Question: "Why did God kill Ananias and Sapphira for lying?"
Answer: The story of Ananias and Sapphira is found in Acts 5, and it is a sad story, indeed. It actually begins at the end of chapter 4 with the description of the early church in Jerusalem, a group of believers so filled with the Holy Spirit that they were of one heart and one mind. Great power and grace were on the apostles, including Peter and John, who preached and taught and testified of the risen Savior. So knit together were the hearts of the people that they held all their possessions loosely and willingly shared them with one another, not because they were coerced, but because they loved one another. Those who sold land and houses gave the profits to the apostles, who distributed it to those in need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, sold a field and laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles who were the leaders of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 4:32-37).
Two of the members of this group were Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, who also had sold a field. But the profits from this sale were kept in part by the couple, and only a part was laid at the apostlesí feet by Ananias. This hypocritical show fooled no one, especially not Peter who was filled with the power of the Spirit. Peter knew instantly that Ananias was lying not to him, but to God and exposed his hypocrisy then and there. Ananias fell down and died (Acts 5:4). When Sapphira showed up, she, too, lied to Peter and to God, saying that they had donated the entire proceeds of the sale of the land to the church. When her lie had been exposed, she fell down and died at Peterís feet.
It has been speculated by some that these two deaths were from natural causes. Perhaps one of the two might have died from shock or guilt, but the fact that both fell down instantly and died indicates that God did indeed bring about their deaths. The question is why. Why would God kill two people for lying when there were much more grievous sins committed by the early Christians that went unpunished? Peter, for instance, had lied to several people about knowing Jesus the night before the crucifixion. Surely there were worse sins than lying about a piece of property.
Godís reasons for bringing about the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira involve His abhorrence of sin, the unbelief of the two people and the lesson for the rest of the church, both then and now. With the emphasis of the modern church on Godís love and mercy, how easy it can be to gloss over the holiness of God, to forget that He is righteous and pure and that He hates sin with every fiber of His being. This particular sin of hypocrisy and an attempt to deceive God shows the contempt with which Ananias and Sapphira viewed the nature and character of God. Further, they had no concept of the power of God to see their hearts. The Bible tells us that God hates liars, His anger burns against the wicked every day, and those who plot evil in their hearts will be destroyed in an instant (Proverbs 6:12-17; Psalm 7:11). It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:29, 31), especially for the man or woman who attempts to insult the Spirit of grace.
The drastic punishment of instant death also served to expose Ananias and Sapphira as unbelievers in the midst of the redeemed of God. Unlike the rest of the church, covetousness had filled their hearts, along with a desire for glory, so much so that they shamelessly displayed their religiosity. Their hidden sins manifested themselves in an ultimate act of hypocrisy. There was no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3:18), and their unbelief led them to completely misunderstand the power that had been evident in the apostlesí lives and teaching. Only a heart unredeemed by the Savior could prompt such behavior.
Finally, the sudden death of the two served to purify and warn the church. This awful act certainly impressed upon the church and the world the danger and guilt of hypocrisy. Jesus knew that religious hypocrisy would be one of the most insidious and deadly foes to the purity of the church (Matthew 23; Luke 12:1), and at the churchís very beginning, therefore, He set up this solemn warning to guard it and laid the bodies of Ananias and Sapphira in the path of every hypocrite that would enter the church. Furthermore, the apostles were just then establishing their authority in the church. They claimed to be under the influence of inspiration. To establish that, it was necessary to show that they could know the views and motives of those who became connected with the church. If the hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira succeeded in fooling the apostles, it would destroy their authority and their claim to infallibility. But if they showed that they could detect sin through the power of the Holy Spirit, even where most artfully concealed, it would establish the divine authority of their message. At the very start of their work, therefore, they gave this decisive and most awful proof that they were under the guidance of an infallible Teacher.
The sad story of Ananias and Sapphira is not some obscure incident from the Old Testament regarding a violation of the Mosaic Law. This occurred in the first-century church to professing believers in Jesus Christ. They sat under powerful preaching and teaching by those who had been with Jesus for three years and who were filled with the Spirit. But they proved to be tares among the wheat, and their story is a reminder to us today that God looks at our hearts, not our outward professions (1 Samuel 16:7), that He hates sin and will punish it, and that He is concerned for the purity of His church (1 Corinthians 11; 1 John 5).
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