John Ritenbaugh, re-iterating that internal evidence substantiates the high probability that the Apostle Paul authored the Book of Hebrews, stresses that Christ's ultimate goal is to bring the entire creation under the Father's subjection when God will be all in all. The recipients of the book of Hebrews consisted of converts from Judaism suffering estrangement from family and community, excommunicated from the temple. The etymology of Hebrew denotes someone who has "crossed over" a boundary (such as a river) and by extension connotes moving from one idea cluster to another (such as carnal to spiritual- requiring living tenaciously by faith), as demonstrated by our Patriarch Abraham. The intended audience of Hebrews was not exclusively descendants of Judah, but those who were called by God the Father into the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) which would include a large influx of gentiles. Because the Israel of God has departed from cultural expectations from both Jewish and Gentile communities, they suffer intense persecution. The Jerusalem Church, the headquarters congregation, had to meld the gentile and Hebrew elements together, deciding whether things like circumcision were still mandatory. The solution was to concentrate on the things Christ taught by example to the Apostles, granting the ability to apply God's law in gray areas as well as clear black and white distinctions. The New Covenant requirements outlined by Christ demanded that God's Called-out -ones must learn to worship in "spirit and truth" without the 'security' of a brick and mortar temple. The sacrificial system of the Old Covenant has not been done away but will re-instated during the Millennium for those who failed to learn its purpose the first time around. For God's called-out ones, the sacrificial system has certainly not been done away, but requires a living sacrifice of lifetime service, yielding to Christ's words and example.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that Jesus handpicked the twelve apostles for a specific work, notes that there is a strong possibility that God has also handpicked each one of us to fulfill a particular role in the Body. Like an engineer on a building project, Jesus Christ has constructed a blueprint with detailed specifications. God is the Supreme Designer. He has called the common and the foolish people for the task of confounding the mighty. But after our calling, God sanctifies us, pounding out the foolishness, through His Holy Spirit putting His precious thoughts into our minds, making matters which were once cloudy clear. Accepting the gift of God's Holy Spirit comes with grave responsibility. We are required to place a high value on this precious gift, guarding it with all our heart. Where our heart is will be our treasure. Spiritual treasure will last, while all things material will deteriorate. Our heart is what makes us tick, what we set our minds to. God reveals that He has a heart and the capacity to feel tenderness. To a lost and hurting people, He assures Ephraim (symbolic of the wayward northern ten Tribes of Israel), "My heart churns within me" (Hosea 11:8). The book of Hebrews clarifies that the persecution on the Church following Jesus' crucifixion, resurrection, and the giving of the Holy Spirit did not come directly from God—but He did stir the pot that caused the persecuting in that fulcrum time in World History.
John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that sometimes the pace of the Feast of Tabernacles can be wearying, reminds us that God has commanded His people to rejoice and to develop a beneficial fear and respect for Him. Enjoying the feast to the hilt physically does not necessarily mean we had a good feast. If we do nothing to make a fine feast for someone else, we probably will not have a good feast. God commanded the Israelites to offer more sacrifices at the Feast of Tabernacles than at all the other Holy Days combined. We attain spiritual regeneration by participation. After the Babylonian captivity, people felt more inclined to serve than before, having cultivated a new appreciation for what they had lost—namely, God's precious law. Just because we are keeping God's festivals does not necessarily mean we are in sync with God's Law or His purpose for our lives. God commissioned Amos to write a powerful, stirring message to the ten northern tribes, warning them to prepare to meet their God and to change the attitudes which were polluting God's feasts. Israel, in the time of Amos, had drifted into the same moral cesspool as the modern Israelitish nations have today, laden down with corruption and bloodshed, just as America's Supreme Court has made sodomy and murder the law of the land. Amos warned against exalting symbolism over substance, clinging to Bethel as a religious shrine, while neglecting the fact that Bethel was the location where God renamed Jacob to Israel. God wants each of us individually to go through the same transformation as our father Jacob—from conniving schemer to a totally converted and submissive servant.
David Grabbe, reminding us that the trek through the Red Sea occurred on the seventh day of Unleavened Bread, points out that other historical events also occurred on that day, including the toppling of the walls of Jericho and the healing of the lame man near the Pool of Bethsaida, after his having endured his infirmity 38 years. The ancient Israelites moved in the desert but had made no progress in getting Egypt out of their hearts. When God restored Israel through Joshua, He gave them credit for the time that had walked, indicating that in all cases, He was doing virtually all the heavy lifting, but was demanding that the Israelites exercise faith, doing something concrete to indicate their willingness to participate in the covenant. The walls of Jericho were, in effect, already history when Joshua's men began their march around the city. When we make our covenant with God, we must move forward exercising faith, doing our part in the overcoming/ sanctification process, realizing God is in charge of the entire process.
John Ritenbaugh, fearing that we may be following suit in the world's religions by focusing on "getting salvation" rather than preparing for service in God's Kingdom, cautions us that we must re-orient our mindset, seeking to grow in the stature of Christ. Many mainstream religions believe that much of the "pesky" rules of the Bible have been 'done away.' We dare not 'do away' anything that is part of God's mind, or we will not be in His image. In judging, one size does not fit all. Some of the Commandments are more important than others, but they are all important. Acts 15 did not give Gentiles exemption from keeping God's Law. The laws of clean and unclean were not done away, but the vision Peter saw was given so that he would not judge Gentiles as common. The "yoke" Peter described in Acts 15:10 was not the Old Covenant laws, but rather Pharisaical regulations which were not a part of the Old Covenant. The Sabbath, Holy Days, and Clean and Unclean laws were not done away; the sacrificial system will be re-instituted for a time in the Millennial setting. We have been commanded to pursue holiness, moral purity, a necessary quality to grow into God's image. The term holy, in every context, does not always mean morally pure, but instead to cut something, or to set apart from the group. The term Greek haggios, however, denotes moral purity, only possible through God's Holy Spirit, enabling us to become partakers of the Heavenly calling, justified by Christ's blood, faithfully keeping the Commandments of God in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Those who have been called now have an advantage over the ancient Israelites, having power to faithfully keep God's Commandments (written indelibly in our hearts), motivated by His Holy Spirit. Holiness encompasses all of what was written in both the old and new covenants.
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 Ritenbaugh, rehearsing one of the major factors which divided the Worldwide Church of God, the denigrating of all aspects of God's law, averring that belief in Christ trumps everything, claims that some major elements of righteous judgment were cavalierly tossed out the window. Such a careless approach led to the rejection of the Sabbath, wholesale embracing of Pagan holidays, discarding tithing, eating unclean meats, circumcision and other, what they considered to be purely ceremonial aspects of the law. Like the days of the Judges, the last days of the WCG demonstrated a dearth of righteous judgment. As with the first century church, God expects us to think wisely within the parameters of His Law, coming into alignment with His Word. Without applying righteous judgment, a person without God's Spirit might be inclined to discard the Sabbath, along with the dietary and sacrificial laws. The New Covenant also requires that we live by every word of God; the Law was not done away. Without God's Law, we cannot judge righteously. One should never carelessly assume that any law of God is done away, but we should also consider that not every law has the same level of seriousness and does not warrant the same level of judgment, as illustrated by the difference between willful sin and sin committed out of weakness. The weightier matters of the law (love and mercy) are more important than other aspects of the law, including faith and sacrifice. We need to develop righteous judgment to keep proportion as we make decisions about applying God's Law.
Bill Onisick: Song of Songs 2:15 contains an intriguing metaphor: "Catch us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines, for our vines have tender grapes." What are the "little foxes" in our lives?...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the practice of circumcision in both the old and new covenants, comments that the practice was first mentioned in Genesis 17. Archeologists have found evidence that it was practiced in all Semitic cultures as well as Egyptian cultures, especially among the priesthood. Although the non-Israelite cultures viewed circumcision as a rite of passage (performed at age 13 or even 18), the Israelites attached religious significance, performing the rite when a boy was eight days old. Every Israelite male carried with him a constant reminder of his professed promise of loyalty to God. Circumcision was the special sign God gave Abraham indicating that his descendants would ascend to greatness, acquiring physical and spiritual blessings of inheritance. The spiritual principle is still binding on anyone called into God's family. The descendants of Ishmael have assimilated into the Arab population in North Africa, spawning the violent Islam religion. Through Abraham's, Isaac's, and Jacob's descendants, the world would be blessed with material and political greatness. Circumcision is only an outward sign, largely as a means of identification, setting the Israelite people apart from the rest of the world. Strangers who desired to participate in the blessings of the commonwealth of Israel and the covenant of promise had to undergo circumcision. In order to receive the spiritual promises given to the Israel of God, we are to undergo circumcision of the heart, cleansing the mind from sin. Baptism, in effect, has replaced physical circumcision. Though physical circumcision is not necessary for salvation, it does have hygienic benefits and will be practiced during the Millennium.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that Deuteronomy is the only book commanded to be read at regular intervals. Deuteronomy covers the final 70 days of Moses' tumultuous life. The rulers of Israel were to write a copy of the Law and read it on a daily basis. As members of the Israel of God, kings and priests in waiting, we need to read it continually, learning to rule others by learning to rule ourselves. The book of Deuteronomy is the heart and pulse of the Old Testament, with its words throughout the New Testament (quoted 86 times), excoriating idolatry, providing a foundation of Christian doctrine, exposing human nature, and providing an outline preparing us to enter God's Kingdom. The spiritual concepts in Deuteronomy serve as a template for the ruler's instruction book. Unlike Leviticus, Deuteronomy is not a cold, codified law, but a heart-felt appeal from Almighty God for His children to remain faithful to Him. As God Almighty skillfully engineered a massive number of our forebears, He will similarly engineer the end-time exodus for the Israel of God. Likewise we have a responsibility to remain faithful, instructing our children in God's instruction, insuring the success of God's family operation. We are to fear, love, and serve God, walking in and keeping His Commandments with all our might.
Correctly counting to Pentecost in years in which Passover falls on a weekly Sabbath is more than a matter of consistency. John Ritenbaugh explains that a far greater, more spiritual—and unfortunately, often overlooked—factor in the wavesheaf offering concerns a subject God considers highly important: holiness.
Charles Whitaker, focusing upon the proclamations of two Gentile kings (Cyrus and Artaxerxes) in the book of Ezra, examines the impact they had on the remnant of Israel- as well as the lessons we may derive from their lack luster behavior. Those who returned to Jerusalem did not completely fulfill their commission, failing to completely rebuild the walls and failing to totally rebuild the temple. These people lacked resolve and stamina. Sadly the re-establishment of the God's law, educational system, and civil system- (a theocracy governed by God's laws) was embarked upon with less than optimal results because they refused to expunge the Babylonian system from their culture and separate themselves from the pagan customs around them- assimilating (through intermarriage) the religious culture around them, including the Sabbath defying business practices, and sports events. The wall serves a symbol of the separation of God's people from pagan culture ' a partition between sin and righteousness ' a special sanctification. Unfortunately the lack-luster effort aborted this sanctification process. We dare not emulate their foolishness.
Martin Collins contends that the effectiveness of a law is found in its purpose and intent rather than the letter. The blind spots to God's Law unfortunately are found in the spiritual application or principle rather than a specific motor behavior. Christ taught that the righteousness of the Pharisees was not enough to fulfill the law's requirements. Love and mercy constitute the essence of the spiritual fulfillment of the Law. God's Holy Spirit enables us to carry out the spiritual intent of the Law. By continually using God's Spirit, we gradually or incrementally take on God's nature in our innermost beings. As we judge other people, we must realize that the things that offend us mirror our own (hidden from us but transparent to others) faults.
The new man is a consistent New Testament figure. Charles Whitaker shows that he is one who is reconciled to God and has chosen to collaborate with God in creating a totally new mind—one just like Christ's!
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that only God, not man, can determine whether something or someone is holy or authentic as opposed to profane and strange. God will accept only what He has set apart or designated as holy or authentic, such as the sacred fire in Numbers 16 (symbolizing God's cleansing and purifying power) as well as the fuel and the incense. The 250 men offering strange or profane fire in their censers represented a blatant refusal to accept God and His standard of righteousness. The bronze covered altar made with the censers recovered from the charred remains of the rebels constitutes a stark reminder of the folly at rebelling against holy things, replacing God's standards with human standards.
John Ritenbaugh links inextricably the time frame for the covenant with Abraham (the Selfsame Day), the events of the Passover, the Exodus, the Night to be Much Observed, and the events of Christ's Passover meal with his disciples leading to his crucifixion. Clear connections relating to the bread and wine symbols, the ratification of the covenant, and the sacrifices are convincingly drawn. The mistaken inference made by some about a wavesheaf offering in Joshua 5 ignores the prohibition against a foreigner's grain (Leviticus 22:25), a blemished offering (Leviticus 23:12) and against animal sacrifices until peace could be established (Deuteronomy 12:11). The wavesheaf offering (Leviticus 23:15) is reckoned from the weekly sabbath within the Days of Unleavened Bread and not immediately before when an annual sabbath follows immediately.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that commandment breaking is what has scatterred the greater church of God. We have allowed the self-assured Laodicean mindset (with its ignorance and spiritual blindness) to deter us from overcoming and law keeping. In the parable of the two sons in Matthew 23:27-32, Christ makes it clear that doing the commandments is more important than knowing the commandments. If we want to be like our Savior, then we will live the way He lived, keeping God's commandments — which exemplify the highest form of love (John 14:21)
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that God's people must exercise correct judgment as to what is permitted on the Sabbath and what is not. God's law is not so inflexible that He will not allow alteration for special circumstances. Sometimes higher laws of extending mercy overrule a normal situation. The intensity of work or energy expended is not the issue, but rather the motivation behind the work. We need to develop righteous judgment about what constitutes a genuine Sabbath emergency and what may be a deceptive rationalization of our human nature.
Most are not aware that in the Gospels, questions about the Sabbath center on how to keep it, not whether it should be kept. John Ritenbaugh explains how Jesus approached the Sabbath as an example to us.
Why must we put leaven out, yet we do not have to circumcise our boys? Earl Henn explains this apparent contradiction.
John Ritenbaugh provides a summary of the Covenants, Grace and Law series: 1. Realize the position carnal man comes from: completely under Satan' sway, antagonistic to God's law (Romans 8:7). 2. Always work from clear, unambiguous scriptures (Matthew 5:17-19). 3. Be strengthened by the examples of Christ and His apostles keeping specific laws, including the Sabbath and holy days (I Peter 2:21). 4. Paul explains the means of justification (not salvation but the first step in a process; God imputes righteousness where it does not logically belong). 5. God's overall purpose is to create us in His image, including His righteous character. He is reproducing Himself (Genesis 1:26)! 6. God's purpose for the Old Covenant is as a bridge leading to Christ (Galatians 3:17-24). 7. The way Paul and others use terms important to this doctrine (bondage, circumcision, yoke, law, etc.) should be seen in their correct context.
John Ritenbaugh clarifies some difficult terms which Protestant theologians have misapplied, characterizing God's holy law as a "yoke of bondage." If we fail to realize that Paul's focus in the Galatians epistle was justification (rather than the whole salvation process of sanctification and glorification) we could become confused. The Old Covenant had no provision for justification nor did it provide a mechanism to change the heart. The antinomian argument ignores that Christ also puts a yoke of responsibility on New Covenant participants (Matthew 11:29-30). The yoke of bondage Paul referred to was a syncretism of Halakhah- the code of regulations added by the Pharisees- and Gnostic ascetic ritualism, neither a part of God's Law. God's Spirit and law keeping are not contradictory.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that things written in the Old Testament were written entirely for Christians. The operations of both the Old and New Covenants overlap. The differences focus on justification, access to God, and eternal life, but not doing away with the law (especially the Sabbath) which Protestant theologians would have us believe. Modern Christianity, like the mongrelized Samaritan religion, is a syncretized mixture of some biblical truth with unadulterated paganism. To worship God in spirit means to put heart and mind into applying God's law, with a circumcised heart (Philippians 3:3) realizing that the motivating principle behind every one of God's laws is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts through the power of God's Spirit. (Romans 5:1-5)
John Ritenbaugh insists that the New Covenant was designed by God in order to circumcise the heart, making it possible for God's laws to be permanently written in our hearts and reflected in our behavior (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16). External rites such as circumcision or baptism do not automatically make Christians. If one is circumcised or baptized and then breaks God's laws, he is instantaneously uncircumcised or unbaptized and blasphemes the name of God (Romans 2:24).
John Ritenbaugh warns that human nature, if it believes something is 'done away' will willfully ignore whole portions of scripture. Interestingly, when Jesus referred to 'every word of God' and Paul referred to 'all scripture', the New Testament had not yet been written. In Ephesians 2:15, Paul was not referring to God's laws or any part of the scripture, but instead the extra-scriptural Jewish regulations (or code of law) which exacerbated the separation from the Gentiles. Circumcision was a token, sign, or seal (pointing to something unseen) that one was the heir of Abraham. No physical sign has the power to transfer righteousness to the doer. Circumcision, according to Deuteronomy 10:1-6,12 Jeremiah 4:4, and Acts 7:51-53 is chiefly a matter of the heart, reflecting an inward yielding to God's Laws.
In this sermon devoted to the Night Much to be Observed, John Ritenbaugh asserts that far from being the "pipe dream" of Herbert W. Armstrong as some have disparagingly called it, this event is a commanded part of the beginning of the Days of Unleavened Bread, a time focusing on God's watchful oversight as He delivers us from bondage, continuing His oversight throughout our pilgrimage. Numbers 28:16-17 clearly reveals that the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread occur on two different days. Exodus 12:40 clearly marks this event as a memorial of the covenant with Abraham 430 years prior- again emphasizing God's continuous watchful care.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the dual purpose for the Sabbath consists of (1) a memorial of God's physical creation and (2) a memorial of our redemption from bondage. Bondage is the consequence of rejecting or neglecting the Sabbath. Far from doing away with the Sabbath, Jesus magnified the Sabbath, giving us principles enabling us to judge our activities. On the seven occasions where the Sabbath is the issue, Jesus emphasized some form of redemption, indicating that the purpose of the Sabbath is to free. While God rested from physical creation, spiritual creation continued, creating sons in His image. The Messiah's lawful work consisted of healing, redeeming, forgiving, and doing good. Our lawful Sabbath work consists of emulating Christ and committing ourselves to God's purpose.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that, following Abraham's example, a life centered on God is a way of inner peace—an inner strength that keeps life from falling apart. Focusing upon God gets the focus off from ourselves and onto something more enduring, reliable, and permanent than us. If we give ourselves to God (through the New Covenant) in complete surrender, allowing Him to shape character in us, then He will forgive our sins, removing the death penalty, enabling us to live in hope, giving us direct access to Him, providing a relationship with Him, giving us a more abundant, purposeful, meaningful life. The Covenant, initiated by God, must be on God's terms. Obedience is not outward compliance, but must come from the inside out. We should not confuse the sign (circumcision, baptism, putting out leaven, etc.) from the reality it represents.
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.
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, reflecting upon Jesus' calculation upon the time of arrival at the Feast of Tabernacles, indicates that Jesus carefully took into account many variables to maximize His effectiveness at this event. The myriad opinions of the crowd concerning Jesus were all conditioned from their perspectives and traditions, but hardly ever from God's perspective. Jesus demonstrated that the only way to learn the doctrine of God is by doing it. He also taught us to look for God not only in the extraordinary, but also in the ordinary. Jesus warns the crowd [and us by extension] that the time to seek God is now, while we still have a sense of spiritual need (or hunger) lest we permanently miss out on the opportunity. Cuing in on a water ceremony performed daily at the Feast, Jesus drew a spiritual lesson, dramatizing the need for God's Holy Spirit without measure. Amazingly, throughout these dramatic encounters with the public, Jesus had deliberately chosen a course that would lead to His death rather than to immediate power and adulation.
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