WHY DID LYING CAUSE GOD TO STRIKE ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA DEAD?
by Shawn Brasseaux
What an excellent question, and thank you for asking. Let us study the Scriptures and see what they have to say about this very bizarre incident.
We should begin by reading the passage in question, Acts 5:1-11: “ 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.  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?  Whiles 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.  And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.  And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.  And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.  And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.  Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.  Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.  And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.”
Whenever we have a puzzling Bible passage, it is always wise to look for another Bible passage to explain it; that is, look for verses that read similarly, and one passage will illuminate another passage. A parallel passage that will shed light on our current topic is Luke 18:24-25: “ And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” This is the key to understanding why Ananias and Sapphira were judged so harshly.
The context of this passage (Luke 18:18-30; cf. Matthew 19:16-30) is that a “certain ruler” had previously asked Jesus Christ, “Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18; Matthew 19:16). Luke 18:19-21 continues, “ And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. [Jesus was asking him, “Are you calling Me ‘God?’” Modern versions water down this verse for obvious reasons.]  Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.  And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up” (cf. Matthew 19:17-20). (Note how law-keeping is related to soul salvation in Israel’s program, just as James 2:17-26 says.)
Let us return to Luke 18:24-25, but now read them in their context: “ Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.  And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.  And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
Our Lord Jesus commanded this wealthy ruler to sell all of his possessions and give (alms) to the poor. Why? And why did Jesus speak so negatively of being wealthy, warning His audience not to be rich (and instructing them to sell their possessions, too)?
In Luke 12:13-15, a man desired Jesus to speak with his brother, that he “divide the inheritance” with him. Christ replied, “Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? [And he said unto them,] Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” Jesus then spoke a parable, describing how a rich man wanted to demolish his barns and build larger ones to contain his many fruits and goods. This fool deceived himself into thinking he could now enjoy “the good life,” forgetting that he would perish, lose it all, and stand before God as an idolater. Jesus concluded, “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (verse 21).
Jesus then proceeded to tell His disciples not to worry about what they would eat, drink, or wear (verses 22-29). Verses 30-34 continue, “ For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.  But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
In the Four Gospels, Jesus told the Jews that selling all their possessions and giving to the poor was a sign that their heart, their hope, was in heaven. Those who ignored this command were signifying their unbelief. They did not care what Jesus said; they did not seek His Heavenly Father’s will. They were idolaters—money worshippers—and not worshippers of Father God and His Son Jesus Christ.
When Jesus spoke about giving up material riches and it being impossible for rich people to enter the kingdom of God, He had Israel’s prophetic program in mind. The book of Proverbs had already foretold: “Riches profit not in the day of wrath: but righteousness delivereth from death” (11:4). “Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the LORD’S wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy: for he shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land” (Zephaniah 1:18).
Once Israel’s Messiah, Jesus, arrived, her program was in its “last days” (Hebrews 1:2; cf. Acts 2:16-21; Joel 2:28-32; Luke 16:16; Matthew 3:7-12). After the outpouring of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2), the day of the LORD’S wrath, the seven-year Tribulation, was to begin. Then, the Antichrist, the false Messiah, would con Israel, and cause her to rest in a false peace policy. He would then manifest himself as satanic by implementing a tyrannical economic agenda: “ And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:  And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (Revelation 13:16-17).
Jesus knew that material riches would spiritually hinder and destroy His little flock, for they would be tempted to take the Antichrist’s mark and accept his name or number in order to retain their physical possessions. He even warned Israel’s believers not to be attached to material goods during the Tribulation period (Matthew 24:15-18; Mark 13:14-16). If they sold all they had, they would be guarded against materialism. However, those rich would value their possessions, and thus submit to the Antichrist.
Observe how Jesus’ audience responded to His words, “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:24-25). We read in verse 26 and following: “ And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved?  And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.  Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee.  And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake,  Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.”
Jesus’ audience did not comprehend that those who could be saved in Israel’s program were those who sold their possessions and gave to the poor. The rich, however, would be greedy, worshipping “mammon” (their material wealth; Matthew 6:24-34). They would fall into the snare of the Antichrist—and once they would accept his mark or worship him in order to keep the value of their possessions, the Bible says they would be damned to everlasting hellfire (Revelation 14:9-11).
The Apostle Peter, representing all members of Israel’s little flock, responded, “Lo, we have left all, and followed thee.” Jesus assured them that He knew that they had abandoned their houses, families, businesses, and so on, for the sake of God’s kingdom. He reassured them that they would receive “manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.” What did He mean? Though believing Jews had lost their flesh-and-blood family members, and their material possessions, they had gained many brothers and sisters and spiritual wealth in Christ. These Messianic Jews would behave like family now by taking care of each other’s physical needs.
Considering all of our previous comments, we can see why Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead when they were dishonest about their material wealth. Returning to Acts 5:1-11, we learn how they “sold a possession, and kept back part of the price” (verses 1-2). This was most serious indeed, as we will now delineate and summarize in the following observations:
- Ananias and Sapphira could not serve God and mammon: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). Ananias and Sapphira were money worshippers; they despised the God of the Bible. They had no respect for Jesus Christ’s words about selling their possessions and giving the money to the poor. They were breaking one of the requirements necessary to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:18-30; cf. Matthew 19:16-30).
- Ananias and Sapphira were laying up treasure for themselves, and they were not rich toward God. They had fallen into the trap of idolatry, materialism. What did we read in Luke 12:21, when Jesus commented about the rich man who wanted to tear down his barns and build larger ones to hold his additional goods? “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” Ananias and Sapphira had more interest in material goods than pleasing the God of the Bible.
- What had Jesus told the rich man? “Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22). Ananias and Sapphira refused to believe that to be true. They were more interested in having treasures on earth than acquiring treasures in heaven. In the words of Jesus, their heart (attitude, focus) was on earth and not in heaven. Luke 12:33-34: “ Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
- Acts 5:3-4 provides us with what was perhaps the most serious error of Ananias and Sapphira. The Apostle 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?  Whiles 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.” Ananias and Sapphira had not really lied to the apostles—ultimately, they had lied to God the Holy Ghost, the Person working in and through the Apostles. Later, when Sapphira was questioned about the matter, Peter asked her in verse 9, “How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord?” Ananias and Sapphira had “tempted” the Spirit of the Lord, the Holy Ghost. They had determined in their hearts not to follow the Lord Jesus’ earlier commands about selling all they had and giving that money away. Ananias and Sapphira not only lied, but they purposed to cheat God and see how He would respond, a most serious matter. Thus, God struck Ananias and Sapphira dead right there on the spot.
Here are some interesting side-notes worthy of our consideration, especially in light of how we relate to this incident of Ananias and Sapphira.
While some teach that Jesus did not literally mean “sell that ye have, and give alms” (Luke 12:33), that His language was figurative (“sell out for Me”), His audience took Him literally. They actually sold their possessions and had all things common in Acts 2:44-47 and Acts 4:32-37. Hence, Peter declared to the lame beggar, “Silver and gold have I none!” (Acts 3:6; cf. Matthew 10:9). The Jerusalem saints pooled all their wealth together and lived for each other’s benefit, just as Jesus instructed, while those Jews who did not have their heart in heaven simply ignored Jesus.
Jesus literally meant for His Jewish disciples to sell their physical possessions; Ananias and his wife Sapphira were a tragic example of those who disregarded Jesus’ literal words. Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Ghost and did not relinquish all of their wealth—remember, it was so serious that God actually struck them dead (Acts 5:1-11). They were money worshippers, idolaters, and they were indicating they wanted to remain a part of Satan’s world system, they preferred false gods instead of the true God. Had the Antichrist shown up in early Acts, and had our dispensation not postponed Israel’s program, Ananias and Sapphira would have most likely followed the Antichrist!
Later, when a great famine troubled the whole then-known world (Acts 11:28), and because there was no interest associated with the common account, the Jerusalem Messianic Jews grew poorer. Moreover, their kingdom program and their kingdom prosperity were delayed (since God had just instated our Dispensation of Grace). Thus, Paul’s Gentile converts repeatedly sent financial relief to these poor Jerusalem saints (Acts 11:28-30; Romans 15:25-28; 1 Corinthians 16:1-3; Galatians 2:10).
Therefore, dispensational Bible study is important. God’s Word to us—Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon—never instructs us to sell all our possessions and share one bank account. We are expected to work in order to eat (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; cf. Ephesians 4:28; 1 Timothy 5:8). Still, the Apostle Paul also warned about loving and worshipping material goods, for “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:3-19). While it is not a sin to be materially rich or poor in this the Dispensation of Grace, let us remember that we in Christ are—and always will be—spiritually rich in Christ (Romans 8:32; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Ephesians 1:3; Philippians 4:19).