John Ritenbaugh, revisiting Herman Hoeh’s brilliantly reasoned, through highly speculative, doctrine about Church eras, takes a hard look at the biblical evidence and concludes that the notion of eras is based on some fundamental errors. Because Revelation 1:1 uses the adverb shortly (NKJV)—quickly and soon in other translation, describing the quickness of prophetic events, we cannot find a shred of evidence for lengthy, drawn-out eras. Christ’s promise to Peter in that the gates of hell would never prevail against the Church refers more to our private battle against sin than a physical battle against a church organization. Jesus Christ has already defeated Satan. Our collective fellowship has speculated that seven eras of the church spanned the time since 95 AD to the present, in which a dominant attitude would prevail sequentially, corresponding to the commendations and charges of the letters delivered on the postal route between Ephesus and Laodicea in western Turkey. Even though the mail route was spatially sequential, the churches were contemporaneous. Like the many splinters in the greater Church of God, these churches had different strengths and different weaknesses. Jesus Christ, standing in the midst of these contemporaneous churches, comments on each one, indicating that He considers them all to be part of the His Body, The command to “hold fast,” issued five times, indicates that all seven of these attitudes (that is, strengths and weaknesses) will be extant at His Second Coming. Constantly, we should be wary about browbeating lukewarm Laodicea or dead Sardis because these are all attitudes every called-out one exhibits to one degree or another. Jesus Christ expects that all of us learn from all seven letters, applying the correction which applies to each of us individually.
The prophet Elijah set the standard for all the prophets, calling forth God's power to bring about a drought and calling down fire, embarrassing and exterminating the priests of Baal. After warning the people not to halt between two opinions, he fell into a dilemma of either fearing God or fearing man, and ended up fearing Jezebel rather than God, thinking he was alone in his zeal for God. Sadly, some of our fellow splinter groups have succumbed to the Elijah complex, thinking they are the only ones carrying on the work of God, looking down on their brethren as Laodicean or unconverted. We dare not elevate our self-importance over our brethren in different groups. God foretells seven churches, but one body, all contemporaneous when Christ comes again.
David Grabbe, cuing in on Ecclesiastes 3:1-3, reminds us that God has designed sequential seasons in which various events occur as a part of a long-term plan. God plans the season; we only get to choose whether and how to respond. There is a time to gather and a time to throw away; there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. Our fellowship was once gathered to a level that we had more than 100,000 members, distributing multiple millions of magazines monthly, and blanketing the globe with radio and television. Because of negligence and dereliction of some spiritual duties, God mercifully scattered our fellowship, demanding that we seek a relationship with Him first, before we presumptuously seek unity with our scattered brethren on the basis of compromising with one another. As we all seek unity with God and His commandments, God will grant us unity. At the time of Christ's return, remnants of all seven churches on the mail route in Revelation 2-3 will be extant. Currently, we all yearn to be re-united with our scattered brethren, but until our own personal walk with God is attained, and until we intently seek Him first, unity of the spirit will not happen.
David Grabbe, reminding us that a major focus of John the Baptist's ministry was a call to repentance and turning to righteousness, a focus that Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul reinforced and magnified. Curiously, in main-stream Protestantism, repentance has fallen out of favor and has been replaced by cheap 'grace.' The Law allegedly has been done away in the process. Actually repentance is mentioned far more in the New Testament than in the Old Testament, as the New Covenant stresses that Christians have, after they have rejected their sinful past, have been designed for works that are in alignment with God's law. Jesus, in the model prayer asks us to ask for forgiveness of our trespasses on a daily basis and counsels five of the seven churches in Revelation 2 to repent from their sinful ways, radically change course, and turn to God. Repentance transcends remorse, incorporating works of righteousness in sync with God's Law. If the Law were done away, there would be no need of a Savior.
David Grabbe, examining the implications of Isaiah 22:15-11, maintains that many major splinters of the greater Church of God have misunderstood the context of this passage which describes Shebna's expulsion from his role as Steward because of his blatant, self-important presumptuousness. Shebna was replaced by Eliakim who was a man of humility and lowliness of mind. Some of the self-exalting behaviors of those claiming to have the Key of David and an open door resemble more the self-focused attitude of Shebna rather than the humble attitude of Eliakim. The gracious promises given to the Philadelphians are given to those who absolutely know they have little strength and desperately need the continual aid of God's Holy Spirit to go through the open door of prayer to God's Throne Room. If we arrogantly compare ourselves among each other, boasting of our magazines, radio stations, and new members, we are no better than the pompous, self-important Shebna.
Over the last several decades, this world has shown itself to be one in which most people lack commitment, whether it is to their mechanics, their spouses, or their beliefs. Using Christ's exhortations to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, David Maas points out that Scripture foresees that a dearth of steadfastness marks the time of the end, but Christians are urged to hold fast.
With many "churches of God" around the world claiming to be part of or even the only church of God, the question "Is There a True Church?" is a pertinent one. John Ritenbaugh examines, not their claims, but what the Bible reveals about the makeup of God's church, especially as time draws near to the return of its Head, Jesus Christ.
David C. Grabbe: The predominate focus of Matthew 24:2 is on the physical Temple and its environs. Jesus Christ's words that "not one stone shall be left here upon another" has already had one physical fulfillment in the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in AD 70. ...
It is an entirely human reaction to attempt to avoid anything that might be unpleasant, and this is especially true of an event as destructive as the Great Tribulation. David Grabbe posits that, if we show patient endurance now, overcoming and growing, God may bless us with protection from that horrible trial.
The biblical city of Smyrna, whose church received one of Christ's seven letters in Revelation 2 and 3, may be one that Bible students know the least about. In explaining Jesus' message to this church, David Grabbe shows how the city's name helps to reveal the themes that the Head of the church wants us to understand as His return nears.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the concept of church eras prevalent throughout the Worldwide Church of God, asserts that Herman Hoeh in his historical studies found a common link in doctrines and practices of groups from the apostolic times to the present, attempting to define specific characteristics of the seven churches along the mail route in Revelation 2-3. In five of these churches, there is an indication that Christ's return was imminent. In the first century, all of these churches were extant. When this letter was circulated, all seven churches were recipients of this same message. In the prophetic Day of the Lord, Christ stands in the midst of all seven churches. All seven churches are extant right now. The seven attitudes are extant right now. We are to learn from the lessons from all seven of the churches, yielding to the instructions and responding to the appropriate correction.
Herbert W. Armstrong began The World Tomorrow radio telecast on October 9, 1933. It was broadcast, uninterrupted, until October 9, 1971, when it was taken off the air for several months due to internal turmoil within the Worldwide Church of God. The World Tomorrow ran continuously for 38 years--two 19-year time cycles--to the very day ...
Oftentimes, in our haste to get to the "good stuff," we skip the introductions of books and articles. Richard Ritenbaugh explores the first chapter of Revelation and shows that skipping it deprives us of vital information necessary for understanding the rest of the book.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the sheer variety of choices (distractions) available to us today (with their potential accompanying temptations and enervating time-wasting diversions) is extremely stressful because it automatically increases sin and lawlessness, automatically decreasing love, zeal, and affection. Like our society, the recipients of the general epistle of Hebrews were a group of people living in confusing rapidly changing times — experiencing intense economic, cultural, social, and moral upheaval. These "crusty old soldiers" or weary seasoned veterans identified in the book of Hebrews (like the Ephesians and far too many of us) were becoming inured and indifferent to mounting societal sin, allowing their spiritual energy to be sapped by resisting negative societal pressure, draining them or diverting them of their former zeal and devotion to Christ. If we incrementally lose our love, affection, and devotion to Christ, we automatically lose our desire and motivation to overcome, endangering our spiritual welfare as well as our relationship to Christ. God Almighty has mandated that we reignite the spark and rekindle our first love.
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.
The Bible shows Christ, at the end, measuring the church with a plumbline, testing for uprightness and determining standards of justice and righteousness. The seven eyes seem to refer to the messengers of the seven churches having a worldwide influence. The olive trees in Zechariah 4:11 refer to the Two Witnesses who pour oil (spiritual instruction) into a golden bowl (a receptacle for this teaching), supplying the churches with spiritual nourishment during their period of testimony before the whole world. They will have power to kill those who would harm them, following the pattern of Elijah (2 Kings 1:10), a kind of carte blanche authority to destroy in order to do their work (Revelation 11:5)
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.
Having shown that God is involved in world affairs, John Ritenbaugh concludes by showing that God's hand was definitely involved in the scattering of the church. Our reaction needs to be positive: that, if He felt it needed to be done, we should respond by growing and preparing ourselves for His Kingdom.
John Ritenbaugh, cautioning against the danger of presumption, warns against assigning biblical types (like Joshua and Zerubbabel) to any contemporary ministers, pointing out that, except for a few superficial similarities, there are not enough parallels or grounds of comparison to make such an inferential leap. Two major assumptions made by calendar changers are that: (1) the calendar is too complicated and (2) the Jews are guilty of deliberate manipulation in order to create a calendar that is more convenient in actual usage. The Bible nowhere says that the calendar should be simple; everything God has created, including life Bible, the calendar, as well as life itself, is complex. God, totally faithful and reliable, gave us a calendar, assigning the responsibility for its maintenance to the nation of Israel, not to the church or private individuals, guaranteeing order, stability, and unity within the culture. The Anti-Christ inspires tampering with times.
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.
The church of the Laodiceans is today's prevalent attitude. Is there hope? Can a Laodicean be in God's Kingdom?
The Philadelphia church is often considered the best of the seven. Is it? Does it have any faults? Are we biased in our judgment?
The sixth church, Sardis, is dead for the most part. What is the problem? What do they need to do to come alive again?
Thyatira, the middle of the seven churches, receives a litany of praise and rebuke from our Savior. He particularly focuses on idolatry, which is spiritual fornication.
Christ severely criticizes the church of Pergamos for its problems with the doctrine of Baalam and idolatry. Nevertheless, to those who overcome these sins, He will grant eternal life!
The letter to Smyrna contains a rarity among the seven churches—no criticism! What's so good about the Smyrnans?
Christ's first letter to the churches focuses on the Ephesians, a people who succeeded in trying the spirits, but in the interim left [their] first love.
Historically, the modern church of God has believed that the seven churches are types of seven eras from apostolic times to Christ's return. Is this a valid belief?
The seven churches of Revelation 2-3 have intrigued Bible students for centuries. Where they simply seven churches in Asia, or do they have more immediate relevance 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 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 do Christ's messages to the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 describe? Are these churches eras between the church's founding and Christ's return? Are they dominant attitudes within the church? Could they be both?
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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