Martin Collins, taking the apostle Paul's cue that persecution expresses our relationship to Christ, suggests that persecution involves a wide spectrum, ranging from torture, physical beating, social excommunication, imprisonment and death—fates endured by the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11. Paul did not ask for the harassment and persecution he endured, but maintained that everything which befell him proved to be for the ultimate good of spreading the Gospel. Because of his impeccable witness, the entire Palace Guard at Rome received testimony, some persuaded to the point of conversion. Ironically, jealousy from other 'Christian' factions probably led to Paul's execution rather than persecution from the outside, a harbinger for those living in end-time persecution. The churches in Revelation 2-3 all receive their portion of persecution, but God promises deliverance and reward for those who endure. In the current diaspora of the Greater Church of God, the trials and problems are not much different than those of the first century, and Christ still promises boldness to those who see the big picture. Our boldness and confidence should match that of Paul's trusting in God to give us strength to overcome or endure, following Christ's example of esteeming others above ourselves, even those who maliciously abuse us, realizing that God will open their eyes at the right time. God will never disappoint us, but will give us His Holy Spirit and mind to navigate the spiritual minefield. Like Paul, we need to realize that all things, horrible and pleasant, will work God's ultimate purpose and our good.
David C. Grabbe: By the time the apostle John penned his gospel and epistles, he had witnessed the ministry of Jesus Christ, the crucifixion, the resurrected Messiah, and the founding of the church of God. ...
John Ritenbaugh suggests that philosophers advance their ideas exponentially by charismatically persuading their peers, as was seen in the example of Thomas Aquinas, a popular innovator in educational circles, having the reputation of being a topnotch theologian and scholar. Aquinas revived the Greek Classical philosophies of Aristotle and Plato, driving a wedge between theological and humanistic philosophical positions. Jesuit educated Rene Descartes was not an apostate in the ordinary sense because he never embraced religion, but instead set his own experience as his parameters of creation, declaring "I think, therefore I am." Descartes felt no compunction to seek any other knowledge not found in Himself, feeling sufficient to determine truth on his own. Although he never denied the existence of God, he minimized God's sovereignty and control over His creation. Descartes believed that moral integrity was an unimportant construct, feeling that mankind alone was sufficient to determine truth and mores on his own, discarding any input from the Creator, dazzling his followers through philosophy and empty traditions of men.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that philosophy claims to focus on reality and existence, allegedly allowing only that which can be verified by the five senses, suggests that educators steeped in worldly philosophy relegate the existence of God and moral principles to the realm of opinion rather than fact. Consequently, our culture, protectively 'insulated' from any reference to God or sustainable ethical values, has become fractious, divided, angry, and confused. Virtually all claims to value or ethical standards have been relegated to the realm of opinion. Elementary students have been brainwashed into accepting the moral relativity—'there are no absolutes'—mantra, while evolution is taught as fact (though the proof for this theory is even less sustainable than a creationist hypothesis). Young people entering the universities and colleges have already been conditioned to accept the colossal lie of the existence of a creation without a creator. Schools of philosophy, emanating from ancient Greek luminaries such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, have permeated the psyches of university students, eager to glom onto the rudiments of the world, conditioning them to follow charismatic leaders, tuned into the spirit of the cosmos, surcharged with the mind and spirit of the current ruler of this world, Satan the Devil. Satan has been feverishly attempting to gain control of the educational system of the world, recognizing that the educator (secular and religious) can do more lasting damage than any other member of society.
Richard Ritenbaugh, refuting the Pagan oriented concept of Hell reinforced by Dante's Inferno, laments that most of mainline Protestant and Catholic theology is hopelessly immersed in this false concept. The Hebrew word sheol simply means a pit or a hole where dead bodies are placed. Errant connotations evolved from this, including a void and a haunting, mysterious place, influenced by Greek myths of Hades. Realistically, when a body goes to sheol, it corrupts and is broken down by bacteria. Often, translators render the Hebrew word sheol (the pit) into the English word Hell (connoting flames and pitchforks). Jonah referred to the belly of the fish as sheol. In the Greek language, Hades is equivalent to the Hebrew word sheol, without any reference to flames or torment. When Christ went into the tomb, He was in Hades, the storage place of the dead. Hades and death are equivalent terms. The term tartaroo refers to a place or condition of restraint for fallen angels or demons, not humans. The Bottomless Pit was reserved for Satan, symbolized as a fiery dragon. The term Gehenna (of Hinnom), referring to the valley of the sons of Hinnom, was actually a place of refuse, at one time used for child sacrifice. It was consecrated by God as a burial ground, and later the city dump of Jerusalem, with a fire burning the trash. Jesus used this venue as a symbol of the Lake of Fire—eternal Judgment (where the trash and garbage are burned up.) When one dies, the body decomposes and consciousness ceases; the spirit (the record of our life experiences) goes to God for safe keeping. When Christ returns, He will resurrect those who have believed and eventually all either to life or condemnation (depicted in Malachi 4:1-3). The soul is not immortal; the soul that sins shall die; the wages of sin is death. The gift of God is eternal life for those called by God.
Bill Onisick, warning us that we are continually in danger of being deceived by our hearts and carnal nature, a nature which distracts us from following God, though we go through the motions, cautions us to not practice hypocrisy before Almighty God. Most have deluded themselves into thinking their ways are pure and acceptable to God, when in reality their hearts are not with God at all, but have been distracted by the flood of Satan's misinformation, subtly instilled through cultural transference, packaging Satan's approaches in food, art, clothing, customs, education, music, movies, sports, philosophy, and entertainment of the world in which we live—the transmission of ideas, meanings, values, and shared norms. Global cultural transference had its origin with Alexander the Great, a student of Aristotle. Alexander aspired to conquer the world by homogenizing the language, culture, and philosophy of the Western world, subjecting it to Greek or Hellenistic thought, squashing local customs and replacing them with the cosmopolitan outlook of the Hellenistic mindset. From Spain to India, the known world became Hellenized, creating a virtual global cosmopolitan city, embracing humanistic rather than Divine orientation, homogenizing art, music, and cuisines of the global community. Ironically, the Hellenistic bent on creating a global community advanced the spread of God's word since the standard Greek language became the medium for transmitting the New Testament and the translated Old Testament throughout the world. The Pharisees exemplify the hypocritical deluded mindset, setting themselves in a spirit of pride above all other people, a mindset of which members of the end-time church are not immune. We are potentially hypocritical and evil as we allow ourselves to become deluded by Satan's flood of misinformation. God is concerned with our thoughts and our beliefs, asking us to concentrate on the weightier matters of the law.
Every Christian understands what the Holy Spirit is, right? Wrong! Even long-time theologians admit in their commentaries that, in the end, the Spirit is an incomprehensible mystery to them. David Grabbe lays out some of the reasons for their confusion, showing that, if they would only believe the Bible, they could learn the truth about God's Spirit.
Richard Ritenbaugh tackles the question, "Do we contain an immortal soul?" The prevailing idea is that the soul is the indestructible part of a human being that lives on. The Hebrew word nephesh refers to a living being; the Latin word anima and the Greek word psyche refer to breath. In Leviticus 17, we learn that the life resides in the blood. A body is greater than a biochemical reaction; the life force comes from outside the body. Elihu observed that there is a spirit in man, giving him the ability to think and understand, giving him a point of contact with God, separating him from the animals. Paul differentiates the spirit in man from God's Holy Spirit, dividing a human being into spirit (mind), soul (our life), and body (flesh). Nominal Christianity has absorbed heaven, hell, and purgatory from Greek mythology and the philosophy of Plato, who propagated the doctrine of the immortal soul in his Phaedo. The idea of the immortality of the soul is nowhere in the Old Testament, unless one deliberately distorts the account of Enoch's translation and the witch of Endor. Genesis 2:16-17 affirms that it is possible to die, and Ezekiel 18:4 and 20 affirm that the soul (the life) that sins shall die. Galatians 3:22 indicates that all have sinned. Eternal life must come as a gift, but it is not something we have right now, except as an earnest payment. Hebrews 9:27 reminds us that we all die once. God keeps our human spirit in reserve for safe-keeping until the resurrection from the dead.
While Herod the Great appears only in Matthew's account of Jesus' birth, he played a large role in shaping the world into which Jesus was born. Joseph Bowling recounts the long reign of Herod over Judea, Samaria, and Galilee and his lasting influence on the culture and politics of the region.
When Satan confronted humanity's first parents, Adam and Eve, he fed them three heresies that he continues to promote to deceive the world today. David Grabbe expounds on these three lies, revealing how Gnosticism incorporated them into its parasitic philosophy and way of life.
For many of us, Gnosticism is difficult to pin down, and this is because it is not itself a religion but a philosophy that piggy-backs on religions. David Grabbe explains how we can see this in Paul's epistles to the Galatians and Colossians, in which he combats Gnosticism's twisting of the truth of Jesus Christ.
"Gnosticism" sounds like an old and very dry Greek philosophy, the subject of a somnolent college lecture. Not so, says David Grabbe. Gnosticism is very much in vogue today in books and movies—and in the belief systems of a great many people who profess to be Christian.
Richard Ritenbaugh, responding to a Trinitarian's objection to the word "it" when referring to God's Spirit, systematically analyzes bogus, Neo-Platonic, philosophical underpinnings of the Trinity doctrine, including the equivocal misapplication of the etymology of hypostasis. Fundamentalist Trinitarians have continual difficulty comprehending the Bible writer's abundant use of personification, metaphor, and anthropomorphic figures of speech when describing God's Holy Spirit. Paul's reference to "grieving the Holy Spirit" can only apply to those converted individuals who have access to (or who are being sealed with) God's Holy Spirit, those who are incrementally putting on the new man. Just as our human spirit can be grieved (or metaphorically deflated by bad news), God is grieved by our disobedience or willful sinful behavior—sullying, suppressing, or stifling the Spirit that identifies us as His.
Since God has authorized no day other than the Sabbath, John Ritenbaugh observes that Sunday worship is a pagan deviation, perpetuated by Hellenistic Gnosticism, a multi-faceted movement that despises Yahweh, the Sabbath, and God's laws. Though Constantine enforced Sunday-keeping (the counterfeit Sabbath) on Western culture, the ugly tentacles of Gnosticism had already surfaced in Paul's warning to the Colossians about "rudiments of the world," angel worship (actually demon worship), and "white" magic. Gnostics have incorporated Neo-Platonic notions of real (supposedly appearing in the Pleroma) and corporeal (corrupt, earthly, physical forms) to counterfeit the shadow and reality concept as described by Paul. Christ, not angels, is the reality and the fullness of God. Antinomianism, Dispensationalism, eternal security, and irresistible grace—all assimilated into evangelical Protestantism—have all derived from Hellenistic Gnosticism.
John Ritenbaugh, exploring the invasion of the early apostolic church by Gnostics(interlopers who savagely denigrated the "enslavement to Yahweh, His Law, and the Jewish Sabbath," replacing it with 'enlightened' Greek philosophy- the immortality of the soul, eternal security, irresistible grace, and predestination) traces its development within mainstream 'Christianity.' An early source of Gnostic thought into mainstream 'Christianity' was Augustine, originally saturated in Manichean religion, later transferring Gnostic thought into the Catholic Church. The Protestant reformers Luther and Calvin, both heavily influenced by Augustine, taught the doctrines of eternal security, irresistible grace, and predestination. Modern evangelical leaders, continuing in this Gnostic tradition, promulgate "once saved always saved" and "unconditional love" — tolerating the most hideous abominable sins - allowing 'Christ's blood' to give license to this lawless behavior.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the truths of God are eternally dependable because the Father and Jesus Christ remain steadfastly dependable. If we trust in His truth rather than ourselves or other men, we will not jeopardize our spirituality. Sadly, the vast majority of Christian-professing churches has been saturated with an "end-time flood" of appealing, pagan doctrines (antinomianism, immortality of soul, Dispensationalism, Dualism, and Docetism) derived largely from Hellenistic Gnosticism. In this confusing environment, truth has become an endangered commodity. Pursuing "inner spirituality" (supposedly "despising the flesh") ironically enables one to become promiscuous and self-indulgent. In contrast, the true Christian is obligated to perform works (derived from God's law) that God has preordained and walk continuously in the Way. Keeping the law, vilified by antinomian, evangelical Christianity) gives structure and guidance to a Christian's life.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the cosmology of ancient Greece (a combination of pagan and scientific thought), explains that these ideas and notions—many totally saturated with astrology and Gnostic dualism—filtered into the doctrines of the early church. These syncretized, polluted Hellenistic ideas have never left the cardinal doctrines of mainstream Christianity. The incorporation of Gnostic dualism into doctrine has led to sloppy stewardship of physical health laws (dressing and keeping our bodies), a consequence of anti-nomian thought processes. The denigration of grace to license—"sin, that grace may abound"—derives directly from Gnosticism. "Modern" Gnostic thought (including the pernicious doctrines of progressive revelation and the immortality of the soul) literally destroyed or blew apart the Worldwide Church of God. We need to ensure that these virulent strains have not infected 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.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the big lie ('you will not surely die'—Genesis 3:4) of inherent immortal life (an immortal soul). This dangerous false belief, held by the majority of Christian-professing denominations, has led to an acceleration of sin and the danger of eternal oblivion. Sin kills, and we are not immortal. Contrary to Socrates and Plato's misconceptions about inherent immortality, only God can give eternal life, and it has specific conditions (overcoming sin and growing spiritually). Death is not a friend or a liberator, but as Jesus understood at the time of his crucifixion, a bitter enemy, a tool of Satan, and a cruel instrument of separation. Only through God's divine act of resurrection can we hope to attain eternal life. We desperately need to do a thorough self-examination, properly discerning Christ's sacrifice, and strive mightily to overcome sin, the destroyer of life.
Love is the first of the fruit of the Spirit, the one trait of God that exemplifies His character. John Ritenbaugh explains what love is and what love does.
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.
Galatians 4:9-10 is a favorite target of those who claim Christians no longer need to observe God's holy days. Is that really what Paul said? Earl Henn shows that he meant something entirely different!
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the way to be undefiled (to become sanctified, developing character) is to walk in the Law of the Lord (Psalm 119:1). We must do God's Word or it will never be a part of us. The Colossian Christians (Colossians 2:16-17) were criticized by Gnostic infiltrators for the way they were keeping the holy days. Paul admonishes the embattled Colossians not to let any man judge them for the way they were keeping the holy days. Contrary to some misguided Bible scholars, (1) keeping the Sabbath is not a doctrine of men; (2) what Paul condemns is a philosophy; God's word is not a philosophy. (Paul is concerned about the context in the way this philosophy was impacting on those keeping God's Word.) (3) Paul calls this Gnostic system (not God's holy days) empty, vain deceit, and (4) he names the authors of this Gnostic system and its recipients demons.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the S.P.S. (Specific Purpose Statement) of the entire Bible is "Let us make man in our image, according our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). To this end God has given us His Law, which serves as a map showing us the way of sanctification and holiness. Because God desires companionship of beings like Himself, He is in the process of reproducing the God-kind. The map showing the way consists of the Old and New Testament, works inextricable as law and grace and letter and spirit. As Paul's writings reveal, the Old Testament is in the New revealed while the New Testament is in the Old concealed. Contemporaries of John and Paul (and some deceivers this very day) have tried to throw out the Old Testament and the Law, replacing it with Gnosticism.
In the end, philosophy is merely man's search for answers without God. Mike Ford exposes philosophy's fundamental faults and directs us toward real truth, found in God's Word.
Who is God? What is His nature? Is God one Being? Two? Three? Is God a family? What does Elohim mean, and does it speak of one or more than one Being? Students of the Bible have searched for the answers to these questions for centuries. The answers are found in the revelation of the Bible, the only place where true knowledge of God, His plan and His ways is explained. The truth is simple—and astounding!
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the emotional dimension of love, reiterating that love doesn't become 'love' until the thought, or the feeling, motivates the person to act. Love is an act. If we don't do what is right, the right feeling will never be formed, because emotions are largely developed by our experiences. The right emotions require God's Holy Spirit. Like a marriage relationship, our relationship with God grows more and more intimate as we give it time and attention, conforming to the other person's preferences in the relationship. We are never going to know God unless we do the same kinds of things with Him, keeping His Commandments, devoting time to prayer, Bible study, and meditation. If we are working on our relationship with God (giving it our time and attention), then God's love for us will be reciprocated back to Him in the form of obedience, totally trusting in Him to shape our lives for His purpose.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Jesus' reluctance to go immediately to Lazarus, suggests that He intended to impress upon His close friends, Mary and Martha, the gravity of sin's consequences. The example also forcefully illustrates that Jesus (reflecting God the Father) keeps His own timetable; nobody pushes Him. The issue of fear of death is addressed in this study, with the conclusion that trust in God's ability to resurrect can neutralize this most basic universal debilitating fear, a fear that increases exponentially the older we get. Christ gives us the assurance that death is not the end. Internalizing this assurance opens the way to the abundant life, enabling us to live boldly, conquering, with God's help, the fear of death. Our approach at that point will become God-centered rather than self-centered. The episode of Jesus' weeping emphasizes that God has emotions, revealing anger, compassion, and empathy. The resurrection of Lazarus, the last of the seven signs Jesus performed before His death, proved to be the last straw for the religious leaders, who became motivated to crucify Him.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the book of John was unique, designed for individuals predominantly educated in the Greek culture. One commentary organizes this 21-chapter book around nuances of believing, including proposals for, presentations for, reactions of, crystallization of, assurance for, rejection of, and vindication of belief, as well as a dedication of those who believe to the work of God. John, a physical first cousin of Jesus, emphasizes the truth, genuineness, or reality of Jesus as the Logos (a word revealing hidden thought) the manifestation of God in the flesh, emphasizing His pre-existence, His fellowship with God the Father, His divinity, His omniscience,and His creative power. Jesus is portrayed as the fountainhead of everlasting life, demonstrating how to live abundantly as God lives, exercising instinctively the fruits of God's Holy Spirit. As the Light of the world, Jesus Christ reveals our character flaws and illuminates the pathway to quality eternal life, displacing the darkness and ignorance of this world. John focuses upon the multiple ways that Christ bore witness to the scriptures and to the people with whom He came in contact, providing iron - clad evidence that God is reproducing Himself.
John Ritenbaugh probes into the reasons the book of John had to be written and the major differences distinguishing the book of John from the other Gospels. John omits entirely certain topics which the other gospels go into detail. Where the other Gospels have short narratives, John goes into lengthy descriptive and quantitative detail, providing in-depth characterizations of the disciples. From the perspective of an eye-witness to the events, a Jew (from a well-to-do family) having been thoroughly acquainted with Hellenistic culture, John, a physical cousin of Jesus, is able to bridge the gap explaining the significance of these events to an emerging gentile population not acquainted with Hebrew culture or tradition, but familiar with Greek patterns of thought- including the Platonic (and Gnostic) dichotomy of real and corporeal. Building on this concept, John presents Jesus, not as a phantom emanation, but as the reality—transcending the shadows represented by the temporal physical life. John presents the miracles of Jesus (not so much as acts of mercy) but as signs of the reality of God- indicating the way God works and thinks.
If hell does exist, where is it—and can those who are there ever get out? Will those in hell leave hell at the time of the resurrection—or are they confined eternally to hell, so that they shall be unable to take part in the resurrection? It's about time we took this question out of hiding, and took a good look at it!
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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