Jesus Himself instructs us to live by every word of God (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4), advice that is also useful when we study the Bible. Most of the passages that describe Christ's return to earth in power and glory at the end of the age contain the same detail: that He will come in, on, or with clouds. David Grabbe provides biblical background to help us understand why this detail is significant.
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.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the devastating locust plagues described in Joel, marvels that the prophet, instead of promising a silver lining on a very black cloud, affirmed that things were going to get intensely worse before they got better. Nevertheless, Joel, whose name means Yahve is God, in the middle of his prophecy, promised a marvelous blessing which would satisfy His people. This prophesied blessing, which became Peter's first words of his Pentecost sermon on Pentecost in 31 AD, was that God would pour out His Spirit, prompting young men to prophesy and old men to dream before the awesome Day of the Lord. Only a type of Joel's prophecy was fulfilled in 31AD and much more is yet to be fulfilled. Joel described a gruesome locust infestation that totally ruined the economy of the nation, placing the citizenry in a state of hopeless, panicked despair. Because Judah had taken God's blessings for granted, He removed His hand of protection, something we see happening in our morally bankrupt culture today. God, in His sovereignty, is guiding His creation to its ultimate purpose, including the devastating plagues and afflictions, designed to motivate repentance and obedience. God represents both mercy and justice. When sin becomes a dominant condition of God's people, God's judgment is not far away, either in the form of political oppression or natural disaster. For a repentant people, there will be restored fellowship and tranquility. The 1915 AD locust plague in Palestine had all the biblical proportions, including the sky darkened with adult locusts, eating everything in their paths. The locust plague Joel described is only a foretaste, symbolic of a more devastating judgment to befall the earth in the future Day of the Lord. Both disaster and grace are tools God uses to motivate repentance, and the wise will act accordingly, turning to God in sincere, contrite, humble, heartfelt repentance, rending their hearts rather than their garments, leading to total conversion and change of mind.
David Grabbe, reminding us that the apostle Paul had to caution the Thessalonian congregation against jumping to conclusions about the return of Christ, asserts the scattered Church of God has a similar penchant for jumping to conclusions, some identifying Joseph W. Tkach (a man who hardly demonstrated any wondrous miracles) as the man of sin, occupying the holy place. While biblical types come in all colors and flavors, the stark reality of II Thessalonians 2 is far more grave than any parochial upheaval. Like the Thessalonian congregation, we cannot afford to let anyone deceive us. The scope of this event is obviously international, affecting the entire world, involving a dramatic global rejection of God's truth. Our culture has been witness to this international apostasy, in viewing the acceptance of godless evolution over creation. A decrepit nominal Christianity has been challenged by a virulent radical Islam, which teaches that the notion that God has a son is blasphemous. Shockingly, for all its moral decline, America is the most 'Christian' country of any Israelitish nation on the globe; in Britain far, far more attend mosques than churches. Meanwhile, in 'Christian' America, Wicca and New Age earth worship surges in popularity, while a full one-fifth of the population has abandoned previous beliefs. In the mainstream religions, belief has become so anemic with such shallow ideas of righteousness that the truth of God cannot be translated into real life experience. We must realize that the falling way will be universal; every 'tribe' will be dismayed. Because this on-going apostasy has not occurred overnight, we must safeguard ourselves against the danger of adapting ourselves to the new normal of evil and wickedness, compromising ourselves into mortal danger by gradual neglect, allowing the plague of secularism to infect us little by little.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the people everywhere seem frazzled, distressed, and terrified as a dark, evil, sinister force seems to be engulfing the world. The continued angst from dealing with this continual pathogenic zeitgeist threatens to render all of us, including God's called-out ones, into a state of hopelessness, apathy, depression, with absolutely no reason to ever expect a positive outcome. The church must forcefully deal with this overwhelming feeling of hopelessness or it too will succumb to this terrifying vortex of despair. We live in the same kind of cultural milieu as Noah before the world perished in the Great Flood. Over the past few centuries, and especially the last 70 or 80 years, the 'liberal', 'progressive' humanist philosophers and educators have successfully hi-jacked the minds of our populace, steering them totally clear from any reliance upon God by poisoning their minds with the patently illogical theory of evolution, forced upon unwary, naïve minds as fact and truth. The Day of Trumpets militates against this foolishness by restoring hope for the establishment of God's Kingdom which will permanently terminate decay, sin, and death. As God's called-out ones, we are fish swimming against a violent current, compelled to turn to God and keep His Commandments when the rest of the world rejects Him. As God gave the original Promised Land to Jacob's children, He also gave the North American continent (largely virgin territory) to the descendants of Jacob. In 240 years, we have indulged in affluence, but forgetting its Provider.
David Grabbe, contending with the popularly held assumption that the days preceding Christ’s return would be characterized by near-apocalyptic, cataclysmic disaster, points to the Scriptures that people will be eating, drinking, and marrying as in the days of Noah and the days of Lot, indicating that there will be enough relative normalcy to allow for commerce and “business as usual” for much of the world. Right up to the day of the flood and the firestorm on Sodom, people were carrying on with mundane everyday activities, with a certain amount of ease in committing sins of self-indulgence and complacency, with people having enough security to kick back and bask in protected mediocrity as their work ethic eroded. Like Sodom and ancient Babylon, modern Babylon’s obsession is with materialism and guaranteed security, as government, union, and many academic positions protect—even encourage—mediocrity, incompetency, and malfeasance. God is not against prosperity unless it leads to materialism and self-indulgence, displacing godliness, righteousness, and contentment. Our current moral and economic state is not terribly unlike the days of Noah and the days of Lot.
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.
Jesus Christ's Olivet Prophecy provides a handful of specific signs of His return, one of which seems particularly obscure. David Grabbe analyzes His saying, "Wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together," in Matthew 24:28, explaining that it is a warning that Jesus will come back in judgment against those who resist Him.
David Grabbe, cuing in on verses in Matthew 24 and Luke 17, referring to the sign of eagles or vultures gathering together in the wake of God's impending judgment, corrects some misapplications of these verses, wherein people believe it refers to the Rapture. These pictures refer to the judgment against sin, providing a banquet for the vultures feasting upon those who have rebelled against God. As God's called-out ones, our biggest concern is not the Great Tribulation or the Beast, but instead it is being unprepared for Christ's return, and hence becoming food for the physical vultures or the symbolic demonic carrion. We dare not push off the time we seek God; we must not be like the foolish virgins who thought they had more time to get ready. Judgment is coming on the world, but it is coming on the church of God right now; let us be sure the vultures do not mistake us for the nearly dead.
As part of Jesus Christ’s prophecy regarding “the sign of [His] coming, and of the end of the age” (Matthew 24:3), He gives a prediction and a warning that requires careful consideration. ...
Many of us know Luke 21:36 by heart: 'Watch and pray always. . . .' We think we know what it means because the church has traditionally taught that it refers to watching world events. But does it? Pat Higgins contends that there is far more to this verse spiritually than meets the eye.
Of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the red horse may be the most easily interpreted. Richard Ritenbaugh shows, however, that while war is predominantly contemplated, the rider of the red horse is also responsible for the escalating violence on the homefront.
At God's command, the white horse and its rider gallop over the earth 'conquering and to conquer.' Richard Ritenbaugh analyzes the symbolism of this horseman, a precursor of the destruction that is wrought by its fellows.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are a terrifying image of impending doom. Richard Ritenbaugh searches out the details of these fearsome, yet enigmatic figures, whose hoofbeats can already be heard on the earth!
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.
We live in a day of increasing knowledge—to the point that we are increasingly overloaded with information. Richard Ritenbaugh argues that these and other modern factors lend themselves to deception, yet this is one of the primary end-time trends that Jesus warns us against!
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.
In this companion piece to his "Willingness to Believe" message, Richard Ritenbaugh provides an effective antidote to gullibility and simple-minded credulity. Both tendencies emerge from time to time in the greater church of God. Like advertising—which relies heavily on deception, hiding the down-side or defects and exaggerating the efficacy or desirability of a product—religious hucksters use deceptive tactics, using the bait or temptation of self-gratification, selling non-essential, twiggy or downright heretical positions. Like highly trained U.S. Treasury agents, the elect keep themselves undeceived by knowing the real article inside-out. If one knows the real article, the counterfeit will become readily apparent. Like a lamp rolling back the darkness (Psalm 119:105), the truth, revealed by God's Word, provides the best defense or antidote against deception and error.
John Ritenbaugh explains the seven thunders and the little book of Revelation 10. This chapter serves as an inset, not following the time sequence of Revelation, but explaining in detail events necessary to understand more fully what is happening within it. The thunders (symbolic of God's voice) are the messages of the seven churches (end-time organizations typified by seven first-century organizations), occurring before the Tribulation, before the Two Witnesses preach, and before the seals are opened in chapter 6. The little book is God's Word, having both sweet and bitter aspects to those who are nourished by it. The seventh thunder, weak as it is, rumbles in the distance, typifying the Laodicean era, badly in need of oil (Matthew 25:3), gold (Revelation 3:18), and water (Isaiah 55:1-2)'all costly but necessary items for spiritual warfare.
What did Jesus mean when He said the end time would be like the days of Noah? Did He mean that the last days would be violent and corrupt, or that the last days would come suddenly on an unsuspecting world? Amazingly, the waning years of this century fulfill both.
Satan seems to be planting into men's minds the thought that an alien force will one day invade earth. Perhaps the Devil is conditioning mankind for Christ's return?
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.
Jesus says the end times will be like the days of Lot in Sodom, meaning that rampant homosexuality is a sign of the end. Earl Henn analyzes this growing, worldwide trend.
Lot's wife is best known for that fact that she looked back and became a pillar of salt. What was so important that she yearned for Sodom? Ted Bowling explains why her example is important to us today.
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!
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.
[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.]