Overcoming Denominations and Divisive Groups – In the Days of Jesus on Earth

In the days of Jesus on Earth and the early church, Judaism was divided into several different groups, each of which had its own views concerning the true Jewish way of life. On the other hand, certain basic Jewish beliefs were common to them all.

At that time there existed: Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, and Zealots. Also the scribes and rabbis or teachers of the law. And then there was the Samaritans who came from a mixed Jewish tradition. All of these had their principle leaders whose strong opinions kept each group of adherents at odds with one another, even to the extreme of not talking to one another at times.

Just like today, there were many divided church organizations and groups that opposed “heaven’s view” of: one way, one faith, and one church.

So let’s look a little more into how divided these “church groups” of the first century were.

In the traditional view the Sadducees were from the Hellenized Jewish upper class. They supported stable conditions and the prevailing social order. And their religion was reasonable and worldly. The Sadducees did not, for example, believe in life after death.

In the opinion of the Pharisees, holiness was not just for the priests and the Temple. By observing the purity of the Law, every Jew might participate in the holiness of God. In the interpretation of the written Law, the Pharisees had the help of the so-called ‘Oral Law’; i.e. oral tradition consisting of explanations of the Law, which was thought to go back to Moses himself.

The Essenes were a protest movement which withdrew from the world. They believed that the high priest of the Jerusalem Temple was elected on false pretenses, which invalidated the whole Temple cult. In addition, the calendar used by the Essenes, and their way of interpreting and observing the Law of Moses, differed from the rest of Judaism. The Essene community of Qumran saw itself as the only true Israel, “children of light” as distinct from the “children of darkness” Jews and their corrupt religious practices.

The Zealots (Greek zelotes, ‘zealot’) was a general term for a person who was zealous for a cause, in particular for the religious group he belonged to. One of Jesus’ twelve disciples was Simon who bore this nickname. Later the name Zealots came to refer to a rebel organization which supported armed resistance to Rome. This group only became a united, recognizable party just before the Jewish War.

In the 1st century, scribes and Pharisees were two largely distinct groups, though presumably some scribes were Pharisees. Scribes had knowledge of the law and could draft legal documents (contracts for marriage, divorce, loans, inheritance, mortgages, the sale of land, and the like). Every village had at least one scribe. Their legalistic opinions often came in opposition to the true spiritual view Jesus presented.

The word ‘rabbi’ means ‘my master’, and is used by students to address teachers of the Jewish Torah. In the New Testament it describes the community of religious teachers of that time, who helped people understand the scriptures. Rabbis would gather a group of adherents around them and teach by example as much as by discourse. Their disciples lived alongside each rabbi, devoting themselves to the rabbi’s teaching and were guided by them as they worked out rabbinical teachings in practice, much as an apprentice learns by doing what their mentor does. These also formed strong opinions about scripture and religious practice that came in conflict with others, including Jesus.

And then there were the Samaritans. According to Samaritan tradition, Mount Gerizim (of their land) was the original Holy Place of the Israelites from the time that Joshua conquered Canaan and the tribes of Israel settled the land. Samaritans claim they are Israelite descendants of the Northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who survived the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) by the Assyrians in 722 BCE. The Jews and the Samaritans were so opposed to each other’s claims that they would not even talk to one another.

Finally there were the Jews dispersed throughout the whole then world, in different pagan cities where they had their synagogues where they would regularly meet. And wherever you have people congregating, you have leaders and strong opinions about the local administration and how to operate, just as you do today.

How could “heaven’s divine order” ever be brought down to earth in the middle of this human controlled, opinionated, and divided mess?

You could take this same first century order and apply it to what today calls itself in a broad sense: “Christianity”.

“Today’s notion of Christianity is a broad-based community divided into several different denominational organizations and groups, each of which has its own views concerning the true Christian way of life. On the other hand, certain very basic beliefs are common to them all.”

Jesus’ heavenly ordered Kingdom was brought into power during the days of divided Judaism (and the divisional agendas and leadership of each group). So consequently there are many lessons and examples documented in the Bible to help us today to overcome divided Christianity, and to bring back the clarity and oneness of Jesus’ heavenly Kingdom. A Kingdom that reflects how things are ordered in heaven above.

Seven things that Jesus did to Overcome the Religious Groups of His Days on Earth:

(1). Repent and align your lives with heaven, for the Kingdom of Heaven (the kingdom according to how it is in heaven) is at hand. (Note: John the Baptist also preached this same message.) It didn’t matter what group you were part of. The message was the same: repent and forsake your sins. He taught them to align their lives with heaven, because there is no sin in heaven.

“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” ~ Matthew 3:1-2

He did not teach them that an earthly kingdom was coming in the future. He told them that the Savior was bringing the kingdom of heaven down to reside within them.

“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” ~ Matthew 4:17

And so when he taught them to pray, he taught them to ask that the will of the Father be done in them, just like it is done in heaven.

“And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.” ~ Luke 11:2

(2). He taught that we needed a new heart and Spirit to be able to fully consecrate, and to fulfill the completeness of the Kingdom of Heaven on the Earth. Without the Spirit of God ruling the individual, the carnal human is not able to continue to contain the will of heaven. The carnal-fleshly human (without being filled with the Holy Spirit) will break under the pressure of following the gospel, in the midst of a wicked world full of hypocrisy.

“And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles.” ~ Mark 2:22

When they harvested the juice from the grapes, they had to put it into new wine skins, so that the wine skins could stretch when the wine fermented. And so he was saying that the old human fleshly condition, could not “stretch” enough to handle the will of heaven within them. They would need a new spirit. Their own spirit would need to fully yield to the Holy Spirit.

“And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” ~ Matthew 3:10-12

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit… … For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the spirit the things of the spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if so be that the spirit of God dwell in you…” ~ Romans 8:1 & 5-9

(3). Jesus corrected the incorrect interpretations of scripture that groups had created for their own benefit and identity (and to keep themselves separate from others outside “their own group”). Incorrect interpretations of scripture hinder true obedience to the faith. And they limit the fullness of spiritual life within the believer. So Jesus addressed the following teachings:

  • Marriage, divorce, and adultery
  • The Resurrection
  • The Kingdom of God
  • Outward show of religion vs what is in the heart
  • And more…
  • (And today many organizations and groups of churches have again created many more incorrect interpretations of scripture. These again, we must address today.)

(4). Jesus called and taught a ministry to fulfill the work of the Kingdom of Heaven – (he did not call a ministry to form another separate group – nor to work under group control). He established leadership and disciples with different gifts and responsibilities. He sent them forth under a calling by faith, and not under the direction and support of an earthly headquarters. Nor did he appoint an overseer to replace the Holy Spirit’s administration and control of the church. Overseers were charged with recognizing the working of the Holy Spirit in others, and to enable them to continue to be successfully used by the Holy Spirit. Completely different from the groups of his day, Jesus avoided a hierarchical organization with a centralized earthly headquarters.

“And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followed not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” ~ Luke 9:49-50

“And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles” ~ Luke 6:12-13

(Note: the ministry was called and sent, even by Jesus, by much prayer. Not by an educational seminary, that would approve them to be used by a certificate. Nor by a group of men sitting down and planning, and making decisions like they would for a building project. Much prayer and observation of character should be done, before ordaining anyone to the ministry.)

“And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat. And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence.” ~ Matthew 10:7-11

(Note: the disciples were called and sent without support from an organizing headquarters. Although they may have received temporary help from other brothers as they launched into a new place. In the long-term they were to be supported by those that they were sent to minister to, and by prayer and faith in God’s ability to supply for their needs.)

(5). He showed the greatest love towards all people by dying for them on the cross. And he instructed his disciples to be willing to do the same.

“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” ~ John 15:12-14

(6). He empowered the Kingdom of Heaven to fully respond to God’s calling, when he sent the Holy Spirit into the hearts and lives of the fully consecrated ones. This did not fulfill an earthly purpose as they supposed, but rather a spiritual purpose, completely under the timing and direction of the Holy Spirit. And they were commanded to “wait” and to not move until the Holy Spirit filled them, and moved them.

“And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” ~ Acts 1:4-8

(7). People were expected to leave organizations that have pagan practices (under any name, including pagan practices under the name of “Christianity”). So he had his disciples teach, “come out from among them and be separate”. Do not mix with pagan sinful practices, nor worship an idol of: a thing, a person, a spiritual gift, a way of doing things, or a teaching. Only worship God! God is not pleased with a mixed worship where the majority are hypocrites, who in their hearts are really worshiping something else, and essentially are worshiping Satan.

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believes with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” ~ 2 Corinthians 6:14-18

They were not to allow hypocrites to come in among them and start teaching false doctrines. That is what he warned the church in Smyrna concerning.

“And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.” ~ Revelation 2:8-9

One of the final purposes of the final book of Revelation is to again separate God’s people from the hypocrites.

“And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.” ~ Revelation 18:4-5

The places they would eventually have to leave, would also be the place of their group identity, because Jesus pronounced final judgment upon all their Jewish “church” groups:

(Note: Jesus was grieved, just as we will be, when we realize that the group is not willing to align itself fully with heaven.)

“And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.” ~ Luke 19:41-42

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” ~ Matthew 23:37-38

“And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee:…” ~ Revelation 18:23

Why does God judge so strongly a place that will not allow for his heavenly vision for the pure bride of Christ; A vision of the true church that Jesus built? It is because this is not just about what you are physically joined to, but also about who you are spiritually joined to!

“Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” ~ 1 Corinthians 6:15-20

So, are we able to follow Jesus’ way, and overcome the divisions of many “Christian” organizations and groups? And then also pray as Jesus instructed us: “Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.”

Can we be heaven on earth – the heavenly Jerusalem spoken of in Revelation chapter 21? That was the kind of church that Jesus established some 2000 years ago. Will we allow Jesus to bring down heaven into us individually and collectively today?