They actually kept part of the proceeds for themselves. Luke, the writer of Acts, says that they lied about the money.
The husband (Ananias) brought the money to the apostles. The Apostle Peter knew Ananias was lying and Luke writes that Ananias and his wife Sapphira were in collusion about the actual amount from the sale of the land.
Peter boldly confronted Ananias, telling him he had lied to God. “How is it that Satan has filled your heart so that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?”
Peter made it clear that Ananias was not under compulsion to do what he did. The money Ananias made from the land was his. He could have done with it what he wanted. But what Ananias said was they he was giving the full proceeds of the sale to the work of God — that he was ALL in.
And that was a lie.
Right then and there God struck Ananias dead. Acts 5:5 … read it for yourself. Wow.
Some young men were there in the room. Luke tells we readers that the young men picked up Ananias’ dead body and carried it out to be buried. I think it would be pretty fair to say that none of those present had ever seen anything remotely like this. Luke writes that everyone there was terrified by what happened. Stunned. Shocked. One can only imagine the chaos and fear that fell upon the place.
A few hours later, not knowing her husband was dead, Ananias’ wife (Sapphira) was summoned to come to the apostles and was asked about the proceeds from the land. Spokesperson Peter asked her, “Was this the price you got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said. But that was a lie. Her husband told it; now she repeated it.
Peter immediately confronted Sapphira, saying, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? … The men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
Suddenly Sapphira herself was struck dead — on the very spot where her husband died just hours earlier. Right then and there she was taken out and buried alongside her husband. Again, imagine the confusion and chaos. Were members of the fledgling church at the burial? What about the Jewish officials? or Roman officials? Some of them must have been. We can only imagine.
What a jaw-dropping account…
Did Ananias and Sapphira have a family? I’m sure they did. Children? Most people did. Siblings? I have no doubt. Friends? I’m sure. Like everyone else back then, they most likely lived in close community. In fact, Luke has just reported in his writing of Acts that the work of the Holy Spirit was so evident that everyone sold what they had and were sharing everything in common.
Ananias and Sapphira were part of this quickly growing Jesus community who were living in common community, and they apparently wanted to be part of the group who was “selling everything.”
Except they lied about their intentions. While it appeared they they, too, were willing to share everything in common, they actually weren’t.
So, lest any think the fragile fabric of trust between followers of Jesus was not crucial then or now, look at this story. Lest any think Jesus was kidding when he said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no,” look at this story. Lest any think that vulnerability and transparency are not a vital part of relationships in God’s kingdom, look at this story. Lest any think that truth-telling is not singularly vital for disciples of Jesus, look at this story.
Talk about the importance of doing everything possible to keep from tearing the always fragile fabric of trust. The ninth of the Ten Commandments is: “Do not lie.”
Is it any wonder that after telling this story, Luke writes: “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”