For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

5:1.  “But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,”

In 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.

Fire 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).

No 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. 

The 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.

To 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?

When 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?

Our indebtedness to God’s grace is as great as that of Ananias, and sadly, so also is our delinquency.

“... 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.

When 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).   

Had 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 disobedient sons.

We 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.

5:2.  “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.” 

We 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.

5:3.  “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?” 

The 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 Spirit. 

It 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).

5:4.  “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.”

Whether 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).

There 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 our conduct.

5:5.  “And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.”

We 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.

This 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.

He is a wise man who takes the lesson to heart, and he is a fool who doesn’t.

In 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. 

5:6. “And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.”  

The 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. 

The “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 death.   

5:7. “And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.” 

Those 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.

We have failed to learn the lesson, however, if it doesn’t make us tremble at the very thought of plotting sin.

5:8.  “And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.”

This 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.

Individual 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.

5:9.  “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.”

How 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.

5:10.  “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.”

The 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.

How 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.

A 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!

5:11.  “And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.

No 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 face? 

The 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.

5:12.  “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.”

These 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.

Significantly 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).

5:13.  “And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.” 

That 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. 

2 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. 

Until 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. 

For 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.

Of 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 Lord’s supper.

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 supper?

This 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.

Surely 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! 

I 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.

Only 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 again converts.

The 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 God.

5:14.  “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women).”

This 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.” 

It 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.

Regarding 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.

Those 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. 

It 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.

The 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.

Much 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.

Relative 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?”

It 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 apostolic age.

5:15.  “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.”

As 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. 

It 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. 

This 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.

5:16.  “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.”

Jerusalem’s 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.

Those 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 Tribulation age.

5:17.  “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.”

This 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.

No 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.

The 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.

The 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.

5:18.  “And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.”

The 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.

5:19.  “But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,”

5:20.  “Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.”

In 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.

Its 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.

His 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).

They 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).

And 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.

The 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 Savior.

5:21.  “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.”

“Early 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.

Activity 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.

Their 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.

Their 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.

5:22.  “But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told,”

5:23.  “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.” 

How 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!

5:24.  “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.”

Man 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!

5:25.  “Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people.” 

The 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 Himself.

5:26.  “Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned.”

The 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 Co 1:26-29).

5:27.  “And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them,”

5:28.  “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.”

The 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.

Testimony 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.

The 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.

5:29.  “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”

With 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.

5:30.  “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.”

Some suggest that God’s raising up Jesus refers to His incarnation rather than His resurrection.  The context, however, seems to point to His resurrection. 

The 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.

Nor 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 Jewish leaders.

It 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 Judaism.” 

During 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.

It 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.

5:31.  “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.”

Everything 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. 

But 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.

That 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.

5:32.  “And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.”

To 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.

Diminishing 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.

But 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.

But 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.

Largely 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.

The 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).

God, 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.

The 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!

5:33.  “When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.”

The 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.

5:34.  “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;”

Gamaliel 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.

5:35.  “And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men.”

His 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.

5:36.  “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.”

The 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.

5:37.  “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, were dispersed.”

Many - 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.

This 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.

5:38.  “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.”

There 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.

His 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.

5:39.  “But if it be the will of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight  against God.”

Undoubtedly 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.

5:40.  “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.”

It 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 deeds.

Those 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).

5:41.  “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His sake.”

How 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.

5:42.  “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.”

Their 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.

It 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” (Jn 1:12).

[Acts 6]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough