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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Acts 5

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. V.

After that Ananias and Sapphira his wife, for their hypocrisy, at Peter's rebuke, had fallen down dead, and that the rest of the apostles had wrought many miracles, to the increase of the faith; the apostles were again imprisoned, but delivered by an angel; bidding them to preach openly to all: when, after their teaching accordingly in the temple, and before the council, they were in danger of being killed; but through the advice of Gamaliel, a great counsellor among the Jews, their lives were preserved under the providence of God, and they were only beaten: for which they glorified God, and ceased no day from preaching.

Anno Domini 33.


Verse 1-2

Acts 5:1-2. But a certain man, &c.— In Psalms 110 where our Saviour is prophetically described in the person of a king advanced to the throne of divine majesty, glorious and triumphant, it is said, that his people, in the day of his power, should offer him free-will-offerings; which alludes to the Eastern custom of bringing presents to their kings on their inauguration. This prophesy was fulfilled in some small degree, in a temporal sense, as we find in the fore-going chapter; when, after Christ's ascension into heaven, and his inauguration was proclaimed by the descent of the Holy Ghost, they, who by believing in him acknowledged him their king, dedicated their goods to his service, selling their lands, &c. and laying down the money at the apostles' feet, to be distributed for the relief of the poor. But the consecration of the heart to him, makes infinitely the superior sense of the prophesy. Among those who had joined the church, there was one Ananias, who, as if he had intended to imitate the zeal and liberality of Barnabas, sold a possession of land for the supply of this charitable fund: but, after he had sold it, he conspired with his wife Sapphira privately to keep back part of the price, and yet publicly to deliver in the remainder as the whole price. St. Peter, who had the gift of discerning spirits, and probably received a direct revelation from heaven on the present occasion, immediately detected this lying and deceitful behaviour.


Verse 3

Acts 5:3. Why hath Satan filled thine heart, &c.— The phrase rendered filled thine heart, signifies emboldened, as appears from the Septuagint version of Esther 7:5 and Ecclesiastes 8:11. To lie to the Holy Ghost, is expressed, Acts 5:4 by lying unto God, a plain proof that the Holy Ghost is God. The verse may be thus paraphrased: "But, upon this, the Holy Spirit, under whose direction St. Peter acted, immediately suggested to him the fraud, and the aweful manner in which the divine wisdom saw fit to animadvert upon it: in consequence of which inward suggestion, looking sternly upon him, he said, O! Ananias, why hath Satan, through thine own wickedness in yielding to his temptations, filled thine heart with such a degree of covetousness, falsehood, folly, and presumption, that thou shouldst audaciously attempt to impose on the Holy Spirit himself, under whose special direction we are; and to secrete part of the price of the land which thou hast sold, when thou pretendest to have brought the whole?"


Verse 4

Acts 5:4. Whiles it remained, was it not thine own, &c.?— That is, "Before it was sold, was it not thine? and being sold, was not the money paid thee, and in thine own power?—Thou hast therefore no excuse for what thou hast done;"—for there were two cases, which might have been pleaded by Ananias, in excusefor his bringing part of the price;—if either he had not been the whole and sole proprietor of what was sold, or had not received the whole purchase-money. As for the first, it is a self-evident truth, that a man can sell no more than what belongs to him; so that if Ananias had been owner only of a part, he could dispose only of a part. Secondly, though he were the whole and sole proprietor of the land, and so had a right to sell it; yet, had not the whole purchase-money been received, he might still have been excused for bringing buta part. But Ananias could plead neither of these excuses; for St. Peter urges, "While it remained unsold, did it not remain thine? or wert not thou owner and proprietor? And when it was sold, was not the money it was sold for in thy possession?" The first words, while it remained, &c. shew that Ananias was not obliged or forced to sell his possession, but might have retained it if he pleased; which plainlyshews, that contributing to the charitable fund, was not a matter of necessity, but purely voluntary. The whole verse may be thus paraphrased: "While you had the estate in your own possession, was it not a property which you might have kept, if you would? And after you thought fit to sell it, was not the money at your own disposal? You were under no necessity, either of selling it at all; or, afterwards, if you were minded to add any thing to the common stock for the use of the church, you were at full liberty to put in, either a part, or the whole of the price, just as you pleased: Why then have you thus freely consented to Satan's temptation, who could not have forced you to it? You have herein been guilty of a most abominable and aggravated lie, not to man only, but to the Holy Spirit himself, who, you know, eminently dwells and works in us, and who is truly and properly the heart-searching God, and will not be mocked; but will severely avenge the affront, in jealousy for his own glory, and to deter others from any such further insults upon him to the corrupting of the ch


Verse 5

Acts 5:5. And Ananias hearing these words, &c.— This severity was not only righteous, considering that complication of vain glory and covetousness, of fraud and impiety, which the action contained; but was wise and gracious, both as it served to vindicate the honour of the blessed Spirit, so notoriously affronted by this attempt to impose on those, who had been so lately and eminently anointed by his extraordinary effusion; and farther, as it tended most effectually to deter any dishonestpersons from joining the Christians, merely for the sake of a present alms, to which, by a fraud like this, many might on easy terms have purchased a pretence, who would also, no doubt, have proved a great scandal to a profession taken up on such infamous motives. (Comp. Acts 5:13.) This likewise was a very convincing attestation of the apostles' most upright conduct in the management of the sums with which they were entrusted, and indeed of their divine missionin general; for none can imagine, that St. Peter would have had the assurance to pronounce, and much less the power to execute, such a sentence as this, if he had been at the same time guilty of a much baser fraud of the like kind, or had been belying the Holy Ghost in the whole of his pretentious to be under his miraculous influence and direction.


Verse 6

Acts 5:6. And the young men arose, &c.— They were persons of an inferior rank, who were usually employed in this office. They stripped, swathed him, — συνεστειλαν,— and afterwards carried him to his grave. The Jews now inter their dead within twenty-four hours at farthest from the time of their death, and generally much sooner.


Verse 11

Acts 5:11. And great fear came upon all, &c.— In the striking narrative before us, we have an example of the severest temporal punishment inflicted throughout the New Testament; a punishment inflicted by the apostle, not out of a spirit of passion, cruelty, or revenge, but by a prophetic spirit; not by the sword of the magistrate, or by any power of his own, but by a miraculous and divine power; punishing a notorious lie, which was made to tempt or try the Holy Spirit in the beginning of his peculiar oeconomy or dispensation. Thus was the dignity of the Spirit of God vindicated, and the honour of the apostles of our Lord maintained: for hereby it was plain, that they had the spirit of truth and of power, by which they could easily detect and punish the spirit of falsehood; and that they made no pretensions to the Spirit, in which that Spirit would not bear them out. This was exercising the apostolic rod: but we must always remember, that the power was that of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that the apostles had only an impulse of the Spirit upon their minds, by which they were enabled to foretel such extraordinary and divine judgments. Porphyry accused St. Peter as cruel, for inflicting this punishment; to which the ancients well answered: "The apostle did by no means "pray for their deaths; but by the prophetic spirit denounced the judgment of God upon them, that the punishment of two persons might be for the instruction of many." Indeed, such severity in the beginning of Christianity was highly proper, in order to prevent any occasion for similar punishments in future. Thus Cain, the first murderer, was most signally punished by the immediate hand of God, as were Sodom and Gomorrah, which, in the early ages, were distinguished for their filthiness and abominations. Thus, upon the erecting of God's temporal kingdom among the Jews, Nadab and Abihu were struck dead for offering strange fire before the Lord; and Korah and his company were swallowed up alive by the earth, for opposing Moses, the faithful minister of the Lord; and lastly, Uzzah, for touching the ark, fell by as sudden and remarkable a divine judgment, when the kingdom was given to be established in the house of David, to teach Israel a reverence for God and divine things. Nay, in establishing even human laws, a severe punishment upon the first transgressors often prevents the punishment of others, who are deterred from like attempts by the suffering of the first criminals. And the effect in the present case was accordingly; for a great dread and unusual awe fell upon all the Christian church; and not upon them alone, but upon all others also who saw or heard of what had happened. We may just remark, that this is the first place in which the word church is mentioned; and here is a native specimen ofa New Testament church, called by the gospel, initiated by baptism, animated by love, united by holy and divine fellowship, and disciplined by the exemplary punishment of hypocrites.


Verse 13

Acts 5:13. And of the rest, &c.— That is, the people held them in distant admiration, and presumed not, on any false pretence, to join them, if not truly converted; which yet it appears by the next verse many were, who readily came into a full and solemn profession of the gospel; as indeed the late miracle was a glorious, though a dreadful demonstration of its truth. The word κολλασθαι, rendered join, signifies to associate or unite with; to adhere or cleave to.


Verse 15

Acts 5:15. That at least the shadow, &c.— The efficacy of St. Peter's shadow in curing distempers, is so far from being natural, or likely to enter into the minds of any, that nothing but the force of truth could have rendered it credible; and it must have been experience which first gave the idea of it. For the sick being exposed in the streets where the apostles passed, that they might receive from them a cure by their prayers and the imposition of hands, they found that the shadow of Peter had the sacred power; and this unlooked-for experiment became afterwards a means of their faith and expectation.


Verse 17

Acts 5:17. The sect of the Sadducees, The Sadducees, as they denied the resurrection from the dead, and a future state of rewards and punishments, were the most constant and implacable enemies to Christianity. Grotius and other commentators have concluded from this text, that the high-priest and his kindred were Sadducees. Josephus also affirms, that some of the high-priests were of this se


Verse 20

Acts 5:20. All the words of this life. The whole doctrine of life. Heylin—"that glorious gospel with which you are "charged, on which the eternal life of man so evidently depends, and by which alone their final happiness can be secured." See 2 Timothy 1:10.


Verse 21

Acts 5:21. Called the council—and, all the senate, &c.— The whole Sanhedrim, and all the elders of Israel, πασαν την γερουσιαν . Some render it the Sanhedrim, even, or that is to say, the whole senate of the children of Israel.


Verse 24

Acts 5:24. They doubted of them, &c.— They were in great perplexity about the apostles, and what this matter might come to. Heylin. It might be rendered more literally, They were in great doubt concerning them, (namely, τους λογους, these words, or this report,) what this could be—that is, whether they had procured their libertyby corrupting the keepers, or whether there might not be something miraculous in the deliverance of persons whom such extraordinary circumstances had attended.


Verse 26

Acts 5:26. For they feared the people, &c.— This may seem a surprizing change in the people, considering the eagerness with which they demanded that Christ should be crucified: but if we consider that the common people, in many cases, judge without the fixed and inveterate prejudices which entangle the minds of their superiors; and how much the beneficent and incontestable miracles wrought by the apostles, must have affected them, we shall be the less surprised at so great and sudden a change; especially if it be considered also, how vehemently they longed to throw off the Roman yoke, and regain their ancient liberty; for which they still retained a passionate concern,notwithstandingtheyhadbeensooftendisappointed.Fromthe many evident miracles worked in confirmation of our Lord's resurrection and ascension, and the strong proofs that there were of his being the Messiah, very probably they were still ready to hope that he would some way or other bring about the deliverance which they so much expected and desired; and therefore they overawed their superiors from putting the apostles to death, or doing them the harm which they would otherwise have done them.


Verse 28

Acts 5:28. This man's blood upon us, That is, the odium and the guilt of it. See Matthew 27:25.


Verse 30

Acts 5:30. Whom ye slew and hanged on a tree, Whom ye crucified. Heylin. Literally, Whom ye slew, hanging him on a tree. See Deuteronomy 21:23. Instead of raised up, some read hath raised up.


Verse 31

Acts 5:31. Him hath God exalted, &c.— "Even him has God not only raised to life, but likewise, by a glorious operation of his almighty power, has exalted to the greatest dignity, honour, and universaldominion in heaven and earth, that he may live and reign on high, with all authority and grace, as a prince enthroned in all the glory, majesty, and power of his kingdom, and as the only and all-sufficient Saviour, ableand willing to give to all that believe, inclusive of those very Jews that crucified him, the most necessary and inestimable blessings, even repentance, by the divine operations of his Spirit; and the free and full pardon of all their trespasses through faith in his b


Verse 32

Acts 5:32. And so is—the Holy Ghost, The testimony arising from this miraculous communication of the Spirit to Christians at that time, entirely removes the objection from Christ's not appearing in public after his resurrection; for had there been any imposture, it certainly would have been easier of the two to have persuaded people at a distance that he had so appeared to the Jewish rulers, or even to the multitude, and yet had been rejected, than that he had given his servants such extraordinary powers; since, had this assertion been false, every one might have been a sufficient witness of its falsehood, without the trouble and expence of a journey to Jerusalem, or any other distant place. See Ch. Acts 10:41.


Verse 33

Acts 5:33. They were cut to the heart, The word Διεπριοντο expresses the action of those, who, through rage, grate with their teeth, as it were with a saw; from the word πριω, which signifies to cut with a saw. See Acts 7:54.


Verse 34

Acts 5:34. A Pharisee, named Gamaliel, He is said to have been the son of good old Simeon, mentioned Luke 2:25 and was the person at whose feet St. Paul was brought up. He was a man in so great esteem among the Jews, that Onkelos, the author of the Targum, is said to have burned seventy pounds weight of perfumes at his funeral; and the Jews have this saying concerning him, "From the time that Rabbin Gamaliel the Old died, the honour of the law failed, and purity and Pharisaism died."


Verse 36

Acts 5:36. Rose up Theudas, boasting himself, &c.— Pretending to somewhat extraordinary. Heylin. Theudas was a very common name among the Jews; the person therefore here mentioned most probably was one among the many leaders who, as Josephus informs us, took up arms in defence of the public liberties, when the grand enrolment and taxation were made by Cyrenius, in the days of Archelaus: for that this was not the Theudas mentioned by Josephus under the character of a false prophet (who drew a great number of people after him, with a promise of dividing Jordan before them, but was defeated, andbeheaded, most of his followers being also slain or imprisoned) is plain from hence, that he appeared when Fadus was procurator of Judea; that is, according to the best calculations, at least ten years after this was spoken. The Theudas here mentioned seems to have been supported by smaller numbers than the second of that name: but, like that second, he perished in the attempt. As his followers were dispersed, and not slaughtered, like those of the second Theudas, survivors might nottalk much of him, and Josephus might not think it worth his while to make a particularmention of him, though his history might be well known to Gamaliel, and the people of those times. This account of Theudas renders all the criticisms upon the beginning of the next verse entirely useless. In the days of the taxing might be read, In those days of the taxation, or enrolment; meaning those same days, or at the same period of time, when Theudas appeared. The reader will find in Josephus's 18th book of his Antiquities, an account of Judas of Galilee. See also the notes on Matthew 22:16; Matthew 24:3-4. Luke 2:2.


Verse 37

Acts 5:37. And all—as many as obeyed him, Dr. Lardner has justly observed, that the word rendered dispersed, by no means implies that these men, were destroyed. Gamaliel's reason will for ever hold good against all persecution and intolerance. See the note on Luke 13:1-2. We may just observe, for the classical reader, that there is in Homer's Iliad, E. 606 a line very similar to what Gamaliel says, Acts 5:39.

u917?ικετε μηδε θεοις μενεαινεμεν ιφι μαχεσθαι . The words lest haply are to be connected with let them alone, Acts 5:38 and all that comes between it to be read in a parenthesis. "This speech of Gamaliel seems to me (says Dr. Benson,) to have been made, partly in opposition to the Sadducees, partly out of policy, to fall in with the popular sentiments at that time concerning the apostles, that the people might still keep up their veneration for him and for the other leading men among the Pharisees. But he seems to have spoken after that manner chiefly from an expectation of a temporal deliverance, and a strong desire to see it accomplished bythe apostles of Jesus, rather than not at all."—With what principle or view soever Gamaliel made it, his speech had so good an effect upon the Sanhedrim, that, instead of putting the twelve apostles to death, they called them in, and only ordered them to be scourged. "This, (says the Doctor,) I suppose, was the inflicting upon them what St. Paul calleth the forty stripes save one, 2 Corinthians 11:24. For the Romans did then allow the Jews to make use of that punishment as they thought proper."


Verse 41

Acts 5:41. Rejoicing, &c.— The punishment ordered by the Sanhedrim, some suppose, was inflicted in some open market-place, whereby the sufferers were exposed; and therefore it is said, says Dr. Lardner, that they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame. But in Acts 5:40 the apostles are represented as called in, and beaten with rods; or scourged before the Sanhedrim; and then, in this verse, as departing from the Sanhedrim, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be exposed to infamy for the sake of his name. If they were scourged in the presence of the Sanhedrim, that was certainly being exposed before the highest and most venerable court among the Jews, and suffering great infamy in the esteem of the whole nation. We may observe, that the corrupt and persecuting world begins with mocking, ch. Acts 2:13 thence proceeds to cavilling, ch. Acts 4:7 to threats, Acts 5:17 to imprisoning, ch. Acts 5:18 to blows, Acts 5:40 to slaughter, ch. Acts 7:58. A sure mark of the truth is joy in affliction, such as is true, deep, and pure.


Verse 42

Acts 5:42. And in every house, Κατ οικον, in the house where their upper-room was. See on ch. Acts 2:46.

Inferences.—Who can behold, without humble reverence, the aweful instance of the divine severity recorded in this chapter, so well calculated to impress the minds of these new converts, and to prevent any of those frauds, which the charity of those who were most zealous in their profession, might have occasioned in some others. Hence we may learn how hateful falsehood is to the God of truth, and how strictly cautious we should be to avoid it; not only shunning every direct lie, but the taking undue advantage from any ambiguities of expression; and, in a word, all recourse to the arts of equivocation and insincerity. God is a swift witness against every one who loveth or maketh a lie; and he only knows how soon such treacherous lips as those here before us, may be sealed up in eternal silence.

How miserably does Satan delude the heart which he once fills! But how peculiarly fatal is the delusion, when he leads men to sins which especially affront the HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD!—that Spirit who rested on the apostles, and taught them to discover hidden things of darkness, so that they who tempted him, fell in the attempt, and became a sign. O may integrity and uprightness ever preserve us! (Psalms 25:21.) and while we avoid all the kinds and arts of dissimulation, let us peculiarly detest those which would offer a double insult to the God of heaven, by taking their dress from the religion which his own Son hath planted.

The church is never more happy than when the sons of falsehood are deterred from intruding into it. If its members are less numerous, it is a sufficient balance that it is more pure. We see in this chapter what singular miracles were done by the apostles,—miracles equal, and, in some respects, (as it appears by these instances, and in perfect accomplishment of our Lord's own express prediction, John 14:12.) superior to those which Christ performed in the days of his ministration here below. When will the happy time come, in which men shall express as great a concern for their souls, as they here did for their bodies? When shall the streets and assemblies be filled with those, who, from a sense of their spiritual maladies, shall apply to the ministers of Christ for healing?—Let it always be remembered, that whatever they do for this happy purpose, it is indeed their Master who does it by them, and that all their most assiduous applications, separate from his blessing, can effect no more than the shadow of Peter would have done, if the power of Christ had not wrought on those over whom it passed.

Which shall we survey with the greater surprize, the continued courage of the apostles, or the continued malice of their persecutors? Again they seize them; again they imprison them; but how vainly do these feeble worms, amidst all the pride of dignity and power, oppose the counsels of Omnipotence!

The angel of the Lord opens the door of their prison, and leads forth his faithful servants to renewed liberty,—an office which this celestial Spirit could not but perform with delight; as it was no doubt with unutterable pleasure that he gave them their errand to go and publish with undaunted freedom and zeal the words of this life, of this gospel, which enlivens dead souls, and points out the road to a happy immortality. O that the folly of too many of those who heard it, and who still hear it, had never converted it into a savour of death!

Yet behold, the council renew the attack! The same madness which instigated the Jews to seize Jesus, when they had been struck to the ground by his miraculous power, (John 18:6.) now animates these wretches to continue the destruction of persons, whom God himself had just before rescued from their hands: as they had formerly plotted that of Lazarus, (John 12:10.) who had by a yet more astonishing wonder been recalled from the grave. To what fatal extravagances will not prejudice hurry the mind? Against what convincing evidence will it not harden it?

Ye shall be brought before councils for my sake, says our Lord, and it shall be for a testimony against them, Matthew 10:18. And such was this repeated admonition, which these holy prisoners, then at the bar, gave to the Judeges of Israel. Still they urge the divine authority of their mission; still they proclaim HIM as Head of the church and world, whom these very men had so lately crucified in so outrageous and contemptuous a manner. They point to Him, whom these priests and rulers had insulted on the cross, as now exalted at the right hand of God; and urge them to seek repentance and remission of sins from Him, to whom they had denied the most common justice due to the meanest of men.

Thousands of the people had fallen under this charge; and Jesus the Prince had taken them under his protection: Jesus the Saviour had washed them in his blood. But, through what is too frequently the fatal prerogative of greatness, these princes of Israel had hearts too high for the discipline of wisdom, and were enraged against these humble ministers of the Son of God, who nevertheless addressed them with all the respect which fidelity would allow, and could gladly have poured forth their blood for the salvation of those who so cruelly thirsted for it. They gnashed on these faithful ambassadors with their teeth, as if they would have devoured them alive; and justly will gnashing of teeth be the eternal portion of those, who thus outrageously rejected the counsel of God against themselves.

But God raised up a guardian for the apostles, where perhaps they least expected it; and the prudence of Gamaliel, for a while, checks the fury of his brethren. Gamaliel had attentively observed former events; which is indeed the way to learn the surest lessons of wisdom that are to be learned any where, except from the word of God. He had seen some ruined by their seditious zeal;—and let those who call themselves Christians, take heed how they rashly rise up against legal authority, lest taking the sword, they perish by it. Judeiciously does he admonish the council, to take heed lest they be found fighters against

God. May divine Grace ever guard us from that fatal error into which all who oppose the gospel, whatever they may imagine, assuredly fall. They cannot indeed abolish it, but they dash themselves in pieces against it: Be wise therefore, O ye kings; be instructed, ye judges of the earth!

For reasons of state the apostles were to be scourged, though their judges were inwardly convinced, that it was at least possible their message might be divine. Deliver us, O Lord, from that policy which leads men to imagine any evil so great, as that which may offend thee! The punishment which these excellent men suffered, was infamous; but the cause in which they endured it, rendered it glorious! Nor could those stripes be half so painful to their flesh, as an opportunity of thus approving their fidelity to their Lord, was delightful to their pious souls. Well might they triumph in bearing the scourge for Him, who bore the cross, and died on it, for them. Let us arm ourselves with the same mind, if, in a severer sense than this, we should be called for his sake to resist even unto blood.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The purest societies on this side heaven have some hypocrites.

1. Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, willing to appear among the foremost of the disinterested disciples of Jesus, sold a possession, and publicly brought a part of the money, which they would insinuate was the whole; and laid it at the apostles' feet, while their covetous hearts secretly reserved a part, and still halted between God and Mammon; though they desired to make a fair show in the flesh, and thought to impose upon the apostles. Note; Hypocrites may go far in appearances, and forego for a while some temporal advantage, or endure loss; but their heart is not right with God, and therefore there is still a reserve made, which serves to make them more eminently miserable, parting with many of the comforts of this world, and yet having no portion in a better.

2. Peter, who knew by divine revelation the falsehood of this pretended disciple, said unto him, Why hath Satan filled thy heart with such covetousness and falsehood, to lie to the Holy Ghost; either to think thus to impose upon the apostles, who were endued with the discernment of spirits by the Holy Ghost; or by pretending to act under his impulse and influence when in fact he was under the spirit of the devil; and to keep back part of the price, though intimating, that the land was parted with for pious purposes, and devoted to the service of the church. While it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? both the sale and surrender of the price being a voluntary act, and none were compelled to do either, but were left to their own pious zeal? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? and harboured the suggestion of Satan to contrive so base a deed? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God, to that eternal Spirit which resided in the apostles, who searcheth the hearts of all men, and from whom nothing is hid, nothing is secret. Note; (1.) Nothing betrays persons more frequently into the sin of lying, than the affectation of appearing high in others esteem. (2.) They who conceive falsehood in their hearts, are filled with Satan; a lying spirit is one of his strongest resemblances. (3.) The Holy Ghost is God omniscient. Let those whom pride, worldly-mindedness, or a maintenance, drives into the ministry, take heed how they presume to declare that they are inwardly moved by him, lest, like Ananias and Sapphira, their lie be detected, if not here, yet hereafter, to their everlasting confusion.

3. Behold the fearful example of divine vengeance! No sooner had Peter spoken, than Anaias fell down, and gave up the ghost, struck by an invisible hand, as the just punishment of his wickedness, and to make an example to deter others from such impious hypocrisy. And great fear came on all them that heard these things: it impressed an awe upon the minds of those who had joined themselves to the church, and served to keep off from the society of the apostles, those who would have been spots in their assembly.

4. The young men present, removed the corpse, wrapped it in grave-clothes, and buried it.

5. Sapphira, the wife of Ananias, who was privy to his falsehood, but ignorant of what had passed, about three hours after joined the assembly; and, being required of St. Peter to answer if they had sold the land for so much, she, without hesitation, affirmed the lie, foolishly presuming that none could disprove it. Her doom therefore is pronounced; being the partner of her husband's sin, she shares his punishment. Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? how astonishing is your stupidity, as well as monstrous your wickedness, to attempt imposing upon the omniscient God? behold the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Instantly, death-struck, she fell at his feet, and they carried her out, and buried her with her husband; whilst all the church were filled with reverence and godly fear at that Jealous God, who thus appeared the avenger of falsehood and hypocrisy; and all others, that heard these judgments, were afraid of provoking or tempting the apostles, whose very word seemed clothed with death. Note; (1.) It is truly grievous, when near relations serve to encourage each other in iniquity. (2.) God, though patient under numberless provocations, is pleased to make some sinners monuments of his vengeance, that men may hear and fear, and do no more wickedly.

2nd, We are told,

1. Of the many and great miracles performed by the apostles, in proof of their divine mission; and so much were the people in general convinced of the mighty powers which they possessed, that they brought forth the sick in beds and couches, and laid them in the streets, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by, might overshadow some of them, persuaded that this would be effectual to work a cure: and from the country vast multitudes of patients, sick, and vexed with unclean spirits, were brought to them, and they were healed every one: none being rejected who made application to them.

2. Of the vast veneration in which the apostles were held. They were all with one accord in Solomon's porch, appearing and teaching publicly in the temple with the greatest unanimity among themselves: and of the rest durst no man join himself to them: none durst make a hypocritical profession of Christianity, who were not conscious of the simplicity of their hearts, being terrified with the doom of Ananias and Sapphira: but the people magnified them, held them in the highest veneration, and spoke of them with the greatest esteem, beholding the wonders which they wrought, and the presence and power of God evident in the midst of them.

3. Of the vast accession of converts made to the church. Believers were the more added to the Lord, and made open profession of their faith in Christ, multitudes both of men and women; so mightily grew the word of God and increased.

3rdly, It cannot be supposed that the inveterate enemies of the gospel would long be quiet, or Satan rest when his kingdom was falling to ruins before the gospel word.

1. The apostles are seized and imprisoned. The hand of the high-priest was first in this transgression, supported by the Sadducean sect, who could not endure the testimony borne to the resurrection of Jesus, which radically struck at all their tenets: exasperated to fury, they could contain no longer, and, with lawless violence, laid hands on them; and, to put the greater disgrace upon them, dragged them to the common prison among the vilest malefactors. Note; (1.) The success of the gospel is a vexation to wicked men, and, when they have power in their hands, the disciples of Jesus will feel their oppression. (2.) It is Satan's artifice, by endeavouring to make the ministers of Christ despicable, to prejudice the people against them.

2. The Lord miraculously delivers his servants, by the hand of an angel, from their confinement. The commitment was illegal; therefore the great Judge of all sends his messenger to discharge them honourably: and, by his power opening the prison doors, he said, Go, stand and speak in the temple, to the people, all the words of this life; not the least intimidated by all the malice of their inveterate foes, but in their very ears, in the temple, the most public place, must they declare the life-giving truths of the gospel word, and the offensive doctrines of a risen Redeemer. Note; (1.) God can make the most lonesome prison a paradise of delights, when he manifests his presence there. (2.) They who are put in trust with the gospel, must not shun to declare, in the most public manner, the whole counsel of God, however offensive it may prove, and whatever may be the consequence to themselves.

3. Without delay they obey the heavenly command, and early, as soon as the temple doors were open, they went thither, and boldly taught as before, fearless of any consequences. Note; When duty calls, no danger must deter us.

4. An extraordinary council was assembled by the high-priest and his abettors, consisting not only of the Sanhedrim, but of all the senate of the children of Israel. And now, ready to proceed to trial, the prisoners are commanded to be brought forth; when, big with expectations of their appearing in chains before them, they are astonished with the report of their officers, that the prison was safe as they left it, and the guards upon duty, but none of the prisoners, whom they had committed thither, were to be found. Such an account threw them into the greatest perplexity; they knew not what course to take, and began to be under terrible apprehensions whereunto this would grow: when, to their greater confusion, tidings are brought them, that the men whom they sought, and had the evening before committed to prison, were preaching openly in the temple, in defiance of all their menaces. Note; (1.) They who fight against God, must needs involve themselves in many troubles. (2.) The Lord can deliver his people out of all their trials, in spite of the malice of their most envenomed persecutors.

4thly, We have,

1. The peaceable submission of the apostles to the officers who came to seize them a second time in the temple, but who dared not use violence, for fear lest the people should have risen upon them, who held in just veneration the character of the apostles. The captain of the temple therefore, with his attendants, spoke them fair; and they, not unwilling nor afraid to appear before the council, consented to go with them.

2. The insolent reprimand given them by the high-priest, for daring to disobey the charge given them. Did not we straitly command you, that ye should not teach in this name? and you have treated our orders with contempt; and behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, most detestable and pernicious as it is; and intend to bring this man's blood upon us, both to expose us to the people, and lay the guilt of it at our doors, as if we had murdered an innocent man, and one whom you cry up so highly. But had not the apostles told them before, they must obey God rather than man? and had they not themselves invoked the blood of Jesus upon them, when Pilate would have let him go? Why then should they be angry?

3. The apostles boldly replied, We ought to obey God rather than men; and, far from softening any of the truths they declared, or the accusations they brought against them as the murderers of the Son of God, to their faces they dare declare it, and charge this atrocious deed on their consciences. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, testifying his highest approbation of him, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree, with the most impious cruelty and injustice; him hath God exalted with his right hand to a throne of glory in the heavens, to be a Prince and a Saviour to his faithful saints, to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins, freely and fully pardoning the transgressions of all who by true faith turn unto him, and working that conversion and faith in their hearts by the power of his grace. And we are his witnesses of these things, appointed by him, and speaking with the greatest assurance the truths that we most certainly know; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to those that obey him, who, in all his miraculous gifts, as well as by the mighty energy of his gospel on our own hearts, and the hearts of others, attests the truths which we declare. Note; (1.) Christ, as a Saviour, offers the free and full remission of their sins, be they never so many, great, or aggravated, to those who fly to him as their refuge. (2.) The promises of pardon are the great motives of evangelical repentance. (3.) All who embrace Jesus as their Saviour, submit to him as their Prince; they who would reign with him, must be ruled by him. (4.) Besides all the great and glorious external evidences of Christianity, every obedient believer has the internal witness of the Spirit in his heart, which is to him instead of a thousand arguments.

4. When they heard this, far from submitting to the Saviour, and seeking the remission of sins which he is exalted to give, they were cut to the heart; malice, indignation, and rage, burned in their bosoms; and instantly they took counsel to slay them, resolving to rid themselves at once of their troublers, and murder them together. Note; The bosom of the wicked, when triumphant in iniquity, is a present hell; whilst, even in their sufferings for righteousness' sake, the faithful feel their heaven begun.

5. To check the fury of these zealots, Gamaliel, a man of more moderate counsels, arose. He was a Pharisee, a doctor of law by profession; and his high reputation among the people gave him weight and influence in the assembly. He commanded to put the apostles forth a little space, that he might speak more freely. Whereupon addressing his brethren, (1.) He advises them not to act too rashly. Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves, what ye intend to do as touching these men, lest by some by some hasty resolution, you bring guilt upon your souls, and provoke God's displeasure. (2.) He instances in the ruin of some late rebels, who soon came to nothing; which would now be the case with these men, if the matter was a mere human contrivance. Theudas and Judas had arisen, and collected a number of followers; but both were quickly destroyed, their followers dispersed, and their attempts abortive: and they might reasonably expect that the same would be the issue of the present disturbance if the thing was a mere artifice of deceivers, without embroiling themselves, and taking the matter out of God's hand. Therefore, (3.) His advice is for the present to refrain from these men, and let them alone, and wait awhile to see what course matters may take; for if this counsel, or this work be of men, a mere invention of the crafty, or the folly of deluded enthusiasts, it will come to nought, the deceit will be soon detected, and their attempts end in their own confusion, without our interfering; but if it be of God, though you oppose it with never so much violence, ye cannot overthrow it, and resistance would be as vain as impious. Therefore wait quietly the event, lest haply ye be found even to fight against God; the madness of which is evident, and the consequence of which would be your own confusion and ruin. Note; (1.) Persecution for conscience' sake is as absurd as it is wicked. (2.) They who oppose Christ's ministers and gospel, fight against God; and the issue of that conflict must needs be fatal to his enemies.

6. Gamaliel's counsel so far prevailed as to rescue the apostles from immediate death; but their enemies could not so entirely abstain from them as to discharge them unhurt; their rage must be vented on their backs, though restrained from their blood: they called in the apostles, and, having ignominiously and severely scourged them as malefactors, dismissed them, with the most express injunctions of never more speaking in the name of Jesus, at the peril of all the pains and penalties which would attend their disobedience.

7. With admirable constancy the apostles bore their sufferings, and boldly persisted in their glorious work. They departed from the presence of the council, without a word of reproach or reviling, patiently submitting to these indignities, and, so far from being ashamed or intimidated, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. This reproach was their highest honour, these stripes their glory; and, so far from desisting and being silent, as they were commanded, daily in the temple, in defiance of their persecutors, and in every house where they resorted, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. He was the great theme of all their discourses; and the great salvation which he had purchased, they explained and enforced, inviting all to come and share their mercy, and believe to the saving of their souls. Note; (1.) When, for the sake of Jesus and his truth, we are called to suffer, we should take pleasure in reproaches, and rejoice at the insults that we meet with: they shall issue to our more abundant glory. (2.) A crucified Jesus must be the constant subject of our ministrations; and publicly when called into the pulpit, and privately when visiting from house to house, him should we ceaseless teach and preach.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Acts 5:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/acts-5.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 15th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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