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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 5

 

 

Verses 1-42

Where God is working, however, the opposition of Satan soon becomes apparent. The evil begins (as evil always does) in an underhand manner, but is quickly exposed by God. Ananias and Sapphira certainly did not expect to have their sin discerned as it was. Evidently because others were doing it, they sold land, bringing part of the price to the apostles on the understanding that it was the full price. The power of the Spirit of God present at the time did not allow the falsehood to pass. God revealed the matter to Peter, who speaks most solemnly to Ananias of the wickedness of his lying to the Holy Spirit. He makes it very clear that Ananias had perfect right to keep all the land it he chose to, and when it was sold had a right to keep all or part of the proceeds. But to falsely claim to be giving all was wickedness in the eyes of God. He had lied, not merely to men, but to God.

The immediate result was fearsome. Ananias fell down dead. God is jealous of His own glory in the church. When it was established in power, such was His immediate judgment of falsehood. One wonders, if the same were done today, how many professing Christians would suffer such a fate! Because of great departure today God does not deal so summarily with evil, but the assembly is still responsible to maintain proper godly discipline whenever evil has become known.

The fear of God struck deeply into many hearts on this occasion. The man was immediately carried out and buried. Evidently government did not require the many preliminaries it does today. Sapphira, ignorant of what had transpired, came in about three hours later. In answer to Peter's question, she affirmed that the land was sold for the price Ananias had reported. Peter solemnly reproved her agreeing together with her husband to tempt the Spirit of the Lord, and told her she was to be buried just as her husband was. How little they were profited by the money they withheld! Great fear gripped all the church as well as others who heard of the matter. Dishonest people would no doubt think twice before linking themselves with the disciples. The church itself too was to be impressed with the truth and holiness of the God with whom they had to do.

This manifestation of God's holiness issued in further manifestations of His power in many signs and wonders by the hands of the apostles. Their unity ("with one accord") is again noted. Those unsaved did not dare to join themselves to them, though recognizing God's presence with them. On the other hand, great numbers of believers were added to the Lord, men and women.

The many miracles accomplished through the apostles led people to bring their sick in beds into the streets with the hope of their having Peter's shadow fall on them as he passed. Crowds also came from cities in the area of Jerusalem, bringing those sick and those afflicted by unclean spirits. As when the Lord Jesus was on earth, the result was healing for every one. Notice that no such thing as a healing meeting was held, but great numbers were healed apart from meetings at all. Nor were some selected to be put into a healing line and others ignored. All were healed, none going away disappointed.

The high priests and others with him (Sadducees) could not but be bitterly antagonistic to this evident perpetuation of the work of the Lord Jesus whom they had crucified, and whose resurrection was a terrible affront to their false doctrine. They imprison the apostles (how many of them we are not told: perhaps all of them).

The intervention of God on this occasion is amazing. The angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and told them to return to the temple and speak "to the people all the words of this life." With what calm fortitude and power they would do this! Early in the morning they are teaching there.

Ignorant of this, the high priest and his friends called the council together, and the senate, an August, imposing company, only to find that they had no-one to put on trial! The officers report that the prison was locked, the guards standing before the doors, but the prisoners gone. God had evidently rendered the guards insensible to what was happening in their presence. This causes the leaders both embarrassment and worry as to what might develop from this. However, a messenger informs them that the men they put in prison were teaching in the temple. God had not allowed them to hide, for the leaders must have their unholy authority challenged. The captain and officers again go and arrest the disciples, being careful not to be violent on account of their fear of popular opinion. Of course the disciples offer no resistance. The high priest's accusation is interesting. He is angry that they have disobeyed his command not to teach in the name of Jesus (though he will not use the name "Jesus"), and that they have filled Jerusalem with their teaching. But he adds that they "intend to bring this man's blood upon us." Had he forgotten that they themselves, with all the people, had told Pilate, "His blood be on us and on our children" (Matthew 27:25)? They had admitted fully before Pilate their responsibility for His death. Now they would like to slip out of the responsibility by ignoring it, and by crushing every testimony to the facts. Peter therefore speaks more decisively to them than he had before, with the other apostles fully backing him up. He had asked them before to judge what was right (Ch.4:19): now he tells them positively, "We ought to obey God rather than men." If they refuse to judge honestly, the apostles will not accept their ultimatum to disobey God.

Verses 30 to 32 add to this another clear, concise declaration of the vital facts that were so unwelcome to the council. "The God of our fathers," the God all Israel professed to serve, had raised up Jesus, whom "ye slew and hanged on a tree." They knew this was true: they had plotted and insisted on His crucifixion.

They of course knew also that their watch had reported the stone of the grave rolled away by an angel, revealing that the Lord's body was gone. The apostles go beyond this in their witness. God had exalted Christ by His right hand, a Prince, One set in dignity above the people (not yet in kingly authority, but exalted), and a Savior, the only One in whom Israel can find salvation from their sins and from the bondage of sin. Notice too that it is He who gives repentance to Israel. Receiving Him would involve very definite repentance, which was no doubt not a popular subject for the chief priests.

The apostles declare themselves as witnesses of these things, adding that the Holy Spirit was also a witness, He having been given by God to all who obey Him. This was a matter the leaders did not have the temerity to deny, for the power the apostles had was more than natural; but they ignore it. In fact, being cut to the heart (not pricked in their hearts -- ch.2:37), they consult together with the purpose of killing the apostles. Such is the folly of unrepentant wickedness!

But on this occasion God overrules the matter in sovereign grace by having a doctor of the law there, a prominent man, who gives advice which is at least sensible and logical. He shows no inclination to believe the Gospel, but warns Israel not to make a blunder in dealing with these men. He presents two examples of men who had not so long before exalted themselves, influencing others to follow them. Notice that Theudas had boasted himself to be somebody. This was noticeably absent so far as the apostles were concerned: they only exalted Christ, not themselves nor any other individual on earth. In each case these proud leaders met an untimely end and their followers were scattered.

Gamaliel therefore gives good advice based on these facts, advising the council to leave the men alone, for if their work was merely of men it would come to nothing. On the other hand, if it were of God they could not overthrow it, and would be fighting against God. Did Gamaliel perhaps entertain some thought that it could be God's work? At least he was telling them to consider the possibility of this.

They agree to his wisdom, yet cannot refrain from venting their bitter feelings by beating the apostles before letting them go. If they were God's servants (the possibility of which had been admitted) then how culpable was their guilt in treating them in this way Again also they issue the ultimatum to the apostles not to speak in the name of Jesus. The apostles had already answered this most decisively (v.29).

Allowed to leave, they do so rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus. How good to see them taking to heart His own words spoken to them before, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad" (Matthew 5:11-12). What a complete contrast to men's natural reactions Daily in the temple and in homes they continued to disobey the religious authorities by teaching and preaching Jesus Christ. By the power of the Spirit of God they are not in the least intimidated by persecution.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Acts 5:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/acts-5.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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