What does Acts 5 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
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).
Verse Context:
Acts 5:1–11 contains the unfortunate story of Ananias and Sapphira. While the story of Peter and John's arrest by the Sadducees shows the beginning of problems outside the church (Acts 4), the account of Ananias and Sapphira reveals issues inside the church. As people listen to the witness of the apostles and come to a saving faith in Jesus, they donate what they have so that everyone in the church has what they need (Acts 4:32–37). Ananias and Sapphira want to join the wave of altruism, but not completely. God loves generosity, but not shallow performances which attempts to make a fool of Him and His people.
Acts 5:12–16 gives a short update of the state of the early church in Jerusalem. The first chapters of Acts alternate between highlights of the activities of the apostles and short summaries of indefinite periods of time. As in Acts 2:43–47 and Acts 4:32–35, Luke glosses over the events here. People are a little leery because of Peter and John's arrest by the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:1–22) and God's immediate judgment of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11), but both the miracles and the message are irresistible. Even more people come to saving faith in Jesus.
Acts 5:17–26 occurs after the chief priests arrested Peter and John for preaching and healing in Jesus' name, and ordered them not to do so again (Acts 4:1–22). Now, all the apostles are healing and preaching in Jesus' name (Acts 5:12–16), and so the priests arrest them all. At this point, the Sanhedrin is still afraid of the people (Acts 5:26); after all, the apostles are so powerful the people believe even Peter's shadow can heal the sick (Acts 5:15). Soon, the council will get bolder. A mob will kill Stephen (Acts 7:54–60), and then a Pharisee named Saul will help the council drive almost all the Jesus-followers out of Jerusalem (Acts 8:1–3).
Acts 5:27–42 occurs in the aftermath of a miraculous jailbreak. The chief priests arrested the apostles for teaching and healing in Jesus' name (Acts 5:17–18). On the morning of the inquiry, the guards find the prison cells empty and the apostles, again, preaching in the temple courtyard (Acts 5:22, 25). The guards bring the apostles back, and the Sanhedrin questions them. When the apostles insist Jesus is alive, the priests want them killed. But a Pharisee, Gamaliel, calms the situation. The Sanhedrin do flog the apostles before releasing them, starting the long history of physical persecution against Christ-followers. Verse 29 is a cornerstone of Christian ethics: that God's will is worth suffering for.
Chapter Summary:
The apostles continue to make hard decisions in the name of Jesus, both inside and outside the church. When Ananias and Sapphira lie to God, the Holy Spirit inspires Peter to pronounce God's judgment on them, protecting the church from the love of the world. Despite the Sanhedrin's watchful eye—and direct orders (Acts 4:17–18)—the apostles continue to preach and heal openly. The guards arrest the apostles, but the Sanhedrin settles for beating them instead of capital punishment. The apostles consider it an honor to suffer on behalf of their Savior.
Chapter Context:
In Acts 5, persecution from unbelievers begins to accelerate. The Sanhedrin has become aware the apostles teach that Jesus rose from the dead (Acts 4). Now, they start to push back in earnest, arresting and beating the apostles. Soon, a mob will kill Stephen, a deacon (Acts 7:54–60), and the Sanhedrin will empower Saul to run down and arrest any Jesus-follower he can find (Acts 8:1–3). The apostles will stay in Jerusalem. Other Jesus-followers will carry His offer of forgiveness and reconciliation with God into the Roman Empire and beyond. The apostles' faithfulness and submission to the Holy Spirit is why we have the gospel message today.
Book Summary:
The summary of the book of Acts is provided in Jesus' words in Acts 1:8: ''But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'' In Acts 2:1–13, the Christ-followers receive the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:14—7:60 describes the rapid growth of the church in Jerusalem. Chapters 8—12 find Jewish persecution inadvertently spreading the gospel throughout Judea and Samaria. And in chapters 13—28, Paul and his companions spread the good news throughout the Roman Empire.
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