A very common question, when it comes to the message of grace, has to do with what happened to Ananias and Sapphira in the 5th chapter of Acts, which obviously took place after the cross. If God has reconciled the world to Himself and do not hold people’s sins against them since the punishment for the sins of the world was put on Jesus – how come He punished Ananias and Sapphira so that they both died?
That people wonder about this question is actually a good sign, showing that they are thinking for themselves, and, hopefully, starting to get a deeper understanding of the New Covenant. Another very relevant question is why God’s angel struck king Herod so that he became ill and eventually died, eaten by worms, in Acts chapter 12? The question about Herod will be answered in another article.
Let us read the Scripture verses from the Bible regarding Ananias and Sapphira:
1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. 2 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. 3 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? 4 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.” 5 Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. 6 And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him. 7 Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?” She said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 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.” 10 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. 11 So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things. (Acts. 5:1-11)
You have probably heard teaching about that Ananias and Sapphira were true believers, who were punished because of their sin of lying to God. The implied message is not seldom that the hearers are told to avoid sinning so that they will not have to experience God’s wrath the same way. The story is often used to create fear of God’s punishment among believers – which is very unfortunate and dead wrong (see 1 Jn. 4:18).
I am convinced that Ananias and Sapphira were not true believers, but people who for some reason tried to infiltrate the early church; maybe to spy, or otherwise to get financial benefits by participating in the community life where everyone shared everything. Below, I will explain why I believe so.
There are different opinions within “grace circles” regarding whether their death was a result of God’s punishment, or not. Some believe that it was God’s punishment, while others believe that they died from the chock of learning that Peter and the whole congregation through the Holy Spirit knew that they had been lying. A third possible explanation, is that they somehow had opened up a door to the devil and, after being exposed, were killed by evil spirits. Personally, I have always believed that God was behind their death; for the same reason why God evidently struck king Herod so that he died in Acts chapter 12 (which I, as mentioned, will address in a separate article). That the chocking experience of having been exposed as liers would cause both to die from a heart attack on the same day, does not seem credible to me. That the devil was behind it is a possibility, but only something we can speculate about, since the biblical context does not clearly say so.
Why do I argue that Ananias and Sapphira were not true believers? For 3 different reasons.
Firstly, Peter told Ananias, “Why has Satan filled your heart…?” This is a very strong indication that Ananias was never born again. The point with the New Covenant is namely that God has removed the heart of stone from the believers and given them a new and obedient heart, filled with the Holy Spirit. A born again believer cannot have his/her heart filled by Satan, since it is already occupied by the Spirit.
Secondly, throughout the whole New Testament, after the cross, true believers are almost always referred to as “believers”, “disciples”, or “saints”. Another man called Ananias in the book of Acts, the same man who was called to go to Saul and pray for him to receive his eyesight back, after the dramatic encounter with God on the road to Damascus, is one of many examples of this. It is clearly stated that Ananias was “a disciple” (Acts. 9:10). In the case of Ananias and Sapphira, we see in verse 1 above that Ananias is mentioned as “a certain man”, while Sapphira is only mentioned as Ananias’ wife. Neither Ananias nor Saphira are referred to as “believers”, “disciples”, or “saints”, which is normally the case when referring to true believers.
Thirdly, if God’s level of tolerance is so low that He kills every believer that lies about money, churches all over the world would be filled with dead bodies, every Sunday. There must have been an another evil motive behind Ananias’ and Sapphira’s behavior that lead to their death.
While reading the story of Ananias and Sapphira, we often stop reading in verse 11, but I am convinced that the explanation to the whole mystery is found in verses 12-14:
12 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. 13 Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. 14 And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, (Acts. 5:12-14)
In these verses we find three categories of people:
- ”None of the rest”
- ”The people”
- New “believers” who “were added to the Lord”
We can only speculate as to who “none of the rest”, the group of people that did not dare to join the church, were. They obviously must have belonged to the same category of people as Ananias and Sapphira, though, which explains why they did not dare to join the believers. I think that these people were legalistic infiltrators, probably sent out by the Priests and Pharisees to create problems, spy, and report the church members to the authorities.
“The people” in general, however, esteemed the believers highly. Thus, the people cannot have belonged to the same group as those who did not dare to join the church, posing as true believers but in reality acting as informants. How come? Because multitudes of new “believers”, both men and women, were increasingly added to the Lord. Since multitudes from the people were added to the faith and joined the church, “the people” cannot refer to the same group as the one that, out of fear, did not dare to join the church.
How come God’s judgment (assuming so was the case) came upon Ananias and Sapphira? How could this happen after the cross – i.e. after that Jesus, God’s lamb, once and for all had taken away the sins of the world?
I believe it happened out of God’s great care for the church, the believers, and the world. The church was still at a baby stage in its development. At this specific time, it needed to be protected from outside infiltration so that it could get more time to grow stronger. Had God not intervened, maybe the very existence of the church had been threatened, or maybe the spread of the Gospel to all the corners of the world would have been stopped. If that is true, the judgment upon Ananias and Sapphira was not an expression of God’s wrath because of their sin. On the contrary, it was an expression of God’s grace and care for His church, individual believers, and all the people who one day would have the opportunity to hear the Gospel and say yes to Jesus.