A friend and former student, Pastor C.J. Bowen, writes in response to my recent discussion of Jesus as “new Phinehas.”The remainder of this post is from C.J.
Having recently preached through the early chapters of Acts, I was bothered by the interpretation that the early church was unfaithful to their mission, hunkering down in Jerusalem and failing to take the gospel to the nations until persecution drove them out. This is seen, via some sketchy post hoc reasoning, as a Divine kick in the rear to correct lazy Christians.
But the idea of the scapegoat/high priest/representative’s death providing release seems to better explain the wait. The apostles have been commanded to wait until the Spirit comes, and Stephen’s ministry is marked by a fullness of the Spirit. He is not under judgment like Aaron, but he bears judgment by becoming the first Spirit-filled martyr, and he intercedes, priest-like, for his murderers.
His Spirit-filled ministry provokes Saul into becoming a new Balak, whose curse lands on Stephen (although it doesn’t sting, since dying is gain), but ultimately spreads blessing throughout the world, and even rebounds on himself, as he becomes the primary agent of that blessing. After Stephen dies, the blood-guilt of Israel is not held against them, and the gospel goes out through the New Israel to the nations.
And when the outside attack fails, the increasingly multi-ethnic church faces the same internal dilemmas of purity in a New Covenant way, brought to a head by the spread of the gospel to the nations: food sacrificed to idols, fellowship with Gentiles, sexual immorality, etc. Because the Spirit has made one new man of two, broken the dividing walls, and filled the Church with power, she doesn’t pursue separation, but unification in Christ, and when Peter misses this, Paul thrusts him through with a rhetorical spear.