"I am Yahshua, whom you are persecuting." Those words burned right into the soul of the man who would later be called the Apostle Paul. The revelation he gained in that moment permeated everything he taught and wrote to the churches for the rest of his life. Paul's foundational understanding about the church (that is, the communities where all who believe live together and have all things in common1), was that it is the very Body of Messiah on earth, and that Yahshua, who is in heaven, takes total identity with His body on earth. That means that whatever anyone does to His body on earth, he does to Yahshua, who is in heaven.2
Just as Yahshua, when He walked the earth, was the visible image of the invisible God,3 so was His body on earth, as described in the book of Acts, after the church was born on the day of Pentecost:
All who believed were together and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple courts, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their meals together with gladness and simplicity of heart. (Acts 2:44-46)
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:32-35)
These houses full of disciples dwelling together in unity were the very households that Paul had ravaged in his rampage against the church:
But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. (Acts 8:3)
Note that Paul did not have to wait for them at the synagogue on the Sabbath, or at church on Sunday, as he would have to do today if he wanted to persecute Jews or Christians. Everyone knew where the disciples lived, for their life together was quite distinct from the surrounding world. So Paul knew just where to find them any day of the week. They lived together, worked together, worshiped together -- they were always together, and people noticed them. And it irked some people, especially the religious leaders. They knew deep inside (whether they were willing to admit it or not) that the life of love and unity they were witnessing was what God required of them also, but was beyond their reach.
That voice in his conscience was the "goad" Paul had to kick against4 every time he encountered the love and peace of the disciples in the face of his brutal treatment. They were like Messiah Himself, turning the other cheek, willing to suffer for His sake, that the witness of their sacrificial lives could soften the stony hearts of any who were willing to do the Father's will. Such a one was Paul. He was pierced to the heart when it dawned on him that by persecuting the disciples of Yahshua he was persecuting the long-awaited Messiah, sent to deliver Israel from their sins. The blindness that struck him drove home the point that he had been one of those blind leaders of the blind, who claimed to see, therefore his guilt would have remained on him eternally5 if Yahshua Himself had not shown him mercy by giving him this opportunity to repent.
And repent he did, utterly forsaking everything to follow Yahshua -- not only his material possessions, but also his former religious beliefs, credentials, and ambitions.6 Then, for the rest of his life, he taught the churches the deep significance of the Body of Messiah, which he called "the mystery hidden for ages and generations."7
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul compares the Body of Messiah to the human body, laboring the point that every part is necessary and none can function independently from the rest. Every member is a full-time participant in the functioning of the Body, receiving its direction from the head, and working in harmony with all of the other members. There is no member of the Body that has its own independent source of inspiration that directs it to function independently from or in conflict with the other members of the Body.
In fact, there are works prepared for every member of the Body of Messiah to walk in:
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
Literally, the Greek phrase translated "walk in them" means to spend one's life in doing them. So a disciple's full-time occupation is to do the works prepared for him in order to build up the Body of Messiah, as Paul described later in his letter to the Ephesians when he spoke of the gifts of leadership:
And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of service, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)
There is no time in a disciple's life to do anything merely for his own benefit, just as no part of the human body lives for or by itself. Every bodily function is for the benefit of the entire body, and is coordinated by the signals emanating from the head through a network of nerves. So it is with the Body of Messiah. Direction for its members comes from the head, who is Yahshua, through the delegated authority and gifting of the leaders in every place where His Spirit dwells. This is true as long as every member is:
... holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. (Colossians 2:19)
Get the picture? The human body is a magnificent creation, but it pales in significance when compared to what our Creator has in mind for the Body of Messiah.8 You can get a glimpse of it in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, just after he writes about the works prepared for each and every disciple to spend his life in doing. In fact, it is the culmination of those collective works:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20-22)
Here Paul uses the analogy of a building rather than the human body, to make the connection to the temple of old Israel, which in all its grandeur was still merely a type looking forward prophetically to the day when God's eternal dwelling place -- the Body of Messiah -- would be established on the earth.
God has always desired to dwell in humanity, but He cannot dwell in the midst of division. His Spirit cannot be divided. He can only dwell in a people who dwell together in unity, wholly surrendered to Him and to one another. That is why His beloved Son, Yahshua the Messiah, just before He was crucified, earnestly prayed for His disciples,
... that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:21-23)
There is no possibility that the world can know that the Father sent the Son unless they can see His life demonstrated by a people who are one as He and the Father are one, and who love one another just as He loved them:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
This love is not the ordinary kind of love that flows naturally towards those who are easy to love. It is the love of God which is poured out into the hearts of those who have utterly surrendered their lives to Him.9 The only evidence of this love is the "litmus test" that is given by the Apostle John:
We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death... By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:14,16-18)
This is exactly the kind of love that was spontaneously manifested in the 3000 who were saved on the day of Pentecost,10 giving the irrefutable evidence that they had received the Holy Spirit. Their lives were knit together into one spiritual body, such that they were of one heart and soul.11 That is when they became the Body of Messiah on earth, the very image of the invisible God.
Tragically, not long after the deaths of Paul and the other apostles, the common life of the disciples disintegrated, revealing the loss of the love they had at first, which was tantamount to the loss of the Spirit.12 Their glory departed, their unity lost, nothing remained but a stale form of godliness devoid of the power to love. Whether one was considered to be a true Christian became a matter of doctrine rather than love. Eventually, their blood started to flow, not at the hands of "unbelievers," but at the hands of their fellow Christians.
Oddly, almost 1,900 years and 45,000 divisions later,13 Christians still boldly claim to be the Body of Christ, by which they mean a mystical concept with no visible reality. They will say that only God can tell who the true believers are, in contempt of the Savior's earnest prayer "that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent me."14 If anyone today would try, as Paul once did, to round up all who claim to be His followers and drag them off to prison, his only hope would be to go to church on Sunday, for at any other time their daily lives are indistinguishable from the society around them. In no way can they be considered a body, by any reasonable definition of the word, much less the Body of Messiah that Paul knew.
But there is once again a people on the earth who actually dwell together, striving with all that is in us to love one another as our Savior loved us, and to maintain our sacred bond of unity. We live together, worship together, work together, teach our children together, and are always ready to suffer together for the sake of our Master Yahshua, who delivered us out of the darkness of the surrounding culture. Our clusters of houses are well known to the surrounding neighborhoods, for they are like beehives of activity as we all go about the works prepared for us, serving our Creator night and day.15
You are welcome to visit us at any of these places. Our addresses are on the Locations page of this web site. You will have no trouble finding us any day of the week!