It is quite evident that the first part of this chapter is related to the last part of chapter 4 by way of contrast. In the closing section of chapter 4, evidently in close connection with the return of the apostles from their first imprisonment and “trial” before the Jewish council, we have described to us, from a positive viewpoint, the spiritual condition of the church at that time. The immediate and special manifestation of the presence of the Lord, through His Spirit, in answer to the prayer of the church, had the result that the church was strengthened and encouraged and emboldened. It is described as being unified (of one heart and of one soul); as having all things common, even to the extent that none said that any of his worldly possessions was his own); as being emboldened to preach the gospel of the resurrected Lord (the apostles gave witness with great power); and as having great grace. In that connection, the last few verses of the chapter go into detail as to the attitude of the believers toward their earthly possessions and as to their complete willingness to practice brotherly kindness toward one another in respect to these possessions. And finally, we have the outstanding example of Barnabas, “The Son of Consolation.” Chapter 5 continues this description from a negative point of view with a description of the first open manifestation of sin in the church at Jerusalem. It gives us a very pointed illustration of the fact that even then, in the midst of this almost ideal but that even then, the disturbing influence of sin marred and diabolically attempted to wreck the life of the believers. And the extreme wickedness of this sin within the church is demonstrated in the severe visitation of judgment, through the word of the apostles. This we have in the first section, vss. 1 to 11, which cover the sin of Ananias and Sapphira.
The second section of the chapter, vss. 12 to 16, may be said to be related to the third section, vss. 17 to 40 (concerning the second imprisonment and trial of the apostles), as occasion and event (not cause and effect, however). The great manifestation of power, through the apostles, and the rapid growth of the church, evidently occasioned the indignation of the Jewish leaders, and led to the second manifestation of official opposition against the apostles. This is evident from the word “then” introducing verse 17. Nevertheless, I would also find a connection between the first and second sections of the chapter, indicated in the last part of verse 11 and the first part of verse 13. One effect of the punishment of Ananias and Sapphira was that “great fear” came upon as many as heard these things. And this undoubtedly acted as a deterrent, so that “of the rest durst no man join himself to them.”
The chapter closes with two verses in which the effect upon the apostles of this second act of persecution is described, vss. 41, 42.
With these brief remarks concerning the content of the chapter and the relation between the various sections, let us ask a few questions more, in detail.
I. The Sin of Ananias and Sapphira, and its Visitation. Vss. 1 to 11.
A. The sin as such:
1. What was the occasion of their sin? Vs. 1. Is there any indication in the rest of Scripture as to sins that have to do with possessions? Does this indicate that there is something wrong with the possessions? In other words, is the sin in the material things themselves, or is it in the possessor of the material things? Is money the root of all evil, or is the love of money the root of all evil?
2. The nature of the sin:
a. What constituted the act of sin as such?
1) Would it have been improper in itself to contribute only part of the money, keeping back the other part?
2) Or did the sin consist in this, that they kept back part of the price, while they openly stated, or at least left the impression upon the church, that they brought the whole amount? Support your opinion from the text.
b. The nature of the sin:
1) What does Peter say as to the nature of the sin? Vss. 3 and 4b. Why is this, peculiarly, a lying against the Holy Ghost? What elements are there in this sin which make it, in distinction from other lies, a lie against the Holy Ghost? How must the statement, “Thou hast not lied unto men” be understood? Had they not lied to men? Had they not lied to the apostles and to the believers?
2) What was it that Ananias conceived in his heart, vs. 4? Why does Peter use the very strong expression, “Why hath Satan filled thine heart…?” In connection with this, and also in the light of the closing part of chapter 4, can anything more than covetousness be attributed to Ananias and Sapphira as the motive of this sin? What is so Satanic and so anti-Holy Ghost in this sin?
a. Is such a sin still possible in the church today? Does it actually occur, also?
b. Is it as evil now, as then?
B. The punishment:
1. The punishment as such: vss. 5-10
a. What was it? Why was the punishment so immediate and public?
b. How was it inflicted? By whom?
c. Why was Sapphira included in the punishment? Vss. 7-10. What evidently characterized her entrance into the assembly? Vs. 7. Why does the apostle quiz her while it is not recorded that he questioned Ananias in a similar manner? Why does he ask what may be called “leading questions”? What is meant by “tempting” the Holy Ghost?
2. The significance of this punishment:
a. Was the punishment unduly severe? Was it more severe than excommunication?
b. Is it not true that no time was allowed for repentance? Should there not have been a period of admonition, and the well-known various “steps” of censure, ending with excommunication in case of persistent impenitence? Can it be said that they committed the unpardonable sin?
c. Does the punishment here inflicted give any basis for the idea that the church possesses the sword power as well as the key power? Explain.
d. What can be adduced as positive reasons for this severe punishment? Is there any other indication of this reason, besides Peter’s words, as to the nature of the sin? Does the effect mentioned in vs. 11 give a clue as to the reason also? What was that fear? Was it, as far as the church is concerned, a terror? Does God terrorize His people?
II. The Demonstration of Power through the Apostles, vss. 12-16.
A. As Such:
1. Many signs and wonders wrought by the hands of the apostles:
a. Note: These were evidently signs and wonders of a positive nature, whereas, also, in the case of Ananias and Sapphira there was a sign and wonder, but of a negative nature: in the latter case, there is a demonstration of wrath, but in the present passage, a marvelous demonstration of mercy.
b. What is the distinction between, and the relation between, signs and wonders?
c. What wonders were wrought? Why are those with unclean spirits specifically mentioned? (In this connection it will be profitable also to discuss somewhat the nature of “devil possession.” But in the present connection I would suggest that you don’t allow the discussion to be sidetracked on this subject.)
d. How were the wonders performed? Cf vs. 12a and vs. 15.
e. Where were they performed? What was Solomon’s porch? Did the church have the right to use this as their gathering place? Why was a place like this used?
a. Undoubtedly this tremendous demonstration of power (which, by the way, was not just an instance of one day; you have a general description, covering a period of time in vs. 12) focused much attention on the apostles.
b. What was the purpose of all this? Was it merely to increase the fame and stature of the apostles? Was it merely to add multitudes to the church? Must we not rather view the apostles here in their apostleship, as witnesses of the Lord? And therefore is this not again to be viewed as a demonstration of the power of the risen Lord, an instance of the things that Jesus continued to do?
1. What was the immediate effect of these wonders and signs? vs. 16a.
2. What was the effect as to the growth of the church?
a. Was this merely an instance of so-called miraculous faith?
b. Why does Luke here give no numerical account of the growth?
3. How was the church viewed at this time by the people? Vs. 13.
4. “The rest,” vs. 13:
a. What is meant by this expression? Does it not indicate that there was a distinct and definite assembly already that was known as the church?
b. Why did they not dare to join? Is it good that this should be the case? Can you see a reason why the Lord wanted it thus, especially at this time? Should the church always be such, to the extent that this is possible, that “the rest” dare not join themselves to them?
III. The Second Instance of Persecution: vss. 17-40.
A. The apostles Captured, Imprisoned, Miraculously Released, Recaptured: vss. 17-26.
1. The occasion:
a. What was the reaction of the Jewish leadership, vs. 17?
b. What is the significance of the mention of the Sadducees here?
c. How is their angry desperation to be explained? Cf. also vs. 28b.
d. What should have been their reaction, spiritually speaking? What, then, was the result, as to their guilt, when they reacted evilly to this great manifestation of power?
2. Capture and imprisonment:
a. What was the difference between the first and second instances of capture and imprisonment? Compare 4:3 and 5:18.
b. What was the common prison, and why were they put there?
3. Miraculous release; recapture.
a. By whom? Vs. 19. Was it known to any except the apostles?
b. What was the manner of this release? Vss. 19 and 23. Was it evident from this that a miracle had been performed in behalf of the apostles?
c. What was the reaction of the leaders? Vs. 24. Of what should this miracle have convinced them? Was their reaction then simply an intellectual matter, or an ethical one?
d. What instructions does the angel give the apostles? Did they obey? From a human and sinful point of view, was this not rather foolish, to release someone from prison and then instruct him virtually to beg for recapture? What was the divine wisdom in this? What purpose must it serve?
e. What was done when the leaders received word that the apostles were preaching in the temple as though nothing had happened? How were the apostles treated in their recapture, and why? What does this again indicate as to the attitude of the leaders?
B. The Hearing, vss. 27 to 33:
1. The high priest’s question:
a. What accusation was brought against the apostles this time?
b. What does the last part of this accusation reveal as to the conscience of the council members? Is this accusation true, at least in the form in which it is presented? Did the apostles intend to bring Jesus’ blood upon their heads? Is it not true that they had assumed the blood of Jesus upon their own heads? What does this again indicate as to the spiritual-ethical attitude of the Jewish leaders? Again: was theirs a mere intellectual error? Do they not clearly condemn themselves in this whole transaction? Does it not also become very evident in this affair that the enemies of God’s cause become foolish in their wicked rage, and that in their foolishness they can do nothing but blunder in their every act of opposition?
2. The answer of the apostles:
a. Through Peter as their spokesman (notice again what a different Peter this is than the Simon who thrice denied the Lord!), they give a brief and pointed reply.
b. Note the various elements in this reply:
1) The fundamental reply is in vs. 29: they must obey God rather than men.
a) How is this differently stated than in chapter 4, vs. 19? Why this difference? Had the Jewish leaders indicated their own judgment of this matter by their actions? Did this reaction of the Jews have any effect on the apostle’s adherence to this principle? What is the implied condemnation in this first statement?
b) How does this constitute an answer to the high priest’s accusation?
2) This act of obedience to God required that they preach the gospel, and this the apostle proceeds to do, even at the trial:
a) How is it plain here that they emphatically preach the gospel of God?
b) What is the implied accusation in the expressions, “the God of our fathers” and “to Israel”?
c) Why do the apostles openly remind the council of their sin? What was this sin? Was it now still a sin to which can be applied the words of Jesus at the cross: “they know not what they do”?
d) Was it necessary for the apostles to furnish proof of the claim that they make in verse 32? Again: what is the implied condemnation of the Jewish leaders in these statements?
e) How did this constitute a defense over against the accusation of the high priest?
3. What is the reaction of the council? Vs. 33. Was there anything in Peter’s words to infuriate them so? How should they have responded?
C. The Advice of Gamaliel, and the Outcome: vss. 34 to 40.
1. The advice of Gamaliel:
a. Who was he? Was he qualified?
b. Why must his advice be in secret?
c. What was his advice? Vs. 35, 38.
d. Upon what does he base his advice? What can you say as to the instance from history which he gives? What is to be said of the reason he gives in vss. 38, 39? Is not his reasoning quite logical? What is the flaw in it? Even granted that his reasoning is correct, as such, in vss. 38b, and 39, is his conclusion correct, namely, that on this basis they must “refrain from these men”? In fact, must they refrain from any men on the basis of this reason of Gamaliel? Do we simply stand on the sidelines and watch what happens to a movement, and then finally decide whether it is of God or of men? And in the case of the apostles, was it not already evident that their work was of God?
2. The Outcome: vs. 40.
a. The council is said to agree with the advice of Gamaliel.
b. Do they act entirely in harmony with this agreement?
c. What is to be said of this outcome?
1) From their point of view, is the procedure of the Jews wise or foolish? Why will also this plan of theirs fail?
2) In the same connection, what was evidently the divine purpose in so directing the Jews’ plans, that they release the apostles, and even decide to follow a policy, temporarily, of “hands off”?
IV. Apostles’ Reaction to Persecution:
A. They rejoice: How do they find reason for rejoicing at this occasion? Why is it that they are not said to rejoice in their release?
B. They cease not to teach and preach Jesus Christ:
1. They take advantage of their release and immediately, and with renewed vigor, teach
and preach; and that, too, still in Jerusalem. They evidently give no thought to flight.
2. Thus once more persecution does not harm; but rather must serve the cause of the church.