It is reasonable to believe that both Ananias and Sapphira were present in the prayer meeting described in Acts 4:31. If this be true, they were at that time “filled with the Holy Ghost.” It was certainly their privilege to continue in the Spirit.
However, we read the sad record of their fall and destruction in Acts 5:1-11—”But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hash Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? Thou has not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then, fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost; and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.”
The question arises, were Ananias and Sapphira saved? If they were not saved, could they “lie to the Holy Ghost?” Could they “agree together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord?” Certainly, an unsaved person can have no dealings with the Spirit of the Lord, except to reject Him. Those who have rejected the Holy Spirit are without blood redemption, and outside the family of God, and without the indwelling Spirit and consequently, could neither lie to nor tempt the Spirit of the Lord. How can one lie to one with whom he is not acquainted?
It does seem strange that Ananias should be filled with the Holy Ghost in Acts 4:31, and then fall so low as to provoke the question of Peter—”Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost?” It seems that at one time he was filled with the Holy Ghost and a little bit later he was filled with Satan. Such is entirely possible in the life of any believer who allows his affections to be set upon earthly things.
In Acts 5:3, it is suggested that Ananias lied to “the Holy Ghost.” In verse 4, he is questioned about lying “unto God.” Thus we have the fundamental doctrine of the Word set forth that the Holy Spirit is the eternal Godhead, the same as the Son or the Father.
It would have been a small thing for Ananias and Sapphira to have held onto their possessions, or to have given a portion and kept the rest. What they had was in their own power to hold or to give, but it was a terrible thing to hold back a part and lie to God about it. However, this sin, great as it was, is no greater than sins practiced by present-day believers who make all kinds of promises to God in hours of distress and fear and then forget all about their promises after God has met their need. It it were not for the grace of God most of the present-day believers would receive the same judgment that fell upon Ananias and Sapphira.
We must remember that these two characters who sinned and paid the death penalty were dealt with on a basis of the dispensation of the kingdom and not on a basis of the dispensation of the mystery. In these opening chapters of the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit, who came on the day of Pentecost, was demonstrating with miracles and wonders and signs in the midst of God’s people Israel. His message was an appeal for repentance, and the hope which He held out to the people was the ushering in of “the times of refreshing,” which included the “restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.”
The same Holy Spirit who worked through Peter, giving perfect soundness to the lame man, of chapter 3, was manifested in judgment upon Ananias and Sapphira. The judgment of death which fell upon them brought “great fear” upon all the church (Acts 5:5 and 11). God knew before He ever saved them that they would lie to the Holy Spirit and that Peter would pronounce the death sentence upon them in the presence of all the church, and that through it all glory would come to His own name. This does not mean that Ananias and Sapphira were created in Christ unto evil works. Neither does it mean that they were ordained unto such an untimely death. It means that God, knowing the end from the beginning, knew just what they would do and made His plan accordingly.
They had the same teaching and the same privileges as the other members of the Jerusalem church had. They did not have to give place to the devil, and had they not done so, he could never have filled their hearts to lie to the Holy Ghost.
God knowing that these two would be saved, and that after they were saved they would commit this sin of lying to Him, made it all work into His purpose and plan by using their deed and His judgment to bring “great fear” upon every member of the Jerusalem church. In Acts 4:33, the multitude of believers possessed “great power,” and “great grace” was 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.
This explains why “they were all with one accord” in Solomon’s porch (Acts 5:12). The fact that they were gathered “in Solomon’s porch” indicates that the church was Davidic. We can expect a kingdom message, and only a kingdom message, to go forth from the lips of a company of Jews gathered in Solomon’s porch. We can also expect signs and wonders to be wrought among the people in connection with the kingdom message.
The sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits were brought from all the territory surrounding Jerusalem and those who brought them expected the miracle of healing to be performed, and not one went away disappointed. Verses 15 and 16, of this 5th chapter of Acts, indicates that the houses could not hold the number of the sick and afflicted who came to be healed by the apostles. The streets were filled with the sick and suffering who were laid on beds and couches waiting for “at least the shadow of Peter” to pass by and overshadow some of them. We emphasize the fact that “they were healed every one” (Acts 5:16).
Through this ministry of signs and wonders “believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women” (Acts 5:14). In Acts 2:47, we are told that “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” In the 5th chapter and 14th verse, we are told that the believers were “added to the Lord.” To be added to the Lord and to be added to the church was one and the same thing. Every person who has been saved since the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost has been added to the Lord, and has been made a lively member of His church. This does not mean, however, that every saved person since the day of Pentecost has been added to the church, which is the body of Christ.
The church of the opening chapters of the book of Acts could not have been the body of Christ, because the body was not revealed until it was revealed though Paul (Colossians 1:24-28). The word “church” is often used in connection with a company of Jewish saints. For instance, in Acts 7:38, the Holy Spirit speaks of the “church in the wilderness,” referring to the people of Israel in their forty years of wandering. The church to which the believers were added in the opening chapters of the book of Acts was no more the body of Christ than the church in the wilderness. God does not even suggest that it is the body of Christ. Perhaps it is the bride of Christ.
Continued Opposition by Religious Leaders
The same group of ungodly, religious leaders who opposed the truth, according to Acts chapter 4, verses 1 to 22, make a second attack on the apostles of Christ in the following verses:
“Then the high priest rose up, and all they were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison. But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life. And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. 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. But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told, saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within. Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow. Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people. Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in the name? And, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (Acts 5:17-28).
“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses of these things: and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him. When they heard that, they were cut to the heart and took counsel to slay them. Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men. For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed. And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this council or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God. 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. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (Acts 5:29-42).
These verses reveal two general facts. First, the Holy Spirit was working within the apostles, and the “angel of the Lord” was working beside them. Second, the evil spirit was working within the priest, and the Sadducees were working beside him.
These leaders in Israel were filled with “indignation.” That is, they were envious and jealous. This attitude on the part of the high priest and those with him was provoked because of the influence which the apostles were winning over the people. About “three thousand souls” had been added to the Lord on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41); on another occasion about “five thousand” men were added (Acts 4:4), and we read in chapter 6 and verse 7 that “the Word of God increased and the number of disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly.” Such progress for the glory of Christ, whom they had rejected, was more than these religious leaders could bear.
So they “laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison” (Acts 5:18). These Spirit-filled men of God were lodged in the prison where common criminals were confined.
The Lord of glory never forgets His own. He remembered Joseph when he was cast into the Egyptian dungeon, He didn’t forget the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace, and so He remembered “Peter and the other apostles” when they were unjustly confined in the common prison of Jerusalem.
The angel of the Lord not only “opened the prison doors, and brought them forth,” but through this messenger of God commissioned the apostles to “Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.” They went forth to announce words of eternal life to dying men.
Early the next morning, two meetings were set in progress. The apostles were “standing in the temple and teaching the people” while, at the same time the high priest came, and they that were with him, and “called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel.”
The officers, who were then sent to the prison to get the apostles and bring them before the council, returned with a startling report. They said, “the prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within.”
While the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests were wondering, whereunto this movement would grow, one came in saying, “Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people.”
Then the captain with the officers brought the apostles before the council and the high priest asked them 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 on us.” In Matthew 27:25, these men said, “His blood be on us, and on our children;” Now they want to avoid their own curse by saying, “ye intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
The Holy Spirit within Peter and the other apostles gave them boldness to obey God rather than men. Their message to Israel’s leaders, as recorded in Acts chapter 5 verses 30 to 32, was both pointed and timely. First, they laid the guilt of the slaying of the Son of God at the door of the priest and his associates; and next, they preached the risen and exalted Christ as the Saviour through whom repentance and forgiveness of sins was being offered to Israel. They also declared that the Holy Ghost was witness to these things. When this message was impressed upon these ungodly men who were opposing the truth, “they were cut to the heart.” In Acts 2:37 the people “were pricked (pierced) in their heart,” but in Acts 5:33, the rulers were “cut to the heart.” There is a vast difference between pierced in the heart and cut to the heart. The Greek verbs are different. The truth always either pierces or cuts the heart of the hearer. Heart piercing brings conviction, but heart cutting brings rage and indignation. These rulers were enraged, not convicted.
These enraged rulers took counsel to slay the apostles and thereby stop the spreading of the truth. One member of the council displayed unusual wisdom by making the suggestion that the council should take heed as to what they intended to do as touching these men. This councilman was named Gamaliel. He was a doctor of the law and had a good reputation among all the people. His argument was that if the work which was being done by the apostles “be of men, it will come to nought; but if it be of God, ye can not overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.”
The council agreed and the lives of the apostles were spared. However, they were beaten and commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus. The apostles took the beating in humility and departed from the presence of the council, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” They continued their ministry of teaching and preaching Jesus Christ in the temple and in every house.
Let us keep in mind that the apostles taught and preached Jesus as the Messiah, the promised one who was to redeem Israel. This was the gospel of the kingdom, a different message from that which Paul later preached and designated as “my gospel” (Romans 16:25). The former is “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23), the latter is “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:23). The former has to do with the setting up of the kingdom of heaven on the earth and the millennial reign of Christ, the latter has to do with the calling out of the church, which is the body of Christ.