But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. (James 1:14-15)

The structure of God’s work in the world finds its origin in His trinity: Word, Sacrament, Government (Discipline). Often in the prophets, the man of God is given a sign which is a type of a greater event to come. The prophet is the sacrament that mediates the Word of discipline to the People.

A few Old Testament examples stand out in my memory: the slavery of Joseph and the slavery of the Hebrews; the kingly upbringing, rejection, exodus and exaltation of Moses as Head, as qualification to take the “Body of Moses” through the same process; the promise of a son to the prophetess in Isaiah 7, whose childhood food would be the food of a nation ravaged by its lack of discernment; Ezekiel’s crazy antics that would be fulfilled in tragic history; and James Jordan’s very interesting applications of Daniel’s prophecies to Daniel’s own life in microcosm, as a sign of the future of his people. [1]

The examples of this process in the New Testament are most interesting, and mostly overlooked. There is, of course, Judas, who is exiled from the supper as the “second goat,” and whose fate is a sign for all Judah. [2] And the death and resurrection of Jesus as head, and the subsequent death of Israel and her resurrection as the completed Jew-Gentile Christian church.

The fate of Ananias and Sapphira is a sign that looks both backward and forward. The passage has two cycles, one for the Head (Ananias) and one for the Body (Sapphira). Between them, there is an ominous space of three hours.

We can see that the sin of this couple echoes that of Ahab’s and Jezebel’s murder of Naboth for his land. But this New Testament couple didn’t murder anyone. The sin against Naboth is what the sin in Acts 4 grows into if left unchecked, which is exactly what we see in the previously mentioned case of Judas and Judah. Garden sins grow into Land sins and then into World sins, at which point God brings a flood. [3]

No, their sin was deception of the church, those gathered by the Holy Ghost. Peter states clearly that Ananias had the power of judgment over his own money (and the structure of Peter’s speech puts the man at the centre as a “governing light”). Ananias’ death is the application of a New Covenant sanction. For him there was no Covenant succession. And, of course, the testing of Sapphira follows the same pattern. This couple was chosen, like Judas, to be an example for all those who would smuggle the leaven of a corrupted Old Covenant into Jesus’ New House.

So, two cycles, then the passage as a whole follows the Totus Christus head-and-body structure. The fact that they are delineated as separate events—husband and wife—suggests to me that this story is the “Day of Atonement” step of a larger pattern (see Totus Christus p. 387). Why?

We see the same thing in the life of Abraham, in his third “cycle.” He entered the Promised Land twice, briefly: once to offer Isaac and again to bury Sarah. He made the same two approaches as the High Priest on the Day of Atonement: once to cover the Head (the priesthood: bull’s blood) and once to cover the Body (the people: goat’s blood). This might seem arbitrary, but the structure makes it plain.

We see the same thing, of course, in Adam and Eve. Except that we don’t. The lack of capital punishment as a Covenant Sanction is a handy foil for those who believe that the death promised was only “spiritual death” (so they can cram their evolutionary Creation-by-death fantasies into Genesis). Adam and Eve were spared. Substitutionary animals were slain to cover their sin.

So, what’s the deal with the Adam, Eve, and serpent conspiracy in Acts 5? This was a New Creation, and such sins were going to be cut off at the source. Abraham entered the Land twice, and, as a kind of High Priest, survived in the Most Holy. Ananias and Sapphira sinned concerning the true Land, the heavenly country.

In his Revelation lectures, Jordan observes that all the sins which Jesus judges in the letters to the seven pastors are then shown to be full-grown in Herodian state worship. The “Balaamites” are false prophets and “Jezebel” is the church’s spiritual harlot. He calls the pastors, like Peter, to nip the sins in the bud. [4] As mentioned earlier, the conspiracy of Judas was amplified in the Jewish polity until the Man of Sin (as Ananias) and the Harlot (as Sapphira) were institutional sins that had reached an ugly maturity. The seven bowls in Revelation are the Day of Atonement. [5]

How are we doing reading the signs—both positive and negative—in our own lives, in the lives of the Christians we disciple (including our children), and the churches we pastor? The wisest of us read them in the Word (and in other people’s lives) and obey early, then develop holy lives (Sacrament), and live to become godly elders (Government). Many of us, however, wait until our disobedience begins to take on a life of its own (flesh: anti-Sacrament) before we act. And apostates keep at it until God brings a sword (Government) and they drop dead.

Ananias and Sapphira were a sign for those Jews who had tasted the Word of God and become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and would yet fall away. [6] They were also a sign to those who would take communion unworthily, which is an act of lying to the people of God and the Holy Spirit, concerning unconfessed sin, ie. “I have judged myself wisely, and need not to be judged.”


[1] See James B. Jordan, The Handwriting on the Wall.
[2] See Fool’s Gold.
[3] See Trinitarian Judgments.
[4] See The Eighth Letter.
[5] See Seven Bowls of Wrath.
[6] Please note that, unlike many, I do not believe these people lost their salvation (if they were truly saved). The destruction referred to was the Jewish war, which is the context of the warnings in the Book of Hebrews.

PS: I’m taking a week off from blogging, so catch you on the 26th.

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