Acts 5:1 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.
A spontaneous movement of generosity occurred in the early church. There was no prearranged program, coordinated effort, or appeal from the apostles. People of wealth simply sold their property to provide for the needs of the poor. Those who did so were appreciated and recognized for their kindness.
Ananias and Sapphira were aware of this, and wanted to enhance their reputations. So they also sold a piece of property and gave some of the money to the apostles. They wanted to appear more generous than they were, however, so they claimed to give all the proceeds, but kept back some for themselves. All things considered, it does not seem like a terrible crime.
Acts 5:3 Then Peter said, Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit?
Once again, Peter seems to be overreacting. Everyone wants to appear better than they are, and no one has perfect motives. If the church had more people like Ananias and Sapphira, it could do even more for the poor. The church needs generous people, even if their motives are not always perfect. But Peter was just getting started.
Acts 5:4 What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.
Ananias and Sapphira were guilty of hypocrisy, but who isn’t? At least hypocrites try to appear righteous. Isn’t that better than those who don’t even try? [T]hey parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it (Isaiah 3:9), wrote Isaiah. The world would be a better place if everyone tried to appear righteous, even if they were not as righteous as they appeared.
But Peter saw hypocrisy as a threat to the church, and Jesus reserved some of his strongest language for hypocrites. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 24:51), he said. Hypocrisy is more serious than many people think.
Acts 5:5-6 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
This was the first church funeral, and to be honest, it was a little bit spare. There was no liturgy, flowers, music, eulogy or even a sermon—just a quick burial. Ananias died for the sin of hypocrisy, and this falls into the category of judgment miracles.
We generally think of miracles as something good, like healing the sick or multiplying food. But the Bible contains a number of judgment miracles, such as the plagues on Egypt: locusts, frogs, boils and gnats (Exodus 7-11). Others were infected with leprosy (2 Chronicles 26:19), mauled by bears (2 Kings 2:24), eaten by worms (Acts 12:23), driven insane (Daniel 4:33) and struck blind (2 Kings 6:18). For Korah’s sin of rebellion, the earth split apart and swallowed him whole, along with many others (Numbers 16).
Furthermore, it would be inaccurate to think this can only happen to unbelievers. Christians in the city of Corinth died for receiving the Lord’s Supper without sufficient reverence (1 Corinthians 11:29-30). Judgment miracles teach us that if we cannot be a good example, we might become a terrible warning.
Acts 5:7-8 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land? Yes, she said, that is the price.
This was Sapphira’s opportunity to come clean. Her heart was probably pounding while her conscience pleaded with her to confess. All she had to do was tell the truth. But she was loyal to her husband, whom she did not know was dead. In fact, he probably led her into this sin.
It is not unusual for a husband to drag his wife into sin, or vice versa. We all have a spiritual influence on those around us, and we should be careful not to lead them in the wrong direction.
Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble (Luke 17:1-2), said Jesus. It is a terrible thing to sin, but even worse to lead others in the way of destruction.
Acts 5:9 Peter said to her, How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord?
Children test their parents by seeing how much they can get away with, and adults do the same with God. But patience is not permission, and one day brings the wrath a thousand days deserve. Sapphira fell over dead, and they took her out and buried her (Acts 5:10).
Acts 5:11 Great fear seized the whole church.
We might expect the church to rapidly decline, but the opposite occurred. It grew numerically and also in purity (Acts 5:13-14). Some probably left when they found out God is dangerous, but others joined and took God seriously.
The fear of God is a comfort to the righteous because it keeps us close to him. The more we fear God in a positive sense, the less we’ll be afraid of him. The fear of God is not like being followed by a cop when you are learning how to drive. It’s more like having a parent in the car to help you get safely home.
Reflection and Review
Why are we tempted to be hypocrites?
Why didn’t Sapphira confess her sin?
What is the right way to fear God?