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.
David Grabbe, marveling that John, in the Book of Revelation, refers to Christ as the Lamb of God more than any other designation, examines the characteristics of the lamb. The significance of the Lamb goes back to the Passover instructions where God lays claim to all the firstborn. All firstborn of unclean animals, as well as human beings, must be redeemed by a lamb. God gave this instruction before He gave the holiness code and the instructions about the Sabbath. The redemption of the firstborn was no small matter to God. God required the firstborn of Egypt as a redemption for Israel's release. The original Passover was the redemption of Israel as God's firstborn. At this time, the price for the firstborn of Israel was a sacrificial lamb, not to atone for her sins, but to redeem her from slavery. God claims the firstborn males as His own. Jesus Christ's blood covers our sins and redeems us from the death penalty. Christ must redeem us from this body of flesh to completely reflect the nature of our Creator. We are in the process of being redeemed, but redemption will not fully occur until our resurrection. It is when we are completely redeemed that we will bear the image of the heavenly. The Lamb, described in Revelation 5:6-13 as having seven horns and seven eyes, is symbolic of our Redeemer, opening the title deed of His property—those whom He has called, saved, justified, and sanctified. All things are within His legal claim (including Israel and the Israel of God) as He exercises His fearful mighty power.
When reading the book of Revelation, we often pass quickly through chapters 4 and 5, perhaps because very little of significance seems to happen in them. To many, they contain just a fantastic description of God's throne room. David Grabbe, however, explains that chapter 5, especially, narrates an event of tremendous magnitude for those whom God has chosen.
John Ritenbaugh, revisiting Herman Hoeh’s brilliantly reasoned, through highly speculative, doctrine about Church eras, takes a hard look at the biblical evidence and concludes that the notion of eras is based on some fundamental errors. Because Revelation 1:1 uses the adverb shortly (NKJV)—quickly and soon in other translation, describing the quickness of prophetic events, we cannot find a shred of evidence for lengthy, drawn-out eras. Christ’s promise to Peter in that the gates of hell would never prevail against the Church refers more to our private battle against sin than a physical battle against a church organization. Jesus Christ has already defeated Satan. Our collective fellowship has speculated that seven eras of the church spanned the time since 95 AD to the present, in which a dominant attitude would prevail sequentially, corresponding to the commendations and charges of the letters delivered on the postal route between Ephesus and Laodicea in western Turkey. Even though the mail route was spatially sequential, the churches were contemporaneous. Like the many splinters in the greater Church of God, these churches had different strengths and different weaknesses. Jesus Christ, standing in the midst of these contemporaneous churches, comments on each one, indicating that He considers them all to be part of the His Body, The command to “hold fast,” issued five times, indicates that all seven of these attitudes (that is, strengths and weaknesses) will be extant at His Second Coming. Constantly, we should be wary about browbeating lukewarm Laodicea or dead Sardis because these are all attitudes every called-out one exhibits to one degree or another. Jesus Christ expects that all of us learn from all seven letters, applying the correction which applies to each of us individually.
Clyde Finklea, cuing in on the Olivet Prophecy, especially the section on the Great Tribulation, asks whether God will shorten the days of the Tribulation. Some preterists, those who believe fulfillments of prophecies have already occurred, have jumped to the conclusion that all these events were fulfilled in 70 A.D, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. Others believe that this event, known as Jacob's trouble, has not yet occurred, but forecasts a horrible, dreadful time for the offspring of Jacob, a time threatening utter annihilation of nearly the entire earth unless God would cut this horrible event short for the sake of the Elect. The prophet Zephaniah suggests that the term Elect may refer to more than the Church of God, but may possibly also refer to a remnant called at Christ's return, upon whom God will pour His Spirit, a group He will hide from the horrible holocaust which will engulf most of the earth. Shortening the days could refer to God's curtailing a punishment that He had intended to do, making possible the innumerable multitude (Revelation 7:9).
Richard Ritenbaugh, examining the Apostle's Creed, a formulated statement of the chief articles of Christian belief, in probability crafted by believers of the first century as a memory tool summarizing what the apostles taught, points out that absolutely no concept of a trinity appears in this document (a notion that did not appear in Catholicism or Orthodoxy until the 4th Century at the Council of Nicaea). Further, the Apostle's Creed provides a powerful affirmation of the Resurrection and Eternal Life as a cardinal doctrine. In the formative years of our previous fellowship, the death of Christ and putting away sin was emphasized, but His Resurrection from the Dead was sadly de-emphasized because it was felt that it brought to mind Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox associations with Easter worship. The doctrine of Christ's resurrection is of paramount importance to us, because Christ alone has the keys to our own resurrection and eternal life as First Fruits. The reality of Christ's resurrection permeates the New Testament from John's vision of the resurrected, glorified Christ to the boldness expressed by Christ's disciples and other eye-witnesses to this miraculous event recorded in the Gospels. Paul's encapsulation of the Resurrection in I Corinthians 15 was perhaps the template for the Apostle's Creed. Paul assures the Corinthians that if Christ has not risen from the Dead, paving the way for our resurrection, our whole practice of religion is futile and useless. But the reality of the Resurrection is: (1) Jesus became our Mediator and High Priest, (2) allowing us to have a relationship with God the Father. Through the New Covenant, He has put His Laws into our hearts and minds. As the Second Adam, the First Born resurrected from the dead, He has opened the door of the resurrection and eternal life for those who believe. There is absolutely no resurrection apart from our active relationship with Jesus Christ, striving to emulate Him in every area of life, enduring to the end, when we too will be chan
David Grabbe, noting the portions of Handel's Messiah which are taken from the book of Revelation, reflects on the momentous occasion of the Lamb being declared worthy to take to the Scroll, and what led up to it. The Apostle John "wept much" because of the gravity of what the scroll represented, not simply out of disappointment at missing knowledge. The sealed scroll most resembles a title deed, which can only be opened by the one worthy to redeem certain property. The rightful owner of the title deed is Jesus Christ. God created all things, but until this moment, the world was held captive in the misrule of Satan the devil. After the sealed deed was opened, the world could be redeemed, and the kingdoms of this world will be replaced by the Kingdom of Christ.
The common belief among Christians—and other religions have similar depictions of the afterlife—is that one's immortal soul goes either to heaven or hell after death. David Grabbe argues that this ignores the biblical concept of the second death, an event beyond physical death that not only undermines the traditional heaven-hell and immortal soul doctrines, but also highlights God's perfect sense of justice.
John Ritenbaugh, clarifying our worldview with respect to the Israel of God (or the Church) in the context of eschatological (that is, end times) events, declares that our vision of our calling as well as our level of responsibility before the imploding of our prior fellowship, may have contained several major flaws. The sporadic mushroom-like ascendancy to numerical and monetary prominence, shortly before the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, was certainly a curious anomaly never occurring before in the history of the Church. God the Father and Jesus Christ clearly blew apart our prior fellowship, frustrating many who would like to see unity at any cost. We are no longer united in a single common work, but the composite splinter groups still constitute God's called-out church. Paradoxically, our collective but separate efforts have accomplished a greater work at a fraction of the cost. The concept of church eras is not Scripturally supportable and indeed has become sadly responsible for the needless pecking-order engaged in by several of our fellow splinter groups. The seven churches of Revelation 2-3 historically all existed simultaneously and indeed, the characteristics of five of them will apparently be extant at the return of Christ. Jesus Christ expected that all of us learn from the seven churches the commendations and warnings, applying them to ourselves individually, allowing us to repent as needed. Jesus Christ built the Church; the architecture should resemble the pattern He personally fashioned, such as 1.) keeping the Sabbaths and Holy Days, 2.) existing as a relatively small flock which will never die out despite continuous, perennial eruptions of apostasy and persecutions, 3.) being empowered with God's Holy Spirit (defined here as the invisible motivating power ultimately transforming us into spirit beings having God's characteristics—our spiritual DNA) which will ultimately configure us into His image as we allow God to shape and guide us. We receive this Holy Spirit before baptism and before
Martin Collins, reflecting on the term blessed and blessing, rendered into triviality by the prosperity gospel, cautions us not to be glibly equating God with a magic genie or spiritual automatic pill- dispenser. Material blessings do not necessarily equate to prosperity, even though God has commanded us to be productive and work hard. In the Beatitudes, the destitute and disenfranchised were given promissory notes of His Kingdom. Individually, most of the major figures in the Bible did not have abundant physical prosperity , but were immensely blessed spiritually. We should desire the spiritual side of the spectrum, worthy to be well-spoken of at Christ's return. When we ask to be blessed, it should be exclusively on His terms, leading to our eternal good. What God has done in our earthly lives should be the best preparation for our future responsibilities. There can be NO blessing without the indwelling of Christ through God's Holy Spirit, the true source of our joy and happiness. Without the fellowship with Christ, there is no prosperity, either spiritual or physical. The Seven Churches of revelation all received immense spiritual promises, a new name, co-rulership over the nations, being kept from the hour of trial , and being made pillars in the Temple of God. These rewards are contingent upon overcoming a specific deficit through performing a specific developmental task, all involving the keeping of God's Commandments.
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
David Grabbe, reminding us that the majority of nominal Christianity has bought into Satan's lie to Eve that she would not die, perpetuating this systematized delusion through the doctrines of the immortal soul, with its eventual departure to Heaven, an ever-burning hell, purgatory, or limbo. Man does not have a soul; he is a soul, subject to permanent oblivion unless rescued by Jesus Christ. The wages of sin is death, not life in ever-burning hell, or a stroll through the Pearly Gates. For those who have submitted their lives to God, turning their lives around in repentance, and sealed with God's Holy Spirit, there is no fear of the Second Death. They will be resurrected when Christ returns. Death has both a physical application (which all of us will experience) and a spiritual application (meted out on those who absolutely will not yield to Almighty God under any circumstances, having committed the unpardonable sin, any sin harbored in perpetuity and not repented of). With Adam and Eve's sin, the union between God and man was severed. Through Jesus Christ, the second Adam, access to the God the Father has been restored, and Eternal Life has been granted as a precious gift to those who submit and yield to God, having their characters shaped and molded into His image.
David Grabbe, examining the implications of Isaiah 22:15-11, maintains that many major splinters of the greater Church of God have misunderstood the context of this passage which describes Shebna's expulsion from his role as Steward because of his blatant, self-important presumptuousness. Shebna was replaced by Eliakim who was a man of humility and lowliness of mind. Some of the self-exalting behaviors of those claiming to have the Key of David and an open door resemble more the self-focused attitude of Shebna rather than the humble attitude of Eliakim. The gracious promises given to the Philadelphians are given to those who absolutely know they have little strength and desperately need the continual aid of God's Holy Spirit to go through the open door of prayer to God's Throne Room. If we arrogantly compare ourselves among each other, boasting of our magazines, radio stations, and new members, we are no better than the pompous, self-important Shebna.
As students of the Bible, we often come across certain words or phrases that appear to be absolutes. For instance, in several places, Scripture prophesies that the Beast's empire will subjugate "the whole earth." While this sounds as if the Beast will rule over the entire globe, David Grabbe reveals from Scripture that this phrase and others like it can describe a more limited area.
Sometimes, in reading through various parts of the Bible, we come across phrases and ideas that do not make much sense to us—or on closer reading do not mean what we have always thought them to mean. Charles Whitaker looks at Revelation's sixth seal in more detail, particularly the reaction of certain people to the amazing heavenly signs they witness.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the concept of church eras prevalent throughout the Worldwide Church of God, asserts that Herman Hoeh in his historical studies found a common link in doctrines and practices of groups from the apostolic times to the present, attempting to define specific characteristics of the seven churches along the mail route in Revelation 2-3. In five of these churches, there is an indication that Christ's return was imminent. In the first century, all of these churches were extant. When this letter was circulated, all seven churches were recipients of this same message. In the prophetic Day of the Lord, Christ stands in the midst of all seven churches. All seven churches are extant right now. The seven attitudes are extant right now. We are to learn from the lessons from all seven of the churches, yielding to the instructions and responding to the appropriate correction.
The Two Witnesses have once again become a hot topic in the churches of God. Richard Ritenbaugh narrows the field regarding who will fulfill the roles of these two end-time prophets, and uses Revelation 11 and Zechariah 4 to shed light on their early work and fundamental character.
Everyone knows what the book of Revelation is all about, right? The end of the world, strange and fearsome symbols, and enigmatic clues about the shape of things to come. David Grabbe, however, argues that, though those are included in its pages, the real subject of Revelation is readily apparent.
The Bible warns us that a great False Prophet will soon arise to sway mankind into idolatry. In addition, numerous passages speak of other false prophets and false teachers in the church and in the world. David Grabbe, in exposing the differences between false prophets and true ones, explains what we need to look out for as the end nears.
Oftentimes, in our haste to get to the "good stuff," we skip the introductions of books and articles. Richard Ritenbaugh explores the first chapter of Revelation and shows that skipping it deprives us of vital information necessary for understanding the rest of the book.
Following the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse is the Fifth Seal, depicting souls under the altar crying out to God for vengeance. Richard Ritenbaugh goes into the details of this prophecy of persecution and martyrdom of the saints.
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on the second beast of Revelation 13:11-18, offers his speculative interpretation. Both beasts appear to be end-time entities (having a brief but horrifying 3 1/2-year tenure), serving as counterfeits of the Two Witnesses. Both beasts derive their power from Satan the Devil. The first beast rises out of volatile, ever-changing political turmoil, while the second rises out of an entrenched, worldwide religious system, totally opposed to God's laws. The second beast will be able to perform lying wonders, have capital authority over the lives of "heretics," and cause an identifying "mark" on the forehead (representing thoughts or attitudes) and right hand (representing physical activities) of those who voluntarily take it. The number 666 seems to represent the number of ultimate human imperfection (humanism) apart from God—as opposed to the number of ultimate godly perfection.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are a terrifying image of impending doom. Richard Ritenbaugh searches out the details of these fearsome, yet enigmatic figures, whose hoofbeats can already be heard on the earth!
Richard Ritenbaugh discusses the pivotal holy day, the Feast of Trumpets, a day looking back to three holy days in which God deals with individuals and looks forward to three holy days in which God works with progressively larger groups. This day is a memorial of shouting or blowing of trumpets. Teruw'ah (the shout of the shofar) is often associated with the sound of war, symbolizing the Day of the Lord, the real war to end all wars, the time Christ will subdue and render judgment to all the evil hostile forces (governments under Satan's influence) on the earth, bringing rewards to His called out ones. Although these events will take place with relative quickness and speed, the whole time sequence will take some time to completely unfold. If we remain faithful, this day will have a positive outcome.
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.
John Ritenbaugh explains the seven thunders and the little book of Revelation 10. This chapter serves as an inset, not following the time sequence of Revelation, but explaining in detail events necessary to understand more fully what is happening within it. The thunders (symbolic of God's voice) are the messages of the seven churches (end-time organizations typified by seven first-century organizations), occurring before the Tribulation, before the Two Witnesses preach, and before the seals are opened in chapter 6. The little book is God's Word, having both sweet and bitter aspects to those who are nourished by it. The seventh thunder, weak as it is, rumbles in the distance, typifying the Laodicean era, badly in need of oil (Matthew 25:3), gold (Revelation 3:18), and water (Isaiah 55:1-2)'all costly but necessary items for spiritual warfare.
The seven churches of Revelation 2-3 have intrigued Bible students for centuries. Where they simply seven churches in Asia, or do they have more immediate relevance to us today?
John Ritenbaugh, after a thorough analysis of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, concludes that the seven conditions described (all having a common denominator an admonition to hold fast to something once given, but slipping away- namely the faith once delivered - Jude 3) are both sequential and contemporaneous, applying to groups now extant as well as individuals within the groups. All of us have these conditions within us to one degree or another. The scattering of the churches was an act of love by Almighty God to wake us up out of our passive, lethargic, faithless condition. The antidote to this splitting and scattering is to make the feeding of the flock our top priority, in which all the body, not just the ministry, participates to nurture one another, encouraging each other to return to the faith once delivered.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the breakup of our former fellowship into hundreds of pieces, examines the prospects for future unity. God gave His approval for the destruction of our prior fellowship into myriad splinter groups, allowing heresies to emerge enabling God to see who really loves Him. God has authorized and ordained the splitting for the best interests of everyone at this time. Historically splitting has eventually allowed a wider geographical spreading of the message wherever the house of Israel was forced to flee from persecution. When we understand that the churches in Revelation 2-3 will be all extant at the end-time gathering, we can see God's plan of providing special instruction for the individual groups, all having different personalities and different focuses, for specialized uses in the regathering when Christ, the son of David, having the key of David, will put all these pieces back together, assigning the roles which best fit the specialized training.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that we must avoid distractions and keep our lives focused on God and His Holy Word. The prophetic messages in Revelation 2 and 3 are designed for the end times, shortly before the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. All seven churches—with their unique attitudes—will be extant contemporaneously at the end time. If a message ("he who overcomes," "I know your works") is repeated seven times in two chapters, God must want us to understand these concerns. Nothing is more important than repentance and overcoming, producing mature, committed, loyal disciples displaying exemplary conduct and good works, avoiding the distractions of Satan (Ephesians 6:12) and the allurements of this world (I John 2:15).
What do Christ's messages to the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 describe? Are these churches eras between the church's founding and Christ's return? Are they dominant attitudes within the church? Could they be both?
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the prophecies concerning the Man of Sin refer to a personage having immense political power with global significance rather than to an errant leader of a small church. The mystery of lawlessness which Paul warns about 19 years after Christ's resurrection (II Thessalonians 2:7) was the insidious religious deception of the Babylonian mystery religion infiltrating the church, appropriating the name of Christ, but despising and rejecting His Law, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness (Jude 3-4). The mystery of iniquity is progressive in nature, building to a fearful climax just before the return of Christ, when the Man of Sin, along with the Beast, will have aligned a major portion of the world in a fierce battle against Christ. If we don't love the truth, we will be absorbed into this hideous system.
John Ritenbaugh provides compelling evidence that remnants of four out of the seven churches will be extant at the time of Christ's return. The inset chapters of the book of Revelation are digressions which give clarity to the sequential events. Revelation 10 and 11 constitute one inset, reflecting a time before the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, a time when the last of the seven thunders (symbolic of the messages of the seven eras of God's church) rumble to a faint whimper. After this time, the dramatic work of the Two Witnesses will begin. Because we have all become contaminated with the worldliness of the Laodicean era/attitude, we need to soberly reflect upon the extent of this contamination.
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