When Jesus came 2,000 years ago, he built a Jesus community. He did not just offer a message of salvation that resulted in a different belief structure. He offered a different way of life—called the kingdom of God—that included a different kind of vision for community. The Jesus kingdom was not something anyone would have expected. No one—this cannot be reiterated enough—no one could have predicted that God’s way would look like self-sacrificial love hanging on a cross. The king the nation of Israel expected was not supposed to die.
The Israelites of the first century expected a normal king—their word for this was “Messiah,” which is christos in the Greek New Testament—but that’s not what they got. And most did not see what was going on. John put it this way: “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:9-11). They did not have ears to hear Jesus and his way.
Jesus Community: The Goal of Every Church and Small Group
The people of Israel had a different imagination for the kind of kingdom God would bring, and this included a specific vision for community. Four popular versions of community of the time illustrate this point:
A realistic vision for the kingdom: This was the strategy of the Sadducees and the Herodians. These two groups, each in their own way, asked, “What is possible within the circumstances at hand?” Since the Romans were in charge, they tried to make the best of things and work within the rules of the power brokers.
A radical vision for the kingdom: The Zealots took this approach. They sought to establish Israel by meeting the violence of the Romans with equivalent violence. They were training to drive out the Romans with power.
An exclusive vision for the kingdom: A group called the Essenses adopted this strategy. They withdrew to the desert to escape the pollution of the culture so they could set up the new kingdom of God in pure form.
An ideal vision for the kingdom: The Pharisees followed this pattern. While they lived among the populace, they established an ideal way of doing “church” that separated themselves from the culture at large. Their goal was to find the right way to serve God so that others would join them and thereby usher in the kingdom of God.