Much to their misfortune, Ananias and his wife Shappira were struck down by God, actually they collasped. We can only speculate that this particular story was included in Acts 5:1-11 to better understand the power of the “Holy Spirit” in the formation of the early church. Lets begin with a preview into the events leading to my response: Jesus’ last instuctions to his remaining disciples, also called apostles, before ascending into heaven, was not to leave Jerusalem until they were baptized with the “Holy Spirit.”
On the day of “Pentecost,” the disciples, were empowered with “tongues as if of fire” (chapter 2v3). With Peter, as the major spokesman for the group, they boldly proclaimed that Jesus was authentically who he said he was. The people must repent and be converted so that their sins may be blotted out (3:19-21). It wasn’t just heresay, they were witnesses to their statements about his death, resurrection and ascension. Many believed and the early church numbers grew rapidly, Sadly, the disciples had to deal with the same hard-hearted folks, the Pharisees (a religious sect) who demanded that Jesus be crucified and most recently forbidding that the apostles stop talking about “Jesus.”
Getting rid of Jesus did not put an end to this nonsense, now they were faced with this group or movement, that insighted the people even more. Many sold their possesions(land, cattle, etc) and gave to the ministry. It wasn’t a prerequiste because many followers were poor, disabled, it didn’t matter, for everyone who joined were taken care according to their specific needs. A “great grace was upon them (4:33),” God’s spirit was among the believers and there was no rich or poor, everyone enjoyed the same social status. This was not so throughout Jerusalem, some gave for vain purposes, to be recognized as “big givers,” and attaining great social status. An illustration of how business was done within the believers’ congregation is given at the end of chapter 4; in summary: a certain man sold his possessions and gave the entire proceeds to the church’s treasury, quite contrary to the tragic outcome in the next chapter.
Ananias and Shappira probably contemplated joining the movement and came up with a scheme to get both status and a little something for themselves on the side. In today’s society this may not be considered a bad move, but their scheme became a “scam” when they agreed to tell the apostles a downright lie about the amount that they sold the land. After selling the land, and taking their cut (an undisclosed amount), Ananias took the rest of the money, laid it at the apostles’ feet, and lied about the amount.
Their troubles were only beginning. Peter, who immediately knew Ananias lied asked, in essence: why did Ananias let Satan enter his heart and make him not only try to fool mere man but to have the audacity to try to fool God? What could he have been thinking? Wasn’t the land his to do with as he pleased? Wasn’t the money also his to do with as he pleased after the sale of the land? But to come before them and lie about the amount was inexcusable! Ananias was caught “with his hands in the cookie jar” so to speak. What could he say or do that would change things? He heard the accusation against him, collasped and died.
A great fear came upon those who witnessed these things and some of the stunned, scared young men took him away and buried him. Three hours later Shappira who is unaware of her husband’s misfortune, meets with Peter who asks her about the amount of money that Ananias had contributed. She tells him that it’s the correct amount (she’d probably reheresed this over and over). Peter was probably more disappointed than angry at them. The amount of money wasn’t the issue, it was the boldface lie that they told. His words to her: “how could both of you conspire to come up with this ridiculous scheme to test the ‘Spirit of the Lord?’ You tried to deceive God. Your husband is dead because of what you two have done and just like him, you too will die.” Hearing this she collasped and died on the spot and the same men, who are even more perplexed by her death, buried her next to her husband.
They were not given the opportunity to plead their case, they didn’t live to tell their story. Their attempt at fraud was exposed but they never took into consideration what would happen if their plan didn’t work? They did get the exposure they may have desired, they died in front of whole congregation, as a lesson to anyone who attempts to dare “Decieve the Living God.”