Ronny Graham, focusing upon the topic of entourages (bands of people accompanying "the rich and famous") reminds us that many kings and would-be kings in the Bible, such as Adonijah and Absalom, used entourages as a means to telegraph their political prowess. The greatest entourage that will ever assemble will be the 144,000, described in Revelation 14:1-5 as the firstfruits who will be identified with a special seal, perhaps both figuratively and literally, on their foreheads, emphasizing the sophisticated thinking skills possessed by God's firstfruits, as well as their guilelessness and purity. As God's called-out firstfruits, we must guard God's name from being sullied by the world. The world has nothing to offer which is more important than being in this assembly. David will be in the entourage—will we?
If we were asked to list the reasons for the recent decline of the United States, we would probably reply that, among others, poor leadership is a primary cause. John Ritenbaugh asks us to consider that God is putting us through exercises to create leaders in His image. His covenants are a primary tool in this process.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition on the source of the Church's characteristics, reiterates that Jesus Christ is the architect, suggesting that the created institution or body must take on the characteristics of the builder, following assiduously His Commandments, hallowing the same Sabbath and Holy days that He did, and reflecting His character. Jesus Christ has handpicked those He wanted, gifting them with abilities to carry out their responsibilities, a process that has been underway for 2000 years, leading to a cumulative 144,000 beings, constituting the First-fruits and Bride of Christ, prepared to assist Him in governing. Those whom God has called are created in His image, but they are not yet of the God-kind until they receive a tiny portion of His Holy Spirit, enabling them to resist the carnal human nature with which they have been born. As God's Spirit displaces carnality, we become a new creation in Christ, born from above, developing godly character and displacing human nature. In developing and building character, we must voluntarily choose to obey, but God does virtually everything, giving us the will and power to work with His Holy Spirit. Spiritual birth occurs within the human heart—a total transformation of the human heart by the immaterial power that motivates us to acquire His characteristics. This transformation does not take place all at once but requires a lifetime to remove all the impurities. As the impurities are refined out of our character, the world will begin to hate the new creation being formed in us and will feel compelled to hatefully persecute us. We have no idea what God is doing with us as He begins to shape and mold us, but we need to remember that He owns us. As Adam contributed nothing to his physical creation, we contribute nothing to our spiritual creation except for our willingness to yield to His workmanship. The characteristics of the Church are being (and have always been) formed from on high.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the apostasy and diaspora of our previous fellowship in the 1990s, observes that those reveling in the new 'freedoms' cannot be persuaded to return to former beliefs because they no longer believe in the sanctified Word of God. Instead, many seek scholarly 'higher' criticism of the Scriptures to provide license to various varieties of sin. Like Thomas Jefferson's redaction of Scripture, modern biblical scholars, much further away (in time and understanding) from the original intent of the Scripture than contemporaries of the apostles, presumptuously pontificate, without accurate knowledge, on the intent of the Scriptures. Consequently, 'biblical' scholars, steeped in post-modernist deconstructionism, pick and choose what they pompously believe to be significant. Today, the main representatives of nominal Christianity (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant) may believe God exists and may believe in various aspects of His character, such as omnipotence, omniscience, omnipotence, love, and grace; nevertheless, they do not want to do what He says, discarding the Old Testament (and much of the New Testament) and that 'horrible' Jewish Sabbath as well as God's commanded Holy Days. Unlike the majority of nominal Christians who believe in God, the First-fruits (a select group of individuals called and set-part by God), as depicted by the Holy Day of Pentecost, faithfully follow Christ's example, allowing God to knead, pound, shape, and bake them in the intense heat of trials, making them acceptable to God, with the goal of becoming the 144,000, redeemed from the earth who will follow Christ as His collective Bride. As we grow toward that goal, we are commanded by Almighty God to live a life of obedience to His Commandments, walking as Christ walked, practicing righteousness until we get it right, and knowing that faith without works is stone dead.
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.
Ronny Graham, cuing in on Psalm 23, reflects on the many uses of the term "table," in noun and adjective form. Perhaps the most frequent uses of the term table signify a venue for fellowship, a place of honor, and a place for dining. In scripture, examples involving tables of the king appear for King Saul, King David, as well as King Solomon's Table—this last evoking a response of awe and wonder in the Queen of Sheba. The Table of the Lord, described in Exodus 25, with its 12 loaves, symbolizes the grandest of all tables, the 144,000 seats reserved for the Israel of God. As members of Christ's body, we have direct access to the Holy of Holies. God desires us to be at His New Testament table where we can always be in His presence, partaking of spiritual food as His family.
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
John Ritenbaugh insists that this particular topic is attached to the Old and New Covenants, solemn agreements which are eternal (God's Word is eternal) and will not pass away, nor will they be 'done away.' Some things may be set aside for a while, but they are there for our purposes for learning how to judge. Some of the aspects which the world's religious claim are 'done away' will at a future time be brought back. We need to learn to judge in a godly manner, putting merciful restraints on our tendency to condemn or jump to conclusions. We need to inculcate the two great commandments: loving God and loving our fellow humans. We need to learn that sin has different levels of consequences. When it comes to judgment, one size does not fit all. Not everything is on the same level. God is going to judge each of us individually. Our ultimate destiny is to share rulership with our High Priest, Jesus Christ, judging righteously in God's Kingdom, rightly dividing the Word of God. God's Laws set the standards upon which righteous conduct is to be judged. It takes a lifetime to prepare to judge in the Kingdom of God. Learning to apply the spiritual dimension of the law is much more difficult than applying the physical dimension. But both of these dimensions are easier to keep than the traditions and regulations of men, inherently heavy burdens. When Gentile converts were admitted into the church, they were instructed to follow Old Covenant laws regarding the strangling of animals, eating of blood, or eating meat offered to idols. Clearly, the Old Covenant was not 'done away.' After Christ's return, some of the aspects of the Old Covenant, currently in abeyance (for example, circumcision and sacrifices), will be re-instituted. There is nothing evil about the Old Covenant; it provides insights on righteous judgment.
John O. Reid: Back when many of us were called, it all seemed so simple. Our big tests were keeping the Sabbath and holy hays, attending church, and making sure that we tithed and gave offerings ...
John Ritenbaugh indicates that we are being fitted as lively stones into an already formed Kingdom, being conformed to the image of Christ, who has been designated as the Cornerstone. As God's future priests, becoming living sacrifices, we will constitute God's department of health, education, and welfare, serving and helping humanity. The Israel of God becomes God's firstborn, being set aside as a chosen generation to help the High Priest, Jesus Christ. This role as Christ's assistants is what we are being prepared for, a role which will call for rigorous discipline. This rigor will enable us to be totally transformed from the inside out, bringing about a renewal of our minds and a change of character. We are appointed on men's behalf to deal with things pertaining to God. We will become the link between men and God. We will offer sacrifice, largely consisting of intercessory prayer. We have to have compassion, sympathy, and empathy with mankind, realizing the repertoire of our own weaknesses. Like Christ, we must learn from the things we have suffered, making us able to aid those who have been tempted. God has hand-picked or chosen us as forerunners because He loved us; we dare not squander this precious calling of training for the Royal Priesthood. The more we know God, the stronger and more insightful we will get, enabling us to build one another up in Godly love, thinking with the mind of the Father and Jesus Christ, with His Law written in our hearts.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that if God had accepted the calendar for 1600 years, it would be presumptuous for one living at the end of days to call it flawed. This calendar issue had surfaced during the tenure of Herbert W. Armstrong's apostleship and was thoroughly studied and systematically resolved. God assigned the tribe of Judah to be the caretakers of the calendar (as part of the oracles; Romans 3:2) The real issue in this controversy is faith in God's sovereignty and His faithfulness. The church does not exist in a vacuum, but as a subset of, subject to the ordinances of the Commonwealth of Israel (and Judah), with whom the Covenants were made. The need for precision, consistency and predictability censures any misguided attempts at establishing home made calendars.
This is a subject that has long been a source of controversy. However, when we let the Bible interpret itself, the answer is plain!
Prior to the study of Lamentations, John Ritenbaugh probes the question as to why the tribe of Dan is not mentioned in the 144,000 (Revelation 7). Because of its intense involvement in willful apostasy and organized idolatry, the tribe of Dan disqualified itself from inclusion in the 144,000, and will have to wait until after the Tribulation to be repatriated. The second chapter of Lamentations reflects the emotional state of a stunned observer, realizing that God had wreaked havoc and destruction upon His chosen people, making them the focus of scorn and ridicule of all of their enemies. Chapter three focuses on the abject terror and hopelessness (immense psychological damage) of someone who can find no escape from this imminent horror (famine, captivity, scorn, etc). Amidst this devastation, the narrator has hope that God would rescue his humbled people from these afflictions. Though He punishes, God (in supreme love) is still faithful and loyal to His people.