As the narrative in Acts 5 goes, Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, sold a parcel of land and donated part of the sale proceeds to the Church; but, they conspired to lead the Apostle Peter and others to believe they donated the entire sum. For conspiring to lie as they did, they were struck dead.
Were they struck dead solely because they lied? If that was the case, there are many biblical examples of others who should have suffered the same fate. Fearing for his own life, Abraham lied when he twice claimed Sarah was his sister. Jacob lied when he deceived Isaac to believe he was Esau. Rahab lied about her concealment of the two men who came to spy out Jericho. On the night Christ was arrested and tried, Peter himself lied three times. Though lying is a heinous sin that leads to eternal death, none of these individuals was struck dead on the spot like Ananias and Sapphira. Obviously, God wants us to learn more from this story than the fact that we should not break the Ninth Commandment.
So, why were Ananias and Sapphira struck dead?
Church Attracts Attention
There is something in the account of this event that has escaped the minds of most of the critics. God is conveying a profound message to us through His record of it.
The fledgling New Testament Church was bustling with enthusiasm and excitement, and it was attracting much attention. Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. God’s Holy Spirit had been made available to His firstfruits, evidenced by a spectacular display of power on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-3). Three thousand converts were added to the Church that same day (verse 41). Following Pentecost, “many wonders and signs were done by the apostles” (verse 43). New converts were excited about the opportunity to be involved in God’s Work and joyfully pooled their resources for the benefit of all (Acts 4:32). As many had traveled long distances to be in Jerusalem and stayed longer than expected, some needed support. Those in a position to help, and willing to do so, sold property and gave it to the apostles to distribute to others as needed (verses 34‑35).
“And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, [h]aving land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (verses 36-37). Barnabas and others were filled with God’s Spirit and moved to support His growing Work.
Attack From Within
Seeing the example of Barnabas and others, “a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 5:1-2). Being captivated by the growth and interest in the Church, Ananias and Sapphira wanted a part of the action. It is possible they were part of the original 120 disciples (Acts 1:15), or they may have entered the Church sometime after that. They would have heard that Peter wasn’t going to be around to run the Church forever (John 21:22-23), and they conspired to “buy” some influence. It is also likely they didn’t have much respect for Peter’s intelligence and thought he would be easy to con. Like others at the time, they probably looked on him as “unlearned and ignorant” (Acts 4:13). They saw an ideal opportunity to inveigle their way into a position in the growing Church.
Ananias and Sapphira owned their property; they were free to do with it as they saw fit (Acts 5:4). But, coveting power and prestige in the burgeoning Church, they “agreed together [conspired] to tempt the Spirit of the Lord” (verse 9). This was not a casual lie, it was a conspiracy! They conspired to attract attention and adulation by appearing more generous than they really were. They were playing politics—trying to “curry favor” with the apostles and ingratiate themselves in the eyes of the congregation.
“But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy [Spirit], and to keep back part of the price of the land?” (verse 3). The Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon expands filled to mean, “to fill to the top: so that nothing shall be wanting to full measure, fill to the brim.” As Christians, we are to be “filled with all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:19)—as Barnabas was (Acts 11:24). But Ananias was filled with all the fullness of Satan! He was not just influenced by Satan; he was filled to the brim by him! Through Ananias and Sapphira, Satan was attempting to infiltrate God’s Church and subvert Peter’s leadership.
This was a satanic attack on the establishment of God’s government in His Church, and Peter recognized it as such! After his unsuccessful attack on the infant Church from the outside, through the priests and Sadducees (Acts 4:1‑33), Satan was now launching an attack from within!
As editor in chief Gerald Flurry stated: “The most important doctrine in God’s Church is government. If we understand this, we must know that government would be Satan’s number-one target. The big concern is how Satan attacks God’s government” (Philadelphia Trumpet, April 1993; emphasis mine throughout). Peter’s big concern with Ananias and Sapphira was that, through them, Satan was launching an attack to frustrate the Church government.
Mr. Flurry continued: “There are many warnings in the Bible about rejecting God’s government.” He then quoted one, in Acts 20:28-30: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy [Spirit] hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” Note the false ministers’ goal: “to draw away disciples after them.”
Ananias and Sapphira were grievous wolves who entered in among God’s people to draw disciples after themselves—to devour His flock! To do this, Mr. Flurry said, “they have to destroy God’s government to get His own saints to follow them! They get people’s minds off Christ and on themselves” (ibid.). This is exactly what Ananias and Sapphira were about—what they had conspired and were politicking to do. They were seeking preeminence in God’s Church through their feigned generosity—their hypocrisy!
Consolidating Peter’s Office
To put an end to their conspiracy and subversion, God struck Ananias and Sapphira dead! (Acts 5:5, 10). And when He did, “great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things” (verse 11; also verse 5).
Through their execution, God focused the minds of the newly added converts on the leadership He had established in His Church—on Peter and the rest of the apostles. “And [after this event and the fear it engendered] by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people …. And of the rest [of the people] durst no man join himself to them [the apostles]: but the people magnified them [the apostles]” (verses 12‑13). Through striking Ananias and Sapphira dead, God magnified the office of the apostles in the eyes of His people. After this consolidation of government in the fledgling Church, “believers were the more added [added to a greater degree] to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women” (verse 14). The Church surged forward in its growth! Such was the increase, it became necessary to ordain deacons to enable the apostles to concentrate wholly on “prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (verse 7).
The Work grew and flourished because God stopped Satan’s conspiracy dead in its tracks and thwarted his attack on the Church! It was by striking Ananias and Sapphira dead that God stayed the hand of Satan, and clearly established the authority of the apostles. It was by confronting and executing them, through Peter, that God reinforced the primacy of Peter’s office, under Christ, in His Church.
How does an understanding of why Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead apply to us today? What lessons does God expect us to learn from the record of their example?
First and foremost, the way they were summarily executed conveys a blistering warning against the conceit of seeking preeminence among the people of God—of jockeying for recognition, influence and power in God’s Church.
It is God who drafts us into His Church (John 6:44, 65), and it is God alone who elevates and ordains individuals to offices within His Church (1 Corinthians 12:18, 28; Ephesians 4:11).
The attitude of self-aggrandizement that led Ananias and Sapphira to politick for recognition in the Church was a direct manifestation of the mind and nature of Satan (Isaiah 14:13-14; Ezekiel 28:17). It was by filling them with his attitude that Satan was able to use the couple as willing instruments in the execution of his purpose.
God struck them dead as a warning to us against the sin of vainglory—of losing perspective of how impotent and transitory we are in relation to the omnipotence of God, our Creator. This is the reality Ananias and Sapphira didn’t grasp, as they allowed their vainglory to lead them to cling to the fading flower of physical life, and the illusion of happiness they were deceived to believe it offered.
“Do nothing in a spirit of factiousness or of vainglory, but, with true humility, let every one regard the rest as being of more account [importance or value] than himself” (Philippians 2:3, Weymouth translation). Don’t let Satan distract and deceive you into politicking for recognition, influence and power in this life, here and now. Don’t allow the vanity of your mind to rob you of your eternal crown!
The example of Ananias and Sapphira also communicates a sobering message about the folly of religious hypocrisy—living a lie—pretending we are something we are not. In this arena, Satan the devil is without peer. Representing the kingdom of darkness, but masquerading as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), he is the pinnacle of hypocrisy.
Through his “cunning craftiness,” he presently has the whole world and most of God’s Church worshiping him—believing the lie that he is God! (Revelation 12:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). Succeeding today where he failed with Ananias and Sapphira, Satan has infiltrated and gained great influence and power in God’s Church, through the lies and hypocrisy of Laodicean leaders. Through these individuals and the vanity of their minds and lust for power, Satan was able to temporarily stop God’s Work and nearly destroy His Church. He has been able to wreak such havoc through his modern-day Ananiases and Sapphiras that most of God’s Family have become spiritually “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” and in need of rebuke and chastisement (Revelation 3:15-19).
Being sobered by the example of Ananias and Sapphira, our minds should be focused on Paul’s admonition: “Let love be without dissimulation [hypocrisy]. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good” (Romans 12:9).
Avoid the cancer of religious hypocrisy that destroyed Ananias and Sapphira!
A False Balance
Ananias and Sapphira sought membership, recognition and position in God’s Church to serve themselves—to satisfy their own vanity and lusts. Those of us drafted by God are required to subjugate the vanity and lust of our self-will to His will, and surrender our lives in total sacrifice and service to Him.
Paul pleaded: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service [not outstanding or extreme—just what is expected]” (verse 1).
To redeem us from the penalty of sin—eternal death—God gave His only begotten Son. There is no higher price He could have paid—there is no greater love He could have shown. He made the supreme sacrifice—and will not settle for half-measures from us. God wants the best of our time, energy, talent and resources—our best sacrifices! “A false [deceitful or misleading] balance [measure] is abomination to the Lord: but a just [full or complete] weight is his delight” (Proverbs 11:1).
Ananias and Sapphira were an abomination to God. They led the apostles and others to believe they were giving a just weight—a full measure; but they offered a false balance—a deceitful or misleading measure.
God’s Church has a history of conflict from within—those sown in the Church by Satan, seeking to serve themselves, coming into conflict with those sown by God and striving to serve Him. This is what happened in the day of Ananias and Sapphira, and it has happened on a much broader scale in our present time.
Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “[W]hen ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it [or, I believe it is true in some parts or areas]. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Corinthians 11:18-19). The word approved is derived from the Greek dokimos. Expounding the meaning of this word, the Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon states: “In the ancient world … All money was made from metal, heated until liquid, poured into molds and allowed to cool. When the coins were cooled, it was necessary to smooth off the uneven edges. The coins were comparatively soft and of course many people shaved them closely. In one century, more than 80 laws were passed in Athens, to stop the practice of shaving down the coins then in circulation. But some money changers were men of integrity, who would accept no counterfeit money. They were men of honor who put only genuine full-weighted money into circulation. Such men were called ‘dokimos’ or ‘approved.’”
Dokimos were “approved” money exchangers—men who traded only in genuine coins and rejected counterfeits. Symbolically, God uses units of monetary value to measure the growth and character of those who are His (Matthew 25:14-30).
God used the incident of striking Ananias and Sapphira dead to expose them as counterfeits and clearly reveal that the apostles were dokimos—they were genuine and approved by Him!
The pcg-wcg conflict and court case over the right to print and distribute the works of Herbert Armstrong was a classic modern-day example of an event allowed and orchestrated by God to reveal those who are genuinely His—His dokimos.
Like those at Crete in the time of Titus, most of God’s people today “profess that they know [Him]; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16). The word reprobate is translated from the Greek adokimos—the antonym of dokimos. It means “not standing the test, not approved … that which does not prove itself such as it ought [doesn’t measure up] … unproved, spurious, reprobate” (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon). Most of God’s people today, like Ananias and Sapphira, are adokimos—not standing the test; not measuring up!
God is judging His people now (1 Peter 4:17)—determining who are dokimos and who are adokimos. “Christ used the court battle to judge all His people,” Mr. Flurry writes in The Last Hour. “No single event in this Laodicean era has been so revealing! God manifested who were the very elect [the dokimos] and who were the antichrists and Laodiceans [the adokimos—the Ananiases and Sapphiras]—in the last hour!”
God is presently determining who are the genuine traders and who are the counterfeiters in His spiritual marketplace. And, in this regard, He pleads: “Study to shew thyself approved [dokimos] unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
We must be applying diligence to ensure that our works—our deeds—bear testimony of Christ dwelling in us; that we are genuine and approved before God!
The story of Ananias and Sapphira conveys a strong warning against living counterfeit Christian lives!
A very dark period in the chronicle of human experience is fast approaching—scripturally referred to as “midnight” (Matthew 25:6). The severity and seriousness of events in the world at that critical time will cause all the counterfeiters among the people of God to conduct an urgent audit of their activities (verse 7). Shockingly, only 50 percent will be motivated enough to amend their ways and be approved by God as a result (verses 1-10; Revelation 14:1-5).
Through living the way of least resistance—the way of get—the solution for the other 50 percent will be to look for a quick fix; to simply try and get what they can from others without applying effort (Matthew 25:8). Through their habit of counterfeit trading in the spiritual marketplace, they will prove to be too impoverished in character to amend their ways. In desperation, they will plead, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” But He will answer, “Verily I say unto you, I know you not” (verses 11-12). God will declare them adokimos—unapproved!
Like He did with Ananias and Sapphira, God will take their physical lives as He exposes them for the counterfeiters they are in the Great Tribulation. Scripture indicates that Ananias and Sapphira committed the unpardonable sin and will suffer the second death—eternal death. Those revealed as counterfeiters today and in the Great Tribulation will suffer the same fate. This is why our loving Husband—Jesus Christ—warns: “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (verse 13).
Let’s make sure we give strict attention to God and exercise vigilance to live in a way that shows us approved by Him.
Try the Spirits
We are urged: “Examine yourselves, whether ye are in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye are reprobates [adokimos]?” (2 Corinthians 13:5, Webster Bible). If Christ is dwelling in us, He will recognize Himself in others (John 10:14, 27). But He will also recognize a stranger—an Ananias or Sapphira—a counterfeit (verse 5).
Christ, in Peter, was able to see Ananias and Sapphira for what they were—wolves in sheep’s clothing. If we can’t detect the fake fleece of Satan’s wolves, they will make merchandise of us—exploit and abuse us spiritually for their own gain.
Mr. Flurry writes, “God says we must be able to know when something is from God and when it is not. … ‘Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God’ [1 John 4:2]. Do you know the Spirit of God? What does that mean?
“How can you detect a counterfeit dollar bill? You can’t, unless you know exactly what a genuine dollar bill looks like. And you must profoundly know God’s Holy Spirit to detect a false spirit” (ibid.). Spiritually speaking, we can’t know what a genuine “dollar bill” looks like unless we are seeking God first in our lives—above all else! (Matthew 6:33; Luke 14:26-33).
Being planted by Satan, Ananias and Sapphira would have looked genuine. You can be reasonably sure they were smooth operators—full of charm, charisma, personality and presence. Through the “good words and fair speeches” of such personalities Satan has been able to deceive and make merchandise of most of God’s people today.
Through Mr. Flurry, God warns: “We cannot judge by looking at personalities. God commands us to ‘try [or test] the spirits’ that motivate the personalities. …
“God puts the burden of responsibility squarely on your shoulders. Do you know God’s Spirit? Which men are really stirred by the Holy Spirit? Which men are letting Christ live in them? You had better know! If you don’t, you will be deceived. But if you do know, any counterfeit will be plain to you. God’s very elect cannot be deceived (Matthew 24:24).
“The test of the spirit is the ultimate test. No false leader comes right out and says Christ is not coming in his or her flesh. We must look at the person’s deeds. …
“Knowing the Spirit goes beyond hearingthewords of a man. Get to know the Spirit of God as deeply as you can. Look at the ‘fruits’” (ibid.).
Ananias and Sapphira may have known the truth, but they certainly weren’t living it. Their attitude and deeds testified to that. Many ministers in God’s Church have had His truth, but preached it in the wrong spirit. Most of the evangelists in the Philadelphia era of God’s Church could captivate the attention of a congregation with their powerful preaching. But where are they all now? As Mr. Flurry explains in Malachi’s Message, they had the truth but didn’t really love it. They didn’t love it enough to allow it to change them to think and live like God. Like Ananias and Sapphira, they looked good on the outside, but were rotting on the inside.
Many, even in the Philadelphia remnant of God’s Church, have known the truth, but not lived it—not really loved it! The process of separating those who are not measuring up (Revelation 11:1-2) is active and ongoing. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (1 John 2:19).
Mr. Flurry warns: “We must know not only truth and error, but ‘the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.’ It takes Christ’s mind in us to discern the spirit of truth and error. We can have the truth and still teach it in the wrong spirit. This is a profound statement. God wants me to understand the spirit that motivates me and others” (ibid.).
If we are not vigilant, we can find ourselves being infected with Satan’s self-promoting spirit of error. When afflicted, we can convince ourselves we are so right when we are so wrong. Gossip is a classic manifestation of a spirit of error. Justifying the self, blaming others, plagiarization, braggadocio, impatience and unreliability are all symptoms of a self-promoting spirit of error.
“It is not easy to know and be led by the Spirit of God. As we battle our own carnality and our own minds, we must know the Spirit. If we have inappropriate thoughts or attitudes toward God’s government or toward a decision that has been made, we must know the Spirit” (ibid.). The spirit of error can be so subtle. Sometimes a simple comment is all it takes to betray it. Even more subtle can be no comment at all. Sometimes no comment can speak louder than words, in the attitude it demonstrates. This was the case in some areas in the late 1970s and early 1980s when ministers were suppressing Mr. Armstrong’s taped messages and remaining mute about what he was teaching.
We must know the spirit that motivates us and others. We must look beyond personalities and words. If we don’t, then like most of God’s Family today, we will be deceived!
Let No Man Take Your Crown!
The story of Ananias and Sapphira is a record of Satan’s first attempt to infiltrate, attack and take over the New Testament Church from within. Through their example, God sends us a sobering warning for us to avoid the sham of vainglory, hypocrisy, insincerity and self-promotion. The incident serves as a reminder not to hold back in our surrender to God—a reminder to be offering Him full and complete sacrifices; our very best!
We, of all people, should be able to appreciate why God had to strike Ananias and Sapphira dead. We have seen the havoc and destruction Satan can cause when he gains preeminence in God’s Church. Through the good words and fair speeches of his “Ananiases” and “Sapphiras” in God’s end-time Church Satan has been able to deceive 95 percent of God’s Family. Their plight sends a strong last-hour warning for us to guard against allowing ourselves to become similarly captivated by personalities and feigned words.
“Satan is a master at getting us to rely on self or others. Then he destroys our faith and begins to influence us.
“Above all, don’t look to self for anything. Christ said, ‘I can of mine own self do nothing.’ His total trust was in the Father” (Royal Vision, January-February 2006).
Through Mr. Flurry, Jesus Christ warns us: “We must have and use God’s Spirit to endure this last hour! That is the only way to survive.
“We must reason as Christ’s kings and priests (Revelation 1:6). We have already been consecrated into the highest offices in the World Tomorrow! That is because we are being prepared to rule this world” (The Last Hour).
You, if responsive to this message, are being prepared to rule. From God’s perspective, it’s fait accompli—as good as done! Satan knows this. Make sure you do! Keep your gaze fixed on your coming reward and not an illusory substitute like that Satan used to captivate the minds of Ananias and Sapphira.
“[H]old that fast which thou hast, that no man”—you, through your own deceit, or an Ananias or Sapphira through their deceit—“take thy crown”! (Revelation 3:11).