Stephen goes to great lengths to point out that God is not bound to the Temple. Stephen is not anti-Temple, but Christ is the fulfillment of the Temple! He keeps emphasizing that God appeared to men outside of Jerusalem (he appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia, v2; he was with Joseph in Egypt, v9; he appeared to Moses in the wilderness, v30, and the place was holy ground, v33; they had the portable tent in the wilderness, v44); and when the Temple was built, even then God was not confined to it! Stephen quotes the prophets (v49-50 – “Heaven is my throne…what kind of house will you build for me”).
“God is everywhere present. The holy place is wherever God may be” (Chrysostom).
Jesus had been accused of these same things for his teachings about the Temple.:
• I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. Matthew 12:6
• Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. John 2:19-21
• Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. ...But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:21-24
In this last passage Jesus speaks against making too much of a place of worship; God is spirit! He is everywhere! The Temple was not bad or wrong; but Israel made too much of it. They became guilty of idolatry, rejoicing in the work of their hands. They were caught up and bound up in externals - temples and rules and ceremonies - while their hearts were far from God. The Law and the Temple were good and came from God. But they were given to point men to Jesus Christ. Jesus fulfilled the Law! And he became the ultimate Temple sacrifice at the cross.
Jesus had said to the woman at the well, "the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth." The hour is coming (there is a future, greater fulfillment coming), and is now here (because Jesus came!). Jesus was taking the emphasis of worship OFF of a place. It's not about this mountain or that mountain; this city, that temple. God is spirit!
So, does Christianity have a sacred building or temple? What about church buildings? No way!!! A church is not a building. A church is PEOPLE, redeemed in Christ, connected to each other for worship and mission. We can meet in a house or a building; a school or under a tree! We do not have a 'holy place'... except for Jesus! Jesus is our Temple. His body is the tent that houses the glory of God (John 1:14) And because the church is in him and he lives in and among us by his Spirit, we are also referred to as the temple.
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? (1 Cor 3:16). By the way, the word "you" here is plural. Paul is saying to the connected believers in Corinth that all of them, together, are God's temple! He lives among them (and among the local churches today).
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22
All of this is part of our present, right-now experience. This is part of the hour that "is now here" from John 4. But we are awaiting an even greater fulfillment of this ("the hour is coming") when God himself is with us in a more glorious, tangible way! Every barrier to our eternal enjoyment of Him will be forever removed!
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. ...And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.
Revelation 21:2-3, 22
Are you placing too much emphasis on external things rather than Christ? "Don't run in the church..." "Don't lie in church..." "I can't connect to God unless I'm in a church, with a certain style of lighting and music..." etc. The people of God in Christ are the Temple, and God's Spirit lives in and among us!! Jesus is the holy place, and he is everywhere. Praise the Lamb!!