the day. Both came out of Egypt. Both fasted 40 days. Other similarities can be found.
One of the similarities Stephen alludes to is that both Jesus and Moses were rejected by many of their countrymen of the day. This is why Stephen talks about an earlier time in Moses’ life when he killed an Egyptian trying to save his people. It says of Moses:
Act 7:25 For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand.
Just like Moses, the brethren of Jesus (the Jews) did not understand that God was planning to deliver them by the hand of Jesus. They therefore rejected God’s appointed Deliverer and Messiah, something Moses himself had warned the Israelites not to do. (See Deuteronomy 18:15,19).
Stephen was showing how his accusers were following in the footsteps of all the rebellious ways of their fathers. While outwardly conforming in some ways to God’s revealed will, these Hebrews had idols in their hearts and carried them along with them even in the wilderness journey (vs 43). Stephen said to them:
Act 7:51 “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.
Act 7:52 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.
The Jews Stephen was addressing were full of religious pride. Stephen’s message should have put them in their place but instead they got furious and killed the messenger.
Of course, even today most Jews resist the Holy Spirit. However, there are signs that God is beginning to grant to many of them repentance unto life, and we should be really happy about that, because all other things being equal, Jews seem to be more influential than Gentiles, and their turning to God SHOULD be a huge blessing for the world. At the moment, Messianic Jews are persecuted by their Jewish brethren in the State of Israel. Satan has done a good job of confusing Christianity with anti-semitism in their minds, and what some Christians have done over the years has not helped.
Even so, most Jews, and many traditional Christians always resist the Holy Spirit. The very leaders of antiquity they place their pride in are people that they would have resisted also had they been there at the time.
Many Jews today are fierce opposers of the true work of God. Some cling to Talmudic traditions which are hostile to the spirit of the Gospel, others practice occultism, while others are total agnostics. The judgement of God has come on the Jews over the years because they rejected their true Messiah that Moses spoke of in Deuteronomy 18:15,19. Even though their temple has been destroyed, they cling to tradition and in their hearts they reject the Living God. Very sad.
I pray that we all be people who submit easily to the Holy Spirit, and are willing to move away from the things we are doing religiously if that is what the Spirit of God should require. For only in this way will we have what it takes to truly represent the LIVING GOD to those who today are following false prophets and false religions.