Did you know that there was a church (a group of believers) that lived off the grid and outside of the normal influence of mainstream life at the time of Jesus? This group was known as the Essenes and they were an apocalyptic group of Jewish separatists that lived up in the mountains around the Dead Sea. If you have ever heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it is this group to which scholars are referring, as it was this group that kept the many records and writings that were discovered in the caves of Qumran National Park (in Israel's West Bank).
As I said, this was a Jewish group as all believers of God at that time were Jewish or grafted-into the Jewish community (Romans 11:19, Ephesians 2:15) as God-fearing Gentiles. Christianity was considered a sect or branch of Judaism at that time. They were apocalyptic because they felt that the times in which they were living were the "last days", so they removed themselves from the worldly and modern society of the time to devote themselves to purity and righteous living in accordance with the teaching of the Torah. As such, they raised their own livestock, foraged for food, had gardens, and lived in debris shelters and caves. Many of their time called them a cult, especially the religious people that did not agree with their way of life which convicted them of their own shortcomings.
It is believed by some scholars that John the Baptist spent time with this group due to the nature of his ministry and the many similarities between him and the people of The Way, which is how the Essenes referred to themselves (living off Grid, dressed in wool, eating wild foraged foods). While this cannot be proven, the similarities do shed a great deal of light as to why John's ministry was one to reform the ways of the then-current religious system. The Jewish scholars would often come to hear John teach, and while they did not agree with his methods, there is no record of them correcting his teaching. It's also interesting to note that the earliest Christians were known as members of The Way by governing authorities (Acts 9:2) as they too adopted a similar lifestyle and manner of Biblical understanding as the earlier Essenes.
The Essenes were essentially the first "Prepper Group" described in scripture and historical documents (see Josephus, Antiquities). As such, they developed their own strategies for group membership and training noted in their scroll called The Community Rule, they also taught that all those that believed in the covenant of God would reside in the 'wilderness of the people' a special place of refuge where they would be protected during a time of calamity and before the emergence of the armies of the sons of darkness (Anti-Messiah) at which time the people would rally to camp in the 'wilderness of Jerusalem' to battle these evil forces (As noted in the War Scroll). It's also interesting to note at this point that in Matthew 24:16 that those residing in Judea at the time of the end he (Jesus) instructed to run to the mountains- the very place the Essenes lived at that time. And, in the Book of Revelation 12:14-17, we're again told that the remnant church would be birthed in and protected in the wilderness.
Another interesting note is that leaders within the Essenic Yahad (Community) were called Instructors. Here are the rules for being an instructor:
Column 1 of the Scroll of Community Rule
A text belonging to the Instructor, who is to teach the Holy Ones how to live according to the book of the Yahad's Rule.
He is to teach them to seek God with all their heart and with all their soul, to do that which is good and upright before Him, just as He commanded through Moses and all His servants the prophets. He is to teach them to love everything He chose and to hate everything He rejected, to distance themselves from all evil and to hold fast to all good deeds; to practice truth, justice, and righteousness in the land, and to walk no longer in a guilty, willful heart and lustful desires, wherein they did every evil thing.
He is to induct all who volunteer to live by the laws of God into the Covenant of Mercy, so as to be joined to God's society and walk faultless before Him, according to all that has been revealed for the times appointed them. He is to teach them both to love all the Children of Light--each commensurate with his rightful place in the council of God--and to hate all the Children of Darkness, each commensurate with his guilt stand the vengeance due him from God.
All who volunteer for His truth are to bring the full measure of their knowledge. strength, and wealth into the Yahad of God. Thus will they purify their knowledge in the verity of God's laws, properly exercise their strength according to the perfection of His ways, and likewise their wealth by the canon of His righteous counsel. They are not to deviate in the smallest detail from any of God's words as these apply to their own name. They are neither to advance their holy times nor to postpone any of their prescribed festivals. They shall turn aside from His unerring laws neither to the right nor the left.
This is very reminiscent of the duties of pastoral leadership as outlined in Timothy and Titus in the New Testament. It just goes to show that those that sought God fully, without the imposition of man-made religious rules and dogma ultimately arrived at the same place in the Biblical life- one that relied on God to provide and teach them all things.
I believe that as we continue to scurry along toward the last chapter of life as we have known it that we- those of the community of God, the church- will become increasingly more dependent upon one another. Whether you believe in a pre-tribulation, mid- trib, post-trib, or no- trib eschatology, we are ALL promised persecution and trials before He comes. God has given us seasons of training to prepare for the times in which we're living (Passover, Pentecost, and Sukkot), he has plainly declared the way in which we're to live for him and ultimately suffer for our faith in Him.
Matthew 24: 3-14
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
THIS GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM refers to: "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved" - this my friend is in fact GOOD NEWS!
All the prepping, survival training, hunting, fishing, and hiking we do, we, or at least I, do for the purpose of separation from the world and preparation for the Kingdom.
This is a Gospel of suffering, one for which I have been training others to prepare for in some small part for many years. It's a separation from the world's system for our refusal to go along with life contrary to the ways of God. While we may not yet realize we have a great deal in common with the Essenes of old, we will soon realize that as the church is pushed underground and persecuted more and more Yahad (communities) such as theirs will develop in diverse places such as the mountains and valleys around us. Do not be so quick to call them a cult and heap on the persecution as religious leaders tend to do. Instead, pray for them and investigate them. Test the things they say and do to see if they're from God (1 John 4, 1 Thess. 5:21).
So Instructors, protect your flocks and do all you can to prepare them for the times ahead, for you are the off-grid church, the remnant yet to come... The below article download on Legalism I hope will open your eyes, or at least give you some topics for further investigation along your journey.