Acts 5 opens with the word “But,” it is a word of contrast. It is a contrast to the blessing that the early believers are experiencing, and more specifically, with the example of Barnabas (Acts 4). In contrast to Barnabas, we have Ananias and Sapphira. The contrast to Barnabas is key to understanding this event. As Barnabas exemplifies Kingdom Blessing, Ananias and Sapphira exemplify Kingdom Judgment. This narrative has two parallel parts, even though the fate of each is the same.
1. Their Dishonesty (5:1-2).
“But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property” (5:1). Like Barnabas, Ananias and Sapphira owned property and sold it. If it were not for the word, but, one would think that this is another example of Kingdom Blessings being experience by these other believers. Even the names of the people involved would give that impression. Ananias means “the Lord is gracious.” Sapphira means “beautiful.” However, in contrast to Barnabas, they actions did not exemplify their names.
It was not their deed that got them into trouble, it was their deception—“and kept back (some) of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it as the apostles’ feet” (5:2). The word translated kept back (enosfisato / enospisato), put aside for oneself) is found in the Septuagint of Achan’s sin (Joshua 7:1). Both narratives interrupt “the victorious progress of the people of God.” Both failed because of the love of money (cf. 1 Tim. 6:10; 2 Tim. 4:10). The text makes a special point that this deception was not the lone act of Ananias, but a joint conspiracy by both: Ananias and Sapphira. They acted as one. They were dishonest and deceptive; an act of hypocrisy. Their guilt was that of secrecy, collusion, and lying to the Holy Spirit.
2. Their Detection (5:3-4).
Upon bringing and giving these funds, Peter by the Spirit and prophetic insight knew something was wrong. Ananias was hiding something. He says to them: “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back (some) of the price of the land? While it remained (unsold), did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (5:3-4). The deception was revealed. The text does not say how Peter knew of this. Stam understands this as the gift of knowledge, demonstrating the powers of the age to come. This may be so, however it is not clearly stated, but it is implied that it was revealed by the Holy Spirit. There are three points in this statement of Peter:
· It was inspired by Satan. The text speaks of the influence of Satan, not that they were filled with Satan. Notice, the clear indication is that Satan filled their hearts with a desire to do something. It clearly indicates influence, not indwelling. There is a difference. Believers cannot be filled with Satan, but they can be influenced and controlled by Satan. No believer is exempt from his influence, as we see in the lives of some of the most spiritual saints (David and Peter to name two examples). It has been observed that “most New Testament references to Satan’s activity relate to saints rather than to the unbelieving world.” He tries to destroy the people of God from without and within. This is clearly seen in Acts, he tries to destroy from without by persecution (Acts 4:1-17), and from within by deception (5:1-11).
· They did not necessarily have to take the course they embarked upon. What was taking place was voluntary. Acts 4:24 should not be taken as monitory, but voluntary. The first two questions of verse four are asked in such a form that a positive reply is expected. It was their land when they owned it and the money they received was under their control. They did not have to give it, but they did. They could have given only part of it and it would not have been a violation. However, they gave it in a deceitful way. They wanted for people to think they gave all, and were more gracious than they were. Praise of men was more important than honesty. It was a violation of integrity and fellowship of the community.
· The specific sin was lying to God the Holy Spirit. He misrepresented His gift and committed an act of hypocrisy, a form of lying. “Failure in truth is sin against God,” observes Barclay. Lying has as its root selfishness and self-protection. It extends from fear, not love. Thus the act was not one that was made from true concern for others, but for the glory of self. A good act from wrong motives is sin.
3. Their Deaths (5:5-11).
Judgment for sin is a reality. In this case, it was immediate. Although the text indicates the death of the two did not happen at the same time but they did happen for the same reason.
· First, was the death of Ananias. “And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.” (5:5-6). There is no doubt that this was an act of immediate judgment. His death is tied to his sin. Witherington makes an important point: “it is not said Peter either killed Ananias or uttered a curse that killed him.”
· Second, was the judgment and death of Sapphira. “Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?’ And she said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’ Then Peter (said) to her, ‘Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out (as well)’ And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband” (4:7-10). The following facts are clear: First, she comes unaware of the events concerning her husband. Second, she is given a chance to redeem herself by telling Peter the truth. Third, by continuing the lie, she reveals herself as a coconspirator in the lie. Fourth, by doing so she seals her own fate and shares in her husband’s judgment and dies.
The result of this event is that “great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things” (4:11). “This is not merely respect but a healthy awareness that God is present and can act in judgment,” notes Bock. Ike Sidebottom makes a wise observation and application when he writes:
“In Acts 4:33, the multitude of believers possessed “great power,” and “great grace” upon them all. After the death of Ananias and Sapphira they had great fear. Great power, great grace, and great fear, will bring any congregation into a place of great usefulness for God.”
The word church should be taken in the sense of an assembly. It was a common word to describe an assembly of people, whether religious, political, or types of meetings. To read a more technical meaning such as the church, the body of Christ, into the text is unwarranted. That term and technical meaning did not appear in Scripture until the Apostle Paul. In this context it is the assembly of the little flock of believers in Israel, the remnant, which is referred to here.
Here we have a foretaste of Kingdom justice. In the Millennial Kingdom “there will be the administration of perfect justice to every individual.” Christ will rule with the breath of judgment in righteousness (Isa. 11:4-5). Also see Isaiah 65:20, Jeremiah 31:29-30. Here in Acts we see a foretaste of the breath (Holy Spirit) of judgment.
 Longenecker, ACTS, 313.
 Bruce, ACTS, 102.
 Stam, ACTS, 2:177.
 Witherington, ACTS, 215 points out that the same phrase is used by Luke in regard to Judas Iscariot (Lk. 22:3). The parallel also includes money, and both did not have honorable burials.
 Harrison, ACTS, 102.
 Bock, ACTS, 223.
 Witherington, 215.
 Notice, in our passage, the word Holy Spirit and God is used interchangeably, confirming the deity of the Holy Spirit.
 Constable, ACTS, 81.
 Barclay, ACTS, 43.
 Witherington, 216.
 Bock, 277.
 Ike T. Sidebottom, A DISPENSATIONAL STUDY OF THE BOOK OF ACTS, 45.
 J. Dwight Pentecost, THINGS TO COME, 488.