For every generous person, there is a pretender. Ananias and Sapphira embodied the spirit of hypocrisy. Yes they gave, but they pretended to be far more generous than they really were. The land was theirs. The price of the sale was theirs. They chose what to give, but they did not have the right to pretend they gave the full price. How to deal with such an act? Peter, an authoritative apostle of Jesus Christ, dealt severely. Such dishonesty would not be tolerated. Pretense would not be profitable. Fear seized the church—the fear of God (Heb. 12:28-29). Acts 5:11 is the first usage of “church” in the book of Acts. Originally a secular term referring to an assembly of citizens for political purposes, Jesus used the term when he promised to build his church (Matt. 16:18). The church of Jesus Christ is the spiritual body of baptized believers. The word church, used in this spiritual sense, refers either to a local body of disciples or to the church universal. It never refers to a sectarian group.
The apostles stand out as leaders of the church. At first, they were the only miracle workers and inspired men among the disciples. The gift of the Spirit in Acts 2:38 is the indwelling every believer receives, not a miraculous gift (2 Cor. 1:21-22). Not until Acts 6 would others be given gifts of the Spirit which enabled them to perform miracles. No one pretended to join the ranks of the apostles. The gospel marched on and more and more were added to the church.
Jealousy is an ugly thing. The Sadducees resented the challenge to their influence and standing among the Jews. Having warned the apostles to no avail, they resorted to arrest and then to violence. Bars could not hold back the gospel. The apostles were released by an angel of the Lord, and they continued to teach in the environs of the temple. The apostles were made to appear before the Sanhedrin once again, to answer for their disobedience. The apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29). They were witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection and they were committed to telling the good news, come what may.
Prejudice and anger drive previously sensible people to do dangerous things. Witness our world today. The Jewish leaders were ready to put the apostles to death (even though the Romans would have to be involved). A sage from the party of the Pharisees intervened and counseled peace and calm. Gamaliel was foremost among rabbinical teachers. A man whose voice was respected. Paul had studied at his feet as a young man (Acts 22:3). Gamaliel’s cautious recommendation reads as follows: “Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:38-39). Worldly wise or spiritually wise? In either case, his advice persuaded the Jewish leaders. Sadly, the apostles were flogged, beaten severely. They were threatened and released.
The reaction of the apostles to threats and beating is amazing. “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5:41-42).
My comments are not an inspired commentary, but rather a few words to draw attention to the background, context, and dynamic situation of the book of Acts. May God bless your reading of His Word. T.C.