When Jesus died, God ripped apart the magnificent curtains in the temple and its inner, sacred room was exposed as empty (Lk 23:45). That moment captured what was true about the religion that Jesus found in Judah: it had a lively external life but an inner life empty of God (Mt 23:27, 28). That’s clearly on display in Acts 4. Firstly, the temple authorities don’t rejoice with a healed man celebrating in the temple but, instead, worry about how he might undermine them (v14-16). Secondly, when Peter warns them that by killing Jesus they are rejecting God’s cornerstone (v11), their only response is to try to shut him, and the other apostles, up (v17,18). But this godless attitude is not unique to them. Paul will later write, quoting the Old Testament, that all of us have a natural tendency away from God (Ro 3:9-18). We have many religions and philosophies but they do not cure the darkness residing in our hearts, as seen in the many sins of the human race.
If we humble ourselves, however, Christ can change us. Peter and John have experienced just that and their consciences have been rewritten (v19). They cannot be intimidated by the threats of men, they must speak of what they’ve seen and heard in Jesus (v20). Peter had lived as a faithful Jew (Ac 10:14) but meeting Christ showed him he was a sinner (Lk 5:8). Now, he, and John, cannot stop talking about this. Jesus is good news (the gospel) and they must tell others! Yet the leaders still will not listen. They let them go because there might be a riot otherwise – thanks to the stunning miracle (v21,22) – but the authorities remain implacably opposed to the apostles.
When Peter and John return home (v23), the believers break out into prayers of thanksgiving (v24). Their reaction shows that the true worship of God is now found in them. Whilst the temple rulers debate politics in their council, these Christians are speaking with the Lord. The stone temple on the hill may be empty of God in its heart, but this living temple of believers is filled with God (1Co 3:16). Of course, the stone temple once knew the experience of God’s glory, when it was first opened (1Ki 8:10,11) but that was temporary. The Spirit, however, took up permanent residence in Christ’s people on the day of Pentecost (Ac 2:1-4). So the Christians have become a house of prayer, the very thing which Jesus couldn’t find at the city’s stone temple (Lk 19:46). There are now two temples in Jerusalem: one dead, one living. The former is an architectural marvel, a beautiful place. The latter is made up of ordinary people in ordinary homes. But the former is also just a façade: a glorious frontage with nothing behind it. Whereas the latter is alive, filled with the songs of the Psalms which are coming true in its midst (v25; Ps 2). Jesus’ church is an alternative temple right in the midst of Jerusalem and, as its cornerstone, he makes it firm and sure. Yes, it is attacked by foreigners (v26,27) like Jerusalem’s previous temples. But, unlike them, it will not fall because God’s power builds, fills and upholds it (v28-31).
The Jews loved their temple: it was a massive symbol of God’s presence; it was stunning building which brought them glory; and it was full of activity. Our society too has its ‘temples’. Maybe not linked with God, but we have our shopping centres, stadia, concert halls and towers to give us a sense of blessing, glory and life. But a life without the Lord is ultimately empty. Only in him can we find a ‘temple’ which is everlasting and filled with love, care, mercy and power (v32,33).