One of the earliest expressions the first followers of Yeshua used was marana tha (maranatha), which in Aramaic means, “Our Lord, come.” What they likely meant was, “Lord, Yeshua, be present with us in our gathering.” This is like Yeshua’s saying, “wherever two or three are assembled in my name, I am there with them” (Matt 18:20). It is like the rabbinic saying (Pirkei Avot 3:2) that wherever two sit and exchange words about Torah, the Shechinah (Divine Presence) is among them.
We might ask what this means. Is God somehow in the room during Torah study? Is Yeshua invisibly present in a gathering of his followers? If so, what does the claim mean.
While there is potential for God to make himself known more specifically during a gathering — by a prophecy or miracle — a more subtle presence is always there. The voice of prophecy or light of a miracle has not visited most gatherings of Jews studying Torah and Christians celebrating in Yeshua. Those things happen sometimes. But always the Presence is there for those able to see it.
God is more perceivable when people gather in his name. Messiah is identifiable in a genuine gathering of disciples seeking his ways. God can be seen in an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual sense in the discussing of ideas of Torah.
Seeking God during solitude is more difficult. The surest way to powerfully experience God is to be among people who are serious about making that happen. Inasmuch as synagogue groups and church gatherings understand this, being in them is the surest way to have a powerful experience with God.
In case anyone might think Yeshua’s presence in the congregation is always limited to an emotional/intellectual/spiritual experience, there are references to Yeshua delivering prophecy to his people. One of clearest examples of Yeshua speaking to someone during prayer is 2 Corinthians 12:9, in which Paul heard him say, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is brought to perfection in weakness.” Paul heard from Yeshua directly at least three times in Acts (9:4-6; 18:9-10; 23:11). There were prophets and prophetesses in the early congregations including Agabus and the daughters of Philip (Acts 11:27; 13:1; 15:32; 21:9, 10; 1 Cor 12:28).
There are reasons to believe that active prophecy was more common in the beginning period of the Yeshua movement. We should not be surprised if we are found to be in a period now with more silence from heaven than not. This is how it was for long stretches of time in biblical history according to the text of the Hebrew Bible.
Nonetheless, by joining with others, by seeking an experience with God and Messiah in the congregation, we can experience things like assurance, consolation, connection, a strengthening of hope, and a sense of purpose in living as a disciple. The congregation is a powerful place. Eugene Peterson has called it “a colony of heaven in a country of death” (The Pastor: A Memoir, New York: HarperOne, 2012, pg. 110). We don’t actually change the fact that the world is a country of death, but we create space and a group that anticipates the coming world. That includes modeling what it will be like to have Messiah near, to have his voice in our lives directly, to encounter him personally.