It was a trying day1 for Yahshua. The Feast of Booths had just ended, which was supposed to have been the warmest time of fellowship for Israel, yet there was no warmth in Jerusalem. Early in the morning He walked down from the Mount of Olives, where He had spent the night, sat down on the steps of the temple courts, and began to teach the people who flocked to Him. As He spoke about the kingdom of God, a small crowd of scribes and Pharisees, in their fine robes, dragged a young woman before Him, saying, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in the very act of adultery. The Law of Moses commands us to stone such a woman, so what do you say?"
Yahshua was not a man to give a hasty answer. He pondered the situation, His eyes scanning the proud, triumphant faces of the religious leaders and the frightened, pleading eyes of the adulteress. Perhaps He wondered where the adulterer was. After all, the Law of Moses called equally for his death. The air was as tense as the string of a drawn bow, waiting to give flight to the arrow. Leaning over, Yahshua began to write with His finger on the ground.
Impatiently, her accusers prodded Him for a reply, confident that He could not escape the trap set for Him. If He showed mercy to the woman they would accuse Him of violating the Law of Moses; to condemn her would be to stand with the religious hypocrites and forsake the heart of compassion which gave hope to the needy ones who hung on His every word. The humble shepherd stood up, and His warm but piercing eyes penetrated the hostile glares of the scribes and Pharisees as He charged them, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." Then He crouched down again and continued writing with His finger on the ground.
The woman shut her eyes and braced herself for the inevitable deadly blows, for surely these were men of unquestioned righteousness who would not hold back from meting out the justice she deserved. An awkward silence followed by the scuff of departing feet finally gave her the courage to open her eyes.
"Woman, where are they?" He gently asked her. "Has no one condemned you?"
Trembling, she eked out her reply, "No one, Master."
"Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more." The unfathomable love and mercy of the all-seeing God of Israel strengthened the heart of this weak woman, caught up in the cruel intrigues of that fallen religious society. A sigh of relief escaped the lips of the entire spellbound crowd that had gathered to hear the Master teach. What had they learned?
Yahshua sat down again and spoke, as if to write the lesson on their hearts:
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
The humiliated Pharisees shouted from their retreat to the back of the crowd, as if to save face, "Now you're bragging on yourself!" It was the beginning of a very difficult conversation in which He labored and pleaded with them to see the heart of His Father and soften their hearts to the salvation He was offering them. He told them how they could be set free from their sin, and they reviled Him for suggesting that they were sinners. He told them how they could never see death, and they reviled Him for claiming to be greater than Abraham, who had died. He told them the truth, and they hated it.
Ironically, Yahshua then found Himself in the place of that woman, about to be stoned by these indignant religious leaders who hated the light of His words and His love, because it revealed the darkness in their own souls.
Somehow He slipped away from them, and as He left the temple courts He and His disciples came upon a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked a very revealing question: "Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" The Master's response to this question must be among the most profound, disturbing, and prophetic words He ever spoke. They explain the bewildering maze of contradictions of the past 1,900 years of Christian history -- the disappearance of the common life of love in Acts 2 and 4, the marriage of church and state, the crusades and inquisitions, the burning of "heretics," the endless divisions, and the unabashed love of the world and the things of the world that has permeated Christianity today.
First of all, He said, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." Clearly, Yahshua saw this man's malady as an opportunity for the love of God to be lavished on him as a witness to those hard-hearted religious leaders that the light of the world had visited them, giving sight to the blind. But what He said next is the shocking statement that cuts right through all the years between then and now:
We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. (John 9:4-5)
Night is coming? A time when no one can do the works of God? When would that be? He tells us in the next sentence: when He is no longer in the world. But surely He did not mean that after He died, was resurrected, and ascended into heaven, it would no longer be possible to do the works of God, did He? No, not quite.
As long as "the light of the world" remained on the earth, the works of God could be done. Earlier He had told His disciples, "You are the light of the world,"2 and later, He would tell them that greater works than His would they do, because He was going to the Father.3 Indeed, they were to be His body4 on the earth after He ascended, continuing His works. Therefore, when He said, "As long as I am on the earth," He meant His body of disciples also. As He was, so also would they be in this world.5
So the Master told His disciples, “We [meaning He and they] must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day.” Somehow Yahshua knew that a time would come when those who claimed to be His disciples would no longer be the light of the world. The profound love that had permeated everything Yahshua did and said when He was personally on the earth would no longer be expressed through the church, which was His body. How long would it take for that light to grow dim?
Darkness had begun to overtake the church by the last decade of the first century when the Apostle John recorded these ominous words from Yahshua to the church in Ephesus:
But I have this against you: you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Revelation 2:4-5)
Can you see it? This was the beginning of the fulfillment of Yahshua's prophetic words, "Night is coming when no one can work." The loss of the love they had at first, which had been expressed in the deeds they did at first, was tantamount to the loss of their lampstand. The only way to prevent the light of the world from being extinguished altogether was to repent and return to the deeds they did at first. And what were those deeds? It is inescapable that they were the deeds recorded at the birth of the church:
And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:44-47)
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 witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant 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)
Countless sincere Christians have read these verses and wondered why the life described therein is so foreign to all they have experienced or learned in their churches or Bible schools. Their pastors and Bible teachers explain it away with statements like:
In its place, we are expected to accept as normal the 42,000 denominations, enormous gaps between rich and poor, even within the same congregation, and the doctrinal, racial, and cultural conflicts between Christians escalating even to hatred and violence.
On the contrary, the self-sacrificing life of love and unity described in Acts 2 and 4 is the normal and necessary expression of the Spirit that was in Yahshua coming to dwell in His disciples. His Spirit always gathers together those who love Him and teaches them how to love one another. His Spirit always calls people out of their entanglements in this world and into fellowship with Him and all of those who love Him. The Spirit that filled the 3,000 disciples on that first day of Pentecost caused them to devote themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, and the result was their common life together, which was the light of the world.
Fellowship is not just socializing in the "fellowship hall" after church on Sunday. The Greek word is koinonia, a vast word that means partnership, joint participation, communication, communion, and distribution. It is the voluntary sharing of all things -- heart, soul, and possessions -- withholding nothing from those with whom you are bound in a covenant of love. That is how Yahshua loved His disciples when He walked the earth, withholding not even His very life, and that is how He commanded them to love one another:
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:12-14)
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples. (John 13:34-35)
"By this all men will know..." They will not know any other way. The love that expresses itself in true koinonia is the light of the world, and that is the kind of love that is poured out into the hearts6 of all who truly believe. "All who believed lived together and shared all things in common."7 That is the way the church was when it was called "The Way,"8 and that is the only way the church can be and still be the way -- the light of the world.
It is a fact of history that the early church ceased living together in community, but exactly when that happened is not so clear, nor do most people stop to consider its implications. Certainly, by the time James wrote his letter, early in the second century,9 the common life was no more. There were rich and poor in the same church,10 along with all the malicious conflicts common to such economic disparity.11 What a stark contrast to the "one heart and soul" and the "no needy among them" of the first church! James did not mince words in drawing this conclusion:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to him, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving him the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
Unless one is willing to believe that the Son of God was just bluffing when He warned the church in Ephesus that He would take away their lampstand unless they repented and returned to the works they did at first,12 the conclusion is inescapable: One by one the lampstands were removed until the light of the world was entirely snuffed out.13 In other words, the Holy Spirit withdrew from them, like a dove that will not alight on anything unclean. Night fell, and no one could do the works of God.14
Of course, the church continued on with a form of godliness, but lacking the transcendent power of love.15 The few overcomers16 died out or were expelled by men like Diotrephes17 who were threatened by their honesty and discernment. Such leaders rose up and suppressed the lively spontaneity that characterized the church in its first few decades,18 developing into the professional clergy that God hates -- the Nicolaitan system.19 These servants of Satan, masquerading as ministers of righteousness,20 brought in another gospel21 that called merely for a change of belief and religious practice. No longer did they call people to utterly forsake their independent life in the world and be immersed into the living and loving Body of Messiah.
The paradigm shift from the litmus test22 of love23 to that of doctrinal correctness as evidence of saving faith was completed with the adoption of the "Nicene Creed" at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Then, with the sword of the state firmly in her hand, the harlot which the church had become began to compel conformity to "right doctrine" at the threat of life and limb, leaving a trail of blood stretching almost to the present day.
The good news is that although Yahshua prophesied that night would come when no one could do the works of God, He also prophesied that there would be a restoration of the vibrant life of the sons of God:
"Indeed, Elijah is coming first to restore all things... But I say to you that Elijah has also come, and they did to him whatever they wished, as it is written of him." (Mark 9:12-13)
“Elijah is coming... Elijah has also come...” Just as John the Baptist had to come in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way of the Messiah's first coming,24 so it must be before His second coming.25 Yahshua prophesied that the "spirit of Elijah" would come again for the same purpose -- to call the sincere ones out of the darkness of our day in order to "restore all things" that fell into ruin so long ago -- echoing the prophecy spoken of John the Baptist at his birth:
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:76-79)
That restoration has begun in our days with a small but growing confederation of communities just like the one described in Acts 2 and 4. That same love is burning in our hearts, causing us to live together in unity, share all things in common, and lay down our lives for one another daily. Our light is still but a glow on the horizon, but its warmth is drawing the needy ones whose only hope, like the woman caught in adultery and the man who was born blind, is the mercy and forgiveness of our Savior and the healing balm of a brand new life in His body.
We are living our lives for one purpose only: to bring about our Master Yahshua's return and the restoration of all things.26 That entails a great battle that must be won:
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet. (Hebrews 10:12-13)
His enemies are not flesh and blood.27 They are the spirits that wage war in our souls, fueling our selfishness, pride, lust, fear, and every other iniquity that defiles our consciences and destroys our relationships, dividing us from one another. Every enemy must be overcome and put under our feet by the grace and power that come from communion with our Savior. That is the work of the Body of Messiah -- to undo the works of the evil one.28 Any so-called faith that does not empower a people to accomplish that work is no faith at all.
So where is the light of the world? It is where the power of love is overcoming the power of sin and death, causing a people to dwell together in unity. And that is where God commands the blessing of life everlasting.29 Come and see!