Not-so-do-gooders drop dead
Ananias and Sapphira give an offering1 A man and wife, Ananias and Sapphira, sold a field they owned. 2 They kept part of the money they got. Ananias took the rest and put it at the feet of the apostles, as a donation. His wife didn’t go with him, but she knew what he was doing. 3 Peter said, “Ananias, why did you let Satan talk you into this? You’re lying to the Holy Spirit. You sold the field, but you kept part of the money for yourself. 4 You know something, before you sold that field it was yours. You could have done anything you wanted with it. Even after it was sold, the money was yours to spend however you wanted. Why did you dream up this scheme? You’re not lying to human beings. You’re lying to God!” 5 Ananias dropped dead. As soon as he heard those words, he collapsed and sucked his last breath of air. This terrified everyone who heard about it. 6 Some young men came and wrapped up the body, carried it off, and buried it. 7 About three hours later, his wife showed up. She was clueless about what happened. 8 Peter approached her and asked, “Did you sell the land for this much money?” She said, “Yes, that’s how much we got.” 9 Peter said, “Why would the two of you agree to try and sneak this past the Lord’s Spirit? Was it a test, or what? Look, standing at the door are the men who buried your husband. They will carry you out, too.” 10 She immediately dropped dead at his feet. The men who had buried her husband came in, carried her out, and buried her beside her husband. 11 News about this terrified the entire church, and everyone else who heard about it. 12 The apostles did many miracles and other wonderful things for the people. They met with believers in the shade of Solomon’s Porch. 13 No one else dared to join them. But even those who didn’t still had a lot of respect for them. 14 Even so, more and more people believed what they were hearing and seeing—crowds of men and women. 15 They even took their sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, hoping that Peter might walk by and his mere shadow would fall on them and heal them. 16 People came from towns all around Jerusalem. They brought sick along with their people tormented by toxic spirits. Everyone was healed.
Apostles under arrest17 The high priest saw all this attention the apostles were getting, and he became livid with jealousy. So did his fellow Sadducees. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the city jail. 19 But that night an angel sent by the Lord opened the prison doors and led them out. 20 The angel said, “March right back in there to the Temple. Talk to the people again. Let them hear the words that will give them life.” 21 The apostles went back to the Temple at first light and started teaching the people again. When the high priest and his entourage arrived, they convened the Sanhedrin, the full Council of Jewish leaders and elders. They sent for the apostles, whom they thought were still in jail. 22 When security officers went to the prison, they couldn’t find the prisoners. So they reported back to the Council. 23 They said, “When we got to the prison it was locked up tight. Everything was secure. The guards were standing at the doors. But when we opened the door to look inside, we didn’t find anyone.” 24 When the Temple’s top security guard and the leading priests heard that, they were dumbfounded. They had no idea how this could have happened. 25 Then, someone burst in and said, “Look! Those men you put in jail are back at the Temple teaching the people.” 26 The Temple’s top security guard took some of his men with him to where the apostles were. He didn’t arrest the apostles because he was afraid of how the crowd might react. But he convinced the men to go with him and meet with the Council. 27 He and his men led away the apostles and had them stand in front of the Jewish leaders. The high priest charged the apostles with disobeying the Council. 28 He said, “We ordered you to stop using this man’s name when you teach. You did just the opposite. You filled Jerusalem with your stories about this man. And you even blame us for his death, as though we killed him.” 29 Peter and the other apostles answered him, “Given the choice between obeying God and man, there’s no choice. We have to obey God. 30 The God of our people raised Jesus from the dead—the same Jesus you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God has put Jesus right beside him as our leader and our Savior. He’s there to cover for the sins of Israel and to grant us forgiveness. 32 We’ve seen these things with our own eyes, Jesus dead and then risen again. The Holy Spirit is a witness, too. God gives this Spirit to people who obey him.”
A Jewish scholar’s wise advice33 Insulted and enraged, many of the Jewish Council members wanted to kill the apostles. 34 But one of the scholars who taught Jewish law stood up. He was a Pharisee named Gamaliel. All the people respected him. He had the apostles sent out of the room for a short time. 35 Addressing the Council, he said, “Gentlemen of Israel, think about what you’re planning to do to these men. 36 Some time ago a man named Theudas started bragging that he was something special. About 400 people joined his little movement. Well, he got himself killed. His followers dispersed and the movement fizzled. 37 Later, during the time of the census, there was that Galilean named Judas. He conned people into following him, too. He died. His followers scattered. 38 That brings us to this case. I’m telling you we should leave these men alone. If what they’re doing is just another plan from another man, it will fail. 39 But if it’s God’s plan, as they say it is, you won’t be able to stop them—and you’ll find yourself fighting God.” The Council took his advice. 40 Then they called the apostles back into the room. There they beat them. They ordered the apostles to never again say the name of Jesus in public. Afterward, they released them. 41 The apostles left the Council chambers thanking God that they were worthy enough to suffer this much shame for the sake of Jesus. 42 Every day after that—in the Temple and in their homes—they kept saying his name. They never stopped teaching and preaching about Jesus Christ.
This is the first time the group is identified as a church, ekklesia, in Greek. It’s from this Greek word we get the English term “ecclesiastical,” referring to the church or the clergy.
Also called Solomon’s Colonnade, this was an open-air walkway some 300 yards (274 m) long. It rested beneath a cedar roof supported by rows of columns. It became a popular meeting place because it offered shade from the sun and protection from rain.
Sadducees “were Jews who taught there was no such thing as a resurrection” (Luke 20:27).
This Sanhedrin council was a group of 70 Jewish leaders led by the high priest. See the note for Luke 22:66.
Pharisees were one of several groups of Jews. It was a bit like Methodists being one of many groups of Christians. Pharisees were known for not only strictly keeping the laws of Moses, but also for keeping hundreds of other laws that were a bit like the rules in church manuals today. For example, Jewish law said Jews should not work on the Sabbath. Pharisees defined what they considered work – such as healing people. Pharisees taught that practicing medicine on the Sabbath was forbidden except when someone was at risk of dying that day.
Gamaliel was one of the top Jewish scholars of his day. The apostle Paul said he studied under the guidance of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Jewish writings also say Gamaliel was an advocate for non-Jews in need as well as for women’s rights.
When Ananias sold a plug of ground and gave part of the proceeds to Peter as a donation to help the poor, Peter could have said, “Thank you very much.” Instead he said, “You kept part of the money for yourself….Why did you dream up this scheme?” (5:3-4). When Peter was done talking, Ananias dropped dead. Don’t you think Peter was a little harsh?
Many Bible experts say the original language suggests that it was not shock that killed Ananias and Sapphira. They say the context of the story suggests that God killed them. What’s a bit ironic is that the name Ananias means “God is merciful.” But apparently not today. Do you buy into the idea that God actually killed these people for lying about their donation to the poor?
If God killed Ananias and Sapphira for lying about their donation, why do you think he did it? Wouldn’t it have been counterproductive given that “News about this terrified the entire church, and everyone else who heard about it… No one else dared to join them” (5:11, 13)?
What do you think would motivate the people to “take their sick out into the streets and lay them on cots and mats, hoping that Peter might walk by and his mere shadow would fall on them and heal them” (5:15)? Why not simply ask Peter to heal them?
How do you think the Jewish leaders felt when the apostles said, “God gives this Spirit to people who obey him” (5:32)? Does that sound like a deliberate dig at the Jewish leaders?
The Jewish Council called the Sanhedrin—which functioned a bit like a combination Congress/Supreme Court—arrested the apostles and considered executing them. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel advised against it. He said, “If what they’re doing is just another plan from another man, it will fail. But if it’s God’s plan, as they say it is, you won’t be able to stop them—and you’ll find yourself fighting God” (5:38-39). Why do you think he advised such a cautious approach? Pharisees weren’t generally known for cutting rule-breakers some slack.
LIFE APPLICATION. One thing that drew people to the emerging Christian movement perhaps more than anything else was the “many miracles and other wonderful things” (5:12) that the apostles did for the people. What do you think draws people to Christianity today?