Many explain away the largest rummage sale in church history as being a leadership mistake made by the uneducated fishermen who were chosen for the task. ‘If only they knew what we know today about church organization’, some scoff. However, it seems that there is a more plausible reason why they sold all their possessions. They were following instructions.
Prior to Pentecost, the disciples had spent years with the Messiah before his crucifixion and had just spent forty days being educated about the coming kingdom (Acts 1:3).
During his earthly ministry Jesus taught multiple times to trade in your earthly possessions and concerns for heavenly treasures. In fact, it was a tenet of the teachings of Jesus that as long as believers would seek the kingdom and righteousness they would not have to worry about physical needs or possessions. After teaching the disciples to ‘take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on’ (Luke 12:22), Jesus says:
“Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.” – Luke 12:33
In Matthew, Jesus explains that if the disciples would ‘seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you’ (Matthew 6:33). Just as the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field, Jesus promised provision for the believers as they entered the kingdom. Since the kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:15), then they were instructed to sell all they had and give alms to invest in heavenly treasures.
When asked by a ruler what he should do to inherit eternal life, Jesus first responds with questions of righteousness. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. After the affirmative response, Jesus instructs him to seek the kingdom of God over earthly treasures:
“Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” – Luke 18:22
It was this teaching that was implemented when the believers at Pentecost were supernaturally empowered to keep the commandments and to walk in righteousness (Ezekiel 36:27).
A Measure of Righteousness
The importance of this doctrine among the Jewish believers is evidenced by the strict adherence to this standard of ‘not serving mammon’ (Matt 6:24). In Acts 5:1-5 an example is given of what happened when the Holy-Spirit filled believers did not sell all their possessions.
“Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.” – Acts 5:4-5
Ananias and Sapphira kept back part of the price of selling their land. Many today would scoff at the idea of selling all they had to share with their fellow believers, an extreme few would denounce someone for putting some savings into their retirement fund after donated a major portion of their possessions to the church. Meanwhile, Peter, empowered by the Holy Ghost recognized the hypocrisy of the couple at lying to the Holy Ghost and took their lives (Acts 5:3).
Prophecy promised to provide for the physical needs of believers as they entered into the kingdom. This is the reason they ‘… sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need’ (Acts 2:45).
Had the kingdom come, the group at Pentecost would’ve had supernatural provision much like Jesus had provided the fish and loaves to thousands during his ministry. However, a mystery dispensation was revealed from heaven to the apostle Paul.
The message was that the coming kingdom was postponed:
“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved…” – Romans 11:25-26a
The supernatural New Covenant provision eventually faded away as the dispensation of Grace was established. This is evidenced by the saints at Jerusalem who at first lacked nothing (Acts 4:34) eventually were considered ‘poor’ and in need of contribution by the Roman believers (Romans 15:26).
Today, Paul exhorts us not to sell our possessions to live with all things in common, but instead to ‘work with our own hands’ (1 Thess 4:11-12). For such an establishment would be near impossible without the supernatural empowerment of the New Covenant and the coming kingdom provisions. Believers today would be in doctrinal error and financial straits if they attempted to practice the doctrine of ‘selling all possessions’ in this dispensation.