Lying to the Holy Spirit
To understand the last part of Acts 4 and the beginning of Acts 5, we need to take a look back at what Jesus told the apostles about the prerequisites for entering the kingdom of God. One good example is the story of the rich young ruler.
He wanted to know what he had to do. Jesus told him to obey the commandments, which he said he had done. Then, “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
I deliberately passed over some verses previously, saving them for this topic. At the end of Acts 2, after the apostles received the Holy Spirit, Luke says, “All who believed were together, and had all things in common. They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need.”
At the end of Acts 4 Luke says, “And the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul. Not one of them claimed that anything of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. With great power, the apostles gave their testimony of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Great grace was on them all. For neither was there among them any who lacked, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and put them at the apostles’ feet, and distribution was made to each, according as anyone had need.
Joseph, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas (which is translated, Son of Encouragement), a Levite, a man of Cyprus by race, having a field, sold it, and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”
The apostles were teaching what they had been taught by Jesus, and their followers were literally selling their assets and pooling the proceeds for all – very much a “commune” principle. In Acts 5, Luke describes what happens to a married couple who decided they could cheat the system by not declaring all their assets. The consequences may seem too harsh to us, but to the people at that time, it was a message that had to be made clear.
“But a certain man named Ananias, with Sappirah, his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part, and put it at the apostles’ feet.
But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land? While you kept it, did not it remain your own? After it was sold, was not it in your own control? How is it that you have conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God.’ Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and died. Great fear came on all who heard it. The young men arose and wrapped him up, and they carried him out and buried him.”
Then Peter gives the wife an opportunity to tell the truth, “About three hours later, his wife, not knowing what had happened, came in. Peter said to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.’ She said, ‘Yes, for so much.'”
“But Peter asked her, ‘How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.’
She fell down immediately at his feet, and died. The young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her by her husband. Great fear came on the whole church, and on all who heard these things.”
Jesus foretold the consequences of lying to the Holy Spirit in The Leaven of the Pharisees, “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”
Notice also that for the first time, the word “church” is used when referring to the apostles’ followers in Acts 5. Christianity still had no name, but wherever the word “church” is used, as opposed to “temple”, then Luke is referring to what would become known as Christians.
We are also seeing the beginning of the Christian Trinity – God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit being three separate parts of a single entity. While only a short story, the implications of what Ananias and his wife did had a far reaching effect on those who wished to follow the apostles and, “Be saved from this perverse generation.”[Acts#2:40]