Badge of discipleship
Uncompromising, loyal, educated, fearless, selfless, courageous, faithful, loving and broken into his calling. Enemies to the enemies of life. Being altogether with the word of God armed and dangerous. In short, hardened revolutionaries. These are the first students of Jesus Christ.
For nearly 4 years they learned and collaborated with the master against the Roman Empire. Their rise from being craftsmen and day laborers to becoming Rome’s most wanted men saw each go through trials and tribulation, shipwrecks and police stings, rebukes and mental purging. And from the moment he was executed for sedition by the authorities–at his command to teach all nations–these 12 took to the Gospel and ran with it, never looking back. The apprenticeship was now over.
Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation
Combined with these qualities, the earliest Christians laid down personal ambition for the sake of the brotherhood, for the collective good. The net result was to help usher in a kingdom built upon true justice and equity. Being armed to the teeth with Torah and the spirit of Christ, the aim necessarily became one of domination; it was no local affair. To the oppressed toiling on the landlord’s agricultural estate the Gospel was salvation. For the oppressors ruling the provinces it was a terror.
Rome already had a legacy of brutal exploitation and social misery. The majority lived barely at subsistence level and were at all times groaning by reason of injustice. The rich, light years removed from identifying with the poor, were only concerned insofar that the masses remained simple units of production. Thus the battle was hot and the front line was everywhere. The coming and going of Christ meant the kingdom of heaven was truly at hand; and in its materialization these first Christians would be hated of all men.
Against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world
A strategy of the early disciples was to witness against the philosophical and governmental ideals that justified systemic evil; to shine the light of God upon a status quo that maintained oppression–afterward an alternative to life was unveiled. First they organized, educated and indoctrinated the people to become themselves comrades in the revolution. With each new convert there was one born free of oppression. On the other hand, with each new follower there was one less living soul to be exploited by and for the leisure of a few. It was clear to both parties, that if the people did not labor for mammon the beast would starve; the pyramid would fall like a house of cards. From this fallout equity, truth and salvation would fill the void.
Some 40 days after the Messiah’s triumph over death something profound occurred, a phenomenon alien to a world governed by doctrines of idolatry: “All whose faith had drawn them together held everything in common: they would sell their property and possessions and make a general distribution as the need of each required” (Acts 2). In a word, it was a miracle; and immediately Rome took notice.
The communism among the disciples proved to be the anti-thesis to the existing order. Rome, entrenched in iniquity and sanctified by the blessings of the ruling class, was now in an holy alliance to exercise the Christian spirit. Antagonisms were brewing; the pressure continued. Something had to give. One by one the leaders and organizers of the revolution were put down.
Peter and his brother Andrew, Jude, Simon the Zealot, Philip, Bartholomew and James “the Just” were all crucified. Stephen and Matthias were stoned to death. James the son of Zebedee and Paul were beheaded. Matthew was killed by a halberd. Mark was fatally clubbed. Thomas was impaled. Luke, hung and John the Revelator was fried in oil and later exiled to a remote island. Countless, nameless others were murdered. These martyrs resisted to the death because of the unfeigned love they had one toward another. Noting could separate them from it.
Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked
These peasants from the ghettos of Galilee, whose faith in God was to deliver them from a life of Roman subjugation, became the first to obey the command of their Master: “you must love one another just as I have loved you. No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15). In time, this specific type of love displayed one toward another would lift them to new heights. It empowered them above the pettiness and cares of the world; it raised them to be its light. Up there love would become a permanent fixture; shining down and calling together all of like mind.
Such was early Christian unity. The life they lived was the Gospel. Its fruit was salvation. Each forsook personal ambition and desire–even in the face of the most overwhelming obstacles. There was no fear because they did not yield to it. They did not run away, because they had already arrived. They sought not their own because what was truly theirs was everyone else’s. Their minds were cleared of worldliness, lust and every unclean thing. This abolishment allowed God to dwell within. Therefore the mind became his temple–filled with his love. Without this love nothing was possible, all was hopeless. It was the common denominator that by the love of Christ “the whole group of believers were united, heart and soul; no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, as everything they owned was held in common” (Acts 4).
And that because of false brethren unawares brought in
Judas Iscariot, once numbered among the twelve, proved to lack love enough for the brotherhood. He was before time a thief, and despite the blemish he had been charged by Jesus to be ward to the groups money bag. Jesus understood money, material possession, was not the saving grace of the revolution–if God commanded Judas to stand still it would be done. However, Judas later betrayed the revolution for 30 pieces of silver. He tipped off the authorities to Jesus’s whereabouts, and probably expounded to them more fully the meaning of the party’s radical activity. The ruling class had been for quite some time looking for the most opportune way to capture him, ever conspiring. It would be on the eve of Passover that the Roman soldiers would detain him and charge him at the lips of false witnesses. It was there on the foot of Mount Olives, a stones throw from the Temple, that Jesus was together with his students for the last time. “In his anguish he prayed even more earnestly, and his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood” (Luke 22).
That night he besieged the Father,
And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent…I am not praying for the world but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All I have is yours and all you have is mine…May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be in us…I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be so perfected in unity that the world will recognize that it was you who sent me and that you have loved them as you have loved me (John 17).
Jesus understood his fate. He realized even before his betrayal he would be put down in a manner common to all other revolutionizes before him. The revolutionaries Judas the Galielean, the bandit chief Hezekiah, Theudas, Simon of Peraea, Athronges and Simon bar Kokhba were all likewise put to death not by the poor majority, but by a small minority of bloated plutocracy. The Roman response to rebellion of any sort, no matter where was to crucify political criminals– any agitator of the prevailing order. In light of this, Jesus never once abandoned his comrades. Though he possessed the talent to do so, he did not seek out a more quite life in some quaint realm of the Empire (he was a master carpenter). The unshakable unity that was hallmark between the Father and him was more than an ideal to attain to, it was demanded now. The Creator never kept back from the Christ, and vise versa. Whatever was possessed by either was held in common. Both were of the same mind. What the Father had so did Jesus. What Jesus had so did the Father. This enabled him to suffer at the hands of sinners. This– no question– strengthened the first students to pick up the mantel and expand on the work.
The same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
By mimicking this unity a certain glory was brought forth; and it was treasured by Jesus’s earliest comrades. Contained in it was a profound freedom that could not be choked out. Not by the beggarly elements of world power. Not by those whose essence trapped and repressed the ones without it. As far as Jesus’s students were concerned the world had been dissolved. He had given them new vision. The type of love Christ had to the disciples was the only force that could reorder and govern to a newness of life. In a world overrun by calamity love was the greatest command of all. Though it was a specific kind of love. Jesus taught, “you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets too” (Matthew 22).
Without any doubt whatsoever, the disciples who gathered to Jerusalem after the death of Jesus understood the law’s revolutionary content–Paul included. It was the revolutions manual. Jesus was the goal, the culmination, of the law and the prophets. This must be noted because by the life he lived he magnified torah– being the walking, living, breathing mind of God on earth. The input was fraternal love, its output effected social change. With this understanding the early disciples obeyed and respected these glorious commandments, not by the letter, but in faith. The legislation, its social-political and economic substance, sat guard and was a hedge against exploitation.
Thus, it was in the society growing out of Jerusalem, the template for all believers, that the Gospel first started to be published abroad. It was here the first Christians set up shop. Here love found expression. It was here too, that the powers first sought to kill it– by absorbing it into the collective conscious of the debased. It was due to social-political and economic antagonisms, that a sharp break in the narrative of Christianity arose. This split emptied and hallowed out the radical content of the bible. This resulted in an independent and shallow representation of faith in God. Independent because it was no longer left to God the clarity of the Faith. Shallow because the ways of the Creator were replaced almost wholly by superstitious idolatry. This new new religious representation developed into a matrix of control for the ruling class. The power in the Gospel of Christ had to first become sterilized, ineffective and far removed from its original source. In short, it had to morph to reflect the interest and gods of the bloodsucking elite. Simultaneity, the reordering had to appear to represent, if only surface deep, the raw and uncut faith of Christ.
In perils by the heathen
Like a parasite, this cancer first needed a palatable host to occupy–to find its expression. The Roman Empire, and later her daughter the Protestant, would be delighted and become its first organ, though not at the first. The Empire’s adsorption of Christianity would, for now, lag behind its revolutionary activity. Western Christianity, all its various sects and denominations, past and present were not yet, at this crucial stage, the anti-thesis to the love of Christ.
Against this unholy union was, of course, none other than the vanguard band of God called Christian–Freedom fighters devoted to social justice, whose bond was Christ. Within the first moments after his execution the Church continued to grow in Jerusalem–and not without its share of problems.
There were Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Jude son of James. With one heart all these joined constantly in prayer, together with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers…there were about a hundred and twenty people in the congregation (Acts 1).
These 120 were all of one mind, of one accord and they all lived together. By the manifestation of the love they had one toward another they did not will that any should lack the necessities of life. If one had housing he wanted the other to have a house. If one was fed, the other should be fed too. If one was clothed, the other should be clothed. The aim was to continually bear each others burdens. Love was the foundation and motivation to dismantle private property, all racial and class divisions that so marked the outside world. In doing the kingdom was being established. Meanwhile, from without, the world suppressed love from being manifested and in its measure the majority suffered. This is the legacy in the earth to the present day, fragmented by racial and class division in the capitalist spirit. Like in the Roman world, all the necessities of life are in the private possession of a small minority.
Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance
Social historian M. Kufmann gives a historical account of the early Church that existed in the Roman Empire. We get a glimpse of its genius for social change–before Western culture stained the movement,
…There came into action a powerful influence on European society as Christianity gradually spread throughout the Roman Empire… It has been pointed out again and again that when Christianity first appeared in the Roman Empire that Empire was torn asunder by social class divisions; great distress and disrepair existed among the masses of the people, and the new religion was naturally regarded as the ideal of ‘popular hope and longing,’ holding out as it did the promise of an “an immense renovation and transformation of things.”
The gulf between rich and poor –a small minority monopolizing all the wealth of the Empire, whilst the people were living in object poverty–threatened to bring about a serious social disruption…Christianity appeared as a great regenerating principle to renovate the Roman world. The oppressed, the slave, the weary, the heavy-laden found comfort in a religion that taught mankind the duty of fraternal love. The stern, hard, selfish world was arrested on its reckless course of self indulgence by St. Paul’s admonition from his Roman prison: “Look not every man on his own things, but every man on the things of others.” Christianity in teaching the Gospel to the poor changed the face of the ancient world. (Kaufmann, 7).
The Church was truly representative of the welfare of the whole body. The body had to truly represent the Church. The love Christ had toward the Church was the love we must have toward one another. This is the sign of being a disciple. When you find out what the sign of discipleship is you will then find out what the Gospel is. It is the good news of the kingdom. It’s a classless society whose members are all on one accord and with singleness of heart and mind. It is a society, a fraternal brother and sisterhood, where not one is hungry or homeless. It is a reality where there are no class or ethnic divisions. This is what it looks like, glued together by a divine love toward one another. In its advanced form it is the power to dissolve the state power structure. The state was the root that the axe had been fallen. It was this principle the early Christians dedicated their lives to.
Social scientist Frederick Engles writes concerning the state,
When ultimately [the Church] becomes really representative of society as a whole, it makes [a state] superfluous. As soon as there is no longer any class of society to be held in subjection; as soon as, along with class domination and the struggle for individual existence based on the former anarchy of production, the collisions and excesses arising from these have also been abolished, there is nothing more to be repressed, and a special repressive force, a state, is no longer necessary (Anti-Dühring).
Could we lay down our personal lives and personal ambition for our brother? Yes. Should we do it? Yes, because the Messiah taught us to do it. We are to mimic him. The real question is, will we do it willingly? The chief reason why most will not is because they lack the love toward one another that the Christ had for us. Most are still stuck on “me” and “I” and prove to only care about self. Self-centeredness is exactly why there are few rich called. Not because God will not allow it, but they will not allow themselves. When Jesus gave his life, the laying down of it, it was not confined to Calvary. The truth is, he daily gave his life for the well being of the people. He endured to the end. This is how his first disciples endured to the end. The only disciples of Christ are those who can forsake their own and lay down their lives for one another. Jesus taught his disciples to measure and weigh the costs, “no one who does not carry his cross and come after me can be my disciple.’And indeed, which of you here, intending to build a tower, would not first sit down and work out the cost to see if he had enough to complete it?” (Luke 14).
The Lord preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down (Psalms 146).