Jerusalem To Rome

The Acts of the Apostles

By Charles Fremont Sitterly

A. The Jewish Period—Chapters I-VII

From the Ascension of Christ until Stephen’s Martyrdom.—A. D. 30 To A. D. 33

Chapter 5

Further Reverses and Triumphs

Paragraph 1. THE FALL OF ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA. Verses 1-11.

There was, however, a man named Ananias who with Sapphira his wife sold some property, but with her full connivance kept back part of the price, and part he brought and laid at the feet of the Apostles. But Peter said :

“Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart that you should try to deceive the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the price of this land? While still unsold was it not yours? And after the sale, did it not still remain in your control? How did you conceive such a plan as this? It is not to men you have lied, but to God.”

When Ananias heard these words he fell down dead, and great fear fell on all who heard about it. So the younger men arose, wrapped up the body, and carried it out for burial.

About three hours later his wife came in, knowing nothing of what had happened. Then Peter asked her, “Tell me, whether you sold the land for so much?”

“Yes,” she answered, “for so much.”

Peter said to her:

“How did you come to agree together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! the feet of those who buried your husband are at the door and they will carry you out.”

On the instant she fell down at their feet dead, and the young men came in, found her dead, carried her out, and buried her beside her husband. And great fear fell upon the whole church and upon every-one hearing these facts.



It is probable that envy of Barnabas, who had gained so noble a name by his fine act of devotement to the common good, was the tap root to the deceitful plot of Ananias and Sapphira. So Cain envied Abel and Saul David, and their ends were the same. Have we not also here again an example of the blundering act of the chapter-chopper? Ought not this case of failure to be joined with that of success in the paragraph preceding? The spirit of Mammon drives out the spirit of God. Greed quenches charity. The son of the Paraclete is followed by the son of Perdition and not all women are like Mary of Bethany, or Mary the Lord’s mother, or Mary the mother of Mark. Achan’s effort to share the advantage of conquering the enemy without first conquering self had been the standing lesson for Israel for more than a thousand years, and now the entrance upon the newer spiritual Canaan must not be marred by like treachery. The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. Peter is right: the sin is not against men but against God. The fate of Judas at the beginning of the book is not more graphically drawn than that of this pair of traitors here. As Sapphira had shared equally in conniving at the hypocrisy, she tasted the same death in its unmasking. The fear such quick judgment inspires is wholesome, kindling clean respect and proper awe. As the sin is against God, the vengeance is also His, and the effect is not lost either on the church itself or on the entire community.


Paragraph 2. THE CHURCH IN THE TEMPLE COURTS. Verses 12-16.

Moreover, there kept occurring among the people many signs and marvels by the hands of the Apostles while they all used to meet together by common consent in Solomon’s Portico. Of the outsiders, however, not one dared to join them, yet the people highly esteemed them, and more and more throngs of believers were added to the Lord both of men and women. This went so far that they would actually carry out their sick into the streets and lay them on beds and couches so that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. Even from the towns near Jerusalem, a crowd kept coming bringing sick people and such as were troubled by unclean spirits, and every one of them was cured.  


And now the time has come for more advanced steps to be taken toward forming the church. The word “church” indeed appears in the book for the first time in the above paragraph. The conventicle had been sufficient for a time, but the company has gradually outgrown it and must now develop a more adequate organization. Already there is the usual division known in the synagogue as between the elder and younger men. From the very first the Apostles have been the recognized arbiters in every mooted debate as to practice or policy. We also see here, as from the first Pentecostal occasion, the mention of women as perfectly normal factors in the new society. The episode of Ananias and Sapphira helps clear the atmosphere as to the moral sincerity which must prevail, and the power of working miraculous cures gives added authority to the Apostolic leadership. Unconscious of any deep antagonism as between themselves and the Jewish system, and really enjoying for the first time spiritual insight into the true significance of the Hebrew ritual and sacred writings, the believers gravitated as by right to the Temple, and in order to meet in semi-privacy and at the same time where there was abundant space, they formed the custom of assembling on the eastern side of the lower Court beneath the covered Portico of Solomon. The widely known case of the impotent man by the Gate leading out of this court suggested the idea of bringing various cases of more or less severe kinds directly into the Temple. Thus a sort of clinical levee greeted the Apostles’ daily arrival and even at points of vantage in the contiguous streets sick and suffering people were placed to receive the benefit of the Apostles’ shadow in passing by.  


Aroused and filled with jealousy, the High Priest and all his party—the sect of the Sadducees—laid hands on ‘the Apostles and thrust them into the public prison. But an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors during the night and led them out, and said,

“Go stand and speak in the Temple all the words of this life, to the people.”

They did as they were told, and about daybreak went into the Temple and began to teach. Meanwhile the High Priest and his party assembled, called together the Sanhedrin, and the entire Senate of the Sons of Israel, and sent to the prison to have the Apostles brought. The officers, however, when they came could not find them in the prison, and went back and reported.

“We found the prison,” they said, “locked in all security, and with the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened it we found no one inside!”

When the Captain of the Temple and the Chief Priests heard this they were in grave doubt as to what it might lead to. Some one came, however, and announced to them :

“Why, the very men you put in prison are standing in the Temple and teaching the people.”

Then the Captain went with his officers and brought them, not using violence, however, for they feared lest the people might stone them.



The inevitable result of such successes followed quickly. Peter, as always in Acts, takes the brunt of the attack. John is no doubt his staunch supporter, and although they do not lack equally courageous comrades, the blustering Temple authorities are satisfied to try intimidating the larger number by handling the leaders roughly. Another night in the Temple dungeon follows a successful day of healing and teaching. But the promised Presence is not withheld. An angel, Luke’s favorite agent of Divine Providence, releases the Apostles and commands them to return at once to Solomon’s Portico and begin the day there preaching as usual. “They did as they were told,” and as they had previously said they would, “obeyed God rather than men.” How grave an estimate the authorities have come to put on this invasion of the Temple precincts by the new Way is seen in the nature of the assembly, apparently called together in so full force for the first time since the condemnation of Jesus, to take up this menacing problem. Not only the high priestly party of Sadducees, but the Pharisees as well, and the “entire Senate of the Sons of Israel,” are waiting at the accustomed hour in their hall Gazith opening off of the court of the Priests. The utmost formality prevails. The case is called and the Apostles ordered in. The Captain of the Guard is informed by his deputy that the prisoners have escaped. His chagrin and that of those responsible for calling together the Sanhedrin is beyond bounds. Doubtless certain members of the court, possibly Gamaliel among them, were not as distressed as the more radical party of the Sadducees.





So they brought them and placed them before the Sanhedrin, and the High Priest asked them:

“Did we not give you strict injunction not to teach in this name? Just look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you desire to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

But Peter and the other Apostles replied :

“We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you murdered, hanging Him upon a cross. And God has exalted Him to His right hand as Prince and Saviour to give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. And we are witnesses to these things with the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”



 Suddenly word is brought that the men in question are down in the great court below, even more vigorously than usual addressing and moving the crowds assembled about them. The Captain himself now goes at the head of his staff and without any resistance, such as he anticipates, rearrests the Apostles and brings them well surrounded, but not roughly, before the Sanhedrin. Caiaphas, however, is in no temperate mood. He remembers the last days of the Son of Man and the difficulty in steering His case to successful judgment. He and others present clearly recall the unsteady pulse of the populace at that time and the rebound since, from their too easy assumption for themselves and their children of “this man’s blood.” His high-pitched voice and prejudiced opening charge in the arraignment plainly confirm Luke’s claims as to the divided attitude of Jerusalem concerning “this man’s blood.” Again Peter plays his part as the Rock. Nor does John alone seem to be present with him, but possibly the other ten have insisted on sharing his arraignment. There is no wavering as to the question of whose authority they shall acknowledge. ‘‘Must” is the key word here. There is evidently “power” in other than human hands, and once having felt it they are not disobedient to its compelling guidance. The real issue is pressed at the point of vital conflict and the language is as unequivocal as any Caiaphas had used. Indeed, Peter himself takes the judge’s place and arraigns his accusers:

“You murdered and did to death on a cross the Prince of Israel and our only Saviour. The God of our Fathers raised Him up from death and exalted Him to His rightful place in sharing the divine throne. This entire city beheld and shared in the black disgrace of your fell deed. But the third day He arose again from the dead, and we here and at least a hundred more now in Jerusalem saw Him repeatedly, and although He had repeatedly promised that it should be so, some of us were long in becoming convinced. He, however, continued among us for forty days, appearing to us under every possible circumstance and condition, both here and on our return to Galilee, fully identifying himself and completing His teaching. Finally we all came back here at His command, and after further conferences with us and concluding instructions, He withdrew from earth, ascending to heaven from the Mount of Olives, just over the Kidron. In obedience to His injunction we have remained here, and His own Spirit has come upon us, as He promised, and we have given ourselves to the sole task of witnessing to these facts and persuading as many as we can that He is the Messiah, and only Redeemer of the world’s sin, and are now ready to be sworn and to give our testimony as witnesses to these facts.”  


On hearing this they became furious and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the Sanhedrin named Gamaliel, a Teacher of the Law, highly revered by all the people, arose and ordered the men to be put outside for a few minutes. Then he said:

“Men of Israel, have a care as to what you are going to do to these men. For a few years ago Theudas sprang up, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men joined him, but he was killed and all who followed him were dispersed and finally vanished. After him Judas the Galilzean arose in the days of the census-taking and led off some people with him, but he also perished and all who obeyed him were scattered. So now I say to you, just let these men alone; leave them to themselves. In case this project or this movement is from men, it will collapse; if, however, it is from God, you will not be able to put it down, lest, indeed, you find yourselves fighting against God.”

So they agreed with him, and calling in the Apostles beat them and let them go, ordering them not to speak about the name of Jesus. Thereupon they left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been thought worthy to suffer shame on behalf of the Name, nor did they cease for a single day teaching in the Temple or from house to house and preaching the gospel of Jesus the Christ.


 This was passing the limits of endurance, and especially for the Sadducees, to which party the High Priest and chief rulers belonged. A great clamor arose demanding the death of the Apostles. In so large a group of picked leaders and teachers there was sure to be at least one of too wise judgment to permit matters unchallenged to drift into complete anarchy. Nicodemus in this same Sanhedrin had vainly tried to stem the tide when Jesus was being overborne by a like frenzy, and now Gamaliel, a greater teacher in Israel probably than Nicodemus, and without the handicap of having his motives questioned, arises and adroitly restores the equilibrium. Asking the prisoners to withdraw, he addresses the assembly, calling to memory the vain uprisings led by Theudas and his four hundred and Judas of Galilee and his group of rebels. Just so this latest fanaticism centering in the Nazarene, who has already been put out of the way, must fall of its own weight and thus is hardly worthy of such high attention, or else perchance it may turn out to be of divine origin, as claimed, in which case it were surely better not to be found fighting against God. Gamaliel shows true diplomacy in not appearing to overstress his argument, and as he led the majority in the Sanhedrin his suggestion that the Apostles be beaten and commanded to cease further public activities under threat of more serious punishment prevailed. In the name of their Master the stripes were accepted joyfully, and the stern injunctions of the court were apparently taken even less seriously.

Luke’s summary statement at the end of the chapter must not be foreshortened too much, for it is doubtless intended to cover a period of months, if not, indeed, years.