Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on the perennial desire of all cultures to return to a mythologized "Golden Age," a paradise wherein peace, abundance and harmony abound. When people claim that "old times" were better, they often overlook the thorny problems besetting those living then. God's people also have a proclivity to perceive the early Church nostalgically, focusing on a few Scriptures which point to the unity of that era. Reading the Scriptures more maturely however, we find that early church members experienced problems similar to what we face today. The early churches had to experience the same God-ordained process of sanctification (I Peter 1:3-7) and the same fiery trials (I Corinthians 10:13) we do today. Paul found it necessary to admonish (1) the Roman congregation to be discerning, shunning false teachers, (2) the Corinthian congregation to flee envy and strife, (3) the Galatian congregation to flee from tendencies to return to Judaism, (4) the members of the Ephesian congregation to maintain their "first love," (5) the Philippian congregation to put away division, (6) the Colossian congregation to eschew Jewish-gnostic philosophies, and (7) the Thessalonian congregation to reject interpretations of prophecy informed more by theory and rumor than by Scripture. The Golden Age has not yet arrived but will be coterminous with the Kingdom of God.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the tumultuous time recorded in Acts is analogous to the current factional secularism, where God's Church is operating in the shadow of religious structures claiming to be "faith-based," but in fact denying God's Laws. Like the original audience of the Book of Hebrews, who battled a hostile established main-stream religion [Judaism] and persecution from an equally hostile secular Roman government, God's Church today faces a curtailment of tranquility. Like Paul and Nicodemus, God has pulled His people from pagan traditions practiced by the mainstream religion. As we are individually called by the Father (John 6:44), and the spiritual scales fall out of our eyes, we are just as disoriented and bewildered as the apostle Paul, finding our former friends and family members estranged from us. We learn that counting the cost means putting Christ ahead of friends, family, and especially self. At the time of the writing of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the newly converted Jew to the Way encountered persecution from the established religion and culture similar to what God's called-out ones experience today from established religion, family, secular culture, and government, all militating against God's Truth. Although textual criticism, citing stylistic differences in style between the Book of Hebrews and the identifiable Pauline Epistles, casts doubt on Paul's authorship, compelling internal evidence points to Paul as the actual author of Hebrews.
John Ritenbaugh, reacting to the secularist's complaint about God's failure to make clear His purpose, assures us that no one has any excuse for doubting God's existence or His carefully crafted purpose for mankind, whether revealed publicly through His Creation or privately to His people through the Holy Scriptures. Paul rejected the complaints of those Jews who decried God's calling of the gentiles. Similarly, secularists presumptuously skate on thin ice when they demand that God explain His purposes. The biggest obstacle in understanding God's purpose for our lives is our carnal mind (described in Romans 8:5-8) which prefers the phantom of perpetual control over the blessing promised by submitting to God. The Scriptures provide ample evidence as to God's purpose, including the account of the earth's creation and the joint planning of two personalities in the God family. All creatures designed by the Word reproduce after their kind, demonstrating a pattern through which the God family would also reproduce after its kind. God's ultimate purpose for mankind is clearly proclaimed in His Word, indicating that God the Father (in His special love for mankind created in His image) had already, having a foreknowledge of man's behavior, planned the redeeming death of His Son from before the foundation of the world. Christ's death for our sins was already in the blueprints from the foundation of this world's system. As Christ's death was pre-ordained, our calling was also orchestrated from the foundation of the world with the standards of judgment and qualification clear. Paul teaches us that God ardently planned our calling, our access to His Holy Spirit, and our future destiny as members of His family.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on a classic radio program Lights Out in which one episode featured a terrifying accident in a laboratory in which a growing chicken heart could not be stopped until it consumed the entire earth, asks whether people think God is so irresponsible that He would allow something to come into existence He could not control. Most of modern Israel has been afflicted with a blindness of God's purposeful intent, even though it is eminently clear in both the public revelation (the creation itself, Romans 1:20) and the private revelation (God's Holy Scriptures unlocked through God's Holy Spirit). The apparent reason for Israel's current blindness is an adjustment on God's part to allow the "fulness of the Gentiles" to occur (Romans 11:25. Because God has purposely chosen to keep Himself invisible, even though His works proclaim ample evidence of a purposeful builder or designer, some presumptuous fools think they can call God into account, advising Him of better ways to manage His work. Even though the evidence from creation is insurmountable, people deliberately want to disregard it because accepting it would require that they submit to His will, something which the recalcitrant carnal mind from Adam and Eve to the present day is loath to do, preferring to satisfy its selfish, greedy desires. Our carnality wants wiggle room to dominate and to focus on the here and now rather than the ultimate purpose for which we were created. The lying, carnal mind, despite the testimony of creation and scripture, claims that if God exists He has no plan or purpose, ignoring God's stated intention of creating mankind in His image. Obviously, the majority of Israel, still under spiritual blindness, is oblivious to this intention. We must resist God-denying insanity of atheistic, 'progressive' evolution-based humanist education permeating our culture, reinforcing our rebellious carnal nature.
Charles Whitaker, observing the plethora of pairings (binary opposites, dichotomies in Genesis 1 and 2 (day and night, male and female, sea and land, the Tree of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life, etc.) asserts that during the first stage of Creation, God unleashed multiple universal processes of division or separation. In the New Creation in the fullness of time, God purposes to regather everything He has heretofore separated. After the Passover Jesus shared with His disciples up to the event of His crucifixion, the division between Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, over the sun and under the sun, etc., was obliterated, initiating unification. During the New Order (New Heavens and the New Earth) described in Revelation, the division between night and day, as well as land and sea, will also be obliterated, indicating a thorough unification process. Consequently, God has shown His long-term plan as a two-phased project beginning as a lengthy separation process, followed by a reconciliation or unification process, in which all will be gathered, reconciled, and unified into the Body of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the topic of self-defense, examining the scriptural instructions for proactively avoiding or resolving dangerous conflicts. At the beginning of Acts 22, Paul, after clearing himself of a spurious charge (of taking a gentile into the temple), establishes his identity and credentials as a Jew (a zealous disciple of Gamaliel) in order to build a foundation from which to provide a logical defense of his 'apostasy' and testimony of his miraculous conversion (at the hand of God) on the road to Damascus, showing the continuity between Paul's revelation (from Jesus Christ) and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As Paul suggested that the gentiles could approach God independently from Jewish tradition, the crowd became riotous again. Paul saves himself from a certain scourging by establishing his identity as a natural born Roman citizen, giving him the protection of Roman law. Paul extricates himself from another dangerous situation (the convening of the Sanhedrin by the corrupt high priest Ananias) by proclaiming himself a Pharisee (hoping for a resurrection), creating another dissension (between the Pharisees and Saduccees), forcing the Roman soldiers to rescue him.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the Sabbath Command (as well as all of the Ten Commandments) was made for both Jews and Gentiles (all of mankind). Throughout the book of Acts, Gentiles are faithfully keeping the Sabbath along with the Jews. Paul's insistence that a relationship with God could not be established by keeping the law did not lead to the fallacious conclusion that the law (including the Sabbath command) had been done away. Following Paul's tearful and poignant farewell to the Ephesian elders, one finds startling parallels between Paul's final journey to Jerusalem and Christ's final journey to Jerusalem, including their awareness of plots on the part of zealous Jews to kill them, their being handed over to Gentiles for sentencing, their receiving multiple predictions and warnings that they would be apprehended, their demonstrating a resolute determination to do God's will regardless of the consequences and resigning themselves to suffer death. Paul, like Christ, was accused and tried on totally fabricated charges of being antinomian and defiling the temple. As with Christ, the Gentile officials recognized that the charges made against Paul were baseless, but felt coerced by mob influence to carry out the sentence anyway. Paul, through the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit, times his arrival in Jerusalem to coincide with the pilgrim crowds arriving for Pentecost, when his testimony would have the greatest impact. Before his apprehension and imprisonment, Paul delivers the love offering collected from Gentile converts for the Jerusalem church after undergoing a purification rite demonstrating his respect for law and custom.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the intent or purpose of the scripture in Deuteronomy 23:2 prohibiting offspring from illegitimate unions (often carrying psychological baggage and irreversible physical damage) from holding offices of responsibility in physical Israel for ten generations. Acts 14 begins with the people of the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe mistaking Paul for Hermes and Barnabas for Zeus. When Paul convinces the crowds that he and Barnabas were not gods, they were treated with contempt rather than adoration. The church, it seems, has always been forced to live in hostile environments. At the beginning of chapter 15, the question is posed whether a Gentile must undergo circumcision in order to be saved or keep the law in order to become justified. Lawkeeping in the present does not justify past sins, nor is it intended to be a vehicle for salvation. This understanding does not do away with God's law, which must be kept in the spirit. Following the Council of Jerusalem, God now begins His spiritual work through the church, taking His Word out to the nations.
John Ritenbaugh explores the conversion of Cornelius, a Gentile. This event is nearly as pivotal a benchmark as the original Pentecost because the Gentiles at this point are given the same portal of salvation (repentance, belief in Christ, and receipt of God's Holy Spirit) originally offered to Israel. This portion of Acts highlights: (1) The church's initial resistance to Gentiles fellowshipping in the church, (2) God's leading the church into the right understanding of Gentile conversion, (3) God's using Peter (originally relatively rigid and unyielding in his scruples) instead of Paul (more cosmopolitan), and (4) Jerusalem's acceptance of Gentiles (originally considered ceremonially unclean from the Jewish point of view) apart from the influence of Judaism. Peter's vision about the unclean beasts is to be interpreted metaphorically or symbolically rather than literally: Gentiles are not to be regarded as impure or ceremonially unclean.