Acts 5:11
And great fear came on all the church, and on as many as heard these things.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(11) And great fear came upon all the church.—With the exception of the doubtful reading in Acts 2:47, this is the first occurrence of the word ecclesia since the two instances in which our Lord had used it, as it were, by anticipation. (See Notes on Matthew 16:18; Matthew 18:17.) Its frequent use in the LXX. version for the “assembly,” or “congregation,” of Israel (Deuteronomy 18:16; Deuteronomy 23:1; Psalm 26:12; Psalm 68:26), its associations with the political life of Greece as applied to the assemblies, every member of which was a full citizen, made it a natural and fitting word for the new society; and the use by our Lord either of the actual Greek word or of the corresponding Aramaic term stamped it with His sanction. Its occurrence here is, perhaps, an indication of the increase of the Hellenistic element among the disciples. The sudden startling death of Ananias and his wife naturally tended to give a new prominence to the society, the rulers of which were seen to be clothed with supernatural powers; and the fear that fell upon all who heard of these things led them in part to draw near with reverence, in part to shrink back in awe.

Acts

THE WHEAT AND THE TARES

Acts 4:32
. - Acts 5:11.

Once more Luke pauses and gives a general survey of the Church’s condition. It comes in appropriately at the end of the account of the triumph over the first assault of civil authority, which assault was itself not only baffled, but turned to good. Just because persecution had driven them closer to God and to one another, were the disciples so full of brotherly love and of grace as Luke delights to paint them.

I. We note the fair picture of what the Church once was.

The recent large accessions to it might have weakened the first feelings of brotherhood, so that it is by no means superfluous to repeat substantially the features of the earlier description {Acts 2:44 - Acts 2:45}. ‘The multitude’ is used with great meaning, for it was a triumph of the Spirit’s influence that the warm stream of brotherly love ran through so many hearts, knit together only by common submission to Jesus. That oneness of thought and feeling was the direct issue of the influx of the Spirit mentioned as the blessed result of the disciples’ dauntless devotion {Acts 4:31}. If our Churches were ‘filled with the Holy Ghost,’ we too should be fused into oneness of heart and mind, though our organisations as separate communities continued, just as all the little pools below high-water mark are made one when the tide comes up.

The first result and marvellous proof of that oneness was the so-called ‘community of goods,’ the account of which is remarkable both because it all but fills this picture, and because it is broken into two by Acts 4:33, rapidly summarising other characteristics. The two halves may be considered together, and it may be noted that the former presents the sharing of property as the result of brotherly unity, while the latter traces it {‘for,’ Acts 4:34} to the abundant divine grace resting on the whole community. The terms of the description should be noted, as completely negativing the notion that the fact in question was anything like compulsory abolition of the right of individual ownership. ‘Not one of them said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own.’ That implies that the right of possession was not abolished. It implies, too, that the common feeling of brotherhood was stronger than the self-centred regard which looks on possessions as to be used for self. Thus they possessed as though they possessed not, and each held his property as a trust from God for his brethren.

We must observe, further, that the act of selling was the owners’, as was the act of handing the proceeds to the Apostles. The community had nothing to do with the money till it had been given to them. Further, the distribution was not determined by the rule of equality, but by the ‘need’ of the recipients; and its result was not that all had share and share alike, but that ‘none lacked.’

There is nothing of modern communism in all this, but there is a lesson to the modern Church as to the obligations of wealth and the claims of brotherhood, which is all but universally disregarded. The spectre of communism is troubling every nation, and it will become more and more formidable, unless the Church learns that the only way to lay it is to live by the precepts of Jesus and to repeat in new forms the spirit of the primitive Church. The Christian sense of stewardship, not the abolition of the right of property, is the cure for the hideous facts which drive men to shriek ‘Property is theft.’

Luke adds two more points to his survey,-the power of the Apostolic testimony, and the great grace which lay like a bright cloud on the whole Church. The Apostles’ special office was to bear witness to the Resurrection. They held a position of prominence in the Church by virtue of having been chosen by Jesus and having been His companions, but the Book of Acts is silent about any of the other mysterious powers which later ages have ascribed to them. The only Apostles who appear in it are Peter, John, and James, the last only in a parenthesis recording His martyrdom. Their peculiar work was to say, ‘Behold! we saw, and know that He died and rose again.’

II. The general description is followed by one example of the surrender of wealth, which is noteworthy as being done by one afterwards to play a great part in the book, and also as leading on to an example of hypocritical pretence. Side by side stand Barnabas and the wretched couple, Ananias and Sapphira.

Luke introduces the new personage with some particularity, and, as He does not go into detail without good reason, we must note his description. First, the man’s character is given, as expressed in the name bestowed by the Apostles, in imitation of Christ’s frequent custom. He must have been for some time a disciple, in order that his special gift should have been recognised. He was a ‘son of exhortation’; that is, he had the power of rousing and encouraging the faith and stirring the believing energy of the brethren. An example of this was given in Antioch, where he ‘exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.’ So much the more beautiful was his self-effacement when with Paul, for it was the latter who was ‘the chief speaker.’ Barnabas felt that his gift was less than his brother’s, and so, without jealousy, took the second place. He, being silent, yet speaketh, and bids us learn our limits, and be content to be surpassed.

We are next told his rank. He was a Levite. The tribe to which a disciple belongs is seldom mentioned, but probably the reason for specifying Barnabas’ was the same as led Luke, in another place, to record that ‘a great company of the priests was obedient to the faith.’ The connection of the tribe of Levi with the Temple worship made accessions from it significant, as showing how surely the new faith was creeping into the very heart of the old system, and winning converts from the very classes most interested in opposing it. Barnabas’ significance is further indicated by the notice that he was ‘a man of Cyprus,’ and as such, the earliest mentioned of the Hellenists or foreign-born and Greek-speaking Jews, who were to play so important a part in the expansion of the Church.

His first appearance witnessed to the depth and simple genuineness of his character and faith. The old law forbidding Levites to hold land had gradually become inoperative, and perhaps Barnabas’ estate was in Cyprus, though more probably it was, like that of his relative Mary, the mother of Mark, in Jerusalem. He did as many others were doing, and brought the proceeds to the assembly of the brethren, and there publicly laid them at the Apostles’ feet, in token of their authority to administer them as they thought well.

III. Why was Barnabas’ act singled out for mention, since there was nothing peculiar about it?

Most likely because it stimulated Ananias and his wife to imitation. Wherever there are signal instances of Christian self-sacrifice, there will spring up a crop of base copies. Ananias follows Barnabas as surely as the shadow the substance. It was very likely a pure impulse which led him and his wife to agree to sell their land; and it was only when they had the money in their hands, and had to take the decisive step of parting with it, and reducing themselves to pennilessness, that they found the surrender harder than they could carry out. Satan spoils many a well-begun work, and we often break down half-way through a piece of Christian unselfishness. Well begun is half-but only half-ended.

Be that as it may, Peter’s stern words to Ananias put all the stress of the sin on its being an acted lie. The motives of the trick are not disclosed. They may have been avarice, want of faith, greed of applause, reluctance to hang back when others were doing like Barnabas. It is hard to read the mingled motives which lead ourselves wrong, and harder to separate them in the case of another. How much Ananias kept back is of no moment; indeed, the less he retained the greater the sin; for it is baser, as well as more foolish, to do wrong for a little advantage than for a great one.

Peter’s two questions bring out very strikingly the double source of the sin. ‘Why hath Satan filled thy heart?’-an awful antithesis to being filled with the Spirit. Then there is a real, malign Tempter, who can pour evil affections and purposes into men’s hearts. But he cannot do it unless the man opens his heart, as that ‘why?’ implies. The same thought of our co-operation and concurrence, so that, however Satan suggests, it is we who are guilty, comes out in the second question, ‘How is it that thou hast conceived this thing in thy heart?’ Reverently we may venture to say that not only Christ stands at the door and knocks, but that the enemy of Him and His stands there too, and he too enters ‘if any man opens the door.’ Neither heaven nor hell can come in unless we will.

The death of Ananias was not inflicted by Peter, ‘Hearing these words’ he ‘fell down and’ died. Surely that expression suggests that the stern words had struck at his life, and that his death was the result of the agitation of shame and guilt which they excited. That does not at all conflict with regarding his death as a punitive divine act.

One can fancy the awed silence that fell on the congregation, and the restrained, mournful movement that ran through it when Sapphira entered. Why the two had not come in company can only be conjectured. Perhaps the husband had gone straight to the Apostles after completing the sale, and had left the wife to follow at her convenience. Perhaps she had not intended to come at all, but had grown alarmed at the delay in Ananias’ return. She may have come in fear that something had gone wrong, and that fear would be increased by her not seeing her husband in her quick glance round the company.

If she came expecting to receive applause, the silence and constraint that hung over the assembly must have stirred a fear that something terrible had happened, which would be increased by Peter’s question. It was a merciful opportunity given her to separate herself from the sin and the punishment; but her lie was glib, and indicated determination to stick to the fraud. That moment was heavy with her fate, and she knew it not; but she knew that she had the opportunity of telling the truth, and she did not take it. She had to make the hard choice which we have sometimes to make, to be true to some sinful bargain or be true to God, and she chose the worse part. Which of the two was tempter and which was tempted matters little. Like many a wife, she thought that it was better to be loyal to her husband than to God, and so her honour was ‘rooted in dishonour,’ and she was falsely true and truly false.

The judgment on Sapphira was not inflicted by Peter. He foretold it by his prophetic power, but it was the hand of God which vindicated the purity of the infant Church. The terrible severity of the punishment can only be understood by remembering the importance of preserving the young community from corruption at the very beginning. Unless the vermin are cleared from the springing plant, it will not grow. As Achan’s death warned Israel at the beginning of their entrance into the promised land, so Ananias and Sapphira perished, that all generations of the Church might fear to pretend to self-surrender while cherishing its opposite, and might feel that they have to give account to One who knows the secrets of the heart, and counts nothing as given if anything is surreptitiously kept back.Acts 5:11. And great fear came upon all the church — All that had joined themselves to it were struck with a holy awe of God and his judgments, and with a great veneration of this dispensation of the Spirit, which they were now under. It did not damp or check their holy joy, but it taught them to be serious in the midst of it, and to rejoice with trembling. And all that laid their money at the apostles’ feet, after this, were afraid of keeping back any part of the price. And upon as many as heard these things — Who could not but acknowledge that it was the immediate hand of God by which both these persons died, and that he was just in this awful dispensation. Many, no doubt, were put into a consternation by it, and were ready to say, Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God and his Spirit in these his servants! As the word church (εκκλησια) now occurs a second time in this history, it may be proper to observe, that we have here a native specimen of a New Testament church; which is a company of persons called by the gospel, grafted into Christ by faith and the Holy Spirit, admitted into the society of Christians by baptism, animated by love, united by every kind of fellowship, and disciplined by the execution of a divine judgment on two unworthy members.5:1-11 The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was, that they were ambitious of being thought eminent disciples, when they were not true disciples. Hypocrites may deny themselves, may forego their worldly advantage in one instance, with a prospect of finding their account in something else. They were covetous of the wealth of the world, and distrustful of God and his providence. They thought they might serve both God and mammon. They thought to deceive the apostles. The Spirit of God in Peter discerned the principle of unbelief reigning in the heart of Ananias. But whatever Satan might suggest, he could not have filled the heart of Ananias with this wickedness had he not been consenting. The falsehood was an attempt to deceive the Spirit of truth, who so manifestly spoke and acted by the apostles. The crime of Ananias was not his retaining part of the price of the land; he might have kept it all, had he pleased; but his endeavouring to impose upon the apostles with an awful lie, from a desire to make a vain show, joined with covetousness. But if we think to put a cheat upon God, we shall put a fatal cheat upon our own souls. How sad to see those relations who should quicken one another to that which is good, hardening one another in that which is evil! And this punishment was in reality mercy to vast numbers. It would cause strict self-examination, prayer, and dread of hypocrisy, covetousness, and vain-glory, and it should still do so. It would prevent the increase of false professors. Let us learn hence how hateful falsehood is to the God of truth, and not only shun a direct lie, but all advantages from the use of doubtful expressions, and double meaning in our speech.Agreed together - Conspired, or laid a plan. From this it seems that Sapphira was as guilty as her husband,

To tempt - To try; to endeavor to impose on, or to deceive; that is, to act as if the Spirit of the Lord could not detect the crime. They did this by trying to see whether the Spirit of God could detect hypocrisy.

At the door - Are near at hand. They had not yet returned. The dead were buried without the walls of cities; and the space of three hours, it seems, had elapsed before they returned from the burial.

Shall carry thee out - This passage shows that it was by divine interposition or judgment that their lives were taken. The judgment was in immediate connection with the crime, and was designed as an expression of the divine displeasure.

If it be asked here "why" Ananias and Sapphira were punished in this severe and awful manner, an answer may be found in the following considerations:

(1) This was an atrocious crime - a deep and dreadful act of iniquity. It was committed knowingly, and without excuse, Acts 5:4. It was important that sudden and exemplary punishment should follow it, because the society of Christians was just then organized, and it was designed that it should be a "pure" society, and should be regarded as a body of holy men. Much depended on making an "impression" on the people that sin could not be allowed in this new community, but would be detected and punished.

(2) God has often, in a most solemn manner, shown his abhorrence of hypocrisy and insincerity. By awful declarations and fearful judgments he has declared his displeasure at it. In a particular manner, no small part of the preaching of the Saviour was employed in detecting the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, and denouncing heavy judgments on them. See Matthew 23 throughout for the most sublime and awful denunciation of hypocrisy anywhere to be found. Compare Mark 12:15; Luke 12:1; 1 Timothy 4:2; Job 8:13; Job 13:16; Job 15:34; Job 20:5; Job 36:13; Matthew 7:5; Luke 11:44. In the very beginning of the Christian church it was important, by a decided and awful act, to impress upon the church and the world the danger and guilt of hypocrisy. Well did the Saviour know that it would be one of the most insidious and deadly foes to the purity of the church; and at its very "threshold," therefore, he set up this solemn warning to guard it, and laid the bodies of Ananias and Sapphira in the path of every hypocrite that would enter the church. If they enter and are destroyed, they cannot plead that they were not fully warned. If they practice iniquity "in" the church, they cannot plead ignorance of the fact that God intends to detect and punish them.

(3) the apostles were just then establishing their authority. They claimed to be under the influence of inspiration. To establish that, it was necessary to show that they could know the views and motives of those who became connected with the church. If easily imposed on, it would go far to destroy their authority and their claim to infallibility. If they showed that they could detect hypocrisy, even where most artfully concealed, it would establish the divine authority of their message. At the "commencement" of their work, therefore, they gave this decisive and most awful proof that they were under the guidance of an infallible Teacher.

(4) this case does not stand alone in the New Testament. It is clear from other instances that the apostles had the power of punishing sinners, and that a violation of the commands of Christ was attended by sudden and fearful judgments. See 1 Corinthians 11:30, and the case of Elymas the sorcerer in Acts 13:8-11.

(5) neither does this event stand alone in the history of the world. Acts of judgment sometimes occur as sudden and decided, in the providence of God, as in this case. The profane man, the drunkard, the profligate offender is sometimes suddenly stricken down, as in this instance. Cases have not been uncommon where the blasphemer has been smitten in death with the curse on his lips; and God often thus comes forth in judgment to slay the wicked, and to show that there is a God that reigns in the earth. This narrative cannot be objected to as improbable until "all" such cases are disposed of, nor can this infliction be regarded as unjust until all the instances where people die by remorse of conscience, or by the direct judgment of heaven, are "proved" to be unjust also.

In view of this narrative, we may remark:

(1) That God searches the heart, and knows the purposes of the soul. Compare Psalm 139.

(2) God judges the "motives" of people. It is not so much the "external" act, as it is the views and feelings by which it is prompted, that determines the character of the act.

(3) God will bring forth sin which man may not be able to detect, or which may elude human justice. The day is coming when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, and God will reward every man according as his works shall be.

continued...

11. And great fear came upon all the church, &c.—This effect on the Christian community itself was the chief design of so startling a judgment; which had its counterpart, as the sin itself had, in Achan (Jos 7:1-26), while the time—at the commencement of a new career—was similar. Thus upon the smiting of so many men in and about Bethshemesh, 1 Samuel 6:20, they wisely demand,

Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? And upon the slaying of Uzzah, 2 Samuel 6:9, David was afraid of the Lord. Discite justitiam moniti. As many as heard these things, out of the pale of the church: God’s judgments do restain in a great measure wicked men. And great fear came upon all the church,.... Which was still more increased by this instance of Sapphira's death:

and upon as many as heard these things; who were not of the church; See Gill on Acts 5:5.

{2} And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.

(2) The Lord by his marvellous power bridles some so that they may not hurt the Church: others he keeps in awe and fear of him: and others he draws unto himself.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Acts 5:11. Φόβος] quite as in Acts 5:5, fear and dread at this miraculous, destroying punitive power of the apostles.

ἐφ ̓ ὅλην τ. ἐκκλ. καὶ ἐπὶ πάντας κ.τ.λ.] upon the whole church (in Jerusalem), and (generally) on all (and so also on those who had not yet come over to the church, Acts 5:13) to whose ears this occurrence came.Acts 5:11. φόβος μέγας: evidently one purpose in the infliction of this stern penalty was at once obtained, see above on Acts 5:5.—ἐφʼ ὅλην τὴν ἐκκλησίαν: St. Luke, as it seems, uses the word ἐκκλησία here for the first time. Dr. Hort thinks that he may employ it by anticipation, and that we cannot be sure that it was actually in use at this early date (Ecclesia, p. 49), but, as the same writer reminds us, our Lord’s saying to St. Peter, Matthew 16:18, must have had its influence upon the minds and teaching of the Apostles. Moreover, we can see a special fitness in the employment here, after the preceding description, not only of the growth, but of the organisation of the Christian community, Acts 4:32 ff., and of the judgment which followed upon the attempt to challenge its powers and to violate its harmony, cf. Bengel’s note, in loco. The context too probably marks a distinction between the members of the ἐκκλησία and those without (Weiss, Hort, Blass).11. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things] Lit. upon the whole church and upon all that heard, &c. To produce such a fear as should deter others from a like offence was God’s intention in this miracle of punishment. And St Luke seems to have pointed to the reason by making here for the first time any mention of “the church” (see note on Acts 2:47). The true ecclesia must be free from such hypocritical professors, or its work could not advance. The lesson was to be stamped into the hearts of all who were fit to be of “the church,” though at the same time it would strike deep into the minds of all others who learnt how the Spirit of God had punished the lying lips of those who sought the praise of men rather than that of God.Acts 5:11. Ἐκκλησίαν, the church) Here for the first time (with which comp. note on ch. Acts 2:47) mention is made, and therefore a genuine specimen afforded, of the Church, as constituted in the New Testament, called forth by the Gospel, separated from Judaism, grafted on Christ by baptism, cemented together by fellowship of every kind, and disciplined by the death inflicted on (by the excision of) Ananias and Sapphira. In the meantime Luke used the designations, disciples and the number of names (ch. Acts 1:15); all that believed (ch. Acts 2:44); the number of the men (ch. Acts 4:4): the multitude of them that believed (ch. Acts 4:32).—πάντας, all) Even we ought to fear.—τοὺς ἀκούοντας, them that heard) “Without doubt the rulers of the Jews also heard of these things: and yet they did not institute proceedings on that account against Peter. The sin (delinquency) of Ananias was now palpable, and the punishment evidently miraculous.Verse 11. - The whole Church for all the Church, A.V.; all that heard for as many as heard, A.V. The awful death of the two liars to God not only struck a salutary fear into the minds of the whole Church, but filled with awe all outside the Church who heard of it; and doubtless gave a temporary check to the persecutions, while it disposed many to hearken to the apostles' preaching.
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