Acts 7:33

ESV Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.
NIV Then the Lord said to him, 'Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.
CSB "The Lord said to him: Take off the sandals from your feet, because the place where you are standing is holy ground.
NLT Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.
KJV Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground.

What does Acts 7:33 mean?

Jews who have traveled hundreds of miles to worship at the temple are accusing Stephen of following a teacher who threatened to destroy the temple (Acts 6:14). The claim is like a conspiracy theory or rumor that won't die.

Jesus never threatened to destroy the temple. Early in Jesus' ministry He had arrived in the temple courtyard to find it filled with animal merchants and money-changers. Besides engaging in dishonorable business practices, they were taking up the space God set aside for the Gentiles to worship. So He threw over their tables and drove them out with a whip (John 2:13–17). The Jewish leadership confronted Him, asking who gave Him the authority to do this. Jesus responded, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:18–19). First, He dared the Sanhedrin to destroy the temple; He never claimed He was going to. Second, He meant His body, prophetically alluding to the Sanhedrin having Him crucified and His resurrection three days later (John 2:20–22).

There's a pretty strong indication that the Sanhedrin knew what He was talking about, even if the disciples didn't. As Jesus hanged on the cross, people mocked Him, saying, "You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself!" (Matthew 27:40). Yet, earlier, the council brought out men who agreed to falsely accuse Jesus of threatening the temple (Matthew 26:59–61). This was not because they believed the charge, but because threatening a religious structure was against Roman law and punishable by death. The Sanhedrin didn't want to look like they were behind Jesus' death because they were afraid of the people (Matthew 26:3–5). But if they could get Pilate, the Roman governor, to kill Jesus, they would be fine. When trying to get Rome to kill Jesus, they acted as if His words targeted the temple. When Jesus was dying, they acted as if they knew His words pointed to His own body.

Stephen doesn't use this example of hypocrisy to defend Jesus or himself. Instead, he goes deeper. Where God is, is sacred. If God is in the temple, the temple is sacred. But God appeared to His servants in many different places away from the temple and Jerusalem, including a hill in the territory around Midian where Moses had gone to tend his father-in-law's sheep. The purpose of the temple was to establish a worship format that was protected from the influence of paganism. But the temple is not sacred in and of itself. It is only as sacred as God declares it to be.

In less than forty years after Stephen's speech, there will be no temple. The Romans will siege Jerusalem, tear it down, and burn the temple. The flames will be so hot the gold will melt in between the paving stones. The Jews will scatter all over the world and will not regather as a nation until 1948. Jews today still long for a temple. Most cannot see that God's presence makes a place sacred, and the coming of the Holy Spirit makes sacred the heart of everyone who follows Jesus.
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