At this point in the beginning of the church, there was great unity of faith, spirit and purpose among the new disciples. Many were long distances from their homes and began to deplete their resources. Those who had possessions sold them in order to share with those who were needy. Among the ones sharing their wealth was a man named Barnabas, who sold his land and brought the money and gave it to the apostles.
Unfortunately, when good works are being performed, there are some who seek the praise of men. These sales of property were voluntary and no one was required to give any certain portion.
Ananias and his wife Sapphira conspired among themselves to sell a possession and keep back part of the price while reporting that they had given all of it to the apostles. They were each struck dead because they had lied to the Holy Spirit about their intentions. This example of the wrath of God brought great fear upon all the church.
The popularity of the church and the apostles continued to spread and many sick people were brought to be healed. Multitudes of believers, both men and women were being added to the Lord. People from surrounding cities also came to be healed.
This was too much for the high priest and the other Sadducees. They saw the vast number of people who believed in the resurrection of Jesus as taught by the apostles. At this time, they put not just Peter and John, but all of the apostles in prison because of their teaching.
The high priest called the council together the next morning and sent for the apostles to be brought to appear before them.
There was a big problem. They were not in the prison. Instead, the apostles were in the temple teaching the people. An angel of the Lord had opened the doors of the prison that night and had brought them out. The guards did not even know they had been released.
When the captain and officers had brought the apostles from the temple to the council, the high priest reminded them that they had been commanded not to teach in this name.
Peter and the other apostles reminded him that they were to obey God instead of men and that God had raised up Jesus from the dead, whom they had murdered.
Gamaliel, one of the council members and also a teacher of the law, called for a private meeting of the council. He mentioned men who had made great claims and had many followers who had been destroyed. Gamaliel reasoned that if these things were of men, they would also come to nothing, but if they were from God, they could not fight against God.
After beating and warning the apostles, the council released them instead of putting them to death. But, “Daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”
First-century women were not respected very highly socially. They were greatly dependent upon the men in their lives for their care. Widows sometimes became very neglected and poor.
This became evident in the early church. A group of widows of Greek descent were being overlooked in the daily distribution of the common funds that had been raised through the selling of property.
When this was brought to the attention of the apostles, they realized that to oversee this problem and others like it would reduce the amount of time they had to preach the gospel.
As a remedy to this dilemma, the apostles instructed the church to select seven men to care for these material needs of the church. These men had a good reputation among the disciples and also among outsiders of the church. Their lives showed that they were full of the works of the Spirit and were men of wisdom.
The men chosen were Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas. The name deacon is not used here, but a careful study reveals the similarity of this work with the work of deacons recorded later in the church.
With this problem solved, the church continued to grow and flourish in Jerusalem and even many of the priests were obedient to the faith.
As we continue through Acts, the apostle Paul to be appointed later, with his writings and struggles will become the main emphasis of our study. Later, we shall study the writings of some of the other inspired authors.