John Ritenbaugh concludes the series on Christ's sacrificial death by asserting that it was, first, Preternatural (planned before the foundation of the world), second, Natural (as He died of blows to His body), third, Unnatural (as He was totally sinless), and fourth, Supernatural (as He displayed more-than-human power in leading His life and controlling His death). Christ's life and death were supernatural in that He had God's Holy Spirit from the get-go, giving Him power of things animate and inanimate, as well as the ability to knock Satan's lies in the head with undeniable logic. His identification as the Good Shepherd places Him in a unique category, far superior to any other human shepherd (that is, minister, teacher or lead). When He stressed that He would lay down His life voluntarily for His flock, He meant He would give it in expiation, atoning for sin. His death was not a suicide; rather, it was planned with the approval of God the Father, who had the power to resurrect Christ. Jesus was never a victim but was totally in control of the situation throughout the ordeal, consciously fulfilling every Messianic prophecy. From the time of His betrayal to His final breath, Jesus controlled the unfolding of events. At the end, He bowed His head, giving His Spirit to His Father at exactly the right time. The image of a delirious, semi-conscious, almost comatose Jesus is a mendacious fabrication spawned by Satan. Christ modeled for us how we must be willing to give ourselves voluntarily for God, yielding to the shaping power of His Holy Spirit, the mind of Christ.
Martin Collins, assuring us that those whom God has called will be kept safe, protected, and sanctified, reminds us that: 1.) No one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him, 2.) All whom the Father has given to Him will come to Him, and 3.) None of those who remain in Him will be lost. In the prayer Jesus offered on behalf of His disciples, recorded in John 17, Jesus also prays for those called in the future, asking for their safe-keeping, sanctification, unity, and fellowship, all referring to matters of the spirit—protection from evil, separation from the world, and training for future responsibilities in God's Kingdom. Before our lives conclude, Satan, secular influences and our own carnality will all assault us. God as our true Shepherd provides total protection of His called out-ones forever. Being kept in God's name refers to assimilating the attributes of God: Joy, holiness, truth, responsibility, unity and love. Joy is an endangered characteristic among today's saints. We can have joy in the midst of trials when we take our minds off immediate circumstances and focus on the mind of Christ dwelling in us. This indwelling Spirit enables us to develop a vertical relationship with our Heavenly Father and a horizontal one with our brethren. God has separated us out to love and obey Him and teach others to do the same.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting that 30 years have passed since the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, and 24 years since the founding of the Church of the Great God, marvels that the greater church of God continues to scatter over 400 separate organizational structures. Realizing that God evidently determined to effect this diaspora, our primary goal should be spiritual rather than organizational unity, as we endeavor to achieve the same kind of unity Christ has for God the Father, a unity He prayed for His disciples at the last supper, and for all His called-out ones. Much of the onus for the fracturing of the WCG rested with the leadership, based on a philosophy of authoritarian gentile leadership Christ warned against, mimicking sheriffs rather than shepherds, driving rather than leading. To successfully lead the church, leaders or overseers must: (1) Realize that God is sovereign, always in control and always at work, responsible for good and calamity. (2) Know that Jesus is the head of the Church; God the Father put everything under His feet.. As parts of a spiritual body, with roles assigned by Christ, neither leaders nor lay people should arrogate responsibility not given us. (3) Ministers are servants rather than overlords; all the Bible luminaries, including Paul, Peter, James, and Jude, referred to themselves as servants. (4) The authority for the leadership in the church is spiritual, not physical, political or authoritarian. God has commissioned pastors to lead and persuade, equipping the saints to function as god has ordained, rather than to browbeat and give orders. (5) The pastor's job description is to be a shepherd, guiding, protecting, feeding, and walking in front of the flock, leading them rather than driving them.
Richard Ritenbaugh, decrying the incredible dearth of leadership around the world (no Churchill's, no Bismarck's, or no Reagan's), avers that the state of affairs prophesied in Ezekiel 34:1-5, in which self-centered, narcissistic 'shepherds' feed off the flock rather than feed and protect it has now become the norm rather than the exception. The high water mark in statesmanship in leadership was King David, who not only served as a shepherd (protecting and nourishing the flock, giving it peace and rest) but also demonstrated leadership protecting the flock from danger and providing it justice, loving his neighbors and judging on behalf of God, qualities and commitments absent in the current corrupt political leaders of greater modern Israel. One of David's descendants, Jehoshaphat, had the potential of being # 2, receiving an "A" on his shepherding ability, but a "D" on his leadership ability. Although he was relatively mature and well-trained when he began his reign, he made a horrible blunder in judgment, making a political alliance with wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, becoming a weak junior partner in an alliance with Israel and Phoenicia, further complicating affairs by permitting the political wedding of his son Jehoram with Athaliah (daughter of Ahab and Jezebel), a union which later spawned multiple fratricides and filicides. Jehoshaphat foolishly was talked into a military alliance with Ahab, even though one of God's prophets predicted the gruesome outcome. Evidently, because of the outcome of this event, as well as some disastrous outcomes with trading alliances with Ahaziah, Jehoshaphat finally became convinced that any decision without God in the picture is patently stupid. When the wicked king of Moab threatened to destroy Judah, Jehoshaphat finally sought the Lord, who gave him the victory, enabling him to neutralize his earlier leadership blunders by making substantive reforms.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting that all of us have anticipated a magic day, like graduating, getting married, birth of children and grandchildren, or getting a promotion, cautions that we must be prepared to wait for the event to happen, living our lives one day at a time. We get ourselves ready for that special day. In the last eleven chapters of the book of Numbers, our forebears spent considerable time waiting, until the first generation who rebelled had perished. Their descendants had grown into a large group, waiting for their time to enter the Promised Land. Are we experiencing the same sensation, waiting in a holding pattern? God wants us to develop patience as we wait for the Kingdom of God. The last chapters in Numbers describe a hard-to-endure, lengthy holding pattern—not much happened. But significant things did occur during that time. The plodders will be the ones to make it into the Kingdom; God calls us to follow Him as obedient children, teachable and leadable. The second generation of Israelites were more teachable as obedient children, unlike their recalcitrant, rebellious parents. Joshua, a type of Jesus, took over the leadership of the people (as a military leader and a shepherd), bringing the gospel of the Promised Land. The antitype of Joshua, Jesus Christ, brought significant change—elevating the law above the letter to the realm of the spirit, laying bare the contents of the mind or heart. We have been called into the chosen generation, a royal priesthood, with minds transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We are required to bring sacrifices of a broken spirit and contrite heart. God wants us to eradicate every single sin, from secret to blatant. As we are waiting to enter the Promised man, we must learn to judge with revealed wisdom.
Richard Ritenbaugh, continuing his survey of the themes of Psalms Book IV, and the Summary Psalm 149, points out that the clear focus of these psalms is on the work of the glorified saints (that is, the 144,000) in performing the duties of the Bride of Christ, serving as mediating priests under Christ. Psalm 92 is sung in a regular weekly cycle on the Sabbath in synagogue services. Psalm 94 is sung on Wednesday, perhaps signifying the beginning of Jesus' ministry in the midst of the week, while Psalm 93 is sung on the preparation day of the Sabbath. The Sabbath command in Exodus 20 refers to a specific segment of time hallowed by God- (the seventh day) Sabbath, not "a" Sabbath, chosen by man to be kept whenever he feels a need to crash. The Sabbath is to be kept by ceasing to do our physical work (signified by the Greek word transliterated as katapausin) as opposed to merely rest (signified by the Greek word transliterated as anapausin).Almighty God, who never ceases working, completed all His physical creation in six days, commencing the Spiritual creation on the seventh dayWe are commanded to cease all of our physical activities on the Sabbathéthat is, to put aside those activities pertaining to our job, our hobbies, and our own pleasures, switching our focus to developing our spiritual skills and gifts. The seventh day cycle commences at the very beginning of Genesis (2:1-3) and is an important, recurring cycle we are obligated to program into our nervous systems as God's called-out ones. We rest as God does, ceasing or pausing from the physical as we focus instead on spiritual goals; we stop doing our things; we start doing God's things. As glorified saints, we will be flourishing as a verdant tree, producing spiritual fruit. The Sabbath Psalm 92 has an upbeat, jubilant ambience and reflects our gratitude at being chosen (despite our unworthiness) to be joined with Christ in a kind of marriage relationship, preparing to assist Him in reconciling all Israel to God.
David C. Grabbe: Sometimes, circumstances conspire to scatter Christians into small groups or even from all contact with other believers and from the ministry that Jesus Christ gives to the church to equip them and encourage their growth (Ephesians 4:11-16)—in the biblical metaphor, leaving the sheep without a shepherd. ...
David C. Grabbe: Although Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd and the Chief Shepherd, He is not the church's only shepherd. From the days of ancient Israel up through the New Covenant church era, He has also appointed under-shepherds to watch over His physical or spiritual flock.
David C. Grabbe: A significant title of Jesus Christ is "the Good Shepherd" (John 10:11, 14), and it is a perfect description for what He does in personally knowing and caring for His sheep. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that God built His spiritual temple upon the foundation of the prophets and the apostles; both the Old and New Testaments provide a vital part of our underpinning. Jesus Christ is the principal part of the foundation. If our foundation is flawed, our edifice cannot stand. We need to focus on the true essentials of Christianity. The source of Paul's cornerstone metaphor of Ephesians 2:20-22 was the actual stones used to construct the physical Temple). One such stone was 45 feet long and weighted over 600 tons. The stones of the Temple were perfectly cut to fit together with the chief corner stone, the load bearing (and hence, most important) part of the structure, upon which all the other stones must be fitted and measured against. God has laid the Cornerstone (symbolizing Jesus Christ) to provide real salvation. We must be built on the chief Cornerstone-Jesus Chris, the Bread of Life (our Spiritual source of nourishment which we must avidly ingest and digest), the Light of the World (revealing things to us), the Door (the entry way or access point and fellowship to the Father, as well as protection and separation from the world), the Good Shepherd (taking care of us as His sheep, knowing each by name), the Resurrection and the Life (the Eternal Life that He experiences now and will provide to us), the Way, the Truth, and the Life (the means and example of salvation, our point of contact with God), the Vine (the Source of our fruit-bearing potential as an organism in Christ), the King of Kings, and the I AM (the Creator of heaven and earth).
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that the scene does not change between John 7 and 8, but the location changes in chapter 9, a location where He heals a man who had been blind from his birth. This stirred up another controversy with the Pharisees. All of the events occurring in John 8-10 occurred on the Last Great Day, six months before Jesus was crucified, in the same year on the Hebrew calendar, but on two separate years on the Roman calendar (30 AD and 31 AD). Jesus Christ healed the blind man on a double Sabbath, a high day, and a weekly Sabbath. This verse proves that the seventh day of Feast of Tabernacles is not the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and that Christ was crucified in 31 AD, and that the postponement rules of the Hebrew calendar are accurate. In October 30 AD, the Feast of Trumpets and the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles both took place on the Sabbath, while the Last Great Day occurred on the Sabbath. In the spring, calculated with postponements, the crucifixion occurred on a Wednesday while the Resurrection occurred on a Sabbath. According to the scripture, the calendar has to match both years. The only calendar which will fit is the calculated Hebrew calendar using the postponements. The events of John 7:37 categorically prove the veracity of the Hebrew calendar with its postponements. In John 8, Jesus shows us the mindset of the people coming out of the grave. The blind man healed in chapter 9 represents the whole world, spiritually blind from birth. Chapter 10 indicates that there will be no shepherd except for Him. When the resurrection of the rest of the dead occurs, judgment will be rendered on the basis of a person's works. They will be resurrected, either to eternal life or oblivion. This will be a permanent change.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that we are to follow Abraham and Sarah's example of relying on God's guidance, learning to trust in the wisdom of Almighty God rather than the world. In order to avoid strife, Abraham allowed his forward nephew Lot first choice. Likewise, the apostle Paul admonished the New Testament church to refrain bringing law suits before the public. Abraham and Sarah were willing to suffer loss in order to achieve peace. Regarding the current scattered flocks, any spirit of competition is the way of enmity and strife. The sheep do not belong to any man or any one group, but they belong to Christ, given to Him by the Father. It is Christ's, not the minister's responsibility to get the sheep into the Kingdom of God. The Church of the Great God sees the other splinter groups as brethren in the greater church of God rather than competitors. Unlike certain understandings in our previous fellowship, each person is directly and individually responsible for his own submission to God's government. No external coercion will develop character or submission to God. Throughout history, the large congregation has been the anomaly rather than the norm. The scattering of the flock has been a blessing, forcing people to take individual responsibility to develop godly character, responding to a still small voice rather than to brazenly get out in front of God. The Bible is replete with examples of great leaders, with hubris, presumptuousness, or pride who got out in front of God (Satan, Abraham, Sarah, Korah, and Josiah) causing irreparable consequences for their descendents. The antidote to presumptuousness involves patiently waiting on the Lord, following God's lead, resisting any impulse to get out in front of God.
In John 10, Jesus characterizes Himself as a "Good Shepherd" who loves and cares for His sheep. Martin Collins looks deeper into the personal relationship that exists between the Shepherd and His flock, which is shown in His kind and providential leadership of His church.
The Parable of the Good Shepherd is one of only a few parables in the gospel of John. Martin Collins explains that the apostle John emphasizes the sovereignty of Christ: He is the great and benevolent Ruler and Owner of His sheep.
People who jump from one fellowship to another often do so for superficial reasons such as a personal slight or perhaps defending a pet doctrine. Ministers should be judged by the fruit that they produce in terms of their teaching or the examples that they set. Because fruit takes time to mature, we members ought to exercise patience, refraining from grumbling, or premature judging. In the checklist distinguishing the true shepherds from the hirelings, true shepherds are seen in their genuine concern for the flock, as opposed to hirelings who only devour or take advantage of the flock.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the voice, perhaps more than the fingerprints, makes an individual unique, articulating the depths of emotion. The voice of God, whether expressed through thunder, events of His providence, handiwork of creation, or the preaching of His truth by His ministers, has a unique quality about it, a ring of authenticity, making it recognizable to His called out ones as a shepherd's voice is to the flock. The Apostle Paul affirms that faith comes from hearing the voice of God- spoken through a duly ordained messenger of God. God alone designates the messenger who bears His message.
John Ritenbaugh, drawing from his own experiences at taking care of sheep and from Philip Keller's book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, points out that animal metaphors are better understood if one has had real-life experiences with them. Of all the animals, sheep need the most care and are extremely vulnerable to predators, pests, and fear, leading to an extremely dependent and trustful behavior. From the viewpoint of a sheep, the narrator of Psalm 23 expresses gratitude and contentment for the shepherd's watchful care and continuous providence. Occasionally a sheep may not show contentment, "worrying a fence" to look for greener pastures, leading other sheep astray in the process. Shepherds have to deal decisively with this potential hazard. A shepherd realizes that a flock may be made to lie down only if they are free from fear, friction in the flock, pests and insects, and hunger.
John Ritenbaugh continues to examine the shepherd and door analogies occurring in John 10, depicting the close relationship of Jesus with His flock as the security and stability provided by His protection, as opposed to the approach of the hireling. Christ not only promises us life without end, but He also promises abundant life (eternal life; living life as God lives it) as well as protection from Satan. As Christ is one (in mind and purpose) with God the Father, we must be at one with God and other fellow believers through the medium of godly love, as opposed to the anarchy resulting from seeking our own way. Peace is produced by love; Christians are at unity with God and with each other when love is the driving force in our lives, prompting us to keep His commandments. An individual commissioned by God is God to Whom he is sent. With God's Holy Spirit, God sets His called ones apart, enabling them to live righteously and in unity with one another.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the episode of the healing of the man blind from birth and the resultant threats imposed upon the man and his family by the Pharisees who accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. The man, healed by Jesus but persecuted and disfellowshipped by the Pharisees, realized God was responsible for the miracle. One can conclude that the closer we get to God, the more likely we will have persecution; but the closer we get to Him, the greater and more real He becomes and the more likely we will serve Him correctly. When Christ opens our eyes and cleanses us from our impurities, our behavior impacts those around us, leading to some bewilderment and persecution, but incrementally toward greater knowledge of God. Seemingly, only a person conscious of his blindness (weakness or lacks) will make an effort to overcome. In chapter ten, the shepherd/sheep analogy demonstrates the importance of the sheep "knowing the Master's voice" in the midst of a community corral having many diverse flocks. The gate or door of the corral (as symbolized by Christ) connotes security, tranquility, and order, protecting the flock from thieves and predators (metaphorically representing false prophets and false doctrine). Christ takes responsibility for caring for His flock (who over the years have become His intimate companions), including laying down His very life.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Jesus was placed on trial not for what He did, but for what He claimed about Himself. John has provided at least eight separate forms of witness, establishing the veracity of Jesus Christ's identity as God in the flesh. Fulfilled prophecy from the Old Testament (over 300 separate prophecies) concerning Christ's identity and the events of His life is overwhelming, compelling, and mathematically irrefutable (The chance of fulfilling only eight of those prophecies would be 1 in 10 to the 17th power or 100 quadrillion). John makes a compelling proposal for belief and faith. The last part of the first chapter of John focuses upon the work of John the Baptist, a physical cousin of Jesus, the forerunner of Christ, who witnessed the Holy Spirit descending upon Christ at His baptism, again establishing Christ's identity as the Lamb of God.
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