The more I read Acts, the more compelling it is. I say this because here we see the first signs that the growth of the Church was pervasive, but it definitely wasn’t trouble free. There was persecution from without, and corruption from within.
From within we see the account of Ananias and his wife Sapphira testing and Holy Spirit by lying, and receiving swift judgment. Now, contrary to perhaps popular media opinion, this kind of swift judgment is quite rare in the Bible. Judgment is usually enacted against nations after long periods of time who have become hardened in their ways (Genesis 15:16 among others).
And from within we see the Hellenistic Greek speaking widows receiving different treatment that the native Palestinian Aramaic speaking ones. I’m reminded that the church is to be a single family. So yes, they share everything in common, and yes, they treat each other all with the same respect and love. Plus, this incident is a glaring hint to church leaders that two things are essential, giving people God’s Word and prayer.
So what I see here is Christ’s followers, his body, replacing the temple so that any blemishes become greatly magnified in view of God’s holiness. I think of the many vivid accounts of where seemingly minor violations in God’s eyes are fatal disasters: Achan’s plunder (Joshua 7), or Uzzah touching the Ark (2 Samuel 6:6-9), or Nadab and Abihu’s “unauthorized” fire (Leviticus 10). Luke shows that we aren’t simply to witness the healings, the calling authorities to account, the rapid growth and radical new living without the living God taking us seriously. Either the Creator-god is bringing about New Creation through the redemption Jesus one, or the Church is simply a pseudo-social club with Christian veneer.
Lying is a sin, and God takes sin seriously. To lie means to declare that don’t like the world the way it is, and so we’ll force others to see it like we want it to be, regardless of who gets hurt in the way. Lying a twisting of how God wants the world to be. For a Christian, lying means not trusting God to take care of you in his infinite wisdom.
And so far throughout Acts, we see so “as with Jesus, so with his people” (in regards to healing, teaching, etc.). The new temple is replacing the old temple, right under its nose (Solomon’s colonnade). God is at work, and it can’t be denied. Gamaliel had wise advice (which parallels Acts 5:38-39 and Luke 20:1-7 with its parallels), either this is a human thing, so it’ll fail, or else it’s from God and we’re risking fighting God (and needing the warning of Psalm 2). And this is still a vital question today for Christian claims. “Was Jesus from God, or a deluded fanatic?” “Are we (Christians) going to compromise our allegiance to our king by obeying human instructions that cut against the good news, or will we remain loyal, even to the point of risking civil disobedience?”
So I can understand the frustration of the temple authorities. This new movement isn’t fizzling out, but instead growing. And of course they’re wrong (I imagine them thinking), we all know forgiveness and repentance comes from the Temple, and these new people have the audacity to call us to repent?! I assume they were filled with a “zeal” or “righteous indignation” like Phineas (Numbers 25) or Elijah (1 Kings 18). And I get the feeling that in 5:28, they keep saying “this name” because they didn’t even want to utter Jesus (similar to how Buckeye fans will use the phrase “that state up north”…).
Now, a phrase in 5:20 struck me, “this new life.” At this point in time, it seems that no one knew what to call this new movement. Christianity (Messianism would be accurate as well) is centuries away, there’s one reference to “the way,” and here we see it called “this new life.” All fitting descriptions because the crux of the matter is identifying Jesus as the promised Messiah (5:42), and what that means for the world.