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Imposters on the Roster

Two NFL coaches were looking at their clipboard roster of players one day, when one of them asked the other, “Who’s this Quasimodo guy? Why does that name ring a bell?” The other replied, “Don’t you remember? He played halfback at Notre Dame.”

Speaking of rosters, as we look at the roster of believers answering roll call in the Jewish kingdom church at Pentecost, we see there were a couple of imposters on the roster. All the saved Jews sold their possessions and laid the proceeds at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:32-37),

“But 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).

As you may know, they were supposed to bring all the money they got from selling their possession to the apostles to share with the rest of the church (Acts 4:35). We know Peter did, for when a lame man asked him for a handout, he said, “Silver and gold have I none” (Acts 3:6). And when Ananias and Sapphira kept back part of the proceeds of their sale, that showed they weren’t saved. We know this because when “a certain ruler” asked the Lord,

“Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?…Jesus said unto Him…sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor…” (Luke 18:18-22).

So why would this couple try to convince Peter they were saved? Well, if you were living back then and you weren’t saved, wouldn’t you try to bluff your way into Peter’s church? If you saw a bunch of people living unselfishly for one another, in perfect harmony, “of one heart and of one soul” (Acts 4:32), wouldn’t you want in on that? Evidently Ananias and Sapphira did too.

But as we read on, we see that God wasn’t about to let them get away with that kind of incomplete obedience:

“But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?” (Acts 5:3).

How’d He Know That?

Here we have to ask: How’d Peter know they hadn’t brought him all the proceeds? The answer is, Peter was a prophet, and prophets just knew stuff like that! Back when the king of Syria couldn’t figure out how the Jews knew about every trap that he set for them, he naturally suspected that there was a spy among his advisers. But when he asked them who the mole was, one of the members of his staff replied,

“None, my lord, O king: but Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber” (2 Kings 6:12).

Elisha knew all the king’s secret plans because he was a prophet. That’s why, when the Lord was able to tell the woman at the well all the details of her private life, she told Him, “Sir, I perceive that Thou art a prophet” (John 4:19).

And we know Peter was a prophet as well, for he wrote two books of the Bible, and all the Bible writers were prophets. That’s why Paul spoke of “the Scriptures of the prophets” (Rom. 16:26), and Peter himself called the Scriptures the “prophecy of the Scripture” (2 Pet. 1:20). And this was how he knew this deceitful couple wasn’t being totally up front with him.

Now when Peter asked Ananias why Satan had filled his heart to lie, that makes it sound like Ananias was just minding his own business when Satan snuck up behind him and filled his heart and forced him to lie. But Peter was holding Ananias responsible for his lie because he knew that that’s not how it happened.

The Devil Didn’t Make Him Do It

You see, Peter had heard the Lord say,

“…from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts… wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness….All these evil things come from within…” (Mark 7:21-23).

I’m old enough to remember how comedian Flip Wilson used to joke, “The devil made me do it!” when he’d do something wrong. But the Lord said that sins like the “deceit” Ananias and his wife were committing come from within us. Thanks to the perverse fallen sinful nature we all inherited from Adam, we don’t need any help from Satan to sin.

If you think about it, that just makes sense. Satan is not omnipresent like God is. He’s a finite being who can’t be everywhere at once like God can (Psa. 139:7-12).

He also has a finite number of demons, so he can’t possibly be behind every sin that men commit all over the world.

Having said that, there were times when Satan was behind the sins of men. Like when the Lord and the Twelve had just finished eating the last passover meal together, and John says:

“…supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him” (John 13:2).

Satan may not be able to be everywhere at once, but when the Lord was here on earth, you can be sure that he was on Him and his apostles like white on rice, to personally afflict the Lord and instigate as much sin among the Twelve as he could.

But even with Judas, Satan didn’t overpower his will and make him betray the Lord. Judas was just a covetous guy! He wanted those 30 pieces of silver that Israel’s leaders promised to pay him for selling out his Master (Matt. 26:15). So Satan didn’t have to twist his arm to get him to betray the Lord. He let Satan enter into him.

And that’s what happened here with Ananias as well. Now that the Lord had ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9), Satan turned all of his attention to the 120 disciples who gathered at Pentecost (Acts 1:15). And when he saw that Ananias was just as covetous as Judas, he saw his chance to infiltrate those disciples in Peter’s church. That’s why Peter asked him “why” Satan had filled his heart to lie to Peter. He was asking why Ananias let him.

Now I know it says Ananias lied to the Holy Ghost (Acts 5:3), not Peter. But don’t forget that, speaking of the disciples, we read that “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:4). That means when Ananias lied to Peter, he was really lying to the Spirit within Peter.

It Takes Two to Do More Than Tango

And as we read on, we see Peter has some follow-up questions for Ananias:

“While it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God” (Acts 5:4).

That word “conceived” is a word we usually use to describe what happens when a baby comes into existence. It takes two to conceive a baby, and it took both Satan and Ananias to conceive the lie he told Peter.

But that word conceive should make you think of some things that James wrote:

“A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways…the rich… shall pass away…the man that endureth temptation…shall receive the crown of life…But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:8,10,12,14,15).

I think James was actually describing what was going on at Pentecost. I mean, he talked about conceiving sin, like Peter did, and made mention of “a double minded man.” Doesn’t that sound like Ananias? He wanted to be part of the little flock, but he also wanted to keep part of the money that he was supposed to turn in, so he conspired with Satan to conceive that lie. That sounds double-minded to me!

And when James says that the man who endured temptation would receive life, it’s obvious that he meant eternal life. But that means when he wrote that the rich would “pass away,” it’s just as obvious that he meant the rich would pass away eternally. And that too goes along with what was happening at Pentecost. The only rich people at Pentecost were the ones who didn’t sell all they had, and so were not saved. That explains why the Lord said “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24).

But now, here we have a dispensational difference. Rich men can be saved today, in the dispensation of grace, without having to share their riches. Our apostle Paul never tells us to sell all to be saved. He tells the rich to “be rich in good works” (1 Tim. 6:18), not to give up their riches.

But as we’re about to see, when Ananias let covetousness conceive in his heart, it brought him death, just as James said it would. He ends up dying in this passage—and not just physically. We know he also died eternally for not complying with God’s terms of salvation.

Who’s Who in the Godhead?

But now, did you notice that in verse 3 Peter said that Ananias lied to the Holy Ghost, but here in verse 4 he says that he lied to God. You know what that means, don’t you? It means the Holy Ghost is God!

If you are thinking, “Who doesn’t know that the Holy Spirit is God?” the answer is, plenty of people. There are a lot of people who don’t even think He is a person. They think He’s some kind of mysterious force, like “the Force” in Star Wars. But you can’t lie to a force! You can’t lie to electricity, you can’t lie to magnetism, and if the Holy Spirit is just a force, you can’t lie to Him either. But the Bible says Ananias did!

As we read on, we get to the part where Ananias’ sin brought forth death, just as James said it would:

“And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things” (Acts 5:5).

It seems pretty clear to me that Peter struck Ananias dead. People get a little uneasy when I insist that that’s what happened here, but you can’t easily read that verse and come to the conclusion that Ananias died of natural causes, especially when Peter struck his wife dead a short time later. That’s just too much of a coincidence.

If you don’t think God would give men the power to inflict physical punishment, I remind you that this wasn’t the first time He gave men such power (2 Kings 1:10-12; Acts 13:11). Peter wasn’t the first man with the power to inflict punishment like that, and he won’t be the last either (Rev. 11:3,5).

But in all this we have another dispensational difference, for pastors and spiritual leaders today cannot inflict physical punishment, although some of them claim they can.

A Dispensational Power

Soon after I became a pastor in 1979, a lady named Helen joined our church and learned how to rightly divide the Word. When she did, she stopped sending money to a popular televangelist. Soon after, he mailed her a letter saying that something bad would happen to her if she didn’t resume giving to his ministry! I told her that what he was doing was nothing short of extortion, and took the letter to our local post office. But the postmaster informed me that there was nothing he could do about such mailings, for they were protected under the freedom of religion. How sad!

But remember, preachers like that aren’t being unbiblical, they’re just being undispensational. Men in the Bible had the power to inflict physical punishment; they just don’t have that power today in the dispensation of grace. And if Helen hadn’t learned to rightly divide the Word, she might have been intimidated by that televangelist, as I’m sure millions of others have been. Now after Ananias died, they didn’t just leave his body lying around, as we see as we read on:

“And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him” (Acts 5:6).

I like to joke that that’s why God created young men, to do all our heavy lifting for us! But seriously, if you are a young man, I don’t have to tell you that “the glory of young men is their strength” (Prov. 20:29), and Christian young men should use their strength to serve the Lord. I’m sure if you ask your pastor for ways that you can use your young strength to assist the ministry of your church, he’ll be able to point you in the right direction. When I was a teenager, I shoveled snow from the church walk, burned all the old paint off the exterior of our church parsonage and repainted it, and used my God-given strength to serve Him in other ways. Of course, these days the roles are reversed, and I’m the aging pastor who asks the young men in my church to lift things to save the strain on my bad back.

A Taste of Heaven

What we’re seeing in all this is a taste of what life will be like in the kingdom of heaven on earth. We know that God was giving them a taste of the kingdom here, for Hebrews 6:4,5 describes the people at Pentecost as,

“…those who…tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted…the powers of the world to come.”

“The world to come” here is the kingdom, and one of the “powers” of the world to come is the power to strike men dead.

Now you might be wondering why anyone would need to be stricken dead in the kingdom of heaven. But while the kingdom will be heaven on earth, men will still have the ability to sin during the first thousand years of God’s eternal kingdom.

That explains why the Lord compared the kingdom to “leaven” (Matt.  3:33). In the Bible, leaven is a type of sin. When a man committed unspeakable fornication in the Corinthian church, Paul warned the Corinthians to put him out of the assembly (1 Cor. 5:2,13), for “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (v. 6). hen a church countenances that kind of unabashed sinful behavior, it is sure to spread like leaven.

But the Lord’s parable teaches us that the leaven of sin is going to exist in the millennial kingdom. And as we are seeing pictured here in Acts 5 in this taste of the kingdom, when sin arises, it will be judged. That explains why Isaiah’s description of the kingdom (Isa. 65:24,25) included his prediction that “the child shall die an hundred years old” (v. 20). After the longevity we read about in Genesis returns in the kingdom, a man who dies at 100 will be considered a child, for had he not sinned he would not have died.

Better Watch Your Back

But in closing, we talked about how the devil dogged the steps of the Lord Jesus when He was here among us, in order to personally afflict Him, and then turned his attention to His disciples after He ascended into heaven. But where do you think you can find Satan today, in the dispensation of grace? Hanging around believers, of course—especially grace believers who know Paul’s gospel! Maybe not him personally, but he has a lot of demons! There’s no evidence in Paul’s epistles that you have a guardian angel, but if you preach Paul’s gospel, you just might have your own personal devil!

If you think that’s a good reason to study God’s Word, you’re right. If you think that’s a good reason to attend a sound grace church to hear God’s Word proclaimed rightly divided, you’re right about that as well. There’s simply no way to learn to wield “the shield of faith” (Eph. 6:16), or don any of the other pieces of spiritual armor that God supplies to protect you from the wicked one, without letting His rightly divided Word find deep roots in the soil of your heart, and letting it become part of the very fabric of your life. Why not start right now? You’ll be eternally glad you
did.