Acts chapter 5

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What does Acts chapter 5 mean?

The book of Acts is the story of submission, by Jesus' witnesses, to the Holy Spirit and the work He accomplishes as a result. In very short order, the Holy Spirit used two apostles to join well over five thousand people into the church (Acts 4:4). The church will grow as members obediently take the good news about Jesus out of Jerusalem and into Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest reaches of the world (Acts 1:8). They will encounter many different reactions as they build the early church. Chapter 5 reveals what a dynamic experience this can be.

First is the story of Peter submitting to God's leading, to declare judgment upon two self-identified Christians who disobey. In keeping with the community described in Acts 4:32–37, church-goers Ananias and Sapphira sell a piece of land, keep part of the profits, and donate the rest to the church. Unfortunately, they feel the need to insist that the money represents the entire proceeds of the sale. The Holy Spirit tasks Peter with pronouncing God's judgment on them. The judgment is not because they were obligated to give more, but because they lied about what they gave. That represents dishonesty towards the church, and an attempt to lie to God. The text doesn't explain Ananias and Sapphira's motivation, but they clearly are more concerned with looking good than being good (Acts 5:1–11).

The next section records some of the work the Holy Spirit accomplishes through those who submit to God. Despite the order the Sanhedrin gave to Peter and John (Acts 4:17–18), the apostles continue to preach freely on the temple mount. Their ability to perform signs and wonders increases as the Holy Spirit empowers them to heal and cast out demons. Some people even believe, possibly in pure superstition, that Peter's shadow can heal! More people join the church, and even those who don't believe continue to respect what the apostles are doing (Act 5:12–16).

In some situations, the Holy Spirit protects those who submit to Him from those who don't. The response of the people again draws the attention of the Sanhedrin. It especially irks those members who do not accept the resurrection of the dead, particularly the resurrection of Jesus. The priests arrest the apostles and imprison them, but an angel comes in the night and releases them. The guard wakes up the next morning to find the cells empty and the "prisoners" again preaching at the temple (Acts 5:17–26).

In the final story, the tables of power seem to turn as those who refuse to submit to the Holy Spirit commit violence against those who do. The Sanhedrin brings the apostles to trial. Peter declares a cornerstone concept of Christian ethics: believers must obey God, not earthly authorities. The jealous priests fly into a rage and threaten to kill the upstarts. Gamaliel, a Pharisee who has no problem with the resurrection of the dead, calms them, reminding them that if God is not for these Jesus-followers, God will deal with them. The Sanhedrin capitulates, but beats the apostles for good measure. The apostles consider the judgment affirmation that they are rightly serving Jesus who died for them (Acts 5:27–42).

The apostles consider submission to God the right thing to do even if the Holy Spirit leads them to do or experience hard things. Where once they sought fame and glory (Mark 10:35–37), now they follow their Master to humiliation and even death. Earthly things like reputation, safety, and beatings are secondary to those who value sanctification and eternal life (Romans 6:22).
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