Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that some prophecy buffs have concluded that the end of the world is on the horizon, citing the media's sniping at President Trump, North Korea's hydrogen bomb threats, and the succession of three destructive hurricanes. When analyzing the overblown coverage of the hurricanes, for example, one must factor in the motives of the Weather Channel , including the insidious political motive of fostering a belief in climate change, and the materialistic motive of boosting ratings by playing on people's fears. God's called-out ones should not look to the media when seeking truthful information. What God reveals in His Word is more reliable than the evening news. God's people do a disservice to the cause of truth when they allow the media-hype to trigger a false hope about Christ's imminent return. We have no absolute guarantee that Christ will come in our lifetime; studying numerology or secret biblical codes will not speed up the event. No one, not even Jesus Christ Himself, knows when He will return; the Father alone has this knowledge. Many of the signs of Jesus coming are perennial, such as deception, wars and rumors of wars, famines and natural disasters. To be sure, Christ averred that the both the density and the intensity of world events would increase before the end, but one cannot build a prophetic marker on a series of natural events, many of which have been over-hyped by irresponsible media outlets. When we are commanded to watch and pray, Christ expects the faithful servant to be watching the progress of his spiritual growth, regardless of whether His return is imminent or far off. The recent disasters should be a wake-up call not as a pin on a chart measuring prophetic fulfillment.
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.
Charles Whitaker, reflecting on the events taking place as Christ bid His disciples farewell upon His ascension into Heaven, suggested that the approximately 75 days between the resurrection of Lazarus and Pentecost- brought about tumultuous activity and earth-shaking events. The disciples wanted eagerly to know what would happen next, just as we do do today. In that relatively short period of time, many miraculous and dramatic events occurred, including: (1) the resurrection of Lazarus, (2) the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem, (3) the Passover , (4) the ripping of the Temple veil, an event which reverberated throughout the entire Jewish world , (5) the opening of tombs, populating the region with many people who had earlier died,, (6) the resurrection of Christ, (7) the ascension of Christ, and (8) Pentecost (the miraculous beginning of the New Testament Church). But then God seemed to turn off the fulfilled prophecy machine; God did nothing further dramatic during 31 AD. Years and months rolled by, speculations emerged and fizzled, with hope that Christ would re-appear on one of the impending holy days. Paul, who thought Christ would return in his lifetime, urged people to be eternally vigilant never letting down, reminding us to earnestly love His appearing. Those who love His appearing will receive a crown of righteousness. The apparent discrepancy in the number of days in Daniel's prophecies equal 75 days, perhaps duplicating the 75 dramatic days occurring between the resurrection of Lazarus and the resurrection of Christ. We may not see those 75 days, but will receive the blessing on day 1,335 if we continue to look forward to Christ's appearing.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that we are approaching the end of a seven year cycle, the seventh year on the Hebrew calendar, a time of the year of release, when the Law was publicly and solemnly read. This event has always proved more solemn with a sense of urgency than the services of a regular Feast of Tabernacles. In the current grim background of the accelerating decadence of the western democratic democracies, we must remember that for God's called-out ones the responsibility for a life of faith is not the church, but rather on the individual. Because none of us are privy to the time of Christ's return, we must continually seek God's counsel rather than being distracted and mesmerized by the Zeitgeist around us. During the time of Noah, there was a lengthy witness from a preacher of righteousness before God's hammer of judgment (in the form of the flood) fell upon the world's populace. We must be continually aware and alert to our own spiritual condition, remembering that the times would be identical to Noah's, when people were absorbed into the spirit of the time, failing to heed God's warning. God's called-out ones must remain single-minded, fortifying their spiritual reserves with Bible study, prayer, and meditation, maintaining a vigilant, watchful eye out for the surreptitious lures of Satan's decadent socio-cultural milieu.
How often have we heard—or cried ourselves—"How long, O Lord?" Our great hope is in Christ's return, but despite His assurances that He is coming quickly, it seems as if that time is delayed. David Grabbe, keying in on II Peter 3, cautions us not to be distracted by scoffers or cunning arguments, but trust that Christ will return at exactly the best time.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the cumulative effects of Satan's long-term miseducation project, affirms that humanism is a powerful, fully functioning religion, responsible for the 'normalization' of abortion and other perversions, and a white-hot hostility to God and His sovereignty. Advances in technology, such as the Gutenberg press in 1439 to the internet in 1969, have been mixed blessings and curses, used for both good and evil. Gutenberg's press, instrumental in augmenting the impact of the Protestant Reformation, made the mass, ubiquitous distribution of the Bible possible throughout the entire world. The 17th century could be said to be the fountainhead of exponential communication progress, turning the oppressive ecclesiastical and the stultifying feudal world upside down, leading to the immigration of the Israelitish peoples to the western hemisphere, often in an effort to safeguard a base for religious liberty. At the same time, Satan, aware of his limited time to destroy, has been using the same advances in technology, advancing his agenda to neutralize religious liberty, replacing it with a so-called progressive, humanistic agenda attempting to destroy God's sovereignty and marginalize or destroy God's called-out ones.
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.
David Grabbe, cuing in on II Peter 3, asserts that there are good reasons why Christ has not yet returned, reminding us that scoffers and false teachers will test the faith of those who once accepted the truth. Some will yield to their natural desires, finding an excuse to forget about their commitment to God. In their desire to live for the moment, the warnings of the prophets will fade into ineffectiveness. We are in danger of becoming desensitized to righteousness. We need to keep a long-term perspective, suffering long while our Elder Brother Jesus Christ tends to our process of repentance until we finally become fully in His image. Jesus Christ will not wrap things up until we have completed our process of salvation. All material things will dissolve, to be replaced with a new Heaven and Earth in which righteousness will dwell. This world is passing away; we must focus on permanent spiritual priorities, reflecting God's righteousness in our lives. When Christ returns, we cannot be at odds with Him in any manner, but must have been following through on the salvation process, putting our spiritual houses in order.
As He was finishing His Olivet Prophecy, Jesus charged His disciples, "And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!" (Mark 13:37). It is an intriguing command because He does not specify in so many words what we are to watch. Pat Higgins argues that the evidence points to the fact that watching has everything to do with spiritual preparation.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on our mind's tendency to wander when the details get too fast and furious, losing bits and pieces of the unfolding time-element, warns us that, if this happens when we study prophecy, we could be off by hundreds or thousands of years. The understanding of the "when" of prophecy is absolutely crucial. Regarding the return of Jesus Christ, commentaries classify the following views: the pre-millennial view (Christ will return before establishing His thousand year rule), the post-millennial view (Christ made plans for His thousand year rule when He ascended to Heaven in 31 A.D., leaving the work to convert the entire earth to Christianity to the church fathers), and the a-millennial view (the thousand year rule was just a metaphor). Other views consist of: idealism (insisting the prophecies are merely metaphors standing for greater principles, such as the ultimate eradication of evil), historicism (a religious explanation for historical events, showing God's hand in historical events, regarding prophecy as human constructs), futurism (believing that most prophecies have future fulfillment, suggesting duality—type and anti-type in prophecy), and preterism (reflecting on what has already taken place, suggesting that all prophecy has already been fulfilled in AD 70.) Some preterists will admit that some prophecies, like Christ's Second Coming, have not been fulfilled. Preterists hang their entire philosophy on the interpretation (or misinterpretation) of "this generation" in Matthew 24:34. Any speculation about the future is about as certain as meteorological "predictions." Interpretation of prophecy is open to many variables. We cannot be sure about any of our speculations. Herman Hoeh's and Herbert W. Armstrong's speculations (as sincere as they were) had a high degree of error. We cannot be fixed on a trajectory (as we have in the past) of interpretation which obliviously ignores vital signs. Language (and the interpretation of language) is a slipper
Martin Collins, focusing upon various and sundry interpretations of who or what constitutes antichrists, examines several characteristics of this group of beings, including fostering deception and confusion, preventing fellowship, and creating intense spiritual conflict. Realizing that our real enemies are not human beings at all, but demonic principalities emanating from the spirit of darkness, we are mandated to put on the whole armor of God, embracing the truth. The mystery of evil and lawlessness has been extant from the beginning of the early church, recognized by Paul and John. Some teachers in the early church actually attained leadership and influence in the teaching of noxious false doctrine. Ultimately, the being or order emerging as the antichrist will be motivated directly by Satan. Historically, antichrist teachers have proclaimed that Jesus was only a man, or that He had a phantom body and never really experienced death. The syncretistic new religion of Chrislam is actually a prime example of antichrist doctrine. The false prophet and the great political leader in Revelation 13 and 17 will both be worshipped by people duped by Satan to believe a strong delusion. We need to be on guard for antichrist influences attempting to penetrate the greater church of God. We are admonished to test the spirits, realizing that heretical tares have been permitted to test our faith. The spirit of the antichrist is alive and well today, attempting to sabotage our spiritual welfare and steal our spiritual crown.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the parable of the faithful and wise servant and the evil servant as well as the wise and foolish virgins, suggests that the Day of Trumpets emphasizes the state of caution and faithfulness required at the turbulent end times. The parables focus upon the relationship which we must have toward our fellow workers, warning us not to fall into a state of spiritual malaise in the midst of increasing stress. As a metaphor, sleep often has negative connotations of insensitivity, lack of alertness or awareness. Because the exact time of Christ's return is not known, we must be continually motivated as though His return were imminent. Those not prepared for the Day of the Lord will be blindsided by its unexpectedness. Christ and Paul realized that God only knows the time of Christ's return and have subsequently warned that we cannot rest on our laurels or fall asleep as in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. We must be making our preparations individually, not cuing in on our brethren, our family, or the world around us. As children of light we must conduct ourselves soberly, making positive use of our time, not allowing it to drift away. Being spiritually asleep or drunk will lead to poverty. We must wake up spiritually, taking off our carnal pajamas (the old carnal man) and clothing ourselves with the armor of God (Christ), redeeming the time and urgently pressing toward sanctification, holiness, and the Kingdom of God. The apostle Paul, afflicted with multiple health problems and considering his past life as worthless refuse, nevertheless, with sterling self-discipline, single-mindedly pressed on toward his spiritual goal, providing us an example for conduct under affliction and pressure. If we follow Paul's advice, we will not be emulating the wicked servant or the foolish virgins; we will be prepared.
A survey of the New Testament reveals that, though we may recognize the "signs of the times," we will not be able to determine when Jesus Christ will return. David Grabbe pursues the concept of Christ's second coming "as a thief in the night," and what this means to Christians in this end time.
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.
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?
As this world keeps on turning, more people become skeptical about the return of Jesus Christ. The Bible, however, insists that He will come again and quickly. Richard Ritenbaugh advises watchful, sober expectation because the Lord does not delay His coming.
In this message on God's Millennial rest, Richard Ritenbaugh points out that both the Hebrew word shabbat and the Greek translation of the word katapausis denote cessation or stoppage rather than repose or sleep. It represents a cessation of worldly activities and a commencement of godly activities. The Millennium or God's rest will be an exceedingly busy time, a time when all of humanity will be converted, a time everybody will be on the same trek (Isaiah 4).
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?
God not only rules in heaven, but He is also sovereign on earth! He is not an absentee landlord, but One who is actively involved in administering His creation.
In this lead-off sermon of the 1999 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh draws an instructive though disturbing parallel between the warning given to Belshazzar and the warning given to the greater church of God. A major contributory cause in the splitting of the church has been the wholesale rejection of the doctrines Herbert Armstrong, under God's inspiration, worked to restore. When the shepherd was smitten, false teachers systematically undermined the faith once delivered. We need to realize that if God were not with Herbert Armstrong in those formative years, then indeed the handwriting is on the wall for us. We desperately need to hold fast to those doctrines restored through Herbert Armstrong's ministry.
Are we really so certain these are the last days? How can we know for sure? What does the Bible give as evidence that the last days are here?
Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that the fulfillment of the Day of Trumpets has the biggest immediate impact on us of all the Holy Days. This day depicts the time immediately before and after Christ's return, a time that if God would not intervene, no flesh would survive (Matthew 24:22). The Baby Boomers enabled us to annihilate life in many different ways many time over. The characteristics of their offspring - the Thirteenth Generation (or Generation X) provide a perfect match to the characteristics of II Timothy 3:1-3. These attitudes provide positive substantiation that we are living in the last days. Realizing these signposts should give us the urgent incentive to repent and overcome, preparing for the time fulfilled in the Day of Trumpets- the Day of the Lord.
Is the rapture biblical? If so, when will it occur? Where do the saints go? Richard Ritenbaugh clarifies this sometimes confusing subject from the Bible.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on God's active administration of His Creation. Like manufacturers and builders, the Master Builder of the universe also has precise schedules and deadlines. Some have mistakenly assumed that after God fashioned His creation, He turned the whole operation over to laws of nature working automatically and consistently without His intervention. Natural laws, left unattended tend toward entropy leading to chaos and disorganization. Sin greatly speeds up this entropic process. God not only upholds, but also guides and propels His creation, periodically overruling man's mismanagement, using floods, fires, winds, and earthquakes to adjust man's errors and defilement of the creation.
Time—it marches relentlessly on, and we have only so much of it. Yet we waste a lot of it on foolish pursuits, procrastination and distractions. John Ritenbaugh explains how getting control of our time puts us in the driver's seat in our pursuit of God's Kingdom!
Luke 17:21 has tripped up Protestants for centuries. Using the context and the meaning of the Greek, Richard Ritenbaugh explains that this verse's meaning is very plain!
In this sermon on the admonitions of I Corinthians 10, John Ritenbaugh warns that, like our forebears, we can lose our salvation if we live a life of divided loyalty even though we have mechanically and physically gone through the ordinances. Like the Old Testament examples, the Corinthians also developed a careless presumption (having its roots in pride), allowing themselves to be drawn to lust, fornicate, tempt God, and murmur. We need to soberly reflect on these examples, finding parallels in our own lives.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the prophecies concerning the Man of Sin refer to a personage having immense political power with global significance rather than to an errant leader of a small church. The mystery of lawlessness which Paul warns about 19 years after Christ's resurrection (II Thessalonians 2:7) was the insidious religious deception of the Babylonian mystery religion infiltrating the church, appropriating the name of Christ, but despising and rejecting His Law, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness (Jude 3-4). The mystery of iniquity is progressive in nature, building to a fearful climax just before the return of Christ, when the Man of Sin, along with the Beast, will have aligned a major portion of the world in a fierce battle against Christ. If we don't love the truth, we will be absorbed into this hideous system.
John Ritenbaugh stresses the importance of making preparations, gathering our thoughts, and turning our lives around while there is still time, rather than squander our opportunities like the foolish virgins (Matthew 25:3) and the timid Shulamite (Song of Solomon 5:3). The Apostle Paul gives two significant warnings, signaling the impending Tribulation: (1) The falling away or Apostasy and (2) the appearance of the man of sin who exalts himself above God, ultimately setting up headquarters in the temple in Jerusalem (II Thessalonians 2:3-4). Because of the immense international geopolitical significance of this personage, it is unlikely that an errant leader of a small church, as speculated by some, could remotely fulfill this role.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the over-riding motivation for the individuals bringing to Jesus the woman caught in adultery was to trap Him, impaling Him on the horns of a dilemma. (Condemning the woman to death would have brought Him into conflict with Roman law; not condemning Her would have brought Him into conflict with the law of Moses.) Jesus, when He wrote in the dirt, perhaps listed instances in which the spirit of the law was violated in the thoughts or behaviors of the accusers, exposing the cruel, condemnatory attitude of the Pharisees. God's approach to authority is that it should be used to serve, and that the chief function of judging (from the stance of humility, mercy, and understanding) is to evaluate and to gently correct and reclaim rather than to condemn. Jesus, claiming to be the light of the world (drawing on a familiar temple ceremony involving candelabras), emphasizes His function as the Messiah, the embodiment of truth, giving form, shape, and substance to our lives, guiding us around or through life's difficulties. Believing that Jesus is God will motivate us to submit to Him in every aspect of our lives, providing an antidote to enslaving fears common to all of mankind, freeing us from the bondage of sin.
[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.]