Sometimes believers mistakenly conclude that God is stricter and more swift to bring judgment in the Old Testament era than He is in the New. This is, in part, an understandable conclusion. There is a sense in which God’s judgments seem to be suspended on account of the atoning death of Jesus. One might even go so far as to make the argument that common grace flows globally in the New Covenant era–more so than it even did in the Old–since God is sending the message of the Gospel to the nations in these last days. However, there is another sense in which the Scriptures clearly teach that, right now, “judgment begins with the household of God” and that “our God is a consuming fire.” We see these principles clearly worked out when we come to the account of Ananias and Sapphira, the two church members who God struck dead–not long after Pentecost and the founding of the New Covenant church–for lying about the sale of a piece of land. Why has the Holy Spirit seen fit to leave us this account? Very simply, Scripture teaches us that it only takes one individual or couple to spoil the purity of the church. If Ananias and Sapphira had been allowed to continue in their hypocrisy, it would have spread like wildfire throughout the church.
In his Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, Michael Baumgarten explained the nature of Ananias and Sapphira’s sin and the rationale for God’s judgment on it, when he wrote:
“It is therefore nothing less than hypocrisy, that leaven of the Pharisees (Luke 12:1), which here comes across us in the community. Had this impurity found free course and play it would have corrupted the holiness of the whole body (1 Cor. 5:6). But at the very moment when the vice of hypocrisy seeks to carry out its object, and becomes manifest, it is seized and ejected.
…The nature of this crime he twice declares to be a lie (vv. 3, 4)…In the present case, besides the enormity of the lie, which even of itself leads us to look for its source in the Father of lies (John 8:44), there is the additional circumstance, that this iniquity is the first instance of evil detected within this sainted circle. Just as in Paradise, it was from none but the evil one himself that sin could have come upon Adam and his wife, so in the present case it must have been precisely the same tempter who instigated Ananias and his wife, so that at the very time that they pretend to be full of the Holy Ghost, they are discovered to be in fact full of the spirit of evil (ver. 3).
…The wonderful effects which in this case followed the judicial sentence, was intended to make it clear to all succeeding ages, that it is associated with full and sufficient power.
…The holiness of the community was that which essentially was revealed in the retribution upon Ananias and Sapphira. The community had in this case shown itself as it were the sacred fire of the altar, which broke forth and consumed everything impure (Leviticus 10:1—10). The community as a whole had scarcely been aware of that extent of its own holiness, which was shown in this event. On this account they themselves cannot but feel fear; not to mention the terror which must have seized those who stood without and heard of such holy rigor.”
It only take one individual or one couple, living in unrepentant hypocrisy, to spread hypocrisy and defile the purity of the church. While we may not see such judgments on a regular basis today, it would do us good to take to heart the fact that God is more serious about His church than we can ever begin to imagine. This should lead us to examine our hearts and cry out to God. We should be asking ourselves what motivates our interactions and activity in the local assembly. Are we living sincere Christian lives in the home and the church? Or, are we pretending to be someone that we are not in order to gain the praise and approval of men–without any real love in our hearts to Christ? God is not mocked. “Whatever a man sows, that will he also reap.”