The Book of Acts describes the first-century Jewish Christ-followers in a way unexpected to most modern believers. They are described in terms reminiscent of a Utopian society, where believers held all things in common and none had need (Acts 4:32-35).
But what was their basis for this communal lifestyle in Christ Jesus? The Torah, with all its care for the poor and needy (Lev.23:22), does not ever talk about shared property. In fact, private property rights are upheld (Ex. 20:17). The Hebrew prophets did not teach that all the faithful must abandon everything they ever owned. Jesus did challenge one young man to sell all of his possessions (Matthew 19), but that was to expose and challenge that man’s love of worldly possessions. There’s no indication Jesus meant this teaching to be normative for all of his followers.”
Our best available reconstruction links this group of Christ-followers with Essene communities that (according to Josephus Flavius) had already practiced just this kind of lifestyle for centuries. In describing them, the Jewish historian writes, “…one cannot find a person among them who has more in terms of possessions… those coming into the community must yield up their funds to the order …assets of each one have been mixed in together, as if they were brothers, to create one fund for all.” (Wars, II, 8, 3)
If the Acts community was made up of an Essene majority that allied itself with Jesus, then their continuation of this centuries-long communal practice would make sense.
Let’s take this intriguing proposition a step further. On one occasion, Jesus made a curious promise to his disciples. He said: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you ANOTHER Comforter” (John 14:16). This implies, of course, that he himself was the PRIOR Comforter. I am not denying that the Spirit of Holiness/Holy Spirit is the Comforter of whom Christ spoke, but why did he phrase it this way? Why say ANOTHER Comforter?
Based on hymns found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, Israel Knohl, a professor at the Hebrew University – and a guest lecturer with us here at Israel Bible Center – argued that one generation before Jesus, a messianic leader arose and became known as the Teacher of Righteousness. It is possible to identify this person with Menachem the Essene who held an advisory position in the court of King Herod.
Menachem led a very dangerous life, secretly preparing for what eventually proved to be an unsuccessful revolt. His followers believed that he was the Messiah, but he was disgraced and killed by Roman soldiers during the revolt in 4 B.C.E. (Later, his surviving followers believed him to be the fulfillment of the suffering servant texts in Isaiah).
The Hebrew word that lies behind the above-mentioned “Comforter” is, in fact, Menachem (מנחם) – the same as the name of the Essene leader mentioned by Josephus Flavius. (The Greek παράκλητος (Paraclete) is the Hebrew Menachem translated into Greek).
It is possible that Jesus, by referring to the coming Holy Spirit as “another Comforter,” was identifying himself as the true/ultimate Menachem (מנחם); and that he was calling the Essene community to put its trust in Him instead. Unlike Menachem the Essene, the Ultimate Comforter (Jesus) led a successful rebellion against all the enemies of Israel and by his resurrection overcame even sin and death.