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, suggesting that most of us resemble the Samaritan woman in our understanding of the value of our calling, maintains that our relationship with God is our sole protection from carnal human nature and the deadly pulls of the world. Whatever consumes our time has the power to either edify or distract us. Faith and works are interchangeable components in our salvation, demonstrating a cause-and-effect relationship. The apostles Paul and James preached the same message, approaching the faith-works coin from different sides. Faith grounded in truth produces works in agreement with truth. Faith without godly works resembles an automobile without an engine. As a minority religion, God's Church appeared on the world scene in the midst of cultural upheaval. Peter's message on Pentecost led not only to exponential growth, but also to vicious persecution. As God stirred the cultural pot then, so He is doing today, on the cusp of Jesus' return. The frightful conditions during the First Century are only typical of the horrific times yet to come. To weather these horrendous conditions, we will need the encouragement of the Epistle of Hebrews.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that Jesus handpicked the twelve apostles for a specific work, notes that there is a strong possibility that God has also handpicked each one of us to fulfill a particular role in the Body. Like an engineer on a building project, Jesus Christ has constructed a blueprint with detailed specifications. God is the Supreme Designer. He has called the common and the foolish people for the task of confounding the mighty. But after our calling, God sanctifies us, pounding out the foolishness, through His Holy Spirit putting His precious thoughts into our minds, making matters which were once cloudy clear. Accepting the gift of God's Holy Spirit comes with grave responsibility. We are required to place a high value on this precious gift, guarding it with all our heart. Where our heart is will be our treasure. Spiritual treasure will last, while all things material will deteriorate. Our heart is what makes us tick, what we set our minds to. God reveals that He has a heart and the capacity to feel tenderness. To a lost and hurting people, He assures Ephraim (symbolic of the wayward northern ten Tribes of Israel), "My heart churns within me" (Hosea 11:8). The book of Hebrews clarifies that the persecution on the Church following Jesus' crucifixion, resurrection, and the giving of the Holy Spirit did not come directly from God—but He did stir the pot that caused the persecuting in that fulcrum time in World History.
John Ritenbaugh, observing that Psalm 78 reveals Israel's intermittent fractured-and-restored-relationship with God, emphasizes that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are destined to repeat them. Israel has forgotten her unique position as the only people to whom God has revealed Himself. Sadly, Israel is squandering this treasured opportunity. As God's called-out ones, we must recognize our distinctiveness, thereby ensuring that we do not emulate Israel's unfaithfulness. Just as Jesus Christ personally selected every one of His original apostles, so has He hand-picked us by the will of the Father (John 6:44). There will be no "self-made men" in God's Kingdom, He having empowered us to fulfill a particular role in His masterplan. We assist God by yielding to Him, obediently submitting to His Laws and bearing righteous fruit. The Book of Hebrews emphasizes that Jesus qualified as High Priest, giving vital instruction about living by faith in the New Covenant, which mandates that we keep all His commandments. We must not fall for the dangerous heresy that "since Jesus kept the Commandments, we do not need to keep them." If we refuse to submit to God's Laws, we will not be in His Kingdom. Through obedience, we provide evidence that our love for God is genuine. The offspring of Jacob today are reaping the consequences of disobedience to God's Covenant; These consequences include (1.) hordes of aliens seeking to dominate and destroy the host culture, (2.) secularists persecuting those who believe in God, (3.) a welfare state stealing from the productive and gratify the indolent, and (4.) a Government using 'education' as a control mechanism.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the description of the New Covenant in Hebrews 8:10, reminds us that, although God never intended the Old Covenant to endure eternally, the spiritual and immutable law (shared by both the old and new covenants) was to last forever. God did not nail His holy Law to the cross, as major Protestant denominations mistakenly declare. Rather, God nailed the penalty for our past sins, paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ, to the cross. The wages of sin is death. When Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law, He not only provided a model as to how His called-out ones are to keep it, He magnified it and raised the standards of compliance, targeting not only behavior, but motive—the whole spiritual process which underlies any sin. To give His called-out ones the ability to reach these higher standards, He gifted them with the Holy Spirit, thereby empowering them to displace carnality with Godly character. God does not create such character by fiat. Rather, it grows steadily with our determination to participate and cooperate with God. The purpose of all of God's covenants with mankind is to create character and stop sin. The New Covenant, as explicated by Hebrews, contains "post graduate" responsibilities far beyond the letter-of-the-law instructions given in Leviticus. Unlike the faulty Protestant assumption that Christ has done all the work of salvation, Christ warns His people that they must soberly count the cost because of the vastly higher standards established in the New Covenant. Christ promises, through the means of His Holy Spirit, the power to do His will, thereby giving His people the necessary tools to achieve membership in the family of God.
Charles Whitaker countermands some Protestant commentators' attempts to equivocate the real intent of Hebrews 10:9 by wrongly asserting that Paul therein contends that the Law (or, according to some, the Old Covenant) has been done away. The thrust of this passage, however, is that God has set aside the system of animal sacrifices (which never did atone for sin), allowing the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (which did atone for sin) to displace the previous system. In Hebrews 8 and 9, Paul indeed writes of the Old Covenant (Diatheke), saying it is disappearing (though not yet vanished away (Hebrews 8:13). Hebrews 8:13, referring to the Old Covenant, does not contradict Hebrew 10:9, which refers to a system of animal sacrifices. The unfortunate ambiguity of the King James Version can be cleared up by looking at any number of more modern versions.
With the giving of the New Covenant to God's called and chosen people, the church, problems arose among both Jewish and Gentile converts. God inspired the writing of the epistle to the Hebrews to answer the difficult questions church members were struggling with during the tumultuous first decades of the church. John Ritenbaugh begins to unravel the reasons early Christians needed the book of Hebrews.
Ronny Graham, in part two of his message, "Seeing God in Creation," again focuses on Romans 1:18-20, emphasizing that humans can deduce God's presence from His creation. Hebrews 11:3 adds that the Invisible has created the visible. Hebrews 11 shows that Abel, Noah and Abraham displayed their faith by their works. Two theories of creation have tried to jettison God out of the process. The Big Bang Theory posits that some billions of years ago a brief but massive blast catapulted matter from a tiny confined source to the outer regions of the universe, ultimately accounting for the stars. Scientists remain unable to explain the cause of this explosion, simply asking people to have faith in an unproven theory. Darwin's theory of the Origin of the Species, hypothesizing that humans evolved from "lower" animals, cannot account for the present-day coexistence of these lower animals with humans. When we compare these flawed theories to the Biblical account in John 1 and Genesis 1, we have clear explanations for daily, seasonal, and yearly cycles—phenomena the Big Bang and evolutionary theories cannot explain. The unknown energy and the mind behind these cyclical patterns is God. The regularity of these cycles imply a faithful Creator. Sadly, even those scientists who advance "intelligent design" seldom attribute it to God, referring to it as Mother Nature, or some such abstraction. They refuse to acknowledge that God made all things through the Word of His Power. Thankfully, God has given His Faith to those whom He has called, enabling them to believe in Him. If we believe God, we will manifest our faith through obedience.
The offering on the Day of Atonement is unique in that it is a singular offering in two parts, each goat representing a separate aspect of Christ's sacrifice. In Part Three, David Grabbe explains why the goat of departure cannot be connected to the binding of Satan (Revelation 20:1-3), as well as how Hebrews 9 and 10 clarify the Atonement ritual's meaning through the complete—and completed—sacrifice of Christ.
Mark Schindler, focusing on the events occurring between Christ's resurrection and ascension, offers some speculation as to specific details occurring within this period of time, shedding light on the second part of the Atonement sacrifice. During these hours, Jesus Christ qualified to be our High Priest because He experienced the horrendous effects of sin and separation from God the Father for our sins, undergoing purification, typified by the cleansing of the priestly garments by the man who released the goat laden with sin, enabling him to return to the camp (Leviticus 16:23-28). The absence of the 100 pounds of aloes, the folded "turban," and the rolled away stone indicates much activity had taken place and that a thorough cleansing and purification had occurred, perhaps in the Garden of Gethsemane amidst a company of angels, a mere 45-minute walk from the tomb. As we count toward Pentecost, we need to reflect as to how Christ qualified to fulfill His role as our empathetic High Priest.
David Grabbe, reiterating that the two goats of Leviticus 16 make a composite sacrifice for sin, reminds us that every sacrifice in the Levitical sacrificial system was an unblemished animal. The first goat in Leviticus 16 was to satisfy God's demand for justice with a covering of blood. The second goat symbolizes the removal of sin, expunging its memory from the camp of Israel and from God's mind, transferring it into oblivion, symbolized by an uninhabited wasteland- as far as East is from the West. The live goat was a substitutionary sacrifice for the whole nation. The goat of departure bore the sins of the entire people, carrying the sins out of sight and out of mind. Christ, as a substitutionary sacrifice, bore the sins of all of humanity, carrying them out of sight. Satan, because his sins are numerous, cannot be a substitutionary sacrifice for anyone. The sins have been blotted out, totally erased from the mind of God. Sin is disannulled, neutralized, cast off, and obliterated, removed from consciousness and conscience. Satan has no role in this process.
David C. Grabbe: As the book of Hebrews ends, the author—likely Paul—pens this benediction: "Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, ..."
David C. Grabbe: Despite being perhaps the oldest text in the canon, the book of Job contains many detailed, even scientific, insights into the extraordinary creative and sustaining power of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Many of these are things humanity did not really understand until recent centuries. ...
David C. Grabbe: The book of Hebrews is particularly poignant for the church of God at this time due to the strong parallels between our circumstances and those of the Hebrews in the AD 60s as they faced the end of an age. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, challenging the Protestant assumption that "getting our lives straight" (morality) distracts from the Gospel message of grace, suggests that this emphasis on "hyper-grace" is wrong-headed, denying any need for repentance and overcoming, and totally at odds with the teachings of Christ. The Gospel of the Kingdom emphasizes the plan of God, requiring that we become cleansed from our past sins, living a life of righteousness, preparing for the Kingdom of God—the endgame of God's plan, which is the creation of sons and daughters formed in His image and character. As our character is changed through the sanctification process, we can be turned into Spirit beings. Protestants have an extremely truncated concept of the gospel, denying the sanctification process of salvation and the resurrection. In order to destroy sin, it is necessary to get rid of all sin. God the Father and Jesus Christ want to get rid of all sin—a major part of God's plan. Repenting requires glomming onto God's Law and relinquishing our carnal control over to God's Holy Spirit. God has never finished His Work. In our Christian life, we have lots of rough edges which have to be smoothed before we can rule and reign. The hyper-grace gospel denies any responsibility for our behavior, revealing it to be a throwback to antinomian Gnosticism. Like He did for our forebears, God performed acts of grace to free us, but we have to walk away from sin, repenting of our sin and overcoming our vile human nature in the sanctification process, growing spiritually. The whole Bible is about putting on morality. God's people are to be involved in their sanctification— from consecration, separation, and the rigorous purification process, removing the dross, a process which takes place over a lifetime. The only proper response to grace is obedience to God, walking in His commandments to please Him, fulfilling His will. God called us to be Holy, exercising His Holy Spirit to make moral choices, cleansing ourselves
David Grabbe, acknowledging the longstanding controversy over when to keep the Passover, asks the question of why Jesus Christ was crucified late on the 14th day instead of at the beginning of the 14th. Not having the correct answer to this has led some to keep the Passover at the incorrect time. The afternoon of the 14th is significant because of God's covenant with Abraham as recorded in Genesis 15, which foreshadowed the release from bondage on the self-same day 430 years later, and the crucifixion of our Savior (an event taking place outside of a Holy Day, and apart from the time of any commanded sacrifice) which occurred once, displacing the multiple sacrifices required in the Old Covenant, which were only types of the Heavenly Original. We keep the Passover on the beginning of the 14th day because Jesus Christ commanded us to do that and set that example. The timing of Christ's sacrifice late on the 14th points back to the covenant God made with Abraham for his spiritual descendants to be justified by faith, be given eternal life, and be part of a holy nation.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on John 17:3, reaffirms that to know God (to know His Character) is to have eternal life. Living by faith is the incremental understanding given to those who are undergoing the sanctification process. Moses lived his entire life knowing and believing that God was there. Conversely, modern Israel (or the American people) live their lives as though God were not there. Because of our collective pride as a nation, we will witness God's turning nations against us, usurping our lofty status, turning us into whimpering children. Though we may believe God exists, we may not personally see His involvement in our lives. We are obligated to establish a personal relationship with God in order to safeguard our salvation. Just believing that God exists is not sufficient for salvation because it provides no motivation to overcome. Currently, we are still on our pilgrimage, having our faith tested continually. Some of the Founding Fathers of this country, practicing Deists, believed in God, but did not believe that God was actively involved in His creation, producing a passive relationship. We are warned not to put off forming a relationship with God; we do not have an unlimited amount of time to do so. Faith in God and in the motivating power in God's Word have to be the driving force in everything we do each day. We need to be faithfully assimilating God's Word incrementally every day until our behavior becomes habitually conditioned by God's Word. We need to hear as well as see, heed and obey as well as merely listen. David, a type of Jesus Christ, has become a symbol of one who has established a close, intimate relationship with God. We must voluntarily sacrifice our time, energy, and devotion to God, showing that we desire the relationship. Jesus Christ, who has purchased us with a price, has been pleading for His Bride to return to Him. We assimilate Jesus Christ when we assimilate His Word.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the times we are about to go through will be unparalleled history, suggests that we need to keep our vision before us. We have the obligation to be loyal to Jesus Christ. We cannot, as our forebears did on the Sinai, harden our necks in disbelief and disobedience as a result of flagging faith. Our forebears were charged with enthusiasm as they left Egypt, but their faith ultimately waned. Our current day fellowship faced a similar attenuation of faith, leading to a precarious decline in membership. We have an obligation to place our faith in a Living Being. Christ is not going to draw back from us, but we might allow something to come between us and our High Priest. The people of Hebrews, like us, were living in an end time, prior to the destruction of the temple. For the recipients of Hebrews and for us, faith is a use it or lose it proposition. God sought us out; we didn't find Him by our seeking. What God has given us He has given to very few people. Humility must be at the foundation in the relationship between us and Jesus Christ. The church exists solely because what God has purposed and done, not because anything we have done. When pride exists within us, God can do nothing with us. God dwells with those who exhibit contrite and humble hearts. In His spiritual creation, God has demonstrated extraordinary planning and foresight, planning and caring for the destinations of billions of individuals. With God, nothing happens randomly; even mistakes we have made can work for our ultimate good. As God's called-out ones, we are special.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon elements of what repentance is and what it produces, warns us that we are continually in need of repentance. The churches in Revelation 2 and 3 were warned to repent, prefiguring the identical conditions which would be extant in the current greater Church of God. Like faith, repentance must exist in the end times. We are admonished to change our mind and attitude, bringing about a total about-face in behavior, in which we abhor our human nature and diligently seek God's nature. Repentance must be motivated by a Godly sorrow which leads to a dramatic change of behavior. The Corinthian congregation was beset with myriad sins, including party-spirit and porneia, even though they were puffed up with pride because of their spiritual 'gifts.' Paul addressed the Corinthian congregation as carnal, even though its members were converted. The congregation in Paul's letters to the Hebrews had become dull of hearing, losing their spiritual maturity. Faith and repentance are inextricably linked as we move on to perfection. Godly sorrow leads to perfection, while worldly sorrow leads to death. Repentance has seven distinct fruits: 1) diligence (the motivation to accomplish), 2) clearing of self (washing away), 3) indignation (anger at injustice and sin, especially at ourselves), 4) fear, 5) vehement desire (a strong and persistent craving for righteousness and a burning desire to change), 6) zeal (wholehearted ardor for accomplishing a task), and 7) vindication (setting things right). We must, in repentance, voluntarily surrender the self, striving to imitate our Heavenly Father and our Elder Brother.
While we must express some of our own faith as we come to salvation, the great bulk of "saving faith" is a gift of God, given graciously and miraculously as part of God's creative process in us. In particular, John Ritenbaugh uses the examples of Abel and Enoch to illustrate the pattern of faith through which God walks His people.
As Christians, we realize that God is not only powerful, but He is also the source of all power. How do we translate this understanding into practical action? John Ritenbaugh explains how we can tap into God's power to avoid slipping into apostasy.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the Bible shows a clear pattern of how people leave the Church. The first step in the pattern is looking back, as in the case of Lot's wife. The second step is to draw back, motivated by self-pity, shrinking back as from something distasteful. Step three consists of actually walking away and looking for something else. Step four consists of arriving at the point of no return, going backward, refusing to hear. In contrast, the book of Hebrews is a compact book laying out clear doctrine and practical exhortation to called-out ones who had started to drift, giving a practical model of being sanctified. Chapter 10 contains a fearful threat of the Lake of Fire for those having committed the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin constitutes sinning willfully and deliberately. To sin willingly means to be disposed to do it as of a second nature. We need to draw near God's throne with boldness, cleaning up our acts, using faith, hope, and love.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that even though the Father and the Son work as one, they are distinctive Beings with separate functions. The Father is the source of all power, while the Son serves as the sole Mediator and the channel through which we interface with the Father. Through the Son (the Image, reflecting the Father's character and mind), we see the Father's power and wisdom. Jesus Christ is unique, serving as the divine link between God and man, intervening and negotiating on behalf of frail man with the full knowledge of the Father's mind and will. The ultimate goal of humanity is to know the Father and the Son, learning to live as they do. Only Christ has been composed of both divine and human natures, serving as Firstborn (having pre-eminence) of a special creation'one in which we are involved due to our calling. Hebrews 1-9 define His uniqueness as the Mediator (High Priest) between God and man, exalted over the angels, but nevertheless submissive to the Father.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the sheer variety of choices (distractions) available to us today (with their potential accompanying temptations and enervating time-wasting diversions) is extremely stressful because it automatically increases sin and lawlessness, automatically decreasing love, zeal, and affection. Like our society, the recipients of the general epistle of Hebrews were a group of people living in confusing rapidly changing times — experiencing intense economic, cultural, social, and moral upheaval. These "crusty old soldiers" or weary seasoned veterans identified in the book of Hebrews (like the Ephesians and far too many of us) were becoming inured and indifferent to mounting societal sin, allowing their spiritual energy to be sapped by resisting negative societal pressure, draining them or diverting them of their former zeal and devotion to Christ. If we incrementally lose our love, affection, and devotion to Christ, we automatically lose our desire and motivation to overcome, endangering our spiritual welfare as well as our relationship to Christ. God Almighty has mandated that we reignite the spark and rekindle our first love.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the promise of rest alluded to in Hebrews 4:9, emphasizes the need to endure, persevere, overcoming doubts and unbelief—something many of our forebears (described in Hebrews 3 and 4) did not successfully attain. When we become impatient (largely as a result of superimposing our timetable, plan, or understanding over God's), doubts and lack of faith arise. Like Abraham, we (as Abraham's seed) have been called to a life of rootless, unsettled wandering in a pilgrim state, continually on the move, trusting in God to lead us to our ultimate destination: a spiritual life of permanence. Until this ultimate objective (the ever-expanding promises made by God to Abraham- co-heirs of the earth and ultimately the entire creation) occurs, we experience temporary privation, temptation, and seemingly perpetual rootlessness. Thankfully, if we patiently endure the twists and turns, trusting in God's faithfulness to bring to completion what He has started, there will be a time when we will attain the rest we desperately yearn for.
John Ritenbaugh, taking issue with the doctrine of eternal security—the idea that a called individual has absolutely no part in the salvation process—points out that passivity and complacency are deadly to spiritual survival. God does not owe us salvation on the basis of Christ's sacrifice. Like ancient Israel, we are called to walk, actively and forcefully putting to death our carnal natures, resisting the temptation to be complacent or timid. In the end time, the struggle becomes exponentially more difficult. Christ warns us not to be caught up in the cares of this world, burdened or overloaded with busyness and distraction. Preparation for future persecution includes being thoroughly convicted of doctrines, being conditioned to stand firm, and resisting the fear of sacrifice and self-denial while replacing it with unconditional submission to God, as sacrificial love is fear's antidote.
John Ritenbaugh maintains that the best matrix for salvation (or to come out of Babylon) is to diligently seek God, a connection lost in the Garden of Eden. Christians must rigorously practice their faith, having their senses trained, growing from immaturity to maturity. Sanctifying implies growing into perfection. We cannot seek God by standing still, but must continually pray, study, meditate, and fast, growing daily in grace and knowledge. Our biggest danger at this time is to be lured into spiritual drunkenness by the pagan Babylonian system. Our God is not what we say we worship but whom we serve. We dare not be at ease in Zion, settling on our lees- tolerant of sin and blind to our spiritual state- practical atheism or prudent agnosticism. God teaches us that the uncleanness from this world can be transferred from one person to another, but holiness cannot be transferred from one person to another.
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.
Hope conveys the idea of absolute certainty of future good, and that is exactly what the Bible tells us we have upon our calling and acceptance of God's way. John Ritenbaugh shows that, because the Father and Son are alive and active in their creation, our hope is sure!
John Ritenbaugh analyzes the five-point warning message given to the scattered Hebrews by Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews does not identify a single flagrant violation of law, but instead delivers a general castigation for incremental, continuous, disrespectful, and forgetful neglect—a failure to esteem what should have been thought precious, their calling and salvation, while esteeming inferior things like wealth or status. Hebrews expounds four other warnings, all designed to wake the church member up and motivate him toward greater devotion to God. Similarly, the modern church of God stands in danger of allowing salvation to slip away from pure neglect. By these warnings, we should know how to turn our lives around so we do not fall short and lose salvation.
John Ritenbaugh, noting a parallel between the recipients of the book of Hebrews and our current situation, suggests that the pressure these people encountered was not a bloody persecution, but instead constant psychological pressures (economic, health, persecution on the church, social, family, etc.) coming right after the other in a wave that never seemed to end, causing weariness and unfeeling apathy. The book of Hebrews provides resources to recapture flagging zeal and motivation, focusing again upon the reason for our hope and faith, establishing clearly Christ's credentials and the import of His message, re-igniting the original excitement of their (and our) calling and their (and our) awesome future which they (and we) have put in jeopardy through apathy and neglect. We are admonished to resuscitate and readjust our focus and damaged belief system, reestablishing our access to God through Christ our High Priest, claiming the promises of the New Covenant.
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 takes issue with the popularly held notion that preaching the Gospel to the world as a witness is the sole identifying mark of God's church. There is a vast difference between "preaching the Gospel to the world" and "making disciples"- the major focus in Matthew 28:20. The largest portion of the great commission demands that the lion's share of time, money, or energy ought to be invested in feeding the flock. With the present scattering of the church, engineered by Almighty God (not Satan) in response to our sick, rebellious, and unsound condition, our major obligation at this time should be to heal its wounds and to point it in the direction of repentance, overcoming, and growth. God indeed wants unity, but it has to be on His terms.
John Ritenbaugh explores the reciprocity aspect of the relationship between God and His called out ones. God in His sovereignty personally handpicks individuals with whom He desires to form a relationship. This relationship, like the physical creation, must be dressed, kept, tended, and maintained (Genesis 2:15). As in a human love relationship, ardently seeking God and desiring to conform to His image and mature into His character will cause the relationship to grow incrementally and intensify. Drawing near to God (in reciprocity to His love) is the key to the transference of God's mind to ours.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that the practical advice in Hebrews 12-13 fits our current condition like a glove. Like the recipients of this epistle, the greater church of God, having drifted away and given in to sin, we must also lay aside every weight which encumbers, accept God's chastening, receive encouragement from those who have already succeeded (Hebrews 12:1), and energetically get back into the spiritual race. We should allow nothing to deter us from the goal, remembering the consequences if we fail. All of our behaviors — including demonstrating brotherly love and hospitality, exercising empathy, strengthening our marriages, being content with God's blessings, submitting to leadership, avoiding strange doctrines, coming out of this world, praying without ceasing, and being charitable — must be done out of a pure heart.
John Ritenbaugh contends that if our faith had been strong over the past 20 years, we would not have been scattered. Because we behave and make choices on what we believe, any affront to the belief system will alter our choices and behavior, placing us on a destructive trajectory. Satan's chief strategy is subtle deception, planting doubts by subtle little half-truths, equivocations, and deliberate lies. Among the lies Satan has foisted off on the world are: (1) God is weak and ineffectual (as seen in effeminate pictures of Jesus, crucifixes, etc.) (2) God is disinterested and has gone off somewhere. (3) God is so merciful that anything goes (we aren't obligated to keep His law).(4) Sin is pleasurable and leads to prosperity. (5) We deserve more than we have been given. By imbibing these deceptions, we shipwreck our faith and jeopardize our salvation.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that salvation is an entire creative process undertaken by God to justify, sanctify, and glorify a called out body of individuals. Ephesians 2:8 uses the perfect tense 'saved,' indicating an action started in the past and continuing on into the present. As with the typology of the Israelites 'saved' from bondage, the process was not completed until a remnant made it to the promised land—with the sobering example of many dying in the wilderness. Likewise, we are warned about the dangers of backsliding and resisting God's will (II Peter 2:20; Hebrews 10:31) rendering the erroneous 'once saved, always saved' assumption a foolish and dangerous misconception. God assumes the burden for our salvation, but we are obligated to yield to His workmanship—made manifest by good works—the effect rather than the cause of salvation.
All the signs point to Christ's imminent return, yet the Bible warns us not to let down! John Reid, using Hebrews 10, exhorts us to strive zealously to please God and finish our course!
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the remarkable energizing capacity of hope. In the familiar triumvirate (faith, hope, and love) faith serves as the foundation, love serves as the goal, and hope serves as the great motivator or energizer. Unique among the religions, Christianity, with its expectation of a Messiah and the promise of a resurrection, looks expectantly to the future,embracing hope. Motivated by their calling into the new covenant (1 John 3:1-3) Christians anticipating a magnificent future glorification, are energized by this God-inspired hope to overcome the impossible and rejoice in temporary trials.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the entire Old Testament was written with the New Testament church in mind. Certain temporary ceremonial sacrifices, washings, and rituals were set aside when the spiritual reality—such as Christ's sacrifice replacing animal sacrifices and God's Holy Spirit and His Word replacing physical washings (Hebrews 9:18; Ephesians 5:26)—added a spiritual dimension. All biblical law, including the ceremonies, comes from God. Paul never taught any Jew to forsake the Law of Moses, the constitution and civil code, but he did rail against Pharisaical additions for the expressed purpose of attaining justification. Even though a change occurred in the administration of existing law, no laws were done away. Instead, they are written in the hearts of the converted (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16).
John Ritenbaugh answers the question "Is there a scripture that states such and such no longer needs to be done?" The Bible is an unfolding revelation, moving from the physical to the spiritual ramifications—revealing an ever-sharper focus on God's purpose. The Law (including the judgments, ordinances, and statutes), far from being done away, has the purpose of showing us our faults and outlining the way of mercy and love. The animal sacrifices and ceremonies were intended to foreshadow a more permanent spiritual reality—subsumed, but not done away. The Old Testament was written with the New Testament Church in mind, written in the context of an earlier culture. We need to see behind the law a presence of a Holy God with whom we seek to share a relationship.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the reason for refraining from work or pleasure on the Sabbath is not labor or muscular energy, but the overall motivation for expending this energy. Proper preparation for the Sabbath frees us from customary distractions, allowing our words and fellowship to focus on God's purpose for our lives. The Sabbath is 1) a memorial of creation; 2) a recurring period of God's presence; 3) associated with liberty and redemption; 4) a time in which how it is kept looms more important than merely keeping or observing it; 5) represents a shift in emphasis from communal to individual responsibility, prefiguring the rest of God; 6) a time when not working becomes secondary to fellowship with God; and 7) requires a preparation day to clear away mundane activities, enabling total commitment to God.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that because of our close proximity to a materialistic world filled with man's works, our faith cannot take root. The Sabbath is the day consecrated by God for building faith, energizing our minds for fellowship with God. We dare not defile, profane, offer blemished sacrifices, or put to common use this holy time. Our approach to the Sabbath needs to be quality, whole-hearted, aimed at perfection rather than slipshod, lackadaisical, or "Dutching" it just to get by. The Sabbath contains three principal themes or motifs, focusing upon the past (creation), the present (redemption) and the future (prefiguring the Kingdom of God). We must diligently strive to enter this rest.
John Ritenbaugh explains that the four-layered biography of Christ known as the Gospels graphically illustrates the typology of Revelation 4:7 depicting a lion, ox, man, and eagle. Matthew emphasizes the heroic majestic qualities of a lion; Mark emphasizes the faithful and hard-working qualities of an ox; Luke emphasizes the compassionate and empathetic qualities of a man, and John focuses upon the ascendant qualities of an eagle, depicting Christ's divinity. As these four biographies unfold, we get a composite picture or image of what we are to be transformed into.
Conversion is a growing relationship with God, and thus it is a process that, if not worked on, will deteriorate. Like a dating couple, if the partners in this relationship do not spend time with each other and become closer, they will drift apart. Conviction is paramount to this process: We must be absolutely loyal and faithful to God. Our conviction reveals itself in living by faith. The life of Moses is a stunning example of how a "convicted" Christian should live.
In this Feast of Trumpets sermon, John Ritenbaugh, reflects on Malachi Martin's book, The Final Conclave, which claims that, not only are 60% of the College of Cardinals not firm believers, but that a hard core 27% are functional but prudent agnostics, hedging their bets. Some of us, facing the stress and uncertainties of the time, may also be going through the motions but losing every vestige of faith. The Day of the Lord, like a claw hammer, has both a business end (return of Christ) and a wrecking end (destruction, mayhem, and tribulation). In this stressful time, we had better have our convictions in order, realizing that not only is God preparing a place for us, He is also preparing us to be conformed to the image of His Son.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that zealous, sincere, human, religious faith may not be godly, but ironically, because of its fervency, often puts our faith to shame. Our faith has to have as its object a dynamic personal quality with habitual fellowship with God in prayer, meditation, and Bible study. Quality fellowship with our brethren offers frequent opportunities for exhortation and a safeguard against loss of faith. When we fellowship with a small, intimate group, chances for this productive exhortation (Hebrews 10:23-25) greatly increases, increasing our faith. Living faith has its roots in fervently, diligently seeking God and His righteousness with intense desire (like a passinate lover) through habitual prayer.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the smallest unit of government is the individual; God is dealing with each of us on this most basic of all levels of government. It is under the New Covenant that individuals are immersed or installed into His church by the Spirit of God, given only to those who willingly consent to obey Him. In this special handpicked condition, God expects us to learn to govern ourselves. Because the church is a royal priesthood of believers with Christ as the High Priest, there is no religious hierarchy between God and us (Hebrews 10:21-22). In order for us to be transformed from the glory of man to the glory of God, we must have the same kind of access to the Father as Christ did, taking on the awesome responsibility of behaving like the sons of God.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that our spiritual transformation (conversion) gives us the capacity to see Christ and other people, the self, institutions (such as churches or governments) in their true light. Things we formerly deemed important (money, pleasure, and power) become less important and other things (love, duty, and service) become more important. Our attitude toward government must be one of submission—including to human government. (Titus 3:1-2 and I Timothy 2:1-2) We have to realize that the church cannot perform its function without the cooperation of the unconverted state governments.
The church at large has downplayed the fuller dimension of the fear of God by emphasizing awe, respect, or reverence, while ignoring its other dimensions such as fright, dread, or terror. Consequently, many have inadvertently adopted a soft concept of God, disrespecting and showing contempt for God's authority and power. Mistakenly, we transfer or appropriate our fear to human beings, who cannot revoke the penalty of death hanging over us. When Moses and Isaiah recognized God's presence, they became aware of their own vileness in comparison to God's holiness and power. By legitimately fearing God, we lose our human terror, finding sanctuary in God Almighty. Godly fear is a gift given to us as a result of His calling, compelling submission to His purpose and leading to godly knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.
John Ritenbaugh warns that we dare not allow a root of bitterness to spring up in us as a result of the trials we go through - those burdens intended by God to strengthen us and perfect us. We are warned not to emulate the example of Esau, whose worldly mindset blunted his ability to distinguish the sacred from the profane, leading him to give up his birthright to satisfy a bodily craving. We have superior promises (of future Eternal life and a place in God's very family as well as current access to God's presence through the work of Jesus Christ). The intense admonitory quality in the twelfth chapter stems from the stark, inescapable reality that God will not budge one inch on sin. Far from being an indulgent lenient parent, God is a consuming fire to those who will not obey. We need to develop the same white-hot hatred for sin as does our Heavenly Father. Finally we are admonished to (1) increase our fellowship with our brethren, (2) practice hospitality, (3) sympathize and empathize with those going through trials, (4) strive for pure and chaste marriages, (5) resist covetousness, and (6) ease the ministry's burden
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 did not have a blind naïve faith, but one built incrementally by careful examination of the evidence- adding things up or calculating- from cumulative life experiences. From this acquired faith, these otherwise ordinary people received the inspiration to go against seemingly impossible odds, accomplishing super human goals and objectives. This roll call of the faithful serves as a cheering section for the rest of us who are still enduring our trials, still enduring God's chastening, prone to discouragement and occasionally feeling like giving up. Like the heroes of faith- and most notably our Elder Brother Jesus, we need to look beyond the present, looking at the long term effects of the trials and tests we go though, seeing their value in providing something in us that we would otherwise lack (the peaceable fruit of righteousness) to successfully make it into God's Kingdom. God lovingly chastens and disciplines those He loves.
John Ritenbaugh examines the three levels of faith exercised by the roll call of the faithful in Hebrews 11: (1) Faith that motivates (2) Faith that provides vision, and (3) Faith that brings understanding- accumulated incrementally by calculating or adding up the evidence God has provided for us. Abraham, the father of the faithful, did not have a 'blind faith,' but it was based upon observation of God's proven track record of faithfulness. Like Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, or Moses, we are also called upon to give up a relatively stable life (the seeming 'rock solid' certainty of world) and embrace the tenuous life of a pilgrim, soberly calculating or adding up the certainty of God's promises- based upon God's proven faithfulness in our life- relying on the motivation, vision, and understanding of an incrementally developed mature faith.
John Ritenbaugh characterizes the spiritual condition of the recipients of the Hebrews epistle as dangerously complacent, drifting into apostasy through neglect rather than from any blatant sin or perversion. Losing their zeal and first love after the manner of the Ephesians, having a complacent disregard for Christ's sacrifice, they were in danger of permanently searing their consciences and losing their vital access to God. The entire eleventh chapter provides examples to bolster their faith and rekindle their first love. The kind of faith described in this chapter is not blind and clueless, but is carefully developed as a result of systematic analysis of available evidence. Abraham, Sarah, and Moses were all motivated to endure by calculating or adding up all the evidence. Likewise God desires and has deliberately planned that we build our faith by the same kind of calculation, analysis, or adding up the evidence.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the infinite superiority of Christ's priesthood and one-time sacrifice as contrasted to the repetitive Aaronic sacrifices, which were incapable of remitting sin, purging consciences, or providing access to God. The shadow image of the Old Covenant could not possibly provide the clarity, dimension, or detail of the reality of the New Covenant, which gives participants access to God and eternal life. Christ's sacrifice, a dividing point in history, was vastly superior because 1) His human experience ensures empathy, 2) God called Him to be High Priest, 3) His offering was more than adequate, 4) His offering reached the Holy of Holies, 5) His priesthood was established on God's oath, 6) His offering was absolutely sinless, 7) He lives eternally, 8) He occupies the heavenly sanctuary, 9) He sacrificed once for all, and 10) His sacrifice can cleanse a guilty conscience, provide access to God, and guarantee our inheritance.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that everything about the Priesthood of Jesus Christ is superior to that of the Levitical system, which was only intended to serve as a type (a forerunner, shadow, or symbol) of the access to God that Jesus would later fulfill. As splendid as it was, there was neither provision for the forgiveness of sins nor a purging of guilt in the Old Covenant. The real barrier that separates us from or denies access to God is our guilty and defiled conscience, which cannot be cleared by a repetitious sacrifice of animal blood. Only Christ's voluntary sacrifice (done on a totally moral and spiritual plane) can purge our consciences of guilt. We should remember that unless the sacrifice of Christ transforms us (leading us to emulate Christ's sinless life), we have not really repented. The chief difference between the Old and New Covenants is that the letter kills while the Spirit gives life.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates Christ's superior qualifications as High Priest. After the change from the Aaronic to the Melchizedek priesthood, it was also necessary to bring about a major change in the Covenant. The flaw in the Old Covenant was not in the law, but stemmed from the fleshly, deceitful, carnal hearts of mankind. All zealous rededications to the Old Covenant (such as that of Josiah) ultimately failed. In order to fulfill the New Covenant, God has had to perform a heart transplant operation, replacing the deceitful stony heart with a pure undefiled heart (a heart predisposed to keep God's law in both the letter and spirit by means of His Holy Spirit), enabling us to incrementally know God and to absorb His divine nature), an event prophesied by Jeremiah. The Old Covenant made no provision for the forgiveness sin, nor did it contain any means for man's nature to be transformed into God's divine nature.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the superiority of Christ and the Melchizedek priesthood, pointing out that in every way it is superior to the Aaronic priesthood because Christ tenure is eternal rather than temporal, guaranteeing both continuity and quality. Hebrews 7 is the only portion of scripture that carefully examines Christ's credentials as High Priest, giving us concrete hope of our salvation. His blameless and undefiled life made Him an appropriate guarantor or co-signer covering our imperfections. After establishing the need for a change of the priesthood, Paul describes the details as to how the new priesthood will administer the New Covenant, amplifying and bringing into stark reality what had been only seen in shadowy outline in the Old Covenant. The New Covenant is established on better promises, not law changes.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the importance of exercising faith and hope, patiently plodding along day-by-day toward our spiritual goal. Many of the pillars of faith had to wait many years (Abraham, for example, waited over 25 years before he saw the beginning of the fulfillment of God's promise) for the fruition of their faith's target. With godly hope, we need to envision the possibility of successful accomplishment of God's purpose for us, realizing that God has bound that promise with an oath and that Jesus Christ (having empathy for us) intercedes for us as High Priest. Melchizedek, a prototype as well as equivalent of Christ, establishes the validity and dignity of Christ as High Priest. The divine appointment of Jesus as our High Priest precedes our divine calling, more important than genealogy or external physical characteristics.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that Jesus Christ's sinlessness was not the result of being a programmed automaton, but instead as a result of volition or choice—actively struggling against carnal pulls and temptations, enabling Him to fully empathize and have compassion on those tempted in like manner. He experienced exactly the same kind of temptations and suffering we experience, qualifying Him for the role of High Priest, bridge-builder between man and God, the same role for which members of God's called-out Family are also qualifying. Like our Elder Brother, we must learn righteous judgment by continually exercising our spiritual muscle, practicing making choices, distinguishing right from wrong, but building godly character and spiritual maturity through the enabling power of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the proclivity of the ancient Israelites to nullify the power of the gospel, refusing to mix it with actual obedience, which stems from faith and belief. What they heard never became a part of their lives; "Egypt" never left the Israelites. We have to exercise care that we do not follow suit, assenting intellectually but hardening our hearts when it comes to making the changes demanded of us. The consequences for us are far graver than the consequences for them. By yielding to God, we begin to experience the kind of life that He experiences. The rest (katapausis) which God experiences (a period of refreshment, prefiguring the Millennial rest) is a rejuvenating, exhilarating peace of God we can experience right now. We need to yield to the correcting powers of His Word, a means of reflecting the contents and intents of the heart.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the suffering we experience in trials stems from a desire of our carnal nature to bail out, giving in to temptation to satisfy the appetites of the flesh. As the trials become more intense, our flesh ravenously demands to be satisfied, making sin look increasingly more attractive. As we stiffen our necks and resist God's will, we automatically lose what we have gained spiritually and become ignorant of His awesome purpose for us. We must emulate our Elder Brother, who learned through suffering (resisting the powerful, deceitful pulls of sin), preparing Himself for His role as High Priest. Giving in hardens our hearts and alienates us from the fellowship with God. Like the original recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, we must soberly reflect upon our calling, unconditionally trusting in God's faithfulness to fulfill His purpose for us.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that without continuous maintenance and attention, it is difficult to maintain a spiritual mind in a carnal physical body. We, like Christ, were made a little while lower than angels to be made perfect through suffering. He has blazed a trail, showing us a pattern for qualifying (through intense suffering and resisting temptation) for our ultimate responsibilities as future kings and priests—or bridge-builders, reconnecting man and God. As Christ endured the suffering and temptation successfully, we are exhorted to hold fast, activating the hope to endure to the end.
John Ritenbaugh observes that Hebrews is addressed to a people living at the end of an era, who were drifting away, had lost their first love or devotion, and were no longer motivated by zeal. Through lack of prayer, Bible study, and meditation, they had incrementally lost their portion of God's Holy Spirit, which now resembled a tiny, sporadic drip from a water skin. Through careless neglect, they were allowing something precious to slip out of their fingers, squandering a far greater treasure—their potential to become members of the God Family—than the people under the Old Covenant had neglected. Christ, our Trailblazer or Forerunner, was perfected through suffering, and we are to be perfected in the same way. We also need to be made perfect (adequate for our ultimate purpose) through suffering.
John Ritenbaugh reflects that the book of Hebrews is perhaps the least understood, most complex and most scholarly of all the books in the New Testament. However, in terms of spiritual insight, it is a pivotal book, whose function is to bridge the purposes and themes of the Old and New Testaments. It focuses on the work of a Master—the Son of God—who has done something far superior than anyone else has ever done. The primary purpose for this combination treatise-sermon-epistle was to encourage a group of people, presumably Jews in Rome or Judea, who lived at a close of an era and were bewildered and weary of well-doing, to maintain their resolve to continue their spiritual journey.
Even with all the political, environmental and military problems hanging over us, Americans are most concerned about their personal finances. Herbert Armstrong shows from Scripture how your financial problems can be solved!