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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
New American Standard Version
Bible Study Resources
Nave's Topical Bible - Ananias; Communism; Death; Falsehood; Ghost; Hypocrisy; Land; Miracles; Peter; Sapphira; Vows; Women; Thompson Chain Reference - Bible Stories for Children; Capital Punishment; Children; Death Penalty; Home; Miracles; Penalty, Death; Peter; Pleasant Sunday Afternoons; Punishment; Religion; Stories for Children; Torrey's Topical Textbook - Covetousness; Death of the Wicked, the; Hypocrites; Judgments; Lying; Miracles Wrought through Servants of God;
Verse Acts 5:5. Fell down, and gave up the ghost — πεσων εξεψυξε, Falling down, he expired, breathed his last: "Gave up the ghost" is a very improper translation here. Genesis 25:8, and Matthew 27:50. Two things may be remarked here:
1. That the sin of this person was of no ordinary magnitude, else God would not have visited it with so signal a punishment.
2. That Peter must have had the power to discern the state of the heart, else he had not known the perfidy of Ananias. This power, commonly called the discernment of spirits, the apostles had as a particular gift, not probably always but at select times, when God saw it necessary for the good of his Church.
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Acts 5:5". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/acts-5.html. 1832.
Sin, cleansing and further growth (4:32-5:16)
Believers continued to sell their property and bring money from the sales to the apostles for distribution among the poor (32-35). One example of generosity came from a Jew from Cyprus who so consistently helped and encouraged others that people gave him a name to suit his character, Barnabas (meaning ‘son of encouragement’) (36-37).
There was no rule that forced people to sell their property. When Ananias and Sapphira sold some property, their sin was not that they kept part of the money for themselves, but that they lied through saying they had handed over all the money. After the unbroken triumphs of the weeks since Pentecost, this entrance of deliberate sin into the church must have shocked the apostles. As often happened when there was deliberate sin at the start of a new stage in God’s unfolding plan for his people, God emphasized the seriousness of sin in a dramatic judgment (5:1-10). (Comparable judgments on deliberate sin occurred in the Garden of Eden, at the establishment of the Levitical priesthood and upon Israel’s entrance into Canaan; Genesis 3:1-24; Leviticus 10:1-7; Joshua 7:1-26.)
Such severe judgments emphasized the holiness God demanded. They also reminded his people that all were sinners, and only his grace kept them alive and allowed them to serve him (11).
Far from slowing down the growth of the church, the judgment removed the sin that could have hindered growth. Although people saw that insincerity had no place in the church, vast numbers continued to join the church. Meanwhile, the healing ministry of Jesus continued to operate through the apostles (12-16; cf. Matthew 14:35-36).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Acts 5:5". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/acts-5.html. 2005.
And Ananias hearing these words fell down and gave up the ghost: and great fear came upon all that heard it.
This sudden physical death of Ananias and his wife (a little later) has been taken by some to imply also their loss eternally; and, while not pretending to know if this is true or not, this writer inclines toward the possibility suggested by Bruce:
It may have been an act of mercy as well, if we think of the incident in the light of Paul's words about another offender against the Christian community: "Deliver such a one unto the destruction of the flesh, that the Spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Corinthians 5:5).
Those who view this act of divine judgment against this couple as some kind of vindictive and spiteful punishment inflicted by the apostle Peter are totally wrong. It was not Peter, but God, who executed this extreme penalty; and the contrast of it with the longsuffering and forbearance of the Father concerning the sins of the whole race leads to the conclusion that there were the most weighty reasons for what God did here.
Great fear came upon all ... Many no doubt had been tempted like Ananias and Sapphira to pretend a holiness they did not possess; and this sudden judgment led to the widespread conclusion among them to the effect that "There but for the grace of God am I." This divine act, therefore, had the consequence of impressing upon the young church the awful reprobacy of sin, and of warning non-Christians of the danger of associating themselves with the new and popular movement for purely selfish motives. This great fear upon both Christians and outsiders was "precisely the effect desired."
 Ibid., p. 114.
 J. W. McGarvey, op. cit., p. 85.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Acts 5:5". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/acts-5.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
And Ananias, hearing these words ... - Seeing that his guilt was known, and being charged with the enormous crime of attempting to deceive God. He had not expected to be thus exposed; and it is clear that the exposure and the charge came upon him unexpectedly and terribly, like a bolt of thunder.
Fell down - Greek: Having fallen down.
Gave up the ghost - This is an unhappy translation. The original means simply “he expired,” or “he died.” Compare the notes on Matthew 27:50. This remarkable fact may be accounted for in this way:
- It is evidently to be regarded as a “judgment” of God for the sin of Ananias and his wife. It was not the act of Peter, but of God, and was clearly designed to show his abhorrence of this sin. See remarks on Acts 5:11.
(2)Though it was the act of God, yet it does not follow that it was not in connection with the usual laws by which he governs people, or that he did not make use of natural means to do it. The sin was one of great aggravation. It was suddenly and unexpectedly detected. The fast that it was known, and the solemn charge that he had “lied unto God,” struck him with horror. His conscience would reprove him for the enormity of his crime, and overwhelm him at the memory of his wickedness. These circumstances may be sufficient to account for this remarkable event. It has occurred in other cases that the consciousness of crime, or the fact of being suddenly detected, has given such a shock to the frame that it has never recovered from it. The effect “commonly” is that the memory of guilt preys secretly and silently upon the frame, until, worn out with the lack of rest and peace, it sinks exhausted into the grave. But there have not been missing instances where the shock has been so great as to destroy the vital powers at once, and plunge the wretched man, like Ananias, into eternity. It is not at all improbable that the shock in the case of Ananias was so great as at once to take his life.
Great fear came ... - Such a striking and awful judgment on insincerity and hypocrisy was suited to excite awful emotions among the people. Sudden death always does it; but sudden death in immediate connection with crime is suited much more deeply to affect the mind.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Acts 5:5". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/acts-5.html. 1870.
5.When Ananias heard these things. The death of Ananias doth, indeed, declare and prove the force of the word, which Paul cloth highly extol; to wit, that it is the savor of death unto death to those which perish, (2 Corinthians 2:16.) He speaketh, indeed, of the spiritual death of the soul, but there was a visible sign in the body of Ananias of that punishment which cannot be seen with the eyes of men. He was not slain with sword, by force, nor hand, but was stricken dead with the only hearing of the voice. When we hear this, let the threatenings of the gospel terrify us, and humble us in time, lest we also feel the like effect. For that which is spoken of Christ,
“He shall slay the wicked with the breath of his mouth.”
doth not only appertain to the head of the wicked, but also to every member. For those which refuse the salvation offered in his word, it must needs be deadly to them, which was naturally wholesome. But and if any man do think it an absurd thing that the apostle did punish Ananias bodily, first, I answer, that this was an extraordinary thing; secondly, that this was one of the gifts of the Spirit, as it appeareth by the 19th chapter of the First to the Corinthians, (verse 10.) After which sort we shall afterward see Elymas, the sorcerer, stricken with blindness by Paul, (Acts 13:8.) Therefore, Peter did nothing which was impertinent to his function, when he did in time shoot that dart which the Holy Ghost had given him. And whereas some think that this was too cruel a punishment, this cometh to pass, because, weighing Ananias’ sin in their own and not in God’s balance, they count that but a light offense which was a most great and grievous crime, being full of such heinous offenses as I have already declared. Other some do think that this was nothing so, because they see many hypocrites escape scot free daily, which do no less mock God than did Ananias; yea, because they themselves being most gross contemners of God, are yet notwithstanding unpunished for their wickedness. But as God hath poured out visible graces upon his Church in the beginning, to the end we may know that he will be present with us by the secret power of his Spirit, yea, he showed that openly by external signs, which we feel inwardly by the experiment of faith; so he declared by the visible punishment of two, how horrible a judgment remaineth for all hypocrites, which shall mock God and his Church.
And there came great fear This was the Lord’s purpose, by punishing one to make the rest afraid, that they might reverently beware of all hypocrisy. And that which Luke saith, thatthey feared, doth appertain unto us also. For God meant to give all ages a lesson at that time, that they may learn to deal sincerely and uprightly with him. In the mean season, the punishment of this wicked person ought to have encouraged the godly hereafter to consecrate their goods more freely to God and the poor; because they might gather how precious alms was in the sight of God, seeing the profaning thereof was so punished. (242)
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Acts 5:5". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/acts-5.html. 1840-57.
Chapter 5, the book of Acts.
At the end of the fourth chapter we have the second mention of the early pure communism that was practiced in the first church. Where those who had possessions sold them, and they shared. As we made note last Sunday night, financially it was disastrous. Spiritually it was a very beautiful gesture. That the wealthier Christians had such a great love for the Lord and for the body of Christ that they were willing to sell their possessions and put everything in a common kind of a purse. So that no one was in need in the early church. No one had to go without. But it did turn out to be a financial disaster to the extent that later on Paul had to take offerings from among the Gentile churches to support the poor brethren in Jerusalem. Because after the monies are expended, then what do you do?
There had been some advocating of the church community, in these days. There are certain churches that are attempting to reinstitute this practice in the original church. A famous vicar in London has recommended the Church Community Concept, Dr. John Stott. And he encouraged those of his congregation who had Mercedes and all to sell them, and they who had the large castles to sell them. To get a smaller economical car and to create a common kind of a purse for the church and for the church community. They called it the Church Community Concept. Not communal, but community. You each have your own houses and all, but yet there is the sharing of the wealth within the church. I don't believe that that is necessarily a pattern that God intended. Though they did in the church in Jerusalem, there's absolutely no mention of it being done by any of the other churches that were established. And as we pointed out, the results in Jerusalem were financial chaos. And there were other problems with it. We will get to those other problems as we move into the fifth chapter.
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, but they kept back part of the price, his wife also being a party to it, and they brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet. 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? While it remained, was it not your own? and after it was sold, was it not in your own power? why have you conceived this thing in your heart? for you have not lied to men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and a great fear came on all those that heard these things. And the young men arose, and bound him, and carried him out, and buried him. It was about the space of three hours after ( Acts 5:1-7 ),
Now, that's interesting they took him out and buried him and didn't even notify his wife.
And about the space of three hours after this, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. Peter asked her, Tell me whether you sold the land for so much? And she said, Yes, that's how much. And Peter said unto her, How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out. And then she fell down immediately 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. [And it doesn't really need to say this, but it does.] And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things ( Acts 5:7-11 ).
A couple of things that are important to note. Number one is that Peter is talking to Ananias. He said in effect, "Were you forced to sell your property?" The answer is "No." "As long as you had it, wasn't it yours?" "Yes, it was." "After you sold it, no one required you to bring the money in." That was a purely voluntary thing on the part of those in the early church who wanted to do it. It wasn't a requirement of the church. And I think that this is important to note, when there are those liberals today who try to point out that the early church practiced a form of communism, and thus are seeking to advocate communism as a good way to go. The communism of the early church was far different from that communism that we see today, where people are forced at gunpoint to relinquish their personal possessions. Their private properties. Confiscated then by the government. The church was not confiscating property. It was purely a voluntary freewill expression of the gratitude and the love that the people had for God. No one was forcing that issue. And thus, there can be no comparison with the communism of today, which is a forced issue.
The second thing, of course, to note is the sin for which they gave their lives. It was not the sin of holding back, not the sin of failure of giving everything, because God did not require them to give everything. Their sin was that of hypocrisy--pretending to give everything to God when in reality they were holding something back from God. And so we get an interesting view of God's opinion of the hypocrite, which would indeed cause fear and trembling to come upon all the church.
I am interested and attracted by the power in the early church. There was such a purity in the hearts of these people. There was such a power within the church that the hypocrites could not abide. The hypocrites coming into that environment were exposed and destroyed by the power of God. And that, to me, is extremely awesome. I have wondered that if that same kind of power and purity existed in the church today how many members would we still possess after singing the third verse of "Take My Life and Let It Be". For that third verse we sing, "Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withold." And we sing it very dutifully, but yet, all of us are witholding our mites and more. The curse of the church has been hypocrisy. Hypocrisy can manifest itself in many forms, but as the general rule, there is a desire in our flesh to be thought of by people to be more spiritual or more righteous than we truly are. I am so disgusted with my own flesh. Because I love to have people think that I am a deeply spiritual person...a very godly man. And isn't it horrible that your flesh would delight in such a connotation? Now because I want people to believe that I am a deeply spiritual godly man. In close communion with God. I often allow little subtle innuendos to slip from my lips that reveal how deeply spiritual I really am. "For this morning when I was waiting upon God..."Oh, doesn't that sound good? My!! "I heard the roosters crowing, and I knew it would be getting light pretty soon..." "Oh! He prays before the sun comes up. My, what a godly man." Wanting to appear good in the eyes of men. Wanting to appear holy so that people might look up to me with awe and wonder that they might say, "Oh, you're Chuck Smith aren't you?" "Well, yes, uh-huh." God help us!! Hypocrisy...in the early church God did not allow it.
Evidently, we see here the gift of discerning of spirits in operation once again. We will see it again in a couple of chapters as Simon the sorcerer comes to Peter and seeks to buy the power to lay hands on people that they might receive the Holy Spirit. And Peter begins to discern what's in the man's heart. But here when Ananias came in, Peter just flatly asked him why he was making a pretense of giving all when he was really holding something back...that he was lying to the Holy Spirit. And then he said, "For you have not lied to man, but to God." Making the Holy Spirit, God. "Why is it that you have conceived in your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?" And then, "While it remained, wasn't it yours when you sold it, wasn't it yours to do with? Why is it then that you have conceived this thing in your heart? For you have not lied to men, but you have lied to God." And so equating the two together, lying to the Holy Spirit is equivalent to lying to God, and this is one of the proof texts to show the deity of the Holy Spirit, that He is God. And it's a very strong and powerful argument.
When Sapphira came in, Peter cross-examined her and asked her straightly to see if she was a party to her husband's lying. "Did you sell your house for so much?' "Oh, yes, that's the price we got" And then he accused her of conspiracy with her husband in this attempt to deceive the early church. And her fate was the same as her husband's.
Now, from this purity there proceeded power. For the church now being purged from this hypocrisy. And Jesus said, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy." Paul told the Corinthian church to "purge out the leaven therefore." Get rid of that hypocrisy within the church. And the effect of the purifying of the church was power. I do believe that the Book of Acts is a pattern. Not a once in the history of the church unique experience of the power of God. The initial thrust to get the church in orbit. And then that the church was to exist devoid of the power of God in the subsequent generations. I do not believe that the lack of power in the church is really God's fault.
We are so often ready to blame God for our own failings. It's a common trait of man. When God accosted Adam in the garden and said, "What have you done?" He said, "It's the woman that YOU gave to me to be my wife. It's your fault!! You're the one who put her here!" And he was trying to blame God for his sin. "The woman that YOU gave to me to be my wife. She did entice me and I did eat." And so man, it seems, is always ready to blame God for his own failures.
And so we look at the church in it's weak anemic state and we want to blame God. And we say that, "God has withdrawn the power of the Spirit." It was only given to the church to give the church it's first thrust. But once the church was capable of developing it's own programs, establishing it's own seminaries, and creating it's own organizational structures, we no longer needed the power of the Spirit, but we're now able by the genius of man to carry the Gospel into all the world.
History itself will testify to the folly of that concept. For the early church did carry the Gospel into all the world. As Paul wrote to the Colossians thirty years later, "And the Gospel as it has come to you as it is in all the world." And here we are in our modern day church seeing the Gospel reaching a less proportionate area of the world every year. In 1935 some thirty-two percent of the world knew of Jesus Christ. By 1945 it was only twenty-seven percent of the world knew of Jesus Christ. By 1955 it was only twenty-two percent of the world had heard of Jesus Christ. Today they estimate that only seventeen percent of the world had heard of Jesus Christ. And of the fifty million people being added to the earth's population every year, less than five percent of them are being reached or will be reached at our present rate with the Gospel. We are in a population explosion, but it's happening in the areas where the church is not effective. In fact, in many areas where the church has been ruled out. And much of the reason why the church had been put out of areas is because of the hypocrisy in the church.
When the church was purged and purified it became powerful. And so we read that,
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 5:12 )
This is the area where the lame man was healed. So the church continued to meet without a building, but just meeting on the public territory of the temple, there on Solomon's porch.
Now of the rest durst no man to join himself to them: but the people magnified them ( Acts 5:13 ).
So this was the end of the people selling their possessions and bringing them in. After that Ananias and Sapphira were slain by the power of God, no one dared after that to become a part of that tight community that was sharing everything in common, that ended that particular little experiment. But though they did not become a part of that tight community, they magnified them.
And the believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women;) ( Acts 5:14 )
So there were many, many people believing. Becoming Christians but not becoming a part of that tight church community who were sharing everything in common.
In so much 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 might overshadow some of them ( Acts 5:15 ).
It doesn't say that Peter's shadow brought any healing benefits.
In that culture there was quite an interesting superstition about shadows. And they would be very careful not to get in the shadow of a evil man, because they had some kind of a superstition that if the shadow of a evil man fell on you that some curse was going to happen to you. And thus, in turning that around, the shadow of a good man they probably thought would bring benefits. I do believe, though it is not recorded, that many of them were healed as the shadow of Peter fell on them. Else the practice would've ceased in a hurry.
But I certain that many of them were healed, not because of any power in the shadow of Peter, but because of the principle of the releasing of faith--a point of contact where I am going to believe God to do a particular thing. When this happens, as the woman who had said, "I know if I can just touch the hem of His garment I will be made whole," and the moment that she touched the hem of the garment she released her faith. "Oh woman, great is thy faith. Be it unto thee even as you wish." The moment that she touched His garment, she released her faith. Because in her heart she said, "I know that the moment when that happens I'm going to be healed." And as she released her faith, she was healed. So the value of that point of contact to release my faith. "I know that God is going to do it when..." So this developed and, "I know that when Peter's shadow falls on me the Lord's going to heal me. Or the Lord's going to heal my father or my brother." And so you carry your brother out into the street and put him on the side that the shadow would fall. You look at the sun, and you put him on that side and wait for the shadow to fall. And the moment that it fell you say, "Aaaall right!" Faith released. And God responds to our faith. And so I'm certain that many were, no doubt, healed, though it does not say that they were, as the result of releasing their faith, because they had established that point where they would.
And there came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one ( Acts 5:16 ).
So the purifying of the church by the purging of the hypocrisy and the resultant power that is manifested by the church. Multitudes are brought out of the cities and villages round about Jerusalem and they were being healed as the result of the power that was there in the early church.
Sometimes my heart yearns for that kind of power to exist in the church today. However, I seriously question whether the church today has the capability of handling that kind of power. It seems that in the church we're so ready to exploit anything. And I feel that it is indeed tragic to those who have had healing ministries and who have had that emphasis in their ministries. For the most part, as far as I can think in my mind, they have exploited it for their own personal benefit and gain. And I think that that is indeed tragic. But I don't know my own heart. I don't know what I would do. I really don't trust myself. If suddenly you had all the notoriety, the fame, the acclaim that would come from having that kind of power, I really don't know my own heart. If I would be capable of maintaining in my own spiritual walk. So I can't really judge these men for what they've done, because I don't know what I would do if in that same position.
My father used to always pray, "Lord, do not bless me with more than what I can contain my love for you. Give me neither poverty nor riches. Poverty that I would steal or riches that I would say, 'Who is God? I don't need Him.'" Several years ago, four or five, I was standing here, right where I am now, and we were in prayer together in an afterglow. Just waiting upon God. And there had been in that particular service a beautiful move of God's Spirit through the teaching of the Word. Many people had come to respond to the message and to commit their lives to Jesus Christ. And then, as we were all waiting upon the Lord, suddenly it was just as though it was just the Lord and I here alone together and no one else was here, and I began to talk to Him about how thrilled I was with Calvary Chapel and with what God had done and all of the blessings that God had bestowed upon us, just super abundant blessings of God. And I said, "Lord there seems to be only one thing lacking as I think of the church in Acts, and that is that dynamic power to minister to the needs of the people in a physical sense, the healings and the miracles that happened in Acts. And if You would raise up someone, Lord, perhaps within the fellowship with the gift of miracles or healing, then it would seem that we would have the church of Acts complete." And the Lord spoke to my heart in a very powerful way. He said, "I have given to you the more excellent way." And of course my mind immediately flashed on I Corinthians, chapter 12, where Paul, speaking of the gifts of healings and miracles and all, said, "Yet I will show you a more excellent way than even miracles, healings, whatever. For though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not love, I am become as a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal." And God said, " I have given you the love within the fellowship." I said, "Thank You, Lord, for the more excellent way. Help us to walk in it." And I've never asked God again for those gifts of miracles or healing as far as my own personal life is concerned.
Now, there are miracles and healings that are happening here daily, but not to the extent that we find in the book of Acts. Nor do we wish to capitalize, or to emphasize those healings that are taking place, lest people would be drawn only for the physical benefits and not really drawn to Jesus Christ. I do feel that we do lack from the early church in this area. But God knows that, and why the lack exists I'm certain that it is in part or whole on our side. God's hand is not short that He cannot save. His ear is not heavy that He cannot hear. I'm certain that that environment in which these gifts should be properly exercised just does not yet exist.
I'm not interested in hyped-up experiences. I'm not interested in the circus environment that I observe so often within the healing meetings. I don't read these things happening in the book of Acts. And I don't feel that they are edifying or drawing attention to Jesus, but have a greater tendency to draw the attention to the man, to the instrument. God's man of the hour. The star of the fifth magnitude.
Now, as the result of the popularity, there came a jealousy among the priesthood.
And the high priest rose up, and all that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and they were filled with jealousy ( Acts 5:17 ),
The word indignation there is properly translated jealousy. Notice that the high priest was himself a part of the sect of the Sadducees. The Sadducees were the materialists. They were the humanists. They did not believe in spirits; they did not believe in angels, and they did not believe in resurrection. And they were into the religious scene just for the bucks. And now the popularity of the disciples was a threat to them and they were jealous.
So they laid hands on the apostles, and they put them in the common prison. But the angel of the Lord that night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life ( Acts 5:18-20 ).
Go share with them this glorious that you have in the risen Christ. Go right back to where you were arrested. Go right back and do the very things that you were doing when you were arrested. Rather than, "Hey, now that you're free, escape, get out of Jerusalem. Head for Caesarea, get a boat and take off for Greece, escape the persecution." No. "Go right back into the temple and there speak to the people the words of this life."
So when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and they began to teach. But the high priest, and those who were with him, called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and they sent to the prison to have them brought forth. But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, and so they reported back to them, saying, The prison truly we found [secure, it was] shut with all [security] safety, and the guards were standing outside before the doors: but when we opened the doors, there was no one there ( Acts 5:21-23 ).
They've disappeared! Now the guards were still standing there; the place was still locked. And yet, when they opened the door to the inner prison, to their rooms, they were empty.
Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priest heard things ( Acts 5:24 ),
They began to wonder "Boy! What's going to come of this story now?"
Then one came in and told them saying, The men that you put in prison are standing in the temple, and they're teaching the people ( Acts 5:25 ).
God's got to have a sense of humor. Here's this joint meeting of the Senate and the House of Representatives called by the President. "Gotta deal with this problem." And so you send down to Leavenworth to have the prisoners brought, and they go inside and their cells are empty. And then here's this whole august assembly of the leaders ready to try these men, and someone says, "They're right back in the temple. They're over there teaching the people."
Then went the captain with the officers, and they brought them without violence: for the feared the people, lest they should be stoned ( Acts 5:26 ).
They're excitable people over there, and as Don was sharing with you, things haven't changed much. Don stayed out of that digging in order that he would not be stoned.
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, saying, Did we not command you that you should not teach in this name? and, behold, you have filled Jerusalem with doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood on us ( Acts 5:27-28 ).
You remember in the last chapter when they were standing before the counsel with the lame man, they were strictly charged not to speak anymore in the name of Jesus. And Peter responded, "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." So they threatened them further and let them go.
Now he brings up this...he said, "Didn't we strictly charge you not to speak anymore in this name?" And then he makes an interesting admission, "You have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine." Now that is a interesting testimony, not by the evangelist. You have to watch the testimonies of evangelists. Sometimes they are exaggerated. We used to have a term "evangelistically speaking". And it means that you blow up the figures significantly. "Well, how many were there?" "Oh, I suppose there were several hundred." At least twenty-five, evangelistically speaking.
So this was not their own report. This is the report of their enemy. "You have filled Jerusalem with this man's doctrine." Would to God that our enemies could testify against us and make that charge. Would to God they could say, "You have filled Orange County with this man's doctrine." Wouldn't that be glorious? If we could fill Orange County with the doctrine of Jesus Christ, that we could see such a move of God that everyone in the county would be cognizant of what God was doing. Instead, unfortunately, the church is gaining great notoriety in the county for other things than proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That's rather tragic, isn't it? The church is gaining notoriety for the wrong things.
Secondly, "You intend to bring this man's blood upon us." Now if you remember when Pilate was trying Jesus and these men were manipulating the crowd to seek His crucifixion. Finally, when Pilate saw that he couldn't prevail, he ordered a basin brought, and he began to wash his hands in the basin in a symbolic gesture. He said, " I am innocent of this man's blood, see ye to it." And what did they respond? "His blood be upon us and upon our children." Now they're upset saying to Peter, "You're seeking to bring this man's blood on us!" And for certain, when Peter was standing before them, he said unto them, "If you want to know by what power and all that this lame man was healed, be it known unto you all and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified . . . " And so he puts the blame right where it belongs. And yet now, they don't want to receive the accusation or the blame, yet it was their responsibility. Peter made mention of the fact that Pilate was wanting to let Him go, but they insisted on His death.
Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men ( Acts 5:29 ).
That word "ought" there, again, is not a totally accurate translation. The Greek word is "must". We must obey God rather than men. "Didn't we charge you not to speak anymore in this man's name?" Their answer is, "We must obey God rather then men. We must obey God." Oh, that we would experience and feel in our own hearts that divine imperative, "I must obey God." Unfortunately, we take so oftentimes a careless attitude in the area of obedience, "Well, yes, I should be obeying. Oh, I ought to obey God. Yes, I know that I should." But these men felt it much deeper. They said, "We must obey God rather than men." And I think that this is the rule. Should ever the time come, should we be living under the laws or jurisdictions created by man that would infringe upon my responsibilities to God, and the law of the land should be contrary to the laws of God, then I would have to take that very same position, "I must obey God rather man."
And then they went on to testify,
The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you slew and hanged on a tree ( Acts 5:30 ).
They had just said, "You're trying to bring His blood on us," and Peter just throws the bucket on them. I mean he just lays it out. "Whom you slew and hanged on a tree." But notice again that he's preaching the resurrection, "God has raised Jesus". Secondly,
God has exalted him to his right hand to be the Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and the forgiveness of sins ( Acts 5:31 ).
Paul said, "He was raised for our justification." "At the right hand of God to be the Prince, the Savior."
And we are his witnesses of these things; and so also is the Holy Spirit, whom God hath given to them that obey him ( Acts 5:32 ).
And here we find that the Holy Spirit is given in obedience to those who obey, and that is: believing on Jesus Christ, repenting from your sins, believing on Jesus Christ, obedient to the command of God, and we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Now when they heard that, they were cut to the heart, [talk about conviction] and they took counsel to slay them. Then there stood up one in the council, who was a Pharisee, his name was Gamaliel, he was a doctor of the law, he had a very high reputation among the people, and he asked that they put the apostles out of the room; and he said unto them, You men of Israel, now you be careful with what you intend to do in regards to these men. For in days before this there rose up Theudas, who was boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: and when he was slain; all of those, who were following him, were scattered, and the whole issue was brought to nothing. And after this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and he drew away many people after him: and he also perished; and all, even as many as were following him, were dispersed. And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or work is of men, it will come to nothing: but if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it; because you will find yourself in the position of fighting against God ( Acts 5:33-39 ).
So this wise counsel by Gamaliel to these men who were plotting to kill the disciples. "Look, we got rid of the leader. These kind of things have arisen before, others have risen up, gathered followers around them, but it always just dissipated once the leader was killed. So let's just let it go." Now this is the argument from the position of weakness, not a position of strength. You usually don't just let things go to see how they're going to turn out. But it was the counsel of Gamaliel, and they accepted this counsel. Interestingly enough, this is the Gamaliel of which Paul was a prize student. In some of the early writings that were discovered, Gamaliel said of Paul that he only had one difficulty with Paul as a student. He said that he was an extremely zealous student. His only difficulty was providing him with enough books. He was a real bookworm. And Gamaliel had difficulty just providing him with sufficient numbers of books because of his tremendous thirst for knowledge. Now they agreed to Gamaliel's counsel, partly. He said, "Just let them alone." But they called the apostles back in and they beat them. They didn't just let them alone.
they beat them, and commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and they let them go ( Acts 5:40 ).
Now that's probably the end of it.
They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name ( Acts 5:41 ).
How do you stop men like that? The answer is, you don't. They're unstoppable.
And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ ( Acts 5:42 ).
Notice both teaching and preaching. Preaching is the proclaiming of God's good news and should basically be done to the unconverted. Once a man has received Jesus Christ, his real need then is that of being taught. And this is where the church has made a grave mistake. Because the church continues to produce great preachers, but is not really producing teachers. And thus, the sheep are not getting strong. Because they're getting preached at Sunday after Sunday rather then being taught. Our preaching should be done on the street corners and our teaching should be done within the church. Preaching is a great Saturday night ministry when the young people are attracted by the groups that are playing and singing. Once they have received Christ, then the great need of being taught in the way of righteous and truth.
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Acts 5:5". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/acts-5.html. 2014.
And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: When Peter exposes the hypocrisy of Ananias, Ananias drops dead. There is no hint that Peter struck Ananais dead or even that Peter is expecting such an event. It is obvious this is an act of divine judgment against Ananias that fully displays the severity of God. Coffman says:
Peter’s rebuke of Ananias was administered in the Holy Spirit; and there is not the slightest hint that Peter struck Ananias dead, or even that God had told Peter that such a thing would occur. Like the shaking of the house when they all prayed (4:31), this was something God did independently of any apostolic volition (104).
and great fear came on all them that heard these things: There is some discussion today as to whether God is actually responsible for the death of Ananias or perhaps this is some natural occurrence. This is ridiculous to even speculate upon. The problem is that men do not like the idea of dealing with a God who might slay them, much less punish them everlastingly. Man has lost his fear and respect of God. If we could speak to the people of Noah’s day (Genesis 7) or Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2) or Achan (Joshua 7:16-26) or a host of others who felt the severity of God, we would know whom to fear! The account just related should correct man’s shortsighted view of Almighty God. The death of Ananias certainly seems to have the desired effect upon these early disciples. In a very graphic way, they have seen the futility and consequences of trying to deceive God.
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Acts 5:5". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ctf/acts-5.html. 1993-2022.
The death of Ananias 5:1-6
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The hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira 5:1-11
We might conclude from what precedes that the church was a sinless community at this time. Unfortunately this was not the case. There were sinning saints in it. This episode reveals that God was working dramatically in the church’s early days in judgment as well as in blessing. Luke did not idealize his portrait of the early church but painted an accurate picture, "warts and all."
"The passage shows that God knows the hearts of believers. Peter is not the major figure in the text: God is. Luke is teaching about respect for God through one’s action." [Note: Bock, Acts, p. 219.]
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Peter identified Ananias’ sin, but God judged it (cf. Matthew 16:19). Luke did not record exactly how Ananias died even though he was a physician. His interest was solely in pointing out that he did die immediately because of his sin. The Greek word ekpsycho ("breathed his last") occurs in the New Testament here and only where God strikes someone in judgment (Acts 5:10; Acts 12:23; cf. Judges 4:21, LXX, where Sisera was the victim). Ananias’ sin resulted in premature physical death. It was a sin unto death (cf. 1 John 5:16; 1 Corinthians 11:30).
We should not interpret the fact that God rarely deals with sinners this way as evidence that He cannot or should not. He does not out of mercy. He dealt with Ananias and Sapphira, Achan, Nadab and Abihu, and others severely when He began to deal with various groups of believers. He did so for those who would follow in the train of those judged to illustrate how important it is for God’s people to be holy (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:6). Furthermore God always deals more severely with those who have greater privilege and responsibility (cf. Luke 12:48; 1 Peter 4:17).
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TROUBLE IN THE CHURCH ( Acts 5:1-11 )
5:1-11 A man called Ananias, together with his wife Sapphire, sold a bit of ground he had, and surreptitiously kept back part of the price, and his wife knew about it. He brought some part of the price and laid it at the feet of the apostles. Peter said to him, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart so that you have deceived the Holy Spirit and kept back part of the price of your ground? While it remained yours did it not remain your own, and after it had been sold was it not entirely at your disposal? Why did you put this business into your heart? It is not to men you have lied but to God." As Ananias listened to these words, he collapsed and breathed his life out. Great awe came upon all who heard it. The young men rose and bound him up and carried him out and buried him.
After an interval of about three hours his wife came in and she was not aware of what had happened. Peter said to her, "Tell me, did you sell the piece of ground for so much?" "Yes," she said, "for so much." Peter said to her, "Why is it that you agreed to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Look now, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door and they will carry you out." Immediately she collapsed at his feet and breathed her life out. When the young men came in they found her dead and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great awe came upon the whole Church and upon all who heard these things.
There is no more vivid story in the book of Acts. There is no need to make a miracle of it. But it does show us something of the atmosphere which prevailed in the early Church. It is on record that once Edward the First blazed with anger at one of his courtiers and the man dropped dead in sheer fear. This story shows two things about the early Church, the expectancy of men's minds and the extraordinary respect in which the apostles were held. It was in that atmosphere that the rebuke of Peter acted as it did.
This is one of the stories which demonstrate the almost stubborn honesty of the Bible. It might well have been left out because it shows that even in the early Church there were very imperfect Christians; but the Bible refuses to present an idealised picture of anything. Once a court painter painted the portrait of Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell was disfigured by warts upon his face. The painter, thinking to please the great man, omitted the disfiguring warts. When Cromwell saw the picture, he said, "Take it away, and paint me warts and all." It is one of the great virtues of the Bible that it shows us its heroes, warts and all.
There is a certain encouragement in this story, for it shows us that even in its greatest days the Church was a mixture of good and bad.
Peter insists that sin is sin against God. We do well to remember that, very specially in certain directions. (i) Failure in diligence is sin against God. Everything, however humble it may be, that contributes to the health, the happiness and the welfare of mankind is work done for God. Antonio Stradivari, the great maker of violins, said, "If my hand slacked, I should rob God." That is a motto for every man to take. (ii) Failure to use our talents is sin against God. God gave us such talents as we have; we hold them in stewardship for him; and we are responsible to him for the use we make of them. (iii) Failure in truth is sin against God. When we slip into falsehood it is sin against the guidance of the Spirit in our hearts.
THE ATTRACTION OF CHRISTIANITY ( Acts 5:12-16 )
5:12-16 Many signs and wonders were done among the people through the hands of the apostles; and they were all together in Solomon's colonnade. Of the others no one dared to meddle with them. But the people held them in the highest esteem; nay more, crowds of men and women believed in the Lord and attached themselves to them. The result was that they brought the sick to the streets and laid them on beds and pallets, so that, when Peter came, even his shadow might fall on some of them; and a crowd assembled from the cities round about Jerusalem carrying the sick and those who were troubled by unclean spirits; and all of them were healed.
Here is a cameo-like picture of what went on in the early Church. (i) It tells us where the Church met. Their meeting-place was Solomon's colonnade, one of the two great colonnades which surrounded the Temple area. The early Christians were constant in their attendance at the House of God, desiring ever to know God better and to draw upon his strength for life and living. (ii) It tells us how the Church met. The early Christians assembled where everyone could see them. They knew what had happened to the apostles and what might well happen to them; but they were determined to show all men whose they were and where they stood. (iii) It tells us that the early Church was a supremely effective Church. Things happened. The days when the healing ministry of the Church was in the forefront of its work are past, although they may well return. But the Church still exists to make bad men good; and men will always throng to a Church where lives are changed.
This passage closes with a reference to those troubled by unclean spirits. The ancient people attributed all disease to the agency of such spirits. The Egyptians, for instance, believed that the body could be divided into separate parts and that every part could be inhabited by an evil spirit. Often they believed that these evil spirits were the spirits of wicked people who had departed this life but were still carrying on their malignant work.
ARREST AND TRIAL ONCE AGAIN ( Acts 5:17-32 )
5:17-32 But the high priest and his party (the local sect of the Sadducees) were filled with envy, and they laid hands on the apostles and put them under public arrest. But through the night the angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison and led them out and said, "Go, stand in the Temple and tell the people all the words of this life." When they heard this they came into the Temple very early and began to teach. When the high priest and those with him arrived, they summoned the Sanhedrin and all the council of the sons of Israel; and they despatched messengers to the prison that they should be brought. When the officers arrived they did not find them in the prison. When they returned, they brought news saying, "We found the prison shut with all security, and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened the doors we found no one inside." When the superintendent of the Temple and the chief priests heard these words, they did not know what to make of them and could not understand what could have happened. But someone arrived and told them, "Look now, the men you put in prison are standing in the Temple and teaching the people." Then the superintendent of the Temple went away with his officers and fetched them, but he used no force, for they were afraid of the people in case they might be stoned. When they had fetched them they stood them amidst the Sanhedrin. The high priest questioned them, "We laid the strongest injunctions on you not to teach in this name; and, look now, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are aiming at bringing on us guilt for the blood of this man." Peter and the apostles answered, "It is necessary to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you got into your hands and hanged on a tree. God has exalted him as Prince and Saviour at his right hand, to give repentance to Israel and remission of sins, and we are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit, whom God gave to those who obey him."
The second arrest of the apostles was inevitable. The Sanhedrin had strictly ordered them to abstain from teaching in the name of Jesus and they had publicly disregarded that injunction. That to the Sanhedrin was a doubly serious matter. These apostles were not only heretics, they were also potential disturbers of the peace. Palestine was always an inflammable country; if this were not checked it might well result in some kind of popular rising; and that was the last thing the priests and Sadducees wanted, because then Rome would intervene.
There is not necessarily a miracle in the release of Peter and John. The word angelos ( G32) has two meanings. It means an angel; but it is also the normal word for a messenger. Even if the release of the apostles had been brought about by human means, the agent of the release would still be the aggelos of the Lord.
In the narrative of the events after the release we see vividly displayed the great characteristics of these early men of God.
(i) They were men of courage. The command to go straight back and preach in the Temple sounds to a prudent mind almost incredible. To obey that command was an act of almost reckless audacity. And yet they went. (ii) They were men of principle. And their ruling principle was that in all circumstances obedience to God must come first. They never asked, "Is this course of action safe?" They asked, "Is this what God wants me to do?" (iii) They had a clear idea of their function. They knew that they were witnesses for Christ. A witness is essentially a man who speaks from first-hand knowledge. He knows from personal experience that what he says is true; and it is impossible to stop a man like that because it is impossible to stop the truth.
AN UNEXPECTED ALLY ( Acts 5:33-42 )
5:33-42 When they heard this they were torn with vexation and planned to destroy them. But a certain Pharisee called Gamaliel stood up in the Sanhedrin, a teacher of the law held in honour by all the people, and ordered that the men should be put out of the meeting for a short time. He said to them, "Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves regarding these men and think what you are going to do with them. Before these days Theudas arose, saying that he was someone. Men to the number of about four hundred attached themselves to him. He was destroyed and all who were persuaded by him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilaean arose, in the days when the census was taken, and he persuaded the people to follow him. He too perished and all the people who were persuaded by him were scattered abroad. And in the present circumstances I say to you keep off these men and let them go, because if this purpose and this affair is of men it will come to nothing; but if it is of God you cannot stop them. So take care that you do not turn out to be men who are fighting against God." They were persuaded by him. So they called in the apostles, and, when they had threatened them, they enjoined them not to speak in the name of Jesus and sent them away. So they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin rejoicing because they were deemed worthy to suffer dishonour for the name. Every day in the Temple and from house to house they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus was God's Anointed One.
On their second appearance before the Sanhedrin the apostles found an unexpected helper. Gamaliel was a Pharisee. The Sadducees were the wealthy collaborationists, who were ever seeking to preserve their own prestige; but the Pharisees had no political ambitions. Their name literally means "The Separated Ones," and they had separated themselves from ordinary life in order to devote themselves to the keeping of the law in its every small detail. There were never more than about six thousand of them all told, and the austerity of their lives made them highly respected.
Gamaliel was more than respected; he was loved. He was a kindly man with a far wider tolerance than his fellows. He was, for instance, one of the very few Pharisees who did not regard Greek culture as sinful. He was one of the very few to whom the title "Rabban" had been given. Men called him "The Beauty of the Law." When he died it was said, "Since Rabban Gamaliel died there has been no more reverence for the Law; and purity and abstinence died out at the same time."
When the Sanhedrin seemed likely to resort to violent measures against the apostles Gamaliel intervened. The Pharisees had a belief which combined fate and free-will. They believed that all things were in the hand of God and yet that man was responsible for his actions. "Everything is foreseen," they said, "yet freedom of choice is given." So Gamaliel's point was that they must have a care in case they were exercising their free-will to go against God. He pleaded that if this matter was not of God, it would come to nothing anyway. He quoted two examples.
First he cited Theudas. In those days Palestine had a quick succession of fire-brand leaders who set themselves up as the deliverers of their country and sometimes even as the Messiah. Who this Theudas was we do not know. There was a Theudas some years later who led a band of people out to the Jordan with the promise that he could divide the waters and that they would walk over dryshod, and whose rising was swiftly dealt with. Theudas was a common name and no doubt this was just such another fire-brand.
His second example was Judas. He had rebelled at the time of the census, taken by the governor Quirinius in A.D. 6 in order to arrange taxation. Judas took up the position that God was the King of Israel; to him alone tribute was due, all other taxation was impious and to pay it was a blasphemy. He attempted to raise a revolution but failed. The Sanhedrin listened to Gamaliel and once again, after threatening the apostles, they let them go.
They went rejoicing in their tribulations. They rejoiced in persecution for two reasons. (i) It was an opportunity to demonstrate their loyalty to Christ. In Russia in the early days of communism the man who could show the marks of the fetters on his hands and the mark of the lash on his back was held in honour because he had suffered for the cause. It was Mr. Valiant-for-Truth's proud boast, "My marks and scars I carry with me." (ii) It was a real opportunity to share in the experience of Christ. Those who shared in the cross-bearing would share in the crown-wearing.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Barclay, William. "Commentary on Acts 5:5". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/acts-5.html. 1956-1959.
And Ananias hearing these words,.... Of Peter's; by which he found his sin was detected, and by which he was convicted of it: and which set forth the evil nature of it, with its aggravated circumstances; and such power went along with them, and they cut so deep, as that immediately
he fell down and gave up the ghost; which is an instance of what the Jews call death by the hand of heaven: and this was done either by an angel; or rather by an extraordinary gift bestowed on Peter, being such an one as the Apostle Paul had, and used, when he smote Elymas the sorcerer with blindness, and delivered the incestuous person, and Alexander and Hymeneus to Satan.
And great fear came upon all them that heard these things; both upon the members of the church, and so was of service to make them careful of their words and actions, and cautious and circumspect in their lives and conversations; and upon those that were without, and might be a means of making them fearful of speaking against them, or mocking at them, or of joining themselves to them, without being thoroughly satistied that they should, and had a right, and were meet for it.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on Acts 5:5". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/acts-5.html. 1999.
|The Case of Ananias and Sapphira.|
1 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 privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet. 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? 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. 5 And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. 6 And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. 7 And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. 8 And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. 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. 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. 11 And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.
The chapter begins with a melancholy but, which puts a stop to the pleasant and agreeable prospect of things which we had in the foregoing chapters; as every man, so every church, in its best state has its but. 1. The disciples were very holy, and heavenly, and seemed to be all exceedingly good; but there were hypocrites among them, whose hearts were not right in the sight of God, who, when they were baptized, and took upon them the form of godliness, denied the power of godliness, and stopped short of that. There is a mixture of bad with good in the best societies on this side heaven; tares will grow among the wheat until the harvest. 2. It was the praise of the disciples that they came up to that perfection which Christ recommended to the rich young man--they sold what they had, and gave to the poor; but even that proved a cloak and cover of hypocrisy which was thought the greatest proof and evidence of sincerity. 3. The signs and wonders which the apostles wrought were hitherto miracles of mercy; but now comes in a miracle of judgment, and here is an instance of severity following the instances of goodness, that God may be both loved and feared. Observe here,
I. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira his wife. It is good to see husband and wife joining together in that which is good, but to be confederate in evil is to be like Adam and Eve, when they agreed to eat the forbidden fruit, and were one in their disobedience. Now their sin was, 1. That they were ambitious of being thought eminent disciples, and of the first rank, when really they were not true disciples; they would pass for some of the most fruitful trees in Christ's vineyard, when really the root of the matter was not found in them. They sold a possession, and brought the money (as Barnabas did) to the apostles' feet, that they might not seem to be behind the very chief of believers, but might be applauded and cried up, and stand so much the fairer for preferment in the church, which perhaps they thought would shortly shine in secular pomp and grandeur. Note, It is possible that hypocrites may deny themselves in one thing, but then it is to serve themselves in another; they may forego their secular advantage in one instance, with a prospect of finding their account in something else. Ananias and Sapphira would take upon them a profession of Christianity, and make a fair show in the flesh with it, and so would mock God, and deceive others, when they knew they could not go through with the Christian profession. It was commendable, and so far it was right, in that rich young man, that he would not pretend to follow Christ, when, if it should come to a pinch, he knew he could not come up to his terms, but he went away sorrowful. Ananias and Sapphira pretended they could come up to the terms, that they might have the credit of being disciples, when really they could not, and so were a discredit to discipleship. Note, It is often of fatal consequence for people to go a greater length in profession than their inward principle will admit of. 2. That they were covetous of the wealth of the world, and distrustful of God and his providence: They sold their land, and perhaps then, in a pang of zeal, designed no other than to dedicate the whole of the purchase-money to pious uses, and made a vow, or at least conceived a full purpose, to do so; but, when the money was received, their heart failed them, and they kept back part of the price, (Acts 5:2; Acts 5:2), because they loved the money, and thought it was too much to part with at once, and to trust in the apostles' hands, and because they knew not but they might want it themselves; though now all things were common, yet it would not be so long, and what should they do in a time of need, if they should leave themselves nothing to take to? They could not take God's word that they should be provided for, but thought they would play a wiser part than the rest had done, and lay up for a rainy day. Thus they thought to serve both God and mammon--God, by bringing part of the money to the apostles' feet, and mammon, by keeping the other part in their own pockets; as if there were not an all-sufficiency in God to make up the whole to them, except they retained some in their own hands by way of caution-money. Their hearts were divided, so they were found faulty,Hosea 10:2. They halted between two; if they had been thorough-paced worldlings, they would not have sold their possession; and, if they had been thorough-paced Christians, they would not have detained part of the price. 3. That they thought to deceive the apostles, and make them believe they brought the whole purchase-money, when really it was but a part. They came with as good an assurance, and as great a show of piety and devotion, as any of them, and laid the money at the apostles' feet, as if it were their all. They dissembled with God and his Spirit, with Christ and his church and ministers; and this was their sin.
II. The indictment of Ananias, which proved both his condemnation and execution for this sin. When he brought the money, and expected to be commended and encouraged, as others were, Peter took him to task about it, He, without any enquiry or examination of witnesses concerning it, charges him peremptorily with the crime, and aggravates it, and lays a load upon him for it, showing it to him in its own colour, Acts 5:3; Acts 5:4. The Spirit of God in Peter not only discovered the fact without any information (when perhaps no man in the world knew it but the man and his wife themselves), but likewise discerned the principle of reigning infidelity in the heart of Ananias, which was at the bottom of it, and therefore proceeded against him so suddenly. Had it been a sin of infirmity, through the surprise of a temptation, Peter would have taken Ananias aside, and have bidden him go home, and fetch the rest of the money, and repent of his folly in attempting to put this cheat upon them; but he knew that his heart was fully set in him to do this evil, and therefore allowed him not space to repent. He here showed him,
1. The origin of his sin: Satan filled his heart; he not only suggested it to him, and put it into his head, but hurried him on with resolution to do it. Whatever is contrary to the good Spirit proceeds from the evil spirit, and those hearts are filled by Satan in which worldliness reigns, and has the ascendant. Some think that Ananias was one of those that had received the Holy Ghost, and was filled with his gifts, but, having provoked the Spirit to withdraw from him, now Satan filled his heart; as, when the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, an evil spirit from God troubled him. Satan is a lying spirit; he was so in the mouth of Ahab's prophets, and so he was in the mouth of Ananias, and by this made it appear that he filled his heart.
2. The sin itself: He lied to the Holy Ghost; a sin of such a heinous nature that he could not have been guilty of it if Satan had not filled his heart.
(1.) The phrase which we render lying to the Holy Ghost, pseusasthai se to pneuma to hagion, some read, to belie the Holy Ghost, which may be taken two ways: [1.] That he belied the Holy Ghost in himself; so Dr. Lightfoot takes it, and supposes that Ananias was not an ordinary believer, but a minister, and one that had received the gift of the Holy Ghost with the hundred and twenty (for mention is made of him immediately after Barnabas); yet he durst thus, by dissembling, belie and shame that gift. Or thus; Those who had sold their estates, and laid the money at the apostles' feet, did it by the special impulse of the Holy Ghost, enabling them to do an act so very great and generous; and Ananias pretended that he was moved by the Holy Ghost to do what he did, as others were; whereas it appeared by his baseness that he was not under the influence of the good Spirit at all; for, had it been his work, it would have been perfect. [2.] That he belied the Holy Ghost in the apostles, to whom he brought the money; he misrepresented the Spirit they were actuated by, either by a suspicion that they would not faithfully distribute what they were entrusted with (which was a base suggestion, as if they were false to the trust reposed in them), or by an assurance that they could not discover the fraud. He belied the Holy Ghost when by what he did he would have it thought that those who are endued with the gifts of the Holy Ghost might as easily be imposed upon as other men; like Gehazi, whom his master convicted of his error by that word, Went not my heart with thee?2 Kings 5:26. It is charged upon the house of Israel and Judah, when, like Ananias here, they dealt very treacherously, that they belied the Lord, saying, It is not he,Jeremiah 5:11; Jeremiah 5:12. Thus Ananias thought the apostles were altogether such as himself, and this was belying the Holy Ghost in them, as if he were not in them a discerner of spirits, whereas they had all the gifts of the Spirit in them, which to others were divided severally. See 1 Corinthians 12:8-11. Those that pretend to an inspiration of the Spirit, in imposing upon the church their own fancies, either in opinion or practice--that say they are moved from above when they are carried on by their pride, covetousness, or affectation of dominion, belie the Holy Ghost.
(2.) But we read it, to lie unto the Holy Ghost, which reading is countenanced by Acts 5:4; Acts 5:4, Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. [1.] Ananias told a lie, a deliberate lie, and with a purpose to deceive; he told Peter that he had sold a possession (house or lands) and this was the purchase-money. Perhaps he expressed himself in words that were capable of a double meaning, used some equivocations about it, which he thought might palliate the matter a little, and save him from the guilt of a downright lie: or perhaps he said nothing; but it was all one, he did as the rest did who brought the whole price, and would be thought to do so, and expected the praise those had that did so, and the same privilege and access to the common stock as they had; and therefore it was an implicit protestation that he brought the whole price, as they did; and this was a lie, for he kept back part. Note, Many are brought to gross lying by reigning pride, and affectation of the applause of men, particularly in works of charity to the poor. That therefore we may not be found boasting of a false gift given to us, or given by us (Proverbs 25:14), we must not boast even of a true gift, which is the meaning of our Saviour's caution in works of charity, Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth. Those that boast of good works they never did, or promise good works they never do, or make the good works they do more or better than really they are, come under the guilt of Ananias's lie, which it concerns us all to dread the thought of. [2.] He told this lie to the Holy Ghost. It was not so much to the apostles as to the Holy Ghost in them that the money was brought, and that was said which was said, Acts 5:4; Acts 5:4, Thou hast not lied unto men (not to men only, not to men chiefly, though the apostles be but men), but thou hast lied unto God. Hence it is justly inferred that the Holy Ghost is God; for he that lieth to the Holy Ghost lieth to God. "Those that lied to the apostles, actuated and acting by the Spirit of God, are said to lie to God, because the apostles acted by the power and authority of God, whence it follows (as Dr. Whitby well observes) that the power and authority of the Spirit must be the power and authority of God." And, as he further argues, "Ananias is said to lie to God, because he lied to that Spirit in the apostles which enabled them to discern the secrets of men's hearts and actions, which being the property of God alone, he that lies to him must therefore lie to God, because he lies to one who has the incommunicable property of God, and consequently the divine essence."
3. The aggravations of the sin (Acts 5:4; Acts 5:4): While it remained, was it not thine own? And, after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? Which may be understood two ways:-- (1.) "Thou wast under no temptation to keep back part of the price; before it was sold it was thy own, and not mortgaged nor encumbered, nor any way engaged for debt; and when it was sold it was in thy own power to dispose of the money at thy pleasure; so that thou mightest as well have brought the whole as a part. Thou hadst no debts to pay, perhaps no children to provide for; so that thou wast not under the influence of any particular inducement to keep back part of the price. Thou was a transgressor without a cause." Or, (2.) "Thou wast under no necessity of selling thy land at all, nor bringing any of the money to the apostles' feet. Thou mightest have kept the money, if thou hadst pleased, and the land too, and never have pretended to this piece of perfection." This rule of charity the apostle gives, that people be not pressed, and that it be not urged as of necessity, because God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), and Philemon must do a good work, not as it were of necessity, but willingly,Philemon 1:14. As it is better not to vow than to vow and not to pay, so better had it been for him not to have sold his land at all than thus to keep back part of the price; not to have pretended to do the good work than thus to do it by the halves. "When it was sold, it was in thine own power; but it was not so when it was vowed: thou hadst then opened thy mouth to the Lord, and couldst not go back." Thus, in giving our hearts to God, we are not admitted to divide them. Satan, like the mother whose own the child was not, would take up with a half; but God will have all or none.
4. All this guilt, thus aggravated, is charged upon him: Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? Observe, Though Satan filled his heart to do it, yet he is said to have conceived it in his own heart, which shows that we cannot extenuate our sins by laying the fault of them upon the devil; he tempts, but he cannot force; it is of our own lusts that we are drawn away and enticed. The evil thing, whatever it is, that is said or done, the sinner has conceived it in his own heart; and therefore, if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it. The close of the charge is very high, but very just: Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. What emphasis does the prophet lay upon that of Ahaz, not wearying men only, but wearying my God also!Isaiah 7:13. And Moses upon that of Israel, Your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord!Exodus 16:8. So here, Thou mightest have imposed upon us, who are men like thyself; but, be not deceived, God is not mocked. If we think to put a cheat upon God, we shall prove in the end to have put a fatal cheat upon our own souls.
III. The death and burial of Ananias, Acts 5:5; Acts 5:6.
1. He died upon the spot: Ananias, hearing these words, was speechless, in the same sense that he was who was charged with intruding into the wedding feast without a wedding garment: he had nothing to say for himself; but this was not all: he was struck speechless with a witness, for he was struck dead: He fell down, and gave up the ghost. It does not appear whether Peter designed and expected that this would follow upon what he said to him; it is probable that he did, for to Sapphira his wife Peter particularly spoke death, Acts 5:9; Acts 5:9. Some think that an angel struck him, that he died, as Herod, Acts 12:23; Acts 12:23. Or, his own conscience smote him with such horror and amazement at the sense of his guilt, that he sunk and died away under the load of it. And perhaps, when he was convicted of lying to the Holy Ghost, he remembered the unpardonableness of the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which struck him like a dagger to the heart. See the power of the word of God in the mouth of the apostles. As it was to some a savour of life unto life, so it was to others a savour of death unto death. As there are those whom the gospel justifies, so there are those whom it condemns. This punishment of Ananias may seem severe, but we are sure it was just. (1.) It was designed to maintain the honour of the Holy Ghost as now lately poured out upon the apostles, in order to the setting up of the gospel kingdom. It was a great affront which Ananias put upon the Holy Ghost, as if he could be imposed upon: and it had a direct tendency to invalidate the apostles' testimony; for, if they could not by the Spirit discover this fraud, how could they by this Spirit discover the deep things of God, which they were to reveal to the children of men? It was therefore necessary that the credit of the apostles' gifts and powers should be supported, though it was at this expense. (2.) It was designed to deter others from the like presumptions, now at the beginning of this dispensation. Simon Magus afterwards was not thus punished, nor Elymas; but Ananias was made an example now at first, that, with the sensible proofs given what a comfortable thing it is to receive the Spirit, there might be also sensible proofs given what a dangerous thing it is to resist the Spirit, and do despite to him. How severely was the worshipping of the golden calf punished, and the gathering of sticks on the sabbath-day, when the laws of the second and fourth commandments were now newly given! So was the offering of strange fire by Nadab and Abihu, and the mutiny of Korah and his company, when the fire from heaven was now newly given, and the authority of Moses and Aaron now newly established. The doing of this by the ministry of Peter, who himself with a lie denied his Master but a little while ago, intimates that it was not the resentment of a wrong done to himself; for then he, who had himself been faulty, would have had charity for those that offended; and he, who himself had repented and been forgiven, would have forgiven this affront, and endeavoured to bring this offender to repentance; but it was the act of the Spirit of God in Peter: to him the indignity was done, and by him the punishment was inflicted.
2. He was buried immediately, for this was the manner of the Jews (Acts 5:6; Acts 5:6): The young men, who it is probable were appointed to that office in the church of burying the dead, as among the Romans the libitinarii and polinctores; or the young men that attended the apostles, and waited on them, they wound up the dead body in grave-clothes, carried it out of the city, and buried it decently, though he died in sin, and by an immediate stroke of divine vengeance.
IV. The reckoning with Sapphira, the wife of Ananias, who perhaps was first in the transgression, and tempted her husband to eat this forbidden fruit. She came in to the place where the apostles were, which, as it should seem, was Solomon's porch, for there we find them (Acts 5:12; Acts 5:12), a part of the temple where Christ used to walk, John 10:23. She came in about three hours after, expecting to share in the thanks of the house for her coming in, and consenting to the sale of the land, of which perhaps she was entitled to her dower or thirds; for she knew not what had been done. It was strange that nobody ran to tell her of the sudden death of her husband, that she might keep away; perhaps some one did, and she was not at home; and so when she came to present herself before the apostles, as a benefactor to the fund she met with a breach instead of a blessing.
1. She was found guilty of sharing with her husband in his sin, by a question that Peter asked her (Acts 5:8; Acts 5:8): Tell me whether you sold the land for so much? naming the sum which Ananias had brought and laid at the apostles' feet. "Was this all you received for the sale of the land, and had you no more for it?" "No," saith she, "we had no more, but that was every farthing we received." Ananias and his wife agreed to tell the same story, and the bargain being private, and by consent kept to themselves, nobody could disprove them, and therefore they thought they might safely stand in the lie, and should gain credit to it. It is sad to see those relations who should quicken one another to that which is good harden one another in that which is evil.
2. Sentence was passed upon her, that she should partake in her husband's doom, Acts 5:9; Acts 5:9.
(1.) Her sin is opened: How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Before he passes sentence, he makes her to know her abominations, and shows her the evil of her sin. Observe, [1.] That they tempted the Spirit of the Lord; as Israel tempted God in the desert, when they said, Is the Lord among us, or is he not? after they had seen so many miraculous proofs of his power; and not only his presence, but his presidency, when they said, Can God furnish a table? So here, "Can the Spirit in the apostles discover this fraud? Can they discern that this is but a part of the price, when we tell them it is the whole?" Can he judge through this dark cloud?Job 22:13. They saw that the apostles had the gift of tongues; but had they the gift of discerning spirits? Those that presume upon security and impunity in sin tempt the Spirit of God; they tempt God as if he were altogether such a one as themselves. [2.] That they agreed together to do it, making the bond of their relation to each other (which by the divine institution is a sacred tie) to become a bond of iniquity. It is hard to say which is worse between yoke-fellows and other relations--a discord in good or concord in evil. It seems to intimate that their agreeing together to do it was a further tempting of the Spirit; as if, when they had engaged to keep one another's counsel in this matter, even the Spirit of the Lord himself could not discover them. Thus they digged deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, but were made to know it is in vain. "How is it that you are thus infatuated? What strange stupidity has seized you, that you would venture to make trial of that which is past dispute? How is it that you, who are baptized Christians, do not understand yourselves better? How durst you run so great a risk?"
(2.) Her doom is read: Behold, the feet of those who have buried thy husband are at the door (perhaps he heard them coming, or knew that they could not be long): and they shall carry thee out. As Adam and Eve, who agreed to eat the forbidden fruit, were turned together out of paradise, so Ananias and Sapphira, who agreed to tempt the Spirit of the Lord, were together chased out of the world.
3. The sentence executed itself. There needed no executioner, a killing power went along with Peter's word, as sometimes a healing power did; for the God in whose name he spoke kills and makes alive; and out of his mouth (and Peter was now his mouth) both evil and good proceed (Acts 5:10; Acts 5:10): Then fell she down straightway at his feet. Some sinners God makes quick work with, while others he bears long with; for which difference, doubtless, there are good reasons; but he is not accountable to us for them. She heard not till now that her husband was dead, the notice of which, with the discovery of her sin, and the sentence of death passed upon her, struck her as a thunderbolt and took her away as with a whirlwind. And many instances there are of sudden deaths which are not to be looked upon as the punishment of some gross sin, like this. We must not think that all who die suddenly are sinners above others; perhaps it is in favour to them, that they have a quick passage: however, it is forewarning to all to be always ready. But here it is plain that it was in judgment. Some put the question concerning the eternal state of Ananias and Sapphira, and incline to think that the destruction of the flesh was that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. And I should go in with that charitable opinion if there had been any space given them to repent, as there was to the incestuous Corinthian. But secret things belong not to us. It is said, She fell down at Peter's feet; there, where she should have laid the whole price and did not, she was herself laid, as it were to make up the deficiency. The young men that had the care of funerals coming in found her dead; and it is not said, They wound her up, as they did Ananias, but, They carried her out as she was, and buried her by her husband; and probably an inscription was set over their graves, intimating that they were joint-monuments of divine wrath against those that lie to the Holy Ghost. Some ask whether the apostles kept the money which they did bring, and concerning which they lied? I am apt to think they did; they had not the superstition of those who said, It is not lawful for us to put it into the treasury: for unto the pure all things are pure. What they brought was not polluted to those to whom they brought it; but what they kept back was polluted to those that kept it back. Use was made of the censers of Korah's mutineers.
V. The impression that this made upon the people. Notice is taken of this in the midst of the story (Acts 5:5; Acts 5:5): Great fear came upon all that heard these things, that heard what Peter said, and saw what followed; or upon all that heard the story of it; for, no doubt, it was all the talk of the city. And again (Acts 5:11; Acts 5:11), Great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things. 1. Those that had joined themselves to the church were thereby struck with an awe of God and of his judgments, and with a greater veneration for this dispensation of the Spirit which they were now under. It was not a damp or check to their holy joy, but it taught them to be serious in it, and to rejoice with trembling. All that laid their money at the apostles' feet after this were afraid of keeping back any part of the price. 2. All that heard it were put into a consternation by it, and were ready to say, Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God and his Spirit in the apostles? As 1 Samuel 6:20.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Acts 5:5". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/acts-5.html. 1706.
First of all we see man in an entirely new place man risen from among the dead and ascending to heaven. The risen ascended man, Christ Jesus, is the new starting-point of the dealings of God. The first man afforded the great and solemn and saddening lesson of human responsibility. The cross had just closed the history of the race; for Jesus in no way shrank from all that was connected with the creature responsible here below, but met it to God's glory. He alone was capable of doing all; He alone solved every question; and this as a perfect man, but not a perfect man only, because He was very God. Thus was glory brought to His Father all through His life, to God as such in His death; and glory to God not merely as one who was putting man to the test, but who was removing from before His face the root and the fruits of sin; for this is the wonderful specialty of the death of the Lord Jesus, that, in Him crucified, all that had hindered, all that had dishonoured God, was for ever met, and God infinitely more and after a better sort glorified than if there never had been sin at all.
Thus on the setting aside of the old creation, the way was clear for man in this new place; and we shall see this in the blessed book before us-the Acts of the Apostles, although I am far from meaning that the title is an adequate statement of its contents: it is but its human name, and man is not capable even of giving a name. It is a book of deeper and more glorious purpose than acts of the apostles could be, however blessed in their place. Flowing down from the risen man in heaven, we have God Himself displaying fresh glory, not merely for but in man, and this so much the more because it is no longer a perfect man on earth, but the working of the Holy Ghost in men of like passions as ourselves. Nevertheless, through the mighty redemption of the Lord Jesus, the Holy Ghost is able to come down holily and righteously, willing in love to take His place, not merely in the earth, but in that very race that had dishonoured God down to the cross of Christ, when man could go no lower in scorn and hatred of that one man who in life and death has thus changed all things for God and for us.
Accordingly this first chapter, and more particularly the verses (1-11) that I have read, show us the groundwork, by no means unconnected with all that follows, but the most fitting introduction, as the facts were the necessary basis of it; and this the more strikingly because at first sight no man perhaps could have understood it thus. Indeed I doubt that any believer could have scanned this until there was a fair measure of intelligence in the revealed truth of God. And I do not mean merely now that truth which, being received, constituted him a believer, but the large infinite truth which it is the object of the Holy Ghost to bring out in this book as also throughout the New Testament. At first sight many an one may have found a difficulty why it was that the Spirit of God, after having in the gospel of Luke shown us Jesus risen and Jesus ascended, should take it up again in the beginning of the Acts. If we have had such questions, we may at least learn this lesson, that it is wise and good, yea, the only sound wisdom for us, and that which pleases our God, to set it down as a fixed maxim that God is always right, that His word never says a thing in vain, that if He appear to repeat, it is in no way repetition after a human infirm sort, but with a divine purpose; and as the resurrection and the ascension too were necessary to complete the scheme of truth given us in the gospel of Luke, so the risen man ascending to heaven was necessary to be brought in again as a starting-point by the very same writer, when God gives by him this new unfolding of the grace and ways of God in man.
We see then the Lord Jesus risen from the dead. We have the remarkable fact that He does not act independently of the Holy Ghost in His risen character any more than as man here below. In short, He is man, although no longer in that life which could be laid down but risen again; and the blessedness of man always is to act and speak by the Holy Ghost. So with the Lord Jesus, until the day in which He was taken up, it is said, after that He, through the Holy Ghost, had given commandments unto the apostles whom He had chosen. Resurrection does not supersede the Holy Ghost. The action of the Holy Ghost may be very different in resurrection, but there is still the blessedness of the power of the Spirit of God working by Him even though risen from the dead. It is not only that the disciples needed the Spirit of God, but that Jesus was pleased still through the Holy Ghost to deal with us so. But this is not all. Assembled with them, He explains that the Holy Ghost was to be given to themselves, and this not many days hence. It was the more important to state this great truth, because He had said a short time before "Receive ye the Holy Ghost;" and the ignorance that is natural to us might have used the words in John 20:1-31 to deny the further power and privilege that was about to be conferred in the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. They were both of the deepest importance. It is not for us to compare for our preference. But of this I am persuaded, that to have the Holy Ghost according to the Lord's words on the resurrection-day has its own blessedness as decidedly as the gift of the Holy Ghost sent down from above: the one being more particularly that which forms the intelligence of the new man; the other, that power which goes forth in testimony for the blessing of others. I need not say the order too was perfect, not in power for others first, but as spiritual intelligence for our own souls. We are not fit vessels for the good of others until God has given us divine consciousness of a new being according to Christ for ourselves.
But there is more still. It was necessary too that they should know the vast change. Their hearts, spite of the blessing, had little realized the ways of God that were about to open for them. Thus not only do we hear the Lord intimating that the promise of the Father must be poured out upon them, but further, even after this, they asked Him whether He was at this time about to restore again the kingdom to Israel. This furnishes, as our foolish questions often do, the inlet for divine instruction and guidance. We need not always repress these enquiries from the Lord: it is well to let that which is in the mind come out, especially if it be to Him. Nor must His servants be impatient even at the curious questions of those that least understand; for the importance is not so much in that which is asked as in the answer. Certainly this was ever the case with our Lord and the disciples. "It is not for you," says He, "to know the times and the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own authority, but ye shall receive power." The measures and the fit moments that had to do with earthly changes were in the sole control of Him to whom all belonged. "But ye shall receive power" (for the two words are different), "after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me." It was not the time for the kingdom in the sense of manifested power; and this was in their desires. The kingdom in a mysterious form no doubt there is, and we are translated into it., and it is in the power of the Spirit. But emphatically it was to be a time of testimony till He returns in glory. Such is our place. Blest perfectly according to all the acceptance of Christ exalted in the glory of God, our business is to be witnesses to Him. And so the Lord tells the apostles, "Ye shall receive power when the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."
Then we have the finishing touch, if one may so say, to this introduction. The Lord ascends to heaven, but not with whirlwind nor with chariot of fire. It is not simply that He was not, for God took Him, as is said of Enoch, but in a way more suitable to His glory it is written here that "he was taken up, and a cloud" (the special token of the divine presence) "received him out of their sight."
While they looked steadfastly toward heaven, they hear from the angels who stood by them in white, that this Jesus that was taken up from them should thus come in like manner as they had beheld Him going into heaven.
Thus the only true foundation is laid, and heaven becomes the point of departure not the earth, nor the first man, but the second man, the last Adam, from the only place that was suitable for Him according to the counsels of God. Such is the basis of Christianity. Altogether vain and impossible, had not redemption been accomplished, and a redemption by blood and in the power of resurrection. Redemption in se does not give us the full height and character of Christianity: man risen, and ascended to heaven, after the full expiation of sins on the cross, is necessary to its true and complete expression.
A further scene follows, by no means possible to be absent without a blank for the spiritual understanding. It must be proved manifestly that God had given even now a new place of blessing, and a new power too, or spiritual competency, to the disciples. At the same time they would have to wait for power of the Spirit in gift to act on others. Accordingly we see the disciples together, "continuing with one accord in prayer and supplication;" and in those days Peter stands up, and brings before them the gap made in the apostolic body by the apostasy and death of Judas. Observe how he brings out with an altogether unwonted force the scripture that applied to the case. This was in virtue, not of the promise of the Father for which they were waiting, but of that which they had already from Jesus risen from the dead. Hence without delay the disciples proceed to act. Peter says, "Of these men which have companioned with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be a witness with us of his resurrection."
It will be noticed that the words "ordained to be" are left out. Every one ought to be aware indirectly, if not from his own knowledge, that there is nothing in Greek to represent them. There is not, and there never was, the smallest pretence of divine authority for their insertion. It is hard to say how godly men endorsed so pure an interpolation with what object can be easily surmised: it does not require a word from me.
"And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias." For these two had qualifications, as far as man knew, suitable to the requirements for an apostle, being the companions of the earthly path of the Lord Jesus. They had seen Him risen from the dead. Unable to judge between them definitely, the rest spread the matter before the Lord who must choose His own apostle. The mode of the disciples in this case, it is true, might seem peculiar to us; but I have no doubt that they were guided of the Lord. There is no reason from scripture to believe that Peter and the others acted hastily, or were mistaken. The Spirit of God in this very book sanctions the choice that was made that day, and never alludes to Paul as the necessary twelfth apostle. To do so would be, in my judgment, to weaken if not to ruin the truth of God. Paul was not one of the twelve. It is of all consequence that he should be permitted to retain a special place, who had a special work. All was wisely ordered.
Here then they prayed, and said, "Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, show whether of these two thou hast chosen." Man never chooses an apostle; apostles did not, could not, elect an apostle: the Lord alone chose. And so they gave forth their lots after a Jewish fashion. The twelve apostles were clearly, as it seems to me, in relation to the twelve tribes of Israel, "and they gave forth their lots." This was sanctioned of God in the Old Testament when Israel was before Him; it will be sanctioned of God when Israel returns on the scene in the latter day. No doubt, when the assembly of God was in being, the lot disappears; but the assembly of God was not yet formed. All would be in order in due time. "They gave forth their lots;* and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles." We shall find a little later, yet before Paul appears, that "the twelve" are recognised. So says the Spirit of God.
* The true reading, as arrested by , A, B, C, D (corr.), and many ancient versions, is αὐτοῖς (not αὐτῶν , as in D, E, the mass of cursives, etc.). The meaning is, "they gave lots for them." This meets the chief reasoning founded on the common text which Mosheim urges with his usual force against the view in which, he confesses, and the commentators agree (i.e., in representing Matthias as having been chosen an apostle by lot, agreeably to the ancient Jewish practice). It is evidently of no consequence who they were that set forth or appointed ( ἔστησαν ) the two: some, like Alford, arguing that the whole company thus produced them; others, like Mosheim, contending that it must in all propriety have been the eleven apostles. I think that the vagueness of the phrase, without a defined subject, shows that the stress laid on either side is a mistake. It suffices to say, that two candidates were brought forward, possessed, as far as either apostles or disciples could say, of adequate qualifications. The Lord alone could decide: to Him all looked after the manner so familiar to the people of God. But Mosheim's conclusion destroys the whole point, besides doing violence to the text by confounding κλῆρος "lot" with ψῆφος vote or suffrage. It would bring in man's will and voice where the prayer just offered was an abandonment of it for the intervention of the heart-searching God. This, no doubt, was natural to one who was swayed by Lutheran prejudice, and strengthened by the practice which undoubtedly prevailed (from the third century at latest), the assembly deciding by suffrage, not by lot, between the candidates proposed by those who took the lead in their affairs. There seems little difficulty in understanding. a Hebraistic extension of the word "gave" (1 Samuel 14:41) for the more common "cast"; and as to the pronoun, it is as intelligible and correct in the dative, as in the genitive it is perplexing in sense, and, I think, inaccurate in form; for the article would be requisite with the substantive if it were the true reading. Compare J. L. Moshemii de rebus Christianorum ante Const. M. Comm. Saec. Pr. § xiv. pp. 78-80.
But now, when the day of Pentecost was running its course, they were all with one accord together; for God put the disciples in waiting in the attitude of expectation and prayer and supplication before Him. It was good that they should feel their weakness; and this was indeed the condition of true spiritual power, as it always is for the soul (if not for testimony, certainly for the soul). "And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." The manner of the Holy Spirit's appearing thus it is well to notice. It was exactly adapted to the intent for which He was given. It was not, as in the gospels, a testimony to the grace of the Lord, although nothing but grace could have given Him to man. It was not, as we find it afterwards in the Revelation, where mention is made of the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. The tongues were parted; for it was not a question of people being now made to speak of one lip. God was meeting man where he was, not setting aside the ancient judgment of his pride, yet graciously condescending to man, and this to mankind as they were. It was no sign of government, still less of government limited to a special nation. The parted tongues clearly showed that God thought of the Gentile as of the Jew. But they were "as of fire;" for the testimony of grace was none the less founded on righteousness. The gospel is intolerant of evil. This is the wonderful way in which God now speaks by the Holy Ghost. Whatever the mercy of God, whatever the proved weakness, need, and guilt of man, there is not nor can be the least compromise of holiness. God can never sanction the evil of man. Hence the Spirit of God was thus pleased to mark the character of His presence, even though given of the grace of God, but founded on the righteousness of God. God could afford fully to bless. It was no derogation from His glory; it was after all but His seal on the perfectness of the work of the Lord Jesus. Not only did He show His interest for man, and His grace to the evil and lost, but, above all, His honour for Jesus. There is no title nor ground so secure for us. There is no spring of blessing that we are entitled so to boast of as the Lord: there is none that so delivers from self.
At this time too there were dwelling at Jerusalem men from all nations, we may say, generally speaking, under heaven "Jews, devout men." And when it was noised abroad that the Holy Ghost had thus been given to the congregated disciples "the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speaking in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all of these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? Others mocking said, These men are full of new the (or sweet) wine. But Peter, standing up with eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem." For he first addresses them on a narrower ground than that into which he afterwards branches out, and both with a wisdom that is not a little striking. Here he is about to apply a portion of the prophecy of Joel. It will be seen that the prophet takes exactly the same limited ground as Peter does. That is, the Jews, properly so called, and Jerusalem, stand in the foreground of Joel 's prophecy: so admirably perfect is the word of God even in its smallest detail.
The point he insists on, it will be noticed, was this that the wonder then before them in Jerusalem was after all one for which their own prophets ought to have prepared them. "This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel." He does not say that it was the fulfilment of the prophet. Men, divines, have so said, but not the Spirit of God. The apostle simply says, "This is that which was spoken." Such was its character. How far it was to be then accomplished is another matter. It was not the excitement of nature by wine, but the heart filled with the Spirit of God, acting in His own power and in all classes. "And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: and I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: and it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." There he stops, as far as Joel is concerned.
Then, verse 22, he addresses them as "men of Israel," not merely of Judea and Jerusalem, but now breaking out into the general hopes of the nation, he at the same time proves their common guilt. "Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it."
And this the apostle supports by what David had spoken inPsalms 16:1-11; Psalms 16:1-11: "I foresaw the Lord always before my face." The same psalm affords the clearest proof that the Messiah (and no Jew could doubt that the Messiah was in question there) would be characterised by the most absolute trust in God through an His life; that he was to lay down His life with trust in God just as unbroken and perfect in death as in life; and finally that He would stand in resurrection. It is the psalm therefore of confidence in God that goes right through life, death, resurrection. It was seen in Jesus, and clearly not applicable to David its writer. Of all whom a Jew could have put forward to claim the language of such a psalm, David would have been perhaps the uppermost one in their hearts. But it was far beyond that famous king, as Peter argued: "Men [and] brethren,* let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses."
* It may be well to guard the English reader from supposing that two classes are intended. The phrase is literally "men-brethren," and means simply men who were brethren. Let me add, that the true text in the last clause of verse 30 is simply, "to seat from the fruit of his loins on his throne."
Thus the fresh and notorious facts as to Jesus, and no one else, completely agreed with this inspired testimony to the Messiah. Nor was it confined to a single portion of the Psalms. "Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear." But David is not ascended into the heavens. Thus Peter cites another psalm to show the necessary ascension of Messiah to sit at the right hand of Jehovah, just as much as he had shown resurrection to be predicted of Him as of no other. "for he says himself, Jehovah said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thy foes thy footstool." Who was the man that sat at God's right hand? Certainly none could pretend it was David, but his Son, the Messiah; and this entirely corresponded with the facts the apostles had beheld personally. "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ." Thus the proof was complete. Their psalms found their counterpart in the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus the Messiah. God had made Him "both Lord and Christ;" for here the testimony is very gradual, and the wisdom of God in this we may well admire and profit by. In meeting the Jews, God condescended to put forth the glory of His own Son in the way that most of all attached itself to their ancient testimonies and to their expectations. They looked for a Messiah. But apparently all was lost. for they had refused Him; and they might have supposed that the loss was irretrievable. Not so: God had raised Him from the dead. He had shown Himself therefore against what they had done; but their hope itself was secure in the risen Jesus, whom God had made to be Lord and Christ. Jesus, spite of all that they had done, had in nowise given up His title as the Christ; God had made Him such. After they had done their worst, and He had suffered His worst, God owned Him thus according to His own word at His own right hand. Other glories will open there too; but Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, as Paul says, was to be raised from the dead according to his gospel. Timothy was to remember this; and Paul can descend to show the connection of the glorious person of the Lord Jesus with the Jew on earth, as he loved for his own relationship to behold Him in heavenly glory. Thus the link with the expectations of the earthly people, though broken by death, is reset for ever in resurrection.
Surprised, grieved, alarmed to the heart by that which Peter had thus forcibly brought before them, they cry to him and the other apostles, "Men [and] brethren, what shall we do?" This gives the opportunity for the apostle to set out in the wisdom of God a very weighty application of the truth for the soul that hears the gospel: "Repent," says he, which is a far deeper thing than compunction of heart. This they had already, and it leads to that which he desired for them: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." There is no true repentance unto life without faith. But it is according to God that repentance is put forward here rather than faith. The Jews had the testimony of the gospel, as well as the law; and now it had been pressed on them by Peter. Because they believed that testimony, brought home to their consciences, as we have seen, their hearts were filled with sorrow.
But the apostle lets them know that there is a judgment of self that goes far below any outburst of grief, any consciousness and hatred, even of the deepest act of evil, as undoubtedly the crucifying of Jesus was. Repentance is the abandonment of self altogether, the judgment of what we are in the light of God. And this was to be marked, therefore, not only by the negative sign of giving themselves up as altogether evil before God, but by receiving the rejected and crucified man, the Lord Jesus. Hence, to be baptized each one of them in His name for the remission of sins follows; "and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost."
This, therefore, is entirely distinct from faith or repentance. Believing, they had of necessity a new nature they had life in Christ; but receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost is a privilege and power beyond; and in this case it was made to be attendant on one's being baptized as well as repenting, because in Jews it was of the utmost moment that they should give a public witness that all the rest and confidence of their souls lay in Jesus. Having been guilty of crucifying the Lord, He must be manifestly the object of their trust. And so it was that they were to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
But indeed this gift is always consequent on faith never identical with it. This is as sure as it is important to assert and to insist on, as well as to believe. It is no question of notion or tradition, the subject of which runs in quite another direction. I do not even allow it to be an open question, nor a matter of opinion; for plainly in every instance of each soul, of whom Scripture speaks, there is an interval however short. The gift of the Holy Ghost follows faith, and is in no way at the same instant, still less is it the same act. It supposes faith already existing, not unbelief; for the Holy Ghost, though He may quicken, is never given to an unbeliever. The Holy Ghost is said to seal the believer; but it is a seal of faith, and not of unbelief. The heart is opened by faith, and the Holy Ghost is given by the grace of God to those that believe, not in order to their believing. There is no such thing as the Holy Ghost given in order to believe. He quickens the unbeliever, and is given to the believer. Although we do not hear of faith in the passage, yet from the fact that the converted only were called on to repent, we know that they must have believed. True believing necessarily goes along with true repentance. The two things are invariably found together; but the gift of the Holy Ghost is consequent on them both.
And so the apostle explains. He says, "For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." His words seem to carry a sense beyond Israel: how far he entered into the force of them himself it is not perhaps for any of us to say. We know that afterwards, when Peter was called upon to go to the Gentiles, he found difficulties. It is hard to suppose, therefore, that he fully understood his own words. However. this may be, the words were according to God, whether or not fully appreciated by Peter when he uttered them. God was going to gather out of the Jews themselves and their children, but, more than that, "those that were afar off, as many as the Lord our God should call."
And then we have the beautiful picture that the Spirit of God gives us of the scene that was now formed by His own presence here below, "Then they that [gladly]* received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." They were added to the original nucleus of disciples, and "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, [and] in breaking of bread and prayers."
* It appears to me that ἀσμένως , "gladly," was inserted in the commonly received text against the best testimony, as well as internal reasons. For the great uncials (M, A, B, C, D, etc.), supported by the Vulgate and Aethiopic, omit the word, which was probably suggested byActs 21:17; Acts 21:17, where it falls in as admirably as here it sounds somewhat out of season. Nearly the same authorities concur in omitting καὶ , "and," between "the fellowship" and "the breaking of bread." This serves to strengthen the view that "the fellowship" goes with "the teaching of the apostles," though put as two objects instead of being combined by a single article in one idea; and it would throw the breaking of bread and the prayers similarly together.
Thus, after being brought into the new association, there arose a need of instruction; and the apostles were pre-eminently those that God vouchsafed in the infant days of His assembly. Inasmuch as it was of the utmost importance that all should be thoroughly established in the grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ, they had a place peculiar to themselves, as above all others chosen of the Lord to lay the foundation of His house, and to direct and administer in His name, as we see through the New Testament. And then as the fruit of it, and specially connected, there was "the fellowship" of which we next read. Next followed the breaking of bread, the formal expression of Christian fellowship, and the special outward sign of remembering Him to whose death they owed all. Finally, but closely following the Lord's supper, come "the prayers," which still showed that, however great might be the grace of God, they were in the place of danger, and needed dependence here below.
"And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common." This peculiar feature is found in Jerusalem, beautiful and blessed in its season, but, I have no doubt, special to the Jerusalem condition of the church of God. We can easily understand it. in the first place all that composed the church were at that time in the same place. We can feel readily, therefore, that there would be a real and strong family feeling, but I doubt whether their mutual affections then rose higher than the sense of their being God's family. They really did constitute the body of Christ; they were baptized by one Spirit into one body; but to be that one body, and to know that such they were, are two very different things. The development was reserved for another and still weightier witness of the glory of the Lord Jesus. But having in its strength the sense of family relationship, the wonderful victory of grace over selfish interests was the fruit of it. If he or she belonged to the household of God, this was the governing thought not one's own possessions. Grace gives without seeking a return; but grace on the other side seeks not its own things, but those of Christ.
Another trait is, that all savoured of divine as well as family life. The breaking of bread every day, for instance, was clearly a striking witness of Christ ever before their hearts, though also a kindred effect of the same feeling. Thus they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, as one might have need.
And they "continued daily with one accord in the temple." This is another peculiarity. There was by no means as yet a manifest severance of the tie with Judaism, at least with the circumstances of its worship. We know that in principle the cross does make a breach, and an irreparable one, with all that is of the first man; but the power of old habits with the joy that overflowed their souls made them for the moment to be, I may say, better Jews. There was that now within which was far stronger liquor than had ever filled the old skins of the law, and these were sure to be broken in no long time. But for the present nothing was farther from the disciples' minds: they continued daily with one accord in the temple. Along with it was joined this new element breaking bread at home; not "from house to house," as if it were a migratory service. There is no real ground to infer that they shifted the scene of the Lord's supper from one place to another. This is not the meaning. The margin is correct. They broke bread at home, in contrast with the temple. It might be the very same house in which the breaking of bread always took place. They would naturally choose the most suitable quarters, which combined convenience as to distance with commodiousness in receiving as many brethren and sisters as possible.
Thus these two features were seen to meet together in the Pentecostal church the retaining of Jewish religious habits in going up to the temple for prayer, and at the same time the observance of that which was properly Christian the breaking of bread at home. No wonder the new-found joy overflowed, and they were found "eating their meat with gladness and singleness of heart." There is no reason to confound the breaking of bread with eating their meat. They are two different things. We find the religious life, so to speak, expressed in their going up to the temple, and in their breaking bread at home. We find the effect upon their natural life in their "eating their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people." There is the same double character.
"And the Lord added to the church," or " together," (for there is a fair question that may be raised as to the text in this last clause) "daily such as should be saved," or those that God was about to separate from the destruction that was impending over the Jewish nation, and, further, to bring by a blessed deliverance into the new Christian estate. The word σωζομένους does not express the full character of Christian salvation which was afterwards known. Of course we know that they were saved; but this is not what the word in itself means. It is simply that the Lord was separating those that were to be saved. The English version gives it on the whole very justly. Carefully remember that the meaning is not that they were saved then. The phrase in Luke has nothing to do with that question; it refers simply to persons destined to salvation without saying anything farther.
In the next chapter (Acts 3:1-26) a miracle is related in detail, which brought out the feelings of the people, especially as represented by their leaders (Acts 4:1-37). In going up to the temple, (for the apostles themselves went there,) Peter and John met with a man that was lame; and as he asked for alms Peter gave him something better (as grace, poor in this world's resources and estimate, always loves to do so). He tells the expecting man, "Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have given thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk." The man instantly rises, according to the power of God, and is found with them, "walking, and leaping, and praising God; and all the people saw him."
This arrests universal attention, and Peter preaches a new discourse that which has been justly enough called a Jewish sermon. It is thus evident that his indication of the Christian place of blessing in the chapter before (Acts 2:1-47) does not hinder him from setting before the men of Israel (for so he addressed them here), first, their awful position by the rejection of Jesus, and, next, the terms that God in His grace sets before them in answer to the intercession of Christ. "The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his" not "son," but " servant Jesus." We know Him (and the Spirit of God, who wrote this book, infinitely better knew Him) to be the Son of God. But we must always hold to what God says; and the testimony of God did not yet and especially in dealing with the Jews set forth all the glory of Christ. It was gradually brought out; and the more that man's unbelief grew, so much the more God's maintenance of the Lord's glory was manifested. And so, if they had with scorn refused Him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go, if they had denied the Holy One and Just, and desired a murderer to be granted, if they had killed the Prince [leader, originator] of life, whom God raised from the dead, they had simply shown out what they were. On the other hand, His name, through faith in His name, (and they were witnesses of its power,) had made this man strong, whom they saw and knew: "Yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all. And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. But those things, which God before had showed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled."
And then he calls upon them to repent, and be converted, that their sins might be blotted out, so that times of refreshing might come from the presence of the Lord. "And he shall send Jesus Christ, who was fore-appointed for you: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began." God has accomplished His word by Moses the prophet; for Moses in no way took the place of being the deliverer of Israel, but only a witness of it, a partial exemplification of God's power then, but looking onward to the great Prophet and Deliverer that was coming. Now He was come; and so Peter sets before them, not only the coming, the Blesser's arrival and rejection in their midst, but the awfulness of trifling with it. Whoever would not bow to Him was to be cut off by their own Moses's declaration: "Every soul who will not hear that prophet shall be destroyed from among the people." And so it was that all the prophets had testified of those days: and they were the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with their fathers, saying unto Abraham, "And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed." The Seed was now come. It was for them, therefore, to declare themselves. Alas! they had already set up their will against Him; but at His intercession (what grace!) God was willing to pardon it all, did they but repent and be converted for the blotting out of their sins.
Thus we have here an appeal to the nation as such; for in all this it will be observed he does not speak a word to them of the Lord Jesus as Head of the church. We have no hint of this truth yet to anybody. Nay, we have not Jesus spoken of even in the same height as in the preceding chapter 2. We have Him in heaven, it is true, but about to return and bring in earthly power, blessing, and glory, if Israel only turned with repentance to Him. Such was the testimony of Peter. It was a true word; and it remains true. When Israel shall turn in heart to the Lord, He who secretly works this in grace will return publicly to them. When they shall say "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of Jehovah," the Messiah will come in fulness of blessing. The heavens will retain Him no more, but give Him up who will fill earth as well as heaven with glory. No word of God perishes: all abides perfectly true.
Meanwhile other and deeper counsels have been brought to light by the unbelief of Israel. This unbelief comes out in no small measure in the next chapter, which follows but might properly have formed a part of Acts 3:1-26; for in sense it is a continuous subject. "And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide. Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand." Then, on the morrow, we have the council; and Peter, being by the chiefs demanded by what power or name they had wrought the deed, filled with the Holy Ghost, answers, "Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, if we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; be it known unto you all," (he is throughout bold and uncompromising) "and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner." Thus again reference is made to their own testimonies. "Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."
Unscrupulous as they were, they were thus confounded by the calm confidence with which the truth armed the apostles; and the more so, because their tone and language gave evidence that, whatever the power of the Holy Ghost wrought, it did not set aside 'their condition as illiterate men. Their words, etc., bore no polish of the schools; and truth spurns, as it needs not, dialectic subtlety. This magnified, therefore, the power of God so much the more, as man's skill was null. But at the same time there was the witness of the miracle that had been done. In presence, then, of the apostles clothed with the irresistible might of the Lord, and of the man whose healing silently attested it even as to the body, they could only command them to go aside, while they conferred together. A guilty conscience betrays its conscious weakness, however wilful. God invariably gives sufficient testimony to condemn man. He will prove this in the day of judgment; but it is certain to our faith now. He is God, and cannot act below Himself when it is a question of His own revelation.
On such occasions even those who profess most are apt to speak together, as if there were no God, or as if He did not hear them saying, "What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it." They would, if they could. Their will was engaged (sad to say!) against God, against the truth, against Jehovah and His anointed. "But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they may speak henceforth to no man in this name." Thus their lack of conscience could not be hid: witness their opposition to facts that they knew, and to truth that they could not deny. The apostles cannot but take the real seat of judgment, searching the hearts of their judges: "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done. And being let go, they went to their own [company]." It is seen in this passage bow truly it has been said that we have a new family. They went to their own [company], and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them." Accordingly we find them speaking to God in a new manner, and suitably to the occasion: "Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen race, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together in this city [these last words being wrongly omitted in the received text] against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy servant [again it is servant ] Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy servant Jesus." And God answered. "When they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost." They had received the Holy Ghost before; but to be "filled" with Him goes farther, and supposes that no room was left for the action of nature, that the power of the Holy Ghost absorbed all for the time being. "They were filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness." Such was the effect. They were to be witnesses of Him.
"And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common." The Spirit of God repeated this, I suppose, as having a further proof of His action on their souls at this time, because many more had been brought in. "And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet," a slightly different development from the second chapter. There we find that there was what might seem a greater freeness, and perhaps to some eyes a more striking simplicity. But all is in season, and it seems to me that, while the devotedness was the same (and the Spirit of God takes pains to show that it was the same, spite of largely increased numbers, by the continued mighty action of the Holy Ghost), still with this advance of numbers simplicity could not be kept up in the same apparent manner. The distribution made to each before was more direct and immediate; now it takes effect through the apostles. The possessions were laid at the apostles' feet, and distribution was made to every one according as he had need. Among the rest one man was conspicuous for the heartiness of his love. It was Barnabas, of whom we are afterwards to hear much in other ways of still more lasting moment.
But there is rarely a manifestation of God in the church without a dark shadow that accompanies it from the evil one. And farther we find this immediately. We are not to be alarmed by the presence of evil, but rather to be sure that where God works Satan will follow, seeking to turn the very good in which the Spirit acts into a means for introducing his own counterfeit to the dishonour of the Lord. Thus in the present instance Ananias and Sapphira sell some of their property, but keep back part of the price; and this was done deliberately by concert for the purpose of gaining the character of devotedness without its cost. in principle they made the church their world, in which they sought to give the impression of a faith that confided in the Lord absolutely, while at the same time there was a secret reserve for themselves. Now the manifest point of that which was then wrought by the Spirit of God was grace in faith: there was in no way a demand. Nothing could more falsify the fruit of the Spirit of God here than converting it into a tacit rule: there was no compulsion whatever in the case. Nobody was asked to give anything. What was gold or silver, what houses or lands, to the Lord? The worth of it all depended on its being the power of the Spirit of God the fruit of divine grace in the heart. But Satan tempted them in the manner here described; and Peter, by whatever means he arrived at the conviction of it, arraigns the husband alone first. "Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost
It is a solemn thing to remember, that all sin now is against the Spirit. There may be, no doubt, the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against Him; but in truth all sin is sin against the Holy Ghost; and for this simple reason, that He has taken His place here. In Israel the sin was against the law, because the law was the testimony that God set in His sanctuary. By the law sin was measured in Israel; but it is not so for the Christian. There is now a far more serious and searching and thorough standard. Those that use the law now as a measure among Christians lower the test of judgment incomparably. Such a misuse of the law for righteous men does not at all prove that they are anxious about holiness or righteousness; it is a proof of their ignorance of the presence of the Holy Ghost, and the just and necessary effects of His presence. One has no thought, I repeat, of implying that it is not well meant. To be sure it is. It is simply that they do not understand the distinctive character of Christianity.
But this is a most serious error; and I doubt much whether all who in appearance and by profession take the place of owning the presence of the Spirit of God have by any means an adequate sense either of the privileges which are theirs or of the gravity of their responsibility. Now, Peter had. The days were early. There was much truth that had yet to be communicated and learnt; but the power of the presence of the Holy Ghost made itself felt. He at least seems to have realised the bearing of all, and so he deals with the sin of Ananias as one who had lied to the Holy Ghost. He bad kept back part of the price of the land. "Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?" It was still his own. "Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God."
Forthwith Ananias comes under the judgment of the Lord. He fell asleep, and great fear came upon all them that heard these Words. "And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter said to her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much?" Thus there was an appeal to her conscience, without an atom of harshness in it. She had longer time to weigh what they were about; but in truth it was a conspiracy; not so much to injure others as to exalt themselves; but the end was as bad as the means were evil and odious in the sight of God. Christ entered into none of their thoughts or desires. Many a thing has been said untruly since, which was not so judged of God. But there was an especial offence at this time, in that, He having wrought so wondrously in blessing man with the best blessings through Christ our Lord, the practical denial of the presence of the Spirit should have so deliberately and quickly manifested itself for the express purpose of exalting the flesh which Christianity has set aside for ever. Hence Peter says, "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 they shall carry thee out . . . . And great fear came upon all the church."
Then we find the Lord accomplishing His word: greater works were to be done by them than even He Himself had wrought: never do we hear of the Lord's shadow curing the sick. And believers were the more added to the Lord. The unbelievers were warned, "and of the rest durst no man join himself unto them." Souls that bowed to the word were attracted, multitudes both of men and women; and the enemy was awed, in some quarters alarmed, and irritated in others. "The high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, and were filled with indignation. They laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison."
But the angel of the Lord shows his power; for this chapter is remarkable in giving us a picture not merely of the sweet activity of grace, but of divine power in presence of evil. We have seen the positive interference of the Spirit of God. At the end of the chapter before we had the second witness of it, after the foundation laid, and first witness given, in chapter 2. But here we have the proofs of His presence in other ways power in dealing with the evil, and judging it within the church of God; next, power by angelic deliverance; thirdly, power by men in providence. Gamaliel in council is just as truly the effect of God's power working by man, as the angel in opening the doors of the prison and bringing the apostles out, not, of course, so wonderful, but as real a part of God's working in behalf of His assembly and servants.
But there is another case. The very same men who were delivered by divine power are allowed to be beaten by man. Nay, not only do they take it quietly these men about whom all the power of God was thus seen in action in one form or another; but they rejoice that they were counted worthy to suffer. Are we prepared for the same thing? Be assured, brethren, if we have any tie with Christ by grace, we belong to the same company: it is our own company; it is a part of our own heritage of blessing. It is not, I admit, according to the spirit of the age to deal with us after the same sort; but there is no real change for the better in the world to hinder the outbreak of its violence at any time. Is it not well therefore for us to realize to what we belong, and what the Lord looks for from us, and what it is He has recorded for our instruction as well as comfort?
After all this then we find that "they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ." It is impossible that a human authority could be entitled to set aside the direct command of the Lord Jesus. The Lord had commanded them to go and preach the gospel to every creature. Men had forbidden this. It is very clear that the apostle Peter gives the prohibition only a human place now (Acts 5:29). If men had told them to be silent, and the Lord bid them preach, the highest authority must be paramount.
Another form of evil betrays itself in the next chapter (Acts 6:1-15); and here again we find in the very good that God had wrought evil murmuring is found. It is not merely individuals as before; in some respects it is a more serious case: there are complaints heard in the church the murmuring of Grecians against the Hebrews (that is, of the foreign speaking. Jews against the Jews, proper of the Holy Land), because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. This forms the occasion for the provisional wisdom of the Spirit of God.
We have already seen with abundant evidence how truly the church is a divine institution, founded upon a divine person (even the Holy Ghost) coming down and, making it, since redemption, His dwelling-place here below. Besides, we may now learn the working of this living power that is drawn out by the circumstances which call it forth. It is not a system of rules; nothing is more destructive of the very nature of the church of God. It is not a human society, with either the leaders of it or the mass choosing for themselves what or whom they think best, but the Spirit of God who is there meets in His wisdom whatever may be necessary for the glory of Christ. All this is preserved in the written word for our instruction and guidance now.
Here we have the institution of seven men to look after the poor who were in danger of being forgotten, or in some way neglected at any rate, so they had complained. To cut off the appearance of it, and at the same time to leave the apostles free for their own proper work of a more spiritual kind, "the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
Thus we find two things: not only the apostles formally appointing, but the multitude of the believers left to choose, where it was a question that cone the distribution of their gifts. On the part of that governed the church of God, there ought not to be the appearance of coveting the property of God's people, or the disposal of it. At the same time the apostles do appoint those who were thus chosen over this matter. They were called of God to act, and so they do. "But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word."
The principle of the choice too is striking; for all these names, it would appear, were Grecian. What gracious wisdom! This was clearly to stop the mouths of the complainants. The Hellenists, or Grecians, were jealous of the Palestinian Jews. The persons appointed were, judging from their names, every one of them Hellenists, or foreign-speaking Jews. The troublers ought to have been not only satisfied but somewhat ashamed. Thus it is that grace, while it discerns, knows how to rise above evil; for murmuring against others is not the way to correct anything that is wrong, even if it be real. But the grace of the Lord always meets circumstances, and turns them to a profitable account, by a manifestation of wisdom from above. The field was about to be enlarged; and although it was but a poor root of man's complaints which led to this fresh line of action, God was moving over all, could use these seven, and would give some of them a good degree, as we find in Stephen soon and in Philip later. But He marked it in another way too, which showed His approbation. "The word of God increased," spite of murmuring; "and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly;" and a new feature appears "a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith."
Stephen then, full of grace and power (but One could be said to be full of grace and truth), is found doing great wonders. This draws out the opposition of the leaders of the Jews, who "were not able to resist the spirit and the wisdom with which he spake. Then they suborned men, who said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God. And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council, and set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: for we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us."
Accordingly, thus accused, Stephen answers the appeal of the high priest, "Are these things so?" And in his wonderful discourse (Acts 7:1-60), on which I can but touch, he sets before them the prominent facts of their history, which bear on God's question with the Jews at this moment. God had brought out their forefather Abraham, but He never gave him actually to possess this land. Why, then, boast of it so much? Those who, according to nature, vaunted loudly of Abraham and of God's dealings, were clearly not in communion with God, or even with Abraham. Spite of the love and honour that God had for their forefathers, he never possessed the land. Why, then, set such stress on that land?
But more than this. There was one of the descendants of the fathers who stands out most especially, and above all of the family of Abraham, in the book of Genesis one man who, more than any other, was the type of the Messiah. Need I say it was Joseph? And how did he fare? Sold by his brethren to the Gentiles. The application was not difficult. They knew how they had treated Jesus of Nazareth. Their consciences could not fail to remind them how the Gentiles would have willingly let Him go, and how their voices and will had prevailed against even that hardened governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate. Thus it was manifest that the leading points of Joseph's tale, as far as the wickedness of the Jews, and the selling to the Gentiles, were rehearsed again in Jesus of Nazareth.
But, coming down later still, another man fills the history of the second book of the Bible, and indeed has to do with all the remaining books of the Pentateuch. It was Moses. What about him? Substantially the same story again: the rejected of Israel, whose pride would not hear when he sought to bring about peace between a contending Israelite and his oppressor, Moses was compelled to fly from Israel, and then found his hiding-place among the Gentiles. How far Stephen entered intelligently into the bearing of these types it is not for one to say; but we can easily see the wisdom of God; we can see the power of the Holy Ghost with which he spake.
But there was another element also. He comes down next to their temple; for this was an important point. It was not only that he had spoken of Jesus of Nazareth, but they had also charged him with saying that He would destroy this place, and change their customs. What did their own prophets say? "But Solomon built him a house. Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in [places] made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Hath not my hand made all these things?" In short, he shows that Israel had sinned against God in every ground of relationship. They had broken the law; they had slain the prophets; they had killed the Messiah; and they had always resisted the Holy Ghost. What an awful position! and the more awful, because it was the simple, truth.
This brought out the frenzied rage of Israel, and they gnashed on him with their teeth; and he that charged them with always resisting the Holy Ghost, as their fathers did, full of the Holy Ghost looks up into heaven, and sees the Son of man, and bears witness that he sees Him standing at the right hand of God. And thus we have what I began with: we have the manifestation of the character of Christianity, and the perception of its power, and the effect produced upon him that appreciated it. We have not merely the Lord going up to heaven, but His servant, who saw heaven, open, and Jesus, the Son of man, standing at the right hand of God.
But there is more: for while they rushed now to silence the mouth which so completely proved their nation's habitual sin against the Spirit, they stoned him indeed, but they stoned him praying, and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." They could not silence the words that told how deeply he had drunk into the grace of the Lord Jesus. They could not silence his confidence, his peaceful entrance into his place with Christ, associated consciously with Him as he was. And then we learn (it may be without a thought on his part) how grace conforms to the words of Jesus on the cross, and certainly without the smallest imitation of it, but so much the more evincing the power of God. For Jesus could say, and He alone could say rightly, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." Jesus alone fittingly could say, "I commend my spirit." He who could lay down His life, and could take it again, could so speak to the Father. But the servant of the Lord could say, and rightly and blessedly, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Nor was this all; the same heart that thus confided absolutely in the Lord, and knew his own heavenly portion with Jesus, kneels down and cries with a loud voice. This was not directed to Jesus only: no loud voice was needed there: a whisper would be enough for Him. The loud voice was for man, for his dull ears and unfeeling heart. With a loud voice he cries, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." What simplicity, but what fulness of communion with Jesus! The same who had prayed for them reproduced His own feelings in the heart of His servant.
I shall not now develop this subject more than other scenes of the deepest interest, but just simply and shortly commend to all that are here the beautiful witness that it affords us of the true place, power, and grace of a Christian.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Acts 5:5". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wkc/acts-5.html. 1860-1890.
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27