Bible Study: Acts, Chapter Five
Transcript: Today we are going to study Acts chapter 5 in depth. You can follow along in your own Bible if you like. I will be reading from the World English Bible because it is the only modern English translation that is copyright free, and I can read the entire Bible on video without legal drama or breaking anyone’s rules. After the meeting today, or sometime this week, please take the matching quiz that I have prepared for you on the website. Thanks to everyone that has participated. Let’s get started:
A brief catchup: In the last chapter, Peter and John had went to the temple in Jerusalem and healed a man there that had been born crippled from birth. When people gathered around them, they began to tell them about Jesus who was resurrected from the dead. This upset the Sadducees who did not believe in resurrection. As a result, the Apostles were arrested and put on trial at the Sanhedrin the following morning. Because they were not guilty of any wrongdoing, but had simply healed a man, the Sanhedrin, who were the ancient Jewish Supreme Court, warned them to not talk anymore about Jesus and let them go. Peter and John returned to the other disciples and told them what had happened, then they all prayed together for boldness and the place they were in was shaken by the Holy Spirit.
All of this happened in and around the city of Jerusalem.
After this, a man named Joseph sold his real estate on the island of Cyprus, brought the money, and laid it at the apostle’s feet to help support the new, and rapidly-growing church. They nicknamed this man “Barnabas” which means “Son of Encouragement” because that is the way that he was. Encouragement was his defining characteristic. Barnabas was a sparkling example of all the beautiful qualities of the early church: unity, grace, power, and especially caring for others. Every time we see Barnabas in Acts, he is helping someone.
That is where we begin today.
Acts Chapter 5 beginning in verse 1, reading from the World English Bible: But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira, his wife, sold a possession, 2 and kept back part of the price, his wife also being aware of it, then brought a certain part and laid it at the Apostles’ feet.
Things were going great in the new church, but as always, satan had already begun a counterattack of outward persecution through the government and the religious authorities (Acts 4). That tactic was not working very well, for the Apostles were bold and were not afraid of dying for the name of Jesus. Fear is one of the main tools of the enemy, to keep you from ever stepping out to begin with, but he has other tools that he uses as well.
The devil now tries a different strategy and attacks the church from within, through a husband and wife. The man’s name is Ananias, in Hebrew that means “God is Gracious”. The wife’s name is Sapphira, which is Aramaic for “beautiful”. Few people have names that contrast their lives more dramatically, for Acts 5 records nothing beautiful or gracious about this couple.
Here we learn about some other tools that the enemy uses called “greed” and “deception”. Ananias and Sapphira had seen Barnabas sell his property and bring the money to the Apostles, and that drew great respect from all their fellow believers. The couple announced to the church that they were selling their property as well and would give the proceeds to them, and they probably meant to, at first.
They sold their real estate, but when they had the money in hand, they just could not let it go. At the same time, they wanted the respect that Barnabas had, so they came up with a way that they could have both:
1) They would tell the church that this was all the money from the property.
2) They would just keep some of it for themselves.
Why did they do this? The short version is: so that they could have all the respect of the church, and some of the money as well. To them, this was a win / win situation.
The longer version is that possibly the Christian life was new and mysterious to them, and they just wanted to be on the inside of things, to really belong. Perhaps they craved special recognition from the leadership, or maybe they were swept up by the bandwagon effect, everyone else was doing it. Applause or acceptance or praise may have been overly important to them. On the dark side, maybe they were making an attempt to rise up in the power structure of the church, but they probably started out with good intentions.
When they saw the great generosity of Barnabas, they wanted to follow his example. But their motivations were mixed, and when the money was finally in their hand, they just could not live up to their promise. Instead, they compromised, gave part of the money to the church, and lied saying they had given it all. They overestimated their dedication, a common error of new believers. Just as Peter had told Jesus that he was ready to die with Him, but then denied that he knew Him three times the same night. Peter meant what he said, he just couldn’t do it.
While we are here, we should note that this is probably the most accurate picture of a hypocrite in the Bible. The word “hypocrite” simply means “actor”. Someone that is playing a part, acting like they are someone else. Ananias and Sapphira were acting like generous, benevolent, God-fearing believers, giving all they had to the church like Barnabas. The reality was, they were just…not. They were like the person that goes to the front of the church and drops an empty envelope into the offering basket. They would have the admiration of the church, and keep the money for themselves.
3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the price of the land? 4 While you kept it, didn’t it remain your own? After it was sold, wasn’t it in your power? How is it that you have conceived this thing in your heart? You haven’t lied to men, but to God.”
To put this in perspective, the church had probably sung a hymn like “I Surrender All.” Ananias had walked up and laid his gift at Peter’s feet. Peter wasn’t smiling, because he had information from a spiritual gift, called the word of knowledge, and he knew about the deception.
Peter then explained that Ananias did not have to give anything at all: the property was his, the money was his. By pretending to give it all, he was lying to the Holy Spirit, to God Himself. It was not an accident, but a premeditated plan that he and Sapphira had agreed to.
5 Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and died. Great fear came on all who heard these things.
Peter was probably more surprised than anyone else when Ananias fell down dead in front of him. Peter didn’t say a word to Ananias about death. He did not call down a curse on Ananias. The death of Ananias was an act of God alone, and it sounds like a heart attack caused by sudden shock or terror.
When Ananias lied to Peter, who was filled with the Holy Spirit, it was considered the same as lying to God. Ananias fell dead and the fear of God, and respect for His Holiness came on the rest of them. The Greek word translated “gave up the ghost” in KJV, or “died” in the NIV, is used in Acts to describe sudden, terrible, judicial death. It was divine judgment.
6 The young men arose and wrapped him up, and they carried him out and buried him.
The youth group programs were certainly different then. The young men picked Ananias up, wrapped him in cloth, then took him out and buried him. The first recorded burial in the Christian community was that of a hypocrite. Amazing. The church was just getting started, yet they were already in their midst.
7 About three hours later, his wife, not knowing what had happened, came in. 8 Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” She said, “Yes, for so much.”
Ananias was dead and buried when his wife Sapphira came in, and when Peter asked her about the price of the land, she lied to him just as her husband had.
9 But Peter asked her, “How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 She fell down immediately at his feet and died. The young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her by her husband. 11 Great fear came on the whole assembly, and on all who heard these things.
Sapphira fell dead, and the young men came, wrapped her up and buried her beside her husband. They had both lied to the Holy Spirit, and both died on the spot. This was a very strict judgment, and we need to be absolutely clear what their sin was. This was not casual deception. They feigned a deeper spiritual commitment than they actually had.
We commit the same sin when we try and make others think that we are more spiritual than we are. This is not the same as the times we are deceived into thinking that we are more spiritual than we are, like Peter swearing to stand beside Jesus, but then denying Him. Peter sincerely believed what he said, but Ananias and Sapphira knew they were lying while they spoke the words. Here, the future of the Church was at stake. Ananias and Sapphira were saved, but they were dishonest and disobedient.
I feel a rant coming on…so please excuse me for a moment. As pastors, I just want to say that we see Christian behavior that actually makes us laugh at times. Now I am a pastor today, but you need to remember that I am just a common working-class man that lives in the country, and grew up as the least of the least. In my childhood, I was a stepchild in a family of thirteen kids and my Mom divorced nine times, my Dad three. I was treated as trash, and referred to like “that’s Carolyn’s boy” with knowing looks. When it was time for breakfast, one of my stepmoms would put me outside and lock the door while her and her kids had breakfast, and she kept their cereal boxes in a cabinet with a padlock on it.
For a while, I pumped out septic tanks for a living and I have done things the wrong way in my life, more often than right. I am shocked at my own attitude at times, and even the Holy Spirit once told me that I have an overdeveloped sense of vengeance. When Sylvia and I watch movies and I see someone being wronged, I shout at the TV, and she just smiles and rewinds it. She is a good wife and as sweet as can be. I am a man of many flaws, who has made many mistakes, but today I am serving God the best that I can. When I fall, I just try and get back up and keep going like Peter did, and you should do the same.
Yet sometimes when people meet us and learn that we are pastors, they put on their “church face” and act so holy that it makes me laugh, and slightly nauseous for I have seen so much of it. There is no getting to know the real them, and everything that they tell you is fake, or a lie, and it is usually about Jesus. It now even has a name called the “Jesus Juke”. Some examples:
* What three books would you want if you were stranded on a desert island: The Bible.
* What’s your favorite movie? The Ten Commandments.
* What’s your favorite food? I prefer fasting and sending the money to starving children.
* If you tell them that you saw a great movie last night, they remind you that you could have spent that time in prayer.
* I once watched an 80 year old grandmother dressed in pure white, go on a 20 minute rant about how bad and shameful sex was, that it is nasty, taboo, forbidden, and stupid, that God would judge you, in a church that was filled with her kids and grandkids…and they were all shouting “AMEN!” I struggled really hard not to point at her and laugh. I really did… but it was hard. Her words told me one thing, but her actions, and her many children, told me something else.
* There is a term of measurement now in Christian music called “JPM” for “Jesuses per minute” because the more times that the word Jesus appears in a song, the more family friendly radio stations tend to play it. It is a requirement for Christian songs to have a high enough JPM to get on Christian radio.
* I have heard preachers speak on giving and say “Sometimes you’ve got to give it all”, while they lived in a house a lot bigger than ours. Obviously, they didn’t give it all.
* We recently hired a “Christian” company to put in a field line for us here and they witnessed to us about Jesus, had fish symbols on their business cards, “I can do all things through Christ” and “To God be the Glory!” on their invoices. They crushed the lid of our septic tank in by backing over it with their dump truck, asked for their check, and we never saw them again, and they would not return our calls.
You don’t have to tell people how holy you are, your actions tell them all that they need to know. Christians should not be liars, hypocrites, saying one thing while practicing another in order to get the approval of man. If we do, there will be no reward from God, but only condemnation, and not the “Tivo in my room is not working” kind of discomfort. Liars and hypocrites will go to a very bad place where there is burning, weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jesus was very clear about this:
Matthew 6:2 “Therefore when you do merciful deeds, don’t sound a trumpet before yourself, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may get glory from men. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward.”
Matthew 6:5-6 “When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, enter into your inner room, and having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
Matthew 24:48-51 “But if that evil servant should say in his heart, ‘My lord is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eat and drink with the drunkards, the lord of that servant will come in a day when he doesn’t expect it, and in an hour when he doesn’t know it, and will cut him in pieces, and appoint his portion with the hypocrites. That is where the weeping and grinding of teeth will be.”
Revelation 21:8 “…and all liars, their part is in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
The point is, never try to call attention to how holy you are. The Pharisees did this to Jesus all the time. He healed a man on the sabbath day and they rebuked Him for it, and basically said they would never do that because it would make God sad. It was the same with the disciples plucking wheat, and the washing of hands. The Pharisees thought they were holier than Jesus, and they wanted Him to know this, and how holy they were. They believed they were holier than God.
Ananias and Sapphira could have said: “My friends, Sapphira and I wanted to give everything, but we have decided that we need to keep some for our own needs. This is all that we can spare, and I hope it helps.” If they had been honest, God would have used and multiplied what they gave, and they would not have gone to the grave. Spiritual deception is utterly wicked to God, and when we lie to believers, we are not lying to them but to the Lord Himself.
12 By the hands of the Apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. They were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.
The persecution against the Christian church had not really begun yet, nor was there a break between Christianity and Judaism. Peter and John had been arrested by the Sadducees, but they were released, so they continued meeting at the temple of Herod. It was a large complex with many rooms and covered areas and the outer courts were open to Gentiles, the non-Jewish people. It was a great meeting place for them and could hold thousands.
13 None of the rest dared to join them, however the people honored them.
After word of Ananias and Sapphira got around, people became scared to join them as they knew that it was a serious thing to follow Jesus. The community had a great reputation for integrity. I mean if you think about it, if people started falling dead in church, others would think twice about joining.
14 More believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.
The church kept growing as the Holy Spirit moved in people’s lives. It was a serious thing to follow Jesus, but when miracles happened around them and they were healed and delivered, they decided that it was worth it. This is the real thing.
Multitudes of men and women were added to the church, which tells us that the cleansing of the church with Ananias and Sapphira did no lasting damage. Sincere believers understood and joined them anyway.
15 They even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mattresses, so that as Peter came by, at the least his shadow might overshadow some of them.
People were so convinced the Apostles carried the power of Jesus, that they brought out the sick so that Peter’s shadow would touch them when he passed by. The text does not say that these were healed, but it is highly possible that their faith in Jesus healed them when it happened or they would have stopped doing it. The woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment was healed. Luke 1:35 tells us that when Mary conceived, the Power of God overshadowed her. So it is entirely possible that Peter’s shadow was a point of contact.
16 The multitude also came together from the cities around Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits: and they were all healed.
Here we see that there were multitudes of healings happening. It reads, “and they were all healed”. The church was pure, walking in the fear of God, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Word spread about the power of the church and people came from the cities all around Jerusalem to be healed and delivered from evil spirits. Jesus had told the Apostles in Acts 1:8 to go out to Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, to the ends of the earth. But the Apostles were content in Jerusalem with the people coming to them. It was a convenient location with the huge temple and crowds of people coming by. Having a static building in Jerusalem was not the plan of Jesus though, and soon persecution began and forced the Apostles to leave the city. (Acts 8:1, 12:1–2).
17 But the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy 18 and laid hands on the Apostles, then put them in public custody.
The Sadducees were back, and they and the high priest Caiaphas were filled with jealousy because the Apostles carry healing power, and the high priest did not. The high priest and Sadducees were not trying to prevent heresy or protect the people, or maintain God’s honor, or the integrity of scripture. They were simply jealous.
They were people in power that were jealous of what God was doing through someone else. Jealousy is always an ugly word and is by nature destructive. These leaders were envious of the popularity of the Apostles and wanted to protect their own prestige. “The crowd should be gathering around us, not them.” They were moved by the lowest and most contemptible motive. The leaders had all twelve of the Apostles arrested this time, and put them in jail for the night.
The Apostles were not like the prisoners the jailers usually saw. These were cool, calm, and collected. If what we see later in Philippi is any indication, there were songs in the night, and praise and worship sessions. The Jerusalem city jail had never seen anything like this, nor had the guards witnessed anything like what was about to happen.
19 But an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors by night, and brought them out and said, 20 “Go stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.”
An angel showed up and opened the doors to the prison, and brought the Apostles out. Either God lulled the guards to sleep or the Apostles were made temporarily invisible. Whatever happened, it must have been great fun for them to be out on the streets, while the prison was still locked behind them. There is some divine humor here, too, because the Sadducees did not believe in angels. Yet here, right in their own city, close encounters of the spiritual kind were happening. The angel told them to go back to work, to preach in the temple courts just as they were doing, so they did.
Acts 23:8 tells us that the Sadducees do not believe in resurrection nor angels or spirits, and the Apostles are experiencing them and confronting them with both. You could say that the Apostles and the Sadducees have unreconcilable differences.
Why an angel? I believe the angel came not only to free them, but to encourage them, and us. The Apostles now knew that God could deliver them from the world’s power anytime, anywhere. Angels appear to imprisoned Apostles twice more in the book of Acts. They deliver Peter in chapter 12:6, and tell Paul and Silas to remain in prison though the doors were opened, in chapter 16:26.
21 When they heard this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and taught. But the high priest came, and those who 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. 22 But the officers who came didn’t find them in the prison. They returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison shut and locked, and the guards standing before the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” 24 Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these words, they were very perplexed about them and what might become of this.
As the sun came up, Annas, Caiaphas, the Sadducees, and friends gathered in their chamber. They wore their most dignified and gorgeous robes. These were the men of wealth and power. They all settled into their seats and sent for the prisoners. Then the report came back, and their dignity hit the road. The prison was locked, the guards were standing outside the door keeping watch, but the twelve Apostles had vanished. There was repeated evidence of supernatural power at work with the followers of Jesus. Now the Sanhedrin was bewildered and shaking in their sandals. What power is this?
25 One came and told them, “Behold, the men whom you put in prison are in the temple, standing and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain went with the officers, and brought them without violence, for they were afraid that the people might stone them.
They found the Apostles in the temple, standing in the open and teaching the people about Jesus. The officials were careful to avoid violence because there were probably thousands of people there that could easily stone a small band of soldiers. The Apostles could have easily incited the crowd into a riot by shouting, “Are you going to let them take us away?” but they chose to put their trust in God. The twelve were arrested once again.
27 When they had brought them, they set them before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “Didn’t we strictly command you not to teach in this name? Behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood on us.”
This was another attempt to threaten and intimidate the country bumpkins from Galilee with the authority and power of the Sanhedrin. That would be like us appearing before the Supreme Court today. On that day, the Apostles had been delivered from prison by an angel, so they were probably not overly impressed or scared.
The high priest said that the Apostles had filled Jerusalem with their teaching! What a testimony to their effectiveness as witnesses for Jesus. Then we see the Sanhedrin’s real motives:
The religious rulers blurted out that the apostles were “determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” The truth is, they were the ones who said, “Crucify him!” (Matthew 27:22–23) and “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25). Though they thought they were mighty rulers, but they had guilt-ridden consciences and wanted to do anything but face the truth. They did not even want to use the name “Jesus”, but skipped around it with “this Man.” They wanted to shut down this Jesus movement and get as far away from it as possible.
29 But Peter and the Apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you killed, hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins. 32 We are his witnesses of these things; and so also is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Peter again tells them about the resurrection of Jesus, which was like a slap in the face to the Sadducees. The Apostles’ response was neither a defense, nor a plea for mercy, but the simple facts of what they have lived and witnessed. There is nothing more powerful than sharing your personal testimony, what God has done for you.
In general, the New Testament teaches that we should submit to those in authority over us. That we should obey the rulers of the land, but not when they contradict God. Examples of this are in Daniel 3:16 when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego told King Nebuchadnezzar that God was able to deliver them even if he threw them into the fiery furnace, but even if God did not, they wouldn’t bow to his idol.
When the reformer Martin Luther stood on trial for heresy before the Holy Roman Empire in 1521, he made his case and said: “Here I stand. God help me. I cannot do otherwise.” We obey the authorities until they contradict the Ultimate Authority, and then we peacefully make a stand and say “No”.
33 But they, when they heard this, were cut to the heart, and were determined to kill them. 34 But one stood up in the council, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, honored by all the people, and commanded to put the Apostles out for a little while.
In Acts chapter 2, when the crowd heard Peter’s sermon, they were cut to the heart and asked “What shall we do?!?” Then they repented and were baptized. Here the religious leaders were cut to the heart, and decided to kill them. They became furious with anger. They were probably thinking: Who are you to tell us to repent?” “We don’t need this forgiveness.” “Don’t blame us for the death of Jesus.” “Don’t you know who we are?”
A Pharisee named Gamaliel who was a very respected elder brought peace to the situation. Gamaliel is Hebrew for “God’s reward” and he was given the title Rabban which means “our teacher”, which was a step above the title Rabbi which means “my teacher”. Gamaliel is mentioned in Acts 22:3 as the rabbi apostle Paul studied under when he was a youth in Jerusalem.
35 He said to them, “You men of Israel, be careful concerning these men, what you are about to do. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, making himself out to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves. He was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were dispersed, and came to nothing.
37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the enrollment, and drew away some people after him. He also perished, and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered abroad. 38 Now I tell you, withdraw from these men, and leave them alone. For if this counsel or this work is of men, it will be overthrown. 39 But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow it, and you would be found even to be fighting against God!”
Little is known about these two events that Gamaliel mentions here. The names Theudas and Judas were common names at the time. Basically he asks them to give the Apostles the test of time. Let’s wait and see what happens.
40 They agreed with him. Summoning the Apostles, they beat them and commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 They therefore departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Jesus’ name.
One by one the twelve Apostles were beaten, scourged, each given 39 stripes as Jesus had been. The word beaten here can also be translated as skinned. The beating they received stripped the skin off their backs, and some people died from it. It was meant to be a serious lesson. One by one the Apostles felt great joy for being counted worthy of being beaten because of Jesus.
42 Every day, in the temple and at home, they never stopped teaching and preaching Jesus, the Christ.
The Apostles never stopped preaching and teaching about Jesus, in the temple, or at home. They were beaten, and threatened, and happy.
That concludes our Bible study on Acts Chapter 5. Thank you for watching and being a part of Refreshing Hope!
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Quiz Questions on Acts 5: