Just when Luke has us thinking that nothing could go wrong with this new body of Messianic believers, he brings us back to reality with the sudden jolt. Ironically, he has set the stage of one of the most scandalous affairs of early Church fellowship with the innocent and loving act of Barnabas at the end of chapter four. Then as we begin reading chapter five, Luke drops the other shoe with the Ananias and Sapphira affair. But, who are they? Luke just unloads them into his account of early church history without a word of introduction. He names them, but a name without an introduction is still meaningless.
I mentioned these two in a previous blog post, but let’s take a more detailed look at Luke’s narrative at this point. Luke is very careful concerning how he presents the enemies of the new believing body, especially when those enemies might be linked to the Jewish rulers of his day, and this would be understandable, if Luke’s addressee in Acts 1:1 was a member of the Annas family of Jewish high priests. I think a hint, showing who Ananias and Sapphira really were, is offered to us as Luke links up all the admirable stories of the beginning of the Church (Acts 2 through 4) to Acts 5:17 and following where the high priest and the Sadducees rise up against the Apostles. Luke links the peaceful past with the more violent future with a summation of God’s work and the prayer of the Church (Acts 5:11-16). This is important, because, as we shall see later, it was the family of the Annas high priests who was at the root of nearly all the trouble endured by the first century Messianic movement.
The Apostles did many signs and wonders among the people (Acts 5:12a), so that people from all over Judea brought their sick to Jerusalem, hoping that perhaps even Peter’s shadow might fall upon them and heal their loved ones (vv.15-16). However, within this commentary Luke places a parenthetical expression at v.12b through v.14. After the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira the Apostles were assembled for prayer and were in one accord at Solomon’s Colonnade in the Temple, where they were arrested (Acts 5:18). But, before their arrest Luke tells us: “No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people” (v.13). Who wouldn’t join themselves with the Apostles? Luke tells us that even though the Apostles were “highly regarded by the people” a certain body did not join themselves to them. Who are these others?
Were the others numbered with people like Barnabas in chapter 4 or with people like Ananias and Sapphira in chapter 5? Ananias and Sapphira seem to be the more likely candidates, because why would people like Barnabas fear to join themselves with the Apostles? Luke seems to tell us that the Apostles’ popularity among the people was a reason for others (v.13) to join themselves to the leaders of this Messianic body. Wasn’t it the people’s high regard for the Apostles (Acts 4:21) that kept the Jewish authorities from going too far in punishing them for what they regarded as false propaganda? Therefore, it seems to me, if the Jewish authorities were to do anything against the Apostles, they somehow needed to transfer the support of the people from the Apostles to themselves (cp. Acts 6:11-12).
Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians that spies were planted within the body of believers in an effort to ultimately bring the Messianic body into subjection to someone or something other than Jesus (Galatians 2:4; cp. 1John 4:1; Acts 15:24 and 1John 2:19). The high priest’s reaction to Ananias’ and Sapphira’s deaths in Acts 5:17-18 seems to expose his own involvement in their conspiracy. A conspiracy is indicated in that Ananias had kept back part of the money of the sale of his property and lied about it. It was the lie itself that was the wrongdoing, not the fact that he held back part of the sale. Luke makes this abundantly clear in the exchange between him and Peter. Why would Ananias lie? If the act of joining oneself to the Apostles, i.e. the leadership of the Messianic body, was in view (cp. v.13), then the sale was transacted not for the sake of the poor, but for the sake of gaining leadership status, such as that which occurred with Barnabas in Acts 4. Therefore, the implication of Luke’s account of the Ananias and Sapphira affair seems to point to the fact that Annas, the high priest, when he found he could not intimidate the Apostles (Acts 4:17-18, 21), planned a more clandestine tactic in an effort to bring the new Messianic body under his power.