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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Acts 5

 

 

Verses 1-42

THIS CHAPTER OPENS with a solemn incident which throws up in striking relief one last feature which characterized the early church: there was the exercise of a holy discipline by the power of God. The case of Ananias and Sapphira was exceptional without a doubt. When God institutes anything new, it seems to be His way to signalize His holiness by making an example of any who challenge it. He did so with the man who broke the sabbath in the wilderness (see, Numbers 15:32-36), and also with Achan when Israel began to enter Canaan (see Joshua 7:18-26), and so with Ananias and his wife here. Later in Israel’s history many broke the sabbath and took forbidden Babylonish things without incurring similar penalties, just as during the church’s history many have acted lies or told them without falling dead.

What lay behind the lie in this case were the twin evils of covetousness and vainglory. Ananias wanted to keep part of the money for himself, and yet gain the reputation of having devoted all to the Lord, as Barnabas had done. Such is the mind of the flesh, even in a saint. How many of us have never had the workings of similar evils in our own hearts? But in this case Satan had been at work, and by the unhappy couple he issued a direct challenge to the Holy Ghost present in the church. The Holy Ghost accepted the challenge, and demonstrated His presence in this drastic and unmistakable fashion. Peter recognized that this was the position, when to Sapphira he spoke of their doings as an agreement “to tempt the Spirit of the Lord.”

In result Satan’s challenge was made to serve the interests of the Lord and His gospel, as the following verses show. In the first place, this episode put great fear upon all who heard of it, and even upon the church itself. Here is indicated something which is very lacking in the church today—to say nothing of men generally. The fear of God is a very wholesome thing in the hearts of saints, and it is quite compatible with a deep sense of the love of God. Paul had that fear in the light of the judgment seat (see, 2 Corinthians 5:10, 2 Corinthians 5:11), though for the unbeliever it will go beyond fear to positive terror. A godly fear, springing from a deep sense of the holiness of God, is much to be desired.

Then, as the early part of verse Acts 5:12, and verses Acts 5:15-16 show, there was no slackening in the miraculous power of God, ministered through the Apostles. Indeed the power increased, so that the mere shadow of Peter wrought wonders. Within the parenthesis printed in brackets (verses Acts 5:12-14) we get the statement that after such an happening men were afraid to join themselves to the Christian company; yet this was no real loss, for it stopped anything in the nature of a mass movement, that would have swept a good deal of unreality into the church. The real work of God was not hindered, as verse Acts 5:14 states. People may be added to the church who are mere professors, but no one is “added to the Lord” save those in whom there is a vital work of God. Thus the sad business of Ananias and Sapphira was overruled for good, though to a superficial observer it might have seemed a heavy blow to the church’s prospects.

God having wrought in this striking way for blessing, we see, in verse Acts 5:17, the next counter-stroke of Satan. The priests and Sadducees, filled with indignation, again arrest them. This is met by God sending an angel to open the prison doors and liberate them. The next day, their escape being discovered, they are arrested, but in much more gentle fashion. The words of the priests confess the power with which God had been at work, for they admit that Jerusalem had been filled with the teaching; yet they manifest the awful hardness of their hearts in saying, “ye... intend to bring this Man’s blood upon us.” Why, they had themselves said, “His blood be on us, and on our children.” The truth was that God was going to take them at their word, and do it.

Peter’s answer was short and simple. They were going to obey God rather than men. Then he again summarized their testimony and repeated it. The Holy Ghost and they were witnesses to the resurrection of the Jesus, whom they slew. But God had exalted Him, not to be at that time a Judge, meting out damnation upon their guilty heads, but a Prince and a Saviour, giving repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. Repentance as well as forgiveness is viewed as a gift.

Though mercy and forgiveness was still the burden of Peter’s message, the proclamation of it only stirred them to fury. Mercy presupposes sin and guilt, and that they were not disposed to admit; hence they took counsel to slay them. Satan is a murderer from the beginning, and under his influence murder filled their hearts. Yet God has many ways of checkmating the evil designs of men, and in this case He used the worldly wisdom of the renowned Gamaliel, who had Saul of Tarsus as his pupil.

Gamaliel cited two recent cases of men who had risen up pretending to be somebody; the type of man to whom the Lord alluded in John 10:1-42, when He spoke of those who climbed up some other way, and who were but thieves and robbers. They came to nought indeed, and Gamaliel thought that Jesus might have been one of these spurious shepherds, instead of the true Shepherd of Israel. Had He been such, His cause also would have come to nought. Gamaliel’s warning took effect and the Apostles were released, though with a beating and the demand that they ceased their testimony.

Truly the council was fighting against God, for the Apostles rejoiced in their suffering for His Name, and diligently pursued their witness both publicly in the temple and more privately in every house.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Acts 5:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/acts-5.html. 1947.

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