Acts 7:49‐Isaiah 66:1‐2

Introduction


Acts unites Old Testament redemptive history with the New Testament. It serves as a
launching point for the ministry of the apostles and establishes a foundation for the
purpose of the church. Luke continually records instances in the time of the early church
when the apostles and disciples quoted the Old Testament. They used the prophets to
prove the fulfillment of prophecies and to give evidence to their argument. Stephen
masterfully uses the book of Isaiah in his denunciation against the temple authorities in
Acts 7.

Context of the passage in Isaiah


Purpose of OT temple worship

When Solomon built the temple in the Old Testament, the purpose was to
create a place for God himself to dwell among his people. Solomon says in I
Kings 8:12 “I have indeed built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell
in forever.” This was not the end however, but a means to the end. The end
was that his “name might be there” (I Kings 8:16). Through this temple, the
name of God was to be made known to all the nations of the earth (I Kings
8:60).

Israelite rebellion taints temple worship

From the very onset of the Exodus, Israel continued to pervert the true
worship of Yahweh. Following a road that continued to travel downhill, the
Israelites began to sacrifice to idols (II Kings 16:4), and to stray from
worshipping their one true God. Because the temple epitomizes their
worship and beliefs, any idolatry or syncretism completely manifests itself
there. Isaiah thus condemns the nation.

Fulfillment of new heavens and new earth and ultimate presence of God

Chapters 65 and 66 of Isaiah address the final judgment and the New
Jerusalem. Chapter 65 begins as a response to “Will you keep silent, and
afflict us so terribly?” in 64:12. Is the ensuing judgment so all encompassing
that it eliminates all hope of past promises being fulfilled? The silence will be
answered by complete desolation (65:6). But, there is hope and that is found
in the creation of the new heavens and earth. After wondrously describing
this in 65:17‐25, Isaiah retraces his steps and begins to outline who will gain
citizenship in this new earth in chapter 66. 1 Verses 1 and 2 begin a chiasm
that continues throughout the entire chapter. In these verses, Isaiah defines
what true worship is: trembling at the word of God. Why should man tremble
at the Word of God? He is the Creator God. To point out the greatness of God,
Isaiah declares that the earth, not the house or the ark (Psalm 99:5, 132:7) is
where God’s footstool is. His greatness is immense and extends throughout
all creation. Only his mercy and grace allow him to dwell in the temple before
his people. He is not subject to the people because they built the temple he
dwells in, but rather in 66:2 he declares that his hands have made all things.
“God will have no temple at all if men think by temple‐building itself to do
him service.” 2 Motyer states that “Just as his transcendent universality is not
limited by his condescending to live in one particular place, neither is his
sovereign freedom of action limited by accepting a house at the hands of
human beings.” This is further proven by the fact that 66:2 is reminiscent of
Genesis 1 with the use of the verb היה or “to be” found in phrases such as “let
there be” and “it was so.” God is telling Israel, through Isaiah, that he is the
ultimate God of Creation that spoke the world into existence. He is pointing them
back to the Genesis account. Psalm 51:16 and Hosea 6:6 echo this theological
reality. God delights in a broken heart, and in steadfast love. The chiasm
concludes in 66:22‐23 by declaring that true worship is manifested through
the declaring of God’s glory. Therefore, trembling at God’s word, leads to a
declaration of his glory among the nations. 3




Stephens speech


Stephen begins an argument, even more specifically a covenant lawsuit, that hinges
completely on the present reality of the temple and the truth that final authority is found in
the name of Jesus Christ. He therefore traces out the manifestations of God to his people in
the past. The God of glory appeared to Abraham (7:2), was with Joseph in the midst of
tribulation (7:9), appeared to Moses in a bush (7:30), dwelt with the nation through the
tent of witness (7:44) and finally resided in the house Solomon built (7:47). The fault in the
Jew’s belief is not that they believe that God dwells in the temple, for this is declared by
Solomon in 1 Kings 8, “I have indeed built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in
forever.” Rather, the lie is found in their belief that his power can be contained, and they
have the authority to localize the presence of God. 4 The high priest, the elders, the scribes
and the people had made an idol of the temple just as they have made everything else an
idol. Calvin writes that God desired, “that the temple should have been a sign and pledge of
his presence.”5

In order to solidify his argument, Stephen quotes Isaiah. The reference serves to
make a theological statement about the nature of God and to create a parallel that brings
judgment upon Stephen’s listeners. Stephen answers their accusation in 7:14, “we have
heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place.” Stephen declares through
the words of Isaiah, that God cannot be contained. “He is still the transcendent God, filling
all heaven, touching earth with his foot.”6 Furthermore, Stephen is relating his accusers to
the unrepentant idolaters Isaiah passes judgment on. As the Israelites in the Old Testament
were guilty of desecrating the purpose of the temple, so are the Pharisees, the elders and
the scribes. Rather than trembling at the Word of God and approaching him with a broken
and a contrite heart (66:3), they attempt to control and idolize. “What God wants is humble
obedience from his people rather than the building of an elaborate temple and the offering
of sacrifices that are no better than the abominable practices of other people If
unaccompanied by full obedience to him.” Stephen therefore consolidates his argument
that Israel has always been rebellious and has always turned against God. 7

The final parallel lies between the prophets of old whom the Israelites persecuted
and Jesus Christ himself whom Stephen’s very listeners persecuted. The use of Isaiah drives
Stephen’s point home more clearly. The Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees are the ultimate
idolaters because Christ has now come. The judgment is thus, comprehensive. Stephen
declares that the Righteous One was betrayed and murdered by them. The reality of Jesus
Christ did destroy the necessity of the temple and did change the customs that Moses
delivered (6:14). However, they were too “stiff‐necked.” This word denotes stubbornness.
Their stubbornness prevented them from seeing the truth. The word is used in Exodus
33:3,5 when God angrily condemns a disobedient Israel. 8 The reality of the crucified Christ
is a stumbling block to the Jews (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Stephen does make one alteration in his quotation. In Isaiah God says in verse 2, “All
these things my hands have made.” Stephen rather recites, “Did not my hand make all these
things?” The statement becomes a question. The question is filled with rhetoric. It is
reminiscent of the final chapters of Job when God repeatedly asks Job questions, pushing
Job to realize that there are no valid questions he has the right to ask God. Stephen
concludes his argument by rhetorically asking this question of the temple authorities. Did
or did not God make all things? Implying; do you really believe you have authority over
anything in light of such truth?

Stephen’s use of Isaiah therefore, incorporates many more dynamics and nuances
than at first glance. The history of unrepentant Israel is used as a spring board to put the
Jewish rulers on trial. Though they are unjustly trying Stephen, he doesn’t defend himself
but rather defends the truth. The Creator God, the Name, The Righteous one, comes with
authority and power that will judge hypocrisy and idolatry.

Context within the book of Acts


After the launch of the church in Acts 2, Luke expounds on the various facets of “the
name.” In chapter 3, Luke establishes that the church is the only institution with divine
authority through Peter’s healing of the lame man and his proclamation to the Jews at the
Temple. The power demonstrated in this account incited fear in the hearts of the temple
authorities and in 4:18 they attempt to suppress this power by commanding the apostles
not to speak. The nature of this Name is clarified in chapter 5. The Name is Holy and this is
evidenced by the death of Ananias and Sapphira and the church is impacted by this holy
reality (5:11). Furthermore, the power of the name spreads so that in 5:16 “people also
gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with
unclean spirits.” Thus, the Name becomes a centralizing power. In the final portion of
chapter 5, Luke is communicating the fact that the power of the Name supersedes all other
authority. Not even the locked doors of a prison can hold the apostles who are going forth
in Jesus name (5:22). Beyond that, this name is universal. It bridges the gap between all
nations and customs and this is communicated in chapter 6 with the argument that arose
between the Hellenists and the Hebrews.

Luke has been building up in Acts to this point of Stephen’s speech. If there are any
questions left on who has supernatural authority on earth, it is addressed here. Stephen
does not directly mention the church but rather rips away all authority from the Temple
and those that control it. By doing so, he is declaring that Jesus Christ has all power and
Jesus Christ is working in the lives of those who believe. That is his body. That is the church.
That is what the Jews are working so hard to destroy.

Thus, after proving in his final argument that the Temple leaders are guilty of
everything Isaiah condemns the Israelites for, Stephen has removed their authority. From
here, Luke can go on, having established the power of the One Name and the reality that it
filters through the body of the church. From here, the apostles can disperse and “be
witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”(Acts 1:8)
There are no questions left as to where the power and authority lies. The power of the One
Name in the church is the hope for Israel and thus, the hope for the world.




1 J Motyer, The prophecy of Isaiah : an introduction & commentary (Downers Grove Ill.:
InterVarsity Press, 1993).
2 John Oswalt, The book of Isaiah. (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1998).
3 Raymond Ortlund, Isaiah : God saves sinners (Wheaton Ill.: Crossway Books, 2005).
4 F Bruce, The book of the Acts, Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids Mich.: William B. Eerdmans
Publishing Co., 1988).
5 Jean Calvin, Calvin's commentaries (Grand Rapids Mich.: Baker, 1979).
6 Motyer, The prophecy of Isaiah.
7 G Beale, Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids Mich.
;Nottingham England: Baker Academic ;;Apollos, 2007).
8 Abingdon Press, The New Interpreter's Bible: General Articles & Introduction, Commentary,
& Reflections for Each Book of the Bible, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books in
Twelve Volumes (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994).









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