ACTS - CHAPTER 5
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2000 James Melough
“But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a
what happened to these two, we have a virtual repetition of what happened to the two
sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, as recorded in Le 10:1-2, a fact which confirms that
in Israel’s literal history, we have the prewritten symbolic history of the Church.
is one of the Biblical symbols of the Holy Spirit, so that the refusal of Nadab and
Abihu to use the fire from the brazen altar, was a literal offense that was the
symbolic rejection of the One represented by that fire: the Holy Spirit.
Significantly, the sin of Ananias and Sapphira is declared to have been also
against that same Holy Spirit (verse 3).
spiritual mind will fail to be impressed with the fact that the events accompanying
the beginning of the Tabernacle worship of literal Israel, are virtually the same as
those accompanying the beginning of the worship of spiritual Israel, the Church.
In each case two priests were stricken dead for disobedience. (In the NT order the woman is as much a priest as is the man).
The lesson, unfortunately, isn’t always discerned.
In that the offense in both instances was against the Holy Spirit, the deaths
of the offenders ought to teach us the seriousness of rejecting His leading in
anything we do. But inasmuch as the
offenses were in connection with worship (since worship is giving to God, the
offering of Ananias and Sapphira was no less worship than was the offering of incense
by the two sons of Aaron), God would impress upon us the imperative of being
completely submissive to the Holy Spirit’s leading in the matter of our worship.
We may not worship as we choose, for it was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself Who
declared that, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in
spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:24), i.e., at the Holy Spirit’s impulse, and according
to the written Word which is truth, Jn 17:17.
very meaning of his name would emphasize the measure of his guilt, for Ananias means the
grace of God. He, like every other
pardoned sinner, had been redeemed, as we are reminded in 1 Pe 1:18 “not with
corruptible things, as silver and gold ... but with the precious blood of Christ.”
That knowledge should have taught him, as it should us, the extent of his
indebtedness to God’s grace, and should have preserved him from that parsimonious
spirit that would even have thought of holding back anything from Him Who spared not
His Son to redeem men’s souls. The
very opportunity that he might have used to say a grateful “Thanks be unto God for
His unspeakable gift,” became, by his deceit, the disclosure of the meanness of his
own soul, the redemption of which had cost God everything.
condemn Ananias, however, is to condemn ourselves, for there isn’t one of us who
hasn’t withheld from God what we ought to have willingly laid at His feet.
For example, out of our discretionary time, i.e., time we wrongly call our
own, how much do we give to God? Is it
not true that we too keep back a part, often by far the larger part?
we sit at the Lord’s table on the first day of each week, must we not confess that
all too often what we bring represents but a meager fraction of what could have been
brought had we not “kept back part” of the time that could, and should, have been
spent in preparing ourselves during the week for that meeting with our risen Lord?
indebtedness to God’s grace is as great as that of Ananias, and sadly, so also is
with Sapphira his wife.” Sapphira
means a sapphire, the stone on the breastplate of Israel’s high priest that
was engraved with the name of Dan. But
Dan means judging: a judge. Surely
no one will fail to discern the lesson of this woman’s name, and of the part she
had in the attempted deception of the Holy Spirit.
dealing with disorders at the Lord’s table in the Corinthian assembly, Paul wrote,
“But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that
cup. For he that eateth and drinketh
unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation (judgment) to himself, not discerning the
Lord’s body. For this cause many are
weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For
if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged” (1 Co 11:28-31).
Ananias and Sapphira judged themselves before God, the deception would never have
been attempted, and the judgment of an offended God would never have fallen upon
them. Nor did they die unwarned.
They were Jews, familiar with the OT Scriptures.
They ought to have read the lesson of the judgment that fell upon Aaron’s
are the more culpable when we repeat their sin, for we have the double warning of
both Nadab and Abihu, and of Ananias and Sapphira.
“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.”
aren’t told the value of the part kept back, nor is it important, for the truth is
that to withhold any part is to deny the truth declared by Paul in 1 Co 6:19-20 “Ye
are not your own. For ye are bought with
a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are
God’s.” To keep back any part of our
time, ability, money, etc., is to deny the truth of Paul’s words.
It is to declare that the part retained does not belong to God; but
that is plain rebellion, for every part is His.
He has a double claim upon us: that of Creator, and now also of Redeemer.
and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” This
reeks of hypocrisy; but before pronouncing condemnation upon these two, we should be
certain that we are not guilty of similar duplicity.
When we sit at the Lord’s table, all too often what we “lay at His feet”
is only a part of what could have been given had we not kept back a part of the time
that should have been used during the week to prepare for that hour when we are
privileged to occupy a place at that table.
“But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the
Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?”
Holy Spirit was in control: He instructed Peter.
What folly to attempt to deceive the Holy Spirit, when Ananias couldn’t even
deceive a man in whom that same Spirit dwelt! It is no different today. Carnal
believers deceive only themselves, for spiritual men and women easily discern what is not of the Holy
is significant that Satan, the author of all sin, had filled the heart of
Ananias. This would have been impossible
had his heart been filled, as it ought to have been, with the Holy Spirit.
There is great danger in disobeying the divine command, “And be not drunk
with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18).
When we grieve and quench the Holy Spirit we cease to be filled with Him, and
Satan won’t miss the opportunity to come in and fill the vacuum, always to God’s
dishonor, and our loss. (The filling and
the indwelling of the Spirit are not to be confused.
He never ceases to indwell the true believer; but the degree to which we are
filled is governed by the degree of our obedience).
“Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not
in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not
lied unto men, but unto God.”
as land or as money, it was said to be “in thine own power.”
That phrase is instructive. Nothing
is our own. We are nothing more than
stewards. What Ananias and Sapphira had
was lent by God. Their only part was, as
stewards, to decide concerning its use. The
decision, not the money, was theirs. So
is it with all we have - money, houses, cars, time, talent, etc., - and our decisions
as to the use of what has been entrusted to us, translate into eternal gain or loss.
What folly, then, to use any of the things entrusted to our stewardship, in
any way other than for God’s glory.
in thine heart.” The ancients believed
the heart to be the seat of the intellect, and it is written, “As he thinketh in
his heart, so is he” (Pr 23:7). Everything
begins in the mind, hence the command, “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your
mind” (Ro 12:2). We are to have the
mind of Christ. “Let this mind be in
you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not
robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him
the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in
fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death
of the cross” (Php 2:5-8).
is a very great difference between man’s estimate of sin, and God’s.
They obviously didn’t even think they were sinning, or if they did, they
counted it to be but a small sin. God
said they had lied, and few sins are more heinous in His sight, as is made clear
throughout Scripture, e.g., Satan is a liar, Jn 8:44, and in Pr 6:17 a lying tongue
is second on the list of seven things which God hates.
It is to be God’s Word, not our imperfect understanding, that is to measure
“And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great
fear came on all them that heard these things.”
may not presume that these two were unbelievers, for it is clear from Scripture that
God judges believers even here on earth, and 1 Cor 11:30 leaves no doubt that that
judgment may sometimes take the form of their being called home to heaven.
dramatic example of God’s response to sin on the part of one who appears to have
been a believer, produced fear in the hearts of others.
And well it might! As noted already, however, it was meant to teach all believers the
seriousness of sin. Nor should we
conclude that God is any less offended by the sins of His people today just because
He doesn’t strike the offenders dead on the spot.
Having given the whole Church that initial warning (just as He gave Israel
warning by the deaths of Nadab and Abihu), He can leave for the Bema the judgment of
our sins. That is not to imply that He may not still visit the believer’s
sin with the same judgment, for 1 Co 11:30 makes it clear that in that assembly also
some had been visited with death because of sin.
is a wise man who takes the lesson to heart, and he is a fool who doesn’t.
connection with the great fear that fell upon the others, it was such that “of the
rest durst no man join himself to them” (v.13). That reverential fear of God is conspicuously absent today, not
only in the world, but in the professing church.
“And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.”
young men speak of spiritual strength (Pr 20:29); and in their removal and burial of
this corpse, we have a reminder that spiritual strength is to be vigilant to see that
sin is kept out of the assemblies of God’s people.
Every corpse is a symbol of the body “dead because of sin” (Ro 8:10); and
as in the OT the touch of a dead body brought defilement, so in the Church does the
touch of the “dead body” (the flesh) bring defilement.
The activity of that “dead” flesh is not to be tolerated in the assembly.
“winding up,” i.e., wrapping up in grave clothes, declares the truth that the
“flesh” is neither to be seen, nor permitted any activity, amongst God’s
people. It is to be kept in the place of
“And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what
was done, came in.”
three hours were time in which she might have reflected, and realized the folly of
what they had agreed to do, but clearly they had not been employed in that salutary
exercise. Since three is the number of
resurrection, we can’t dismiss the thought that they were hours in which she might
have made the decision that would have delivered her from the sentence of death.
Proper use of those three hours could have saved her life, but their misuse
served only to invest her sin with a darker hue, for they increased the period of
premeditation; and Scripture leaves no doubt that premeditated sin is far more
heinous than that which is accidental.
have failed to learn the lesson, however, if it doesn’t make us tremble at the very
thought of plotting sin.
“And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much?
And she said, Yea, for so much.”
was her last opportunity to repent and confess, and save her life, but it was
refused. Having embarked on this path of
dissimulation, she refused to abandon her folly; and so, for a few pieces of silver,
lost her life. Could she have relived
that last minute, how different would have been her response to Peter’s question!
Many a believer since then has similarly set his face to continue in a path of
premeditated sin, only to discover even here on earth, the madness of his self-chosen
course. God doesn’t always visit such
sin with instant death. The rebel is
often left here on earth to taste the bitterness of rebellion against God.
responsibility is emphasized in this tragic scrap of human history.
She wasn’t slain for her husband’s sin, but for her own.
She had been given an additional three precious hours in which to extricate
herself from Satan’s web, but she choose instead to remain in that web, and to
compound her sin.
“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.”
different sin becomes when viewed from the divine perspective!
From the human viewpoint it was only a small matter of a few pieces of silver,
but seen in the light of heaven, it was very different.
It was nothing less than the creature’s provocation of the Creator, an
audacity that brought death. Did we but
grasp its true nature, we would tremble at the very thought of committing sin.
“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
lesson here may be that the woman, no less than the man, affects the church by her
conduct. Her place of subjection and
silence makes no difference. It is what
is in the heart (mind) that matters.
jealous God is of the holiness of the assembly! In that early Church He Himself purged it instantly of sin: hence
the power that marked its every activity. Only
when we are as ready to purge our lives of sin will that power be restored; for the
torpor that hangs like a pall over us, individually and corporately, is but the
evidence of our toleration of sin in our individual lives, and in our assemblies.
point seldom noticed in connection with the death of these two is that it offers
confirmation that the millennial kingdom was then still being offered to Israel, for
it must not be forgotten that the gospel hadn’t yet gone out to the Gentiles.
All of these were Jews, who were being offered the millennial kingdom - and in
the Millennium sin will be visited with the same swift judgment!
“And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these
such fear of God is evident today either in the world or in the Church; but in the
deaths of Ananias and Sapphira in those early days, the world and the Church alike
were taught to stand in awe of God. If a
transgression - small compared to the sins brazenly committed today by believer and
unbeliever alike - was visited with such judgment, who can begin to measure the
terrible volume of wrath that is soon to be poured out upon men who mock God to His
modern philosophy of “love” that makes God’s holiness take second place to
man’s vileness, has no Scriptural support, for the truth is that what the world and
the professing church label love, is all too often simply license.
“And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among
the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.”
signs and wonders continue to confirm that it was still a Jewish age, for it is to be
noted that as Israel’s unbelief became increasingly apparent, God gradually, and
reluctantly abandoned her to her fate, and turned to offer salvation to the Gentiles;
and with that abandonment came a corresponding diminution in miraculous phenomena.
Notice for example, the absence of reference to it in the later Epistles.
Nor does Church history offer any credible evidence of miraculous
manifestation after AD 70. Signs and
wonders are for Israel, not for the Church.
also, they met still in the Temple for ministry, but the Lord’s supper was eaten by
small groups meeting in homes. The book
of Acts will be understood much better if we keep in mind that it is the record, not
only of the beginning of the Church, but also, of the fading away of Israel.
Until AD 70 the Jewish and the Gentile streams of faith flowed side by side,
the former diminishing in volume as the latter increased, the destruction of the
temple finally ending all that was Jewish, and leaving only the Church, in which,
“there is neither Greek nor Jew ... but Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:11).
“And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified
holiness which was the line of demarcation between the world and the Church, has long
since been lost. Today the world and the
professing church are one.
Cor 3:1 makes it clear that in the apostolic Church, those moving from one assembly
to another, were to carry letters of commendation, so that the receiving assembly was
assured of the spiritual state of the one seeking fellowship, and could with
confidence receive him warmly into their midst, and extend such help as he might
need. Thus the assembly was secured
against the danger of receiving those who might have been under discipline in another
assembly, or those whose doctrine was wrong, or who were not even believers.
By this God-appointed safeguard it was difficult for Satan to place his wolves
amongst God’s sheep, or to sow his weeds amongst God’s wheat.
recently this same practice was followed in the assemblies.
Those seeking fellowship, and who were unknown, were required to bring letters
of commendation from the assemblies in which they had been in fellowship; and where
the applicant had no such letter, he was interviewed by the elders in an effort to
learn his spiritual state.
the most part this interview was conducted graciously and kindly, the elders having a
genuine concern for the man’s soul, and an equally sincere concern for God’s
glory through the preservation of Scriptural order in the assembly for which they
were responsible. Of primary concern was
whether the man was saved, so that he was asked to relate his conversion experience,
something no true believer should be reluctant to do.
Then he would be asked whether he had been, or was willing to be baptized as a
believer, for clearly, the disobedience that neglects or refuses believer’s
baptism, disqualifies the man from the fellowship of the assembly.
This would be followed by a brief explanation of why we meet as we do, and of
the responsibilities that go with the privileges.
a slightly different nature is the case of the casual visitor to the assembly.
Some come in the course of their search for a “church.”
Others come in the course of business trips, vacations, etc. The same standards apply, however. In the absence of a letter of commendation, the applicant should
be interviewed; and where he arrives so late as to make the interview impossible, he
should be invited to take his place as an observer, not as a participant at the
new and very unscriptural trend is to abandon this order, and to welcome all who
come, with no questions asked either as to their spiritual state, doctrine, or
present church association; and the excuse offered for this dereliction is, It is the
Lord’s table, not ours. We have no
right to question anyone. We must assume
that they are believers, for why else would they want to come to the Lord’s
cavalier attitude advertises (1) lack of concern for the man’s soul, (2) an equal
lack of concern for God’s glory and the preservation of Scriptural order in the
assembly, (3) indifference to the danger of thus exposing God’s flock to the
ravages of Satan’s wolves, for it must be clear to all but the spiritually blind or
wilfully ignorant, that such an open-door or open-table policy is Satan’s delight.
it must be apparent to every spiritual mind that the unbeliever has no place at the
Lord’s table, yet this is exactly what is found in many assemblies today, credence
being given the travesty by the pious announcement that “all who know the Lord are
welcome to partake of the emblems.” Do those who adopt this procedure, ever stop, I wonder, to
consider that there are many today who think they are saved, but who have
never been convicted of sin, and who have never accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as
their personal Savior - and whose lifestyles exclude them from the fellowship of a
Scriptural assembly? On one occasion a
group of “elders?” pointed me to 1 Co 11:28 “But let a man examine himself, and
so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup,” declaring that this applied
to believer and unbeliever alike!
thank God for those assemblies that still recognize the God appointed line of
demarcation separating believer from unbeliever, and whose seating arrangement at the
Lord’s table is such that unbelievers - including spouses, children, visiting
relatives and friends - sit in a separate area of the meeting place.
when the assemblies are marked, not by today’s latitudinarianism, but by the same
holiness that marked the apostolic Church, and made the unconverted afraid to “join
himself to them,” will there be seen again the evidences of divine approval
manifested in spiritual power and true multiplication by the addition of genuine born
numerical increase that results from the open-door, open-table policy is not to be
confused with Scriptural growth. The
only increase that counts with God is that which results from the fearless preaching
of the Biblical gospel.
but the people magnified them.” It is
interesting to note that the very conduct which might have been expected to provoke
the anger of the unconverted, produced the very opposite result: “the people
magnified them (held them in high esteem).” That period of peace soon gave place to bitter persecution, but it
is significant that the conduct of the believers didn’t change, for the simple
reason that it wasn’t governed by the response of an unconverted world.
They feared God, not man, and regardless of man’s response, would obey God.
That order, for the most part, is reversed today.
A professing church, become largely apostate, fears man more than she does
“And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and
ends the parenthesis that begins in the middle of verse 12.
It is to be noted that only believers were added.
It is very different today, for the professing church, having lost its fear of
God, and having become obsessed with the multiplication of numbers by whatever method
seems to work, gives little if any thought to the spiritual state of those it seeks
to entice into “the fellowship” through social activities, the preaching of a
social, but unscriptural “gospel,” and refusal to require holy living on the part
of the “converts.”
is to be noted also that these believers were “added to the Lord,” not to a
“church.” The vast majority of
professing Christians today see Christianity as nothing more than membership in a
religious social club masquerading as a church. Never having been born again scripturally, they know nothing of
the fact that genuine believers don’t “join” a “church,” but rather, become
members of the Church which is the mystical body of which Christ is the Head; they
become part of the mystical Bride of which He is the Bridegroom.
These deluded professors know nothing of the believer’s standing as a son of
God; of his eternal enrichment as an heir of God, and joint heir with Christ.
And the supreme tragedy is, that lulled by the honied words of their false
teachers, kept busy with religious “activities,” they drift daily toward hell and
the lake of fire, thinking all the while that they are on the way to heaven.
the multitudes who were saved in those early apostolic days, it is to be noted that
there is nothing in Scripture to justify the expectation of such numerous conversions
today - in spite of what is being taught to the contrary.
halcyon days were brief. We search the
Scriptures in vain for any mention of such numbers of converts after those early
days. That phenomenal activity of the
Holy Spirit that wrought conviction in the hearts of multitudes at the beginning of
the apostolic age, has to be understood in the context of the whole Word of God.
In those early days, Israel was being offered the millennial kingdom, an era
in which there was to be the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as foretold in Joel
2:28-29, for example. See also Acts 2.
As noted already, had Israel as a nation received Christ, she could have had
the millennial kingdom then, following the foretold seven years of tribulation.
The spectacular display of the Holy Spirit’s power on the day of Pentecost,
and in the days following, was, as Peter explains, the earnest or foretaste of what
would be in the Millennium.
soon became apparent, however, that Israel, as a nation, would not accept Christ,
with the result that in proportion as her manifest rejection of Him increased, the
offer of the Kingdom was in corresponding measure also withdrawn, accompanied by a
diminution in the display of the Holy Spirit’s power, and a corresponding reduction
in the number of conversions.
offer of the Kingdom ended when Jewish autonomy was brought to an end with the
destruction of the temple in AD 70, and will not be renewed until after the Rapture,
and the beginning of the Tribulation.
confusion relative to the Acts has resulted from failure to recognize that it is not
only the record of the beginning of the Church, but also the record of God’s
gradual and sorrowful abandonment of Israel. That confusion is removed when we differentiate between what
applies to an Israel still being offered the millennial kingdom, and what applies to
the Church with which she was to be replaced until the day when God in grace takes
her up again, and re-offers her the Kingdom.
to the Church, the clear teaching of Scripture is that the end of the Church age is
to be marked by almost total apostasy, indifference to the claims of Christ, a
nauseating spiritual lukewarmness, and genuine faith a rare thing, see for example Lk
18:8, “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”
is a delusion, resulting from failure to rightly divide the Word of truth, to be
looking today for the same number of converts as were found at the beginning of the
“Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them
on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow
some of them.”
noted already, miraculous manifestation is for Israel, not for the Church; and the
display of that power here is simply another confirmation that it was still a Jewish
age in which Israel was being offered the millennial kingdom.
Further confirmation is furnished in that Peter was specifically the apostle
to the Jews, as Paul was to the Gentiles, see, e.g., Ac 5:7; Gal 2:7, and accordingly
in this section Peter is the prominent servant.
is failure to rightly divide the Word of truth that prompts the expectation of
similar miraculous healing today. As it
became clear that Israel as a nation was not going to accept Christ, miraculous
manifestation began to diminish. Note
for example the paucity of reference to it even toward the end of the apostolic age;
nor has Church history since then furnished any valid evidence of its manifestation.
is not to say that God can’t still heal. He
can, and He does! But it is obvious that
He does not do it today through the medium of specially gifted individuals as in the
early apostolic age. 1 Cor 13 makes it
clear that some of the charismatic gifts were not to continue.
Church history and experience combine to show that miraculous healing, by
means of a specially endowed individual, was one such temporary gift.
“There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem,
bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits; and they were
healed every one.”
being the center of all the activity continues to remind us that it was still a
Jewish age. And it is to be noted that all
were healed, as it is to be noted further that in connection with the Scripturally
recorded healings, all were instantaneous, and all were complete, the incident in Mk
8:23-25 being unique. This is a far cry
from what today purports to be healing. The
truth is that since the apostolic age there has not been a single validated instance
of such healing.
who today refuse to acknowledge the activity of evil spirits, and the possibility of
a man’s being demon possessed, incur the guilt of refusing the clear testimony of
Scripture, and of making the Lord a liar. It
is a real and very terrible reality, and the modern preoccupation with the occult is
simply the foreshadowing of what will be far more prevalent in the soon-coming
“Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is
the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation.”
enmity of the established religious order has continued throughout the Church age,
and the blood that has been shed by that same order attests to the bitterness of the
hatred. Nor is this surprising.
It was that same enmity that slew the Lord, and that will continue to the end
slaying those who belong to Him.
one should be deceived. In spite of all
its outward piety, its gorgeous vestments, its impressive ritual, its educated
clerics, that great system that constitutes the bulk of Christendom today is
Satan’s counterfeit of the true Church, and is the confirmed implacable foe of
Christ and His people.
Sadducees did not believe in resurrection, and there is little doubt that their
jealous animosity was aroused, not only by the miracles performed by the disciples,
but by the claim that they were performed by the power of the resurrected Christ.
word “indignation” tends to obscure the true emotion that impelled the actions of
these Jewish religious leaders. It is
literally jealousy, and is described by different translators as being angry,
bitter, insufferable, etc. Nor has
the passage of twenty centuries changed anything. The bitter, jealous animosity of the established apostate
religious order is still provoked by any attempt to do the work of Christ.
“And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.”
anger of these hypocritical religious leaders wasn’t confined to words.
They had the apostles imprisoned; and history bears eloquent testimony to the
truth that those of similar character have continued the evil work until the present,
their hatred being confined to words only when civil law prevented its being
expressed in deeds.
“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
nothing is the puniness of man more clearly revealed than when he engages in conflict
with God. What are iron bars and locked
doors to Him Who by a word called the universe into existence!
This is the confidence of every believer.
God is for us! Who then can stand
against us? The Christ we serve is
He Who has overcome the world, and conquered death.
Our service should be rendered joyfully and confidently, in the knowledge that
however much Satan and men may attempt to thwart God’s great design, they will be
destroyed, and His purposes fulfilled.
being an angel who opened the prison doors, continues to confirm that it was still a
Jewish age, for angelic ministry is associated with Israel, not with the Church.
Valid Church history is silent regarding any such activity.
coming “by night” (while men slept) supplies a further encouragement to believers
today. We can always rest in the
assurance that in spite of what circumstances might seem to indicate to the contrary,
God, unseen by human eye, is working all things together for our ultimate good, “We
know that all things work together for good to them that love God” (Ro 8:28).
were released that they might preach the gospel, and we have been released from
spiritual bondage for the same purpose. The command of Christ to every believer is,
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15).
the assurance that it was still a Jewish age is further confirmed by the words “in
the temple.” The temple is associated
with Israel, not with the Church.
context indicates that “the words of this life” is a synonym for the gospel, but
clearly much more is embraced in the term. “This
life” is nothing less than the resurrection life of the Lord Jesus Christ, a life
that becomes the eternal possession of all who believe the gospel and trust Him as
“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.”
in the morning” is a term found frequently in connection with God’s choicest
servants. Abraham, responding to God’s
command to cast out Hagar, the bondwoman, representative of law, “rose up early
in the morning”; and again, in obedience to the command to offer up Isaac,
“Abraham rose up early in the morning” to obey.
In Ex 8:20 God commanded Moses, “Rise up early in the morning, and
stand before Pharaoh,” and clearly Moses obeyed.
See also Ex 9:13; 24:4; 34:4; Jos 3:1; 6:12,15; 7:16; 8:10, etc.
early in the morning speaks of that which takes precedence over all else; and in the
early morning obedience of faithful servants in the past, God would remind us that
His business comes first. It must take
precedence over all else in our lives. It
is instructive to note the early morning activity of the faithful women on the
resurrection morning, see, e.g., Mk 16:2, and it is equally instructive to note that
here in the book of Acts, the only time we read these words is in connection with the
preaching of the gospel. The present
sorry condition of the professing church is largely due to her failure to obey the
Lord’s command, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every
creature” (Mk 16:15). There will be
blessing only when that command is obeyed.
preaching in the temple, and the references to the high priest, the council, the
senate of the children of Israel, continue to remind us that it was still a Jewish
age in which God was dealing with Israel, and was offering them the millennial
kingdom. The council refers to the
Sanhedrin, while the senate refers to the whole body of Jewish elders or rulers.
ignorance of what had happened to the Apostles declares the disparity between their
actual and their professed position. They
claimed to be the God-appointed rulers of His people, when in fact, the only
relationship existing between Him and them was the same as that which exists between
Him and every other unconverted sinner. It
is the same relationship as exists today between Him and the apostate system that
calls itself the church, while continuing to persecute the true Church.
“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.”
puny and useless are all man’s efforts against God!
As noted already, What are iron bars and locked doors against the One Who by a
word created the universe, and Who upholds it by that same power?
If we who are His but grasped that truth more fully, how much needless care we
would save ourselves!
“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.”
in opposition to God walks in a thorny labyrinth, where his own folly afflicts him at
every turn. How different it would have
been had those Jewish leaders, like some of their wiser fellows, simply been willing
to confess themselves sinners, and accept the pardon offered everyone who trusts in
the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior!
“Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison
are standing in the temple, and teaching the people.”
spiritual truth that eluded those blinded Jewish leaders was that they who ruled the
temple literally, were those who were themselves spiritually in prison; while the
Apostles, liberated from a spiritual as well as literal prison, were they who were
the true representatives of God. As the
evil Saul, after God had deposed him, continued
to misrule Israel, and persecute David the rightful king, so did those Jewish leaders
also continue to misrule Israel, ignorant of the truth that God had deposed them in
favor of those whom they imprisoned and persecuted, and contemptuously referred to as
unlearned and ignorant men. So is it
also today. The magnificently-robed
clerics, with their impressive degrees and titles, claim to be the God-appointed
rulers of Christ’s Church, while those whom they also call unlearned and ignorant
men are God’s true servants exercising the spiritual gifts given them by the Lord
“Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence:
for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned.”
common people had more discernment than their leaders, for clearly they measured the
apostles, not by their social standing, but by the power of their words and deeds;
but the very things which authenticated their ministry in the sight of the common
people, were those against which the Jewish leaders closed their eyes and ears in
deliberate unbelief, as Paul later wrote to the Corinthians, “... not many wise men
after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called: but God hath chosen the
foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things
of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and the base things of the
world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not,
to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence” (1
“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 this
name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring
this man’s blood upon us.”
need of the apostles to disregard the commands of the Jewish leaders was the more
apparent in view of the fact that those same leaders had instigated the Lord’s
death; but God had raised Him up again, His resurrection being itself one of the
strongest proofs that the Jewish leaders were pitted against God, hence the need to
disobey their orders.
to the effectiveness of the apostles’ preaching and teaching was furnished, albeit
unwittingly, by the words of the Jewish council, “ye have filled Jerusalem with
your doctrine.” This is a rebuke of
the feebleness of our own testimony today. Our
neighborhoods, to say nothing of our cities, are largely unaware that we even exist,
much less that we are the possessors of “good news” which the Lord Himself has
commanded us to preach to all men.
and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
This wasn’t the intent of the apostles, but it was nonetheless a concomitant
of the gospel, for the offer of salvation isn’t just to every sinner, but to every
sinner willing to confess his guilt, repent of his sins, and believe in the Lord
Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. If
the Jewish leaders were to be saved, they must of necessity confess their guilty part
in the Lord’s death.
danger of their being charged with His blood, however, went far beyond anything the
apostles might say. It was they
themselves who had cried, “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Mt 27:25),
an invocation that has been answered throughout the past two millennia, for the sword
has followed the Jew where ever he has gone since that fateful day.
“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God
rather than men.”
them those were no mere idle words. The
Peter who had thrice denied the Lord, was now a changed man.
He had seen his Lord die for him on the cross, and he had seen that same Lord
victoriously risen. The threats of men
meant little to him. The Peter who stood
before the Sanhedrin was ready to die for His risen Master.
That kind of courage is much needed today.
“The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a
suggest that God’s raising up Jesus refers to His incarnation rather than His
resurrection. The context, however,
seems to point to His resurrection.
apostles’ defiance of the Sanhedrin rested on a good foundation.
God’s resurrection of Christ was the perfect refutation of the error of the
Jewish leaders. As they had been wrong
in condemning Him, so were they also wrong in forbidding His followers to preach the
gospel of salvation for sinners through faith in that same Jesus Who had been
delivered for their offenses, but Who had been raised again for their justification.
was their error simply a minor matter. The
enormity of their crime is to be measured by the contrast between the dishonor He
suffered at their hands, and the honor conferred upon Him by the Father.
They crowned Him with thorns, and hanged Him on a tree.
God has crowned Him with glory and honor, and set Him on the throne of heaven.
They in their malicious hatred assigned Him the lowest place possible.
God has promoted Him to the highest pinnacle of glory.
The apostles had perfect reason to ignore the commands of these self-righteous
is clear, however, that God had not yet abandoned Israel, for we note that the
apostles still acknowledged their part in that nation with the words, “The God of
our fathers ....” The break between
Israel and the Church didn’t come until the dissolution of Jewish autonomy in AD
70. As another has noted, “The early
church did not break fellowship with the Jews but existed as a fellowship within
that time the Jewish faction within the Church was governed by an order different
from that which regulated the life of the Gentile believers, compare, for example, Ac
15:1-29, and Ac 21:20-26. Paul was not,
as some have taught, guilty of error in what he did in chapter 21.
In the Millennium, the Levitical form of worship will be restored, and that
order governed the lives of the Jewish believers in the early apostolic age for the
simple reason that the kingdom was still being offered to Israel, and had she as a
nation believed, the Levitical form of worship would have continued through the seven
years of the Tribulation (which would have followed the conversion of the nation),
and been the millennial form of worship for the whole world, as it will yet be.
is failure to distinguish between the divinely appointed order for converted Jews,
and that appointed for believing Gentiles in the early apostolic age, that has
brought much confusion into the understanding of the book of Acts, resulting in the
attempt to apply to the Church today some of the things which applied solely to the
Jewish believers, and then only until AD 70, after which the God-appointed order for
the believing Gentiles governed the whole Church.
“Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for
to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”
in this verse emphasizes the power of God, and the power of the risen Christ.
Note for example, the reference to God’s right hand, i.e., the hand of
power. He Who came in the guise of a
Servant to do the Father’s will, is now a Prince and a Savior; nor is He simply
another Prince among many: He is King of kings, and Lord of lords.
He is the One before Whom all other potentates must bow.
God would emphasize that it was still the day of grace. That crucified, but risen Jesus, was still available to men,
including those Jewish leaders, as their Savior, for the day of His reign hadn’t
yet come. And God, in amazing patience
and grace, has prolonged that period of grace even until today; but everything in the
scene around us points to the fact that it won’t continue much longer.
The sand in the hour-glass is down to the last few grains, and when the last
one drops, that same Christ Who came two thousand years ago to die for men’s sins,
“... shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and
with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are
alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the
Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Th 4:16-17).
That “catching up” (the rapture of the Church) will be followed by a brief
interval, which will be followed by the seven-year period of Tribulation, which will
be brought to an end by the return of Christ in power and glory to judge the nations,
banish all unbelievers from the earth, and establish His millennial kingdom, during
which He will rule with a rod of iron, and the world will bask in the blessing of
that righteous reign of the Prince of Peace.
it was still a Jewish age in which God was dealing with Israel, is emphasized in the
words, “to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”
And the magnitude of divine grace is revealed in that those sins included
Israel’s murder of God’s Son.
“And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost,
whom God hath given to them that obey him.”
be a witness for God is the most privileged state to which man can attain here on
earth, and one of the great tragedies of our day is that so few comprehend that
truth. In our blindness and folly we
perceive our greatest glory to lie in attainment of earthly honor and glory,
forgetting that that fleeting fame is achieved at the cost of eternal honor
and glory. Not so with those early
disciples: they saw all things in the light of eternity, and were content to leave
earth’s worthless glory for those who refused to lay hold on that which is eternal.
congregations, and dissatisfied Christians bear eloquent testimony to the fact that
for the most part we are not being witnesses for God; we are not going into the world
and preaching the gospel to others.
what were “these things” to which they were witnesses? They were the death, and particularly the resurrection of the Lord
Jesus Christ, things about which many professing Christians appear unwilling to speak
these days. Yet these things are the
very foundation of the gospel. If we
don’t preach Christ crucified and risen again, “delivered for our offenses, and
raised again for our justification” (Ro 4:25), then we have nothing to preach, for
this is the gospel - the gospel that saw so many saved in those early days.
the disciples weren’t alone in their witness.
They could confidently assure the Jewish leaders “and so is also the Holy
Ghost.” We have the same confidence,
for He is no less a Witness today.
forgotten or ignored today is the essential part He plays in conversion.
Apart from His ministry of conviction and enlightenment, no one can be saved.
What is also forgotten, however, is that if we are to have His power accompany
our witnessing, He must reside within us ungrieved and unquenched.
things to which the disciples witnessed were that that same Jesus Whom the Jews had
rejected and crucified, was the only One Who could lead them to repentance, pardon
their sins, be their Savior and long-promised King.
They, however, must yield to that striving of the Holy Spirit, or resist it,
for salvation isn’t apart from man’s free will choice, and God had warned them,
as He has all men, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man” (Ge 6:3), and
again, “He that being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be
destroyed, and that without remedy” (Pr 29:1).
Who had borne so patiently for so long with Israel, continued to wait for a further
38 years, from AD 32 till AD 70, but the Jews, whose fathers had refused the witness
of the prophets, refused the witness of the apostles and disciples, and, like their
fathers who died in the wilderness during the 38 years following their refusal to
enter Canaan (Numbers 13-14), they too died in unbelief in the 38 years between the
crucifixion and the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus.
assurance that the Holy Spirit is given only to those who obey God, reminds us that
He commands men to repent and be saved; so that man’s refusal to trust in
Christ as his Savior is, like all other sin, disobedience; but it is different from
all other disobedience: it is the unpardonable sin!
“When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay
response of the Jewish leaders was very different from that of the common people who
yielded to the striving of the Holy Spirit, it being recorded of them that, “They
were pricked in their heart, and said ... Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Ac
2:37). The hearts of the leaders were
also cut, but they refused the striving of the Holy Spirit, and would, like their
fathers, kill God’s messengers, and refuse His gift of eternal life.
“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;”
means my recompenser is God, and while certainly there is no reason to
believe, as some allege, that he was a believer, it would seem that simply as an
unbelieving, but moral man, he lived according to the meaning of his name, and in
this instance, was wiser than the others. They weren’t even willing to consider the possibility that they
might be found to be opponents of God.
“And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye
intend to do as touching these men.”
addressing them as “Ye men of Israel” continues to remind us that God was still
dealing with His ancient people. Their
day of grace hadn’t yet ended.
“For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to
whom a number of men, about four hundred joined themselves: and was slain; and all,
as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.”
same transience marks all human schemes. They
flourish for a day, some longer than others, but all eventually vanish, the Church
alone enduring eternally because she is built upon the rock, the Lord Jesus Christ.
“After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew
away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him,
- some for little reason - have enjoyed the praise of men, but he is a wise man who
lives so as to merit the praise of God.
intervention of Gamaliel is an example of how God can direct the lives of even the
unconverted for the accomplishment of His own purposes, and the protection of His own
people. The knowledge that He does
remain in control ought to deliver us from all anxious care, for nothing can happen
to us that He doesn’t direct or permit. Our
only concern should be to walk in obedience so that we may enjoy His blessing rather
than merit His chastisement.
“And now I say unto you refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if
this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought.”
are believers today, so poorly instructed, that they would apply this principle to
those who spread wrong doctrine, excusing their failure to oppose the evil work, with
the pious advice, “Let God deal with it,” and would seek to discourage others who
would challenge the false teachers. They
overlook the fact that the doctrine in regard to which Gamaliel gave his advice
wasn’t error, but truth; and they fail to see that believers aren’t left to await
the outcome before being able to decide whether doctrine is right or wrong.
We have the written Word to enable us to judge.
That same Word instructs us to refute error, and to stop the mouths of false
teachers. Gamaliel and the other Jewish
leaders might have to await the outcome before being able to assess the validity of a
doctrine, but Scripturally instructed believers are under no such constraint.
advice was the wisdom of the world, and while God in His sovereignty here used it to
accomplish His own purposes, that same wisdom has no place in spiritual matters.
“But if it be the will of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be
found even to fight against God.”
Gamaliel’s knowledge of Scripture had taught him this, a fact that would teach us
that a man may know much about God, and yet not know God Himself.
So is it also today in regard to Christ.
Many mistake knowing about Him for knowing Him as Savior and Lord.
They are, however, two very different things.
“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
is interesting to recall that Pilate, with no just cause, had had the Lord whipped,
and here the same unjust treatment was inflicted upon His servants.
He Himself had told them that as the world had hated Him, so would it also
hate those who belonged to Him. That
same truth applies to us, so that if we find ourselves enjoying the world’s favor,
we have good reason to ask ourselves, Why? Surely
that approval indicates delinquency on our part.
We would do well to remember that as we merit the approval of the world, we
incur the condemnation of the Lord Who will render unto every man according to his
blind Jewish leaders might as well have commanded the sun to cease shining, as
command the apostles to cease preaching, for that life within them could no more be
pent up than could the rivers be made to cease flowing towards the sea.
As the Lord Himself had likened the life which He gave, to water, so did He
also declare that that same “water” would be in them
“a well of water springing up unto everlasting life” (Jn 4:14).
“And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they
were counted worthy to suffer shame for His sake.”
little of that spirit is to be found amongst professing Christians today!
The sad truth is that we court instead the world’s favor, and seek its
glory, and despise our brethren, who by their loyalty to Christ, sometimes embarrass
us in front of our worldly friends. There
are few today who count it a privilege to suffer shame for Christ’s sake.
“And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and
preach Jesus Christ.”
activity embraced every opportunity to spread the gospel.
To the throngs in the temple, and to the handfuls in the houses, they made
Christ known. Nor will there be blessing until that same zeal consumes us, and
impels the same selfless service to believer and unbeliever alike.
is to be noted also that they taught and preached “Jesus Christ.”
So did Paul. “But we preach Christ crucified .... for I determined not to
know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified....” (1 Co 1:23;
2:2). There will be genuine conversions
when we abandon the methods of the theater and the business world, and begin to
simply preach Christ crucified and risen again as the only Hope of men and women
willing to confess themselves sinners, and receive Him as Savior, “ As many as
received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that
believe on his name”