Martin Collins, focusing on Paul's third trial before a secular ruler, following the inconclusive decisions before Felix and Festus, points out that King Agrippa was of a more decisive character. He sought to implement Paul's appeal to Caesar without delay. Speaking to the King, the Apostle stated his pre-conversion experience as a Pharisee, his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, and his post conversion commitment to execute his God-ordained commission. In the process, he refuted the false charges of violating the laws of the Torah, committing heresy and blasphemy, and committing treason against Caesar, the same charges previously levelled against Jesus Christ. Agrippa, an erudite individual with a keen understanding of Jewish customs, listened intently as Paul refuted all the false charges. In the end, he claimed to be "almost persuaded' by Paul's testimony and acknowledged that Paul was innocent. He would have acquitted him if he had not appealed to Caesar. In reality, what appeared to be a series of disappointing judicial set-backs for Paul was actually the outworking of God's strategy to place the Apostle before even higher levels of secular leadership. As God's called-out ones, we must learn to follow in the footsteps of Paul, being willing to trust God when the here-and-now in our experience appears problematic, knowing that God is sovereign over all.
Martin Collins, pointing to the dazzling electronic and print replication of God's Holy Scriptures, moves the hands of the clock back to the Middle Ages, before the advent of printing, a time when it would take an industrious scribe more than ten months to finish transcribing one Bible—at a cost far above what the average worker could bear. During these dark times, the Waldensians translated the Bible into the vernacular from the Latin Vulgate. The Roman Catholic Church persecuted these 'heretics,' destroying their translations. Miraculously, each attempt to destroy the Scriptures resulted in the printers doubling their production for this sought-after document. Christ has always supplied the means to spread the Word. Printings of the Bible have exceeded 6 billion to date, making it the most widely printed and distributed Book on earth. Persecution of Christians, accompanied with attempts to destroy God's Word, has again reared its ugly head throughout the Middle East.
Clyde Finklea: In my high school yearbook, quotes were placed under the pictures of each senior. I do not remember the quote that was under my name, but I do remember one of them. It was ...
Ronny Graham, citing statistics from the non-profit organization Open Doors, asserts that persecution against Christians is rampant and dramatic, escalating in many parts of the world in which professing Christians suffer governmental harassment, torture, and death. In North Korea, owning a Bible is a capital offence, bringing death or a life sentence in a gruesome labor camp. Iraq and Nigeria are prime examples in which hostility and persecution against Christians seem to be tipping culture and society into extreme chaos. World Watch Monitor has warned that the persecution of Christians is a harbinger of discord in the world society. In the United States, Christian liberties are eroding in the wake of the destruction of constitutional liberties. Liberty Institute claims that governmental (largely federal) agencies are trying to push Christian expression out the door, with pompous federal judges condemning public prayer, the mention of God's name, actively meddling in the hiring and firing of rabbis and ministers, and actively editing high school valedictorians commencement speeches. While not as extreme as North Korea or Nigeria, persecution is here in America and the free world, with anarchy and chaos following closely behind. In this evil time, it is necessary to exercise prudence, caution, judgment, and common sense. We should not bring about needless persecution on ourselves or on the body of Christ because of our foolish texting, posting, tweeting, or e-mailing.It is high time to exercise prudence and to keep silent.
Martin Collins, asking why Christians must endure such horrendous persecution and struggle, asserts that Paul warned in Acts 5 that the church would always be in danger of deception from within and opposition from without. "Opposition from without" in Peter's time came from the evil oppression incited by the Pharisees and Sadducees. Paradoxically, with the beginning of persecution, the Gospel spread exponentially beyond Jerusalem, much to the frustration of the Jewish leaders, consumed by jealousy and fear of losing power. The more the church is persecuted, the more of a witness the church will become. Angelic ministers even the playing field by limiting the threat from unscrupulous and power-hungry religious leaders bent on protecting their turf. Christians can always expect new challenges, and must never be content with standing still, but must be pressing on to spiritual maturity. God allows a great deal of agonizing suffering to His church, but His will is definitely destined to prevail. Christians cannot fully mature without the full counsel of God, embodied in the Old and New Testament, enduring persecution and thorns in the flesh.
Martin Collins, acknowledging that people universally are curious about the future, asserts that prophecy is difficult and perplexing. Regardless of when Christ will return, we must be ready. False teachers, apostasy, and wars, as well as rumors of wars, will be a permanent part of the birth pangs ushering in Christ's Second Coming and the end of the world. Our challenge in the wake of the terrible things we witness now (an arena of passion and fury) must be to retain confidence that God is in control, even though our faith will be tried to its ultimate. The zeal we had at our calling cannot hold up to the current rigors. We need to learn to fear God more than those who persecute us. When we are ill-treated, we are persecuted for His sake—a high honor. God will give us special ability to witness for Him in the midst of gruesome trials and persecution. God's promises have conditions, namely, that we come to the stature of Christ. We are commanded not to be deceived, not to be afraid, and not to worry. Because Jesus will come unexpectedly and suddenly, we need to always live as though Christ will be returning tomorrow. God encourages us to stay settled in times of conflict, to stand firm in the faith, and to preach the Gospel to the world until Christ returns, an event which will be as the blink of the eye regardless of when we die. Consequently, we need to maintain a solid relationship with God, watching and praying continually, protecting our spiritual valuables. Until Christ returns, we must serve our brethren, using the spiritual gifts God has given us, in direct contrast to the evil servant, who is careless, cruel, and engages in carousing, believing he has plenty of time since Christ has supposedly delayed His coming. Faithless Christians will be judged more harshly than those who do not know Christ. To whom much has been committed, much will be expected.
Martin Collins, continuing his expose of the United Nations Environmental Project, a movement which has evolved into a pagan earth worship, a religion attempting to impose a kind of earth-worship with a new covenant with mother earth. This movement espouses a new environmental ethic, an eco-spirituality designed to enforce a global reference for earth and an international, intercultural, and interfaith earth sabbath. UNEP has targeted the seemingly naïve leaders of the mainstream Protestant churches, which have already fallen for the surreptitious "Only One Earth" pitch, confessing their collective environmental sins, agreeing to decorate their churches with pictures of the earth and share their worship with other species. God's instructions to mankind included subduing the earth, tending and keeping it, but not to worship it as a kind of pagan goddess.
Martin Collins, reflecting on an administrative decision about care of the widows in the early Church (mentioned in Acts 6:1), suggests that dual languages and dual cultures (Greek and Hebrew) led to at a perceived "double standard" in the way welfare was distributed to Jewish and Hellenistic widows. The solution was to select deacons with leadership or organizational capabilities. These deacons were largely of Greek extraction. The necessary qualities of deacons are patterned on the servant-leadership model established by Jesus Christ; a deacon is a servant. Christ does not want His staff to exercise Gentile patterns of tyrannical, top-down leadership, but to humbly serve people without striving for greatness. Jesus taught His disciples how to be servants by washing their feet. Stephen proved himself one of the most effective witnesses, forgiving his enemies just as Christ had previously given the example. His recorded sermon proved a powerful witness outlining the connection of the Old Testament (Israel's History) to the teaching of Christ and the New Covenant, as well as launching the Gospel to the Gentiles. Throughout Israel's history, prophets have been persecuted; Moses had been rejected by his people. According to Stephen, the Jewish leaders had taken on the rebellious attitude of Joseph's brothers. They had murdered the prophets, resisting the Holy Spirit, and had not followed the Law of Moses (as they claimed to have done). The day of the physical temple, according to Stephen, had ended; God is omniscient and omnipotent, dwelling in all locations, choosing representatives from all peoples of the world. Stephen was full of faith, grace, power, light, scripture, and love. Jesus stood as an Advocate and Mediator for Stephen. He will do no less for us. God will, through His Holy Spirit, provide the extraordinary strength we need, giving us the power to be living sacrifices and true witnesses.
Ronny Graham, observing that Jesus changed the name of Simon to Peter (meaning rock), and the names of James and John to Boanerges, or Sons of Thunder, explains that Jesus called people by characteristics which described them. Christ was preparing them for the job they would do ahead. James and John had an excess of zeal, but initially lacked eloquence and wisdom. They were always ready, with the speed and energy of lightning, often symbolic of the wrath of God. Thunder is often compared to the voice of God. Perhaps God was preparing James and John to serve as His voice , channeling their zeal and energy for constructive purposes. Similarly, we need to allow God to redirect our efforts to His purpose rather than our own.
The biblical city of Smyrna, whose church received one of Christ's seven letters in Revelation 2 and 3, may be one that Bible students know the least about. In explaining Jesus' message to this church, David Grabbe shows how the city's name helps to reveal the themes that the Head of the church wants us to understand as His return nears.
Though she transgressed every commandment in multiple ways, the spiritual sin through which Israel's unfaithfulness is most frequently demonstrated is gross idolatry. John Ritenbaugh explains that this and other identifying marks—even her persecution of the saints—prove that Israel is the Great Harlot of Revelation 17 and 18.
Persecution and martyrdom are not popular topics among Christians today, but they are facts of Christian life. Richard Ritenbaugh explains the fifth seal's cry of the martyrs and God's response.
Following the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse is the Fifth Seal, depicting souls under the altar crying out to God for vengeance. Richard Ritenbaugh goes into the details of this prophecy of persecution and martyrdom of the saints.
Richard Ritenbaugh, responding to a challenge of our understanding concerning Satan the Devil, systematically substantiates Satan's existence. Christ was an eyewitness to Satan's fall from heaven, and Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 verify the veracity of this event. Jude and Peter add detail regarding the sins of the angels, and their confinement as demons. Sadly, we as humans share the prison cell inhabited by Satan and his fallen demons. Pride, vanity, presumption, and self-absorption led to Satan's demise—being cast out as a profane thing. Satan's madness (that he is his own god) is the spirit of this world, and he still possesses great spiritual and political power on this earth, even to deceive the very elect. We become protected from Satan's destruction by 1) the blood of the Lamb, implying our deepening relationship with God; 2) the conduct of our lives, constantly adding to our character; and 3) the willingness to sacrifice for righteousness.
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.
In this message on God's promises of protection and healing, Richard Ritenbaugh identifies several conditions for receiving them, including God's sovereignty, God's purpose, and one's level of growth. A way to see things "God's way" involves replacing our carnal, egocentric viewpoint with outgoing concern. We must transpose our "me first" attitude with a "you first" one. Nonetheless, God's promises stand, and He is very willing to fulfill them for us.
Freedom of religion in America is being slowly eroded rather than removed en masse. Richard Ritenbaugh presents several examples, then shows how the Bible encourages us in such times.
The letter to Smyrna contains a rarity among the seven churches—no criticism! What's so good about the Smyrnans?
Persecution is not a subject we normally like to think about, but it is a fact of life for a Christian. John Ritenbaugh explains why Jesus says we are blessed if we are persecuted for righteousness' sake.
Christ says in God's Word that we can show no greater love than in sacrificing our lives for our friends. How do we do this? We must come to the point where we are doing this daily!
How do we, as modern Christians, bear our cross as Jesus commands? He meant far more than simply carrying a stake over our shoulders! This article shows how vital denying ourselves and taking up our cross is in following Christ.
What is a witness? Martin Collins shows how the term was used in both Old and New Testaments. He also briefly covers the Two Witnesses and the everyday witness of a Christian.
Richard Ritenbaugh acknowledges that although many in God's church have gone through sore trials and tests of sorts, virtually no one has gone through the nightmarish persecutions suffered by the early Christians in Imperial Rome. Because most of us have lived our lives in modern Israel rather than a Gentile culture, we have been?to this point?shielded from the kinds of persecution (being put to flight, pursued, or martyred from an external source) experienced by the early apostles. This message explores both a time factor and a righteousness factor, explaining why intense persecution has not yet taken place. Paradoxically (a big horse pill to swallow), persecution may be regarded as a reward for righteousness, a kind of favor and kindness toward us, preparing us for a better resurrection and greater service as priests in God's Kingdom, following in the footsteps of our Elder Brother.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Christ's sacrifice was not merely substitutionary, but representative, with Christ giving us a pattern to live our lives- mortifying our flesh and putting out sin. From this pattern, we realize that living righteously does not guarantee a life free from pain. Like Christ our Forerunner, we must learn from the things we suffer, living a life of sacrifice, collectively and individually becoming a temple or body- a habitation of God's Holy Spirit. Like Christ, we are called to be priests, providing an intercessory bridge between mankind and God. Our entire lives, like our Elder brother, must be given as a whole living sacrifice to God, (1) yielding our bodies and minds, controlling our appetites and desires, (2) making sacrifices of praise, (3) making sacrifices of service to others, and if required, (4) the sacrifice of a martyr's death.
In this keynote address of the 1995 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh asserts that because cultural restraints which once held human nature in check have been removed, vile human nature has waxed increasingly more corrupt and depraved, approaching conditions described in Genesis 6:5-7. Skyrocketing statistics on social spending, abortion, violent crime, illegitimate births, divorce, teenage suicides etc. indicate a worsening cancerous degeneracy (Isaiah 1:6). Paradoxically, increased social spending, by creating dependency, has actually worsened the problems. God has indicted our people (Hosea 4:1-3, Ezekiel 7:23-27) for its bloody violence and disregard for the preciousness of life. The Feast of Tabernacles pictures a refreshing time when these problems will be dealt with from the just and equitable mind of God.
Over the centuries, God has been disappointed by mankind over and over again. One man who did not disappoint was the deacon Stephen. Find out why he was so special.
John Ritenbaugh warns that, as the calamitous events of the end times intensify, we need to be able to determine what is important and what is marginal, devoting our energies to what Christ is most concerned: overcoming human nature and developing faith in God's ability to provide. Will we trust God in the basic areas of life—food, clothing, and water—or compromise, accepting the mark of the beast to save our physical lives (Revelation 13:11-17)? Doing this would indicate our acceptance of the beliefs of the great false religious system and brand us an enemy of God. The mark on the forehead and hand signifies submission of mind and deed to this foul system (contrasted to Deuteronomy 6:8), willfully disobeying God's commandments (particularly the Sabbath - Exodus 31:13) and denying Christ.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on eight conclusions regarding fleeing and the Place of Safety: 1) There will be a geographical separation of the church. 2) We can be worthy to escape the Tribulation. 3) Lukewarm fence-sitters will go into the fire of tribulation for purification. 4) Faithful people are generally assured protection from the hour of trial. 5) The Bible is purposely vague about the specifics of the Place of Safety. 6) Obsessing about the Place of Safety is a sure way to disqualify oneself from it. 7) God calls some faithful, zealous ones for martyrdom during the Tribulation. 8) If we make the Kingdom of God our focus, being faithful day by day, yielding to God's purpose for us, He will faithfully supply all our needs.
John Ritenbaugh initially explores the work of Paul and Barnabas developing the church in the cosmopolitan city of Antioch, the location from where the term Christian originated. The twelfth chapter, an apparent flashback, focuses upon the execution of James (at the hands of mad Herod Agrippa), Peter's miraculous escape from prison followed by the dramatic death of Herod as a result of blasphemy, an episode showing the relationship between prayer and God's response. The episode also had the effect of driving Peter from Jerusalem. Chapter 13 begins a concentrated effort on the part of the Antioch church to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles through the efforts of Barnabas and Saul.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the final instructions Jesus gave to His disciples following the Passover meal preceding His death. Jesus provided sober warnings in order to prepare the disciples for unpleasant eventualities, including being ostracized from the religious and cultural community. Jesus warned that in the future sincere religious zealots, not knowing God, will consider it an act of worship to kill people who obey God. It was to the disciples' advantage that Christ returned to His Father because: (1) they would not learn anything until they did it themselves; (2) they would learn to live by faith; (3) and, they, by means of God's Holy Spirit, would receive continual spiritual guidance, becoming convicted and convinced that all problems stem from sin, leading or inspiring them to repent and practice righteous behavior, modeled after Jesus Christ, and guiding them into all truth required for salvation and into insights into God's purpose, allowing them to glorify Christ as Christ glorified His Father. Christ told the disciples about his imminent crucifixion and resurrection, but they were unable to comprehend until after the events had happened. Though Christ knows that we will inevitably fail, He knows He can pull us through as long as we yield to Him. Chapter 17 constitutes the prayer of our High Priest, asking that we would take on the Divine Nature and name of God, determining our future destiny.
Enoch was translated that he should not see death. Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. Yet the Bible reveals they are not in heaven today! Here's the astounding truth.
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