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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Acts 5

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The Church Grows Despite Opposition

A. The lie of Ananias and Sapphira.

1. (Act 5:1-2) What Ananias and Sapphira did.

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles' feet.

a. After they saw the great generosity of Barnabas, and how well he was respected, Ananias and Sapphira decided they wanted some of the same respect.

b. He kept back part of the proceeds: They sold the possession, and gave only a portion to the church, while implying that they had sacrificially given it all to the church.

i. The word for kept back is nosphizomai, which means "to misappropriate." The same word was used of Achan's theft in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Joshua 7:21), and in its only other New Testament use, it means to steal (Titus 2:10).

ii. "The story of Ananias is to the Book of Acts what the story of Achan is to the book of Joshua. In both narratives an act of deceit interrupts the victorious progress of the people of God." (Bruce)

c. His wife also being aware of it: Clearly, both husband and wife were in on the deception.

i. "There may indeed be the further implication that Ananias and Sapphira had vowed to give the whole proceeds of the sale to God, but then changed their mind and handed over only part." (Bruce)

ii. "Once the love of money takes possession of a person, there is no evil that he cannot or will not do." (Horton)

iii. According to Calvin, these are the "evils packed under" the sin of Ananias, beyond the mere attempt to deceive God and the church: The contempt of God, sacrilegious defrauding, perverse vanity and ambition, lack of faith, the corrupting of a good and holy order, and hypocrisy.

2. (Act 5:3-6) Peter confronts Ananias.

But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.

a. Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart: God apparently gave Peter supernatural knowledge of what Ananias had done. This spiritual gift, called the word of knowledge, is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8.

i. When Peter said this, Ananias must have been crushed. Certainly, he was expecting praise for his spectacular gift, but was rebuked instead.

b. Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit: Peter did not accuse Ananias of lying to the church, or to the apostles, but to the Holy Spirit Himself.

c. While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Peter freely acknowledges that the land and its value belonged to Ananias alone; he was completely free to do with it what he wanted. His crime was not withholding the money, but in deceptively implying that he was giving it all.

i. Of course, his sin was greed (in keeping the money); but his greater sin was pride, in wanting everyone to consider him so spiritual that he "gave it all."

ii. It wasn't that Ananias' gift wasn't big enough, but that the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 15:8).

iii. The spirit of Ananias is alive and well in the church today. Far too many want to be considered "spiritual" while refusing to pay any kind of price in their service to God.

d. Their sin was so unnecessary: While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Ananias was free to use the money for whatever he wanted, except as a means to inflate his own spiritual pride.

e. Satan had filled the heart of Ananias, yet Peter could ask why he had conceived this thing in your heart. Satan can influence the life of a believer, even a spirit-filled believer, but he can't do your sinning for you. Ananias had to conceive it in his heart.

f. Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last: Peter did not pronounce a "death sentence" on Ananias. He simply confronted him with his sin and Ananias fell down dead. It isn't the business of the church to pronounce a "death sentence" on anyone!

i. "Observe that Peter said no word to Ananias about his death. The sentence was not calling down upon a man of a curse at the caprice of an ecclesiastical official. The death of Ananias was the act of God." (Morgan).

ii. Peter was probably more surprised than anyone when Ananias fell down dead!

g. God struck Ananias dead for his sin. Doesn't this seem rather harsh?

i. The greater wonder is that God delays His righteous judgment in virtually all other cases. Ananias received exactly what he deserved; he simply could not live in the atmosphere of purity that marked the church at that time.

ii. The physical means by which Ananias died was probably a heart attack. Ananias lived in a time, and among a people, who really believed there was a God in heaven we must all answer to. It frightened him to have his sin exposed and to know he was accountable before God for it. How many people would be frightened before God if confronted with sin like this? Today, too many people would yawn or debate if confronted with sin like this!

iii. What Ananias did also must be seen in the context of its time.  This was a critical juncture for the early church, and such impurity, sin, scandal and satanic infiltration could have corrupted the entire church at its root. "The Church has never been harmed or hindered by opposition from without; it has been perpetually harmed and hindered by perils from within." (Morgan)

iv. Why don't we see God judge the same way now? In part, because the church has so many "branches." Even if the entire body of Christ in the United States was to become corrupt through scandal or sin, there is plenty of strength in other parts of the "tree."

v. "The Church's administration to-day is not what it was, or there might be many dead men and women at the end of some services." (Morgan)

h. The shock of being exposed was too much for Ananias. For many Christians in compromise, their greatest fear is not in sinning itself, but in being found out.

i. As much as anything, the lesson of Ananias and Sapphira is that we presume greatly on God when we assume that there is always time to repent, time to get right with God, time to get honest with Him. Any such time given by God is an undeserved gift that He owes no one; we should never assume it will always be there.

i. God's purpose was accomplished in the church at large: So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. Surely, this is one of the great understatements of the Bible!

3. (Act 5:7-11) Peter confronts Sapphira.

Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter answered her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?" She said, "Yes, for so much." Then Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out." Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

a. How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?  Sapphira was a knowing and willing participant in the sin, as well as the blatant cover-up. God's judgment of her is just as righteous as His judgment of Ananias.

b. We don't know if Ananias and Sapphira had a good or a bad marriage, if they agreed often or fought often. We do know that they at least agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord. They should have found agreement for the Lord, instead of against Him!

i. Married couples in the Lord have a responsibility to keep each other from sin, and to refuse to participate in sin together, for God will hold each accountable. The concept of submission does not extend to submitting unto sin.

c. Great fear came upon all the church: This is the first use of the word church in the Book of Acts. What is the church?

i. "The Greek word has both a Gentile and a Jewish background. In its Gentile sense it denotes chiefly the citizen-assembly of a Greek city … but it is its Jewish usage that underlies its use to denote the community of believers in Jesus. In the Septuagint it is one of the words used to denote the people of Israel in their religious character as Yahweh's 'assembly.'" (Bruce)

ii. In other words, Luke chose a term that was used in his Bible to describe the people of God in the Old Testament. It was not the only term, but certainly one of the terms.

iii. "The Christian ekklesia was both new and old - new, because of its relation and witness to Jesus as Lord and to the epoch-making events of his death exaltation and the sending of the Spirit; old, as the continuation of the 'congregation of the Lord' which had formerly been confined within the limits of one nation, but now, having died and risen with Christ, was to be open to all believers without distinction." (Bruce)

4. Observations on the account of Ananias and Sapphira.

a. Were Ananias and Sapphira saved? It is impossible to say for certain, for only God knows. But we can see that it is possible for a Christian to sin unto death (1 John 5:16-17), and we have New Testament examples of saved Christians being judged by being "brought home" in death (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).

b. Notice that their great sin was rooted in pride; pride will corrupt the church more quickly than anything else.

c. In noticing the comparison between the incident of Ananias and Sapphira and Achan in the book of Joshua, it is interesting also to look at the contrasts. In Joshua, God expected the people of God themselves to execute the judgment upon the offender. But in Acts, God takes this type of judgment out of the church's hand and executes it Himself. The church has no place in administering such punishment itself or in having civil authorities do so for them.

B. Continuing power in the church.

1. (Act 5:12) Power shown through miracles and unity.

And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon's Porch.

a. Many signs and wonders were done … they were all with one accord: Often, the fact that God's people are together all with one accord is a greater display of the power of the Holy Spirit than any particular sign or wonder. Our hearts and minds can be harder to move than any mountain!

b. We can wonder why at this time God chose to do these miracles through the hands of the apostles and not mainly through others. But God sovereignly chooses which hands will bring a miracle. He had a purpose in doing it through the hands of the apostles.

c. Solomon's Porch: The second temple was a massive compound, with extensive colonnades and covered areas. No doubt, the early Christians gathered together in a particular area of the temple complex, an area open to all.

2. (Act 5:13-14) The church's reputation and growth.

Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.

a. None of the rest dared join them: The community of Christians had a marvelous reputation for integrity, and everybody knew it was a serious thing to be a follower of Jesus. An Ananias and Sapphira incident would cut down on casual commitment!

b. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord: Yet, the church kept growing; though people knew it was a serious thing to be a Christian, the Spirit of God kept moving with power.

c. Notice how new believers were added: Added to the Lord, not to a "church" or a person or even a movement, but to God Himself.

3. (Act 5:15-16) The expectation of miracles among the early Christians.

So that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

a. They brought the sick out into the streets: People were so convinced of the reality and power of what the Christians believed, they thought they could be healed by the mere touch of Peter's shadow.

i. That at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them: Our text does not specifically say people were healed by Peter's shadow; it merely tells us people thought it would, and they took action based on this belief. We don't know for certain if people were actually healed by this.

b. Assuming people were healed, apparently, even the shadow of Peter became a point of contact where people would release faith in Jesus as healer. It seems that people well understood what Peter said in Acts 3:12-16: That Jesus heals, even if He is doing His healing work through His apostles.

i. It may sound crazy that one could be healed by the touch of a shadow, but we know one was healed by the touch of a garment, when the woman touched the hem of Jesus' garment (Luke 8:44). There wasn't anything magical in the garment, but it was a way her faith was released. In the same, there was no power in Peter's shadow itself, but there was power when a person believed in Jesus to heal them, and the passing of Peter's shadow may have helped some to believe.

ii. "It may be significant that the verb episkiazo, which Luke chooses, meaning 'to overshadow', he has used twice in his Gospel of the overshadowing of God's presence." (Stott)

iii. "The idea that shadows had magical powers, both beneficent and malevolent, was current in the ancient world and explains the motivation of the people." (Marshall)

c. However, we can trust that Luke is not merely recording legends. "From what we know of physicians, even in those days, we cannot assume that Luke would gullibly accept stories of 'miraculous healing' without investigating them." (LaSor)

d. They were all healed: However God chose to bring the healing, there is no doubt that a remarkable work of healing was present. We shouldn't miss the connection between the purity preserved in the first part of the chapter (with the death of Ananias and the fear of God among the Christians) and the power displayed here. God was blessing a pure church with spiritual power.

e. When we see that a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, we see that people are coming from afar to the apostles, instead of the apostles going to them. This is exciting, but not exactly according to the command of Jesus. He told the disciples to go out to Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). In fact, the apostles wouldn't leave Jerusalem until they were forced to by persecution (Acts 8:1, 12:1-2).

C. The apostles are imprisoned by the Jewish rulers.

1. (Act 5:17-18) The arrest and imprisonment of the apostles.

Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.

a. They were filled with indignation: The apostles, like Jesus whom they represent, are persecuted because their good works and popularity are a threat to those who have an interest in the status quo of religious and moral darkness.

2. (Act 5:19-20) Angelic intervention frees the apostles.

But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, "Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life."

a. An angel of the Lord opened the prison doors: Of course, this was easy for God to arrange. Angels are all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14). God sent forth this angel to minister for the apostles. Locked doors are nothing for the Lord!

b. They are not only set free, but they are set free for a purpose, that they may Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life. God did not set the apostles free so they could run for the hills or so they could just indulge their own comfort. They were set free for a reason.

i. Isn't this a pattern for our own lives? We are set free so that we may proclaim all the words of this life, instead of being set free for our own pleasure and comfort.

c. An angel of the Lord: Possibly, they only understood this was an angel in retrospect. Angels often come in human appearance, and it may not always be easy to recognize an angel (Luke 24:3-7, Hebrews 13:2).

3. (Act 5:21-28) The apostles begin preaching again, and are arrested again by the Jewish rulers.

And when they heard that, they entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported, saying, "Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!" Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome would be. So one came and told them, saying, "Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!" Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, "Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man's blood on us!"

a. They entered the temple early in the morning and taught: What obedience! What boldness! They went to the most public place they could (the temple), and as soon as they could (early in the morning). When they were thought to be in the prison, they were obediently teaching God's word.

i. When the high priests and other officials found out the apostles were gone, but the prison was still shut securely, they wondered what the outcome would be. They might have wondered, but we don't - we know God's work will continue.

b. The captain went with the officers and brought them without violence: The apostles were soon arrested again. It would have been tempting for them to think that since they were miraculously released, that God would keep them from being arrested again, but that wasn't the case.

i. When the apostles went back into custody, they knew how easy it would be for God to release them again, if it pleased Him to do so. Their past experience of the power of God had filled them with faith for the present.

ii. Brought them without violence: Significantly, the apostles do not appeal to popular opinion for protection against the Jewish rulers. After all, they could have incited the crowd by shouting, "Are you going to let them take us away?" But their trust is in God and God alone. A carnal solution to their problem was available, but they did not use it.

c. For they feared the people: The hearts of the Jewish rulers are again exposed. They feared the people, but they did not fear God.

d. The accusation of the high priest is a wonderful testimony to the effectiveness of the message preached by the apostles. The high priest himself declares they have filled Jerusalem with [their] doctrine. He also knows that they want to bring this Man's blood on the Jewish rulers!

i. By calling Jesus this Man, the Jewish leaders are obviously avoiding the name Jesus, but they can't avoid the power of Jesus; it is staring them right in the face.

ii. The charge that the apostles did intend to bring this Man's blood upon us is interesting. The high priest no doubt meant that the apostles intended to hold the Jewish leaders responsible, in some measure, for the execution of Jesus (Acts 2:23). Yet, we know that the apostles must have desired for the high priest and the other Jewish leaders to come to faith in Jesus, even as some other priests did (Acts 6:7). For certain, the apostles wanted to bring the covering, cleansing blood of Jesus upon the high priest!

D. The resolution of their case before the Jewish rulers.

1. (Act 5:29-32) The testimony of the apostles before the Sanhedrin.

But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: "We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him."

a. We ought to obey God rather than men: This was a testimony of great boldness, in contrast to the Sanhedrin, who were more concerned about man's opinion than God's opinion.

i. The apostles' response to the Sanhedrin is not a defense, nor is it a plea for mercy; it is a simple explanation of action.

ii. We should obey rulers, but not when they contradict God: "Therefore, if a father, being not content with his own estate, do essay to take from God the chief honour of a father, he is nothing else but a man. If a king, or ruler, or magistrate, do become so lofty that he diminisheth the honour and authority of God, he is but a man. We must also thus think of pastors." (Calvin)

b. This was a testimony faithful to the foundation of the Christian faith. Peter speaks of man's guilt (Jesus whom you murdered), Jesus' death (hanging on a tree), Jesus' resurrection (Him God exalted to His right hand), and our responsibility to respond (to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins).

i. Why does Peter refer to the cross as a tree? Because he is drawing an association from Deuteronomy 21:22-23, where it says that a person hanged from a tree is cursed by God. Peter is bringing attention to the magnitude of their rejection of Jesus, pointing out that they killed him in the worst way possible, both from a Roman perspective (the cross) and a Jewish perspective (the tree association).

ii. "While xylon [tree] was used in antiquity and in the LXX variously for 'a tree,' 'wood' of any kind, 'a pole,' and various objects made of wood, including 'a gallows,' it is also used in the NT for the cross of Jesus." (Longenecker)

c. We are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit: This was a reliable testimony, because it is based on eyewitness testimony, which is also confirmed by God!

2. (Act 5:33-39) Gamaliel's advice to the Sanhedrin.

When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them. Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. And he said to them: "Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it; lest you even be found to fight against God."

a. They were furious: "Luke graphically describes them as 'being sawn asunder (in heart)." (Williams)

b. A Pharisee named Gamaliel: This was the grandson of the esteemed Hillel, the founder of Israel's strongest school of religion. Gamaliel was given the title Rabban ("our teacher"), which was a step above the title Rab ("teacher") or Rabbi ("my teacher").

i. The Mishnah says of Gamaliel: "Since Rabban Gamaliel the elder died there has been no more reverence for the law; and purity and abstinence died out at the same time."

c. Significantly, Gamaliel was a Pharisee. Though the Sadducees had more political power (Acts 5:17), it was politically foolish for the Sadducees to ask the Romans to execute the apostles without support from the Pharisees.

d. Some time ago Theudus rose up: Josephus, the Jewish historian, does mention a Theudas who led a rebellion, but at a later point than this. It could be that Josephus had his dates mixed up or that this was a different Theudas (it was a common name). Josephus does describe a Judas of Galilee (Antiquities, 18.1.1,2,6 and 20.5.2) who may be the same one mentioned here.

e. If this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it; lest you even be found to fight against God: Gamaliel was speaking for himself and not for God. There are many movements that are considered successful in the sight of man, but are against God's truth. Success is not the ultimate measure of truth.

i. Gamaliel was really a fence sitter. He spoke as if they should wait and see if Jesus and the apostles were really from God. But what greater testimony did he need, beyond Jesus' resurrection and the apostles' miracles? Why does he adopt a "wait-and-see" attitude?

ii. Gamaliel proposed the test of time, and that is an important test, but more important than the test of time is the test of eternity.

iii. "We should not be too ready to credit Gamaliel with having uttered an invariable principle … the Gamaliel principle is not a reliable index to what is from God and what is not." (Stott)

3. (Act 5:40-42) After a beating, the apostles resume preaching with joy.

And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So 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 did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

a. When they had called for the apostles and beaten them: The leaders thought they would intimidate and discourage the apostles with a beating. Instead, they left rejoicing. They were not rejoicing that they suffered, but that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. It was a privilege to be associated with Jesus in any circumstance, even to suffer shame.

b. Beaten can also be translated skinned; the beating they received stripped the skin off of their backs.

i. Marshall on the beating they received: "It was no soft option; people were known to die from it, even if this was exceptional. It was meant to be a serious lesson to offenders."

c. They did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. Whatever beating or shameful treatment the Sanhedrin gave them, it did absolutely no good. The disciples didn't stop preaching for a moment. Would we have stopped? Is a beating or social rejection enough to get us to back down for Jesus? We need to have the apostles' courage and determination to stand firm for Jesus Christ.

i. Spurgeon spoke of this kind of bold heart: "Now, I charge every Christian here to be speaking boldly in Christ's name, according as he has opportunity, and especially to take care of this tendency of our flesh to be afraid; which leads practically to endeavours to get off easily and to save ourselves from trouble. Fear not; be brave for Christ. Live bravely for him who died lovingly for you."

ii. Spurgeon also challenged the cowardly heart: "Yet you are a coward. Yes, put it down in English: you are a coward. If anybody called you so you would turn red in the face; and perhaps you are not a coward in reference to any other subject.  What a shameful thing it is that while you are bold about everything else you are cowardly about Jesus Christ. Brave for the world and cowardly towards Christ!"

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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