Acts Chapter 5: Ananias and Sapphira, Angel lets Apostles out of Prison

Dec 31st, 2009 | By | Category: Acts, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Acts Chapter 5: Ananias and Sapphira, Angel lets Apostles out of Prison

Acts 5:1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,

Acts 5:2 And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Ananias and Sapphira, his wife, sold a possession and kept back part of the price. This would not have been wrong to do under other circumstances, but at that time, there was a consenting agreement among the brethren to dispose of earthly assets and convert them to cash or to use them (for example, a house) wholly in the Lord’s service. They had agreed to hold all things in common to benefit the brotherhood and to distribute to individual brethren in proportion to necessity. The problem was that Ananias sold his property and then pretended, or claimed, to have given all the money from the sale of a possession into the common treasury when, in fact, he had held back a portion. He laid the money “at the apostles’ feet.” This deception was a sin against the Holy Spirit.

According to Acts 4:36,37, Joses Barnabas sold a large parcel of land on the island of Cyprus and put all the money into the common treasury. The very name “Barnabas” indicates he was generous in spirit and temperament. Thus he was an example of one with means who faithfully obeyed the agreed-upon procedure. Many others followed suit with their all, whether it was little or great. The incident with Ananias was the opposite.

Comment: It is amazing that Ananias did not realize the apostles would see through his deception when they were doing many miracles and understood many things.

Reply: When the mind is bent on something, the individual does not realize the abnormality.

Things are done openly today that were considered shameful in years past. People are giving in to inclinations along various lines of the flesh. As a result, society has become inured to many sins, and the people feel God is not paying particular attention to deeds committed.

Acts 5:3 But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?

Acts 5:4 Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.

Since all are born in sin and “shapen in iniquity,” all have weaknesses (Psa. 51:5). Satan capitalizes on those weaknesses and tries to subvert our obedience to do God’s will. Peter blamed Satan, but that did not excuse Ananias for succumbing to this pressure. Another example is the serpent’s beguiling of Eve. Satan was a liar and a deceiver from the beginning, but Adam and Eve were both culpable, and Adam more so because of more knowledge.

Moreover, the test of obedience was specifically addressed to him.

Q: This was a lie to God, not to man. If Ananias had lied to one individual, it would have been a lie unto man, but his lie affected the whole Church because they held all things in common. If one intentionally deceived through a public testimony (not a slip of the tongue through nervousness), wouldn’t this be lying to the Holy Spirit?

A: There was consensual agreement among the brotherhood. Perhaps they all raised their hands—or had some other type of public agreement—to show that all were of one accord. Their agreement meant a contract was made with God, and the agreement preceded the sale of Ananias’s possession. Even the act of laying the money at the apostles’ feet was like saying, “Here is the money as previously agreed upon.” And Ananias probably made additional comments, not recorded, when he laid the money at their feet.

Q: Despite the agreement, if Ananias had said he decided to keep part of the money, would that have been permissible? But to lie was an abomination.

A: Peter was saying that originally, when the proposal was made, one did not have to raise a hand in agreement. But once the hand was raised, the individual had to follow through. The fact that all agreed suggests a public agreement. There was some public act whereby Ananias incurred the responsibility of lying against the Holy Spirit.

Q: In this case, a contractual agreement was made. What about consecration? When one publicly professes consecration, if he does not have the heart intention of fully giving himself to do the Lord’s will (that is, if he is not making a full and unreserved consecration), wouldn’t that be lying?

A: The principle with Ananias and Sapphira puts a very serious construction on a professed consecration. Whether or not one really means the consecration in his heart, he is liable, and there is responsibility. The consecration vow means giving everything—heart, mind, soul, and body—to the Lord, and no one can perform it perfectly. In the final analysis, only a Little Flock will live up to their consecration to the full extent of their ability. There are failings of the flesh, and the Lord knows to what degree they are factors to be overcome. In the type, the Lord’s goat died as an acceptable sacrifice to God, but the live goat, picturing the Great Company, had to be led out into the wilderness by providence. In contrast to the depth of the consecration vow, for Ananias to give all of the money would have been a relatively simple promise to keep.

Acts 5:5 And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.

A number of witnesses were present, and others quickly heard of the incident because of the strange and sudden power that Peter manifested on behalf of the Holy Spirit. When Ananias exhaled his last breath, he probably made a noise, adding to the drama. He suddenly dropped dead after hearing Peter’s words of condemnation. The noise and the suddenness impressed upon the onlookers the power of God’s Spirit and the lesson of the seriousness and responsibility of consecration. Great awe came upon them.

Q: The Reprints take a softer view, but would Ananias and Sapphira have been begotten of the Holy Spirit?

A: Yes, that would seem to be the case, for the incident occurred after Pentecost. Moreover,  God is not constrained to give a certain time to each of the consecrated. If one commits an act that is obnoxious to Him and He sees that the individual has passed the point of no return, showing incorrigibility, God may or may not suddenly requite the act. Some who commit the sin unto death continue to live for a number of years, and some do not. God’s promise was that if an individual’s heart is right and he is trying to do his best and is praying and asking for help, then he is guaranteed a sufficiency of time. But if one is in the wrong attitude of heart and has committed grievous sin, God might exact the penalty right away. With Ananias and Sapphira, the quick penalty more forcibly pointed out to the other Christians the seriousness of the sin. If their death had occurred a week later, the brethren might have thought it was due to natural causes. Ananias had just laid the money at the apostles’ feet, Peter reprimanded him, and he dropped dead. The judgment could not have been more obvious.

Q: Two clues to indicate that Ananias and Sapphira were consecrated and Spirit-begotten are as follows: (1) The believers were “of one heart and of one soul” (Acts 4:32). At least they had all professed a consecration. If any were not Spirit-begotten, they were still responsible for their professed vow. (2) The expression that Ananias laid the money “at the apostles’ feet” would not make sense if Ananias had not professed a consecration. Why else would he do such a thing?

A: And a process was involved in selling property, so there was time to consider or conspire, as the case might be.

Acts 5:6 And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.

The traditional way of burying was to wind cloth(s) around and around the body, but in this case, the winding would have been done hurriedly in a makeshift way and probably with old cloth(s). As a known adversary of God, Ananias would not have received the usual careful burial. To keep from getting defiled by touching a dead body, the young men would have followed the custom of carrying the body in a coat and holding the sleeves. They would have buried him in either the Kidron Valley or the Valley of Hinnom.

The burial took place quickly to put Ananias out of sight and out of mind as fast as possible. His wife was not even notified. In addition, the Holy Spirit would have moved the young men to act in haste so that when Sapphira came on the scene shortly afterwards, she would not know what had happened (verse 7).

Comment: This account is a clue that we are not to mourn and have a regular “Bible Student” funeral for any of the consecrated who might commit grievous sin and not repent of the act.

Acts 5:7 And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.

Acts 5:8 And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.

Acts 5:9 Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.

Just three hours after Ananias died, Sapphira showed up. Here is a clue that some conversation had taken place when Ananias laid the money at the apostles’ feet, for Peter knew the supposed price paid for the land. The guilt had occurred twice: when Ananias agreed with Sapphira and when he lied at the time he gave the money to the apostles. It was like a twofold sealing of his fate. Now Peter directed a very pertinent question to Sapphira: “Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much?” And she also lied.

Acts 5:10 Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.

The young men buried Ananias and returned, coming in right after Sapphira had dropped dead. Now they had a second body to bury. How startling!

Acts 5:11 And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.

This wording is similar to the end of verse 5. Great fear (awe) came upon all who “heard these things.” As indicated in the Book of Revelation, the working of Jesus was mighty in the early Church through the apostles (Rev. 2:1). Many miracles were performed in the Ephesus period, and the power and presence of the Holy Spirit were manifest in a remarkable way.

Acts 5:12 And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.

Acts 5:13 And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.

Acts 5:14 And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.)

Acts 5:15 Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.

Acts 5:16 There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.

Verses 13 and 14 are not a contradiction. Many more subsequently consecrated, but they thought much more soberly about the responsibilities of a commitment before making a consecration. Consequently, the first period of the Church was called “Ephesus,” meaning “desirable.” The Ephesus period had the freshness of the apostles’ power, which was a good influence.

Great numbers of believers were added to the Church after Pentecost: 3,000, 5,000, and now many more. Here we get the feel of the situation. Daily the apostles and the multitudes were at the Temple, whose precincts were about the size of a football field. In fact, the multitudes were so great that the people could not all hope to get access to Peter or John or another apostle. Therefore, some apparently thought, “When we exit the Temple gate, we will wait until Peter’s shadow falls on us.” Their determination reminds us of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment and of Zacchaeus, who climbed a tree to see Jesus. Faith was the element that prompted them to seek this indirect contact.

By no means would all of the healed ones have been consecrated—anymore than they were with Jesus—but some of them were. The desire of the vast majority was simply for healing and help, not to make a lifetime commitment unto death.

The apostles had left their employment in the fishing business up in Galilee and were now supported with a minimal amount from the common fund for necessities. Hence they could spend all of their time preaching, and daily they went to the Temple, especially Solomon’s Porch.

The great number of Jews entering the gospel Church at the beginning of the Gospel Age constituted the Jewish harvest. Approximately one third of the Little Flock (48,000) was selected in the Ephesus period of the Church, one third (48,000) was developed down through the Gospel Age, and one third (48,000) is being developed in Laodicea, the Harvest period here at the end of the age. Probably the smallest number of the Great Company came from Ephesus because of the type of individuals who gave their hearts to the Lord. There would have been fewer tares in the Church in that period too. The apostles’ teachings, sermons, and applications of the principles of truth as to right and wrong were perfectly presented—and the hearers could ask questions and get perfect answers.

Comment: Yet all in Asia forsook Paul, and a Jewish Christian element was undermining the apostles.

Reply: Yes, and many of those who forsook Paul could have been Great Company. Those of the Great Company class sometimes think they are wiser than the Little Flock class. Stated another way, the foolish virgins sometimes think they are wiser than the wise virgins. And that has been the case down through the Gospel Age. The Apostle Paul certainly had that experience. An Old Testament example is Elihu (a type of the Great Company) versus Job (a picture of the Little Flock). Psalm 91:7 says, “A thousand [Great Company] shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand [tares] at thy right hand.”

Comment: The apostles could read the hearts and discern hypocrites. That ability helped to keep the Church pure.

“The rest” (verse 13) had enough faith to seek healing but not enough faith to consecrate.

Many were fearful of what the Pharisees and the leadership would think. Others declined because the standard was so high. And some just came as onlookers or curiosity seekers.

Acts 5:17 Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation,

Acts 5:18 And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.

Acts 5:19 But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,

Acts 5:20 Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.

Acts 5:21 And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.

Acts 5:22 But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told,

Acts 5:23 Saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within.

For days, the apostles had been teaching the multitudes, but now those in the priesthood felt they had to stop the apostles. They were forced to confront the issue, as it were. Verse 17 shows the high priest of the nation was probably a Sadducee, which means he did not believe in the resurrection and was liberal—something like Reform Jewry today. Hence the religious leadership had little faith. Moreover, the leadership was filled with indignation (an outward manifestation) and envy (an inward wrong heart condition). Earlier the leaders had envied Jesus, and now indignation helped them to mask their envy, which was the real problem.

A “common prison” was like a temporary overnight hold until an individual could be sent to an actual prison or released or whatever. At night, an angel who could be seen opened the prison doors for the apostles and led them out. He walked in front of them and magically opened the doors. The angel instructed the apostles to go back to the Temple and preach, and the apostles obeyed, going right away to the Temple early the next morning.

The high priest “called the council [the Sanhedrin] together, and [even] all the senate [the elders].” He was unaware that the apostles had been freed, so he sent officers to the prison to bring them before the Sanhedrin for trial. However, the officers returned to the august Sanhedrin and reported that everything in the prison was intact and locked but that the apostles were free. The cell was empty! Even the guards were unaware that the apostles had left. This incident shows the power of the angels to blind the eyes of men to not see literal apostles walking out of a literal prison through literal gates. Probably the prison or cell doors were solid so that the guards could not see in and just assumed the prisoners were still there.

Acts 5:24 Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow.

Acts 5:25 Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people.

Acts 5:26 Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned.

Someone informed those of the Sanhedrin, who were waiting to render judgment, that the apostles were back in the Temple teaching the people. Officers were sent posthaste to get the apostles and bring them to the Sanhedrin. The apostles were brought back without violence, lest the multitudes get angry and stone the officers.

Acts 5:27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them,

Acts 5:28 Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.

The high priest was trying to say that the Sanhedrin had acted properly in apprehending the apostles. The high priest accused the apostles of filling Jerusalem with their doctrine and blaming the religious leadership for Jesus’ death, whereas he felt there was no liability for what had been done.

Acts 5:29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.

What a marvelous reply by Peter and the other apostles! Without fear of man, they said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (compare Acts 4:19). Who could refute such an argument?

Acts 5:30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.

The apostles were saying, “We do not preach a heathen doctrine but the doctrine of the Old Testament, as taught by Moses and the prophets.” Their supposedly new doctrine came from the same Jewish God, who had raised up Jesus as the Messiah, “whom ye slew.” The apostles were firm on this last point.

The gist of the accusation and powerful reply of verses 28-30 was as follows: The high priest said, “You are teaching the people that we are guilty of the blood of Jesus.” The apostles were not diplomatic in their response: “Yes, you did do that. But God raised up Jesus in resurrection power, so the one you slew is now a living Savior.” Peter was direct and outspoken. Notice that he likened the Cross to a tree, indicating the counterpart of Jesus’ suffering for Adam. Sin entered the Garden of Eden through a tree. Adam ate the fruit of a tree and died, and Jesus tasted death on a tree (Gen. 3:6).

Acts 5:31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.

God (one personality) exalted Jesus (a separate personality). If Jesus were God, how could God exalt Jesus to His right hand? Moreover, a “Prince” is not on as high a level as the Almighty King of the universe, so they are not coequal.

On the one hand, Peter’s words to the Sanhedrin were strong, yet on the other hand, he left open a door of escape: repentance. Jesus was designed to be a Prince and a Savior in order to grant forgiveness of sins to Israel—if they would repent and confess their sins. That would include even the religious leadership if there were some contrition for what they had done.

Acts 5:32 And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.

We are reminded of Jesus’ scathing remarks to the scribes and the Pharisees when he called them hypocrites and whited sepulchers. Peter was saying, “If you had the Holy Spirit, you would see things in the proper light and realize what a horrendous act you committed.” The implication was that they had disobeyed.

Acts 5:33 When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.

Acts 5:34 Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space;

Acts 5:35 And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men.

Acts 5:36 For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.

Acts 5:37 After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.

Acts 5:38 And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought:

Acts 5:39 But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.

The Sanhedrin wanted to kill the apostles for their cutting remarks, not just imprison them.

Then the Holy Spirit prompted Gamaliel to speak. (This Gamaliel had taught Paul and was very helpful to him, imparting much sound wisdom and Scriptural understanding.) By the power of the Holy Spirit and the leading of divine providence, Gamaliel nipped the situation in the bud by providing the Sanhedrin a way out of the embarrassment caused by Peter’s stinging remarks. In essence, Gamaliel’s counsel was as follows: “Let us consider and not be too hasty.

Others such as Theudas and Judas of Galilee have arisen as false Christs in Israel, but where are those movements now? They fizzled, and this current movement will similarly come to nought if it is of men.” Then he presented the other side of the coin: “If the movement is of God, it will survive, and we do not want to stand in the way of God.” What powerful reasoning and sound logic!

Gamaliel was probably a believer like Nicodemus, but he needed something to draw him out. Of those in the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel was the most renowned for wisdom. Incidentally, Bar Kochba was a false Christ later on.

Acts 5:40 And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

Acts 5:41 And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.

Acts 5:42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.

Again the apostles were commanded not to speak in Jesus’ name, and they were beaten with 39 stripes—one stripe short of death. However, they rejoiced because they recalled Jesus’ words that they would be taken before synagogues and beaten, and when this happened, they were to rejoice in the privilege of suffering in his name (Mark 13:9; 1 Pet. 4:13,16). They responded as Paul and Silas did years later in a prison in Philippi, Macedonia (Acts 16:19-25).

The beating, though severe, did not deter their preaching or diminish their zeal. “Preaching” was giving a sermon; “teaching” took place after the sermon when some inquired further. This inquiring element was likely to become disciples. What wonderful history and constructive information God has given to help us see the right and the wrong!

(1991–1992 Study)

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