When a beehive becomes overcrowded, the bees decide to swarm. This means that the queen and half of the bees make preparations to leave the hive and start a new colony. Once everything is ready they throng together with one impulse and soar out in a noisy dark cloud, traveling closely together until they reach their final destination. Sometimes during the course of their journey they land — a very noticeable dense clump of bees attached to a branch. They are a peaceable bunch because they are engorged with honey (their food supply for the trip), and they are intent on one purpose — staying together until they arrive at their new location. Eventually, this large crowd inhabits a hollow tree trunk or an empty bee box and begins anew, working together to build a new hive that resembles their former dwelling.
This natural phenomenon helps to explain why our Master 1, who spoke Hebrew,2 would have used the Hebrew word edah, which means a swarm or community, when He told His disciples what He was establishing through them:
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18)
Most translators use the word church here, which comes from an old Germanic word that refers to the building rather than the people. But there is a deeper meaning conveyed by the Hebrew word edah. In fact, His words there echo the words of the prophet Jeremiah:
Their children will be as in days of old, and their community [edah in Hebrew] will be established before me; I will punish all who oppress them. (Jeremiah 30:20)
A swarm is a body of bees that can be observed, heard and touched. So too, the people who follow the Messiah must be an observable body. In Hebrew the word edah also means a witness. So the “Body of Messiah” must be something that can be seen, touched, and heard just as Messiah Himself was when He walked the earth.3 A single bee might easily go unnoticed, but certainly not an entire swarm. In the same way, a single disciple might be overlooked, but an entire community, living in unity together, with love for each member, would hardly go unnoticed.4
Bees need to be together. It is essential for their existence. They thrive in the hive. It should be no surprise then, that the first communities of believers were described as swarms, since they were together and held all things in common:
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts… (Acts 2:44-46; see also Acts 4:32-35)
These communities began when they received the Spirit of the one true God who came to dwell in one body. Now this same phenomenon is happening once again on earth. There are communities or swarms forming just like those described in the book of Acts, having the same life as the original “hive.” And they are very busy — busy as bees. As a people they seek to demonstrate the life and the character of their Creator, the God who is One.