The Book of Acts (Chapter 5:1-11) (Part 11)
In the Last Days the faithful Body of Messiah will need to have spiritual discernment. While we no longer have the apostles with us we have the gifts of the Holy Spirit still available to us as much as they were available to the apostles and the believers in the book of Acts. The spiritual manifestation of the discernment of spirits is greatly needed today. This gift primarily is the Spirit imparted ability to know truth from error, to know true signs, miracles and wonders from the false ones and to see into the hearts and motives of people. Today we have the faith prosperity money preachers who are always on about money and tithing yet live like kings themselves. In a very real sense they are not giving as much as they can to the LORD but keeping back much of the ‘profits’ for themselves. The tragedy is that multitudes of undiscerning and naive Christians are buying into their pernicious and covetous doctrines.
Indeed the Apostle Paul warned about such people teaching for the sake of money when he wrote; “They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach–and that for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus 1:11). He also wrote about those with false doctrines plying their trade for money and called them; “men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1Timothy 6:5b). The prime example would have to be Judas Iscariot who always “had his hand in the till.” When Judas saw Mary pour the very expensive oil over Jesus feet and wipe them with her hair he made a remark. The Apostle John records this. “But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, *said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it” (John 12:4-6). At the time only the Lord Jesus knew what Judas was really doing. As far as we know it is only after John is writing his gospel that he had since realised what Judas had been doing at the time. Judas was one of the inner circle, a leader, called and anointed but doomed because he basically loved money.
A Spiritual powerhouse
The fellowship, in the book of Acts, was moving in the power and in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and had seen the Lord Jesus save sinners, sanctify saints and work all kinds of miracles signs and wonders among them. The apostles had been giving a powerful testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great grace was upon them all. There was a downside in that Peter and John had been arrested and the Church has started to sense and foresee persecution looming on the horizon but they were not dissuaded at all by this but kept praying, having been filled with the Spirit twice, the apostles Peter and john three times. It was a spiritual powerhouse but grounded in apostolic doctrine. Into this situation came a couple who to all intents and purposes presented themselves as believers.
(Vs.1-2) “But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
After the believers had been filled with the Holy Spirit there was a tremendous sense of unity and charity among themselves as we have seen. “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need…And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them” (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32) Now we do not know when Ananias and his wife Sapphira joined the fellowship. We may well assume that they had been among those who had previously been saved, possibly even baptised as well. They undoubtedly wanted “in on the action” but were in it for the wrong motive altogether.
Whenever there is a genuine revival as we have seen, there will be those who blend in and go along with what is happening and some are very clever at masking their true intentions. Some learn the Christian ‘lingo’ fast and are able to converse as one of the saints. In most cases it is either prestige or money that brings them into the fellowship. They think they are ‘on a good thing’ and in some cases deceive themselves into thinking just that and not realising that they are playing around with the Living God and His Holy Spirit. Such was the case of this husband and wife. It is clear that they loved money more than they loved God and possibly thought that they could get away with deception in this matter. Possibly they thought they could fool the apostles as they had fooled others in the fellowship. Ananias, with the full knowledge of his wife, kept some money back and lied about it and thought they could get away with it. They had not counted on the foreknowledge of the Holy Spirit. Whether they were really saved we do not know but it would seem they were not born again or really filled with the Spirit at all.
(Vs.3-4) “But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.””
If Satan had filled their hearts then they could not have had hearts filled with the Holy Spirit. So we could most probably say they were not really saved. However, we also need to keep in mind that even a believer can be spiritually shipwrecked because of the love of money. The Apostle Paul writes about this; “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:6-10).
In the case of Ananias and Sapphira they could have been honest and upfront about what they were willing to give. It was their choice; however, they lied and thought they could get away with it. Through the Holy Spirit Peter discerned what was really going on. He clearly told them that in lying to the Holy Spirit they had also lied to God. Clearly Peter was referring to the Holy Spirit as the third person within the Tri-unity of the Godhead. The Holy Spirit is God the Spirit and in lying to Him they had lied to God.
The gift of discernment is greatly needed in the Church today with all of the false prophets and teachers plying their trade on the internet and on TV. Most of them, if not all, are in it for money! Just watch TBN and you will see one false prophet after another “profiteering on the blood of then Lamb” an accursed greedy brood. Years later Peter also wrote about these in his second epistle and he was writing about leaders. “They are stains and blemishes, revelling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 13b-15). Balaam was a so called ‘prophet’ but did it for money! He was killed when the Israelites went into take possession of the Land of Canaan.
It is a terrible thing to lie to the Holy Spirit. The Lord Jesus spoke about despising the Holy Spirit when He said; “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the one to come” (Matthew 12:30-32). When we see what happened next we see that God is a Holy and righteous God and sometimes deals radically with sin. The Church was in its infancy and it was vitally important to keep it pure and undefiled and unspotted by the ways of the world.
(Vs. 5-6) “And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.”
Today in many Pentecostal and charismatic churches you have what they call being “slain in the Spirit.” It is not a Biblical term but when you think about the term “slain” it has the connotation of being literally killed. Others call being “slain in the Spirit” “carpet time” when most of those who come forwards for prayer or ministry fall down backwards on to the carpet. Some, if not most, experience some kind of euphoria and in many cases cannot explain it other than it is the Spirit doing something. Having said this we need to ask the question is this Biblical? Do we see this kind of thing in the Bible?
In the Old Testament when the glory of the LORD filled the Temple the worshippers fell forward onto their faces in solemn awe of God because they could not stand in His presence. In the Old Testament when certain individuals were confronted by the LORD face to face through the Metatrone (The Pre-existent Jesus) they fell down on their faces, fully cognitive of what was happening and lay prone before the Lord. You never have any record where they rolled around on the ground, making animal noises of one sort or another or writhing uncontrollably on the ground or the floor in a hypnotic and even euphoric state. When Paul spoke about all prophesying in the assembly by the Holy Spirit, he said that when someone comes in who is unsaved or ignorant of spiritual gifts that through the Holy Spirit they would have the secrets of their heart revealed that they would “fall down and declare God is among you!” Again they fell forwards and not backwards. They were fully cognitive.
In the revivals under Wesley and Whitfield, when they were preaching in the open air to thousands, some would fall down under the power of God, having been convicted of their sin. It was a judgement rather than a blessing and the means to them repenting, getting saved and sanctified. In the Bible we have only one instance of people falling backwards and that was when they came to arrest the Lord Jesus. When He said; “I am He” they fell backwards. It was a judgement, not a blessing! You see we have to test all things by God’s Word.
In the case of Ananias he was literally slain by the Spirit, not in the Spirit. It was a judgement, not a blessing. We cannot afford to play around with the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of God and He is Holy as God is Holy and as the Lord Jesus is Holy. Whenever we are dealing with the Holy Spirit we are dealing with the Triune God. The blessed Holy Spirit was so powerfully manifesting God’s power and presence among His people that the thought and intents of the heart were clearly exposed. In Ananias’ case he had decided to try to put one over the local fellowship regardless of how it would affect them and he paid the price for his presumption.
The days are coming when this kind of discernment and action of the Holy Spirit will happen again in local fellowships that are moving in the gifts of the Spirit and under the authority of the Word of God alone. During the early days of the underground Church in China and Russia there were those who were sent in by the government to infiltrate the fellowship to spy on them.
This is going to become a problem for the churches in the western democracies that are operating in the power of the Holy Spirit outside of structured denominational institutionalised Christendom. It is already happening. Discernment is needed more than ever today in the faithful Body of Messiah. Also there will be those who “secretly introduce destructive heresies” laying truth and error side by side. Ananias was slain by the Holy Spirit about three hours before his wife came on the scene.
(Vs.7-11) “Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.” And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.”
In the Bible believers fall asleep but the unsaved die. In the Old Testament when someone slept with their fathers it conveyed the idea that they would be resurrected to life again and that physical death was not final. In the New Testament Paul speaks about believers falling asleep in Messiah indicating that it was not a permanent state. When someone died and was buried it conveys the idea that they were not saved. According to the Bible everyone who dies physically will be resurrected again, some to eternal life and others to eternal death. Eternity is a very long time. In the case of Ananias and Sapphira they died and were buried indicating that they were most probably not saved in the first place. Today we have those in the ranks of the Body of Messiah who are always on about money and fleecing the sheep and keeping a portion for themselves and living “high on the hog!’ they are on very dangerous and slippery ground spiritually.
Did Ananias and Sapphira think that they could be a part of something that gave them a kind of emotional satisfaction and an experience of the supernatural but were not really willing to part with their money. It was not that they held some back but that they deliberately lied to God and as Peter pointed out to Sapphira before she died, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test?” They had tested the Holy Spirit and in doing this they had tested God and died for doing it.
(Vs.12-13) “At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem.”
The fellowship was still meeting in Solomon’s portico and at this time they had not been expelled from the Temple precincts. They were still under the umbrella of Judaism. The Romans tolerated the Jews and allowed them to sacrifice in the Temple and to go about their religious activities but the system itself was spiritually bankrupt and working in with the Roman government. It was a government controlled religious system that was still basically Mosaic Judaism but corrupted with the doctrines and commandments of men. The believers were protected at least for the time being even though their presence had greatly disturbed the Jewish religious hierarchy. They were all together in one accord. They were maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace and the Holy Spirit was moving powerfully among them. After the people in the city had seen and heard what was happening they esteemed them highly. These Christians were something the people of Jerusalem had never seen before. The religious leaders had religion but these people had power.
(Vs.14-15) “And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them.
When a Biblical revival hits a city it does not take long before the word spreads. Today we have so called ‘revivals’ of one sort or another and we see everything from blowing on people, making them fall over, to waving coats over a vast crowd, or laughing in hysterics and sinking to the floor twitching uncontrollably not to mention one guy kicking old ladies in the stomach and calling it revival! We see one hype artist after another all plying their ‘trade’ in the temple of God. No exposition of the word of course just verses here and there out of context to bolster their pop psychology in order to titillate the senses of the hearers. Here in Jerusalem it was anything but that. Souls were being really saved and multitudes we are told were being constantly added to their number.
There were no programmes for church growth, no heady music to take people into some kind of spiritual euphoria. No strobe lighting with heavy rock music and one worship leader after another whipping up people into an ecstatic state of mind and emotion. None of that at all! The power of God was resting so powerfully on Peter that even his shadow falling on a sick person would make them completely well. All of this supernatural activity followed the preaching of the Word of God and in no way was a substitute for it.
The Lord Jesus Himself said that these signs would follow the preaching of the gospel! Mark writes about this. “And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed (Mark 16:20). Just before the Lord Jesus comes back this supernatural power will be seen again but it will also follow the preaching of the Word of God. These signs then confirm the Word of God, they not replace it!
(Vs.16) “Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.”
One of the amazing things about the open air preaching of Wesley and Whitfield was that often they would be preaching to a crowd of several thousand and that without amplification. Furthermore, people just came in droves to hear them, many not really knowing why they were coming to hear this preacher. Of course the blessed Holy Spirit was drawing the crowds to hear the Word of God. Wesley and Whitfield were evangelists and never really saw people miraculously healed at their meetings but they most certainly saw thousands saved and sanctified after repenting and turning away from their sins. Of course over the last three hundred years we have seen many revivals and moves of God’s Spirit. The end-time church will have solid preaching and exposition of the Word of God being confirmed by signs following. Already we see this happening in third world countries but it will characterize the true Body of Messiah and mark out those who are really filled with the Spirit and moving in His power.
Discernment and the discipline of the Holy Spirit, as we saw in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, is going to be prevalent in the local Body of Messiah wherever they meet for fellowship and worship. In that day the religious institutional Church will have become totally bankrupt spiritually and into ecumenical unity and interfaith associations where Biblical truth is thrown underfoot for the doctrines and the commandments of men. This false Church system will also be filled with all kinds of counterfeit “signs, miracles, wonders, dreams, manifestations and whatever else is not in accord with sound doctrine. It will be a haunt for every demonic, foul and evil spirit you can image with its leaders deceiving and being deceived. This is the future of so called “Institutionalised Christendom.” Eventually Bible believing Christians who understand the gifts of the Spirit and move in the gifts of the Spirit will be marginalized and eventually expelled from their denominations and this will include ministers, elders and other leaders as well as believers.
As we will see, as we continue through the book of Acts, persecution started with false brethren in league with secular government and led to increasing persecution and difficulties for the people of the Way. Having said this those first century believers were no joke! After what happened to Ananias and Sapphira the people of God became acutely aware of how the LORD would deal with insincerity and hypocrisy. It not only affected the fellowships scattered around the city but also the unsaved heard about what had happened and for the time being gave those believers a wide berth, at least for a short time. Of course the devil wanted to keep up the pressure because he wanted to stop a good thing happening. No matter how hard he tried he could not best those believers. As the Lord Jesus Himself said that He would build His Church on the great and solid rock of revelation knowledge of Himself and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it! (Matthew 16:17-19).