Acts 5

1. But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession.

The story continues from where it left off in chapter 4. There, we learned that none of the disciples had need, for those who owned lands or possessions sold them and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. We saw one man in particular, named Barnabas by the apostles, who had sold a piece of land he owned and brought the money to the apostles. Barnabas had not asked for praise, yet perhaps he received much commendation for this exceptional gift among the other disciples. Perhaps the apostles voiced their approval of his actions, and proclaimed that his gift had been accepted by God. He could be assured that the promise of the Lord in Matthew 19:29 would be fulfilled, and that he would receive a hundredfold for what he had given.

Now it seems that this man Ananias saw this happen, and determined in his heart that he wanted to receive praise such as Barnabas had received. Yet there is no evidence here that this man Ananias was what we would think of as a particularly bad man. There can be no doubt but that he was among the disciples at this time, and so had publicly proclaimed his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Once he was identified with the Lord Jesus Christ by the apostles, there could be no doubt but that he was what he claimed to be: a follower of Jesus Christ. As such, he became part of the called-out company that God was forming during the book of Acts, and was destined for a leadership role in the kingdom of God to come.

Now Ananias confers with his wife Sapphira, and sells a possession of his own. Perhaps it was as large a possession, or even larger, than the one Barnabas had sold. His motivations were not good, as it seems he just wanted the praise he would receive. Yet his sin does not stop here.

2. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Though Ananias wants the praise for selling his land and giving all that he received from the sale to the apostles, it seems he does not actually want to go through with such a gift in order to receive the praise. He cannot bear to part with all the money, or to accept the full financial loss that such a gift would bring. Thus, he keeps back part of the proceeds of the sale, at the same time representing that he had given everything. Thus, he hoped to both retain some of the money for future investment, and still to receive the praise for having given it all. His wife is aware of this plan and, it seems, in agreement with it. Thus he carries out his scheme by selling the land, and bringing the part of the sale he had chosen to give to the apostles.

In this action of Ananias, we see the first serious internal threat to the great unity that had developed as we saw it back in Acts 2:44-47, and in Acts 4:32-35. The Lord had created this great unity, and it resulted in all the believers being as one. “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul,” as Acts 4:32 put it. In such a unity, none of them looked out selfishly for his own gain. None of them lied to each other, or sought personal glory, or to cheat or defraud his brother. All were as one, and treated each other with perfect fairness, as he would have treated himself. This unity had so far only been challenged from without, when the Sanhedrin threatened the apostles if they did not stop preaching and teaching in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostles had relied upon God, and the threat had not affected them and their ministry. The Great Unity continued uninterrupted.

Into this situation arises Ananias’ selfish action. Instead of their hearts beating in perfect harmony with their fellows, this one and his wife now start to beat out of rhythm. Instead of honestly desiring good for all their fellow believers, these two now covet praise they do not deserve while retaining money they claimed to have given. This spirit, though it appears only in two individuals, threatens the unity of the group as a whole. Now the question arises, will this be allowed to continue? Will a spirit of covetousness and personal gain be allowed to creep in to disrupt this great spirit of unity, or will God act to preserve the fellowship that He has created?

3. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?

Ananias was no doubt expecting words of praise such as those he had heard pronounced upon Barnabas for his gift. However, he is surprised by what actually occurs. Peter speaks words of condemnation rather than commendation. Satan has filled his heart, Peter tells Ananias. Yet it is clear that this fact does not let Ananias off the hook. Satan may have instigated this, yet Ananias should have resisted him. He did not, and Peter puts Ananias’ sin in stark, uncompromising terms. By pretending to bring all the money when he in fact only brought a part, he had lied, and not just to the apostles, but also to the Holy Spirit Whom they represented.

The name “Holy Spirit” here is “the Spirit the Holy” in Greek, and so refers to the Person of the Holy Spirit, not just His power. The apostles were identified with the Holy Spirit, and so to lie to them was to lie to Him.

4. While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”

Peter points out the inexcusable character of Ananias’ sin. There was no reason for him to do what he did. When he sold the land, it was his, and he had a free and clear title upon it. He had no obligation to sell it, and once he had done so, he had no obligation to give it to the disciples as a gift. If he had wished to, he could have taken any part of the price and given that to the disciples without rebuke. His choice, then, not to give it all, but to pretend he had, was inexcusable. There was no reason for it, but to seek to attain glory and praise that he had not earned. Peter questions why he had conceived such a thing in his heart? The word conceived here indicates careful deliberation, not a sudden whim. He had done this purposefully and with great forethought. He never should have done so, for he had not lied to men, but to God.

Notice that in verse 3, Peter says Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit, whereas here in verse 4, Peter says he lied to God. Thus it seems clear that the Holy Spirit is God. He is not just a force without a personality, as some have suggested, and He is not just the power of God. The Holy Spirit is synonymous with God, and Ananias lied to God when he lied to the apostles.

5. Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things.

Peter’s words, while they briefly and succinctly stated Ananias’ crime, said nothing of the punishment that was to follow. This shows us that this punishment was carried out completely on the part of God. It was not by Peter’s word that Ananias was struck dead. Rather, this was a decision made by God.

Ananias is given no opportunity to admit his sin or to repent. He had committed a sin unto death, as John discusses in I John 5:16. “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that.” John knew what he was talking about, for he had seen Ananias commit a sin leading to death here in the case of Ananias. In this case, there was no praying for him, and no chance of forgiveness. Ananias must die as the penalty for what he had done.

We must understand the exalted position in store for the Acts period believers in order to understand God’s harsh punishment against Ananias here. Paul declared one of the great privileges that will belong to this company of believers when he declared in I Corinthians 6:3, “Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?” The believers from that time period will be given a position even of judging angels. What an exalted position that will be! In such a company, God has no room for one who would lie to Him.

Otis Sellers pointed out in regard to this that in Exodus 18:21, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro advised him, “Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.” Thus, out of the people of Israel men such as this were chosen who hated covetousness, and they were given the exalted position of ruling over God’s people. If this was the rule under Moses, how much more strict would God be in regard to these men who were to hold an exalted position in His coming kingdom? God could not allow one who would covet praise, as this man had done, to remain in that company.

That said, I do not believe that the final fate of Ananias was necessarily determined at this time. Remember that Paul rebuked the Corinthians regarding their tolerant attitude to a man who was having sexual relations with his father’s wife, his stepmother, as we would say. He advised them, “Deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Paul seems to be declaring that death by the miracle of judgment then in the Acts period might actually spare the sinful brother further punishment later, and might result in his spirit being saved when the day of the Lord Jesus comes. Thus God’s grace might be shown even in the extreme punishments of the Acts period. We will take this verse to heart, and not count Ananias’ final fate as being determined.

6. And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.

This might seem very strange to us. Why would they do this without notifying his relatives or friends, or without even calling his widow to his side? Yet we need to understand that this was, in fact, typical behavior in the culture at that time. When one died suddenly, the traditional thing to do was to carry him to his family sepulcher and lay him there, then to inform his loved ones and friends, who could come and see his body and anoint it in any way they wished. The confusion, perhaps, is caused by the word “buried,” which we think to mean covering over with dirt in a hole in the ground. The idea of the Greek word ethapsan, however, is to entomb, and in their culture would have referred to placing one in a sepulcher.

Remember, too, that the common meeting place for the disciples was in the temple of God, as we learned in Acts 2:46. Thus, this whole event probably took place on temple grounds. Since the temple area was not to be defiled, the temple servants would have been quick to respond should anyone die within its boundaries. These were probably the “young men” referred to here. It was their job to remove anything defiling from the temple, and this they did, taking Ananias’ dead body out as quickly as possible.

7. Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.

Some might find it remarkable that the apostles apparently continued in their labors in spite of the sudden and dreadful death of one of their company. If one should thus suddenly die among us, we would probably cease all labor, and be consumed by the event for quite some time. Yet we must realize that these men were working for God, not for men. The tasks they were performing were not just those given them by some employer, but rather was work bestowed upon them by God Himself. Thus even this grave and terrible interruption did nothing to distract them from the crucial task they had been given by their Lord.

Now about three hours later, Sapphira, Ananias’ wife, comes in. Some believe that they had planned it this way, so that after Ananias had received the praise for their act of generosity, this praise would be repeated upon the appearance of his wife. There is no way to tell for certain, of course, but it appears that this might well have been the case. No doubt Sapphira looked around for her husband, and she may have been quite surprised not to see him in the company. Moreover, no words of congratulations or praise greet her appearance, as she might have expected, but rather the grim faces of the apostles communicated to her that something may have gone quite wrong with the plan she had devised with her husband.

8. And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?”
She said, “Yes, for so much.”

Peter again is the one through whom God speaks, asking her if she and her husband had indeed sold the land for the amount given to the apostles by Ananias. She immediately answers according to their planned deception, most positively affirming that that was indeed the amount. Liars thus often stick to their story at first, even when faced with the possibility that their dishonesty may have been found out. Yet Sapphira, like her husband, will have no opportunity to admit her duplicity.

9. Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”

Peter’s response is not only a word of condemnation, but also an exclamation of grief. How is it that she and her husband had agreed together to do such a thing as to test the Spirit of the Lord? Indeed, we could ask the same about the sins of so many of God’s people today. How could it be that they would thus behave toward the God Who loved them and died for them? Yet they do, and still God does not strike them dead, as he did these two. We do not live under the rule of the kingdom of God, as these two did. Instead, we live under the administration of God’s grace. God treats us graciously, even when we commit affronts against Him. That is not the way God deals with us today.

Now, it seems that the very footsteps of those who had buried Ananias are heard by those in the room, returning from their grim task of burying Sapphira’s husband. Peter informs her of this fact, and assures her that she will be carried out the same way to share his fate. How quickly this grim punishment fell upon these who dared to lie to God!

10. Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.

Just as Ananias’ punishment had instantly fallen upon him, so does Sapphira’s punishment fall upon her the moment she hears Peter’s words. Her death comes upon her immediately, and the young men who come in from entombing her husband find her lying dead as they had found Ananias. Thus their grim task must immediately be repeated, and so they pick up her body and carry it out to be placed next to her husband. This was probably far more of such work than they were used to on a typical day in the temple!

We cannot help but see in this a parallel with the story of Achan the son of Carmi in the book of Joshua chapter 7. In Joshua 6:17-19, the LORD had declared His demand regarding the plunder of the city of Jericho once He gave it into the power of the sons of Israel. “17. Now the city shall be doomed by the LORD to destruction, it and all who are in it. Only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all who are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent. 18. And you, by all means abstain from the accursed things, lest you become accursed when you take of the accursed things, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. 19. But all the silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are consecrated to the LORD; they shall come into the treasury of the LORD.” This was God’s command, and all the Israelites save one had followed it. That one was Achan the son of Carmi, who took some of the plunder and kept if for himself. Though this was the sin of just one man, yet “the anger of the LORD burned against the children of Israel.” The trespass of one made all guilty, and so they were defeated by the tiny city of Ai, and the LORD was not with them until they had removed the thief and covetous man from among them.

Here in Acts, we have a different company of Israelites and a different situation, but the basic premise is the same. This great unity that God had created demanded the adherence of all, and this one disobedient person threatened the whole group. No spirit of covetousness, of dishonesty, or of personal gain could be allowed to creep in among the believers, and to corrupt the spirit of fellowship that He had produced. Even those with important positions among them, as Ananias and Sapphira appear to have had, could not escape His punishment if they acted in such a way. So through His power this first great challenge to the conditions that He had created is removed. The unity God had made was not to so easily be corrupted. With God’s power to preserve it, it would now continue with the troublesome element removed. However harsh this might seem to us, we must understand that when God acts directly in judgment like this, no such attitude as that of these two can be tolerated. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. In the same way, He will preserve His kingdom, when He brings it to earth at last. Those who would fall from its principles or, from their actions, would transgress its rules, will in the same way be dealt with and removed.

11. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

The miraculous character of these events could not help but impress themselves upon the minds of those who heard of it. The account of this event first spread to the ekklesia, who had been the ones to witness it, but finally the story must have come to all those dwelling in Jerusalem. The result was great fear upon all who heard it. They realized that it was no light thing to become a follower of Jesus Christ. One who did so put himself in a dangerous position indeed. Service to Him was nothing to be undertaken lightly.

Some see in this event nothing unusual. They claim that this is just church business, and that if we lived closer to God today, that similar things would happen to us. Those who think this are reading this passage through the screen of their own opinions and doctrinal creeds. This entire story is similar to nothing we experience today. Our leaders have no God-given insight to know when someone is lying to them. Even if they knew a lie when they saw it, God would not strike a person down for lying even to the most noble of Christian leaders today, and even in the matter of giving money. This event reflects a far different administration of God than what God is currently working. God would not do something like this today, because at this time He is acting exclusively in grace.

What happened to Ananias and Sapphira is totally in line with what we read will be conditions when the kingdom of God reigns upon the earth. In Psalm 101, the conditions that will prevail in the kingdom regarding righteousness and wickedness are set forth. In verse 7, the Lord declares, “He who works deceit shall not dwell within my house; He who tells lies shall not continue in my presence.” Ananias and Sapphira are an object lesson of this, losing both their place in His house and their very lives. So it will be in the kingdom. Lies will not be allowed then. Once again, the Acts period is a picture for us of what is to come in the kingdom.

12. And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch.

Fortunately, it appears that miracles of Divine punishment like what happened to Ananias and Sapphira were rare. This was a singular threat to the unity that God had created, and was quickly dealt with. Among the unity of believers, all was now back to as it should be. Yet many signs and wonders continued to be done by the apostles among the people. God was miraculously working on every hand to aid them in the task He had given them. They had the Holy Spirit working with them in all they did.

Now we read that they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. This was a place in the temple, as can be demonstrated by John 10:23. “And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch.” Remember that the temple was not a single building, but a whole campus. This place called “Solomon’s Porch” was apparently a covered walk. It was at or near this walkway that the apostles were meeting together, and it was no doubt here where Ananias and Sapphira had recently met their end.

13. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.

It seems that this miracle of the death of Ananias and Sapphira caused many of the people to think twice before adding themselves to a company of believers where death could follow if they did not act in accord with all that God wanted of them. This perhaps should not have been, for what had happened was certainly yet another sign that God was most certainly with them. We should always be willing to stand upon the truth and be held accountable for it, yet we can understand that when the accountability could even include death, some would be reluctant to place themselves under quite that exacting a standard. Yet this still did not decrease their reputation, for the people esteemed them highly. That Ananias and Sapphira had indeed transgressed could not be doubted, and that their punishment was by God, not by men, was clear. Thus, they continued to be highly esteemed, though for a time the number of those adding themselves to their company was checked by fear.

14. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,

This is an odd statement indeed, since we just read that none of the rest dared join them. Since Luke could not have forgotten what he had just written, we have to formulate an explanation for this. It may be that many were believing that Jesus Christ was Lord through what was happening, yet they were not joining themselves to the company of believers, as they should have been, out of fear that something like what happened to Ananias and Sapphira might happen to them. Or it could be that they were joining themselves to the company of believers, but were afraid to join themselves to the company that had sold lands or goods and brought the money to the apostles. At any rate, the number of believers was continuing to increase, multitudes both of men and women. The gospel was not being rejected by these Israelites at Jerusalem. Instead, they were accepting it en masse!

15. so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.

As belief in the Lord spread and prevailed, many were the sick who wished to come to the apostles and be healed. However, Peter and the rest had no time to go to the homes of the sick in order to heal them. They had no time to organize a healing event to which the sick could be brought so that they would heal them. They were following the orders of their Lord, and, as we read in Acts 6:4, they had given themselves “continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The healing of the sick might seem like a most important task to us, and indeed it is, but compared to the study and the exposition of the Word of God, it is of much less importance. Thus, it was not fitting that these men should leave this task in order to use their healing power to cure the sick.

Nevertheless, these men were not without compassion for those in Israel who needed to be delivered from the ailments that were plaguing them. Thus, this means of accomplishing the task of healing those in need of it was worked out. Those who were caring for these sick people would bring them out into the streets along which Peter would habitually walk, probably on his way from his lodging to the temple. They would lay these sick folks on beds and couches along this way where the angle of the sun was such that Peter’s shadow would pass over them as he passed by. In this way, these needy sick could be healed, and yet Peter would not even have to pause in going about his other, more important tasks for the Lord. Indeed, his mind would not even have to be distracted from whatever passage in the Word he might be considering, or from whatever prayer he might be praying. As his shadow passed over the sick, they would be healed, and he would not miss a step as he went about his business.

Now some have questioned as to whether or not this method worked, and whether those who thus were passed over by Peter’s shadow really were healed. Those who wonder this do so based on their own doubts, and not upon the Word of God. There is no question in this passage but that Peter’s shadow was effective in healing those over whom it passed. If there was any question of this, it should be dispelled by the following verse. Strange it is that men would believe that Peter could heal by a touch, but could not heal by his shadow! We need to remember that it was not Peter’s mind or intention that caused people to be healed, but rather was the power of God. The Holy Spirit was working these miraculous signs and healings, and He did not need any particular action or words on the part of Peter to do it. This was the Acts period, when God was working miraculously, and no wonder was too hard for Him to accomplish.

16. Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

For anyone who has suffered through a terrible illness, or who has been close to one who has suffered through such an illness, we can easily understand how word of such a powerful healer would spread like wildfire among those who needed such healing. Thus not just those from Jerusalem came to be healed, but also those from many surrounding cities. Of these many types of sickness were represented, as well as those who suffered from unclean spirits. Yet whatever the malady, they were all healed, every one. The apostles did not need to parade around those who claimed healing and ignore those who went home without being helped, as those who call themselves healers do today. Though it may have only been by Peter’s shadow, all were healed, and none went away disappointed. This was the Acts period, and God was working powerfully and miraculously. We will see this type of thing continue throughout the remainder of the book. It was a kingdom work that God was doing then. He is not doing such a work now. We have no healers like Peter today.