Richard Ritenbaugh provides introductory information to his ensuing series on the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3. Letter-writing, as a means of communication, became highly formalized in the Greco-Roman world. The Scriptures contain a large number of letters, the epistle being the dominant literary form in the New Testament. The "Seven Letters" are an example of letters embedded in a larger book. Christ has written these letters to all the members of His Body, that is, to individuals having the Holy Spirit and therefore capable of understanding their highly symbolic language. God intends the book of Revelation to be a disclosure of vital information, warning us to prepare for those things that will occur with lightning speed. God admonishes the members of Christ's body to read and keep the spiritual lessons, not just to "figure out" prophecies. The seven churches represent the composite church of God in its multiple personalities, as well as each individual God has called-out. The book's dramatic introduction, emphasizing the sovereignty of our High Priest and His Father, projects us into the Day of the Lord and offers vital information as to how to endure that horrendous time. Christ, standing in the midst of the seven golden lampstands (the church of God) rules and teaches the church. The seven angels (Greek: angelos, or "messenger") could apply to spiritual guardians, physical leaders, or even individual church member as we also serve as messengers of the Way.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on the perennial desire of all cultures to return to a mythologized "Golden Age," a paradise wherein peace, abundance and harmony abound. When people claim that "old times" were better, they often overlook the thorny problems besetting those living then. God's people also have a proclivity to perceive the early Church nostalgically, focusing on a few Scriptures which point to the unity of that era. Reading the Scriptures more maturely however, we find that early church members experienced problems similar to what we face today. The early churches had to experience the same God-ordained process of sanctification (I Peter 1:3-7) and the same fiery trials (I Corinthians 10:13) we do today. Paul found it necessary to admonish (1) the Roman congregation to be discerning, shunning false teachers, (2) the Corinthian congregation to flee envy and strife, (3) the Galatian congregation to flee from tendencies to return to Judaism, (4) the members of the Ephesian congregation to maintain their "first love," (5) the Philippian congregation to put away division, (6) the Colossian congregation to eschew Jewish-gnostic philosophies, and (7) the Thessalonian congregation to reject interpretations of prophecy informed more by theory and rumor than by Scripture. The Golden Age has not yet arrived but will be coterminous with the Kingdom of God.
Richard Ritenbaugh acknowledges that, because of our unique perceptions, praying according to God's will is not always clear and self-evident. Certain things are beyond our current understanding or need-to-know. Hence, though God had personally revealed to Abraham what He would do, Abraham knew there were some bedrock standards upon which God would not budge and he would have to accept the outcome on faith. Abraham knew, as we should know, that God is always just, merciful, and compassionate. God's will is an attribute of purpose, bringing about every action necessary for activity. God exercises will whenever He establishes whatever He does, including gathering His Called-out ones to the Feast of Tabernacles to make a total sacrifice and commitment to His divine purpose. Even when we take a detour from His intended plan, God employs mechanisms to make a course change—mechanisms which may include some unpleasantness. Nothing can move the mind of God off track; nothing can thwart His plan. God is self-limiting: He cannot lie, He cannot cease to exist, and He cannot sin, demonstrating aspects to which we must conform. Yet, God has made some free choices regarding His creation, including the spiral pattern of the some galaxies, including creating zebras, giraffes, and platypuses to confound atheist evolutionists, including choosing the weak and base people to confound the wise ones. God's will is the basis of every aspect of His creation. As God's called-out ones respond affirmatively to His covenant, He reveals more and more of His secret plans. God's written Word has more insights than anyone could absorb in an entire lifetime. We should drink in this wisdom, realizing that in all situations, God knows best.
Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that some prophecy buffs have concluded that the end of the world is on the horizon, citing the media's sniping at President Trump, North Korea's hydrogen bomb threats, and the succession of three destructive hurricanes. When analyzing the overblown coverage of the hurricanes, for example, one must factor in the motives of the Weather Channel , including the insidious political motive of fostering a belief in climate change, and the materialistic motive of boosting ratings by playing on people's fears. God's called-out ones should not look to the media when seeking truthful information. What God reveals in His Word is more reliable than the evening news. God's people do a disservice to the cause of truth when they allow the media-hype to trigger a false hope about Christ's imminent return. We have no absolute guarantee that Christ will come in our lifetime; studying numerology or secret biblical codes will not speed up the event. No one, not even Jesus Christ Himself, knows when He will return; the Father alone has this knowledge. Many of the signs of Jesus coming are perennial, such as deception, wars and rumors of wars, famines and natural disasters. To be sure, Christ averred that the both the density and the intensity of world events would increase before the end, but one cannot build a prophetic marker on a series of natural events, many of which have been over-hyped by irresponsible media outlets. When we are commanded to watch and pray, Christ expects the faithful servant to be watching the progress of his spiritual growth, regardless of whether His return is imminent or far off. The recent disasters should be a wake-up call not as a pin on a chart measuring prophetic fulfillment.
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.
Ronny Graham, acknowledging that very few prophecies have occurred the way any of us had speculated, advocates that we take a balanced, far less dogmatic approach to prophecy, realizing, of course, that a full one-third of the Bible is prophecy, the majority of which has not yet been revealed, much less fulfilled. One prophecy which seems to be rapidly unfolding before us in the recent years is the one in Isaiah 3:12, warning of children as our oppressors and women as our rulers. During the past year, assessing the mayhem from the riots in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Cleveland, we acknowledge the oppressors to be mere youths, born into families in which the fathers have run away or have been driven out. Mothers of criminal youths cannot believe "why their babies have been shot." The liberal media characterize young shoplifters and thieves as 'protestors.' Tragically, in the black community 7 out of 10 youths do not have a father; 72% have been born out of wedlock. In the meantime, weak-willed and compromising men have abandoned their leadership roles in government and the church, and radical feminist women have rushed in to fill the void created by this 'leadership drain.' In our nation today, gangs (unsupervised young boys and , increasingly, girls) are responsible for 50% of all crimes, and the frustrated police are rapidly losing control. Political parties quarrel on trivial issues, and only a fraction of the current political leaders want to trust and acknowledge God for anything. Anyone with eyes and a modicum of common sense can see the prophecy of Isaiah 3:12 unfold before us.
A survey of the New Testament reveals that, though we may recognize the "signs of the times," we will not be able to determine when Jesus Christ will return. David Grabbe pursues the concept of Christ's second coming "as a thief in the night," and what this means to Christians in this end time.
Similar to the old E.F. Hutton commercial, when the preacher speaks on prophecy, everyone listens. Studying prophecy is good, argues Richard Ritenbaugh, but doctrine and Christian living are far more necessary and helpful to our practicing and growing in God's way of life right now.
Many of us know Luke 21:36 by heart: 'Watch and pray always. . . .' We think we know what it means because the church has traditionally taught that it refers to watching world events. But does it? Pat Higgins contends that there is far more to this verse spiritually than meets the eye.
Reflecting that most prophetic interpretations have not been correct, John Ritenbaugh warns that we must exercise caution when attempting to interpret prophecy. As we have erred regarding Israel's identity, Protestants have erred by assuming that the tiny nation of Israel is end-time Israel. The greater church of God does not have all the pieces about the identity of Israel, the nature of the Laodicean and Philadelphian churches, whether the Beast will rise from a feeble and decrepit Europe, who the King of the South is, etc. The apostle Paul urged that we get our focus more balanced, emphasizing love over prophetic correctness, not remaining indifferent to what Christ deemed important, and learning how to use our trials to persevere and grow. Christ warned His disciples as He ascended not to obsess over prophecy. Instead, we need to persevere, not becoming distracted, and diligently submit to the Word of God.
After showing that today's Europe is far from "Beastly," John Ritenbaugh speculates on the identity of the Woman depicted in Revelation 12. Is she, as the church has dogmatically taught in the past, the church itself—or is she another prophetic entity that we can see active in the world today?
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Bible students know that Scripture is about thirty percent prophecy, and preachers have cautioned that prophecy should take no more than the equivalent percentage of our study time. ...
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.
Martin Collins examines the factors causing urgency and impatience demonstrated by people waiting for Christ to return. We desperately need to develop patience: an active, God given restraint and constancy in endurance while facing trials, realizing (exercising faith like a farmer waiting for produce) that God will take care of us. When juxtaposed against the experiences of the early luminaries like Jeremiah or Job, our frustrations and anticipations seem quite insipid and bland in comparison. Exercising impatience may reflect selfishness on our part, not considering God's timetable or larger picture of salvation for mankind. Trials and tests are marvelous developers of patience and godly contentment. Our patient responsibility includes continual watching and praying, guarding against despair, allowing God to infuse us with godly love, seeking godly fellowship, and patiently enduring trials.
In this keynote address of the 1997 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh warns that people are not going to understand the significance of prophecies until the prophecies are being fulfilled or have been completely fulfilled. Understanding prophecy is secondary in importance to overcoming, growing, developing character, and being in the image of God. One significant event, the scattering of the greater church of God, reflects a more general trend on the world scene—the disintegration of the major religions into millions of pieces (reflecting a general world wide disdain for hierarchical structure), making possible a post-modern syncretistic reconstruction of millions of personal private religions, incorporating feel-good palliatives and allowing for moral laxity. In the wake of this pernicious self-expression, we must desperately hold fast, contending for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
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