Acts: Chapter 5
Let’s begin by reading (Acts 5:1-11).
Several questions arise from these verses:
Who were Ananias and Sapphira? Were they Christians? Are they in Hell now because of what they did here? Let’s try and answer these questions.
First, we must remember that verses and chapters were not originally in the Bible. They were added centuries later, in the 13th century. Keeping this in mind here is very important, because we need to look at the previous chapter in Acts, starting with (Acts 4:23-31) to understand what is going on in Chapter 5. In these verses, we see Peter and John (see: Acts 4:1-22) with “their own companions” praying for “boldness.”
At the end of their prayer, we see in verse 31: “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.” So, ALL of those who were there were “filled with the Holy Ghost.” This means they were Christians.
Next, we need to look at the verses which follow in (Acts 4:32-37). The people that were “filled with the Holy Ghost,” (called “those who believed”) “were of one heart and one soul.”
They “had all things in common” (Acts 4:32).
“Great grace was upon them” (Acts 4:33).
“Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need” (Acts 4:34-35)(NKJV)
In the last two verses of Acts Chapter 4, we are told about one specific man (of the people who “were of one heart and soul”) named Barnabas, who “having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:36-37).
While that is the end of Chapter 4 in our Bible, this story does not end there. Since there were no chapters and verses originally, we need to keep on reading as if Chapter 4 has never ended. So, everything we have said to this point: i.e. “filled with the Holy Ghost,” “of one heart and soul,” “great grace upon them,” “sharing all things,” still applies to the people (including Ananias and Sapphira) who we now see in Chapter 5.
Barnabas, who “having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the proceeds for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. 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?”
As we read in the rest of the verses in Chapter 5 to verse 11, we saw that because of their “lie to the Holy Ghost,” the lives of both Ananias and Sapphira were taken by God (Ananias lied and died first, then 3 hours later, Sapphira lied and died, repeating the same lie).
After seeing what happened to Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit, “great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things” (Acts 5:11).
So, when we tie Chapter 4 to Chapter 5, it seems pretty clear to me that Ananias and Sapphira were Christians. A few other things in these verses also lead me to think this. For example:
1. If Ananias and Sapphira were “unbelievers,” why would they want to give “any” money to the Lord’s work.
2. If an “unbeliever” doesn’t have the Holy Spirit, or know the Holy Spirit, can he “lie” to Him? (Yes, I do believe that “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” is different. I discuss this here: https://jesusalive.cc/blasphemy-of-holy-spirit-meaning.)
3. Finally, if the “church” thought that Ananias and Sapphira were “unbelievers” that “lied to the Holy Spirit,” and were killed for it, why would they have “great fear?” God killing an unbeliever wouldn’t apply to them. However, if they knew Ananias and Sapphira “were” Christians, just like they were, and God killed them for lying to the Holy Spirit, doesn’t it make more sense to see why they had “great fear?” “If God killed them (as believers) for that sin, He could also kill US!”
Having said these things, let me now ask 3 questions:
Doesn’t it seem a bit harsh for God to “kill” Ananias and Sapphira for a “lie?” Why do you think God did this?
Based upon what we have said, do you believe Ananias and Sapphira ended up in Hell?
What lesson, or lessons, should we as Christians take from these verses in (Acts 5:1-11)?
***Note: Verses 3-4 in Acts Chapter 5 are perhaps the best verses in the Bible showing that the Holy Spirit is God. In verse 3, Peter says that Ananias had “lied to the Holy Spirit, then in verse 4, Peter says that the one Ananias lied to (the Holy Spirit) was “God.”
Next, let’s read (Acts 5:12-21).
(Verse 12) “many signs and wonders”
“Signs and wonders” were given to the apostles by God to confirm that He was with them (Heb 2:4)(2 Cor 12:12)(Rom 15:18-19).
Jesus Himself said a number of times that His miracles were done to confirm that He was from God (Jn 3:2)(Jn 5:36)(Mk 2:10-12), and so that people would believe in Him (Jn 10:37-38)(Jn 20:30-31)(Mt 11:2-6).
(Verse 12) “In Solomon’s Porch”
As we previously mentioned in (Acts 3:11), “Solomon’s Porch” was a porch located on the east side of the Temple, which enclosed the “Court of the Gentiles.” It had rows of 27′ high columns, and a roof of cedar. Jesus also taught here (Jn 10:22-24), and as we see here, it was a place where believers regularly met “with one accord.”
(Verse 13)(NASB) “But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem.”
This is likely connected to the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira in the previous verses. There was certainly a newfound awe, respect, and “fear” of the God that was responsible for their deaths, as well as the “signs and wonders” that the apostles were performing. This “fear” likely kept the “lukewarm” away.
(Verse 14)(NKJV) “And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.”
Notice the mention here that both “men and women” were “added to the Lord.” This starts a pattern in the book of Acts of mentioning that not just “men” were saved, but “women” too. Also see: (Acts 8:3,12)(Acts 9:2)(Acts 16:1,13-15)(Acts 17:4,12,34)(Acts 18:2)(Acts 21:5).
(Verse 15) “Insomuch 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 by might overshadow some of them.”
Many people take this verse to say that the “shadow of Peter” healed people. While this may be true, notice that this verse does “specifically” say that Peter’s shadow healed the sick people. It says, in essence, that they “thought” if Peter’s shadow touched them, they would be healed.
This quote from my “Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible” gives us something to consider: “In ancient times, many people believed that a person’s shadow could possess magical healing powers. The people referred to in this verse were not necessarily Christians, but those who believed that Peter, as an advocate of a new religion, had magical powers. The people imposed their superstitions upon this new faith.”
(Verse 16)(NASB) “bringing people who were sick or tormented with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.”
This is one of many places in the New Testament which mention demons (or unclean spirits) being cast out of people. Also see: (Mt 8:28-34)(Mt 10:1)(Mt 12:43-45)(Mt 17:14-18)(Mk 1:23-27)(Lk 4:31-37)(Acts 8:7).
Do we still see this happening today?
“And they were ALL healed” – This is something Christians should keep in mind with regards to those who call themselves “faith-healers.” When the power of God through the Holy Spirit was working in those who were healing people, EVERY person who needed healing was healed, not just “some.”
(Verse 17) “Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation.”
Why would the “High Priest” (and “they that were with him”) be upset at people being healed, and demons being cast out by the apostles?
(Verses 18-19) “put them in the common prison. (19) But the (an) angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth”
After the apostles were thrown in prison, the (an) “angel of the Lord” set them free. We will see the (an) “angel of the Lord” appearing in several other places in Acts as well: guiding Philip (Acts 8:26), setting Peter free from prison (Acts 12:7-10), and striking Herod with worms (Acts 12:23). [In the Gospels, the (an) “angel of the Lord” also appeared to Joseph (Mt 1:20-25)(Mt 2:13,19-20), Zacharias (Lk 1:11-20), and the Shepherds (Lk 2:8-14)].
***Note: It is this authors opinion that the (an) “angel of the Lord” here (and the other places in Acts and the Gospels) is an actual “angel.” (This is why I put “an” in parenthesis. Most Bible versions use “an.”) This is in contrast to appearances of the “Angel of the Lord” in the Old Testament, which I believe were almost always (or always) pre-incarnate appearances of Jesus (called a “theophany” or “Christophany”). For more on this see: https://jesusalive.cc/jesus-in-the-old-testament.
(Verse 20) “Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.”
What is “all the words of this life?” This is almost certainly speaking of Jesus, who the Bible says is “life:” (Jn 1:4)(Jn 11:25)(Jn 14:6)(1 Jn 1:1-4)(1 Jn 5:11,20).
(Verse 21) “And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught.”
Fearlessly, the apostles returned to the very place where they had been arrested, and began teaching.
(Verse 21) “But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.”
In the meantime, the Sanhedrin (the “council”) convened again (see: Acts 4:5-22) to try and do something about the problem of the apostles.
(Verses 22-24)(NASB) “But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported, (23) saying, “We found the prison locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” (24) Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this.”
What does it mean that the captain and chief priests “were greatly perplexed about …. what would come of this?” It is likely that they realized that this “release” from prison had to be of supernatural origin, similar to the (guarded) empty tomb of Jesus that they had experienced earlier (Mt 28:11-15). They had seen the results of the “empty tomb;” what would be the results of the “empty jail?”
***Note: It is interesting to note that after the “captain and officers” bring the apostles back in the next verses, the Sanhedrin never asks them how they got out of the prison!
(Verses 25-26) “Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people. (26) Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned.”
“The Captain with the officers” – We spoke of them in the previous chapter. The “captain” was 2nd in command after the High Priest, and the leader of the Temple police. We first see the “officers” he led in the book of John, when they were sent to arrest Jesus in (Jn Ch. 7), but failed to do so, and later in (Jn Ch. 18), when they were again sent to arrest Jesus, and did so the 2nd time.
The apostles were held in high esteem by “the people” for several reasons:
1. The many healings and exorcisms that “the people” had witnessed the apostles perform.
2. Many of “the people” would have seen the apostles being arrested and put in prison. Then, to see them back at the Temple teaching the next morning, they must have understood that only something “supernatural” could have brought them back so quickly.
3. Knowing that #2. had occurred, they were likely impressed that they returned to the very place where they had been arrested. (Most set free from prison would run away and hide.)
If the “captain and officers” had arrested the apostles “with violence,” the crowd almost certainly would have reacted violently.
(Verses 27-28) “And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, (28) Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
“Did we not straitly (strictly) command you that you should not teach in this name?” – In their previous appearance before the Sanhedrin in Chapter 4, the apostles were warned not to “teach in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18-20).
“Ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine.” – In the short time since being “baptized with the Holy Spirit” at Pentecost (Acts Ch. 2), the apostles “doctrine” (the Gospel) had spread throughout Jerusalem! (An unintended compliment given by the Sanhedrin.)
“Intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” – While the apostles had clearly placed the blame for Jesus’ death on the Jews in earlier chapters of Acts: (Acts 2:22-23)(Acts 3:12-15), in Acts Chapter 4, they specifically targeted the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8-10), and will do so again in (verse 30). In reality though, “all” of the Jews who asked for the crucifixion of Jesus had already placed responsibility on themselves in (Mt 27:25), saying, “Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.”
(Verse 29) “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”
Repeating the words Peter said when he and John were previously brought before the Sanhedrin in (Acts 4:19). As we mentioned there, when a Christian is forced to make a decision between obeying God, or obeying man, the Bible is clear that we must obey God. Peter and John made this choice.
Some other examples of this in the Bible: (Hebrew midwives refusing to kill newborn males – Ex 1:15-22), (Daniel praying to God when the king had said not to – Dan 6:4-10), (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego refusing to worship an image of the king – Dan Ch. 3), (Moses, and his parents defying the king of Egypt – Heb 11:23-29).
(Verse 30) “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.”
Some false religions use verses like this to teach that Jesus did not die on a “cross,” but on a “tree.” (They consider the cross a pagan symbol.) How do we refute this?
There are 5 verses that talk about Jesus being hanged on a “tree” (Acts 5:30)(Acts 10:39)(Acts 13:29)(Gal 3:13)(1 Pet 2:24). The Greek word for “tree” that is used in these verses is “xulon,” which basically means “wood, a piece of wood, anything made of wood” (Strong’s Concordance). In other words, it does not literally mean “a tree.” If Jesus had been hung from an actual “tree,” the Greek word “dendron” would have been used.
The “cross” is mentioned 28 times in the New Testament. The Greek word “stauros” is used for “cross,” which according Strong’s, means: “a stake or post (as set upright), i.e. (spec.) a pole or cross (as an instrument of capital punishment). In addition to this, history has clearly shown us that the cross was a form of Roman execution. Both Biblical and historical evidence points to an actual cross being used to murder Jesus, as opposed to “a tree.” (Also, consider that Simon was compelled to carry the cross [not a tree] for Jesus on the way to His execution: Mk 15:21.)
(Verse 31)(NASB) “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”
The “right hand” in the Bible is generally associated in some way with a position of power, strength, or honor. We see examples of this in the Old Testament in (Ex 15:6,12)(Ps 20:6)(Ps 60:5)(Ps 138:7).
In the New Testament, the “right hand of God” is emphasized over and over, especially in Jesus’ relationship to the Father. Traditionally, when a person in authority (i.e. a king) seated someone on his right side, it meant that while the person on the right submitted to the authority of the king, he/she was equal to the king in power and authority, and was to be accorded the same honor (see: 1 Kin 2:19).
This is exactly how the Bible pictures Jesus. While Jesus IS God, and is equal to the Father (Phil 2:5-6)(Jn 10:30), He also submits to the Father (1 Cor 11:3)(1 Cor 3:23). Because He is God, He has the same authority and power as the Father. We see this in a number of verses: i.e. (Mt 26:64)(Eph 1:20-22)(1 Pet 3:22).
In telling the Sanhedrin that God “exalted Jesus to His right hand,” Peter is explaining to them in a way that they would understand that Jesus was equal to God, had the same “power and strength” as God, and should be given the same “honor” as God.
Other verses emphasizing Jesus at the right hand: (Mt 22:44)(Mt 26:64)(Mk 16:19)(Lk 22:69)(Acts 2:32-36)(Acts 7:55-56)(Rom 8:34)(Eph 1:20)(Col 3:1)(Heb 1:3)(Heb 8:1)(Heb 10:11-12)(Heb 12:2)
***Note: The Greek word used for “Prince” in this verse is “archegos.” This Greek word is used in 3 other verses in the New Testament, all speaking of Jesus. In (Acts 3:15), it is translated as “Prince,” in (Heb 2:10), it is translated as “Captain,” and in (Heb 12:2), it is translated as “Author.”
(Verse 32) “the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.”
What is it that we have to “obey” from God to receive the The Holy Spirit? The Gospel: (2 Th 1:8-10)(1 Pet 4:17)(Mt 7:21-23)(Eph 1:13-14)(Gal 3:1-7)(Jn 15:26-27)(1 Cor 15:1-2).
(Verses 33-34)(NASB) “But when they heard this, they became infuriated and nearly decided to execute them. (34) But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time.”
At the words of Peter (“and the other apostles”), the “council” (Sanhedrin) wanted to execute them. However, a member of the Sanhedrin, a “Pharisee named Gamaliel” stepped in to intervene.
Who was Gamaliel? As we mentioned previously in Acts Chapter 4, the Sanhedrin was primarily composed of Sadducees. However, there were also some Pharisees as well, and Gamaliel was one of these. Historical writings tell us several (not totally provable) things about him.
He was the son of Simeon ben Hillel (possibly the Simeon mentioned in Lk 2:25-35), and his grandfather, Hillel Gamaliel, was the foremost Jewish scholar of his time. Like his grandfather, Gamaliel was also considered by most accounts the foremost Jewish scholar of his time (first century A.D.). (He was given the title of “Rabban,” meaning “our teacher.” Few were given this honorable title.). His most famous student was Paul (Acts 22:3). Several writings place his death in 52 A.D. (18 years before the Temple was destroyed).
(Verses 35-37)(NASB) “And he said to them, “Men of Israel, be careful as to what you are about to do with these men.”
Gamaliel warns the Sanhedrin to “be careful” about what they do to the apostles. Why is Gamaliel trying to calm down the Sanhedrin, and keep them from murdering the apostles?
In his attempt to bring calm, he brings up two men from the past who led rebellions.
First, he mentions a man named “Theudas,” who led a revolt with a group of about 400 men, but he was killed, and his followers “were scattered.” We know absolutely about this man, or when this revolt took place.
Second, he mentions a man named “Judas of Galilee.” He also led a revolt, with an unknown number of men, but he “perished,” and his followers “were dispersed.” We know a little bit more about this man. (Verse 37) says that he appeared “in the days of the taxing (census).” (***Note: This “census” may be the one mentioned in [Lk 2:2], which was ordered by Caesar Augustus while Quirinius was the governor of Syria, but many scholars debate this.)
My “MacArthur Study Bible” says this of this Judas, “(He was) the founder of the Zealots who led another revolt in Palestine early in the first century. Zealots, a party of Jews who were fanatical nationalists, believed that radical action was required to overthrow the Roman power in Palestine. They even sought to take up arms against Rome.”
My “Zondervan NIV Study Bible” adds this, “The Jewish historian Josephus refers to him as a man from Gamala in Gaulanitis who refused to give tribute to Caesar. His revolt was crushed, but a movement, started in his time, may have lived on in the party of the Zealots.” (***Note: One of Jesus’ disciples had the name “Simon the Zealot” – Lk 6:15, Acts 1:13.)
(Verses 38-39)(NASB) “And so in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and leave them alone, for if the source of this plan or movement is men, it will be overthrown; (39) but if the source is God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”
Referring to the two men he gave as examples of men who led “revolts / rebellions” that were crushed by men, Gamaliel compares what the apostles were doing to those “revolts / rebellions.” He says that if “men” alone were behind what the apostles were doing, their “revolt / rebellion” would be “overthrown.” However, if “God” was behind it, it would not be “overthrown.” If God was behind it, they would be “fighting against God,” and could not win. (God WAS behind it, and they did not win.)
(Verse 40) “And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.”
The Sanhedrin decided to follow the advice of Gamaliel, and changed their mind about putting the apostles to death. Instead, they had them “beaten,” and then released with a warning. This “beating” was likely a “flogging.”
A flogging was generally done with a whip, which was made up of 3 separate leather straps, sometimes with knots tied in them. “Flogging” was a punishment which was ordained by God (Lev 19:20), and could not exceed 40 lashes (Deut 25:1-3). When the Jews carried out this punishment, they would do 39 lashes, one short of 40, to make sure that if they made a mistake in counting, they would not go over 40 lashes, and thereby disobey God (see: 2 Cor 11:24).
***Note: Jesus prophesied to the disciples that they would have to undergo the punishment of flogging (“scourging”) (Mt 10:17)(Mt 23:34)(Mk 13:9). This was the first “physical” persecution of the “church” that began at Pentecost.
(Verse 41) “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.”
Most would be angry and upset at being “flogged” 39 times, but the apostles actually “rejoiced!” They “rejoiced” that they were considered “worthy” to “suffer” for Jesus. Jesus told us that “all” Christians should expect to face suffering (Jn 15:18-20)(Jn 16:33), and we are told to “rejoice” in this (Mt 5:10-12)(James 1:2-4)(1 Pet 1:6-7)(1 Pet 3:14).
(Verse 42) “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.”
After the “flogging,” with renewed passion and zeal that came from “suffering shame for His (Jesus) name,” the apostles went back to exactly what they were doing before, “teaching and preaching Jesus Christ.” This is something the unsaved “world” cannot understand: “The more the followers of Christ are persecuted and killed, the more the “church” grows.