The death of Ananias and Sapphira. (1-11) The power which accompanied the preaching of the gospel. (12-16) The apostles imprisoned, but set free by an angel. (17-25) The apostles testify to Christ before the council. (26-33) The advice of Gamaliel, The council let the apostles go. (34-42)
Verses 1-11 The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was, that they were ambitious of being thought eminent disciples, when they were not true disciples. Hypocrites may deny themselves, may forego their worldly advantage in one instance, with a prospect of finding their account in something else. They were covetous of the wealth of the world, and distrustful of God and his providence. They thought they might serve both God and mammon. They thought to deceive the apostles. The Spirit of God in Peter discerned the principle of unbelief reigning in the heart of Ananias. But whatever Satan might suggest, he could not have filled the heart of Ananias with this wickedness had he not been consenting. The falsehood was an attempt to deceive the Spirit of truth, who so manifestly spoke and acted by the apostles. The crime of Ananias was not his retaining part of the price of the land; he might have kept it all, had he pleased; but his endeavouring to impose upon the apostles with an awful lie, from a desire to make a vain show, joined with covetousness. But if we think to put a cheat upon God, we shall put a fatal cheat upon our own souls. How sad to see those relations who should quicken one another to that which is good, hardening one another in that which is evil! And this punishment was in reality mercy to vast numbers. It would cause strict self-examination, prayer, and dread of hypocrisy, covetousness, and vain-glory, and it should still do so. It would prevent the increase of false professors. Let us learn hence how hateful falsehood is to the God of truth, and not only shun a direct lie, but all advantages from the use of doubtful expressions, and double meaning in our speech.
Verses 12-16 The separation of hypocrites by distinguishing judgments, should make the sincere cleave closer to each other and to the gospel ministry. Whatever tends to the purity and reputation of the church, promotes its enlargement; but that power alone which wrought such miracles by the apostles, can rescue sinners from the power of sin and Satan, and add believers to His worshippers. Christ will work by all his faithful servants; and every one who applies to him shall be healed.
Verses 17-25 There is no prison so dark, so strong, but God can visit his people in it, and, if he pleases, fetch them out. Recoveries from sickness, releases out of trouble, are granted, not that we may enjoy the comforts of life, but that God may be honoured with the services of our life. It is not for the preachers of Christ's gospel to retire into corners, as long as they can have any opportunity of preaching in the great congregation. They must preach to the lowest, whose souls are as precious to Christ as the souls of the greatest. Speak to all, for all are concerned. Speak as those who resolve to stand to it, to live and die by it. Speak all the words of this heavenly, divine life, in comparison with which the present earthly life does not deserve the name. These words of life, which the Holy Ghost puts into your mouth. The words of the gospel are the words of life; words whereby we may be saved. How wretched are those who are vexed at the success of the gospel! They cannot but see that the word and power of the Lord are against them; and they tremble for the consequences, yet they will go on.
Verses 26-33 Many will do an evil thing with daring, yet cannot bear to hear of it afterward, or to have it charged upon them. We cannot expect to be redeemed and healed by Christ, unless we give up ourselves to be ruled by him. Faith takes the Saviour in all his offices, who came, not to save us in our sins, but to save us from our sins. Had Christ been exalted to give dominion to Israel, the chief priests would have welcomed him. But repentance and remission of sins are blessings they neither valued nor saw their need of; therefore they, by no means, admitted his doctrine. Wherever repentance is wrought, remission is granted without fail. None are freed from the guilt and punishment of sin, but those who are freed from the power and dominion of sin; who are turned from it, and turned against it. Christ gives repentance, by his Spirit working with the word, to awaken the conscience, to work sorrow for sin, and an effectual change in the heart and life. The giving of the Holy Ghost, is plain evidence that it is the will of God that Christ should be obeyed. And He will surely destroy those who will not have Him to reign over them.
Verses 34-42 The Lord still has all hearts in his hands, and sometimes directs the prudence of the worldly wise, so as to restrain the persecutors. Common sense tells us to be cautious, while experience and observation show that the success of frauds in matters of religion has been very short. Reproach for Christ is true preferment, as it makes us conformable to his pattern, and serviceable to his interest. They rejoiced in it. If we suffer ill for doing well, provided we suffer it well, and as we should, we ought to rejoice in that grace which enabled us so to do. The apostles did not preach themselves, but Christ. This was the preaching that most offended the priests. But it ought to be the constant business of gospel ministers to preach Christ: Christ, and him crucified; Christ, and him glorified; nothing beside this, but what has reference to it. And whatever is our station or rank in life, we should seek to make Him known, and to glorify his name.
Acts 5:1-11 . ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA.
"The first trace of a shade upon the bright form of the young Church. Probably among the new Christians a kind of holy rivalry had sprung up, every one eager to place his means at the disposal of the apostles" [OLSHAUSEN]. Thus might the new-born zeal of some outrun their abiding principle, while others might be tempted to seek credit for a liberality which was not in their character.
2. kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it--The coolness with which they planned the deception aggravated the guilt of this couple.
brought a certain part--pretending it to be the whole proceeds of the sale.
3-6. why hath Satan filled--"why . . . fill--"why hast thou suffered him to fill"
thine heart--so criminally entertaining his suggestion? Compare Acts 5:4 , "why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart?" And see John 13:2 John 13:27 .
to lie to the Holy Ghost--to men under His supernatural illumination.
4. While it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?--from which we see how purely voluntary were all these sacrifices for the support of the infant community.
not lied to men but God--to men so entirely the instruments of the directing Spirit that the lie was rather told to Him: language clearly implying both the distinct personality and the proper divinity of the Holy Ghost.
5. Ananias . . . gave up the ghost . . . great fear came on all that heard these things--on those without the Christian circle; who, instead of disparaging the followers of the Lord Jesus, as they might otherwise have done on the discovery of such hypocrisy, were awed at the manifest presence of Divinity among them, and the mysterious power of throwing off such corrupt matter which rested upon the young Church.
6. the young men--some of the younger and more active members of the church, not as office-bearers, nor coming forward now for the first time, but who probably had already volunteered their services in making subordinate arrangements. In every thriving Christian community such volunteers may be expected, and will be found eminently useful.
7-11. Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much--naming the sum.
9. How is it that ye have agreed together--(See on Ac 5:2 ).
to tempt the Spirit--try whether they could escape detection by that omniscient Spirit of whose supernatural presence with the apostles they had had such full evidence.
feet of them that buried thy husband are at the door--How awfully graphic!
10. buried her by her husband--The later Jews buried before sunset of the day of death.
11. And great fear came upon all the church, &c.--This effect on the Christian community itself was the chief design of so startling a judgment; which had its counterpart, as the sin itself had, in Achan ( Joshua 7:1-26 ), while the time--at the commencement of a new career--was similar.
Acts 5:12-26 . THE PROGRESS OF THE NEW CAUSE LEADS TO THE ARREST OF THE APOSTLES--THEY ARE MIRACULOUSLY DELIVERED FROM PRISON, RESUME THEIR TEACHING, BUT ALLOW THEMSELVES TO BE CONDUCTED BEFORE THE SAMHEDRIM.
12. Solomon's Porch--(See on Joh 10:23 ).
13-16. of the rest durst no man join himself, &c.--Of the unconverted none ventured, after what had taken place, to profess discipleship; but yet their number continually increased.
15. into the streets--"in every street."
on beds and couches--The words denote the softer couches of the rich and the meaner cribs of the poor [BENGEL].
shadow of Peter . . . might overshadow some of them--Compare Acts 19:12 , Luke 8:46 . So Elisha. Now the predicted greatness of Peter ( Matthew 16:18 ), as the directing spirit of the early Church, was at its height.
17-23. sect of the Sadducees--See on Ac 4:1 for the reason why this is specified.
19. by night--the same night.
20. all the words of this life--beautiful expression for that Life in the Risen One which was the burden of their preaching!
21. entered into the temple, &c.--How self-possessed! the indwelling Spirit raising them above fear.
called . . . all the senate, &c.--an unusually general convention, though hastily summoned.
23. the prison . . . shut . . . keepers . . . before the doors, but . . . no man within--the reverse of the miracle in Acts 16:26 ; a similar contrast to that of the nets at the miraculous draughts of fishes ( Luke 5:6 , John 21:11 ).
24-26. they doubted--"were in perplexity."
26. without violence, for they feared, &c.--hardened ecclesiastics, all unawed by the miraculous tokens of God's presence with the apostles, and the fear of the mob only before their eyes!
Acts 5:27-42 . SECOND APPEARANCE AND TESTIMONY BEFORE THE SAMHEDRIM--ITS RAGE CALMED BY GAMALIEL--BEING DISMISSED, THEY DEPART REJOICING, AND CONTINUE THEIR PREACHING.
27, 28. ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine--noble testimony to the success of their preaching, and (for the reason mentioned on Acts 4:4 ) to the truth of their testimony, from reluctant lips!
28. intend to bring this man's blood upon us--They avoid naming Him whom Peter gloried in holding up [BENGEL]. In speaking thus, they seem to betray a disagreeable recollection of their own recent imprecation, His blood be upon us," &c. ( Matthew 27:25 ), and of the traitor's words as he threw down the money, "I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood" ( Matthew 27:4 ).
29, 30. Then Peter,
31. Prince and a Saviour--the first word expressing that Royalty which all Israel looked for in Messiah, the second the Saving character of it which they had utterly lost sight of. Each of these features in our Lord's work enters into the other, and both make one glorious whole (compare Acts 3:15 , Hebrews 2:10 ).
to give--dispensing as a "Prince."
repentance and remission of sins--as a "Saviour"; "repentance" embracing all that change which issues in the faith which secures "forgiveness" (compare Acts 2:38 , 20:21 ). How gloriously is Christ here exhibited; not, as in other places, as the Medium, but as the Dispenser of all spiritual blessings!
32, 33. we are his witnesses . . . and the Holy Ghost--They as competent human witnesses to facts, and the Holy Ghost as attesting them by undeniable miracles.
33. cut to the heart and took--"were taking."
counsel to slay them--How different this feeling and the effect of it from that "pricking of the heart" which drew from the first converts on the day of Pentecost the cry, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" ( Acts 2:37 ). The words used in the two places are strikingly different.
34. Then stood up . . . Gamaliel--in all probability one of that name celebrated in the Jewish writings for his wisdom, the son of Simeon (possibly the same who took the infant Saviour in his arms, Luke 2:25-35 ), and grandson of HILLEL, another celebrated rabbi. He died eighteen years before the destruction of Jerusalem [LIGHTFOOT].
35-39. Theudas--not the same with a deceiver of that name whom JOSEPHUS mentions as heading an insurrection some twelve years after this [Antiquities, 20.5.1], but some other of whom he makes no mention. Such insurrections were frequent.
37. Judas of Galilee--(See on Lu 2:2 , and Luke 13:1-3 ) [JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 13.1.1].
38. if . . . of men, it will come to naught--This neutral policy was true wisdom, in the then temper of the council. But individual neutrality is hostility to Christ, as He Himself teaches ( Luke 11:23 ).
40-42. beaten them--for disobeying their orders (compare Luke 23:16 ).
41. departed . . . rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name--"thought worthy by God to be dishonored by man" ( Matthew 5:12 , 1 Peter 4:14 1 Peter 4:16 ) [WEBSTER and WILKINSON]. This was their first taste of persecution, and it felt sweet for His sake whose disciples they were.
42. in every house--in private.
ceased not to preach Jesus Christ--that is, Jesus (to be the) Christ.