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.
Martin Collins notes that both Luke (in the Book of Acts) and the Apostle himself (in autobiographical comments appearing in his epistles) documented Paul's travels. However, the Scriptures remain largely silent regarding the exploits of the other Apostles; they provide only general comments concerning even the spheres of activities of these men, who God commissioned to travel to the lost tribes of Israel. Only three books of the New Testament, James, III John, and Acts, do not conclude with the word "Amen," suggesting that God arranged material to be deleted as it would reveal the whereabouts of the lost tribes. Secular historians fill in some gaps in the biblical narrative. From these sources, we learn the destinations and work of Paul, as well the original apostles identified in Matthew 10:2-4. Peter travelled to exiled pilgrims scattered throughout northern Asia minor and eventually to Britain. Andrew traveled to the Scythians (progenitors of the Scots). Simon the zealot journeyed to Egypt, Cyrene, Africa, and Britain. James Alphaeus went to Spain and then to Britain and Ireland. Thomas brought the gospel to Parthia (modern Iran and Afghanistan) before the exiles migrated westward. Bartholomew traveled to Turkey. Jude ministered to the east of the Holy Land. Philip labored in Scythia (the region surrounding the Black and Caspian Seas). Matthew first went to Parthia and then to Aethiopia (a region west of India). Matthias went to Dacia (modern day Romania) and later to Britain. According to local legend, John may have been sent to the area now occupied by France and then later traveled to Britain. Although Israel has lost its own identity, God has kept close track of the lost tribes (Amos 9:9).
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.
Martin Collins encourages us to exercise the same kind of faith displayed by the Apostle Paul when facing tumultuous weather and an impending shipwreck. Paul, having been assured by an angelic message that he would indeed testify before Caesar in Rome, knew that the upcoming shipwreck was not life-threatening. While the crew and the other passengers were losing their heads, Paul gained the confidence of all, in a sense taking charge, directing the crew to cast cargo overboard and to take nourishment. Because of Paul's wise counsel, the Centurion in charge of guarding the prisoners rescinded the order to execute the prisoners if the vessel ever became scuttled. Paul's surviving the bite of a poisonous snake led those who witnessed the incident to believe he was himself a god. The profound lesson Acts 27 teaches is that we must distinguish among several types of suffering: (1) Common suffering from everyday experience, (2) Corrective suffering meted out by Almighty God, (3) Constructive suffering in order to build character, (4) Christ-glorifying suffering, designed primarily to bring glory to God, and (5) Cosmic suffering—God's allowing Satan to sift individuals to prove their faith. Regardless of the variety of suffering we may suffer, we must remember that God will always deliver us.
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.
Martin Collins, acknowledging that hardships are a normal part of life, perhaps leading us to despair that God has abandoned us, focuses our attention on a segment of the Apostle Paul's life (recorded in Acts 23-26) when he could have had these depressing thoughts, but did not. Paradoxically, when God seems to be silent, He is feverishly at work micro-managing what otherwise appears as insignificant details. When forty Zealots took an oath conspiring with the Sanhedrin to take the life of Paul, it looked as though he was as good as dead. But God intervened on Paul's behalf to fulfill His purpose. Because of this intervention, an army of armed guards transported Paul out of physical danger, thereby unwittingly facilitating an opportunity for Paul to preach the Gospel to three Roman leaders while he was a prisoner. Characteristically, God uses small things to accomplish His purpose, as He does by calling the base and foolish of the world to confound the wise. Despite the fallacious charges made against Paul by his many enemies, God enabled him to refute the charges with the truth. Just as all the stratagems arrayed against Paul eventually crumbled, the stratagems conspiring against God's called-out ones will also come to nothing. We need to remember that, during those times we fail to see God's hand, He is hard at work intervening on our behalf.
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.
Among Catholics and Protestants exists the erroneous belief that the New Covenant abolishes the law rather than the truth that the epistle to the Hebrews provides: that Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled His spiritual responsibilities and can now aid us in fulfilling ours, which includes keeping God's commandments. John Ritenbaugh continues to explain the background to the book of Hebrews, showing why the early church needed its singular message.
Mike Ford, reflecting upon the test for which people who want to become naturalized citizens must prepare (a quiz battery of ten questions from a pool of hundred) expresses incredulity that the average teenager, trained in liberal, progressive public schools, cannot even pass these basic tests. The dumbed-down populace of modern Israel (most notably USA, Canada, and Australia) are challenged with events occurring several years ago, let alone hundreds of years or millennia. America’s current educational system leaves about 19% of its high-school graduates functionally illiterate. What happens to us minutes ago is also history, but most people, who do not observe the lessons of history, are destined to repeat them. It is necessary for God’s called-out ones to learn from history, realizing that two-thirds of the Bible appears in a historical context. As Ambassadors for Christ, we have the obligation to learn the history of the culture into which we are placed, so that we can reach individuals on their level, as the apostle Paul was able to do with the philosophers of Athens. Stephen showed his keen knowledge of historical events, as he delivered the sermon leading to his martyrdom. History is highly important to God. We absolutely need to know what went on before in order to progress forward in our spiritual journey.
Martin Collins, reminding us that we, as followers of Christ, may suffer persecution, provides encouragement by reminding us we are promised boldness through the power of the Holy Spirit, making it unnecessary to prepare a response against the persecutors. When the laws of God conflict with the laws of man, civil disobedience is the only correct response, as was patterned by Peter, Paul, and the apostles, who boldly proclaimed Jesus' resurrection from the dead despite intimidations and threats from the religious establishment, terrified at losing their power base. The disciples knew, however, that with the power emanating from the Holy Spirit, the gates of hell could not prevail against their work. Peter was not in the least intimidated, boldly proclaiming to these religious leaders that: (1) they were guilty of crucifying Jesus, (2) Jesus rose from the dead, (3) the purpose of God was completed despite opposition and God's purpose alone will stand, and (4) Jesus is the only means of salvation, a statement which seems 'harsh' and 'intolerant' to most of the world. If we are following God, we will be compelled to disobey civil authority at some point. We cannot reclusively join a monastery nor should we become secular, cowardly assenting to evil laws, but we must fear God rather than man, righteously performing what God requires of us, realizing that our citizenship has been registered in Heaven. We should entrust ourselves to God for safe-keeping, realizing that the just shall live by faith.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the verdict of the macabre case in North Carolina, in which a couple had been collecting welfare benefits for an adopted daughter who had been mysteriously missing for two years, concludes that Judge Thomas Schroeder acted within the principles of biblical law, even though the majority of the citizenry would have liked to see the parents executed. Physical evidence failed to convict these scoundrels of anything more than welfare fraud. Real justice can only be based on the truth, potentially dangerous to the perpetrator or the victim. Though the Old and New Testament are complementary to one another, with the apostles directly quoting from the prophets, establishing Jesus Christ's Messianic identity, the emphasis of justice in the New Testament switches from national to personal in scope, from the nation of Israel to the Israel of God (the Church). The New Testament builds on and amplifies the Old Testament. Jesus magnifies the Law, fusing external motor behavior (or deeds) with internal psychological motivation. All sin begins as thought. Matthew 5: 17-20 encapsulates Christ's change in approach, taking the elementary literalist approach of the Pharisees into the real heart of the matter, focusing on what could and should be done on the Sabbath as opposed to what cannot be done. From the New Testament applications amplifying Old Testament principles, we find legal tenets practiced consistently in Israelitish countries, such as the need for two or three witnesses, protection against mob rule, penalties for frivolous lawsuits and hasty litigation, the principle of recompense and equity, conflict of interest considerations, separation of church and state, penalties against collusion, legitimate use of civil rights, and judicial clearing. While we are still learning the ropes of godly judging, we are commanded to refrain from presumptuously passing or executing judgment until Christ gives us our credentials.
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, asking us about the longest period we have had to wait for something, reminds us that waiting for God is an acquired virtue requiring patience and longsuffering. Before the coming of the Holy Spirit in 31 AD, Christ's initial followers experienced a period of delay or a waiting period, a time to practice obedience and fellowship with those who were also waiting. People need other people of like mind; we do not become Christians in isolation. We are obligated to have a dialogue with Almighty God through the means of prayer and Bible study, a conversation in which we listen significantly more than we speak. As Christ's disciples did not know what was expected from them as they waited, we also to do not know what to expect as we wait for Christ to establish His Kingdom. Peter, during his waiting until Pentecost, thoroughly studied the Scriptures relating to the Holy Spirit, enabling him to give a powerful message, a combination of Old Testament Scripture and explanation, focusing on God the Father and Jesus, emphasizing the ministry of Christ, His crucifixion, His burial, His resurrection, His ascension, and His current ministry. Peter's first sermon powerfully influenced 3,000 people. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit emboldened the apostles, bringing effectiveness in ministry, making effective proclamation of the Gospel, giving power for victory over sin, Satan, and demonic forces, making possible a wide distribution of gifts for the ministry, and the power to work miracles.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Paul's impressive credentials and pedigree, which Paul considered rubbish, compared to his conversion and God's dramatic intervention in his life. Paul's writings, because of their complexity, have become the target of unscrupulous, antinomian twisting and equivocating by the carnal mind with its natural anti-law bias. By denigrating God's law, the unconverted presumptuously set their own standards. God's holy and righteous law was never designed to justify but only to identify sin and align one with the right standards—guiding one along the path to God's righteous purpose. Everyone who is saved will be a keeper of God's law. Paul used his life to illustrate our indebtedness to God and to caution about the law's limitation (or misapplied function) to justify, a function met only by Christ's sacrifice.
Luke, the writer of the gospel of that name and the book of Acts, is more significant to the New Testament than it may first appear. Though he cast the spotlight on others like Christ and Paul, what we know of his life contains lessons we can use.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the days, months, and times referred to in Galatians 4:10 do not refer to Jewish Holy Days or the law of God, but to Pagan Gnostic rites connected with the worship of demons. To refer to the liberating law of God as weak and beggarly constitutes rank blasphemy. To use Galatians as an antinomian tract denigrating God's holy and righteous law creates a hypocritical dichotomy- in which Paul, while keeping the law, allegedly urged the people not to keep it. Paul, as a light to the Gentiles, kept the Sabbath and the rest of God's law in the middle of gentile territory (Acts 18:11, 13:44) indicating that neither the Sabbath nor any other aspect of God's law had been done away. The target of Paul's wrath was Gnostic asceticism, which was syncretized with both extra- biblical Judaistic and Pagan elements.
John Ritenbaugh gives us empathy for the apostle Paul, graphically portraying his physical hardships involving more than 6,500 miles of perilous foot- and sea-travel. Through the eyes of various secular, contemporary histories, we vicariously experience his difficulties working his trade, problems with lawless communities, frequent inclement weather, unsanitary inn accommodations, dangers from wild animals, hazardous ship travel, overbearing treatment from Roman soldiers, etc. The study then shifts to an introduction to the book of Lamentations, focusing on grim hardships (similar to Paul's perils) Christians may face in the future.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the topic of the resurrection of the dead (and the capacity of the earth to sustain the combined populations of all who have ever lived), examining pertinent scriptures on the resurrections. The scriptures suggest that massive land reclamation and landscaping efforts (coupled with dramatic climate changes) will occur to prepare the earth for such a volume of humanity. As chapter 25 opens, Festus replaces Felix as governor. Paul, again defending himself from the two-year old spurious sedition charge, exercising his right of Roman citizenship, appealed to Caesar (in an effort to remain in protective custody). Festus, seeking the counsel of King Agrippa II, (providing Paul yet another opportunity to connect the Jewish hope of the resurrection with the Christian message), sends Paul to Rome. Ironically had Paul not appealed to Caesar, Agrippa (moved by Paul's testimony and convinced of his innocence) would have set him free. But God evidently had other plans for Paul.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the topic of exercising ones legal rights, examining scriptures pertaining to the subject, including taking a brother to court, submitting to civil government, paying taxes, responding to lawsuits, and dealing with corrupt court systems and unfair settlements. As Paul (through the brave intervention of his young nephew) is miraculously rescued (by half a cohort of Roman soldiers commanded by Lysias) from the mob in Jerusalem (who had taken a rash vow to murder Paul) and taken to Caesarea (where he was tried for sedition before Felix), he uses every trial as an opportunity to bear witness to Christ, preaching the Gospel. As Paul successfully confutes the spurious sedition charges, he introduces Felix to the particular (exculpatory) tenets of The Way.Felix (fearing a possible insurrection of the Jews) puts Paul in protective custody. After a private conversation, Paul unwittingly pricks the conscience of Felix, keeping himself incarcerated until the appointment of the next governor, Festus, to whom he would appeal (as a right of a Roman citizen) to Caesar.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the topic of self-defense, examining the scriptural instructions for proactively avoiding or resolving dangerous conflicts. At the beginning of Acts 22, Paul, after clearing himself of a spurious charge (of taking a gentile into the temple), establishes his identity and credentials as a Jew (a zealous disciple of Gamaliel) in order to build a foundation from which to provide a logical defense of his 'apostasy' and testimony of his miraculous conversion (at the hand of God) on the road to Damascus, showing the continuity between Paul's revelation (from Jesus Christ) and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As Paul suggested that the gentiles could approach God independently from Jewish tradition, the crowd became riotous again. Paul saves himself from a certain scourging by establishing his identity as a natural born Roman citizen, giving him the protection of Roman law. Paul extricates himself from another dangerous situation (the convening of the Sanhedrin by the corrupt high priest Ananias) by proclaiming himself a Pharisee (hoping for a resurrection), creating another dissension (between the Pharisees and Saduccees), forcing the Roman soldiers to rescue him.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the Sabbath Command (as well as all of the Ten Commandments) was made for both Jews and Gentiles (all of mankind). Throughout the book of Acts, Gentiles are faithfully keeping the Sabbath along with the Jews. Paul's insistence that a relationship with God could not be established by keeping the law did not lead to the fallacious conclusion that the law (including the Sabbath command) had been done away. Following Paul's tearful and poignant farewell to the Ephesian elders, one finds startling parallels between Paul's final journey to Jerusalem and Christ's final journey to Jerusalem, including their awareness of plots on the part of zealous Jews to kill them, their being handed over to Gentiles for sentencing, their receiving multiple predictions and warnings that they would be apprehended, their demonstrating a resolute determination to do God's will regardless of the consequences and resigning themselves to suffer death. Paul, like Christ, was accused and tried on totally fabricated charges of being antinomian and defiling the temple. As with Christ, the Gentile officials recognized that the charges made against Paul were baseless, but felt coerced by mob influence to carry out the sentence anyway. Paul, through the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit, times his arrival in Jerusalem to coincide with the pilgrim crowds arriving for Pentecost, when his testimony would have the greatest impact. Before his apprehension and imprisonment, Paul delivers the love offering collected from Gentile converts for the Jerusalem church after undergoing a purification rite demonstrating his respect for law and custom.
John Ritenbaugh explores the several contexts in which the "first day of the week" (the word "Sunday" never appears) is used in scripture, observing that none of these scriptures (8 in all) does away with the Sabbath nor establishes Sunday as the 'Lords Day,' but invariably portrays the first day as a common work day. Because the days begin at sundown, the meeting Paul conducts at Troas in Acts 20 (on the first day of week) actually occurs Saturday night, having continued from the Sabbath. The miraculous resurrection of Eutychus occurs at this event. Paul, feeling pressed for time (feeling a compulsion to go to Jerusalem), decides (realizing he would have difficulty saying Good bye) not to go back to Ephesus, but gives final (Paul would never see them again) admonitory instructions to the Ephesian elders at Miletus, transferring responsibility for the care of the congregation over to them. Paul perceived that his work in the eastern part of the Mediterranean was coming to a close.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Paul's work in Ephesus, during his third evangelist campaign, where he entered the stronghold of worship of the mythological multi-breasted goddess of fertility or providence — Diana or Artemis- whose statue supposedly had fallen from heaven by the hand of Zeus. Initially Paul had to augment the understanding of new converts to Christianity who had received the baptism of John, but who were ignorant of the function of God's Holy Spirit. For several years, Paul used the school of Tyrannus to continue his evangelistic teaching. From this venue, the precedent of anointed cloths for the healing of the sick had its origin. Paul's success at promoting the Way started to undermine the prosperity of vendors promoting the worship of Diana, leading to a riotous assembly (actually a hastily called 'union meeting') in the Temple of Diana, a tumult which the city clerk was able to diplomatically quell, giving Paul and his companions room to breathe and regroup.
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.
John Ritenbaugh explores the connection between feelings or emotions (specifically controlling temper) and health, suggesting that the scriptures are seemingly light years ahead of scientific inquiry. Also the inextricable connection between ceremonial sacrifices and new moons preclude any current obligations to religiously observe new moons. At the beginning of Acts 16, we notice that Paul, by circumcising Timothy, demonstrates a reluctance to flaunt his religious liberty, preferring instead to exercise cautious conservative expediency. The first European convert to Christianity was Lydia, a generous, hospitable woman. The beating and false imprisonment of Paul and Silas (for casting out a demon- upsetting local customs) followed by their miraculous release (when an earthquake shook the prison to its foundations) brought about several positive outcomes: (1) The conversion of the bewildered jailer and his family, (2) Protection for local converts to Christianity,(3) Protection for future evangelists coming through the region, and (4)Correction of local authorities for rushing to judgment, having imprisoned a Roman citizen (a punishable offense in the Roman colony of Philippi). This dramatic episode underscores God's proclivity for turning something initially evil into something good in the long run.
Through Acts 1-15, God (primarily through the work of Peter, Paul and James) has removed His work out of the Judaistic mold, creating the Israel of God (the church) designed to spread to the Gentiles. Though certain ceremonial and civil aspects of the law were (for a time) suspended, the Law of God was never suspended, especially as it relates to defilement of conscience or disregarding of scruples that could cause permanent spiritual damage or unwittingly place one in communion with demons. We must always conduct ourselves with the long —term spiritual interests of others paramount on our minds, being sensitive to conscience and scruples of others as we exercise our 'rights.'
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 focuses upon the intent or purpose of the scripture in Deuteronomy 23:2 prohibiting offspring from illegitimate unions (often carrying psychological baggage and irreversible physical damage) from holding offices of responsibility in physical Israel for ten generations. Acts 14 begins with the people of the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe mistaking Paul for Hermes and Barnabas for Zeus. When Paul convinces the crowds that he and Barnabas were not gods, they were treated with contempt rather than adoration. The church, it seems, has always been forced to live in hostile environments. At the beginning of chapter 15, the question is posed whether a Gentile must undergo circumcision in order to be saved or keep the law in order to become justified. Lawkeeping in the present does not justify past sins, nor is it intended to be a vehicle for salvation. This understanding does not do away with God's law, which must be kept in the spirit. Following the Council of Jerusalem, God now begins His spiritual work through the church, taking His Word out to the nations.
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 explores the conversion of Cornelius, a Gentile. This event is nearly as pivotal a benchmark as the original Pentecost because the Gentiles at this point are given the same portal of salvation (repentance, belief in Christ, and receipt of God's Holy Spirit) originally offered to Israel. This portion of Acts highlights: (1) The church's initial resistance to Gentiles fellowshipping in the church, (2) God's leading the church into the right understanding of Gentile conversion, (3) God's using Peter (originally relatively rigid and unyielding in his scruples) instead of Paul (more cosmopolitan), and (4) Jerusalem's acceptance of Gentiles (originally considered ceremonially unclean from the Jewish point of view) apart from the influence of Judaism. Peter's vision about the unclean beasts is to be interpreted metaphorically or symbolically rather than literally: Gentiles are not to be regarded as impure or ceremonially unclean.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the martyrdom of Stephen, largely instigated by Hellenistic Jews, actually had the paradoxical dramatic effect of spreading the Gospel into Gentile venues, enabling individuals like Cornelius and the Ethiopian Eunuch, upon repentance, belief, and baptism to be added to the fellowship. Even more remarkable in this section of Acts was the miraculous dramatic conversion of the zealous learned Pharisee Saul (virtually handpicked by Jesus Christ and rigorously trained in Arabia for three years) into Paul the Apostle, fashioned (his intense zeal redirected or refocused) for great accomplishment as well as great suffering. Like Jeremiah and John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul was sanctified in his mother's womb, set apart for a specific purpose. At the conclusion of the chapter we find the account of the resurrection of Tabitha (or Dorcas) following Peter's fervent prayer.
John Ritenbaugh continues to reflect on Stephen's incendiary message to fellow Hellenistic Jews (ostensibly given in hopes of their repentance), chastising them for their perennial rejection of prophets and deliverers, including the greatest Deliverer ever sent (namely Jesus Christ), clinging instead superstitiously to the land, the law, and the temple. Stephen's 'untimely' martyrdom and his compassion on his persecutors, followed by the protest reaction against his brutal murder (all part of God's divine plan) resulted in a rapid spreading of the Gospel. The study then focuses upon the influence of Simon Magus, a noted practitioner of sorcery or magic who became impressed with the power of God's Holy Spirit, presumptuously offering Peter money to purchase this power for selfish purposes to control others rather than to serve them. Peter recognized the hypocritical, deceitful, impure motives of this request and responded appropriately.
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 initially focuses upon the execution of Ananias and Sapphira for their deceit and hypocrisy (an event parallel to Aachan's deceit and execution), pretending to have sacrificed more than they actually had. In this same account, Luke records the volatile confrontation of the Apostles (who had been instructed by an angel to stand their ground and not back down) and the Sanhedrin. Amazingly, the Apostles found an ally in a prominent wise Pharisee named Gamaliel, a grandson of Hillel, advocating tolerance to a group he had considered another sect of Judaism. In Acts 6, a bifurcation of the responsibilities of physical serving (such as serving the widows) and spiritual serving (prayer and preaching) takes place (with the understanding that both aspects of serving are intertwined). One of the new appointees to the new physical office, Stephen, boldly proclaimed that Christianity was not just another sect of Judaism, thereby bringing down the wrath of the Sadducees and the Pharisees.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the persecution of the apostles in the fourth chapter. Peter, inspired by God's Holy Spirit, demonstrated exemplary boldness and courage before the Sadducees (zealous influential movers and shakers of the Jewish community, descendents of the Maccabees), religious leaders who feared losing their power and influence. Peter, John, and the early church had confidence in God's absolute sovereignty, realizing that no human authority could thwart God's power. This powerful conviction gave them confidence to endure their trials, submitting to whatever God had prepared for them, realizing that God uses trials to further His ultimate purpose for them. The last portion of this chapter illustrates the exemplary, voluntary generosity exhibited in the early church.
John Ritenbaugh highlights how the witness of the apostles, particularly miraculous healings performed in the name of Jesus Christ, brought them into conflict with the established Jewish leaders, the entrenched Sadducees and the Sanhedrin. Peter used the startling impact of these healings to draw attention to the fulfilled prophecies pertaining to Jesus—the source of the healing power—whom the crowds Peter was addressing had crucified in ignorance. As the veil of ignorance is lifted, they (and we) have the responsibility to act on this knowledge of culpability in His crucifixion and fully repent—undergo a total change of life. Focusing on his predominantly Jewish audience, he affirms that belief in the prophecies of the Old Testament will lead to belief in Christ. Being in Him makes us heirs of the promises to Abraham.
John Ritenbaugh marvels that human beings, having been given free moral agency, can accomplish what God had intended them to do all along. The apostle Peter, using the details of fulfilled prophecy (couched in David's psalms), convicts the crowd of their culpability (as we all need to be convicted) in the death of Jesus Christ. Peter clearly establishes the Messiahship of Jesus, showing His connection to David's prophetic psalms (such as Psalm 16) and David's lineage. The formula for receiving God's Holy Spirit—repentance and baptism is explored—and compared to current practice. The early church experienced a high level of cohesiveness by continuing in doctrine, fellowship, sharing meals, and praying together.
John Ritenbaugh refutes the erroneous belief that glossolalia (or speaking in tongues) constitutes a sign or condition of having received God's Holy Spirit. The dramatic manifestations in Acts 2 (cloven tongues of fire, rushing wind, and the miracle of speaking and hearing extant languages and dialects) were event specific, and not to be a perennial spectacle in so-called "Tarry meetings." Adherents to the Pentecostal movement try to mimic some of the superficial surface manifestations (noise, commotion, and unintelligible gibberish) rather than follow the teaching given on that day- including repentance, unconditional surrender of our will to God, and keeping His Commandments through the power of His Holy Spirit. Receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit (the power to subdue our carnality and live righteously) is dependent upon repentance and baptism. The ability to speak in tongues, although a legitimate spiritual gift for a very specific purpose, is not the identifying hallmark of God's Holy Spirit.
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.
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