The rapid growth of the church in Jerusalem after Peter began preaching the gospel made it especially vulnerable to chaos and confusion. An unusual aspect of this large congregation was that they shared all their resources. It says in Acts 4:32, “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common.” Based on the number of reported conversions (Acts 2:41, 4:4), there may have been as many as 10,000 believers joined together in a communal living situation. Luke’s notation that the believers were “of one heart and one soul” meant that they were united spiritually. There was an inner connection that made these believers think and act as if they were a single entity, something the Apostle Paul referred to as “the body of Christ” (Romans 7:4).
Even though the believers in Jerusalem shared an unusual experience of intimate fellowship, they were not free from conflict or relationship problems. Luke reported an incident where a couple tried to deceive people into thinking they were joined with everyone else, but were actually living a lie. It says in Acts 4:34-5:4:
Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need…But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
The pressure to conform to everyone else’s standard may have made Ananias and his wife Sapphira vulnerable to Satan’s influence. Although there was no expectation for this couple to cooperate with the collection of resources, they seemed to feel it was necessary for them to sell their property and at least pretend to give all their money away.
The discipline that was used to correct the situation may have been perceived to be a harsh judgment from God, but it’s likely that is was necessary to correct the situation in such a way that it would send a strong message to those that wanted to take advantage of the generosity of others that God wasn’t going to allow his church to be corrupted by Satan’s influence. After Peter exposed Ananias’ lie, it says in Acts 5:5, “And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.”