September 26, 2011

Stephen as Scapegoat, Scattering as Ingathering

Chronology tells me Stephen's martyrdom came around this time of year.  Typology makes it more interesting still.  Nevertheless, on any given date, Stephen's martyrdom and the scattering offer parallel typology with events from the Day of Atonement to the Festival of Tabernacles.  That may not suggest Stephen died on a certain day, but it does suggest some things about Acts 6-7.

As always, first we must do the Chronology.

With Jesus' temporary death at the Passover of 33 (see here and here) and Paul's temporary blindness coming before Passover of 34 (see here and here), the necessary event sequence undoubtedly puts Stephen's death at some time around the Feast of the Booths.  On Atonement Day?  It doesn't matter.  At any time even close to the High Holy Days, these events easily should have seemed extra pregnant with meaning.

Which events, you ask?  Forget the speech for a moment.  Here's what happened.

Merely a few months into the tumultuous days of Acts 1-6, the Sanhedrin and Temple authorities were still fighting against fresh claims about Jesus' resurrection, trying to convince everyone in Jeruslaem that they themselves were not, in fact, guilty of helping to execute Israel's Messiah.

So, on the day they heard Stephen's "blasphemy", they had him executed to set an example, and quite an effective one, evidently.  In the moment, however, at some psychological level, this execution also must have been partly to cover up their own suspicions of self-guilt.  Whatever their internal thoughts, the Sanhedrin evidently decided that killing Stephen was a sacrifice needed for Israel's good.  That makes him a "scapegoat" in the absolutely most classical (if not absolutely the most biblical) sense.

Next, all but twelve Christians fled Jerusalem.  Not only Stephen, but the Church was therefore sent out of the camp, exiled to wander away, in the Wilderness.  Not only Stephen, but the Church became Israel's - well, Jerusalem's - Scapegoat.

But then, what happened next is even more typologically interesting.

Acts 8-11 shows that believers fleeing Jerusalem reassembled in various towns, both near and farther away. With a bare bit of basic logistics, we can imagine quite easily how long that took.  If the scattering happened the day Stephen was stoned, then believers began reassembling (in nearby towns) within 24 hours after fleeing Jerusalem.  Obviously, those who reached as far as Phoenicia and Antioch took much more time, probably at least one to three weeks.  But that only shows the upper limit.

Within Judea, and more near to Judea, daily and for several days after Stephen was stoned, the scattered believers were reassembling themselves.  Daily and for several days, after the Christian Church became exiled, the members of Christ's body found one another in various places.  And God himself put up temporary dwellings.

Just like the events in Jerusalem on Atonement Day, and for several days afterward... Spiritual Sukkot were being assembled, from the day of the scapegoating, for several days afterward.  The Lord God himself was building tents, for himself, out of Christian believers.  Temporarily - and whether a given church met in each place there for ten days or for forty more years, each was temporary - the dwelling of God on Earth was moving onward again.

The Tabernacle of God, the Movement of God, the House of God, the Testimony of God.  Moved again.

It almost doesn't matter what Stephen said, or how much of Luke's speech in Acts 7 might have any historical root in all actual fact.  (Of course, I also have an idea that the time of year made something like Stephen's speech incredibly memorable to Paul and the other eyewitnesses on that day, but that's a post for another day.)

What matters is what happened.

Stephen's martyrdom - on any day that it happened - was a type of the Scapegoat event.

The Church's scattering - in the same way - was a type of both Scapegoat and Sukkot.

And the scattering - given what should be the most obvious logical implication from simple practical sense - quickly led to a tremendous ingathering.  God himself reaped the fruits of one marvelous season, brought his crop of new Christians (who'd spent a scant few months in the city that crucified Christ) out from that troubled field and into brand new storehouses.  Fresh produce, fresh dwellings, fresh new direction.

Thousands of new believers suddenly scattered, reproduced themselves into dozens and probably hundreds of new gatherings.  The Son of Man, who'd had no place to lay his own head, had suddenly produced many spiritual houses for his Father to dwell in.  And, like in the days of Moses, like the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, and unlike the previous thousand years beyond King David... these houses could move.

It doesn't matter what Stephen said.  It doesn't matter what day it took place.

What matters is what actually happened.  Even from the barest fact claims of Acts 6-12, we should be able to tell this much, without much real debate.

The martyrdom of Stephen and the scattering fulfilled, in this view, new, deeper and possibly final categories of meaning for the (prior to then) pregnant symbolism of the third and last movement in Israel's festival cycle.

The types of the Scapegoat and Sukkot were thereby fulfilled, in these ways, and almost certainly about this time of year, in the year 33 AD.

Mazel tov!

1 comment:

Josh L said...

Great post, Bill. Would love to hear some other people's thoughts on this. You almost have me convinced, so keep up the good work.

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