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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the holiness movement of the 19th century which led to the emergence of Pentecostal and charismatic congregations, persuasions which have engulfed one-fourth of the entirety of Christian denominations and 8% of the world's population, warns that "Pentecostalism," with its emphasis on the emotions, the intuitive, the sensational as being more important than the intellectual, meditative, and reflective, carries some serious dangers to a true believer. When examining the early ministry of the prophet Elijah, it seems that he had succumbed to a kind of emotional, self-centered, charismatic "Pentecostal" mindset, petulantly assuming God would provide a cornucopia of miracles for him. Elijah really felt on top of his game after God consumed his sacrifice in the contest with the prophets of Baal, indicating (to Elijah) that God would intervene at his will and desire. Elijah needed to learn that God was in charge of the relationship, not the other way around. Our forebears on the Sinai were stiff-necked, imposing their will on God, practicing wrong-doing to see if God were watching, acting carelessly (presumptuously), assuming God was duty-bound to take care of them, all the while twisting God's word to suit their plans. Elijah evidently was up-ended by Jezebel's threatening response, and felt a compulsion to run for his life, drifting ultimately into a near-catatonic depression, evidently indifferent to God's intervention and protection. God is more interested in quietness and meekness than in bombastic displays of power.
In nominal Christianity, God's saving grace is placed at the center of the message of the gospel and is often emphasized to the point of overshadowing many of Christ's other teachings. Agreeing that grace is vital to a Christian's walk with God, John Ritenbaugh defines the term, showing that God gives grace from start to finish in a person's relationship with Him. It cannot be limited merely to justification and His forgiveness of our sins.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the analogy or metaphor of wilderness wanderings, focuses on the role of suffering or persecution (pressure) in perfecting the saints. God the Father perfected Jesus Christ (our Elder Brother, High Priest, and Mediator) through suffering. Likewise, God the Father has determined that His called-out ones would also be prepared for the reward and inheritance through the same manner. We need to develop the character to govern ourselves because those who cannot rule themselves are not fit to rule anything. As we put on Jesus Christ, we also are required to put on His suffering. As we are called to suffer like our Elder Brother, we are similarly called to glorification. Glory follows suffering. Christ's suffering was not confined to crucifixion, but also consisted of rejection, snubbing, humiliation, and the duress of persecution. God is still with us when we are suffering, perfecting our character. Suffering comes with the territory of being prepared for the Kingdom of God. The path to glory lies through suffering for righteousness sake; there is no intrinsic value in any other kind of suffering. Since we will be working with Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of God, God the Father will allow us to have parallel experiences as our Elder Brother endured. The ultimate rewards of this temporary suffering are mind-boggling if we doggedly follow our Archegos, Prodromou, Scout, Forerunner, and Trail-blazer, Jesus Christ, who gave us the example of leadership through service. God is equipping and perfecting us to work with Jesus Christ, using the tools of suffering, tests, and trials to build the right kind of godly character.
John Ritenbaugh, countering the naive assumption that the spirit of the law does away with the letter, insists that without the letter, there is no spirit because no foundations are possible. Writing the laws on our heart does not occur magically, but is a process (involving, prayer, meditation, learning and growing through life's experiences as our Elder Brother also grew in experience (Luke 2:40) We must walk as He walked (I John 2:6). The myriad examples given throughout the scriptures demonstrate for us (stretch out) the intent of the law. No scripture may say anything regarding a particular law, but examples (especially of Christ) will show God's will. The law appears in example form all over the scripture.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that we do not have immortality as a birthright (the lie which Satan told Eve), but that God is the sole source, making our relationship with God and God's judgment the most important focus of our life. One common denominator in all four Gospels is that a parallel exists between our lives and what Christ experienced on the earth. As part of Christ's body (I Corinthians 12:14-15), we all experience together what Christ experienced (crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and glorification- Romans 8:17). The death of self (Romans 8:13 and Galatians 3:5) must absolutely precede the resurrection to life (Romans 6:5).
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the superiority of Christ and the Melchizedek priesthood, pointing out that in every way it is superior to the Aaronic priesthood because Christ tenure is eternal rather than temporal, guaranteeing both continuity and quality. Hebrews 7 is the only portion of scripture that carefully examines Christ's credentials as High Priest, giving us concrete hope of our salvation. His blameless and undefiled life made Him an appropriate guarantor or co-signer covering our imperfections. After establishing the need for a change of the priesthood, Paul describes the details as to how the new priesthood will administer the New Covenant, amplifying and bringing into stark reality what had been only seen in shadowy outline in the Old Covenant. The New Covenant is established on better promises, not law changes.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that without continuous maintenance and attention, it is difficult to maintain a spiritual mind in a carnal physical body. We, like Christ, were made a little while lower than angels to be made perfect through suffering. He has blazed a trail, showing us a pattern for qualifying (through intense suffering and resisting temptation) for our ultimate responsibilities as future kings and priests—or bridge-builders, reconnecting man and God. As Christ endured the suffering and temptation successfully, we are exhorted to hold fast, activating the hope to endure to the end.
John Ritenbaugh observes that Hebrews is addressed to a people living at the end of an era, who were drifting away, had lost their first love or devotion, and were no longer motivated by zeal. Through lack of prayer, Bible study, and meditation, they had incrementally lost their portion of God's Holy Spirit, which now resembled a tiny, sporadic drip from a water skin. Through careless neglect, they were allowing something precious to slip out of their fingers, squandering a far greater treasure—their potential to become members of the God Family—than the people under the Old Covenant had neglected. Christ, our Trailblazer or Forerunner, was perfected through suffering, and we are to be perfected in the same way. We also need to be made perfect (adequate for our ultimate purpose) through suffering.
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