The Deceit of Ananias and Sapphira Part 3 of 4
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
We must bear in mind that this was Satan’s first attempt to obtain, through hypocrisy, a footing among believers in the infant church, and it was absolutely necessary that such an attempt be dealt with immediately and severely. God did just that by causing the death of Ananias and Sapphira. They were both smitten through the power of the Holy Spirit whom they had intended to deceive.
6 And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.
Some people suggest that these young men were connected with the church and that it was their business to bury the dead; but this seems very unlikely, as I shall explain. “The young men”: Literally “the younger men,” probably to distinguish them from the “elders”; but it is unlikely that the office of elder existed at this early date, and it is also unlikely that “the younger men were a body of men devoted to such duties as burying.” In verse 10 they are simply called “young men.” In Acts 6.1-6, deacons were elected to serve tables and take care of other matters, so that the apostles could devote their entire time to prayer and the study of the Word. The meaning here simply seems to be that the younger members of the church picked up the body of Ananias, wrapped him in the robe he was wearing at the time he entered the church, carried him out and buried him.
In that day the dead were usually buried in caves (John 11.38 tells us that such was the tomb of Lazarus). It required very little preparation to make the caves ready to receive the dead, and they were closed simply by placing a large stone over the entrance. Therefore it is understandable that Ananias was buried so quickly after his death. Little time would be required to complete the entire work of burial, and in that day—especially in hot climates—burial must take place very quickly.
It’s interesting that there is no mention of Peter reading a few verses of Scripture, praying a prayer or making a few remarks to the effect that Ananias was “not all bad” and that he had “done some good” in his life! Ananias had committed a terrible sin, he was immediately judged by the mighty hand of God, the episode itself preached a much louder sermon than Peter could have preached, and there was nothing more to be said. They simply buried him.
From the point of view of the believers in this infant church, the death of Ananias and Sapphira was a drastic example of 1 Corinthians 5.7—“Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened . . .”—an act of discipline in order that the ‘fresh dough” of the early church might continue to be unleavened. It must not be deduced that sickness and death among the Lord’s people are always directly related to some special sin, since discipline through trials may be the special experience of those who follow the way of holiness (read Heb. 2.4-11). In exceptional cases, there are such visitations for the health of the local church (1 Cor. 11.30 ).
7 And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.
I believe we can now safely say that Simon Peter knows what will happen to Sapphira. He didn’t know what was going to happen to Ananias, but now it is quite obvious what will happen to this woman.
Ananias was dead and buried, and Sapphira did not even know it! Satan always keeps his servants in the dark, while God guides His servants in the light (John 15.15 ). We are not told why the couple did not attend the meeting together, but whatever the reason, it was about three hours after the death of her husband that Sapphira came in “not knowing what was done.”
8 And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.
The use of the English verb “answered,” where no question or remark precedes it, is found many places in the Bible—such as in Daniel 2.14, 15 and in Luke 3.16. Peter was not answering a question, but asking one. He was actually
asking Sapphira “Did you sell the land for so much?” Peter wanted to know if she was in a pact with her husband, so he asked about the price received for their property. Peter’s question should have aroused suspicion on her part. She should have suspected that the scheme her and Ananias had cooked up had been discovered and that Peter knew they had not brought all the money received from the sale of their property.
But if Sapphira did suspect that the fraud had been found out she gave no evidence of it. She stated the same amount as Ananias had, so Peter knew that the two conspired together to lie to the Church and to God.
9 Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.
Ananias and Sapphira were actually defying God and daring Him to act—and He acted with swiftness and finality. “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Matt. 4.7).
We must keep in mind that their sin was not in robbing God of money but in lying to Him and robbing Him of glory. They were not required to sell the property, and, after selling it, they were not required to give any of the money to the church (Acts 5.4). Their lust for recognition conceived sin in their hearts, and that sin eventually produced death (James 1.15 ).
Undoubtedly, Ananias and Sapphira had witnessed some of the miracles wrought through the power of the Holy Spirit as the apostles preached the Gospel throughout the community; and to try the omnificence of the Holy Spirit who so forcibly dwelt in the apostles and in the Church was, in truth, to tempt the Spirit of God. Their sin was not the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, but they had come perilously close to it.
Sapphira’s answer to Peter’s question convinced the apostle that this was not the individual lie of an ungodly and covetous husband, but rather a deliberate sin committed after an agreement between a husband and his wife—a cleverly planned scheme to deceive the believers and rob God. Peter therefore said to Sapphira, “Behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.”
This does not necessarily mean that Peter actually heard the approaching footsteps of the young men who had buried Ananias. The chances are that they went barefooted—or they were shod with sandals which was the custom in that day. Peter simply meant that the men who had buried Ananias were approaching the assembly and would also carry Sapphira out.
Those who buried Ananias were probably not gone very long because the Jews did not embalm. Customarily, they buried the dead the same day, especially someone who died by divine judgment (Deut. 21.22, 23 ).
Peter accused Sapphira of agreeing with Ananias to “tempt test
the Spirit of the Lord.” “To test the Holy Spirit” means to see how much one can get away with before He judges; it means to presume on Him, to see if He will perform His Word, or to stretch His judgment and patience to their limits (Duet 6.16; Matt. 4.7 ).
10 Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.
This verse speaks for itself. Sapphira must have been overcome by everything that happened so suddenly. To begin with, Peter told her about the death of her husband, and then she was hit with the shock of being exposed, and finally, there was the stress of hearing Peter announce that she was going to die too. She immediately dropped to the floor and died at Peter’s feet.
We would assume that the worship service was still in progress and the congregation still assembled when the young men returned from burying Ananias. Evidentially Peter was still standing at the front of the assembly hall, and when the young men returned to join the worshippers they found Sapphira lying dead at Peter’s feet. So they picked her up and carried her out, to bury her beside her husband.