There are a few stories in the Bible that leave us with wide eyes. The story of Ananias and Sapphira has always been one of those stories for me. If you haven’t already read today’s passage, I encourage you to pause here and read it before continuing.
Interesting, isn’t it? A couple sold their property, and gave a portion of the proceeds to the apostles, and God struck them both dead. However, that summary misses a major point of the passage. It leaves out the fact that the couple brought death upon themselves through deception. Their act was more than just greediness or a lie, it was collusion and scheming. They wanted to appear very holy and generous. They wanted to give the appearance that they were filled with the Holy Spirit, but Acts 5:3 reveals that their hearts were instead filled by Satan.
This “filling” by Satan is in stark contrast to the description of the community filled by the Holy Spirit in Acts 4:32-37. In fact, verses 34-35 sound a lot like Acts 2:44-45. This is the picture of the generous fellowship, sharing everything in common with one another. This sort of generosity was not compulsory; it was the reflection of their mutual love for one another.
We must note that verse 32 explains that this unison among believers encompassed “the full number of those who believed.” Every single Christian to this point in time shared an ethos of love and generosity. So the story of Ananias and Sapphira is about much more than their greediness and deceit: it is the first time that Satan got a foothold within the church.
Since the deaths of this wicked couple, there has been deceit and abuse from within the church walls. It seems that almost weekly another scandal is revealed, and someone who professed their devotion to the church has been deceptive. We must be honest in assessing our own hearts, and pray diligently that the Holy Spirit would fill God’s church and vanquish Satan’s schemes from the sheep.
Acts 4:32-5:16 (ESV):
32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet.
5 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.
12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.