The Birth and Death of Humanity Has Happened Twice Before
Both times God created humanity, death ruined the party.
In Genesis 4, the very next chapter after sin entered human experience, murder follows closely at its heels.
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
This is the very first record of conflict between farmers and ranchers, and as a product of rural Texas I can tell you that this curse continues today. Cain, a farmer, brought an offering to God that he rejected. Abel, a rancher, brought an offering that was accepted. Then Cain dealt poorly with his jealousy, and the rest is history. You can read the whole story in Gen. 4:1-12.
Something similar happened after God created the church. It’s recorded in Acts 4:36-5:11. First, a guy named Joseph makes an offering. He sells a field and brought the proceeds to the leaders of the fledgling Jesus movement to help care for its needy members. Then in the very next verse, a couple named Ananias and Sapphira also sell a field and bring part of the proceeds to the church. The text makes it clear that they acted deceptively to make it seem like they were offering the entire sale price when actually they had kept some for themselves.
Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”
When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
What do these two passages have to do with each other? Let’s look for parallels.
- First, in both stories, there are two offerings: one accepted and one rejected. We aren’t absolutely sure why Cain’s offering was rejected, but it likely had something to do with the heart of the worshipper. We are told that Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock,” but Cain simply brought “some of” his harvest. Does this foreshadow the actions of Ananias and Sapphira — lesser offering made from a more selfish heart?
- In both cases, the misguided offering leads to death.
- Both deaths are fueled by jealousy — the first by a jealous brother, the second by a jealous God.
- Both involve a field.
- Both stories include reference to Satan, an expert in deception and death.
- Both come immediately after a creation story. Genesis 4 happens immediately after the creation of the world. Acts 5 happens after the birth of the church which, Paul says later, is meant to be “one new humanity” made up of “new creations.”
But there’s one more parallel that intrigues me: both include a lesson about community.
After committing the world’s first murder, Cain is confronted by God and offers a dismissive and iconic defense:
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
In the verses immediately preceding the Acts offerings, we get this passage:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
Just as the creation of one new humanity was God’s reparation for the sins of Genesis 3 and 4, so in Acts we see that the early believers were, indeed, their brothers’ keepers.
God has created humanity twice, and both times have been darkened by the shadow of death. And now we await the third creation, the recreation, the renewal of all things, after which, "God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death…’"