Lesson 8: “A Deadly Deception”
As we come to chapter 5 we come to one of those places where the chapter divisions cause the text to be a little confusing. (remember that the chapter and verse divisions, as helpful as they are, are not a part of the inspired text of scripture.) They were added later after the laborious process of deciding which of the books written by the Apostles were to be included in the New Testament. That is an important subject, but it is beyond the scope of this lesson. It would seem that it would have been better to have included verses 36 and 37 as the beginning verses of chapter 5. If that had been done, the text would have read something like this:
(1) And Joses, who by the apostles, was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, the son of consolation,) a Levite and of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the Apostles’ feet. (2) And a certain man named Ananias with Saphira his wife also being aware of it, sold a possession and kept back a part of the proceeds, (3) 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? (4) 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. (6) Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out and buried him. (9) Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. (10) And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much” She said “yes, for so much” (10) Then Peter said to her, “How is it that that you have agreed 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.” (10) then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men carrying her out buried her out, buried her by her husband. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all those who heard these things. (12) And through the hands of the Apostles many signs were done among the people and they were all with one accord. In Solomon’s porch (13) and yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.
Almost everyone knows that there are certain people who have the ability to project themselves as something they are not. Sometimes it is something that they have studied and worked on, sometimes it just comes naturally. And when they do it to entertain us in the movies, on the stage or on television we applaud them. But when they do it in an “everyday” setting, we usually reject them. As we come to Acts chapter 5, we find a couple who tried to “put on an act” with their fellow Christians, but it proved to be “a deadly deception.” The word “but” as the first word of chapter 5 of the book of Acts presents a real contrast to what has gone on in the last section of chapter 4.
Chapters 4 and 5 are still talking about the “first things” of the church: the first public impression of it was on the day of Pentecost, as we saw, back in chapter 2. The first sermon was delivered there too. Then the first opposition was demonstrated in that chapter too. The first understanding of fellowship was in chapter 4 also – the total sharing of everything.
But sadly enough, the first church discipline takes place there also; and it is the primary subject of this chapter. As we look at the subject we will see: The Cause of the Discipline in 4:36 through 5:2. Then in verses 4:36 through 5:2 then in verses 5:3 through 10 we see the Course of the discipline. And finally, in chapter 5:11 through 16 we see the consequences of the Discipline. And the first thing to notice is that it was a sin that occurred within the fellowship of the church. A couple by the names of Ananias and Saphira were already members of the group, not “outside infiltrators.” And the significance of that is that Satan had just tried to attack the church with opposition from outside in the previous chapters– and it was repulsed. But this was a more dangerous form of opposition It was opposition from within. This has always been his method: to try different tactics – if he can’t get us from one angle he will try exactly the other. Interestingly enough, attacks from the outside have never hurt the church on a long-term basis – and Jesus had predicted this. He said that “the gates of hell would not prevail against it.” But attacks from within have been successful time and time again. Well, what was this sin that had such a powerful outcome? It was not the sin of refusing to contribute – there were no laws governing who gave what – look at verse 2:
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
Nor was it the sin of refusing to give at all. Look at verse 4:
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. (6) Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out and buried him. 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. (6) Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out and buried him.
(7) Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. (10) And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much” She said “yes, for so much” (10) Then Peter said to her, “How is it that that you have agreed 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.” (10) then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men carrying her out buried her by her husband.
So what was the sin? Well, that is answered by looking at Peter’s statements to them. It was the sin of trying to appear what they were not – the sin of hypocrisy; trying to get praise for Godliness as Barnabas had in 4:36. This is the one thing that really made Jesus angry. Look at Matthew 23:13 and following
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
On the other hand, honesty never makes God angry, even when it seems blasphemous. For example, look at Jeremiah 20:7-9:
O Lord, you induced me, and I was persuaded: You are stronger than I, and have prevailed. I am in derision daily; everyone mocks me . . . (9) Then I said I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name . . “but His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I was weary of holding it back and I could not.”
Or think about Habakkuk in 1:2-4
Oh Lord, how long shall I cry, and you will not hear? Even cry out to You “Violence!” and you will not save. (3) Why do you show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises (4) therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgement proceeds.
Or again, Mary and Martha in John 11:20-24
Then Martha as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went out and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house (21) Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died (22) but I know that even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give it you” (23) Jesus said to her, your brother will rise again (24) Martha said to Him I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day”
Or Job, Jonah, Elijah, Moses, etc., all of whom spoke seemingly harshly but honestly to God about their situations.
This sin can only be fully understood in light of the conditions at the end of chapter 4. In those verses the disciples experienced love that drew them together in fellowship. They had spiritual insight that gave new meaning to their relationship with Christ. They were thinking in terms of eternity’s values rather than earthly possessions. And Ananias and Saphira were the opposite of all of this. they had been thinking of self rather than love of others. They had been thinking in terms of honor for themselves rather than the honor of Christ. They were thinking about possessions rather than trusting God for their livelihood. And ironically, the sin did not profit them at all. They were operating with worldly wisdom, which said “take care of yourself.” And they lost everything . Ananias and Saphira died because they simply could not live in that rarified spiritual atmosphere. All because they pretended to be something they were not. It was awe-inspiring. Not the deaths themselves, but the purity of spiritual life that would bring recognition and death to one who was impure. And verses 4, 5, and 10 demonstrated that it was administered by God himself.
Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God. (6) Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out and buried him. (6) Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out and buried him.
And it purified the church. People with these kinds of attitudes would have spoiled the church’s effectiveness, so they were removed. God has always done this in times when important spiritual things were being accomplished. A positive illustration of this is Gideon, who was told to send home 100 times as many soldiers as he kept. Another is “the mixed multitude” who were allowed to go with the Israelites out of Egypt – and they were always a hindrance. Don’t be too upset when someone leaves the church – it might God’s doing! people wonder why this kind of thing doesn’t continue today. The answer is two-fold: First, those were foundational times; we have the completed canon of scripture and years of experience. But second, probably because we have accepted too many of our own “mixed multitude” and therefore are not very usable by God in the first place.
Now we have seen the occasion of the discipline and the occurrence of it. Now lets think about the outcome of it as it is recorded in verses 11 through 16 First there was great fear on the part of unbelievers. Look at verse 5:
Then Ananias, hearing these words fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. Then look at verse 13:
Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. People have a disdain for the church to the extent that the church is impure. Here is a sobering question in light of this chapter: how long has it been since you have heard of someone being afraid to join a church?
The second result of this discipline was similar, but somewhat different. Great fear within the church – verse 11:
So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.
Incidentally, here is the first use of the word “church” to describe the believers. But the effect was fear also! This is a legitimate aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit. We talk a lot about love, joy, peace, etc. – and they are legitimate. But power and purity are also a part of his work. A third result is in verses 12 through 16: Great power
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.
And the effect was two-fold. Look at verses 13 and 14. As we have already seen, it kept the wrong kind of people out of the church. But it also brought many into the body of Christ.- verse 14
And believers were increasingly added to the Lord
A fourth result was in verses 15 and 16: great ministry
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 (16) 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.
The reference to the shadow in verse 15 is purely an eastern custom, practiced even today – people try to get in the shadow of a good man or stay our of the shadow of a bad man one. And the subconscious reason for that is that everybody knows, whether that purity has power. These people knew that supernatural power was connected with this couple’s death and that that power could heal – not the shadow itself, but the power that it represented. And notice Dr. Luke’s specification in verse 16 that both physical and spiritual illnesses were healed.
In closing, just note some observations from this story: The story begins with death and ends with healing, but it was the same power in both cases. (G. Campbell Morgan, a famous English pastor from the 19th century, spoke of this chapter as a story as “the blessing and “the blasting of God.” And a review of church history will show that down through the years “the church pure is the church powerful”
The purpose of these studies is to draw you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know him, it is my prayer that they will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached at