Acts 5
Acts 5 Kingcomments Bible Studies

The Deceit of Ananias and Sapphira

The two verses at the end of the previous chapter on Barnabas are an introduction to the history of Ananias and Sapphira. Ananias means ‘God is merciful’, but we learn here that God is also holy; Sapphira means ‘beautiful’, but we learn here that her heart is filthy because of sin.

In the previous chapter the Spirit shows His power and authority outside the church, here He does it in the church, against evil. God cannot endure evil in the place where He dwells. Satan has always set out to exert his evil influence where God is at work and blesses. He always finds people who are willing to let themselves be used by him.

What Ananias and Sapphira do is in great contrast with Barnabas’ way of acting. It seems that Ananias and Sapphira are jealous of Barnabas. Instigated by the generosity of Barnabas and others, Ananias doesn’t want to be remain behind. He consults with his wife to also sell a property and does so.

Just as satan used man’s greed for money with Judas Iscariot, so he does with Ananias and Sapphira. Ananias talked to his wife about not bringing the whole amount of the sale, but only a part. Giving them the whole amount goes too far, but they want to give the impression that they are giving the whole amount. A person who may be a true Christian, but who gives the sinful flesh a chance to work in him, can come to this kind of behavior.

They want to have the honor of the devotion that the Holy Spirit works, without denying themselves. Their greed is both for money and for honor. The sacrifice they want to make is beyond their spiritual state. They want to imitate the good deeds of others, without their heart being completely subject to the Lord. While man and wife should correct each other, Ananias and Sapphira affirm each other in evil. The wife here is not the help for her husband that God purposed her to be.

The Deceit of Ananias Judged

When Ananias comes to Peter with the money, he immediately denounces the deceit of Ananias without us hearing that Ananias is saying a word. The Holy Spirit can make it perfectly clear to Peter that here comes a man who is not sincere and lies to Him. Through the Holy Spirit, Peter can discern the spirit that is at work in Ananias (1Cor 12:10). Ananias does not act under the instigation of the Holy Spirit, but under the instigation of satan whom he has admitted into his heart and who has filled his whole heart. When satan fills the heart, man is capable of the most audacious hypocrisy, without realizing that God is much greater.

Peter unmasks the work of satan. Lying is the work of satan. Satan is the arch liar, the father of lies (Jn 8:44; Gen 3:4; 13). Ananias withheld something from the proceeds, nobody obliged him to give everything. But then he should not have pretended to give everything. That is to live in the lie and to deceive others with that lie. Peter makes it clear that Ananias had no obligation to sell the property (cf. 2Cor 9:7). If someone had become a Christian, he would not lose his property. Peter therefore says that after the sale the money remained his. There was no obligation to give it.

Peter asks it all in questioning form. He doesn’t do this because Ananias may be unfamiliar with the state of affairs in the church, but because he knows it well and because he consciously dealt with it in another way. Then he asks Ananias the question why he has planned this act in his heart. That can only be to create the appearance of complete loyalty to God and of complete trust in God, while in reality one relies on earthly possessions. This behavior is not lying to people, but lying to God.

It is lying to the Holy Spirit Who is emphatically called “God” by Peter. The Holy Spirit is God. Ananias and Sapphira wanted to bring lies into a place where God is present. They had forgotten His presence and that nothing is hidden from Him. God dwells in the midst of His people both in grace and in holiness. This is a fact of great importance!

We see the effect of this in the judgment that strikes Ananias and Sapphira. Without an opportunity for Ananias to speak a word in his defense or even of acknowledgment of sin, when he hears the words of Peter, he falls down and dies. We see here that sin in the church is a new occasion for the revelation of the power of God.

Immediately after Ananias’ death, “the young men” get up. They treat the body carefully and cover him up, after which they carry Ananias out and bury him. That they are young men indicates the fresh and powerful beginning of the church.

Although we know nothing more about Ananias and Sapphira than what we read about them here, much has been said and written about whether they are saved or lost. There is something to be said for the idea that we will see them back in heaven. They belonged to the company of the church. It does not seem that there were nominal Christians at this stage. The Lord Himself added to the church daily (Acts 2:47) and only true believers dared to join the church (Acts 5:13). The sin committed by Ananias and Sapphira was a sin to death (1Jn 5:16-17; cf. 1Cor 11:29-30). To the church is not only added, but there is also removed from it what does not belong to God: sin.

There is also something to be said in favor of the view that we are not dealing with true believers, but with false Christians. Peter speaks to Ananias in terms that give little hope that new life was present. His act was an extraordinarily brutal one. The deliberation he and his wife had, and which brought them to their act, shows nothing of any sense of God’s holiness. Peter says that satan filled his heart, which makes it difficult to assume that the Holy Spirit had room in his heart. Ananias does not get the opportunity to repent of his deed because it is not a sin out of ignorance, but an act of conscious rebellion against God.

We cannot say the last word on the question of whether or not Ananias and Sapphira are saved. God speaks that last word. What is important to us is that Ananias is a warning example that God’s holiness cannot be ignored. That is still true. The fact that no longer every such hypocrisy is punished with death shows how little the Holy Spirit can still work in the church. The power of the Holy Spirit is extremely limited by the secularization of the church.

We see several times in Scripture that every time God starts something new, man spoils it, and God’s holiness emerges in judgment. It already begins with Adam and Eve who let themselves be deceived by satan and as a result are driven out of paradise by God (Gen 3:6-7; 23). As God has foretold, death came into the world through their deed (Gen 2:17; Rom 5:12). Likewise, the priesthood is barely established or two of the first priests bring strange fire. God must bring His judgment on Nadab and Abihu (Lev 10:1-2). When Israel had just entered the promised land, Achan is violating what was consecrated by the ban and must die (Jos 7:1; 25).

The Deceit of Sapphira Judged

After about three hours “his wife” came in, the wife who was given to him for help, but who supported him in his evil intent. As time passed and he did not come back, she may have become anxious and finally went to see for herself. All this time, no rumor of what happened has reached her. Sapphira knows nothing. Satan always keeps his slaves in darkness.

Without reading that Sapphira asked Peter a question, we read that Peter responds to her. That seems to indicate that she has asked a question. Possibly she asked where her husband was. She did not see him with the company. Peter’s answer consists of a question, which he precedes with a commanding “tell me”. He calls her the amount her husband brought in as proceeds of the sale of the land and asks if this is indeed the amount for which the land was sold. This question is a direct appeal to her conscience.

But it does not seem that her conscience has begun working. The absence of her husband does not make her think and the direct question of Peter does not make her repent. She gets the chance to confess honestly. However, she does not take advantage of this opportunity, but persists in the sin of hypocrisy. Not only does she say “yes”, but she affirms that it was the price that Peter mentioned as the sale price. Then Peter has no choice but to tell her the verdict.

Before she falls dead, he tells her, and us, the reason for the verdict. Together with her husband, she has conceived the plan to test the Spirit of the Lord. To test is to do something out of a spirit of unbelief with the purpose of testing whether God is true in His words (Exo 17:2; Deu 6:16). I must believe what God says because it is He who says it.

Because Sapphira continues to support her husband in his faithlessness, she shares in his fate of faithlessness. There is a difference with her husband’s death. Ananias died immediately after the determination of sin, while Sapphira was given the opportunity to confess it. It shows that the husband is primarily responsible.

There is fear both inside and outside the church in everyone who hears about it. God’s presence is in fact a serious matter, no matter how great its blessing. Here in this book the word “church” is used for the first time.

Signs and Wonders

After the evil has been judged in the church, there is a powerful testimony. When sin is not judged, it is always a barrier to God’s work. Wherever sin is removed, either by self-judgment or by being removed from the church, the way is cleared for God’s work.

In the beginning, the power of the Holy Spirit immediately revealed that barrier. In the days of decay in which we live, there is a lot of secret evil, as a result of which the Spirit cannot work powerfully in the church. Nevertheless, the Spirit still wants to make the evil public. If we read God’s Word in prayer, He will certainly show us what we must remove and also give us the strength to do so.

The hands of the apostles are busy in blessing and grace. All the apostles, not only Peter (Acts 3:6-7), perform many signs and wonders. These are all testimonies of the rejected Messiah Who is now exalted at God’s right hand. Signs are not always wonders, but wonders are always signs. Signs point to Him Who has power over a sighing creation. Wonders are the powers of the coming age (Heb 6:5) of the reign of the Lord Jesus Who could still come if the people would accept Him now.

They are the signs and wonders of the time of the beginning. Later in Acts it still occurs, but it is getting less and less. Because of the consistent rejection of the Lord Jesus, the use of signs and wonders has disappeared in places where that happens.

The place of action is the portico of Solomon. There the believers come together, with one accord, because the upper room must have become too small. Although it is a public place, the company of Christians is a holy company where the presence of God is noticeable. As a result, none of those who are not part of it dares to associate with them. There remains a distance.

In addition to holiness, there is also a great benevolence emanating from this company. The whole behavior of the first Christians causes esteem among the people. A true follower of the Lord Jesus evokes hatred and resistance among people who are jealous and who get stuck in their self-willed religion. People who do not do much about religion often admire and respect those who faithfully serve the Lord.

The fear of associating with Christians prevents it from becoming an uncontrolled mass movement. In an interlude Luke notes that this does not mean that the church does not grow. What a superficial observer would see as a severe blow to the church – the judgment of evil and that no one dared to associate with them – on the contrary gives God the space to do a profound work in hearts. To associate with this company, faith in Christ is needed, not the attraction of the company. It is not about adding to people, not even to apostles, but to the Lord.

God’s Spirit can work powerfully precisely through the judgment exercised, so that many come to faith and multitudes are added to the Lord. For the first time, Luke also mentions women among those who are saved. Women play an important role in the apostolic church. Luke mentions them regularly in Acts.

After the interlude (Acts 5:14) Luke continues describing the special things that happen through the apostles. Jerusalem becomes a large hospital; the streets are filled with sick people who all seek healing from the apostles. The power of the Spirit is so abundant present that all are healed. In contrast to today’s healing meetings, all are healed without exception. There is no failed or partial healing.

There is a special power emanating from Peter. He heals with his hands, but also with his shadow. Someone’s shadow is not the person himself, but is inseparable from his person. Shadow is caused by walking in the sun. Peter only passes on what the Lord Jesus – of Whom the sun is a picture of – gives him. Not only the sick inhabitants of Jerusalem are healed, but also all those who are brought from the cities around Jerusalem. Jerusalem is currently still the center of the apostles’ actions. All the sick are brought there. Later the apostles are scattered.

I once read on a forum on the internet, a strong piece of the foolishness of today’s healers, who think they can imitate everything the apostles did in the early days,. There someone posted the following message: ‘In a speech in the Pentecostal community of Alkmaar (15-02-2004) [a preacher] said: I also went to a bible school and learned there about Peter that when his shadow fell on the sick they were healed (Acts 5:15). I liked that. One day I saw someone in a wheelchair in the street and I walked a little bit on the sunny side of it, so my shadow fell on that man. Unfortunately, he didn’t heal. Yes, I could try, for if you don’t try something you don’t know.’ It appealed to the person who placed the message. He noticed the following: ‘I personally never had that idea and I never did it after the speech. But the statement struck me. Have you ever tried it? I don’t think you have ever tried it either, why not?’

Commenting on so much foolishness seems superfluous to me.

Arrested and Released

The high priest and his companions, the Sadducees, rise up. This not only indicates a change of physical attitude, but indicates a spiritual reaction. They rise up against the work of the Spirit. The work of the Spirit always alternates with the counteractions of satan. Now comes the next opposition. In the world good always works in the presence of the power of evil.

The spiritual authorities fear every threat to their position. They cannot stand by idly as the influence of the apostles undermines their influence. They either have to join or attack. Since they are so jealous, there is no question of joining and so they choose to attack. This time they do not only seize Peter and John, but all the apostles and imprison them.

Again it seems to be toward the end of the day because the apostles are not immediately interrogated. As night descends over Jerusalem, the eye of God is on the prison. He laughs at the rage of the religious leaders (Psa 2:4). To deliver His faithful apostles, He sends an angel. We see the irony of God to send an angel precisely here, where the Sadducees are the opponents who do not believe in angels (Acts 23:8).

The Lord does not give His apostles the power to deliver themselves. The angel does what people cannot do. He opens the doors of the prison and takes them out. It must have been completely dark in prison and impossible for the apostles to find their way out. The light of the angel shows the way.

When they are outside, the angel gives a command to the apostles. This command shows that they have been delivered to continue their ordinary work and not to flee. He points out to them the place where they must preach and tells them what to talk about. They must take their place in the temple again and speak “to the people ... the whole message of this Life”.

God’s grace for His people continues. He wants the people to hear the message of “this” Life. That are words of God Himself and about the Lord Jesus, through which everyone who hears and accepts them is saved (Acts 13:26). It is also our privilege to speak these words of life to people who do not yet know Christ, that they may be saved. The words of the Lord Jesus are spirit and life (Jn 6:63). Let us speak these words to the people and not lose ourselves in a wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers (2Tim 2:14).

The apostles do what the angel said because they clearly recognize the Lord’s command. They will do it with pleasure and conviction now that they are so encouraged by this remarkable deliverance. Instead of going to bed, they will have prayed until they can go to the temple early in the morning. Once there, they don’t tell a beautiful story about their spectacular deliverance, but they teach the people. They continue their teaching to the people fearlessly, without fear of the religious leaders whom they of course expect. It will not take long before they come.

Before that, Luke first mentions that those leaders have come together to judge the apostles. It is clear that none of them has the slightest suspicion of what happened that night. Assuming that they have the matter under control, they send officers to take the apostles out of the dungeon. When the officers come to the dungeon, they don’t find the apostles there anymore. This must have caused great surprise.

They return to the priests and report their findings. They tell in detail what they found when they got there. At first glance, everything seemed perfectly in order. The doors of the prison house were not open, but were closed with great care. The guards were also at their post. There was nothing to indicate that the prisoners would no longer be there. But when they had gone inside and opened the inner doors to take the prisoners, there was no one there.

This account by the officers of all the care and the guards provides additional proof that God was at work. No matter how well the case was secured, to God it doesn’t matter. He just makes the guards blind and deaf for the time He needs.

It reminds us – and certainly should have reminded the chief priests – of the events around the tomb of the Lord Jesus. There they had made sure that the tomb was properly closed with a sealed stone and a guard to secure it (Mt 27:62-66). But all their measures did not prevent the Lord Jesus from rising. On the contrary, their measures provided additional proof of His resurrection. They want to undo that evidence by bribing the soldiers and making them tell a lie (Mt 28:11-15).

Here the captain and the chief priests are embarrassed with the situation. Where are their detainees? Their question will not remain unanswered for long. Someone comes with the message that the prisoners are standing in the temple and teaching the people. The apostles do also what the Lord Jesus did. The teaching of the people means that they have explained the Old Testament to the people to prove that Jesus is the Christ (cf. Acts 28:23).

Arrested the Second Time

When they know where the prisoners are, the captain goes there with the officers. They are aware that the people esteem the apostles highly. They abandon the usual violence when they arrest them, as that would arouse the anger of the people. They do their utmost to make the apostles go with them with a gentle hand.

The apostles go with them without resisting. They do not call for the help of the people that is clearly on their hand. Nowhere are believers called upon to resist when they are arrested for their faith. To give an account is the command (1Pet 3:15).

The captain with the officers bring the apostles before the Council. The high priest immediately begins the questioning which involves an accusation. He accuses the apostles of disobedience to the highest religious authority that had explicitly commanded them not to teach “in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). So they had not listened to this. No, they must conclude that the apostles have filled Jerusalem with their teaching.

It is unacceptable to them that these people, who do not belong to the acknowledged religious authority, explain the Scriptures to the people. They claim the right to do so for themselves, to the exclusion of anyone they do not consider qualified. They note that the apostles have not only filled Jerusalem with their teaching, but also want to bring the blood of “this Man” – they do not want to pronounce the name ‘Jesus’ – upon them.

They feel that the preaching of the resurrection of Christ means that God judges that they have wrongfully killed Someone. With this they would indeed bring His blood on them. That is exactly what they have done and what they have clearly expressed themselves during the trial against the Lord (Mt 27:25). In reality, God takes them at their word.

Testimony of Peter and the Apostles

The response of Peter and the other apostles is rather a statement of facts than giving a testimony. The rulers are clearly opposed to God, yet there is no pride or self-will among the apostles. It is about obeying God. They begin their answer with being obedient (Acts 5:29) and they also finish with that Acts 5:32).

The high priest and his people are to them no more than “men”. The apostles resolutely reject the charge of disobedience. They no longer leave it to the conscience of the rulers to decide whom they should obey more, but state that “we”, that is everyone, must obey God more than people. That is why they have acted as they have done, no more and no less.

Then they become the prosecutor. They still take their place in the midst of Israel when they speak of “the God of our fathers”. Aptly and compactly, and because of that also penetratingly, they confront the actions of God toward the Lord Jesus with those of these leaders. God raised Him up, while they killed Him by hanging Him on a cross. Death on the cross is the Roman form of execution, but they attribute this act to this Jewish company. Nor do they speak of ‘crucifixion’, but of ‘hanging Him on a cross’. By doing so, they emphasize that they labeled Christ a cursed by God (Deu 21:23; Gal 3:13).

But Him Whom they labeled and treated as such, has been given all glory due to Him by God. They as false leaders disdain Him as a Prince, but to God He is the Superior Prince (Acts 3:15; Heb 2:10; Heb 12:2). They as cursers of the people (Jn 7:49) reject Him as Savior, but to God He is the Savior. God has exalted Him in heaven through His right hand. He lives in glory, where all the pleasure of God rests on Him.

God has exalted Him to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. So another period of grace is added to the period that has been and in which Israel has not made use of that grace. Both repentance and forgiveness are seen here as gifts from God and are still being offered to the people. All people who have come to faith in the Lord Jesus have also received this gift. Yet the people as a whole, represented in their leaders, have rejected Him again.

Peter and the apostles do not say things they have heard, but they have experienced and lived it themselves. From witnesses one can expect nothing but that they speak the truth (cf. Jn 15:26-27). The apostles are witnesses and the Holy Spirit is Witness. It is a double witness and not only that the Holy Spirit witnesses through the apostles.

The presence of the Holy Spirit on earth is a witness in itself (Jn 16:7-11). This Holy Spirit has been given by God to all who obey Him. Here the gift of the Holy Spirit is connected to the responsibility of man. Obeying is not the keeping of the law, but the obedience of faith, which is to obey God’s command to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus (Acts 17:30; Acts 16:31). He who believes the gospel of his salvation receives the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13).

The Advice of Gamaliel

When Peter has given the clear testimony of God’s appreciation of Christ, the leaders are fed up. They realize what this means. They have been addressed in their conscience and accused of murder. Instead of bowing before God, they prove how murderous their hearts still are by their absolute refusal to give up their position of prestige among the people. Their outburst of anger is so great that they want to kill the apostles. Murder fills their hearts, inspired by satan who is a murderer from the beginning (Jn 8:44).

However, there is someone in the Council who keeps a cool head. It is Gamaliel. He is a law scholar who is honored by the whole people. He is the next instrument God uses in His providence to give His apostles their freedom back, just as He used an angel before (Acts 5:19). Gamaliel brings the Council to rest. He has authority, for he orders that “the men” should be put outside the Council chamber for a moment.

Then he begins his advice to the Council. His advice does not come from dealings with God, but from human wisdom. God uses this advice to reach His goal. Gamaliel addresses the Council as “men of Israel”, as men who belong to the people chosen by God. He urges them to think carefully before they deal with ‘these men’.

In order to convince them that they should be careful and not hastily condemn these people, he points to two people from their recent history who have also presented themselves as leaders. He first cites the example of the otherwise totally unknown to us Theudas. This man claimed to be someone of significance. Modesty was not his greatest virtue. He acquired a following of about four hundred men. But what became of him and his movement? He was killed. With that, the whole company of followers fell apart. Nothing has come of all the wonderful plans and promises.

Then there is that other popular leader, Judas of Galilee. About thirty years ago this person wanted to profile himself as a leader. The people were ready for that because it was in the days of census. Those days are an emphatic reminder of Roman domination. Then the climate was ripe for a revolt against the Romans. Also behind him were people who saw something in his ideas. But the Romans quelled his rebellion. He died and that was the end of his movement. All those who obeyed him were scattered.

People like Theudas and Judas of Galilee are the thieves and robbers whom the Lord means when He speaks of people who enter the sheepfold other than through the door (Jn 10:1). By presenting the case in this way, Gamaliel places the Lord Jesus on a par with them.

His sober but darkened mind brings him to a sober conclusion. He simply says that they are always right if they let the matter rest. That ‘Man’ could also be such a deceiver and then Christendom would die down. Troublemakers come and go; that is how it could be with this new movement. However, if it were a work of God, all human effort would turn out to be in vain and they would turn out to be fighters against God. This advice of Gamaliel is still given to orthodox Jews who enter into conversation with Messianic Jews.

Instead of such advice, Gamaliel would have done better to propose to the Council to investigate the matter on the basis of the Old Testament. Never did the Lord Jesus, like Theudas and many others with him, say that He was Someone of significance. In the course of time about forty false messiahs have risen up, of whom Bar Kochba is the best known. They have all served as liberators to free Israel from the yoke of slavery of the nations, but they have all failed miserably. They have dragged many into their trap.

The only One Who can justifiably claim to be the Messiah has a message that is believed throughout the world and has received millions of followers. Instead of being scattered, they have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit.

Flogged, Released and Keeping Right on

The Council is convinced. Although the Council follows Gamaliel’s advice and thereby indicates that they do not want to be fighters against God, they do appear to be fighters against God. They call the apostles back in, but not to apologize. Their murder plans are not carried out, but their hatred has not diminished. This is shown by the flogging they inflict on the apostles. Furthermore, they order them not to speak “in the name of Jesus” anymore. This is how they let the apostles go.

But they are not broken men who leave the courtroom. We are often afraid to give our testimony when we expect a disapproving look or a mocking smile. This is different with the apostles. The only result of the flogging is that they rejoice that they are worthy “to suffer shame” for the “name” of the Lord Jesus (cf. Mt 5:10-12; 1Pet 4:13).

The threat to no longer speak “in the name of Jesus” only leads them with even more zeal to teach from God’s Word in public in the temple as well as from house to house. They proclaim that Jesus is the promised Christ. The order ”not to speak in the name of Jesus” is as foolish as ordering the sun not to shine.

© 2023 Author G. de Koning

All rights reserved. No part of the publications may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.

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