We tend to think of the early Church as a 'golden age' of unity and momentum. But early church members experienced problems similar to what we face today.
Every Christian longs for the return of Jesus Christ, and we search for fulfillments of the signs signaling that wonderful prophetic event. The seemingly rapid increase in natural disasters and heavenly spectacles can excite us to a fever pitch. Richard Ritenbaugh cautions that we need make sure that our understanding and interpretation of such signs align with what the Bible says about them.
Martin Collins, referring to the complex prophecies of Daniel 11 and 12, suggests that much of the interpretation of many parts of this prophetic passage, except for the fulfilled prophecy in Daniel 11:2-39, has not emerged clearly, and has been subject to speculative distortion. The exploits of Alexander the Great, his four generals, Antiochus Epiphanes, and Judas Maccabees are recorded in this narrative, providing types for future events. The detailed fulfillment of prophecy indicates that the Bible is God's Book and that He is able to keep His promises in perpetuity. The prophecies yet to be fulfilled do not contain enough geopolitical data to make clear distinctions possible at this time, but the context of the prophesied events provides instructions how the end-time saints should live their lives, in order to make their calling and election sure. God gives the saints wisdom because they fear and keep His commandments. Several types of the abomination of desolation have occurred in history, including the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes and the Roman legions. The latter fulfillment has not yet occurred, but the responsibility of God's called-out ones is purification in the backdrop of a hopelessly corrupt society, having abundant knowledge but virtually no understanding. Without the knowledge of God, civilization automatically spirals downward, given over to reprobate and debased minds. Thankfully, the over-riding theme of Daniel is the replacement of these debased systems of mankind with God's righteous government. The prophecies of Daniel should motivate God's saints to a life of purification and overcoming, glorifying God in the process, reflecting God as the moon reflects the sun, enabling the world to see a clear reflection of God.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Elohim is a plural noun indicating more than one personality. Elohim could be considered a genus—a God-kind, parallel to human-kind, animal-kind, etc. Jesus Christ, as the second Adam, is the beginning of the spiritual kind. The creation has switched from physical to spiritual as God reproduces His kind. God the Father and Jesus Christ are two separate personalities, with the Father having pre-eminence. The Bible contains no shred of evidence to substantiate a third person in the God family, let alone a third co-equal being in a closed trinity. The Holy Spirit as a person did not enter the Roman Catholic Church until well into the 4th century. The doctrine was developed out of speculation, deduction, and human reason, ignoring and displacing scriptural evidence. The trinity doctrine is read into, rather than read out of the, scripture. The Holy Spirit has been designated as the "power of God" in the angels' announcement to Mary. According to the scripture, people will be immersed in the Holy Spirit, and it will be poured out on people, it will fall in people, it will fill a room, etc. In the salutations in the epistles from Paul, James, and Peter, the Holy Spirit is never mentioned as a personality or a part of the God family, and never mentioned in the chain of command. In Psalm 139, the Holy Spirit was designated as the power of God, the means through which He accomplishes His will, HIS very spirit! The communion of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to have fellowship with God and Jesus Christ, and it provides an invisible communication network to connect all of Christ's body simultaneously. When one looks at the figurative applications of the Holy Spirit (metaphor, simile, imagery, personification, anthropomorphism), the idea of the Holy Spirit as a person becomes increasingly absurd.
Similar to the old E.F. Hutton commercial, when the preacher speaks on prophecy, everyone listens. Studying prophecy is good, argues Richard Ritenbaugh, but doctrine and Christian living are far more necessary and helpful to our practicing and growing in God's way of life right now.
Reflecting that most prophetic interpretations have not been correct, John Ritenbaugh warns that we must exercise caution when attempting to interpret prophecy. As we have erred regarding Israel's identity, Protestants have erred by assuming that the tiny nation of Israel is end-time Israel. The greater church of God does not have all the pieces about the identity of Israel, the nature of the Laodicean and Philadelphian churches, whether the Beast will rise from a feeble and decrepit Europe, who the King of the South is, etc. The apostle Paul urged that we get our focus more balanced, emphasizing love over prophetic correctness, not remaining indifferent to what Christ deemed important, and learning how to use our trials to persevere and grow. Christ warned His disciples as He ascended not to obsess over prophecy. Instead, we need to persevere, not becoming distracted, and diligently submit to the Word of God.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon I Corinthians 4:6, examines the contexts in which human reason has been misapplied to God's nature. The Catholic Encyclopedia admits that there is scant biblical evidence for a trinity, but that it is "substantiated" by "Christological speculation" only. This fallacious doctrine claims there are three co-equal Beings in the God-Head. Yet, A.E. Knoch in Christ as Deity, drawing more closely on Scripture, affirms that the Father is the source of everything, and the Son is the channel through which He carries out His purpose. By His own words, Christ asserts that the Father is superior to Him (though They are one in purpose and mind). Christ is the only means through which we can receive the knowledge of God, revealing the image, mind, purpose, and character of the invisible, immortal Father. As the Son projects the image of the Father, God wants to fill the entire universe with images that conform to the Son.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon escalating energy prices, urges caution and self-control in spending and taking on debt. If the supply of oil should be drastically cut, all vital services would shut down, and our quality of life would deteriorate. In 1971, the U.S. reached the state of "peak oil" (when supply could no longer keep up with demand), forcing it to become increasingly oil-dependent. As the world industrializes, the demand for oil will quickly outstrip the total available supply (possibly to occur in November 2005). The rising cost of this dwindling resource presages the destruction of Babylon, the hub of the world's economy (Revelation 18:8-20) Christians need to exercise diligence to "know the state of our flocks," acquiring economic stability by submitting to God's counsel, sacrificing now before outside forces usurp our economic substance. Responsible economists admonish us to 1) avoid new debt and 2) get liquid (save). We cannot afford to do nothing.
Who is the Woman of Revelation 17 and 18? John Ritenbaugh explains that this fallen Woman displays no religious characteristics but instead acts as a city or nation involved in the politics, economics, and culture of its time. What nation fits the symbolism?
After showing that today's Europe is far from "Beastly," John Ritenbaugh speculates on the identity of the Woman depicted in Revelation 12. Is she, as the church has dogmatically taught in the past, the church itself—or is she another prophetic entity that we can see active in the world today?
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 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 "perfection" (humanism) apart from God—as opposed to the number of ultimate godly perfection.
Continuing the exploration of Revelation 10-11, Richard Ritenbaugh expounds the bitterness Ezekiel and John experienced from ingesting the little book. God's truth may bring about sadness, astonishment, anger, and bitterness to the one delivering the message. James and John, displaying violent somewhat destructive zeal, serve as the prototypes of the Two Witnesses, who will have developed controlled, purified zeal (Mark 3:14). A major role of the Two Witnesses is to measure the spiritual Temple, evaluating the condition of the church, purifying its worship, and ensuring the people are pure before God.
Martin Collins examines the factors causing urgency and impatience demonstrated by people waiting for Christ to return. We desperately need to develop patience: an active, God given restraint and constancy in endurance while facing trials, realizing (exercising faith like a farmer waiting for produce) that God will take care of us. When juxtaposed against the experiences of the early luminaries like Jeremiah or Job, our frustrations and anticipations seem quite insipid and bland in comparison. Exercising impatience may reflect selfishness on our part, not considering God's timetable or larger picture of salvation for mankind. Trials and tests are marvelous developers of patience and godly contentment. Our patient responsibility includes continual watching and praying, guarding against despair, allowing God to infuse us with godly love, seeking godly fellowship, and patiently enduring trials.
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?
John Ritenbaugh addresses the controversial topics of conspiracy theories, Sovereign Citizenship and the New World Order. These, for too many, burn up countless hours of precious time in vain speculation and useless anxiety. The drive toward one world government is a transparent reality having several biblical prototypes (Genesis 10:8-13; Daniel 2:36-44), all inspired by demonic opposition to God's rule. There is nothing new in this game-plan; conspiracy seems to be a part of our human nature. Satan, manipulating self-interest and pride in various groups and individuals, will only be able to hold his inharmonious confederation together for a short while. If our fear is not in God, this conspiracy will distract, immobilize, and paradoxically tempt us to compromise with it. Our fear ought to be in God who has sovereignty and the final say over all things (Isaiah 8:11-13).
Peter warns us that prophecy is not "of any private interpretation" yet speculation runs rampant. Richard Ritenbaugh explains how harmful misguided speculation can be—it even led to Christ's betrayal and death!
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the Word of God is not ever improved by syncretizing or alloying it with human philosophy, a pattern of reasoning which often begins with a faulty or dangerous premise. The Gnostics criticized by Paul in Colossians 2:16-17 were guilty of bringing in ritualistic ascetic discipline to propitiate demons. While Paul never criticized self-discipline and rigor, he did condemn the practice if it did not emanate from Jesus Christ and if it contaminated the keeping of the Sabbath or Holy Days. God is not merely interested in what we do, but why we do the thing. Some misguided scholars, looking at the "touch not, taste not" phrase, assume that God is not careful about rules. They ignore the context in which Paul condemns an attractive self-disciplining mind control regime or system (Gnosticism) totally cut off from the Headship of Christ.
Matter interacts with energy in a different way at the atomic level than it does at the macro level. Earl Henn show that in a similar way human reason and logic are practically useless as tools in determining the nature of God. Only the Bible gives a complete revelation of God.