Acts 4 - Ananias and Sapphira
Acts of the Shalichim (Apostles) 4 and 5 - Ananias and Sapphira (Underhanded Kindness)
Read Acts 4 v 31 – Acts 5 v 11
Somebody asked me to look at this as rolling on from Numbers 16 as the story has a similar vein of swift punishment as well as another sermon on Apostolic authority last week.
As with Korach in Numbers 16 and similar biblical characters especially the Old Testament, some might say this is severe punishment but it’s how God dealt with it and he knows best.
I need to start in Acts 4 so look at the words in v 32
Acts 4:32 - 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 common.
Multitude in the body of Christ which was meant to indicate unity in Christ not uniformity
Unity in Christ not uniformity in style, culture, creed or race.
To be like Christ and not anything else and have a Christ like mindset is the point here
When the Messianic church was in its early stages, their possessions were a -35 - Multitude ut its how God dealt with it and he knows best ’common pool ’ i.e. they were shared, think about Pot luck food. The Apostles were given the power known as apostolic authority. This was given only to the apostles and not the church as a whole and the apostles were to decide on how the pot was to be spent for the glory of God.
This authority was given by God’s grace as he provided for them and what is key here is that this was voluntary and done periodically i.e. done from time to time as and when the needs arose. Interesting note here is the giving was changed later on as the system was abused as in;
1 Timothy 5:3-5 3. Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
4. One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;
5. (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
In other words, if people within the church could look after needs then this was the preferred option.
Why have I mentioned him? Well let me explain. One of his name in Hebrew means ‘bar-nabba’ which translates as “son of exhorter” (also Son of consolation). The definition of exhort is ‘strongly encourage or urge (someone) to do something’. He was a Levite which was interesting as in the OT they were not allowed to own land as part of Mosaic law.
Numbers 18:24 - But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave offering unto the Lord, I have given to the Levites to inherit: therefore I have said unto them, Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.
But he was from Cyprus and was excluded from this as it applied only to those living in Israel and there are 2 reasons why I have gone through this;
Some of the laws/covenants with God’s people were changing
Barnabas did it the right way in Gods eyes, again we are into parallelisms similar to the Psalms where right and wrong way of is expressed.
Ananias and Sapphira
Ananias was married to Sapphira and they were thought to be quite affluent at the time. His name in Hebrew means “Jehovah has given graciously” which I will explain the relevance of later.
Sapphira in Hebrew means “beautiful” and her name was synonymous with the rich, a bit like a Jewish ‘Gemima’ or ‘Scarlett’ in the day. It’s interesting as we are not told a lot about her.
The question is what his sin was. In order to answer this, let me try and put this in context for you.
Joshua 7:1 - But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against the children of Israel.
20. And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done:
21. When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.
22. So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran unto the tent; and behold, it was hid in his tent, and the silver under it.
23.And they took them out of the midst of the tent, and brought them unto Joshua, and unto all the children of Israel, and laid them out before the LORD.
24.And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor.
25. And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones.
26.And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of his anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor, unto this day.
In these verses, Achan here had broken a covenant or agreement and he held onto something he should NOT have, the Greek work is ‘nosphizomai’ which means to misappropriate or use improperly. Now the similarity here is that early on in the life of Israel as a nation and as in Acts it was the early life of the church and potentially Gods progress would have been halted by allowing the entry of Sin into its beginning.
(An interesting side note here is valley of Achor means “to bring Calamity upon” i.e. a disaster)
One step further with this story here is where I went to the Jewish messianic law and looked at the model used would be for property ownership and transference.
The first step would be the couple (A&S) would make their property available to the community for 1 year (but they still possessed the property legally even after selling)
They then after 1 year they became a FULL member of the messianic community so there was little risk.
Hence that’s why Peter asks him in verse 4 the pointlessness of it i.e.it was still legally his.
What this highlights is they were not willing to trust the community and conceal their intentions.
To clarify this, satan was responsible as per verses 3-4 and Peter was given supernatural discernment as in
Acts 4:31 - 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.
What Peter identified was that Ananias had been filled with as in “to be controlled by “satan. To show what this means
John 8:44 - Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
One element of the sin wasn’t the proceeds, it was lying over it and making a verbal vow as in
Deut 23;21-23 (CJB) - (21) When you make a vow to Adonai your God, you are not to delay in fulfilling it, for Adonai your God will certainly demand it of you, and your failure to do so will be your sin.
(22) If you choose not to make a vow at all, that will not be a sin for you;
(23) but if a vow passes your lips, you must take care to perform it according to what you voluntarily vowed to Adonai your God, what you promised in words spoken aloud.
Ananias lied to God as he lied to the Holy Spirit and he was testing God verbally as he didn’t believe God would look after his needs. It is important to note that he ‘conceived’ as in he had free will to serve God or satan. Calvin sums it up nicely commented on this about his sin;
He showed “Contempt of God” – it’s like being contempt of court, you have no respect for the judge or his judgement
It was a “Sacrilegious defrauding” i.e. profane Gods name or being blasphemous
It showed a perverse vanity / ambition where he wanted to appear to be kind and outwardly generous. One could say a form of virtue signalling.
He showed a lack of faith as he didn’t believe that his sin would be seen.
He was corrupt and wasn’t truthful about the proceeds.
Finally, he showed hypocrisy as in he wasn’t actually honest in his honesty!!
When you look at these verses it is clear that Sapphira has an opportunity to own up and at this point she was not aware that her husband was dead. So, it was a joint conspiracy. There is equality in punishment of the sexes as in.
Numbers 5:6-7 – 6. Speak unto the children of Israel, When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to do a trespass against the Lord, and that person be guilty
7. Then they shall confess their sin which they have done : and he shall recompense his trespass with the principal thereof, and add unto it the fifth part thereof, and give it unto him against whom he hath trespassed .
God’s punishment on them.
The keynote to take from God’s punishment is unlike Joshua and Achan God punished the offenders. Peter didn’t pronounce a death sentence, God did that. Some writers and commentators believe that they both had a heart attack at being confronted with the full knowledge of a living God and their sin being brought out into the open. But we are not told as to the exact clinical cause of his death.
7 takeaways from this story
POINT 1 – Apostolic authority
Peter at this time had Apostolic authority which I believe ended with the apostles:
John 20:22 - And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:
As one commentator writes - “Clearly, respect for HaShem's holiness glorifies Him and allows us to enter His presence.” A&S had no respect as written in;
Leviticus 19 v 11 - Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another.
If we look at how church discipline is done today look at
Matthew 18:15-20 - Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
16.But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
17.And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
18.Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
19.Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
20.For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
Point 2 – God is consistent
I hear a lot of people say this is harsh treatment of people who error and commit sin. To remind us there are two similar incidents of not fearing a mighty God.
Aharon’s sons in who lit Unauthorised fire in the censers.
Leviticus 10:1-2 - And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not.
2. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
The two hundred and fifty rebels as in;
Numbers 16:35 - And there came out a fire from the LORD and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.
To put this into perspective the bible is repeatedly consistent about fearing a living God as it says in;
Ecclesiastes 8:13 - But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.
Some commentaries talk about new dispensations and how God deals with them and in summary a description of this is;
When this is broken then God’s treatment is more severe and within Acts the church was new and hence the purity of it needed to be preserved in the early stages without any form of scandal or shameful behaviour which could come back to haunt Gods work after the apostles had left. If you think about it this is ultimately Gods punishment for sin and who are we to put adverbs on Gods actions such as harsh?
Point 3 - Kal-Ve Chomer
1 Peter 4 v 17 - For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
Arnold Fruchtenbaum talks about this as Judgement begins at the house of God.
Matthew 7 v 11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
This relates to the rabbinic principle of “Kal ve-chomer”
It compares severity and importance i.e. Lesser to the greater / light to heavy
This is the principle from Peter talking about the Jews in AD70, if believers suffer this much how much more will unbelievers who wilfully refuse to accept the truth of the gospel of salvation
The Lord needed to make an example of them based upon this, i.e. if this happens to believers then it will be much worse for non-believers.
POINT 4 – The Big ‘I’
One of A&S sins can be seen as they were lusting after public praise on how much they had given, and their whole reason for giving was wrong. Peter saw Ananias ‘raison d’etre’ in the way that this wasn’t glorifying to God. Again, the sin of pride – the big “I”, people appearing more spiritual than they really are.
POINT 5 – Salvation
An important point here for unsaved people, sometimes in life we are not given time to repent as our life is taken away from us in an instant. When I speak to friends, I hear them say things like “I haven’t got time for God right now” or “I’m beyond saving, it’s too late for me”. One of the key points here is God’s grace available to us right up until the time of our death. Ananias name in Hebrew means “Jehovah gives graciously” and is thought by some commentators to mean that even though Ananias was sinful he was still saved. It is important to point out that Christians can sin right up to death and not lose their salvation, we are not told of Ananias and Sapphira’s salvation.
1 John 5 v 16 – 17 - 16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin that does not lead to death, he will ask; and God will give him life for those whose sinning does not lead to death. There is sin that does lead to death; I am not saying he should pray about that.
17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.
God decides ultimately based upon our heart when we are alive even in our final moments and it might ruin our salvation to continue living.
1 Corinthians 11:32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined, so that we will not be condemned along with the world.
My Grandma would always tell me as a child to “Get yourself right with God”. How do we do that you may ask? We do that by accepting there is nothing we can do to get ourselves right with God through our own merit. By accepting that Jesus paid that price for us by sacrificing himself on the cross and living your life for him is the way God’s grace allows us to stand before him with Jesus in the middle as our intercessor.