The Death of Ananias, by Raphael (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As is often the case with Scripture, context is everything in this chapter. As chapter 4 closes, the young church was growing with the Apostles leading them; and the unity among the believers was amazing. People were selling their own possessions, and bringing the proceeds to the Apostles to help provide for others who were in need. It was in that spirit that we were introduced to Barnabas of Cyprus in Acts 4:36 (we will read more about Barnabas in later chapters). As Peter makes clear, the property that had belonged to Ananias and Sapphira was theirs to do as they wished. Their sin was in trying to fraudulently claim that they had sold land and were giving the entire proceeds to the apostles to help those in need. The lie would certainly be found out. The credibility of the Apostles would be harmed – how can they be said to be guided by the Holy Spirit and not know these people were perpetrating such fraud? The unity of the believers would certainly suffer. God would not allow this to happen.
Verse 12 lets us know that the Apostles had worked many signs and wonders. Note that the verse does not refer to 120 people having done so, again affirming that it was the twelve who received the baptism of the Holy Spirit in chapter 2. And despite Peter and John’s earlier arrest, they were all together in Solomon’s Portico again. Verse 13 simply means that even the non-believers that did not join them held them in high esteem. But verse 14 declares that the church was growing faster than ever, with both men and women. People were also bringing their loved ones from all around to be healed.
The high priest and the rest of the Sadducees were jealous of the attention and the esteem everyone had for the apostles, and had them arrested. But in verse 19, an angel of the Lord let them out and told them to go teach – this time in the Temple. They did exactly that at daybreak. The words the angel used were “…speak to the people all the words of this Life” – the eternal life that Jesus spoke of in John 17:1. There are some who believe that early Christianity may have been referred to as both “the Life” and “the Way.” The former is unsure, but we do know that the latter is true. It is first mentioned in Acts 9:1-2.
Apostles Peter and John by Pieter Aertsen (1575). Oil on wood, 55.5 76 cm. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When the council sent men to bring the Apostles to them from prison, they returned to let them know that they not only were not in the prison – but they were teaching in the Temple. When they brought them from the Temple, they did it quietly. The popularity of the Apostles made the officers afraid of the people. At the Sanhedrin, the high priest reminded them that they had been warned not to teach in the name of Jesus, saying “you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the Apostles again boldly declare that they will obey God – that He raised Jesus, whom they had killed, and that they are witnesses, as is the Holy Spirit. The council was furious, wanting to kill them all. But Gamaliel, a Pharisee, reminded them that two others had gathered a following, but had died and the movement fizzled. His argument was that they should let this one fizzle out as well – either it would do so, or it was indeed from God.
Gamaliel’s advice was taken, but the Apostles were beaten (verse 40) before they were released. This would have been a brutal beating – probably less severe that the scourging Jesus had received, but likely would have been the traditional 39 stripes for each of them. Upon release, the attitude of the Twelve was to rejoice. Verse 42 confirms “…every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.”
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some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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