Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on the perennial desire of all cultures to return to a mythologized "Golden Age," a paradise wherein peace, abundance and harmony abound. When people claim that "old times" were better, they often overlook the thorny problems besetting those living then. God's people also have a proclivity to perceive the early Church nostalgically, focusing on a few Scriptures which point to the unity of that era. Reading the Scriptures more maturely however, we find that early church members experienced problems similar to what we face today. The early churches had to experience the same God-ordained process of sanctification (I Peter 1:3-7) and the same fiery trials (I Corinthians 10:13) we do today. Paul found it necessary to admonish (1) the Roman congregation to be discerning, shunning false teachers, (2) the Corinthian congregation to flee envy and strife, (3) the Galatian congregation to flee from tendencies to return to Judaism, (4) the members of the Ephesian congregation to maintain their "first love," (5) the Philippian congregation to put away division, (6) the Colossian congregation to eschew Jewish-gnostic philosophies, and (7) the Thessalonian congregation to reject interpretations of prophecy informed more by theory and rumor than by Scripture. The Golden Age has not yet arrived but will be coterminous with the Kingdom of God.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating the warning of the apostle Paul that evil company corrupts good habits, warns us that the desire to sin is highly contagious and is a deadly, communicable disease. Because the world we inhabit swims in sin, we have the obligation to become a thinking people, voluntarily choosing God's purpose for ourselves rather than Satan's shameless appeal to self-centeredness, as demonstrated with Satan's enticement of mother Eve. Like mother Eve, we also contend against spiritual principalities for which we need the whole armor of guard and to be guided by God's Holy Spirit to defeat our deadly, carnal nature. The best defense a newborn, minimally contaminated by Satanic nature, has against the influence of sin are parents who ardently love God and His commandments. Solomon had to learn that wisdom, in its purest human form, does not give us complete understanding into the ultimate purposes of God, but wisdom, accompanied with unconditional faith in God, will actually brighten an individual's countenance, as was seen in the example of Daniel and his friends; godly wisdom has the power to change a person's appearance and brings about personal transformation. In a difficult situation, especially when dealing with tyrannical human governments, trusting God is the ultimate wisdom.
David C. Grabbe: Scripture shows plainly that Jesus's body and soul were in "Hades"—the grave—for three days and three nights, starting on the day He died. ...
David C. Grabbe: In Luke 23:43, Jesus Christ tells one of the criminals being crucified next to Him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise. ...
Martin Collins, examining the scriptures proclaiming Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, rehearses the horrible trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, a mockery of both Jewish and Roman justice, a trial which acquitted an innocent man, only to have Him executed because of the squeamishness and fearfulness of Pontius Pilate encountering a blood-thirsty mob. Jesus was declared innocent multiple times, including by the thief on the cross, the centurion who speared Him, and others, but Pilate could not muster the courage to acquit Him. He did, however, write a caption above Him in three languages, Hebraistic Aramaic (implying that He was the King over all religious law), Greek (implying He was the King over culture), and Latin (implying He was King over all civil law). Jesus' sinless and faithful life qualifies Him to assume the role of King of Kings , as contrasted by some of the prominent kings of Israel (including Solomon) who seriously fell short of the requirements God established for kings in Deuteronomy 17:17. As an inset in this message, we are reminded that Jesus did not go to Paradise immediately after His death, but instead into the grave. The thief on the cross, as well as the rest of us, will have to wait for Jesus Christ's establishment of His Kingdom before we can join Him, ruling with Him as kings and priests. As aspiring rulers, we dare not compromise with God's Law.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting that the greater church of God is different from nominal Christianity in that it embraces the 'Jewish' holy days and ignores Christmas, Halloween, and Easter, rejects the concepts of the Trinity, ever-burning hell, the immortal soul, and eternal security, asserts that many are afraid to associate with us because we appear as a weird and heretical cult. Even our concept of original sin is different from 'mainstream' Christianity. While Calvinists have depicted mankind as totally depraved, we believe that mankind is a mixture of good and evil. We have the ability to do some good. Even those without God's Law have some basic standards of human decency. Calvinists, straining at a handful of 'proof-texts,' believe that original sin is transmitted through blood and genes. Our human nature is neutral at birth, but inclined toward sin because we are born into a sinful environment and are driven by Satanic forces; it is not programmed into our genetic make-up. When Adam and Eve were given the death sentence by God, they also received hope that through the offspring of Eve a Savior (who would bring mankind abundant spiritual life) would be born to crush the head of the serpent, which had previously deceived her. God made coverings for Adam and Eve concealing their shame and guilt, prefiguring the covering for sins which would occur later, and adorned them with raiment, prefiguring the garment of righteous salvation. Our sins have put a barrier between us and God; He has provided a means of reconciliation through the blood of Christ. There is no possibility of a relationship with God where sin exists.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the movie the Gladiator, marveled at many references to the afterlife, observing that the notion of going to heaven has been borrowed from pagan notions of Nirvana, Valhalla, or Elysium. In this venue, they will be doing things there that they had not attained in this life, transferring earthly good times to a heavenly setting. Going to heaven is not scriptural. The soul is not immortal; it is equivalent to life. Mankind does not have a soul; he is a soul, subject to death. The soul that sins will die. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life when we go through the prescribed process. The body returns to dust, decomposed into its elements. As we reach our prime, we begin degenerating until we expire, turning back into dust. The term Sheol is equivalent to the dust, the grave, or the pit. The body goes back to the earth. There is no consciousness or awareness in death, but resembles a peaceful sleep in which we are "dead to the world." Just as one can be awakened from sleep, one can be resurrected to life. God has appointed specific times for the resurrections. The pathway through eternal life leads through the resurrection, with our following Jesus Christ. When we are resurrected at His coming, we will indeed have access to heaven, but we will join our Bridegroom as He rules on the Earth. The repentant thief expected to join Jesus Christ when He would come into His kingdom, a future event to occur on the earth. Jesus spoke this pronouncement emphatically—I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise. Because Jesus was in the grave for three days and three nights, He did not go to paradise the day He told that to the thief.
Richard Ritenbaugh tackles the question, "Do we contain an immortal soul?" The prevailing idea is that the soul is the indestructible part of a human being that lives on. The Hebrew word nephesh refers to a living being; the Latin word anima and the Greek word psyche refer to breath. In Leviticus 17, we learn that the life resides in the blood. A body is greater than a biochemical reaction; the life force comes from outside the body. Elihu observed that there is a spirit in man, giving him the ability to think and understand, giving him a point of contact with God, separating him from the animals. Paul differentiates the spirit in man from God's Holy Spirit, dividing a human being into spirit (mind), soul (our life), and body (flesh). Nominal Christianity has absorbed heaven, hell, and purgatory from Greek mythology and the philosophy of Plato, who propagated the doctrine of the immortal soul in his Phaedo. The idea of the immortality of the soul is nowhere in the Old Testament, unless one deliberately distorts the account of Enoch's translation and the witch of Endor. Genesis 2:16-17 affirms that it is possible to die, and Ezekiel 18:4 and 20 affirm that the soul (the life) that sins shall die. Galatians 3:22 indicates that all have sinned. Eternal life must come as a gift, but it is not something we have right now, except as an earnest payment. Hebrews 9:27 reminds us that we all die once. God keeps our human spirit in reserve for safe-keeping until the resurrection from the dead.
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