Acts 5 records the tragic story of Ananias and Sapphira, two disciples who were killed by the Holy Spirit for their attempt to lie to Him.
Chapters 2-4 of this book are each snippets of the attitude of early Christians: their love for each other, their willingness to sacrifice for those whom they loved, and their devotion to God. Chapter 5 stands as a reminder that however idyllic a situation may appear to be, when it is composed of humans, Satan always despises such circumstances and seeks to disrupts that scene by appealing to the weakness of the flesh. He approaches man at his weakest point and sadly is often able to disrupt harmony and peace among brethren and brings man to sin.
Ananias and Sapphira were disciples and at the end of their lives showed themselves to have fallen, but that does not mean that in the beginning of their life in Christ they had never been saved. Nothing in the texts suggests such a conclusion. The problem with the couple was their failure to follow through on their commitment to Christ; to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). They had failed to “put to death … fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness …” (Colossians 3:5) when they had been cleansed from their past sins by the blood of Jesus. When they had been cleansed, they were commanded to rise from baptism to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4); to “refuse to be conformed to the world” but instead be “transformed” (Romans 12:1); to “cleanse themselves from all defilements of the flesh and spirit” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
Because they failed to so act and Satan was thoroughly aware of their weak points, he approached them by their love of pride and covetousness. They had seen other disciples generously selling possessions they had and then giving all the proceeds from that sale to the Lord (Barnabas was given as an example of such a one who had that spirit, Acts 4:36-37), and as Ananias and Sapphira wanted the praise such sacrificing disciples received, yet were unwilling, because of their love for money, to give all the money they got in the sale of their property. They determined they would lie and say they had given everything when in fact they had not.
They learned, just as Adam and Eve did, a tragic lesson: No one can lie to God nor hide from Him. God sees every good deed one does, as well as every evil thing he does. God knows all our thoughts, good or evil. The psalmist wrote a wondrous psalm (139) praising God for the truth that there is nowhere we may go, nor place we may hide where we will be outside of the knowledge and sight of God. God was saddened by their sin and made them an example to remind all men that we can hide nothing from God.
There is in this tragic story another vital truth to those who would make light of sin. Even little things, as man may view them, are grievous acts in the sight of our Creator, and whether it was God’s intention to show that by the punishment He inflicted on Adam and Eve for the “little thing” of just eating something God had forbade them (Genesis 3:9-19); or to an unnamed Israelite who broke the Sabbath by just picking up some sticks (a “little thing”) on that day (Numbers 15:32-33) after God, through Moses, had given command not to work on the Sabbath and to kill Ananias and Sapphira for lying to God (who has not committed this “little sin”?) I know not; but that truth is there whether that was God’s intention or not.
The tragedy of Ananias and Sapphire is that they had begun to run well but got “side-tracked” through the covetousness in their heart and suffered physical death as a consequence. And, while God may not visit us with physical death for such an infraction on our part, that does not negate the spiritual death which will come to us unless we repent of our thoughts or deeds. Indeed, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).