"The Death of Sapphira" by Nicolas Poussin, 1652 (The Louvre, Paris)

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a member of CBC:

“I was reading Act 5:1-11 last night (Ananias & Saphira) and am very confused about why God would make a judgment of death upon them after Jesus had died on the cross (atoning for all our sins).
Hasn’t Jesus died once and for all and taken the punishment for us (they seemed to have been believers)? Are unrepentent hearts judged by God immediately or upon death?
Do you have any insight into this passage?”

When I was a college we were very keen to pray that God would use us in the ways described in the Book of Acts. However, when we came to this passage, we were a little hesitant about praying for this gift – we called it the “Ministry of Judicial Death”. Probably not a gift to be sought too lightly! Anyway, below is my anser to the email query. I hope it is of some interest to you too.
In reading the story we have to ask the question (for which there is no absolute answer) – were A & S genuine Christians? We then need to ask, if they were still Christians, did their death remove them from God’s kingdom? (Once again, we can’t reach a definitive conclusion).
 
A few thoughts:
 
God’s desire in both Old & New Testaments was to have a people in the earth who would be a light to the world – e.g. Isaiah 42 and Matthew 5:14. The Jews were meant to live differently because YHWH was their God. The church is meant to live differently because we have been bought by Christ.
In the OT, God resorted to some ‘radical surgery’ to seek the purity of Israel. In Numbers 14 God declares that of those wandering in the desert, only Joshua & Caleb will see the promised land – the rest will die in the desert. In Numbers 15  God says a man must die for breaking the Sabbath. In Numbers 16 three men who rebel against Moses are swallowed up by the ground.
Each of these events (and many others like them in the OT) are about removing parts of the body (of Israel) that are likely to infect the rest and lead it further away from following the LORD. Whether the removal of people by death has any affect on the ‘salvation’ of the individuals concerned, we can’t say. They will be judged in the same way as the rest of us.
 
Acts 5 stands in this tradition – it would be a familiar kind of event to the Jewish Christians – they would remember those above. Ananias & Sapphira were lying in the church, and helping to infect the infant church with deception about money (a problem that has plagued the church for 2000 years) – and in this time of revival, God through Peter, took some drastic action to deal with an action which it seems was inspired by Satan (Acts 5:3). It was radical surgery to help to keep the church pure – and being a shining light to the Jewish and Pagan worlds that it was growing in. This is part of the cosmic struggle for the ‘heart’ of the Christian community – a struggle between the Holy Spirit and Satan – one which unfortunately has often been won by Satan.
 
Does this mean that Ananias and Sapphira were lost/damned? We don’t know – but not necessarily. This one sin does not mean that they ‘lost their salvation’ – but God thought is necessary to remove them from the scene to keep the church pure. Sometimes you need to amputate a leg infected with gangrene to save the rest of the body.
 
Some have suggested that this is what God was doing with William Branham

. He had an extraordinary miraculous ministry earlier in the 20th century. Thousands were remarkably healed, tens of thousands converted and many churches planted. Later in life his teaching became bonkers – he believed he was Elijah among other things. His car was hit in 1965, and he was mortally injured. He was able to crawl around and pray for the recovery of all the other occupants (they all survived) – but he died 6 days later. Some have suggested that although Branham is ‘saved’, God removed him to stop him causing any more damage to the church. Whether this is true or not – you get the principle.
 
Is this any help?
 
Glad you are reading and asking questions – not just skipping over stuff. Fantastic.
 
Love in Him,
 
Matt

One Comment, RSS

  • Mrs Gus

    says on:
    February 10, 2011 at 12:11 am

    how weird…we were talking about this passage in cell tonight and I made the same point. It all seems a bit OT, considering Jesus had died for our sins and gifted us with grace. You make some good points…but it’s still a little fuzzy in my mind and more than a little frightening. Lots to think about.

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