Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the recent solar eclipse, reminds us that in the peoples of past cultures believed that solar and lunar eclipses were omens of impending tragedy, leading to rituals to combat their influence. Although the Bible uses the imagery of the eclipse to portend the confusion at the end of the age, neither eclipses nor the warnings of the prophets caught Judah's attention. The only major event which got their undivided attention was the destruction of Solomon's Temple and the subsequent captivity of Jerusalem, an event sonorously described in Lamentations, a Megillah chanted on the 9th of Av, in the summer season, focusing on summer fruit, having the themes of affliction, God's judgment, correction, cursing, trials, with a hope in God's redemption and restoration. The most likely author is Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, but it also could have been composed by Baruch, Jeremiah's secretary. The Book's five acrostic songs (chapters) answer the question, "Why did this happen?" God brought the punishment on Judah, explaining that the basket of bad figs was destroyed (that is, the population of Jerusalem decimated) because Judah embraced idolatry, indulged in perverse sexual sins, failed to take care of the needy, and meted out corrupt judgments, forsaking the only support that would sustain them—Almighty God. Sadly, these deplorable characteristics describe the nations of modern Israel today. As God's called-out ones, we need to take to heart the warnings of Lamentations.
Mike Ford, learning that his old buddy from college has a close friend who has arrogated to himself and his wife the office of the Two Witnesses in Revelation 11:1-13, asks us if we would be able to identify the Two Witnesses if they were to appear. The job description includes having the power to shut up the heavens, to discharge fire from their mouths, and to perform dazzling, spell-binding miracles. Eventually the Beast will kill the Two Witnesses and, three days later, God will resurrect them, leading us to conclude that they are human beings. Some of the candidates suggested in previous times include Moses and Elijah, Enoch and Elijah, James and John, Jews and Gentiles, the Old and New Testaments, and the male and female aspects of God. This systematized delusion has afflicted many individuals, including John Reeves and Roderick Muddleton, living at the time of Oliver Cromwell, but having adherents and followers up to 1979. Today there is a plethora of Two—Witness wannabees, and websites registering their presumptuous candidacies. Jesus tells us that false prophets will be able to do startling wonders that could deceive the very elect. The apostle Paul warns us that we can only know them by their fruits; if they that teach that God's Law has been done away, they are fake.
Martin Collins, focusing on Habakkuk's stance of assuming the position of a watchman, being willing to accept God's ultimate judgment on his people even when the circumstances seem to contradict revelation, emphasizes that all of God's called-out ones are also watchmen, needing to live continually by faith, discerning, listening to, and responding to God's instructions, not only hearing them, but taking them to heart. Without having faith like Abel, Abraham, Noah. and Enoch, judging by faith rather than outward appearances, we cannot please God. Abel, Enoch, and Noah all believed God and were willing to endure temporal loss for a greater reward. Faith constitutes unshakable belief and confidence in God that He will do everything He has promised. Like the apostle Peter, we must learn that human faith, at its best, is not sufficient; Godly faith cannot be worked up, but is a gift from God which we must constantly put to use. This kind of faith comes by hearing God's Word. God holds His called-out ones to a much higher level of accountability, but He has also provided the necessary tools for overcoming and as well as for producing spiritual fruit. In spite of doubts arising from negative appearances, we need to cling to God's promises, even in the worst of times, realizing that all iniquity will be punished eventually. Like the heroes of faith, all of which had to do something to demonstrate their faith, we must be productive in our faith, understanding that faith without works is stone dead. Faith is not a preference, but rather a commitment. Even faith as little as a mustard seed is an open door to God.
David Grabbe, observing that Christ threatened consequences to the Thyatira Church if the congregation did not repent, asserts that God usually grants abundant time for people to repent, but that the recipients of this grace often interpret it as God's tolerance for their sin. The effect is that God's patience can harden people, as they neglect the solemn warning brought by His Word (recorded in the Scriptures) and His messengers, the prophets. For a time, especially as we live in ignorance, God displays patience and forbearance, but God requires repentance, as He did with the people of Nineveh. It is human nature to put off repentance if one does not perceive immediate consequences. Today, people have been so enervated by the effects of sin that they continually disregard God's warning message, oblivious to the cause-and-effect relationship between natural disasters and national sin. Some have failed to understand that Christ scattered the church for its own protection as the Laodicean infection began to destroy vital organs. God's goodness is designed to bring us to repentance, but sometimes He needs to be kind to us by allowing us to experience the consequences of our sins. God's ways to lead us to repentance may occasionally seem offensive, even excessively harsh, but He is always faithful to His covenant and wants only the best for us.
John Ritenbaugh reflects on a ministerial refresher program years ago, in which Herbert W. Armstrong warned about increasing government involvement in practically every area of life, adding that Ambassador College would never receive government handouts as long as he were alive because government handouts automatically lead to dependence and loss of freedom. Radio commentator Rush Limbaugh has stated that Liberalism (or progressive, leftist political ideology) is the greatest and deadliest enemy this country has ever had to face. The gullible citizenry does not recognize that government freebies or entitlements are invitations to slavery. Political 'progressivism' and spiritual 'progressivism' are cut out of the same cloth, both attempting to subvert standards based on law and the covenant relationship by insurrection from malcontents believing they have a better way than God prescribed. Satan was the first spiritual progressive liberal, allowing his pride to make himself think he was superior to God's governmental structure, becoming a rabble-rousing community organizer to topple God's rule. Political liberal progressive activists, spreading the tentacles of leftist progressivism in the schools and universities from the 1920's to the present, slowed down by an occasional Reagan-type 'reactionary', have elevated sodomy and murder to the law of the land, ushering in a socialist totalitarian state cancelling liberties deemed to be inconsistent with the party line of political correctness. Neither political conservatism nor spiritual conservatism is popular because they demand adherence to the work ethic instead of the entitlement ethic, and humility rather than self-centered pride. Spiritual conservatism demands dogged adherence to Godly standards of righteousness and morality, belief, humility, and the smashing of pride.
David Grabbe, focusing on the sign of Jonah, asserts that there is much more to it than the timing of three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, debunking the nonsense of a Friday afternoon 'good' Friday to Sunday Morning "Easter" cycle. It appears likely that Jonah may have been literally dead when he was cast into the sea, with the great fish serving as his coffin rather than his domicile for that time. When God then resurrected Jonah, the reluctant prophet preached a powerful message of repentance, leading the entire population of Nineveh to fast and repent, sparing them from destruction. Jonah had fled from his responsibility, opting for self-sacrifice rather than to be used by God for something he considered distasteful, facilitating the future demise of his people. All of us have similarly turned away from God's will for us; it should come as no surprise that God lovingly sends disruptions our way to get us back on His trajectory. Both Jonah and Jesus Christ were prophets of God, preaching repentance and seeing the positive fruits of their preaching. Both Jonah and Christ provoked their own people to jealousy by preaching a message which admitted Gentiles into God's plan of salvation. While Nineveh repented and was spared, Judah did not repent, and consequently witnessed their temple desecrated and destroyed, failing to see that when anyone repents and turns from his evil ways, God relents and forgives.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Most of us, when we begin a new job or a new project, want to know all we can about it. We want to be ready to take it on and complete it to the best of our abilities. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, reminding us that the ninth of Av, occurring at sundown tonight, July 25,2015, a time when the Jewish community will commence the fast of Tisha b'Av, recounts the horrific disasters which have embroiled Judah/Levi over the years, including the destruction of both Solomon's Temple and Herod's Temple, the first Crusade, in which Jews and Muslims were slaughtered by "Christians," Germany's declaration of war on Russia, unleashing a virulent strain of anti-Semitism there, and the mass deportation of the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka. Book Three of the Psalms addresses the compulsion to fast and to mourn. In Zechariah 7, God reminds Judah that their faithlessness and disobedience brought about the horrific destruction of Jerusalem, and if they would get with the program He has outlined for them, curtailing their pity parties, their fasts would be more productive and actually would transform into periods of rejoicing and praising God. If we keep God's Commandments, He promises to help us. If we sin, having the knowledge of His Commandments, we are asking to be crushed more than anyone else, because we should have known better. We should fast for the right reason-to get closer to God—and not to "get Him to do something for us." If we seek God's Kingdom first (life is more than the fulfilment of physical things which will not last for eternity), we will have no need to weep and mourn. If we repent and draw close to God, all of these fasts could be turned into periods of thanksgiving. After we beseech God, we must discipline ourselves to wait for Him to act.
Because of his deeply expressed emotions regarding the decline and fall of Judah, Jeremiah is often called the "Weeping Prophet." He can perhaps also be called the "Complaining Prophet" on account of his two major complaints to God about his nation's situation. Tackling the second of those complaints, Charles Whitaker completes his study of the prophet's grievance and crisis of faith.
John Ritenbaugh, rehearsing one of the major factors which divided the Worldwide Church of God, the denigrating of all aspects of God's law, averring that belief in Christ trumps everything, claims that some major elements of righteous judgment were cavalierly tossed out the window. Such a careless approach led to the rejection of the Sabbath, wholesale embracing of Pagan holidays, discarding tithing, eating unclean meats, circumcision and other, what they considered to be purely ceremonial aspects of the law. Like the days of the Judges, the last days of the WCG demonstrated a dearth of righteous judgment. As with the first century church, God expects us to think wisely within the parameters of His Law, coming into alignment with His Word. Without applying righteous judgment, a person without God's Spirit might be inclined to discard the Sabbath, along with the dietary and sacrificial laws. The New Covenant also requires that we live by every word of God; the Law was not done away. Without God's Law, we cannot judge righteously. One should never carelessly assume that any law of God is done away, but we should also consider that not every law has the same level of seriousness and does not warrant the same level of judgment, as illustrated by the difference between willful sin and sin committed out of weakness. The weightier matters of the law (love and mercy) are more important than other aspects of the law, including faith and sacrifice. We need to develop righteous judgment to keep proportion as we make decisions about applying God's Law.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the difficulties in translation from Greek and Hebrew to English, as well as comprehending spiritual truths with a fleshly mind, maintains that it is only through God's Holy Spirit we can comprehend those truths at all. Even with God's Holy Spirit, we have difficulty. Our minds are too finite, earthbound, and dumb to comprehend what God is trying to get across to us. We are not equipped to comprehend the width, length, and breadth of the knowledge of God. Few of us are truly wise, knowing as we do only the rudiments of what is contained in the Bible. All of us are stumped on different biblical concepts. The concept of joy may provide difficulty, as it has a broad range of meaning from spiritual to physical extremes. Even certain unsavory elements in society may bring people joy. Godly joy (New Testament) is on a higher plane than happiness and pleasure, what C. S. Lewis would describe as an "unsatisfied desire to be in total union with God." Joy comes from anticipating the future with Godly hope. The fruits of the Spirit mortify and transcend the works of the flesh through the power of God's Holy Spirit. Without God's Spirit, the fruits of the Spirit (including joy) are unattainable. Godly joy buoys people in the midst of grave trials, providing hope for a future eternal reward, depending on the absolute faithfulness of God. A Christian (who by definition has Christ's mind in him) can express joy because he sees God, as well as precious things God has not even revealed to angels. If God is in us, we have all the power we will need, giving us exceeding joy, a positive perception of reality generating hope, ultimately seeing beyond any event to our incredible, inexpressible, eternal reward. Joy constitutes the pure elation of spirit that revels in knowing God, knowing that His eternal plan will culminate in our ultimate salvation.
Most Bible students are not familiar with the prophet Hananiah—or perhaps he should be called a false prophet. In his interactions with Jeremiah, a true prophet of God, Hananiah made a significant mistake: prophesying good when God had called for destruction. David Grabbe explains that, while God's will is to do good—eventually—the timing of matters makes all the difference.
Martin Collins, initially focusing on the commission of God's prophets as God's watchmen and messengers, switches his emphasis to the false prophets, those promoting the broad way, giving people what they want to hear. In the Roman Catholic Church, every month of the year was at one time a birth month of Christ. Finally, the Pagan date for the rebirth of the sun, or Saturnalia, was selected to resolve the hopelessly confused issue. Prophets, who falsely speak in God's name, prophesying lies, are particularly odious to God Almighty, causing people to go into captivity. The false prophets lead people away from God's way of life, causing them to forget His name, replacing God's truth with human tradition, telling people what they want to hear. Penalties were severe in Deuteronomy 13:1-5, proscribing the death penalty for falsehood. Christ warned against false prophets in the Sermon on the Mount and the Olivet prophecy, both from outside and inside the church, promising liberty by preaching against the Law of God. Even though the false prophets and teachers are subtle, they are easy to identify if one examines the fruit. The law of biogenesis demonstrates that good fruit cannot come from a bad tree. Even though they may be persuasive and gentle, promising liberty, they deliver depression and discouragement, and like wolves, desire to tear the flock to shreds.
In thinking about David son of Jesse, we immediately bring to mind that he was King of Israel, a shepherd, a warrior, a psalmist, and a man after God's own heart. But we often fail to realize that, among his many other accomplishments, he was a significant prophet. Richard Ritenbaugh examines Psalm 22, a most clearly recognizable prophecy of Christ's suffering among the many psalms of David.
David C. Grabbe: Uzziah (also called Azariah) is the third successive king of Judah who failed to remove the high places from the land. ...
To be a prophet of God is no easy task, and it is one that tends to be mentally and emotionally burdensome to the prophet. As Charles Whitaker explains, God desires His people to have an emotional yet entirely rational response—to sigh and cry—to the lawlessness and idolatry increasing around them in the world.
Many prophecy watchers have made their guesses about who the Two Witness of Revelation 11 are, but not all of their ideas have solid, biblical foundations. Charles Whitaker tackles a common view among interpreters, explaining that Scripture precludes it on very solid grounds.
The landscape of religion is shifting. While Christendom has claimed the largest number of adherents for centuries, present trends strongly indicate that we are living in a religious axial period, a time when the old order and powers decay and are replaced by new powers. Barring a radical course correction, adherents of Islam will outnumber professing Christians very shortly—perhaps in as few as twenty years. ...
Most people consider the second commandment to deal with making or falling down before a pagan idol, but it has far greater scope. John Ritenbaugh shows that it covers all aspects of the way we worship, including setting ourselves up in God's place by becoming enslaved to our own desires.
The Two Witnesses have once again become a hot topic in the churches of God. Richard Ritenbaugh narrows the field regarding who will fulfill the roles of these two end-time prophets, and uses Revelation 11 and Zechariah 4 to shed light on their early work and fundamental character.
Richard Ritenbaugh, after reading a testimonial of a Charismatic, describing being "filled with the Holy Ghost," leading to barking, laughter, violent jerking, and inebriated behavior (a kind of "Pentecostalism on steroids"), asks us to ponder what the Holy Spirit will actually motivate a person to do. Scripture reveals that the Spirit constitutes the active, creative power and mind of God, 1) motivating God's people to do His will, 2) giving them discernment and wisdom, 3) endowing them with strength to do God's work, 4) enabling them to see truth clearly, 5) setting individuals apart (for specific purposes) by ordination, 6) providing physical and spiritual power to overcome and resist the Devil, 7) inspiring a person to speak God's words clearly, and 8) inspiring fellowship with God and His people. God's Spirit will never prod us to do anything that is not out of godly love, and because it a spirit of a sound mind, it will never motivate us to do stupid or crazy things.
Prophecy has many purposes, but it is never intended to open the future to mere idle curiosity. Its much higher purpose is to furnish guidance to the heirs of salvation. John Ritenbaugh explains how the tumultuous sixth-century BC prepares us for the time of the end.
Despite the greatness of the Old Testament prophets, Jesus declares that none was greater than His cousin, John, known as "the Baptist." John Ritenbaugh explains that Jesus clearly says that John fulfilled Malachi 4:5-6 as the prophesied Elijah to come.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates the characteristics of a prophet, showing that both Moses and Aaron fulfilled this role. Jesus described John the Baptist as the greatest of all the Old Covenant prophets, distinctive by his austere dress and diet. Highly esteemed by the common people, John was unusually vital and strong, and consciously prepared the way for the Messiah. Although by no means a wild man, John, like the prophets of old, experienced alienation from people, especially the entrenched religious and political leaders within the system. His greatness lay in 1) the office he filled, 2) the subject he proclaimed, 3) the manner in which he did it, and receding into the background, 4) the zeal in which he performed his office, 5) the courage he demonstrated, 6) his lifetime service, and 7) the number and greatness of his sacrifices, performed in the spirit and power of Elijah, by which he restored and repaired family values, enabling people to see God.
John Ritenbaugh explores what the Bible teaches on the function of the prophet. Through Biblical contexts, we learn that a prophet is one who speaks for God, expressing His will and purpose in words and signs. The office of a prophet is to forth-tell God's purpose through His Law and tell people God's words. A true prophet, never losing sight of the law of God, deals with local situations, events of the Messiah, events of the future, and events that are dual in application. The prophet, described as coming from outside the system (who brings new truth building it upon the foundation of old truth) is contrasted with the priest who conserves old truth (given to them by a prophet). A prophet goads people to urgently commit themselves to a righteous course of action, forcing them to make clear and often painful choices. Elijah and John the Baptist clearly fulfilled the role of prophet.
Richard Ritenbaugh discusses the pivotal holy day, the Feast of Trumpets, a day looking back to three holy days in which God deals with individuals and looks forward to three holy days in which God works with progressively larger groups. This day is a memorial of shouting or blowing of trumpets. Teruw'ah (the shout of the shofar) is often associated with the sound of war, symbolizing the Day of the Lord, the real war to end all wars, the time Christ will subdue and render judgment to all the evil hostile forces (governments under Satan's influence) on the earth, bringing rewards to His called out ones. Although these events will take place with relative quickness and speed, the whole time sequence will take some time to completely unfold. If we remain faithful, this day will have a positive outcome.
In this parable, Jesus manipulates His enemies into admitting their guilt in rejecting, persecuting, and even killing the prophets—and ultimately Himself. Martin Collins shows that Jesus uses this parable to proclaim God's plan to take His message to others, the church, who would accept it.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on a deadly enemy within our borders, every bit as dangerous as the radical Islamic fundamentalists from without- an enemy composed of amoral radical agnostic multi-cultural, anti-Christ, anti-God secular humanistic educators in our universities and schools. Political correctness, sponsored largely by the Democrat party and the far left has ushered in deviancy, perversion and shameless self-indulgence in the name of diversity and multi-culturalism. Secularism, founded on the philosophical underpinnings of Rousseau, is, in effect, the official state religion for the majority of our nation. In the multi-cultural agenda, extermination of the white race and culture has top priority. Anyone who objects to this agenda becomes branded a racist, a member of the religious right. The love for truth gives us the only protection from this insidious threat.
In concluding this series, Richard Ritenbaugh explains that before the Beast kills the Two Witnesses, they will have accomplished their work. Revelation 11:7-14 contrasts the Beast (a disciple of Satan) and Christ's Two Witnesses, showing stark diametrical contrasts between righteousness and defilement. The 'great city' where they die must be Jerusalem (called in this context 'Sodom' and 'Egypt' for its sinfulness and ungodliness). Humanity, totally given over to carnality, will feel short-lived relief at the Witnesses' death—whom they consider to be tormentors—but stark terror at their resurrection, when 7,000 are exterminated, perhaps many of whom are prominent supporters of the Beast. The glorification of the Two Witnesses will follow the pattern of Jesus Christ.
The Bible shows Christ, at the end, measuring the church with a plumbline, testing for uprightness and determining standards of justice and righteousness. The seven eyes seem to refer to the messengers of the seven churches having a worldwide influence. The olive trees in Zechariah 4:11 refer to the Two Witnesses who pour oil (spiritual instruction) into a golden bowl (a receptacle for this teaching), supplying the churches with spiritual nourishment during their period of testimony before the whole world. They will have power to kill those who would harm them, following the pattern of Elijah (2 Kings 1:10), a kind of carte blanche authority to destroy in order to do their work (Revelation 11:5)
Having shown that God is involved in world affairs, John Ritenbaugh concludes by showing that God's hand was definitely involved in the scattering of the church. Our reaction needs to be positive: that, if He felt it needed to be done, we should respond by growing and preparing ourselves for His Kingdom.
In beginning a series on the Two Witnesses, Richard Ritenbaugh, wary of previous abuses of prophecy, asserts that God wants us to recognize them as they occur or shortly after they have occurred. For individuals to cling dogmatically to an interpretion before the events happen has perennially led to debate and missing vital details. It is more important to know the prophecies than their interpretation. This sermon explores Revelation 10:8-10 and Ezekiel 2-3, focusing on the symbolism of eating the little book (ingesting God's Word) and its link to the ministry of the Two Witnesses of Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the real issue in the calendar controversy is not mathematical or astronomical computations, but faith in God's sovereignty, His providence, His right to assign responsibility, and His capability of maintaining an oversight over this responsibility. God has been faithful in providing a reliable calendar for over 1600 years. God remains consistent with His purpose, maintaining oversight and control. Like our ancient forbears, we dare not stray from things given or entrusted to us. We must hold fast, guarding the truth, honoring our father in the faith, refusing to forage after pernicious false doctrine. The preservation of the calendar was entrusted to the Jews, and specifically the Levites. No church group or private individual should presumptuously arrogate this responsibility to himself or herself.
Herbert Armstrong made scores of predictions, and many of them never came to pass. Does this make him a false prophet? Is he thus not worthy of following?
Who is the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18? This article takes an in-depth look at this prophecy, showing that its greatest fulfillment is in our Savior, Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the watchman responsibility as defined in Ezekiel 33:2 and Isaiah 62:6, consisting of both physical and spiritual aspects. Part of the pastor's responsibility is to carefully observe economic, social, meteorological, and political trends, warning the flock to take prudent precautions, including making a prayer offensive, making careful and thoughtful self-examination, actively repenting, submitting to God, looking to God's providence for a possible way of escape, but realizing that the place of safety has conditions attached to it. The exact standards of qualification for a Philadelphian have been left purposely vague to keep the prod to spiritual growth fairly intense. Our focus should be to seek God's kingdom, reciprocating God's love, committing ourselves to a life of service fulfilling His purpose for us, doing so without complaining, or comparing our lot with others, realizing He will supply exactly what we need.
Just what are the oracles of God mentioned in Romans 3:2? Charles Whitaker delves into both Testaments to show that they are the revelation of God to mankind. These oracles are the message that gives us instruction for salvation.
A Statement of Purpose and Beliefs of the Church of the Great God
In this keynote message of the 1996 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the causes of the atomizing of the greater church of God into very small particles. Almighty God, as a means of mercifully disciplining and chastening His faithless children, initiated the scattering of the church (the Israel of God) for our ultimate good (Deuteronomy 28:25; Romans 8:28; Hebrews 12:5-6). Christianity is a religion of revelation- not human intellect. When the revelation of God was replaced with the wisdom of this world (the leaven of errant intellectualism), God had no choice but to scatter. As Israel did not repent at the preaching of Amos, or Judah at the preaching of Jeremiah, the members of the greater church of God did not take the warnings of Herbert Armstrong personally and individually. Any regrouping of the scattered pieces will be done only on God's terms.
What does God see in Israel that so affronts Him that He has to swear "by His holiness"? Israel had every opportunity that the Gentiles did not have: His calling, His promises, His Word, His laws. He gave the Israelites these gifts to help them develop into His sons and daughters, but God sees them as diametrically opposite of Himself. Should not God expect to see some of His characteristics in His sons?
Using the story of God's prophet in I Kings 13, John Reid derives several lessons we can apply in this time of doctrinal confusion.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that in our relationship with God, we must emphasize principle over pragmatism, because pragmatism inevitably leads to idolatry. Jeroboam, in setting idolatrous shrines and festivals at Dan and Bethel, appealed to the carnal desire for practical convenience (I Kings 12:26-33). These practical compromises eventually led to the desecration of the Sabbath and the holy days, ending in the captivity of Israel. When doctrine is diluted, it turns into outright idolatry. Like ancient Israel, we have to guard against the tendency to gravitate toward ministers speaking smooth and pleasant things at the expense of turning from the truth. If we are led into deception, it is because our carnal nature wanted it that way (Jeremiah 17:9).
John Ritenbaugh asserts that it has always been a pattern of Satan to counterfeit celebrations of those true celebrations God has given to us. Both kings Ahaz and Manasseh went headlong into Baal worship, sacrificing their own sons to Baal, giving their flesh to the priests of Baal (origin for the English word "cannibal.") The temple Passover instituted by King Hezekiah in II Chronicles 34 was a very unusual circumstance in which the king in a national emergency centralized the worship (establishing martial law) enabling him to keep track of what the people were doing, stamping out paganism which the religious leaders had allowed to creep in, defiling the meaning of the true Passover. Those who attempt to use this episode as a precedent for a 15th Passover fail to see the true purpose of Hezekiah's emergency measures.
Prior to the study of Lamentations, John Ritenbaugh explores the topic of visions and dreams from the biblical point of view. Visions and dreams, used very rarely by God to communicate to people (God does not play around with people's minds), must be corroborated by scripture or God's law to establish their veracity. The second chapter of Lamentations, preceding the first chapter in time sequence, describes the stunning and disorienting shock of seeing the total systematic devastation and utter destruction of something formerly considered indestructible, and realizing that God was responsible for the devastation. The prophets and the religious leaders bear the greatest blame for this destruction by providing a quasi-religion (with smooth and feel-good teachings condoning sin) and not teaching the Law of God.
John Ritenbaugh explains that Stephen ignited the ire of the Hellenistic Jews, a group passionately devoted to the temple, law and land as a defensive reaction to their historical scattering. Stephen rebukes them for their reactionary (almost superstitious) devotion to the past or reverence to a specific temple location, advocating instead a pilgrim mentality, realizing that God is not confined to a fixed location. Stephen points out that historically, God has dealt with His people without land or temple, but instead through a series of deliverers (Joseph, Moses, and ultimately, Jesus Christ), initially unrecognized or rejected by their own people. Stephen suggests that his audience has rejected the Deliverer and has replaced it with an idol (of worshiping the temple) as their forefathers had turned to a golden idol, while rejecting God and His living law.
John Ritenbaugh highlights how the witness of the apostles, particularly miraculous healings performed in the name of Jesus Christ, brought them into conflict with the established Jewish leaders, the entrenched Sadducees and the Sanhedrin. Peter used the startling impact of these healings to draw attention to the fulfilled prophecies pertaining to Jesus—the source of the healing power—whom the crowds Peter was addressing had crucified in ignorance. As the veil of ignorance is lifted, they (and we) have the responsibility to act on this knowledge of culpability in His crucifixion and fully repent—undergo a total change of life. Focusing on his predominantly Jewish audience, he affirms that belief in the prophecies of the Old Testament will lead to belief in Christ. Being in Him makes us heirs of the promises to Abraham.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the people to whom Amos addresses have the mistaken assumption that because they have made the covenant with God that they complacently bask in a kind of divine favoritism—God's country, God's people, God's church. God's holy and spiritual law, describing and defining His standard of holiness, His character, nature, or essence, serves as the template into which our character needs to be formed or molded. The combination of the redeeming and the law-giving aspects of God's nature determines the plumb line against which all of us are judged. Jacob's descendents, embracing false religion (after the idolatrous, syncretistic manner of Jeroboam I) have severely placed a strain upon God's patience. As members of the Israel of God, we must assiduously measure up to God's plumb line, insisting upon positive moral purity in all our thoughts and behaviors, avoiding sin by doing good—a course that will put us totally out of sync with the rest of society—a society ripe in sin and immorality, begging for harsh correction.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the "favorite-son status" of Israel was conditional, based upon accepting the terms of their covenant with God. Unfortunately, both ancient and modern Israel have placed their trust in wealth or material things rather than God. God's anger has been aroused as a result of Israel's physical and spiritual defilement—refusing to become sanctified, separate from the ways of the world. God's holiness sets Him apart from everything else, and like Him, His people must become totally different from the world. Instead, our defilement, stemming from our desire to please the self at the expense of others, separates us from Him! The root of sin or immorality lies in man's desire to live his life in self-centered independence from God. We must enlist God's Spirit to kill our self-centered ego, yielding to God's transforming power.
John Ritenbaugh discusses the limited window of opportunity recipients of a dire prophecy have to take action. The one who hears the warnings does not have an abundance of time to repent and return to God. A lion's threat is not idle. If no action is taken, the stalking roar will turn into a growl of contentment, the lion having consumed its prey. At the time of Amos's message, Israel was: 1) threatened by the imminent displeasure of God; 2) lacking repentance and true spirituality; 3) full of corruption; 4) departing from the truth; 5) proud, complacent, and self-satisfied; 6) setting itself on a pedestal; and 7) smugly prejudiced against the world. Like ancient Israel, modern Israel (including the Israel of God) cannot see the connection between its own faithlessness to her covenant with God and the violence and tumult of society that mirror her spiritual condition.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that when a person contemplates revenge, he makes an enemy of God. Amos, like a circling hawk, makes dire pronouncements on all of Israel's enemies but reserves the harshest judgment for Israel, who should have known better, having made the covenant with Almighty God, but profaning their calling and drifting into moral complacency. God's church, the Israel of God, must realize that closeness to God comes with a weighty responsibility. God's justice is the same for everybody; He is no respecter of persons. The church is warned not to mix His truth and pagan (or worldly) error in the manner of Jeroboam I. We desperately need to cultivate (with the help of God's Holy Spirit) an ardent love of the truth. Modern Israel, prosperous and indulgent, is chastised for covetousness, indifference to the poor, and perversion of justice.
[Editor's note: the Matthew portion of the Bible Study begins at the 49min-30sec mark] Before continuing the Bible Study in Matthew 24, John Ritenbaugh, after first examining the role of the Levites, goes into great detail explaining the various roles or functions of offices of responsibility within the church, including that of apostle, evangelist, pastor, and elder- sometimes called bishop, presbyter, or overseer. All of these appointed positions carry the singular responsibility as shepherds to perfect, correct, and edify the saints, bringing the entire congregation to the unity of Christ. The series of events described by Christ in Matthew 24 should be compared to the six seals described in Revelation 6 and the seventh seal described in Revelation 7, showing a definite chronological progression from the Great Tribulation to the terrifying cosmic signs, followed by the climactic Day of the Lord. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the episode in Matthew 20, in which Jesus was deep in thought, reflecting on the prophecies leading up to His crucifixion. At this point, His disciples were not converted, but displayed considerable carnality. The mother of two of the disciples asked for places of honor for her sons; none of the disciples had even an inkling of servant leadership. True greatness does not come from dominance but from serving and sacrificing with the attitude of a slave. Love is sacrificial. Willingness to sacrifice self is the secret to success in God's plan for us. If we would sacrifice instead of attempting to dominate one another, our marriages would be successes. Drinking ones cup is emblematic of enduring whatever we must go through, different for every human being. Our cup is to follow Christ in any situation, supreme sacrifice or lifelong commitment, acting how He would act. No one can really count the cost in advance. When the opportunity comes to learn spiritual truths, we must seize the opportunity as aggressively and boldly as the two blind men sought healing, rejecting any inkling of timidity. In our prayers, we must come before the throne of God boldly and then show gratitude for His response. God is not against doing something dramatic once in awhile in order to make an impact. When He made His entry into Jerusalem, it possibly attracted the attention of 2 ½ million people, most of them visitors. Evidently this event had been planned rather than done on the spur of the moment. His arrival prompted the overwhelming response "Hosanna" or "save now." The crowd was selecting the Lamb to be sacrificed. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that disciples of Christ should expect persecution, often from people we normally would feel comfort and protection from, such as members from our own family. The two-edged sword (the Word of God) divides families because receptivity of this word is not a given- especially if one has not yet been called. Many more people ridicule God's Word than keep it. God's called out ones have to love God's Word more than family. Service in the work of God will inevitably bring persecution, but it will also bring reward. Chapter 11 focuses upon the ruminations of John the Baptist, who even though he was close to Christ, may have misunderstood the nature of Christ's true mission. John the Baptist, labeled as "none greater" never performed a miracle. It will take a great deal of expended energy to make it into the Kingdom of God. We cannot afford to be negligent or complacent about our calling, or our willingness to yield to His teachings, letting it dissipate like the ancient Israelites, the people of Bethsaida or Chorazin - or the Laodiceans . We must be teachable and adaptable, willing to take Christ's yoke, not tripped up in intellectual vanity or pride. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Matthew 7:13-14, observes that life consists of a series of choices—often a dilemma of a pleasurable choice on one hand, and a daunting difficult choice on the other. It seems as though God Almighty and Jesus Christ invariably want us to make the more difficult choice, insuring seemingly the maximum spiritual growth and character development. Moses took the difficult way, forsaking the adulation of leadership in Egypt, becoming the leader of a rag-tag group of disgruntled slaves. Our daily choices (small and large) are based upon the same principle. Sometimes our choices are quite costly, putting our careers and opportunities on the line in order to follow God. Some of the choices we make consist of discerning true ministers from false ministers and discerning the fruits of false religion. We need to develop and maintain an intense love for the truth, by faith developing vision and foresight of future consequences. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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