Mike Ford, learning that his old buddy from college has a close friend who has arrogated to himself and his wife the office of the Two Witnesses in Revelation 11:1-13, asks us if we would be able to identify the Two Witnesses if they were to appear. The job description includes having the power to shut up the heavens, to discharge fire from their mouths, and to perform dazzling, spell-binding miracles. Eventually the Beast will kill the Two Witnesses and, three days later, God will resurrect them, leading us to conclude that they are human beings. Some of the candidates suggested in previous times include Moses and Elijah, Enoch and Elijah, James and John, Jews and Gentiles, the Old and New Testaments, and the male and female aspects of God. This systematized delusion has afflicted many individuals, including John Reeves and Roderick Muddleton, living at the time of Oliver Cromwell, but having adherents and followers up to 1979. Today there is a plethora of Two—Witness wannabees, and websites registering their presumptuous candidacies. Jesus tells us that false prophets will be able to do startling wonders that could deceive the very elect. The apostle Paul warns us that we can only know them by their fruits; if they that teach that God's Law has been done away, they are fake.
Clyde Finklea, reflecting on Bob Dylan's lyrics in "The Times They Are A-changin'," reminds us that within hours of Herbert W. Armstrong death, destructive heresies were imported into our previous fellowship by false teachers and ministers. Paul warned Timothy of perilous times to come about at the end of the age, when the character traits of individuals would become predominantly selfish, unforgiving, and unable to control their own impulses. Sadly, the mindset of society has begun to infiltrate the church, causing some of us to leave our first love by compromising the Sabbath and falling into the Commandment -breaking world, God's called-out ones need to wake up and strengthen those things which remain, yielding to God's sovereignty, rejecting the rule of the god of this world, Satan.
Richard Ritenbaugh, citing Francis Shaeffer's observation, that bitterness rather than doctrine divides and estranges one member from of Christ's Body from another, suggests that individuals often look for a 'doctrinal' reason to cover up the real reason for leaving a congregation. Perhaps the principal cause of the estrangement between brethren can be explained by the Parable of the Leaven in Matthew 13:33, an image of a process of exaggerated growth, parallel to the mustard see analogy, in which a garden plant unnaturally grows into an imposing tree. Although many Bible Commentaries have assumed that both of these similes simply mean what started small will grow to something large, they fail to take into account the necessity of symbols remaining consistent beginning with the first mention in scripture. Leaven symbolizes corruption from sin, even as we examine the wave loaves, composed of humans laden from sin (from which they have repented). As ambassadors for Christ, already having our citizenship in Heaven, we still have sin in our nature. Interestingly, the grain offering in Leviticus 3, designated for the peace offering or fellowship offering did not contain leaven. As a biblical symbol, leaven stands for hypocrisy, false teachings, sexual immorality, vile corruption, malice and wickedness, a condition which will not exist in God's Kingdom, but is rampant in the Church of God today as it syncretizes doctrine with 'knowledge' derived from the Babylonic worldly philosophies. The woman sneaking in the leaven with three measures of meal in Matthew 13 evidently represents the Church, who surreptitiously mixed Christ's pure doctrine with a little sourdough of worldly wisdom, puffing up the church with intellectual vanity, but destroying the prospects of unity or reconciliation between the numerous splinter groups. With this leavening, Satan has destroyed the relationship between church members by corrupting the doctrines that had bound us together.
David Grabbe, focusing on Christ's warning about false prophets in His Sermon on the Mount, cautions us that every belief will produce something, either pointing us toward or away from God. The false prophet conceals something deadly, which will eventually yield poisonous or toxic spiritual fruit. If the belief derives from God's Holy Spirit, we reap love, joy, and peace. As Paul chastised the Corinthians for their divisiveness, each clinging to his hero or champion teacher, he also intimated that a fifth teacher seemed to be influencing them, a teacher syncretizing God's doctrines with the 'wisdom' of the age, using contemporary, philosophy, sociology, or psychology to adulterate the purity of doctrine with Gnosticism. evolution, or something far worse, all deriving their power from the prince and power of the air, the current ruler of the earth. All of these deadly admixtures will produce a bumper crop of bad fruit. As the human body is able to adjust to changes in the environment, our nervous system adjusts to darkness, stench, pollution, profanity, and every form of evil. What was once repulsive may now seem normal or tolerable. The media has corrupted the integrity of our consciences. The wisdom of this age literally saps spiritual growth. When our prior fellowship, after the new regime took over, imbibed of fallacious doctrines, our fellowship harvested an abundant crop of poisoned, contaminated fruit.
Martin Collins, warning that all prophetic speculations have been accompanied with a high degree of error and subsequent embarrassment to the speculator and his adherents, admonishes us that any prophetic speculation, accurate or not, is useless unless it is promotes diligence in living Godly lives, eagerly and expectantly preparing for the return of our Savior, living our lives to the glory of God. If we begin to doubt the veracity of Christ's return, our hearts will turn cold, causing us to imitate the evil servant who begins to mistreat his fellow servants. We have to exercise the same kind of watchful care as a night watchman on guard against thieves and robbers. It is natural for all of us to desire to protect our physical property; protecting our spiritual property should warrant a much higher priority. We must assiduously emulate the faithful servant rather than the evil servant, caught up in cruelty, carousing, and shirking responsibility. Faithless Christians will be judged with greater strictness and severity than non-believers who do not know any better; knowledge always creates a greater level of responsibility. The anticipation of seeing Christ return should be the greatest motivator, bringing about a dramatic change of behavior, living sanctified, set-apart, holy lives that please God, the kind of behavior which could actually bring about an acceleration of God's plans. We should be emulating Christ's model prayer, diligently beseeching the establishment of the Kingdom of God. We need to avoid two dangerous extremes, believing that nothing we can do will make a difference, and the notion that God cannot do anything unless we personally do it. As God's called-out ones, we avoid becoming unstable by growing spiritually, realizing that being saved by grace is only the beginning of the process; we must be constantly strengthened by grace, prompting us to keep God's Commandments as a testimony of our love for Him, maturing to the full stature of Christ.
David Grabbe, describing several contexts of the term "anti-Christ," points out that one meaning of anti-Christ is those who believe that Jesus Christ is not the Messiah, but a mortal, who may have been a good teacher, but was not a Savior or a literal Son of God. Two-thirds of the Abrahamic religions—Judaism and Islam— fall into this category. The apostle John dealt with a group of false apostles in the early Church who had embraced the Gnostic teaching of Docetism, which considers anything physical impure, thereby precluding Christ's physical presence as having any consequence, but considered only the other part of the dual nature, the spiritual, worthy of worship. The teaching of Docetism led to a passive idea of repentance, causing people to accept Jesus' sacrifice and grace, but reject any attempt at overcoming and living by His laws. Sadly, most professing Christians have accepted this deception, rejecting the idea that God's Holy Spirit lives within us, prompting us to walk in His commandments, enabling spiritual growth into the stature of Jesus Christ. They may claim to follow Him, but they reject His commandments. With God's Spirit in us, prompting spiritual growth, we will mature into the fullness of Christ. Without His Spirit, we will have the spirit of anti-Christ.
Martin Collins, characterizing the scoffer as a dangerous mixture of pride, malice, ignorance, and shallowness with a high degree of combativeness, suggests that scoffers will increase exponentially as we approach the time of Jacob's trouble, the dreadful day of the Lord, the return of Jesus Christ and the judgment upon mankind when evil will be utterly expunged forever. Peter warned of scoffers in the church, apostate tares, devoid of God's spirit, ridiculing the doctrine that Christ would return or doctrines of judgment, treating lightly those things we should take seriously. Apostates want to be able to live comfortably in their own sins. Peter assures us that God's Word is true, God's Word is consistent (the world is being reserved for fire as it was previously reserved for a cataclysmic flood following creation), and God's Word is consistent all the way through, focusing on a future day of judgment. God's good creation has been turned into a groaning creation, polluted and desecrated by man's horrific sins. The only reason God has not brought the destructive antics of mankind to an end earlier is that He is merciful and longsuffering, desiring all to repent and embrace salvation. In Peter's sermon on Pentecost, he explains Joel's prophecy of God's Spirit poured out on His saints, given to those who repent, with the expectation that this spiritual gift would be used to edify the Body of Christ—the Church. Peter encourages us with the assurance that, though the elements will burn with fervent heat, we will be given protection if we yield to God, allowing Him to carry out His will for our lives.
Kim Myers, reminding us that we are in a lifelong battle with Satan every second of each day, cautions that all enticements to sin start in man's mind, beginning with attitudes. This battle commences at our baptism and does not cease until we are resurrected as Spirit being—or until we give up and yield to our carnal nature, marinated in Satan's foul attitudes. The process of being taken over by sin usually takes place over a lengthy period of time as we allow Satan's deceptive words to corrode our attitudes, permanently warping our character. Satan, in the first rebellion, took his time, probably persuading one angel at a time until he had a cadre of like-minds, poisoned with Satan's pride and discontent. As Satan corrupted other angels with words (all of the company of demons were at one time pure angelic beings), Satan also attempts to corrupt God's called-out ones with persuasive words. Satan corrupted our original parents with words; Satan may have fostered the final effect over a long period of time, but when doubt, lust, and pride were activated in Eve, her resistance became attenuated until it broke apart. As the Second Adam, our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, resisted the persuasive words of Satan with the words of Holy Scriptures, we must employ scripture in the same way, counteracting the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. As we approach the end times, we must continually guard against deception, especially since some of Satan's ministers are able to convincingly perform miracles. We are warned to cling to the faith once delivered, guarding against destructive heresies. We are in this work together, surrounded by both wheat and tares. Because Satan will attack us when and where we are the most vulnerable, we need to know God's words inside and out, being instant in prayer, continually "cracking the Book" for wisdom, counsel and godly insight, as well as to gain ammunition against the deadly spiritual forces around us, realizing the times will be much tougher as we approach the end of the age.
Martin Collins, asking why Christians must endure such horrendous persecution and struggle, asserts that Paul warned in Acts 5 that the church would always be in danger of deception from within and opposition from without. "Opposition from without" in Peter's time came from the evil oppression incited by the Pharisees and Sadducees. Paradoxically, with the beginning of persecution, the Gospel spread exponentially beyond Jerusalem, much to the frustration of the Jewish leaders, consumed by jealousy and fear of losing power. The more the church is persecuted, the more of a witness the church will become. Angelic ministers even the playing field by limiting the threat from unscrupulous and power-hungry religious leaders bent on protecting their turf. Christians can always expect new challenges, and must never be content with standing still, but must be pressing on to spiritual maturity. God allows a great deal of agonizing suffering to His church, but His will is definitely destined to prevail. Christians cannot fully mature without the full counsel of God, embodied in the Old and New Testament, enduring persecution and thorns in the flesh.
Martin Collins, acknowledging that people universally are curious about the future, asserts that prophecy is difficult and perplexing. Regardless of when Christ will return, we must be ready. False teachers, apostasy, and wars, as well as rumors of wars, will be a permanent part of the birth pangs ushering in Christ's Second Coming and the end of the world. Our challenge in the wake of the terrible things we witness now (an arena of passion and fury) must be to retain confidence that God is in control, even though our faith will be tried to its ultimate. The zeal we had at our calling cannot hold up to the current rigors. We need to learn to fear God more than those who persecute us. When we are ill-treated, we are persecuted for His sake—a high honor. God will give us special ability to witness for Him in the midst of gruesome trials and persecution. God's promises have conditions, namely, that we come to the stature of Christ. We are commanded not to be deceived, not to be afraid, and not to worry. Because Jesus will come unexpectedly and suddenly, we need to always live as though Christ will be returning tomorrow. God encourages us to stay settled in times of conflict, to stand firm in the faith, and to preach the Gospel to the world until Christ returns, an event which will be as the blink of the eye regardless of when we die. Consequently, we need to maintain a solid relationship with God, watching and praying continually, protecting our spiritual valuables. Until Christ returns, we must serve our brethren, using the spiritual gifts God has given us, in direct contrast to the evil servant, who is careless, cruel, and engages in carousing, believing he has plenty of time since Christ has supposedly delayed His coming. Faithless Christians will be judged more harshly than those who do not know Christ. To whom much has been committed, much will be expected.
Richard Ritenbaugh, cuing in on the "What is truth?" episode in John 18:32-37, suggests that John wants us to ask that question of ourselves. Pilate seemed to believe that all the charges against Jesus were built up on lies and trumped-up charges. Jesus, conversely, was the perfect witness and embodiment of the truth—the truth and the way to eternal life. Pontius Pilate was a Roman prefect, probably involved in intrigue and shady backroom deals. The reason behind Pilate's question—- the tone of voice he used when he asked "What is truth?", has been a matter of perennial speculation: Did he ask it sincerely, sarcastically, wistfully, curiously, or impatiently? Pilate realized that Jesus did not have a political motive. Perhaps, Pilate asked the question in a skeptical, world-weary, futile manner, despairing of ever finding a true legitimate answer, feeling that everybody shades their own realities to suit themselves and their preconceptions. Deceit is our most grave problem as we continue in the world and in the church. Post-modern standards deny the existence of truth. Some secular humanists, who control much of higher education, feel that some truths (as practiced by Christians) should not be tolerated. The Olivet Prophecy places deceit at the top of the dangers confronting Christians, who, at the end-times, will be living in the deluge of information age or the disinformation age, powerful enough to deceive the very elect. Satan wants to flood the environment of our minds with a deluge of lies. If a person practices what he preaches, he is likely to tell the truth; we judge by the fruit produced. We have to analyze everything we see and hear, filtering it through the standards and principles of the Holy Scripture, realizing that we have generally not been taught to do this. False teachers tend to chip away at truth one little piece at a time, trying to find an angle to cast doubt on the integrity of the entirety of our belief system. God's Word is the only pure thing in which we
Martin Collins indicates that, even though II and III John are the shortest books of the Bible, they do contain significant themes, amplifying the contents of I John, emphasizing the fellowship with God. II and III John, addressed to elders in supporting local churches, advocate hospitality to legitimate teachers and forbid supporting false teachers. II John provides tests of life, determining authenticity of genuine believers, as well as advocating faithfulness in large and small responsibilities, including the friends with which one chooses to associate, realizing that true wisdom is the right application of spiritual language. No conflict should ever exist between the spirit and the letter of the Law. The message of II John has special application today, where the church is also besieged by perennial schisms and heresies, not unlike the kind of problems experienced in the Corinthian congregation. Love for the truth automatically leads to love for one another within the congregation. A common commitment to the truth is the foundation of genuine Christian fellowship. In our quest for unity, we can never compromise with the truth. True love between brethren is impossible without an equal love for the truth, leading to a perpetual walking in the light of truth, elevating the Word of God over the traditions of man and every wind of questionable doctrine which inevitably leads to lawlessness. We have the obligation to test everything presented to our minds, examining it against the standard of the Scriptures, holding fast to the truth, filtering out and discarding any toxic prevarications.
Richard Ritenbaugh, referring to the Olivet Prophecy as the foundational prophecy of the Bible, containing the basis for unlocking the secrets of Bible prophecy, including the abomination of desolation, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, the sequences of Joel, Revelation, and Daniel, emphasizes that the very first warning Christ gives in that Prophecy is to beware of deception, religious deception primarily, consisting of false prophets, false messiahs, and a flood of falsehood with layers of lies, spinning truth into pretzels, attempting to convince us that right is wrong and wrong is right. Our vulnerability to deception has been increased with the exponential explosion of information, via the internet, Facebook, Twitter, and other sources of information. Enough data is pumped through the Internet every minute to take several lifetimes to process—far more than we have the capacity to comprehend. We must stick to the trunk of the tree (God's precious Word) and place our baloney detectors on high alert to combat the deluge of deception entering our nervous systems.
Joseph Baity observes that God's thought patterns demonstrate perfection, while man's thought patterns are seriously flawed and corrupted by sin. One of the most egregious of man's twisted thought patterns has two parts: (1) We seek to elevate ourselves above God, and (2) we lie to ourselves in relation to the first pattern. The human mind is the most deceitful of all things. The deadly pattern was followed by Eve, the builders of the Tower of Babel, Nadab and Abihu, Miriam, Korah, Moses as he struck the rock in anger, the mob who crucified our Creator, and Gnostic infiltrators. This pernicious thought pattern can be found within all of us. We must recognize our own limitations and submit to God, realizing that God has the correct pattern to life and salvation.
David Grabbe, reminding us that the Days of Unleavened Bread are about leaving one venue (sin and Satan) and moving toward deliverance, warns us that as we leave sin, we do not want to leave our first love, as did the Ephesus congregation as recorded in Revelation 2:1. The Ephesians had a strong sense of duty to not let down, as well as serving as a vanguard in the battle against the false doctrines of the Gnostics and the Nicolaitans. What was lacking was the devotion to Christ, Who had given His life; the spark of love had gone and was replaced by a mechanical going- through- the- motions. They were not zealously attempting to form a relationship with God and Jesus Christ. In an environment of turmoil, it is easy to draw inward in protection of the self, ignoring our relationship with God. Our goal is to grow to the stature of Jesus Christ, or our works are meaningless and will not produce fruit or light. Our prior fellowship lost its lamp-stand because of losing its first love. We do not dare follow in its footsteps, but must reignite our first love with the help of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that it is necessary to cultivate righteous judgment, reminds us that not every law of God is on the same level of seriousness regarding His purpose and that not all things are equal in the framework of the Law. We should never assume that any of God's Laws have been done away, but in some ways are still binding. Scripture cannot be broken, but it can be modified. All of God's Commandments are righteousness; the same things keep happening over and over again throughout the ages. The practice of demonstrating God's agape love trumps all other spiritual gifts. Even though all unrighteousness is sin, not all sins are on the same level for us. We have to develop discernment to think, sorting the important from the marginally important. God wants us to think; understanding leads to wisdom, and wisdom leads to right choices. The two greatest laws (loving God and loving our neighbor) is one law with two aspects. The other laws are still in force, though not on the same level of importance. No law is 'done away.' The first tabernacle and its sacrificial offerings were symbolic of a greater spiritual reality of actively loving God as well as loving and serving our fellow man, as a living sacrifice, following in Jesus' footsteps. Doing righteousness is an expression of love.
Martin Collins observes that the book of Daniel at chapter 8 is recorded in Hebrew and refers more to prophetic events which occur at the end-times rather than the previous narrative recorded in the first half of the book. The ram and goat symbolize the events describing the succession of the Medo-Persian Empire and the Greco-Macedonian Empire, the latter ruled by Alexander's four generals. The vision of the little horn on the male goat is for the time of the end, in which a king or ruler with supernatural powers has the audacity to stand up to the returning Christ. Historically, Antiochus Epiphanes fulfilled this role as a type or forerunner of a later prophetic fulfillment, a time when a sanctuary will be trodden underfoot and must undergo cleansing. The unfolding of these prophecies in the future will substantiate God's giving of these prophecies. Whatever God has determined cannot and will not be altered by any human interpretation of prophecy. We need to emulate Daniel by assiduously studying the Scripture and praying for understanding, asking God for what He has promised and for His will to be done. We can pray with more confidence when we are in sync with God's will. Daniel's prayer, in Chapter 9, provides a model of how we can effectively pray for our sinful nation and the degenerate culture around us.
Most Bible students are not familiar with the prophet Hananiah—or perhaps he should be called a false prophet. In his interactions with Jeremiah, a true prophet of God, Hananiah made a significant mistake: prophesying good when God had called for destruction. David Grabbe explains that, while God's will is to do good—eventually—the timing of matters makes all the difference.
God grants His chosen people many gifts through His Holy Spirit, one of which is the gift of discerning spirits, the ability to determine the source of a spiritual manifestation. David Maas explains that this gift must be used in conjunction with a thorough knowledge and understanding of God's Word.
Martin Collins, initially focusing on the commission of God's prophets as God's watchmen and messengers, switches his emphasis to the false prophets, those promoting the broad way, giving people what they want to hear. In the Roman Catholic Church, every month of the year was at one time a birth month of Christ. Finally, the Pagan date for the rebirth of the sun, or Saturnalia, was selected to resolve the hopelessly confused issue. Prophets, who falsely speak in God's name, prophesying lies, are particularly odious to God Almighty, causing people to go into captivity. The false prophets lead people away from God's way of life, causing them to forget His name, replacing God's truth with human tradition, telling people what they want to hear. Penalties were severe in Deuteronomy 13:1-5, proscribing the death penalty for falsehood. Christ warned against false prophets in the Sermon on the Mount and the Olivet prophecy, both from outside and inside the church, promising liberty by preaching against the Law of God. Even though the false prophets and teachers are subtle, they are easy to identify if one examines the fruit. The law of biogenesis demonstrates that good fruit cannot come from a bad tree. Even though they may be persuasive and gentle, promising liberty, they deliver depression and discouragement, and like wolves, desire to tear the flock to shreds.
Jesus' Parable of the Wheat and the Tares in Matthew 13 warns us that there will be false brethren within the church. Using the example of Christ Himself, Ted Bowling shows that the Bible also tells us how to interact with them in a godly manner.
Last time, we saw that the lessons of Abel, Enoch, and Noah are sequential—they must be learned and applied in order if a person or organization is to make a faithful witness of God. ...
As a new year dawns on most of the nations of the earth, people's thoughts often turn to what lies ahead. ...
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that we are to follow Abraham and Sarah's example of relying on God's guidance, learning to trust in the wisdom of Almighty God rather than the world. In order to avoid strife, Abraham allowed his forward nephew Lot first choice. Likewise, the apostle Paul admonished the New Testament church to refrain bringing law suits before the public. Abraham and Sarah were willing to suffer loss in order to achieve peace. Regarding the current scattered flocks, any spirit of competition is the way of enmity and strife. The sheep do not belong to any man or any one group, but they belong to Christ, given to Him by the Father. It is Christ's, not the minister's responsibility to get the sheep into the Kingdom of God. The Church of the Great God sees the other splinter groups as brethren in the greater church of God rather than competitors. Unlike certain understandings in our previous fellowship, each person is directly and individually responsible for his own submission to God's government. No external coercion will develop character or submission to God. Throughout history, the large congregation has been the anomaly rather than the norm. The scattering of the flock has been a blessing, forcing people to take individual responsibility to develop godly character, responding to a still small voice rather than to brazenly get out in front of God. The Bible is replete with examples of great leaders, with hubris, presumptuousness, or pride who got out in front of God (Satan, Abraham, Sarah, Korah, and Josiah) causing irreparable consequences for their descendents. The antidote to presumptuousness involves patiently waiting on the Lord, following God's lead, resisting any impulse to get out in front of God.
The fact of a Second Exodus that will far eclipse the Exodus from Egypt is generally understood by Bible students. The timing of this great migration, however, is more elusive. David Grabbe points out the Scriptural markers that narrow the time frame to a specific, significant prophetic event.
The Bible warns us that a great False Prophet will soon arise to sway mankind into idolatry. In addition, numerous passages speak of other false prophets and false teachers in the church and in the world. David Grabbe, in exposing the differences between false prophets and true ones, explains what we need to look out for as the end nears.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that we are highly susceptible to negative attitudes from satanic spirit sources. As God and angels are spirit forces, so Satan and his demons are both invisible and immaterial. Words are the medium through which spiritual concepts become lodged in our cerebral cortex. Percepts become concepts through the means of words. Spirit is power and yet there is nothing material there. When spirits (good or bad) communicate with us, thought transfer takes place. Ahab was influenced by a lying spirit and Peter was influenced directly inspired by Satan the Devil. All of us are influenced by the culture of the world, guided and inspired by the prince of the power of the air. Satan has deceived the whole world—including us.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that belief or faith is difficult enough to maintain if the doctrines are put in proper order, but greatly confused when the pastor dilutes correct doctrine with "benign" false doctrine derived from the belief systems of the world's cultures under the sway of Satan's manipulation. Seemingly minor changes affect major trajectories in direction. A person's cosmology (his understanding of the nature of the world) largely determines his belief system and attendant behavior. If evolution determines his cosmology, man becomes his own God. Until our cosmology is synchronized with God's (as we think as God's thinks), our spiritual well-being will be in continuous deadly peril. What a person believes shapes his views and behavior. The Axial Period (deriving from sixth- and seventh-century BC Hellenistic thought) has largely shaped the dominant cosmology of today's world.
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on the second beast of Revelation 13:11-18, offers his speculative interpretation. Both beasts appear to be end-time entities (having a brief but horrifying 3 1/2-year tenure), serving as counterfeits of the Two Witnesses. Both beasts derive their power from Satan the Devil, the god of this world. The first beast rises out of volatile, ever-changing political turmoil, while the second rises out of an entrenched, worldwide religious system, totally opposed to God's laws. The second beast will be able to perform lying wonders, have capital authority over the lives of "heretics," and cause an identifying "mark" on the forehead (representing thoughts or attitudes) and right hand (representing physical activities) of those who voluntarily take it. The number 666 seems to represent the number of ultimate human imperfection (humanism) apart from God—as opposed to the number of ultimate godly perfection.
John Ritenbaugh explores what the Bible teaches on the function of the prophet. Through Biblical contexts, we learn that a prophet is one who speaks for God, expressing His will and purpose in words and signs. The office of a prophet is to forth-tell God's purpose through His Law and tell people God's words. A true prophet, never losing sight of the law of God, deals with local situations, events of the Messiah, events of the future, and events that are dual in application. The prophet, described as coming from outside the system (who brings new truth building it upon the foundation of old truth) is contrasted with the priest who conserves old truth (given to them by a prophet). A prophet goads people to urgently commit themselves to a righteous course of action, forcing them to make clear and often painful choices. Elijah and John the Baptist clearly fulfilled the role of prophet.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the writings of Malachi Martin, suggests that as the Catholic College of Cardinals have a large number of prudent agnostics within their ranks, we also have a great many fence sitters within the church of God, demonstrating an alarming deficit of faith. In times of intense stress and uncertainty, many become extremely apathetic, unwilling to persevere, unwilling to work at overcoming. We are on the threshold of the greatest period of testing ever to come upon mankind. We need to be developing a sense of internal hope and faith through the motivating power of God's Holy Spirit, striving to keep our focus on our calling (God sought us out purposefully), passionately striving for goodness. The apostle Peter wrote an entire epistle (I Peter) on the subject of hope—stressing that what we really need, God will not hold back—including shaping trials. Thankfully, we are not left without resources.
Having shown that God is involved in world affairs, John Ritenbaugh concludes by showing that God's hand was definitely involved in the scattering of the church. Our reaction needs to be positive: that, if He felt it needed to be done, we should respond by growing and preparing ourselves for His Kingdom.
Our physical bodies, like the walled cities of ancient times, has a defense system to keep out invaders. Spiritually, how well do we maintain our defenses against error and contamination? John Ritenbaugh urges us to listen diligently to God's Word for true nourishment.
In this message focusing on the "tail wagging the dog," Richard Ritenbaugh discusses the motivations for proclaiming the true gospel and the motivation for teaching false gospels or heresies. For a genuine minister the gospel of the Kingdom creates a compulsory inner pressure causing him to virtually "explode" with truth, totally unrelated to the need for numbers or ego-stroking. The motivation for the bogus minister stems from a desire to pander to the "itching ears" of the prospective clientele telling them whatever they want to hear, catering to their desires and lusts (Ezekiel 33:32), mixing truth with error, creating a poisonous fatal mixture. While the true minister affirms God's law, the false minister grants license to do whatever one pleases.
In this message on recognizing and detecting the anti-Christ, Richard Ritenbaugh identifies three aspects of the term:(1) the man of sin who appears at the end of the age (I John 2:18) (2) False teachers who pretend to be loyal to Christ's precepts, but covertly oppose His doctrines and example, and (3) anyone who is in opposition to His doctrines (in part or whole). The shocking thing about this third aspect is that all of us have anti-Christ tendencies in us, and must work vigorously to root out the anti-Christ elements within ourselves and to become like Christ.
People who jump from one fellowship to another often do so for superficial reasons such as a personal slight or perhaps defending a pet doctrine. Ministers should be judged by the fruit that they produce in terms of their teaching or the examples that they set. Because fruit takes time to mature, we members ought to exercise patience, refraining from grumbling, or premature judging. In the checklist distinguishing the true shepherds from the hirelings, true shepherds are seen in their genuine concern for the flock, as opposed to hirelings who only devour or take advantage of the flock.
The Bible mentions eating around 700 times, highlighting the broad practicality of the Bible's instruction. Its lessons for us are drawn from life itself, and eating is a major part of everyone's experience. Regardless of race, wealth, education, gender, or age, everybody eats. By studying eating in the experiences of others, we plumb a deep well of instruction from which we can draw vital lessons to help us through life.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the reason Jacob succeeded and Esau failed had nothing to do with personality, but Jacob was elected from the womb (Romans 9:7-11). God gave Jacob the edge. Likewise, we can do nothing to gain the favor of God before our calling, but we are empowered by God to carry out a particular part of His plan to edify the body. We need to guard our appetites, preventing any kind of over-stimulation which would produce an apathetic worldly Laodicean temperament. Paul suggests that with the level of gifting God has blessed us, there is virtually no reason to fail (Ephesians 1:3). God has chosen, elected, predestined us, forgiven us, given us wisdom, an insight into the future, and has empowered us with His Holy Spirit.
Richard Ritenbaugh warns that individuals arrogating to themselves the authority to change doctrine are on extremely dangerous ground, presumptuously or boldly setting up idols in place of God. We dare not put words into God's mouth. The work of God in the latter days is to turn the people from their sin and back to God. Any other work is either window dressing or directly contrary to God. The consequences of presumptuous (intentional) sins are far more deadly and permanent than for sins committed in ignorance (unintentional). Presumptuousness equates to competition with God, following in the footsteps of Satan. The antidote to presumption is to 1) submit to God, 2) remain humble, and 3) wait for Him to exalt us.
Herbert Armstrong made scores of predictions, and many of them never came to pass. Does this make him a false prophet? Is he thus not worthy of following?
Who is the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18? This article takes an in-depth look at this prophecy, showing that its greatest fulfillment is in our Savior, Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that the doctrines entrusted to us through Herbert Armstrong's apostleship remain a major plank in the foundation of our faith. Adopting a revolutionary stance (Proverbs 24:21) for the sake of change, variety, or relieving boredom will systematically destroy the faith once delivered. Through the sanctification process, we incorporate Christ's righteousness by obedience, prayer, study, bearing fruit, sacrificing, serving, and yielding to God's Spirit, enabling us to develop character. In the current scattering, God is testing us to see whether we will hold fast, resisting heresies and false doctrines. Our vision must be kept alive and ever growing or our zeal, motivation, and unity will wane.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God alone chooses the servants through whom He works His will. Sometimes the rationale God uses for selecting His vessels defies worldly wisdom. The major reason for the horrendous split of the greater church of God was the rejection of the doctrines God's servant and Apostle Herbert Armstrong had restored. Apparently, God has used this confusing state of affairs to weed out those individuals who will not yield or submit to those doctrines. When it comes to submitting to God's government, we dare not vainly compare ourselves one to another (II Corinthians 10:12).
In this lead-off sermon of the 1999 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh draws an instructive though disturbing parallel between the warning given to Belshazzar and the warning given to the greater church of God. A major contributory cause in the splitting of the church has been the wholesale rejection of the doctrines Herbert Armstrong, under God's inspiration, worked to restore. When the shepherd was smitten, false teachers systematically undermined the faith once delivered. We need to realize that if God were not with Herbert Armstrong in those formative years, then indeed the handwriting is on the wall for us. We desperately need to hold fast to those doctrines restored through Herbert Armstrong's ministry.
Comparing God's true ministers to false ministers—and seeing their fruit—reveals how the church must be revived spiritually. And "sneezing" plays a major role!
Richard Ritenbaugh contends that the book of Jude, a scathing indictment against false teachers, is perhaps the most neglected book in the New Testament. It was designed for the end time, a time of apostasy, when most of these problems would occur. Jude admonishes ministers to protect the flock, warning that brute beasts (false teachers), having wormed themselves into leadership positions in the church, governed by lusts and desire for gain, will attempt to devour the flock with their cunning antinomian, ungodly teaching, twisting the doctrine of grace into licentiousness, encouraging unbelief, rebellion, and immorality. Jude, seeing the coming apostasy, admonishes people to put forth agonizing effort to be grounded in the truth, taking on God's mind.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the pressures and conflicts that the church has undergone is part of a larger Zeitgeist (spirit of the time) that has embroiled institutions religious and political institutions worldwide. The mindset reflects (and is a function of) an unseen spirit world under the sway of the prince and power of the air. This Zeitgeist or wisdom of men (evidenced by carnality) could well dominate our lives. We need to be extremely careful about what we allow into our minds, from academia, psychology, politics, and especially from people supposedly speaking for God (false prophets), but having their taproot in the world and Satan the Devil. Any message, true or false, has the capability of producing a faith. Faith in the wrong thing will bring deadly consequences. To counteract the heresies emanating from the spirit of the world, we must have union with Christ (through His Spirit), giving us direct access to God's wisdom.
Richard Ritenbaugh insists that the Bible, in both parables and prophecies, interprets itself and remains consistent in its use of symbols. We cannot arbitrarily pull symbols out of the air and attach meaning. The first four parables of Matthew 13 (Sower, Wheat and Tares, Mustard Seed, and Leaven) all describe Satan's plan to destroy the church: (1) attacking at early stages of growth, (2) infiltrating through secret agents, (3) influencing unchecked, unnatural growth going beyond God's ordained limits, inviting worldly and demonic influence, and (4) influencing yielding to sin and false doctrine.
A Statement of Purpose and Beliefs of the Church of the Great God
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that we ought to be devoting considerable time getting to know our prospective bridegroom, like the Apostle Paul desiring to conform to Christ in every way before the marriage. This challenge becomes extremely complicated because Satan has deliberately designed this world to burn up our precious time, creating an artificial sense of urgency and a perpetual state of discontent, taking something that was formerly simple and making it extremely complicated. Following Herbert W. Armstrong's mandate to simplify our lives, we desperately need to redeem the time, seeking the Kingdom of God and conforming to God's personality.
How does God define the church? What comprises it according to the Bible? The ekklesia, the Greek word translated "church" in the Bible, is not a humanly defined corporation, but the mystical body of Christ, having the Spirit of God. The true church of God is an invisible, spiritual organism, of those people that have and are led by the Spirit of God. And such a person will not turn away from the teaching delivered by the apostles.
John Ritenbaugh exposes the deplorable contraditions in the arguments of those who advocate doctrinal change. By their reasoning, they portray God as 'a confused and false minister who lacks the power to instruct his chosen leaders to 'get it right." But that is not the way the Bible portrays Him!
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the subtle changes made by the Worldwide Church of God have contaminated and corrupted virtually every doctrine we have lived by. Alterations in 'the package' affect the whole of what is produced. Proponents of these doctrines fail to see that God is doing more than merely saving people; He is producing sons in His image. Naively thinking that grace was something unique to the New Covenant and law unique to the Old Covenant, these misguided proponents of the 'do away with the law' mentality fail to see that the difference between the two covenants was in the quality of the the faith. The obligation in both covenants consisted of commandment-keeping. Justification denotes alignment with God's Law- not an excuse to break it.
Indeed, many heresies crept into the church over the past several years. John Ritenbaugh explains the difference between heresy and apostasy, how Satan works to introduce heresy into the church, and most importantly, what we can do about it!
John Ritenbaugh poses the question of whether technology really improves our character or quality of life. Are we really better people because we ride around in cars rather than walk? Technology, because of the spin it puts on expectations, can be a great source of discouragement and disillusionment when applying this heightened sense of expectation to God's seemingly slow and deliberate performance. Technology makes us susceptible to the 'quick fix' mentality, expecting dramatic miraculous solutions to all problems, making us susceptible to frauds and even deceptive demonic influence (Matthew 24:24; II Thessalonians 2:9-10; Revelation 13:13). When it comes to developing character, a quick fix miracle will not substitute for patient overcoming. God only works miracles consistent with His purpose (bearing witness to truth), not for any selfish desires on our part.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that in our relationship with God, we must emphasize principle over pragmatism, because pragmatism inevitably leads to idolatry. Jeroboam, in setting idolatrous shrines and festivals at Dan and Bethel, appealed to the carnal desire for practical convenience (I Kings 12:26-33). These practical compromises eventually led to the desecration of the Sabbath and the holy days, ending in the captivity of Israel. When doctrine is diluted, it turns into outright idolatry. Like ancient Israel, we have to guard against the tendency to gravitate toward ministers speaking smooth and pleasant things at the expense of turning from the truth. If we are led into deception, it is because our carnal nature wanted it that way (Jeremiah 17:9).
John Ritenbaugh asserts that nothing is more important than the truth or the seeking after the truth. If we are going to be searching for truth, we should not be seeking it in the philosophies of men (a syncretic system of beliefs having its source in Babylon, a combination of human reason aided by demonic spirits and astrological prognostication - the weak and beggarly elements referred to by the apostle Paul in Galatians 4:9) but rather in the fullness of truth found in Christ with God's revelation as the final arbiter. There must be a continuous searching for more truth with the seeking of the kingdom of God as the highest priority to the end that we grow to full spiritual maturity.
John Ritenbaugh warns that Satan's modus operandi has always been to use a lie to promote self-satisfaction over obedience to God. Like the Messiah, we must learn that the way to the kingdom is through self-denial rather than self-satisfaction. We are particularly vulnerable to Satan's disinformation when we feel we are not getting what we deserve or are being treated unfairly. In a world we perceive to be unfair, we need to emulate Christ who endured unfair treatment, suffering for righteousness sake all the way to his death, without complaining (I Peter 2:20-21) The major cause for the confusion and division of the Corinthian church (and the greater church of God) was Satan-inspired self-exaltation, finding excuses other than sin not to fellowship. The opposite of love is not so much hate ? but self-centeredness.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the spirit in man God has given us is initially good, but capable of being molded, influenced by the spirit of this world, and surcharged with Satan's negative attitudes. Consequently, God makes available His Holy Spirit to discern those things we cannot detect by our five senses. Angels are continually working within our environment, stirring up the human spirit, and making sure God's purposes are being established. By God's Spirit, we can detect the subtle influences of Satan, the god of this world (Ephesians 2:2-3), who concentrates on the lusts of our flesh, broadcasting self-indulgent impulses to those who are tuned in. The only way to block this signal is to tune him out (Galatians 5:19-21), discerning the bitter, sullen fruits of his thinking.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Satan and his demons regard us as invaders of their first estate, and have consequently have engaged us in a fierce spiritual battle to destroy our relationship with God and His purpose for us to be born into His Family. We fight our battle in the mind, in the subtle thought processes (II Corinthians 10:5). We need to be aware of Satan's modus operandi, including the stratagem of disinformation (subtle, plausible lies) spread through false ministers (wolves in sheep's clothing; Matthew 7:15), teaching the smooth, broad way to destruction, encouraging spiritual fornication and eventual enslavement to sin. The apostle John encourages us to test the spirits (I John 4:1-3), making sure that belief and practice are carefully aligned.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that only those who are governable will ever be allowed to govern. No government (not even God's government) will work without each individual submitting in his area of responsibility. Our elder brother, Jesus Christ, qualified to rule because of his feeling of responsibility (1) to God, in submitting to Him, and (2) to man, in using His powers to provide salvation for all mankind. Following in his footsteps, we must realize that leadership requires becoming a slave or servant. (Matthew 20:24-28)
Of all creation, man is the only creature made in God's image and given dominion over the rest of creation. When God breathed in the spirit of man (Genesis 2:7) to enable thinking, feeling, and creating, He imbued God-like characteristics, giving mankind the capability of subduing, controlling, and directing the rest of creation—a power not given to animals (Genesis 1:26, 28). With dominion comes responsibility to maintain (Genesis 2:15). The sad history of mankind shows that he has badly mismanaged his power, bringing about disease, war, and famine. Such people will be brought into account (Revelation 11:18). God's Spirit enables us to direct this power in a responsible, godly manner.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Matthew 7:15-20, observes that false teaching tends to produce four different ways of life: (1) Getting people concentrating on externals (rituals and regulations); (2) Concentrating on negativism (no cards or movies); (3) Concentrating on liberalism (sinning that grace may abound); and (4) Divorcing life from reality (going off to a monastery and practicing a form of asceticism). Over the years, these practices have only produced disunity. In order to build sound doctrine, we are obligated to build on the foundation Christ's teaching (the Rock, the spiritual drink, or living words), taking the straight and narrow course rather than the accumulated wisdom of this world. We need to look by faith ahead into the future, listening very carefully (to the truth of God's Word) discerning the spiritual intent, immediately putting this understanding into practice (assimilating it as a part of ourselves) by our reasonable sacrifice- giving ourselves as living sacrifices- building iron clad faith in the process, insuring our spiritual (as well as physical) success. Whatever we build upon will be tested by intense purifying trials. Everyone has trials and temptations, but God will not test us (those God has called out- those who daily nourish themselves on His word) beyond what we can handle, enabling us (through the power of His Holy Spirit) to overcome them, developing extraordinary spiritual stability- like the stable tree in Psalm 1. Like our Elder Brother, we need to assimilate this nourishing word so much that it would become second nature (actually first nature) to us. Unfortunately, the Pharisees with whom Jesus confronted could not assimilate this precious word because it clashed with their traditions and reasoning. Hopefully our own traditions and preconceptions will not allow us to assimilate His Word. If we reject God's truth, we will fall into deception and our hearts will be hardened like Pharaoh's. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Matthew 7:13-14, observes that life consists of a series of choices—often a dilemma of a pleasurable choice on one hand, and a daunting difficult choice on the other. It seems as though God Almighty and Jesus Christ invariably want us to make the more difficult choice, insuring seemingly the maximum spiritual growth and character development. Moses took the difficult way, forsaking the adulation of leadership in Egypt, becoming the leader of a rag-tag group of disgruntled slaves. Our daily choices (small and large) are based upon the same principle. Sometimes our choices are quite costly, putting our careers and opportunities on the line in order to follow God. Some of the choices we make consist of discerning true ministers from false ministers and discerning the fruits of false religion. We need to develop and maintain an intense love for the truth, by faith developing vision and foresight of future consequences. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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