Martin Collins suggests that the Book of Acts, tracing the activities of the apostles in advancing the Gospel, displays God's dissolving all hindrances, even in the darkest hours. Luke records God's rescuing Paul and Peter from a series of near-death episodes, indicating that when things appeared the most ominous, He was not far away. Paul demonstrated inner peace during turmoil, showing consistency in times of instability and faith in God during persecution. As Acts concludes, Paul is no longer in chains, but has rented a house to meet with Jewish leaders and members of the Roman congregation, apparently for the express purpose of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles after many of the Jewish assembly rejected the Truth. When God closes one door (completing one phase of His plan) He opens another. Paul fulfilled the role God gave to him, appearing before kings and bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles and Israelites alike. Today, the Church, the Israel of God, is receiving the same Gospel that Paul and the other apostles preached to Jew and Gentile. At times, it seems we have reached a dry-spell, where we do not see God's hand at all. During these times, we need to see blessings in small things, realizing that the darkest time is just before the dawn. We must patiently wait, purging any iniquity which may be estranging us from God, trusting God even when He appears to be silent.
John Ritenbaugh, examining the socio-cultural milieu before the writing of the Epistle to the Hebrews, explains the difficulties experienced by the new Jewish converts to the Gospel. The powerful testimony of the recently risen Christ, combined with the apostles, who had spent 3 ½ years under His tutelage, were the main factors behind the fast growth of the church to 6,000. The Jewish leadership deemed these converts to be traitors to the of the religious heritage of Judaism. The estrangement these people felt is similar to that experienced by today's people of the true God. Christ told His Apostles not to become fixated about the fulfillment of prophecy, but instead to engage in the work He had given them. God's people today have the same no-nonsense orders Christ gave to His original Disciples, namely to take the Gospel to all nations. God's worldwide institution, the Israel of God, makes a transition to a New Covenant, not 'doing away with the law' but making it applicable to both Jew and Gentile. Repentance and baptism replace circumcision as the spiritual sign of the New Covenant. The Council of Jerusalem indicated that Jesus Christ's words and behavior proved the final word on New Covenant decisions, bringing about a significant change in practice.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the proclamations made by self-proclaimed street-corner prophets, "The end is here—prepare to meet your God," reminds us that we all would like to know when Jesus Christ will return. The Day of Trumpets looks forward to this event, one which God's people have desired since God expelled Adam and Eve from Eden. Trumpets serves as the center-point of the Holy Days, a pivotal time when God's rule will replace the misrule of carnal human governments. The blasts of trumpets grab our attention, presaging the dreaded events at the end of the age. Nobody will be able to remain blasé as those events unfold. Thankfully, this time of chaos ushers in a time of order. The three Disciples whom Christ chose to witness His Transfiguration quickly learned from God the Father that they were to listen to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ as the Word of God is the foundation of all knowledge, carrying more weight than the prophets and apostles. The formula, Kingdom of God "is at hand," can refer to 1.) Christ's presence as the King, 2.) His rule over His subjects, and 3.) a future event which has not yet happened. Only the Father knows the precise time of Christ's return, but the perennial message to all of God's called-out ones is to be eternally vigilant, busy overcoming, to the end that they may see Him in all His power and glory. Meticulously avoiding all distractions, we must be ready for His return, committedly living His way of life.
Martin Collins, focusing on Paul's third trial before a secular ruler, following the inconclusive decisions before Felix and Festus, points out that King Agrippa was of a more decisive character. He sought to implement Paul's appeal to Caesar without delay. Speaking to the King, the Apostle stated his pre-conversion experience as a Pharisee, his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, and his post conversion commitment to execute his God-ordained commission. In the process, he refuted the false charges of violating the laws of the Torah, committing heresy and blasphemy, and committing treason against Caesar, the same charges previously levelled against Jesus Christ. Agrippa, an erudite individual with a keen understanding of Jewish customs, listened intently as Paul refuted all the false charges. In the end, he claimed to be "almost persuaded' by Paul's testimony and acknowledged that Paul was innocent. He would have acquitted him if he had not appealed to Caesar. In reality, what appeared to be a series of disappointing judicial set-backs for Paul was actually the outworking of God's strategy to place the Apostle before even higher levels of secular leadership. As God's called-out ones, we must learn to follow in the footsteps of Paul, being willing to trust God when the here-and-now in our experience appears problematic, knowing that God is sovereign over all.
John Ritenbaugh, suggesting that most of us resemble the Samaritan woman in our understanding of the value of our calling, maintains that our relationship with God is our sole protection from carnal human nature and the deadly pulls of the world. Whatever consumes our time has the power to either edify or distract us. Faith and works are interchangeable components in our salvation, demonstrating a cause-and-effect relationship. The apostles Paul and James preached the same message, approaching the faith-works coin from different sides. Faith grounded in truth produces works in agreement with truth. Faith without godly works resembles an automobile without an engine. As a minority religion, God's Church appeared on the world scene in the midst of cultural upheaval. Peter's message on Pentecost led not only to exponential growth, but also to vicious persecution. As God stirred the cultural pot then, so He is doing today, on the cusp of Jesus' return. The frightful conditions during the First Century are only typical of the horrific times yet to come. To weather these horrendous conditions, we will need the encouragement of the Epistle of Hebrews.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that Jesus handpicked the twelve apostles for a specific work, notes that there is a strong possibility that God has also handpicked each one of us to fulfill a particular role in the Body. Like an engineer on a building project, Jesus Christ has constructed a blueprint with detailed specifications. God is the Supreme Designer. He has called the common and the foolish people for the task of confounding the mighty. But after our calling, God sanctifies us, pounding out the foolishness, through His Holy Spirit putting His precious thoughts into our minds, making matters which were once cloudy clear. Accepting the gift of God's Holy Spirit comes with grave responsibility. We are required to place a high value on this precious gift, guarding it with all our heart. Where our heart is will be our treasure. Spiritual treasure will last, while all things material will deteriorate. Our heart is what makes us tick, what we set our minds to. God reveals that He has a heart and the capacity to feel tenderness. To a lost and hurting people, He assures Ephraim (symbolic of the wayward northern ten Tribes of Israel), "My heart churns within me" (Hosea 11:8). The book of Hebrews clarifies that the persecution on the Church following Jesus' crucifixion, resurrection, and the giving of the Holy Spirit did not come directly from God—but He did stir the pot that caused the persecuting in that fulcrum time in World History.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the death of Billy Graham and his impact on American religious culture, comments that some have dubbed Billy Graham as "America's pastor." Four traits that endeared him to people were his 1.) persuasive oratory, 2.) courage, 3.) morality and 4.) humility in the face of immense influence. Some commentators have suggested that he preached to more people than any other evangelist. However, when assessing this claim against the impact of Herbert Armstrong, its veracity is doubtful. Herbert Armstrong began preaching long before Billy Graham came on the scene, using the medium of radio before it was forced to compete with television as a tool of mass communication. His current-event driven message was a blend of news and doctrinal truths. People had never heard anything like this before. As God began providing funds, Herbert Armstrong began to utilize multiple powerful, clear-channel stations in North America, thereby blanketing the entire continent with God's truth every night. God subsequently opened doors in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Africa, facilitating a virtually world-wide effort. Looked at in terms of numbers, the impact of Herbert Armstrong was far greater than that of Billy Graham.
The modern church of God, particularly a few of its splinter organizations, have made a big deal out of Revelation's letters to the seven churches. Often highlighted is the "open door" promised in the letter to Philadelphia. David Grabbe provides proof from Isaiah 22 that our understanding of this image should be revised to reflect the insight given in this neglected Old Testament prophecy.
David Grabbe, marveling that over the past 25 years the Church of the Great God has assembled a massive library of electronic resources as a service to the Greater Church of God, as well as to the world at large, asserts that God performed this work at a fraction of the cost incurred by our previous fellowship. Though our main focus has not been "to preach the Gospel to the world," we nevertheless provide prodigious quantities of spiritual food to anyone who requests it. If people are hungry, there is plenty of nourishing food to satisfy them. CGG.org received 1.7 million visitors last year and BibleTools.org 2.3 million. These figures testify that the world at large is receiving a witness. The things that we can quantifiably measure are not really important, the Head of the Church decides subscribers, members and income. Noah's warning was fruitless; Jesus Christ's ministry netted meager results. Without Christ, we could produce no fruit. What is important to God is faith—faith which He gives and by which we live. As technology becomes more affordable and available, the material world threatens to crowd God out of the picture. The information age will destroy us unless we learn to manage it properly, discarding carnality and diligently focusing on the Word of God.
David Grabbe reminds us that, for the past 25 years, the highest priority of the Church of the Great God has not been the preaching of the Gospel to the world, but the feeding of the flock. If we lose sight that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church, we will forget that Christ is currently purifying His Church, sanctifying the ones He has called to be His family. Christ is not an irresponsible landlord with His Church, but is actively intervening, taking charge of the church's growth and maturity. Christ was responsible for the recent scattering of the church, just as He was responsible for the scattering of ancient Israel. When we fail to learn from history, Christ gives us an opportunity to learn again. Christ gifted the body with servants that perform different roles depending upon the circumstances. In the latter days of the Worldwide Church of God, the leadership no longer walked by faith, but by sight. God gifts His Church spiritually so that we can come to the measure of Christ. We need to exercise faith that God can work through preachers having the same carnal nature as we do. In this phase of God's plan, the called-out ones need—and receive—God's serious attention so we can grow spiritually. We are required to walk by faith instead of by sight.
Martin Collins, pointing to the dazzling electronic and print replication of God's Holy Scriptures, moves the hands of the clock back to the Middle Ages, before the advent of printing, a time when it would take an industrious scribe more than ten months to finish transcribing one Bible—at a cost far above what the average worker could bear. During these dark times, the Waldensians translated the Bible into the vernacular from the Latin Vulgate. The Roman Catholic Church persecuted these 'heretics,' destroying their translations. Miraculously, each attempt to destroy the Scriptures resulted in the printers doubling their production for this sought-after document. Christ has always supplied the means to spread the Word. Printings of the Bible have exceeded 6 billion to date, making it the most widely printed and distributed Book on earth. Persecution of Christians, accompanied with attempts to destroy God's Word, has again reared its ugly head throughout the Middle East.
Martin Collins, taking the apostle Paul's cue that persecution expresses our relationship to Christ, suggests that persecution involves a wide spectrum, ranging from torture, physical beating, social excommunication, imprisonment and death—fates endured by the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11. Paul did not ask for the harassment and persecution he endured, but maintained that everything which befell him proved to be for the ultimate good of spreading the Gospel. Because of his impeccable witness, the entire Palace Guard at Rome received testimony, some persuaded to the point of conversion. Ironically, jealousy from other 'Christian' factions probably led to Paul's execution rather than persecution from the outside, a harbinger for those living in end-time persecution. The churches in Revelation 2-3 all receive their portion of persecution, but God promises deliverance and reward for those who endure. In the current diaspora of the Greater Church of God, the trials and problems are not much different than those of the first century, and Christ still promises boldness to those who see the big picture. Our boldness and confidence should match that of Paul's trusting in God to give us strength to overcome or endure, following Christ's example of esteeming others above ourselves, even those who maliciously abuse us, realizing that God will open their eyes at the right time. God will never disappoint us, but will give us His Holy Spirit and mind to navigate the spiritual minefield. Like Paul, we need to realize that all things, horrible and pleasant, will work God's ultimate purpose and our good.
Martin Collins, in the first part of his series on Christ's last words to His Disciples—which includes us—after His resurrection, focuses of three comments He made, all recorded in John 20. First, Christ, having achieved victory over sin and death, pronounced a greeting of peace, a peace which can only be achieved by yielding to God unconditionally, a peace which truly passes understanding. Christ then gives the Great Commission of becoming His messengers and His ambassadors, sharing His truth as the occasion arises. Finally, Jesus Christ breathed the Holy Spirit upon His followers as a type of what would occur on Pentecost. As His royal priesthood, we find it impossible to discern the deep things of God without His Holy Spirit, enabling us to discern both physical and spiritual. As members of the called-out Israel of God, we must be involved in proclaiming His message, feeding the flock, following and living His example, assuming the responsibilities, privileges, and blessings of our awesome commission.
Martin Collins, reviewing the process of how God's Word has been preserved and distributed—on media ranging from animal skins to papyrus to the printed word to the internet—warns that sinister forces have reared their ugly heads to censor the Word of God, calling it intolerant, malicious hate speech. In recent years, mean-spirited billionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg and George Soros have commandeered Apple, Twitter, Twitter, Google, and Facebook, all ostensibly created for promoting free speech for the purpose of censoring comments not conforming to the Satanic "progressive" agenda. Apple has jettisoned an app that promotes the pro-life view, and Facebook has openly partnered with gay activists, effectively censoring any comments questioning the morality of their lifestyle. Additionally, the United Nations is actively pursuing power to police online platforms, censoring any speech that does not conform to politically correct standards. The famine of the hearing the Word prophesied in Amos 8:12 is ready to descend on our people like a hideous locust plague. Even in the darkness of media control and media manipulation, we are assured that "everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened."
Martin Collins, acknowledging that because we still have human nature, selfishness dominates our prayer, in contrast to Christ, who devoted 5 petitions on His own behalf and 21 petitions on behalf of His disciples entrusted to Him by the Father to help Him bring glory to God. Jesus revealed the Father to the disciples, including the instructions to regard the Father as a loving parent. The disciples preserved this relationship in their prayers and in their relationship with one another as siblings with Christ. God has planned our way, doing the lion's share of the work, continually keeping us on track if we maintain a teachable attitude. If we observe Christ's words, there must be a demonstrable difference in our behavior and a commitment to obey His teachings in order to bear good spiritual fruit, adopting a lifestyle which the people of this world hate. Christ prays for us as He did for His original disciples because we too have been called by the Father and entrusted to Him. Christ values us because the Father values us.We glorify Christ when we obey Him, carrying His example of holiness to the world through our behavior and actions. As Christ intercedes in prayer for us, we must intercede in prayer for our brethren, realizing we are all in this together.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on three scriptures, Psalm 11:3-5, Luke 12:7, and Philippians 4:19, reflects on a frightening earthquake in 1971, in which he realized that he was in no way in control of the alarming situation, a relentless shaking that threatened to destroy the entire foundation. This earthquake has grounds of comparison to the devastating earthquake which destroyed the very foundation of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), sending the frightened members scrambling for safety. In the demise of our previous fellowship, we are to realize that, as God has His eye on the sparrow, the most timid of all birds, He has had His eye on us through this entire process of scattering, intending that the tests we have endured and weathered have been intended to bring about the best fruit possible. The breaking apart of the WCG has produced many splinter groups which collectively carry on a far greater work than Herbert W. Armstrong ever was able to do, and at a fraction of the cost. The intriguing story of the development of fledging Church of the Great God, a small insignificant splinter group, which has grown to be a major resource site for all the other scattered churches, is just a part of the entire picture. We are admonished to get our attention away from the activities of human beings and onto the activities of God as He neutralizes and destroys Satan's plans and the human surrogates in government, religion, and education who are currently carrying out his plans. The WCG was destroyed because it abandoned its covenant with God, committing spiritual adultery (in point of fact, idolatry) by bringing in poisonous doctrines from the world's religions, denigrating God's Holy Laws, which are a reciprocal expression of love between God and His people. Regardless of the magnitude of the aftershocks of the demise of WCG, God has not abandoned His church and His plans are right on schedule. As God watches over the sparrow, He can protect His people in the midst of any upheaval.
John Ritenbaugh, clarifying our worldview with respect to the Israel of God (or the Church) in the context of eschatological (that is, end times) events, declares that our vision of our calling as well as our level of responsibility before the imploding of our prior fellowship, may have contained several major flaws. The sporadic mushroom-like ascendancy to numerical and monetary prominence, shortly before the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, was certainly a curious anomaly never occurring before in the history of the Church. God the Father and Jesus Christ clearly blew apart our prior fellowship, frustrating many who would like to see unity at any cost. We are no longer united in a single common work, but the composite splinter groups still constitute God's called-out church. Paradoxically, our collective but separate efforts have accomplished a greater work at a fraction of the cost. The concept of church eras is not Scripturally supportable and indeed has become sadly responsible for the needless pecking-order engaged in by several of our fellow splinter groups. The seven churches of Revelation 2-3 historically all existed simultaneously and indeed, the characteristics of five of them will apparently be extant at the return of Christ. Jesus Christ expected that all of us learn from the seven churches the commendations and warnings, applying them to ourselves individually, allowing us to repent as needed. Jesus Christ built the Church; the architecture should resemble the pattern He personally fashioned, such as 1.) keeping the Sabbaths and Holy Days, 2.) existing as a relatively small flock which will never die out despite continuous, perennial eruptions of apostasy and persecutions, 3.) being empowered with God's Holy Spirit (defined here as the invisible motivating power ultimately transforming us into spirit beings having God's characteristics—our spiritual DNA) which will ultimately configure us into His image as we allow God to shape and guide us. We receive this Holy Spirit before baptism and before
Martin Collins, warning that all prophetic speculations have been accompanied with a high degree of error and subsequent embarrassment to the speculator and his adherents, admonishes us that any prophetic speculation, accurate or not, is useless unless it is promotes diligence in living Godly lives, eagerly and expectantly preparing for the return of our Savior, living our lives to the glory of God. If we begin to doubt the veracity of Christ's return, our hearts will turn cold, causing us to imitate the evil servant who begins to mistreat his fellow servants. We have to exercise the same kind of watchful care as a night watchman on guard against thieves and robbers. It is natural for all of us to desire to protect our physical property; protecting our spiritual property should warrant a much higher priority. We must assiduously emulate the faithful servant rather than the evil servant, caught up in cruelty, carousing, and shirking responsibility. Faithless Christians will be judged with greater strictness and severity than non-believers who do not know any better; knowledge always creates a greater level of responsibility. The anticipation of seeing Christ return should be the greatest motivator, bringing about a dramatic change of behavior, living sanctified, set-apart, holy lives that please God, the kind of behavior which could actually bring about an acceleration of God's plans. We should be emulating Christ's model prayer, diligently beseeching the establishment of the Kingdom of God. We need to avoid two dangerous extremes, believing that nothing we can do will make a difference, and the notion that God cannot do anything unless we personally do it. As God's called-out ones, we avoid becoming unstable by growing spiritually, realizing that being saved by grace is only the beginning of the process; we must be constantly strengthened by grace, prompting us to keep God's Commandments as a testimony of our love for Him, maturing to the full stature of Christ.
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.
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.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that, though we are born equally, we rapidly become vastly different due to the forces and elements which shape us. Those who have been called by God have been given an enviable treasure, something which must be guarded and esteemed above everything else. What we treasure will determine what we think, say, or do throughout our lives. What we treasure is that which is closest to our hearts. The responsibility given to the Church Christ has called out of this world to expand the teachings of Christ, magnifying them and making them clear and honorable. This process began with the Sermon on the Mount. Christ is the head; the church is to fill Christ out. Like the physical body, the spiritual body has many interdependent organs designed to serve the entire body. Nobody's calling was accidental. Consequently, the church continues with the same work Christ began, serving as a teaching institution, teaching the world and teaching its members. Over one billion people proclaim themselves to be Christian, but only one body keeps His commandments, including His Sabbath and Holy Days and the whole testimony of Christ. This group is a little flock compared to the rest of the aggregate that refuse to follow God's way. We have been reared in a nation that claims to be Christian, with its Constitution constructed upon biblical elements, but those elements have been ravaged and superseded by the traditions of man who have no respect for the things of God. When Christ first came to earth, the conditions were similar with the teachings of the Sadducees and Pharisees usurping God's ways—the way Protestant and Catholic teachings do today. We are cautioned about the leavening of the modern-day Pharisees and Sadducees, the doctrines of the world's religions.
John Ritenbaugh, declaring the Feast of Tabernacles to be seven days, states that the eighth day (what we have called the Last Great Day) is actually a separate festival, typifying the resurrection of billions of people to a physical resurrection, woefully needing the Spirit of God.In the narrative of John 7, a woman was caught in the act of adultery, the physical equivalent of idolatry, or faithlessness to God. Jesus healed a man born blind; in the Great Throne Judgment billions of spiritually blind people will be resurrected. John 7-10 describes the events of what we have termed the Last Great Day, an event which took place in 31AD (corroborated by the Hebrew calendar). If we value something, we will pay attention to it. The church is clearly a teaching union, and we must be a part of it, proclaiming the Gospel to the world, and magnifying it to the flock. We must battle the world's influences every day, even more-so as we enter the last days when deception and confusion will abound. Richard Trench defines aion as all the thoughts, opinions, maxims, speculations, impulses, and aspirations present in the world at any given time, which may be impossible to accurately define but which still constitute a real and effective power—the moral or immoral atmosphere we breathe. Aion could be considered a synonym for Zeitgeist or spirit of the time. Satan can fine-tune this aion or Zeitgeist, customizing the course depending on whom he may seek to murder. Even though Satan is out to get us, God will never leave us or forsake us; because the world is filled with evil forces, we need to be thinking and vigilant children of God.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing on Deuteronomy 30:15-20, maintains that our worldview must include the value of our calling, determining the kinds of choices we make to overcome and pursue our spiritual journey. We alone can determine the value of that calling. The primary responsibility of the church is to continue what Jesus started in His ministry. We have to carry on , doing what the disciples did, walking the walk Jesus had given to them. The church has the responsibility to preach the Gospel to the world and to magnify and sharpen the teachings of Christ to the called-out ones, showing them the Way. Every member of the body of Christ has priestly responsibilities, not hiding our witness under a bushel. We don't hide God's way from others, keeping God's Commandments. We have all been given different, specific responsibilities. Every single one of us has been gifted for the equipping of the saints. Ministry is a synonym for service pertaining to equipping and teaching. We don't want to go beyond the gifts that have been given to us, but must use them with humility,employing them to edify the body. The Church is a teaching institution preaching the Gospel to the World. Each member of the body has been gifted by Christ. Human reaction to one another is deeply wired in our brain, compelling us to "follow the crowd" The human mind has an overpowering compulsion to follow what everybody else does. We need to be thinking people, realizing that everything matters: it is not a walk in the park. Satan in the most influential entity aligned against us, using the world and its systems as his tool. Government and educational institutions have been formed to deceptively use language to create and manipulate attitudes have made us vulnerable to Satanic, worldly influences, twisting and influencing our minds. The state-controlled media (that is, television, radio, and newspapers) are owned by the same groups of sinister, clandestine elite progressives, whose goal is collective manipulation of the sheep-like masses. We are
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the heart is the generator or birthplace of our action, reminds us that we are a treasure in God's eyes, chosen, royal, and special, and we must guard and protect our calling, realizing it is the most precious possession we will ever attain- an opportunity to serve as the chosen retinue of Christ the King, the Bride of Christ, the 144,000 of Revelation 7:4, representing 12,000 from each tribe of Israel. In addition to the 144,000, the Innumerable Multitude consists of glorified spirit beings which have gone through great tribulation or stress, referring more to a perennial condition than a point event because the Greek did not contain the definite article (that is, the) in the original text. We are all currently going through this type of tribulation, which started with Adam and Eve's sinning and will crescendo right up until the end. The Church, or the Israel of God, started by Jesus Christ and the Apostles, is a unique educational institution, teaching the way of God and amplifying His Commandments, in contrast to the churches of this world, which take part in the world's politics as well as its wars and the emerging universality movement, which teaches there are many ways to God and that it is possible to be spiritual without being religious. The only institution that is qualified to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is the one consisting of those specifically called by God, willing to follow His Commandments, and yielding unconditionally to His leadership. Consequently, it is essential to know who we are and how we fit in. The churches of the world don't hold the answer because they have rejected the Sabbath and Holy Days, and do not see themselves as citizens of God's Heavenly Kingdom, seeing no use to follow the footsteps of Christ, imitating His behavior. God's Church separates itself from the world's systems, but maintains its loyalty to God's Heavenly Kingdom, upholding its laws in the spirit and the letter. The Church of God is an educational system preaching
Most long-time members of the church of God have Matthew 24:14 indeliably etched on their memories: "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world. . . ." David Grabbe contends that many have failed to understand this verse as a prophecy, and have instead loaded it with meanings that the plain words do not contain. We should be encouraged that, by it, God guarantees that He will finish His work!
David C. Grabbe: In his bestselling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey observes that most people are entrenched in what he calls a "scarcity mentality": They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. ...
Martin Collins, focusing upon Paul's assertion that the Son of God was manifested in order to destroy the works of the devil, recounts the historical development of Satan the Devil. Jesus Christ qualified to replace Satan as the ruler of the earth, and will restore order and tranquility at His second coming. In the meantime, God's called out ones are the target of the Great Dragon. Satan and his demons know that their time is short and are determined to destroy as many people as possible, especially the Israel of God. If it were not for God's intervention, the entirety of mankind would perish. Unfortunately, near the close of the age, false teachers have turned Christ's Gospel into empty philosophy, making God's people vulnerable to false doctrine. Satan enticed our original parents, placing them into the kingdom of the Devil, separating them and their offspring from God. Everything about the world's culture, science, economic systems, and religion has been polluted and perverted. Satan's sole desire is to destroy all of humanity. During the Day of the Lord, Satan will marshal all the world's armies around Armageddon in order to fight against the conquering army of Jesus Christ. Satan's lie penetrates into the deepest recesses of our minds where sin originates. Christ has exposed and delivered us from sin's tentacles in the inner mind. Jesus Christ breaks the captor's heavy chains, delivering His people from demonic influence, proving Himself stronger and more powerful than Satan. As Christ rejected Satan's lie and received resurrection, God's called out ones, by rejecting Satan's lie, will also be resurrected. If we are members of God's church we are already being transformed into a new work, being translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.
David C. Grabbe: As the Worldwide Church of God fragmented in the early 1990s, and various smaller organizations were formed to hold fast to the original doctrines, it was common for many of the newly formed churches to continue almost as if nothing had changed. ...
Unlike God, "who inhabits eternity" (Isaiah 57:15), we mortals have a limited existence. Because of our finite time, we tend to view things through the lens of immediacy. ...
During the last few decades of the church of God, one of the scriptures most quoted or referred to has been Matthew 24:14: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that the messages in I Corinthians, especially those dealing with Christian living and character development, are particularly relevant to us today, answering the question, 'How is a Christian supposed to live and conduct himself in a desperately evil society?' Corinth was at the crossroads, both commercially and culturally, of the Mediterranean trade routes, making it wealthy, cosmopolitan, and abounding in religious diversity and syncretism. In Corinth, Paul's modus operandi was to approach this new community with stealth and diplomacy, finding bridges of commonality before introducing them to the truth of Christianity. Observing the consequences of appealing to the legal institutions of Rome, Paul insisted that conflicts be resolved internally within the fellowship rather than be made subject to stern and sometimes brutal Roman law.
Jesus Christ came to this earth with a message of salvation, which the Bible calls 'the gospel of the Kingdom of God.' John Ritenbaugh, in setting up the final article in the series, describes just what Christ's gospel is and its relationship to Christian works.
John Ritenbaugh gives his perception of Herbert W. Armstrong, suggesting that Mr. Armstrong was single-minded about preaching the Gospel, sometimes without financial savvy. It is possible that for many Herbert Armstrong had become an icon. The scattering which happened in the Worldwide Church of God could have been caused by members making him an icon or idol. As soon as the icon died, the income and membership started to plummet. Herbert Armstrong was not the Elijah, but that he was an apostle—one bearing a message. There apparently were four categories of apostles; Herbert Armstrong could possibly be in the fourth level along with Barnabas or Silas. Herbert Armstrong spent his life bearing a message, speaking to his generation in a way it could understand.
Proselytism has become a bad word in today's discourse, but it has not always been that way. Charles Whitaker explores the Bible's view of evangelism, both from the Old and the New Testaments, as well as the world's official pronouncements on the practice.
David C. Grabbe: In Revelation 10:3-4, the apostle John tells of seven thunders—seven distinct, sequential reverberations of God's message to mankind, delivered by His church during the seven church eras described in Revelation 2 and 3. ...
David C. Grabbe: In the world of money, growth is of supreme importance. Regrettably, this approach has taken root within Christianity, too—both true and false. "Success" for a church is all too often measured in income, membership, and new converts, all of which are typically very unreliable indicators. ...
Conservative columnist Cal Thomas observes: "These fanatics [Muslim fascists] believe the United States, Britain and the rest of the West are the ones in bondage. They note our promiscuity, our abortions, our obsession with homosexuality, our television, our provocative way of dressing and they wonder who is really free?" ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the promise of rest alluded to in Hebrews 4:9, emphasizes the need to endure, persevere, overcoming doubts and unbelief—something many of our forebears (described in Hebrews 3 and 4) did not successfully attain. When we become impatient (largely as a result of superimposing our timetable, plan, or understanding over God's), doubts and lack of faith arise. Like Abraham, we (as Abraham's seed) have been called to a life of rootless, unsettled wandering in a pilgrim state, continually on the move, trusting in God to lead us to our ultimate destination: a spiritual life of permanence. Until this ultimate objective (the ever-expanding promises made by God to Abraham- co-heirs of the earth and ultimately the entire creation) occurs, we experience temporary privation, temptation, and seemingly perpetual rootlessness. Thankfully, if we patiently endure the twists and turns, trusting in God's faithfulness to bring to completion what He has started, there will be a time when we will attain the rest we desperately yearn for.
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!
The sin offering is the first of the non-sweet-savor offerings in Leviticus. John Ritenbaugh explains the atonement made through Jesus' perfect offering of Himself for us—and our obligations to Him as a result.
On this eleventh anniversary of the Church of the Great God, John Ritenbaugh reflects upon the expectations, the accomplishments, and the prospects for the future of our part of God's work, observing that things have not exactly turned out the way we thought. Despite the uncertainties, if we keep on keeping on, we will fulfill the commission God has set for us. Currently our website has enabled us to help a vast number of people in the greater church of God to grow and mature through the testing and purging of the church. In the words of the Field Of Dreams cliché, "if we build it, they will come." In the meantime, our marching orders are to live by faith- keeping on keeping on.
Many Christians today believe that killing in self-defense is sanctioned by the Bible. David Grabbe explains that this is a terrible misunderstanding of Christ's teaching.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that the Two Witnesses seem to have carte blanche authority from God to annihilate those who interfere with their work as well as power over weather patterns and natural elements in the spirit, power, and manner of Elijah and Moses. These miracles dramatize just how far mankind has turned from God. The lack or pollution of water signifies the lack or the defilement of God's Holy Spirit. The pattern of two witnesses (God often works in pairs) was established as a precedent from the very beginning (Genesis 1:26; Deuteronomy 19:15), and is repeated many times throughout the scriptures.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that the first major concern of the Two Witnesses will be directed to the church rather than to the world at large, expunging worldliness out of the church. Their work to the world will last 1260 days, 42 months, or three and one half years (Revelation 11: 2-3, 13:5). Christ will endow them with power to do miracles, to communicate or give testimony (evidence) to what they have seen about the Creator God, testifying against the evil of the world and the necessity for Christ's coming. The symbolism of the olive trees, lampstands and golden bowl in Zechariah 4:1-5 is connected to Revelation 1:20 and 2:1.
Continuing the exploration of Revelation 10-11, Richard Ritenbaugh expounds the bitterness Ezekiel and John experienced from ingesting the little book. God's truth may bring about sadness, astonishment, anger, and bitterness to the one delivering the message. James and John, displaying violent somewhat destructive zeal, serve as the prototypes of the Two Witnesses, who will have developed controlled, purified zeal (Mark 3:14). A major role of the Two Witnesses is to measure the spiritual Temple, evaluating the condition of the church, purifying its worship, and ensuring the people are pure before God.
In beginning a series on the Two Witnesses, Richard Ritenbaugh, wary of previous abuses of prophecy, asserts that God wants us to recognize them as they occur or shortly after they have occurred. For individuals to cling dogmatically to an interpretation before the events happen has perennially led to debate and missing vital details. It is more important to know the prophecies than their interpretation. This sermon explores Revelation 10:8-10 and Ezekiel 2-3, focusing on the symbolism of eating the little book (ingesting God's Word) and its link to the ministry of the Two Witnesses of Jesus Christ.
In this message on recognizing the true gospel, Richard Ritenbaugh stresses that the gospel encompasses far more than the Kingdom of God coming to this earth. It includes the complete revelation of God to man of His plan to reproduce Himself through man. The gospel has explosive power (dunamis, Romans 1:16) both to destroy evil and to construct righteous character, giving us everything we need to live like God. If a gospel does not produce repentance and faith, it is not the true gospel. The aim of the gospel is to always increase our faith, enabling every thought, word, and behavior to be motivated by God.
Members of the Worldwide Church of God remember Herbert W. Armstrong frequently turning to Mark 1:14-15 to thunder out the truth that the gospel Jesus proclaimed is focused on the Kingdom of God. ...
In this message focusing on the "tail wagging the dog," Richard Ritenbaugh discusses the motivations for proclaiming the true gospel and the motivation for teaching false gospels or heresies. For a genuine minister the gospel of the Kingdom creates a compulsory inner pressure causing him to virtually "explode" with truth, totally unrelated to the need for numbers or ego-stroking. The motivation for the bogus minister stems from a desire to pander to the "itching ears" of the prospective clientele telling them whatever they want to hear, catering to their desires and lusts (Ezekiel 33:32), mixing truth with error, creating a poisonous fatal mixture. While the true minister affirms God's law, the false minister grants license to do whatever one pleases.
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.
Dew is a creation of God that He uses several times in His Word. Ronny Graham illustrates how this symbolism applies to us today.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that neglecting to feed the flock has been detrimental to preaching the gospel to the world. Because of this unwitting neglect, many members succumbed to the "lost in the crowd" syndrome, feeling insignificant, meaningless, and useless. The vine and branches analogy (John 15:1-6) and the body analogy (Romans 12:4-5; I Corinthians 12:12-17) indicates that we are all responsible for one another, with no one having an insignificant role. We draw upon God's Holy Spirit, not for ourselves only, but for the well-being of the entire body. Putting first things first,the condition of the body or temple is dependent upon the spiritual condition and well-being of the individual members of the body.
John Ritenbaugh, after a thorough analysis of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, concludes that the seven conditions described (all having a common denominator an admonition to hold fast to something once given, but slipping away- namely the faith once delivered - Jude 3) are both sequential and contemporaneous, applying to groups now extant as well as individuals within the groups. All of us have these conditions within us to one degree or another. The scattering of the churches was an act of love by Almighty God to wake us up out of our passive, lethargic, faithless condition. The antidote to this splitting and scattering is to make the feeding of the flock our top priority, in which all the body, not just the ministry, participates to nurture one another, encouraging each other to return to the faith once delivered.
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Peter's Pentecost sermon, suggests that the accompanying signs attracted attention, confirmed God's Word through His servants, and provided symbolic meaning to the unseen effects of the Holy Spirit. Both wind and fire have destructive potential, providing threat or negative reinforcement. The positive reinforcement or motivating power of the Holy Spirit consists of God's Word—or the still small voice, preached through His messengers. If we continue undergoing the sanctifying process and exercising righteous judgment, we will not have to worry about the negative reinforcement (the Day of the Lord). We have the choice of falling under God's wrath or calling out to the Savior for protection, yielding to His Holy Spirit, preparing ourselves for His Kingdom.
John Ritenbaugh admonishes the greater church of God that we make a conscious effort to feed the flock (devoting more effort, time, energy, and money than for preaching the Gospel as a witness for the world) until we get ourselves straightened out first. To preach to the world and ignore a disintegrating flock is like a husband and wife paying attention to people and things outside the home while the family is falling apart. We need to examine the causes for our split and our gravely deteriorating faith. Our emphasis must be on feeding the flock, restoring the faith once delivered, rebuilding the broken walls and repairing the breaches.
John Ritenbaugh takes issue with the popularly held notion that preaching the Gospel to the world as a witness is the sole identifying mark of God's church. There is a vast difference between "preaching the Gospel to the world" and "making disciples"- the major focus in Matthew 28:20. The largest portion of the great commission demands that the lion's share of time, money, or energy ought to be invested in feeding the flock. With the present scattering of the church, engineered by Almighty God (not Satan) in response to our sick, rebellious, and unsound condition, our major obligation at this time should be to heal its wounds and to point it in the direction of repentance, overcoming, and growth. God indeed wants unity, but it has to be on His terms.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the preaching the gospel to the world, held by some to be the only identifying mark of the church, is at best the beginning of a long, complex process of creating disciples and godly offspring through steady feeding and encouragement to overcome (feeding the flock). God, as a responsible parent, is not one-dimensional in assigning responsibilities to His children, but frequently shifts gears, changing circumstances, giving His begotten children a well-rounded education. God - not Satan or an incompetent ministry - engineered the massive scattering of the church of God to move it away from pernicious and fatal Laodiceanism. We need to adjust to the new situation, realizing that God has engineered these events with the real work of God in mind: making man in His image and reproducing Himself.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on the basic elements of the Kingdom of God, having a (1) king (Psalm 47), (2) a territory (Daniel 2:44, Psalm 103:19) (3) citizenry (I Peter 2:9-10) and (4) a code of law (Revelation 22:14). The term kingdom (Greek basileia), has a past, present and future application. Heaven is its place of origin, from where God has eternally ruled the universe. God's Kingdom exists whenever and wherever one submits (by God's Spirit) to God's sovereignty. At Christ's return, this rule (shared with transformed, called-out, elected saints) will spread throughout the entire universe, enforcing the Ten Commandments (the character of God). Our begettal (a trial membership) in God's Kingdom will become permanent if we yield to God, allowing the mind and character of Christ to be formed in us.
A Statement of Purpose and Beliefs of the Church of the Great God
When we sing this popular hymn, are we singing a lie? No, this is a commision to apostles, and right now we are doing what God desires of us.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Daniel's prayer, observes that there are no hollow threats with God. Confusion, disorder and scattering (the current state of the greater church of God) are the automatic (God-engineered) results of sinning against His law. Under the current scattering, we must acquiesce to the responsibility that God has called us to, and not presumptuously attempt to do something we were not appointed to do. Success in spiritual things does not consist in growing large and powerful, but humbly living by faith, overcoming, being faithful, and yielding to God's shaping power, establishing a dynamic relationship with Him. Unity will only occur when we are yielded to God's leadership. If we were scattered because of sin, we will be unified because of righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the easiest part of God's work is the preaching the Gospel to the world- a task mechanically carried out as the church deteriorated from within. Much more demanding is the feeding of the flock, producing the kind of faith and trust to transform formerly carnal individuals into glorified members of His family. The work of the church varies from time to time, with different functions performed as different needs arise. God determines when, where, and the direction He wants His work to go. At this time, God has purposed to "blow the church apart" for our own spiritual safety. Our current focus should be upon the factors that caused the deterioration within the body, determining to respond to God, fixing the problems (the cracked foundations of faith emanating from a counterfeit gospel) that led to our implosion and scattering.
John Ritenbaugh provides the rationale of this phase of the church's work- what and why the Church of the Great God is doing what it is doing. In this time of scattering, God is testing our loyalty to Him, correcting deficiencies that will keep us out of His Kingdom. Despite the untested Protestant assumption that "the work" of God is preaching the Gospel to the world, nowhere does the combination of words "preaching the gospel to the world is the work of God" appear in the Bible. Though it is part of the work, it is only a small part. The hardest part of God's work is the feeding of the flock the full counsel of God, to get the called-out ones ready to enter the God-family (in His Spiritual image)-especially considering the cesspool of heresy and apostasy from which we have been rescued. God engineered the scattering for our own good, enabling experiences to restore faith and attain the full stature of Christ.
There are many 'gospels' in the world but only one true gospel—the message that Christ brought about the good news of His coming Kingdom! It is the ONLY gospel that will bring us salvation. We need to hear it!
Acts 5:32 says very clearly that God gives His Spirit to those who obey Him, yet some argue that keeping God's law is not necessary. What is the truth? Earl Henn clarifies this contentious point.
In this comprehensive overview of tithing, John Reid explores the attitudes we should have toward tithing, the purposes of the tithe, and the benefits of tithing. Tithing expresses both our honor and love for God (the Supplier and Sustainer of all things) and our love for our neighbor, actively expressing God's great law. The first tithe is reserved exclusively for God's purpose, enabling the ministry to perfect the saints. The second tithe is reserved for festival purposes, enabling us to learn to fear God. The third tithe is used to show love for the helpless and people who have fallen on bad times. Incredible blessings accrue to those who keep these tithing principles.
Countering the Protestant red-herring argument, "You cannot earn salvation by works," John Ritenbaugh stresses that works certainly are not "done away" but that God expects works from all those He has called. We show our faithfulness and loyalty to God by our works or conduct - what we produce by what we have been given. The works demanded of us consist of continual striving to be faithful to our covenant relationship with God by keeping His commandments (not the traditions of men). As we strive to live by the Spirit instead of by the flesh (Romans 8:5) we will produce the kind of fruit pleasing to God. God forces a converted person to choose between two opposing forces (Romans 8:13), providing us His Spirit as a tool to overcome.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that we must avoid distractions and keep our lives focused on God and His Holy Word. The prophetic messages in Revelation 2 and 3 are designed for the end times, shortly before the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. All seven churches—with their unique attitudes—will be extant contemporaneously at the end time. If a message ("he who overcomes," "I know your works") is repeated seven times in two chapters, God must want us to understand these concerns. Nothing is more important than repentance and overcoming, producing mature, committed, loyal disciples displaying exemplary conduct and good works, avoiding the distractions of Satan (Ephesians 6:12) and the allurements of this world (I John 2:15).
What is more important: preaching the gospel to the world or feeding the flock? John Ritenbaugh gives reasons why we should at this time be concentrating on reversing the church's serious spiritual decline before we presume to go to the world.
What should the church be doing during this time of scattering and doctrinal confusion? What did Herbert Armstrong say must be done? Is the gospel limited to preaching to the unconverted?
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that our concept of time is vastly different from God's, indicates that our spiritual pilgrimage (including our participation in the work of God) is largely a matter of faith, not sight. If we see God in the picture, we will not be impatient, but will be carefully evaluating the evidence whether or not God is opening doors. The work of God does not always stay the same, continually shifting media, techniques, and approaches- following a zig-zagging cloud. The work has variously been concerned with building an ark, rebuilding a wall, preaching to the public, etc, but the focus was always on the furtherance of the Word of God. We need to make sure that we are not running where God has not sent us. Our approach to government ought to be voluntary (internally controlled) but unconditional submission to God's family structured hierarchical authority.
John Ritenbaugh provides compelling evidence that remnants of four out of the seven churches will be extant at the time of Christ's return. The inset chapters of the book of Revelation are digressions which give clarity to the sequential events. Revelation 10 and 11 constitute one inset, reflecting a time before the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, a time when the last of the seven thunders (symbolic of the messages of the seven eras of God's church) rumble to a faint whimper. After this time, the dramatic work of the Two Witnesses will begin. Because we have all become contaminated with the worldliness of the Laodicean era/attitude, we need to soberly reflect upon the extent of this contamination.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Abraham's example of going to war. Even though God does not glorify war, there are spiritual parallels we can learn from it, including discipline and self-sacrifice. Abraham was willing to lay down his life to rescue his nephew Lot. His sacrifice shows us what kind of effort and sacrifice is needed to wage spiritual war, getting the Gospel out despite the militant resistance of Satan and his demons. They are masters of keeping us off balance, keeping the pressure on us, dogging our heels, trying to make us miss the mark, and preventing us from rescuing others held captive. Anyone involved in the work of God is in a spiritual war, often experiencing enervation and temptation to compromise. God provides faith and energy in those occasions to overcome and endure.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the Apostle Paul, in this prison epistle, conveyed to the Philippians his optimism that the apparent misfortune was actually a blessing, actually enabling Paul to magnify his effectiveness, enabling more fruit to be borne. Paul, looking far beyond his prison experience, would be contented no matter what God had chosen for him, even though he felt a special desire to help the Philippians- striving to be worthy citizens of the outpost of the Kingdom of God (even as Philippi was an outpost of Rome) boldly unified in Christ (having Christ's mind -receiving encouragement by God) in a team effort (having a selfless concern for others) against a common adversary. Paul suggests that it is a very high calling to suffer for Christ (Faith untested is not faith/no cross-no glory)-serving as a crucible for perfection or maturity.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Paul's motivation for his letter to the Philippians, both appealing for unity and offering encouragement, reminding them that their relationship with one another was through Christ. Unity could only be maintained if they prayed for one another, exercising reasoning, discerning, and discriminating agape love. Paul encourages the Philippians, assuring them that his own incarceration (apparently engineered by God) had turned out for the best, enabling him, exuding his cheerful personality, to provide one—on-one testimony to a succession of guards, enabling God's witness to get to the upper echelons of the praetorian guard, greatly extending or amplifying the witness. Regardless of the precariousness of his ostensibly grave circumstances, Paul, with deep conviction, expected spiritual deliverance.
Paul systematically planned his travels to specific cities for specific reasons, choosing Philippi for its strategic location as the only autonomous Roman colony in the region having historical cultural, military and commercial significance. As an autonomous outpost of Roman culture, more Roman than Rome, it provides a metaphor of a Christian's status of occupying an outpost of the Kingdom of Heaven, ardently maintaining a loyalty to the customs and laws of the home country. From Philippi, God called people from several nationalities and social strata, galvanizing them into one family. Paul expresses joy and camaraderie more with this congregation than any other, appreciating their selflessness, generosity, and sacrifice. Paul, from his vantage point of a prisoner, offers both abundant encouragement (God will complete what He has begun) as well as a plaintive appeal for unity to this congregation.
At the beginning of chapter 18, Paul arrives in Corinth, befriended by Roman expatriates Priscilla and Aquila, devout individuals very important in Paul's ministry, both economically and spiritually. Paul's spirits are additionally revived and energized at receiving good news from Silas and Timothy, leading him to be more aggressive and bold. With this new-found energy, Paul encountered some new persecution but also saw his work bear fruit; he was driven from the synagogue, but paradoxically won over the leader of the synagogue, Crispus, to Christianity. A potential problem and source of persecution is quickly resolved by the new Roman consul, Gallio, who, upon refusing to get involved in what he considers an intramural squabble in the Jewish church, gives Christianity legal status in the Roman empire. At the conclusion of the chapter, we become acquainted with the eloquent new convert Apollos, whose deficit in knowledge and understanding is filled in by Priscilla and Aquila.
After explaining the context in which Paul advocated going from house to house, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Paul, who understands clearly that God alone calls (John 6:44), makes his initial contact with non-believers in public places (synagogue and forum), going later to private dwellings by invitation only. Chapter 15 focuses upon the Council of Jerusalem, discussing the controversial subject of circumcision and its relationship to salvation. Peter, speaking from his experience working among the Gentiles, realized that some aspects of the ceremonial laws (including circumcision) were not obligatory to Gentiles for salvation, but that the entire Law of God (given by Jesus Christ), far from done away, is to be kept in a more responsible spiritual sense (respecting the boundaries or constraints of conscience) by both Jews and Gentiles. It had become apparent to the apostles gathered at Jerusalem that God had made a parallel visitation and calling to the Gentiles as He had originally concluded with Israel. The new spiritual tabernacle (the Israel of God) would be composed of Gentiles as well as people of Israel.
John Ritenbaugh spends some time explaining the phenomena of lying wonders and visions (such as those seen at Lourdes and Fatima) predicted to become more frequent at the end times. This kind of spiritism involves the deceptive work of lying demons rather than disembodied "souls." In chapter 13, the first time Saul is called Paul, the false prophet Elymas is cursed with blindness, providing the witness prompting the Proconsul Sergius Paulus to become converted. It was Paul's custom to initially seek out the Jewish populations in Greek- populated Cyprus, attempting to connect their history, prophecies and tradition to Jesus Christ's Messiahship. Paul declares that Jesus Christ's death and resurrection did not occur in a vacuum, but attended with an overwhelming number of witnesses. Paul and Barnabus make the case that the sacrifice of Christ provides the justification which animal sacrifices could never accomplish. Paul's success with the crowds (both Jew and Gentile) inflamed the rulers of the synagogue with jealousy, leading to persecution and banishment.
John Ritenbaugh initially explores the work of Paul and Barnabas developing the church in the cosmopolitan city of Antioch, the location from where the term Christian originated. The twelfth chapter, an apparent flashback, focuses upon the execution of James (at the hands of mad Herod Agrippa), Peter's miraculous escape from prison followed by the dramatic death of Herod as a result of blasphemy, an episode showing the relationship between prayer and God's response. The episode also had the effect of driving Peter from Jerusalem. Chapter 13 begins a concentrated effort on the part of the Antioch church to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles through the efforts of Barnabas and Saul.
John Ritenbaugh explains that Stephen ignited the ire of the Hellenistic Jews, a group passionately devoted to the temple, law and land as a defensive reaction to their historical scattering. Stephen rebukes them for their reactionary (almost superstitious) devotion to the past or reverence to a specific temple location, advocating instead a pilgrim mentality, realizing that God is not confined to a fixed location. Stephen points out that historically, God has dealt with His people without land or temple, but instead through a series of deliverers (Joseph, Moses, and ultimately, Jesus Christ), initially unrecognized or rejected by their own people. Stephen suggests that his audience has rejected the Deliverer and has replaced it with an idol (of worshiping the temple) as their forefathers had turned to a golden idol, while rejecting God and His living law.
John Ritenbaugh maintains that our historical and theological roots are advanced in a polished, literary, chronological narrative, perhaps designed as a trial document authored by Luke. It defends the apostle Paul and the early church, with a larger purpose of 1) augmenting or increasing the faith of the saints, setting a pattern for all future generations of the church, demonstrating its continuity with the acts of God in the Old Testament; 2) proclaiming the church's mission and message; 3) showing progress despite seemingly overwhelming opposition; 4) tracing the expansion of the gospel to the Gentiles; and 5) revealing the life and organization of the church, emphasizing the role of the Holy Spirit in the church's formation, growth, and empowerment. Peter's sermon 1) explains the scriptural and prophetic significance of the Pentecost miracle, 2) proclaims the identity, death, and resurrection of Jesus, 3) and calls for repentance, a major condition for receiving God's Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh explores the possibility that the book of Acts, in addition to its role in continuing and advancing the Gospel or Good News, could well have been assembled as an exculpatory trial document designed to vindicate the Apostle Paul and the early Church, demonstrating that Christianity was not a threat to the Roman Empire as Judaism had asserted. The book of Acts also serves as a conciliatory, unifying tool, endeavoring to heal breaches that had emerged in the church through rumor or gossip. A key theme of Acts (appearing more than 70 times) concerns the particulars of receiving and using God's Holy Spirit. Acts also provides insights on the Commission to the Church, the relationship of Jesus with His physical brothers, significant contributions of women in the Church, and the emerging roles, organizational patterns, and responsibilities of the disciples.
John Ritenbaugh probes into the reasons the book of John had to be written and the major differences distinguishing the book of John from the other Gospels. John omits entirely certain topics which the other gospels go into detail. Where the other Gospels have short narratives, John goes into lengthy descriptive and quantitative detail, providing in-depth characterizations of the disciples. From the perspective of an eye-witness to the events, a Jew (from a well-to-do family) having been thoroughly acquainted with Hellenistic culture, John, a physical cousin of Jesus, is able to bridge the gap explaining the significance of these events to an emerging gentile population not acquainted with Hebrew culture or tradition, but familiar with Greek patterns of thought- including the Platonic (and Gnostic) dichotomy of real and corporeal. Building on this concept, John presents Jesus, not as a phantom emanation, but as the reality—transcending the shadows represented by the temporal physical life. John presents the miracles of Jesus (not so much as acts of mercy) but as signs of the reality of God- indicating the way God works and thinks.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that Matthew, a former publican, wrote an orderly account of the Gospel easily outlined and analyzed. This account included Christ's genealogy, the circumstances of His birth, John the Baptist's introduction of Christ, Christ's presentation to the local congregation, the sermon on the mount (a collection of sayings that Matthew had collected over 30 years), the rising of the opposition (Pharisees, Sadducees, and local synagogue leaders), the installation of Jesus' personal staff (the twelve apostles), ordinary men ranging from a hated publican to a revolutionary zealot to a plain blue collar contractor, and working men, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, called not so much for their current abilities, but as to what they would become by yielding to God, much the same as it is for all of us. The commission to the disciples evolves from their preliminary marching orders to go to the House of Israel to their ultimate commission of going to the Gentiles. The observation is made that the disciples seem to appear in groups of four, with one disciple assuming the leadership position of each group. Jesus warns His disciples then and now to be aware of persecution from inside the church, the government (incited by slander and libel) and our own families. Jesus cautions us never to fear or show timidity because our lives are entirely in God's hands and He will provide us whatever resources we need to overcome and build character in our brief 70 to 80 years we are allotted to live in mortal flesh. If we remain steadfastly loyal to God, we will experience abundant life in His family and Kingdom. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Jesus was baptized, not because He had committed any sin, but in order to fulfill God's Commandments of righteousness. Baptism is used symbolically to represent one's total commitment. Perhaps if people knew what was required, there would be fewer baptisms. Every thought, every attitude, every action (the totality of our life) is to be brought into obedience to Him. When Jesus was baptized, He was demonstrating His total commitment to what was laid out before Him. Jesus had to overcome, defeat, displace and disqualify Satan as ruler as part of His commission as Head of the body. As we are joined to the Body, it is part of our commission also. We also wrestle with spiritual wickedness in high places. We are in a war with an enemy we can't feel, see, or touch, an enemy who is trying to take control of our thinking processes. In order to win the battle with Satan, we must counter his deceptive arguments, not with human reasoning, but with the knowledge of God. Satan broadcasts attitudes into our minds, tilting them in certain directions. God uses Satan as an instrument to test for weaknesses, enabling us to be strengthened. In our struggle with Satan, we are admonished to be sober, exercising control over our minds. If a person is under the influence of the world, he is not able to resist Satan. Familiarity and usage of God's word along with yielding to Him and drawing close to Him will help us resist Satan. Jesus resisted Satan with the knowledge of God, resisting appeals to vanity, using power selfishly resisting to lust of the flesh, eyes, and pride of life.
Even with all the political, environmental and military problems hanging over us, Americans are most concerned about their personal finances. Herbert Armstrong shows from Scripture how your financial problems can be solved!