Richard Ritenbaugh, observing that pagan fertility rites and sun worship have nothing to do with the resurrection or ascension of Christ, asserts that Christmas, Easter, as well as the concepts of "amazing grace," and "unmerited pardon" are far cries from the Bible's definition of Christianity. Because he sought to avoid the appearance of endorsing the syrupy cheap grace advanced by Protestant thinkers, Herbert W. Armstrong de-emphasized the birth, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. As a result, the Church came to lose some valuable insights about those events. Neither Christmas or Easter appear in the Feasts of the Lord (Leviticus 23), but we find plenty of emphasis on the resurrection and ascension of Christ in the Holy Days. The wave-sheaf offering, for example, appearing between Unleavened Bread and Pentecost and symbolizing the Father's acceptance of Christ as First of the First Fruits, provides the means for our ultimate acceptance as First Fruits as well. Christ's ascension enables Christ to serve before the Father as our High Priest, mediating between man and God. It also facilitates 1.) His gifting the Church for equipping the saints, 2.) His pouring out the Holy Spirit on us, 3.) His aiding us when we are tempted, 4.) His healing us when we are sick, 5.) His guarding us from the evil one and 5) His preparing a place for us in God's Kingdom. Realizing that the apostles wrote frequently about Christ's resurrection and ascension, we must be willing to share their perspective.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the description of the New Covenant in Hebrews 8:10, reminds us that, although God never intended the Old Covenant to endure eternally, the spiritual and immutable law (shared by both the old and new covenants) was to last forever. God did not nail His holy Law to the cross, as major Protestant denominations mistakenly declare. Rather, God nailed the penalty for our past sins, paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ, to the cross. The wages of sin is death. When Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law, He not only provided a model as to how His called-out ones are to keep it, He magnified it and raised the standards of compliance, targeting not only behavior, but motive—the whole spiritual process which underlies any sin. To give His called-out ones the ability to reach these higher standards, He gifted them with the Holy Spirit, thereby empowering them to displace carnality with Godly character. God does not create such character by fiat. Rather, it grows steadily with our determination to participate and cooperate with God. The purpose of all of God's covenants with mankind is to create character and stop sin. The New Covenant, as explicated by Hebrews, contains "post graduate" responsibilities far beyond the letter-of-the-law instructions given in Leviticus. Unlike the faulty Protestant assumption that Christ has done all the work of salvation, Christ warns His people that they must soberly count the cost because of the vastly higher standards established in the New Covenant. Christ promises, through the means of His Holy Spirit, the power to do His will, thereby giving His people the necessary tools to achieve membership in the family of God.
Mike Ford: The author of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 6:17-18: "Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things ..."
David Grabbe, observing that a future Millennial temple (described in Ezekiel 40—48) will contain some elements of the Old Covenant, including animal sacrifices and Levitical priests, examines the apparent contradiction concerning the new Melchizedek priesthood described in Hebrews 7:11. In the resurrection of ancient Israel, largely a rebellious, stiff-necked people, the Levites will finally come face-to-face with their iniquity (Ezekiel 44:10-14) and be ashamed of leading the people astray. Christ will commission them to complete what they did not complete before the demise of the temple. David, realizing that God preferred a penitent heart rather than sacrifice, nevertheless had no problem offering a burnt offering and a sin offering, and Paul had no problem offering a sin offering, even though he was under the New Covenant. God's Church to this day keeps rituals, even though the symbol in no way equals the substance they represent. In the Millennium, as we assume our roles as priests and kings, having been called under the New Covenant, we may have residual squeamishness about watching Levitical priests perform animal sacrifices, but we will learn that the Ezekiel vision has a specific niche in God's overall plan for mankind's learning about Christ's sacrifice for all of mankind.
Mark Schindler, focusing on the events occurring between Christ's resurrection and ascension, offers some speculation as to specific details occurring within this period of time, shedding light on the second part of the Atonement sacrifice. During these hours, Jesus Christ qualified to be our High Priest because He experienced the horrendous effects of sin and separation from God the Father for our sins, undergoing purification, typified by the cleansing of the priestly garments by the man who released the goat laden with sin, enabling him to return to the camp (Leviticus 16:23-28). The absence of the 100 pounds of aloes, the folded "turban," and the rolled away stone indicates much activity had taken place and that a thorough cleansing and purification had occurred, perhaps in the Garden of Gethsemane amidst a company of angels, a mere 45-minute walk from the tomb. As we count toward Pentecost, we need to reflect as to how Christ qualified to fulfill His role as our empathetic High Priest.
David C. Grabbe: As we saw in Part One, Hebrews 5:7-10 describes a facet of Christ’s suffering: "... who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications ..."
David C. Grabbe: We hear the phrase so often that it has become a cliché: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” It is typically asked in times of catastrophe, such as when natural disasters strike or the apparently undeserving suffer violence. ...
John Reiss: Having learned in Part One about biblical compassion, we can see no better example of it than the sacrifice our Savior made for us. ...
David Grabbe asserts that the Day of Atonement is not about Satan at all, but about the complete cleansing from sins. Rather than a duplication of Passover, the Atonement goats and the sacrificial lamb of Passover have totally different, though complementary, functions. The two goats of Leviticus 16 together make a single offering for sin; one is sacrificed as the payment for sin, while the second is left alive and led away to symbolize sin being completely removed from view. The goats chosen for Atonement were to be free from blemish, something one cannot attribute to Satan. The purpose for Atonement is the propitiation for all sin—including the cleansing of our conscience—made possible by Jesus Christ and not in any way made possible by scape-goating Satan; we are responsible for our own sins. Contrary to common belief, the Passover is not a sin offering, but a peace offering; it contains an acknowledgment of sin, but celebrates the peace and satisfaction that comes from intimate fellowship with God. The assumption that the azazel (meaning "goat of departure") represents a fallen angel who is the cause of human sin does not originate in the canonized scriptures, but springs from the apocryphal "Book of Enoch," a work laden with errors.
Richard Ritenbaugh, examining the Apostle's Creed, a formulated statement of the chief articles of Christian belief, in probability crafted by believers of the first century as a memory tool summarizing what the apostles taught, points out that absolutely no concept of a trinity appears in this document (a notion that did not appear in Catholicism or Orthodoxy until the 4th Century at the Council of Nicaea). Further, the Apostle's Creed provides a powerful affirmation of the Resurrection and Eternal Life as a cardinal doctrine. In the formative years of our previous fellowship, the death of Christ and putting away sin was emphasized, but His Resurrection from the Dead was sadly de-emphasized because it was felt that it brought to mind Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox associations with Easter worship. The doctrine of Christ's resurrection is of paramount importance to us, because Christ alone has the keys to our own resurrection and eternal life as First Fruits. The reality of Christ's resurrection permeates the New Testament from John's vision of the resurrected, glorified Christ to the boldness expressed by Christ's disciples and other eye-witnesses to this miraculous event recorded in the Gospels. Paul's encapsulation of the Resurrection in I Corinthians 15 was perhaps the template for the Apostle's Creed. Paul assures the Corinthians that if Christ has not risen from the Dead, paving the way for our resurrection, our whole practice of religion is futile and useless. But the reality of the Resurrection is: (1) Jesus became our Mediator and High Priest, (2) allowing us to have a relationship with God the Father. Through the New Covenant, He has put His Laws into our hearts and minds. As the Second Adam, the First Born resurrected from the dead, He has opened the door of the resurrection and eternal life for those who believe. There is absolutely no resurrection apart from our active relationship with Jesus Christ, striving to emulate Him in every area of life, enduring to the end, when we too will be chan
Charles Whitaker, examining Christ's statement that the law will not pass away until all has been fulfilled, indicates that the Law of God will change only when the preconditions Christ established in Matthew 5:18 have been met. Paul asks and answers the question, "Why do we need the law in the first place?" in Galatians 3:19-25, revealing it was given as a schoolmaster, teaching us what sin is. When the circumstance of sin ceases, what happens to the law? The concept of sin as a reality will be gone at a certain point in time. Has the law changed so far, and if so, what laws? A change in the priesthood (from Aaronic to Melchizedek) has taken place. Centuries before this event had taken place, God had prepared for it. Certain laws did indeed change. Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were forbidden to eat goats, sheep, and cattle away from the altar of sacrifice, even though they could eat wild game anywhere, but after they entered the land they could eat goats, sheep, and cattle anywhere in a non-sacrificial context. Eating blood was still prohibited. In the Millennium, all people will worship God in Jerusalem, but God's called-out ones are invited to worship God in prayer in spirit and truth in His very throne room. This alone we are privileged to do. In changing the rule about the venue for eating goats, sheep, and cattle, God was looking far into the future, realizing the proclivity of mankind to sin, and could envision a time when He would be forced to destroy the altar for centuries. God does not place needless burdens on people.
Martin Collins, asking us if we have ever wanted to give up from our deluge of trials, reminds us that our predecessors have had similar sentiments. The conversion of the apostle Paul, his subsequent training, and lengthy service was not a walk in the park. His education prior to his conversion was extensive, even including instruction in the fine points of Pharisaic understanding under the feet of Gamaliel, a lead rabbi of the day. Having this background, he naturally found the emerging sect of Christianity deceptive and totally incompatible with Judaism. Wanting to emulate Phineas, he was determined to extirpate this blight before it loomed out of control. Jesus Christ evidently found some use for this intense zeal as He struck him down on the way to Damascus, diametrically reorienting Saul's priorities, forcing him to ask "Who are you?" and "What do you want me to do?" God can call anyone He wants, including a hopelessly stubborn, irascible drudge. Some progressive scholars would like us to believe that Paul faked this conversion for opportunistic purposes, forgetting that Paul had already garnered substantial prestige implementing the militant goals of the Pharisees. It would have taken extraordinary courage or audacity on Paul's part to witness to Damascus where his prior reputation was still known unless his conversion had been indeed completely genuine. Paul's lengthy apprenticeship, involving processing the guilt from Stephen's murder, the suspicions he faced from the people he had formerly persecuted, and his pastoral training in Arabia (lasting approximately three years) trained him thoroughly for the grueling missionary journeys he would later make, providing text and insight for the Epistles, a virtual roadmap for the totality of Christian living demanded of all God's called-out ones.
Charles Whitaker, focusing upon the phrase in Ecclesiastes 3:7 that there is a time to tear [or rend] and a time to sew [or mend], delves into the Middle Eastern cultural practice of tearing garments as an expression of grief or despair. When God became upset with Solomon, the kingdom was torn in two as a torn garment. In the Amos 9 millennial prophecy, God declares that He will ultimately mend the torn garment upon Israel's repentance. When Saul, in panic, seized Samuel's mantle tearing it, Samuel used the tearing as a symbol, indicating the kingdom would be torn from Saul. The practice of rending clothes symbolizes sorrow, agony, despair, and hopelessness, a realization that God alone can restore the profound loss. When Job lost his family to death, his natural reaction was to rend his garments. Joshua and Caleb, not high priests, tore their garments in despair at the testimony of the evil spies. Ezra tore his garments when he learned that his people had been desecrating and polluting God's Holy Law. Mordecai tore his clothes in despair for the imminent demise of his people. Hezekiah and Josiah tore their clothes as a sign of repentance in an effort to demonstrate to God that they felt profound disgrace at the collective sins of the people and were intending to make the crooked ways of their ancestors straight again. Paul tore his clothes in horror when people were attempting to worship him as a Greek god. Because the office of priest was to embody hope, priestly garments, under no circumstances, were to be torn. Aaron was forbidden to tear his priestly garments at the death of his sons for using profane fire. The high priest Caiaphas blasphemously defied God's prohibition against rending priestly garments. Because Christ, our High Priest, never gave into hopelessness, His garments were not torn. The prophet Joel, admonishing us to rend our hearts in repentance, rather than our garments, assures us the even in the fearful, dreadful Day of the Lord there is hope if we turn to God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking us what we have that we did not receive, concludes that 100% of what we have received has come from God (and to a degree, other people). Even though we have good looks and a sparkling personality, even though we have attained a certain degree of material success, a certain amount of knowledge, a certain set of skills, we did not accomplish these things alone. We had nothing to do with our calling, redemption, or salvation; God gave us all these things. Ultimately, it all goes back to God. We have nothing to boast about; we are totally obligated to God. We have good reason to be humble and grateful. The Day of Atonement points out how needy and dependent we are. We are to afflict our souls by fasting. Because we are so incredibly frail, 24 hours with no food or drink makes a deep impression upon us, showing our total dependency upon a merciful God to which we are eternally obligated. This humble attitude leads us to subject ourselves to God. On this day, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, we are to do no work at all, forcing us to turn our total attention to God, refraining to speak our own words or think our own thoughts. God's atoning work is unmerited grace, for which we remain eternally grateful. The atoning work is applied universally until all sin is atoned for, and everything is made holy. Psalm 102 reminds us how weak, destitute, and temporary we are as compared with God's sovereignty, eternal power and changelessness. God allows us to go through a trial to bring about a change in us. Thankfully, when God's people renounce their sins and repent, God will show mercy. Death is no impediment to God; He will resurrect us from the grave. Psalm 103 extols God for all His benefits; everything good, both physical and spiritual, comes from God. Foremost among all these benefits, he forgiveness of our sins. God extends these benefits to those who fear and honor Him, keeping His commandments, practicing His way of life.
It is amazing to consider that, despite the fact that every human being will face death, so very few take the time to contemplate it, much less prepare for it. In covering the comparisons in Ecclesiastes 7:1-4, John Ritenbaugh surveys the Bible's attitude toward death, particularly its insistence that we should allow the reality of death to change our approach to life.
John Ritenbaugh contends that our pilgrimage began with our calling and ends with our destination in the Kingdom of God as members of His Royal Priesthood. It seems to have been God's choice to call foolish, base, and despised individuals to confound the wise and mighty. Fortunately, God did not abandon our forbears in their weaknesses and shortcomings, nor will He abandon us. We become strengthened spiritually as we come to know God, becoming elevated to members of His family, thinking and behaving just like the Father and the Son. In the meantime, we are aliens living in a foreign country, keeping our citizenship in the Kingdom of God. We are pilgrims, continually on the move to a holy place. We must not follow through on our physical lusts or we will put down roots in this world, becoming worldly. The metaphors Peter uses, such as stone, priesthood, nation, and family, all demand that we fit into a larger unit or entity, fulfilling a particular role or responsibility. Even though we currently have citizenship in God's Kingdom, we are not there yet. We must have the vision of the world tomorrow, as had Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, conducting our lives as though we were already there, making moral and ethical decisions accordingly. We can conduct our lives appropriately because Jesus Christ lives within our minds, allowing us to tap into the reservoirs of His experience. We also share His suffering, realizing that glory follows suffering, if we suffer for righteousness sake. This suffering may involve enduring hardship, deprivation, duress, and outright boredom. Suffering, a kind of refining fire, (for righteousness sake) comes with the territory of qualifying for the Kingdom of God.
John Ritenbaugh indicates that we are being fitted as lively stones into an already formed Kingdom, being conformed to the image of Christ, who has been designated as the Cornerstone. As God's future priests, becoming living sacrifices, we will constitute God's department of health, education, and welfare, serving and helping humanity. The Israel of God becomes God's firstborn, being set aside as a chosen generation to help the High Priest, Jesus Christ. This role as Christ's assistants is what we are being prepared for, a role which will call for rigorous discipline. This rigor will enable us to be totally transformed from the inside out, bringing about a renewal of our minds and a change of character. We are appointed on men's behalf to deal with things pertaining to God. We will become the link between men and God. We will offer sacrifice, largely consisting of intercessory prayer. We have to have compassion, sympathy, and empathy with mankind, realizing the repertoire of our own weaknesses. Like Christ, we must learn from the things we have suffered, making us able to aid those who have been tempted. God has hand-picked or chosen us as forerunners because He loved us; we dare not squander this precious calling of training for the Royal Priesthood. The more we know God, the stronger and more insightful we will get, enabling us to build one another up in Godly love, thinking with the mind of the Father and Jesus Christ, with His Law written in our hearts.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the Bible shows a clear pattern of how people leave the Church. The first step in the pattern is looking back, as in the case of Lot's wife. The second step is to draw back, motivated by self-pity, shrinking back as from something distasteful. Step three consists of actually walking away and looking for something else. Step four consists of arriving at the point of no return, going backward, refusing to hear. In contrast, the book of Hebrews is a compact book laying out clear doctrine and practical exhortation to called-out ones who had started to drift, giving a practical model of being sanctified. Chapter 10 contains a fearful threat of the Lake of Fire for those having committed the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin constitutes sinning willfully and deliberately. To sin willingly means to be disposed to do it as of a second nature. We need to draw near God's throne with boldness, cleaning up our acts, using faith, hope, and love.
The peace offering teaches many things, but one of its main symbols is fellowship. John Ritenbaugh explains that our communion with the Father and the Son obligates us to pursue peace, follow the example of Christ, and be pure.
The peace, fellowship, praise, or thank offering was the most commonly given in ancient Israel. John Ritenbaugh explains that the represents God, the priest, and the offerer in satisfying fellowship.
John Ritenbaugh focusing upon the topic of camouflage, concealment, or deception, warns that Satan, the grand master of deception, has provided what appear to be plausible alternatives to Christ's sacrifice for salvation. We are saved through a combination of the sinless life of Jesus Christ, His sacrifice, and His intercessory work as our High Priest. Some believable counterfeits, which (in many people's minds) compete for Christ's sacrifice and His intercessory priestly work are: (1) service in behalf of the brethren, (2) making a positive change or "turning over a new leaf," (3) right thinking, (4) denying ourselves (asceticism), and (5) sacrifice (even the supreme sacrifice). Though they are required of us, they do not save us. Salvation is the work of Jesus Christ.
The first of the offerings of Leviticus is the burnt offering, a sacrifice that is completely consumed on the altar. John Ritenbaugh shows how this type teaches us about Christ's total dedication to God—and how we should emulate it.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that when God created Adam, He prepared only a foundation for mankind's eventual spiritual creation undertaken by the Second Adam. Spiritual creation requires much intense pressure and continual testing to determine character. Jesus went through this process first to provide us an example. We are to be brought through this same assaying process to bring us to the express image or the full stature of Christ. In terms of building character, God does the creating, assaying, testing, and proving; we do the yielding and walking in the pathway He has set for us. When we yield, God gives us the will and the power (engraving His Law in our hearts) to develop into the image or character He has determined for us.
Many churches understand tithing but do not believe that God commands them for today. This Bible Study shows that tithing has always been God's way of financing His work on earth.
The biblical system of tithing has been a point of controversy among Christians for centuries. Does God still command them? Did Jesus approve of them during His ministry? Was the law of tithing changed for His church?
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that Old Testament activities picture New Testament realities, far from done away, but raised or elevated to their spiritual intent. As a parallel to the Aaronic priesthood, the church has been chosen as a royal and holy priesthood (in training) offering up spiritual sacrifices and proclaiming praises of God (I Peter 2:5,9). Paul insists that our sacrifices (reasonable service) should extend to everything we do in life (Romans 12:2), including prayer, study, meditation, as well as sharing goods and experiences (Hebrews 13:15-16).
In this pre-Passover sermon, John Ritenbaugh compares God's flawless works to the imperfect works of mankind. In addition to being flawless, God's works have a multiplicity of purposes, while man's works have limited utility and many flaws. Like air, having multiple uses, God's Word also has many uses; any one scripture can be used in dozens of different applications. The closer one looks at the multifaceted aspects of Christ's offices (Creator, King, Redeemer, High Priest, Savior, etc.) the more we realize the preciousness of His life and the high cost of the sacrifice for our sins. The focus of our self-examination should not be self-centered or comparing ourselves with others, but on the awesome significance of His sacrifice.
The Bible clearly explains that Jesus of Nazareth's father was God and His mother was Mary, a human. What, then, was His nature? Was He a man? Was He divine? John Ritenbaugh urges us to understand Him as the Bible explains it.
John Ritenbaugh, noting a parallel between the recipients of the book of Hebrews and our current situation, suggests that the pressure these people encountered was not a bloody persecution, but instead constant psychological pressures (economic, health, persecution on the church, social, family, etc.) coming right after the other in a wave that never seemed to end, causing weariness and unfeeling apathy. The book of Hebrews provides resources to recapture flagging zeal and motivation, focusing again upon the reason for our hope and faith, establishing clearly Christ's credentials and the import of His message, re-igniting the original excitement of their (and our) calling and their (and our) awesome future which they (and we) have put in jeopardy through apathy and neglect. We are admonished to resuscitate and readjust our focus and damaged belief system, reestablishing our access to God through Christ our High Priest, claiming the promises of the New Covenant.
Focusing upon Psalm 133 as the 14th step of 15 degrees of ascent, Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that in our spiritual pilgrimage, unity will be perhaps one of the last objectives to be accomplished. Upon the anointing or setting apart of our High Priest Jesus Christ, and our own anointing with God's Holy Spirit, we receive the means to attain this unity. Like the descent of the dew of Hermon and the fragrant oil, unity comes from God through His Son to us by the anointing of His Spirit, covering us from head to toe. Unity comes only through the initiation of God. It is our responsibility to respond to His command to be unified, humbly walking worthy of His calling, willing to render our reasonable service to one another, motivated by His Holy Spirit. If we would follow the practical suggestions given by Paul in Romans 12, we could do our part in promoting unity in God's church.
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.
Atonement, a day of fasting, pictures the binding of Satan and man's resultant unity with God. This study shows why this step in God's plan is so vital!
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 focuses upon our future responsibilities as a priest in God's Kingdom, asking us if we are really preparing for this role. If we are not practicing being a priest right now,we will not be prepared. During the Millennium, the priest will be required to make a large number of mediating sacrifices on behalf of the people, mediating, reconciling, teaching, judging, and saving the remnant of Israel. The primary function of a priest is to assist people in accessing God- so that there can be unity with God. A priest is a bridge-builder between man and God. The sacrifice that God demands is a total sacrifice of time, energy, and service (in short, ones whole life) to that end. Nothing will prepare us to become a priest more than to commit our entire lives as a total living sacrifice.
In this sermon on the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, Richard Ritenbaugh, using three consecutive Psalms (22-24), affirms that Jesus Christ was the antitype, perfectly fulfilling the Old Testament types, slain as the Lamb of God on Passover, Nisan 14, resurrected with the cutting of the wavesheaf at the conclusion of the Sabbath, and ascended to His Father at the time of the waving of the sheaf.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on Luke's message of Christ the man, the son of man, the high priest of man, and the savior of man, having all the feelings, fears, anxieties, compassions, and aspirations of man. In this account, Luke emphasizes the universality of the message (Gentiles as well as Jews), emphasizing the common concerns of humanity, highlighting many lowly circumstances. Luke, demonstrating Jesus' humanity emphasizes His frequency in prayer, reflecting His total dependency upon God the Father. Jesus, as the pattern man, learned by obedience, by the things He suffered, qualifying as our high Priest and savior, providing a model of perfect man for us to emulate.
John Ritenbaugh explains that the four-layered biography of Christ known as the Gospels graphically illustrates the typology of Revelation 4:7 depicting a lion, ox, man, and eagle. Matthew emphasizes the heroic majestic qualities of a lion; Mark emphasizes the faithful and hard-working qualities of an ox; Luke emphasizes the compassionate and empathetic qualities of a man, and John focuses upon the ascendant qualities of an eagle, depicting Christ's divinity. As these four biographies unfold, we get a composite picture or image of what we are to be transformed into.
John Ritenbaugh describes the prevailing mindset in human society as one of contention, division and disagreement. The source of division and separation from the source of life is sin that has become practiced as a way of life. Throughout the course of Biblical history, whenever sin appears, confusion, division and separation are the automatic consequences (James 4:1-2). The Day of Atonement pictures the means to bring back unity with God- the covering of our sins with the blood of Christ. Satan, the author of confusion and misinformation, hates this day above all days because he is fingered as the source of sin. Virtually none of the world's spiritually malnourished churches realizes the significance of the Day of Atonement. We are encouraged to humble ourselves before God, resisting pride, the propelling force of sin.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that zealous, sincere, human, religious faith may not be godly, but ironically, because of its fervency, often puts our faith to shame. Our faith has to have as its object a dynamic personal quality with habitual fellowship with God in prayer, meditation, and Bible study. Quality fellowship with our brethren offers frequent opportunities for exhortation and a safeguard against loss of faith. When we fellowship with a small, intimate group, chances for this productive exhortation (Hebrews 10:23-25) greatly increases, increasing our faith. Living faith has its roots in fervently, diligently seeking God and His righteousness with intense desire (like a passinate lover) through habitual prayer.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the smallest unit of government is the individual; God is dealing with each of us on this most basic of all levels of government. It is under the New Covenant that individuals are immersed or installed into His church by the Spirit of God, given only to those who willingly consent to obey Him. In this special handpicked condition, God expects us to learn to govern ourselves. Because the church is a royal priesthood of believers with Christ as the High Priest, there is no religious hierarchy between God and us (Hebrews 10:21-22). In order for us to be transformed from the glory of man to the glory of God, we must have the same kind of access to the Father as Christ did, taking on the awesome responsibility of behaving like the sons of God.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the valley-of-shadow imagery symbolizes the fears, frustrations, trials, and tests needed to produce character, quality fruit, and an intimate trust in the shepherd. His rod, an extension of his will and strength, serves not only against predators, but also prevents members of the flock from butting heads. It also helps him to identify and to judge. The staff, symbolic of God's Spirit, represents gentle guidance. The prepared table depicts a plateau or a mesa that the shepherd has made safe and secure for grazing. Christ, our Shepherd, has prepared the way for us, safeguarding us from predators and removing our fear of starvation and death. The oil, also symbolic of the Holy Spirit, refers to protective salve that prevents maddening or deadly insect infestation. Goodness and mercy refer to the agape love that we desperately need to acquire and use so we can leave behind a blessing. The house depicts contentment in the Family of God.
John Ritenbaugh contends that while Scripture does allow for individuals to share their faults with one another for encouragement and brotherly advice, no man has the power to forgive sins or grant absolution, a prerogative retained by Christ and God the Father alone. Trusting human allies rather than God to also seems to be a main theme of Lamentations. An acrostic poem with highly structured multiple meters, Lamentations mimics the agitated talk of someone uncontrollably sobbing or crying. Personified as a grieved widow, Jerusalem recounts her sins as a nation, depending on her own strength or on her lovers (political alliances representing spiritual harlotry) rather than upon God, her Husband. Like Ezekiel, Lamentations also applies to modern Israel, which also has the faithless tendency to form adulterous political alliances with other nations rather than rely upon God, bringing the curse of captivity and mocking scorn.
John Ritenbaugh characterizes the spiritual condition of the recipients of the Hebrews epistle as dangerously complacent, drifting into apostasy through neglect rather than from any blatant sin or perversion. Losing their zeal and first love after the manner of the Ephesians, having a complacent disregard for Christ's sacrifice, they were in danger of permanently searing their consciences and losing their vital access to God. The entire eleventh chapter provides examples to bolster their faith and rekindle their first love. The kind of faith described in this chapter is not blind and clueless, but is carefully developed as a result of systematic analysis of available evidence. Abraham, Sarah, and Moses were all motivated to endure by calculating or adding up all the evidence. Likewise God desires and has deliberately planned that we build our faith by the same kind of calculation, analysis, or adding up the evidence.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the infinite superiority of Christ's priesthood and one-time sacrifice as contrasted to the repetitive Aaronic sacrifices, which were incapable of remitting sin, purging consciences, or providing access to God. The shadow image of the Old Covenant could not possibly provide the clarity, dimension, or detail of the reality of the New Covenant, which gives participants access to God and eternal life. Christ's sacrifice, a dividing point in history, was vastly superior because 1) His human experience ensures empathy, 2) God called Him to be High Priest, 3) His offering was more than adequate, 4) His offering reached the Holy of Holies, 5) His priesthood was established on God's oath, 6) His offering was absolutely sinless, 7) He lives eternally, 8) He occupies the heavenly sanctuary, 9) He sacrificed once for all, and 10) His sacrifice can cleanse a guilty conscience, provide access to God, and guarantee our inheritance.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that everything about the Priesthood of Jesus Christ is superior to that of the Levitical system, which was only intended to serve as a type (a forerunner, shadow, or symbol) of the access to God that Jesus would later fulfill. As splendid as it was, there was neither provision for the forgiveness of sins nor a purging of guilt in the Old Covenant. The real barrier that separates us from or denies access to God is our guilty and defiled conscience, which cannot be cleared by a repetitious sacrifice of animal blood. Only Christ's voluntary sacrifice (done on a totally moral and spiritual plane) can purge our consciences of guilt. We should remember that unless the sacrifice of Christ transforms us (leading us to emulate Christ's sinless life), we have not really repented. The chief difference between the Old and New Covenants is that the letter kills while the Spirit gives life.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates Christ's superior qualifications as High Priest. After the change from the Aaronic to the Melchizedek priesthood, it was also necessary to bring about a major change in the Covenant. The flaw in the Old Covenant was not in the law, but stemmed from the fleshly, deceitful, carnal hearts of mankind. All zealous rededications to the Old Covenant (such as that of Josiah) ultimately failed. In order to fulfill the New Covenant, God has had to perform a heart transplant operation, replacing the deceitful stony heart with a pure undefiled heart (a heart predisposed to keep God's law in both the letter and spirit by means of His Holy Spirit), enabling us to incrementally know God and to absorb His divine nature), an event prophesied by Jeremiah. The Old Covenant made no provision for the forgiveness sin, nor did it contain any means for man's nature to be transformed into God's divine nature.
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 emphasizes the importance of exercising faith and hope, patiently plodding along day-by-day toward our spiritual goal. Many of the pillars of faith had to wait many years (Abraham, for example, waited over 25 years before he saw the beginning of the fulfillment of God's promise) for the fruition of their faith's target. With godly hope, we need to envision the possibility of successful accomplishment of God's purpose for us, realizing that God has bound that promise with an oath and that Jesus Christ (having empathy for us) intercedes for us as High Priest. Melchizedek, a prototype as well as equivalent of Christ, establishes the validity and dignity of Christ as High Priest. The divine appointment of Jesus as our High Priest precedes our divine calling, more important than genealogy or external physical characteristics.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that Jesus Christ's sinlessness was not the result of being a programmed automaton, but instead as a result of volition or choice—actively struggling against carnal pulls and temptations, enabling Him to fully empathize and have compassion on those tempted in like manner. He experienced exactly the same kind of temptations and suffering we experience, qualifying Him for the role of High Priest, bridge-builder between man and God, the same role for which members of God's called-out Family are also qualifying. Like our Elder Brother, we must learn righteous judgment by continually exercising our spiritual muscle, practicing making choices, distinguishing right from wrong, but building godly character and spiritual maturity through the enabling power of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the proclivity of the ancient Israelites to nullify the power of the gospel, refusing to mix it with actual obedience, which stems from faith and belief. What they heard never became a part of their lives; "Egypt" never left the Israelites. We have to exercise care that we do not follow suit, assenting intellectually but hardening our hearts when it comes to making the changes demanded of us. The consequences for us are far graver than the consequences for them. By yielding to God, we begin to experience the kind of life that He experiences. The rest (katapausis) which God experiences (a period of refreshment, prefiguring the Millennial rest) is a rejuvenating, exhilarating peace of God we can experience right now. We need to yield to the correcting powers of His Word, a means of reflecting the contents and intents of the heart.
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.
[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.]
Few mysteries of the Bible have attracted more interest than the mystery of the identity of Melchizedek. Who is he?
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