While he was still in Jerusalem, Peter made a fearsome example of a man and his wife, Ananias and Sapphira, who “cooked the books” on a donation they made to the Apostles. They claimed that they sold a piece of property for a lower amount than they actually did and kept some of the profits for themselves. Peter says to the husband,
Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was
sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” (Acts. 5.3-4)
We note that Peter first says that Satan put the idea into his heart, and then he says that Ananias himself put it into his heart. When Ananias hears these words, he falls down and dies! Later on, when Sapphira comes by, Peter confronts her: “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” When she says yes, Peter rebukes her in harsh terms, but does not implicate Satan again: “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test (peirasmos)?” She too falls down and dies (Acts 5.7-10).
Wait a minute! Who’s putting whom to the test here? Peter’s question to Sapphira surely must be classed as a peirasmos, one that should be translated as “temptation,” since she fails the test. Moreover, like her husband, she is not given a chance to repent for what must surely be regarded as a peccadillo compared to Peter’s own failures—and to the failure and fall of Judas, to whom Ananias must be compared. The only other time that Satan was said to “penetrate” anyone was in the case of Judas, whom Satan entered, and he succumbed to a much greater temptation and committed a much more severe crime. But he had the opportunity to repent, when Jesus told him at the Last Supper that he was aware that he was betraying him, and when he discussed Satan’s temptations of the other Apostles.
As for Peter himself, Jesus warned Peter that Satan was going to test him, and that he would fail three times, by denying him. Yet even this was not enough for Jesus to write Peter off. (Luke rejected the episode in Mark and Matthew in which Jesus identified Peter with Satan for trying to turn him away from his coming suffering and death.)
In his treatment of Ananias and Sapphira, Peter is acting like Satan, and he is more draconian than Satan is allowed to be, since he miraculously arranges for the instant death of the two real-estate cheaters. Or, perhaps we should say that, since Peter diagnoses
Ananias’s offense as one of lying to the Holy Spirit, and “not to us, but to God,” that it is God Himself who takes these extreme measures.