"But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, 'Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.' Then Ananias, hearing these words fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him" (Acts 5:1-6).
Luke noted the generosity of Barnabas at the end of chapter 4, and here he contrasts that with an example of a couple who wanted to be viewed as exceedingly generous without actually making the full sacrifice. Ananias and Sapphira sold a possession (specifically a piece of land; cf. 5:8). As the narrative unfolds, we learn that they had decided to give a certain portion of the proceeds to the apostles but would pretend they were giving the full amount of the sale. Thus, it would appear that their desire for the praise of men led them to lie.
In 5:3, Peter accuses Ananias of lying to the Holy Spirit. In 5:4, Peter states that he had lied to God. This passage is often referred to in order to demonstrate that the Holy Spirit is God. The Spirit is divine and has personality; He is not some mystical, ambiguous force. How did Peter know Ananias was lying? The text does not say, but it was certainly by supernatural means (cf. I Cor. 12:10 - "the discerning of spirits").
Another point worth observing from Acts 5:3,4 is that Peter declares some intriguing truths about temptation and how the devil works in our hearts. "Satan filled" Ananias' heart to lie about the price of the land they sold, and yet Peter charges Ananias personally with conceiving the deception in his heart! So, which is it? Who really is to blame: Satan or Ananias? The answer is both! The devil is the tempter and he is strong, but he cannot make us do anything. He is powerless without our cooperation. If we resist the devil, he will flee (cf. James 4:7). Sadly, Ananias was all too willing to cooperate with Satan!
The text makes it clear that before the land was sold, it was under Ananias' control. In other words, he was not required to give it--in whole or in part. After he sold it, the money derived was still in his control. In other words, he was not required to give it--in whole or in part. This underscores what we have stated previously; namely, the selling of property in the early church in order to give to the apostles for the distribution was entirely voluntary. This is the case even when Christians "had all things in common" (4:32). Thus, Christians then (and today) have the right to retain private property, if they desire. There was no excuse for the sin Ananias and Sapphira committed.
So, with all that being said, we can only conclude that God was upset about them lying about the amount they gave. He was not upset about the fact that they gave less than 100% of the proceeds of the sale. Ananias lied to God in the sense that he was guilty of trying to deceive the Almighty (and His Spirit which empowered the apostles).
Upon hearing Peter's truthful accusation, Ananias died on the spot. There is no indication that Peter had anything directly to do with the death of this liar. God struck him down! This is the first recorded case of church discipline, and it was administered by God in a very graphic and remarkable way! Not surprisingly, those who heard about this incident were filled with "great fear." Consistent with their customs, several young men buried Ananias immediately.
"Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter answered her, 'Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?' She said, 'Yes, for so much.' Then Peter said to her, 'How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.' Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things" (Acts 5:7-11).
When Sapphira came in later that day (probably expecting a wonderful reception from the congregation for her and her husband's "generous" gift), she was unaware that she was a widow. Peter asked her a simple question, and she too intentionally lied as Ananias had done. Peter was giving her a chance to tell the truth. It is quite possible there was more dialogue involved than Luke records. Amazingly, she too drops dead immediately as a punishment from the Lord. Luke does indicate that Peter knew she was going to die before she did by saying - "Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out." Apparently, it took the young men several hours to bury Ananias. No sooner do they return than they find they have another body to bury!
This narrative has drawn criticism from some as being harsh and unmerciful. After all, everyone lies sometimes--right? Was this really so serious that they needed to forfeit their lives? They were doing a good thing, just fudging the numbers a bit, right? Although from our mortal perspective, we might be inclined to pursue such courses of thought, we have no right to do so. The Lord always knows what is right and He always does what is right, for every situation (cf. Acts 1:24; Gen. 18:25). Clearly, the purity of the church is important to God (cf. Eph. 5:27). Whether we understand why or agree with what took place is irrelevant. Her death further instilled a godly fear and reverence in the early church (and even upon those outside the church)! Friends, although some deny it today, the death penalty is a deterrent (if implemented speedily; cf. Eccl. 8:11).
Some have rightly stated that had Ananias and Sapphira succeeded in their deception, they would have turned a most praiseworthy aspect of the early church into a source of corruption. Additionally, it would have made the Holy Spirit look bad, who was empowering and inspiring the apostles in their work. The very authority and credibility of both God and the apostles was under assault, for if they could be fooled like this, how else might they be deceived? Thus, the situation was critical and God responded with swift justice. Certainly no one would try anything else like this for a long time! Some today who lie may think they are getting away with it since they may not suffer immediately as did Ananias and Sapphira. Such thinking is foolish; God sees all and will judge accordingly at the right time! The wheat and tares will be separated at the judgment!
"And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon's Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed" (Acts 5:12-16).
Although the details are not recorded, Luke declares that the apostles (i.e., the twelve) were continually performing many miracles of healing. The other Christians esteemed the apostles highly because of their God-given, miracle-working abilities (which implies that these miraculous gifts were not freely distributed to all). The apostles were united together and met (probably regularly) in Solomon's Porch. The unity shown in the early church is so beautiful and refreshing! After seeing the apostles work amazing miracles, detect deceit, and preach the gospel with such boldness, the people were in awe and had a healthy respect for the men God was doing such great things through. That healthy fear led the people to not be quite as intimate or familiar with the apostles as they may have been previously.
Acts 5:14 describes the continued remarkable growth of the church - "Believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women." As prophesied, there was a steady "flow" of people entering God's kingdom (Isa. 2:2). The fact that they were being "added" to the number implies that they were doing the same thing that those 3000 souls did on Pentecost. In other words, all were submitting to baptism for the remission of sins (as was initially commanded back in 2:38). The growth was a result of several factors: the powerful preaching of the truth, the holy, compassionate lives of the early Christians, the mighty miracles of the apostles, and--for the moment--the shocking deaths of Ananias and Sapphira.
The people's confidence in the apostles is great, as is seen by their behavior in 5:15 - "They brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them." Isn't it clear that the apostles' miracles were genuine? They turned none away who were sick or demon possessed (cf. 5:16), and Peter could heal even with his passing shadow (cf. Luke 8:44; Acts 19:12)!
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.