Mark Schindler, reflecting on a recent Chicago Marathon, the ending of which becomes an intense competition of the fittest—those elite runners who draft one another (running ahead of another runner to reduce wind resistance), finds a compelling spiritual analogy, pointing to Jesus Christ as the perfect drafting runner. As we piece together the narrative of the Gospels, we deduce that Christ endured many more than three temptations; rather, temptations occurred continuously, and perhaps increased in intensity as He neared the end of His life. This continuous and intense suffering qualified Him to become our drafting runner, providing encouragement that He endured what we go through yet finished the race victoriously. As runners of the same marathon, we must remember that Satan will 1.) tempt us to use our spiritual gifts selfishly, 2.) attempt to puff us up with pride and 3.) will tempt us to neglect genuine spiritual gifts in favor of counterfeit, Satanic knock-offs. We have a High Priest who has completed the same race we are enduring; we need to draw strength and encouragement from Him. God's called out ones will also finish the spiritual marathon, collecting the same rewards promised to those who persevered from the Seven Churches in Revelation.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us to take God's words seriously, cautions that all His words have great depth, having far more applications than appear on the surface. His word unfolds in layers, like the peeling back of an onion skin. After the upheaval and disintegration of the Worldwide Church of God, it became clear that God mercifully split apart the Church because of (among other things) egregious doctrinal distortions. In doing so, God, in effect, transported us back to the conditions of the First Century, in which organizational unity (as distinct from spiritual unity) was nonexistent from congregation to congregation, much like the dis-similarity of the seven churches of Revelation 2-3, in which some had lost their first love, some had compromised with Satan and the World, while others had morphed into mere social clubs. Having no agreed-upon central leadership, we have entered an era of seemingly organizational disarray for the foreseeable future, a crucial time in which church members should adjust to what God has done. In this transitional time, God's called-out ones must learn to see God's hand, realizing that everything matters.
Martin Collins, taking the apostle Paul's cue that persecution expresses our relationship to Christ, suggests that persecution involves a wide spectrum, ranging from torture, physical beating, social excommunication, imprisonment and death—fates endured by the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11. Paul did not ask for the harassment and persecution he endured, but maintained that everything which befell him proved to be for the ultimate good of spreading the Gospel. Because of his impeccable witness, the entire Palace Guard at Rome received testimony, some persuaded to the point of conversion. Ironically, jealousy from other 'Christian' factions probably led to Paul's execution rather than persecution from the outside, a harbinger for those living in end-time persecution. The churches in Revelation 2-3 all receive their portion of persecution, but God promises deliverance and reward for those who endure. In the current diaspora of the Greater Church of God, the trials and problems are not much different than those of the first century, and Christ still promises boldness to those who see the big picture. Our boldness and confidence should match that of Paul's trusting in God to give us strength to overcome or endure, following Christ's example of esteeming others above ourselves, even those who maliciously abuse us, realizing that God will open their eyes at the right time. God will never disappoint us, but will give us His Holy Spirit and mind to navigate the spiritual minefield. Like Paul, we need to realize that all things, horrible and pleasant, will work God's ultimate purpose and our good.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates the emotional state of the American people, especially those who understand the seriousness of the times, averring his conviction that they will never see good times again, but will fall more and more into a permanent condition of hopelessness . God's called-out ones can feel the relentless pressures of the prince of the power of the air as he works to wear out the saints. We cannot afford to lose our focus as the pressures rise, but must be thankful for the heads-up of the Olivet Prophecy, which gives us cautions and signposts on our spiritual journey. We are not guaranteed a pass to a place of safety, but are subject to what God has planned for our life-script and repertoire of experiences. Only one of Christ's disciples escaped martyrdom; we must be willing to do what God has purposed for us, realizing that God will always supply our needs for the situation, even the wherewithal to endure martyrdom. Our Christian journey is not going to be a walk in the park. During these critical times, when judgment is out on God's church, it behooves us to emulate Olympic athletes such as Simone Manuel, who submitted to super-rigorous discipline of muscles and mind in order to qualify to participate in the 2016 Olympic games. Drawing a spiritual analogy, we must decide whether we want to commit to the goal presented by our calling. Our primary goal, as Christ the Revelator presents it to the seven churches of Revelation, is to overcome, to displace our carnality with spiritual behavior. Once we commit. we must be highly disciplined, never losing focus, while at the same time being aware of distractions which could severely retard our overcoming. Faith, hope and love are spiritual gifts which safeguard us from discouragement and depression, giving us a mature perspective which will last eternally.
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.
David C. Grabbe: In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus defines the two great commandments of His law—the two highest principles: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” ...
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
David Grabbe, reminding us that a major focus of John the Baptist's ministry was a call to repentance and turning to righteousness, a focus that Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul reinforced and magnified. Curiously, in main-stream Protestantism, repentance has fallen out of favor and has been replaced by cheap 'grace.' The Law allegedly has been done away in the process. Actually repentance is mentioned far more in the New Testament than in the Old Testament, as the New Covenant stresses that Christians have, after they have rejected their sinful past, have been designed for works that are in alignment with God's law. Jesus, in the model prayer asks us to ask for forgiveness of our trespasses on a daily basis and counsels five of the seven churches in Revelation 2 to repent from their sinful ways, radically change course, and turn to God. Repentance transcends remorse, incorporating works of righteousness in sync with God's Law. If the Law were done away, there would be no need of a Savior.
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.
John Reid, asking what Jesus Christ is going to have to change before He begins to rule, maintains that cultural systems and belief systems contrary to God's way of life will not dissolve or break apart easily, but will require a rod of iron to break the pieces apart. Those systems which fail to yield to God's rule will be destroyed. As God's called-ones, our future responsibility will be to teach the world, turning them from perdition and destruction toward God's way of life. The rod of iron connotes strength and firmness. The laws of God will be written on the hearts of all people. The rigor experienced by preparing for military services provides some parallels to God's elect, going through the sanctification process. As God's called-out ones, we are obligated to rule ourselves with a rod of iron, preparing ourselves for a commencement ceremony in the Kingdom of God.
David C. Grabbe: Those whom God has called understand the importance of overcoming, but how do we overcome? In Revelation 12:10-11, God describes in advance those who will overcome: ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon elements of what repentance is and what it produces, warns us that we are continually in need of repentance. The churches in Revelation 2 and 3 were warned to repent, prefiguring the identical conditions which would be extant in the current greater Church of God. Like faith, repentance must exist in the end times. We are admonished to change our mind and attitude, bringing about a total about-face in behavior, in which we abhor our human nature and diligently seek God's nature. Repentance must be motivated by a Godly sorrow which leads to a dramatic change of behavior. The Corinthian congregation was beset with myriad sins, including party-spirit and porneia, even though they were puffed up with pride because of their spiritual 'gifts.' Paul addressed the Corinthian congregation as carnal, even though its members were converted. The congregation in Paul's letters to the Hebrews had become dull of hearing, losing their spiritual maturity. Faith and repentance are inextricably linked as we move on to perfection. Godly sorrow leads to perfection, while worldly sorrow leads to death. Repentance has seven distinct fruits: 1) diligence (the motivation to accomplish), 2) clearing of self (washing away), 3) indignation (anger at injustice and sin, especially at ourselves), 4) fear, 5) vehement desire (a strong and persistent craving for righteousness and a burning desire to change), 6) zeal (wholehearted ardor for accomplishing a task), and 7) vindication (setting things right). We must, in repentance, voluntarily surrender the self, striving to imitate our Heavenly Father and our Elder Brother.
Richard Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Matthew 23 and 24, suggests that Matthew is in the habit of presenting Jesus' teachings on a given topic all in one place in the Bible, presenting the teachings from a decidedly Jewish point of view, demonstrating the ability of Jesus to thwart the insidious challenges of the Pharisees, as well as offering proofs of His Messiahship. The parables of the two sons, the wedding feast, and the wicked vine dressers all castigate Israel for rejecting God's messengers and the Messiah, calling for eight woes, rendering physical Israel and the Temple (symbol of Israel's splendor) totally desolate and uninhabited. In short, the nation of Israel would fall. We must be sure, as Christians and members of the Israel of God, not to miss the object lesson to us. God is no respecter of persons; He is a God of equity and fairness. God is not a soft-headed pushover who will accept us, sins and all; He does not budge one inch for sin. As God dealt with our disobedient forbears, He will deal with us in the exact same way if we stray from the truth, breaking His commandments. God is not mocked; what we sow is what we will reap. God's patience is long, but He will reach a boiling point when He will clean the slate, including disobedient members of His own church. God is a God of mercy, but He has a stiff core of justice which will not be placated unless we repent. To whom much has been given, much will be required.
It is an entirely human reaction to attempt to avoid anything that might be unpleasant, and this is especially true of an event as destructive as the Great Tribulation. David Grabbe posits that, if we show patient endurance now, overcoming and growing, God may bless us with protection from that horrible trial.
The Bible is well known as a Book of prophecy, but what is the true purpose of prophecy? Is it merely to enlighten us about the future, so that the "wise" will have an advantage over everyone else when the time comes? Charles Whitaker suggests that God's spiritual purposes for prophecy concern the subjects of warning and keeping.
Back in my college days, one of my roommates was continually bemused by the football fanatics who identified with their team so closely that they would speak in the first person. ...
The biblical city of Smyrna, whose church received one of Christ's seven letters in Revelation 2 and 3, may be one that Bible students know the least about. In explaining Jesus' message to this church, David Grabbe shows how the city's name helps to reveal the themes that the Head of the church wants us to understand as His return nears.
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 concept of power brings many different ideas to mind, any and all of which may certainly be valid. David Grabbe, however, concentrates on the 'little strength' of the church of the Philadelphians, suggesting that Christ commends them for being 'faithful in little' and will reward them with much.
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 exist in the end time, but is there hope for a bright future? What will happen next in the course of events? Will the church—now scattered—come back together?
The Philadelphia church is often considered the best of the seven. Is it? Does it have any faults? Are we biased in our judgment?
Thyatira, the middle of the seven churches, receives a litany of praise and rebuke from our Savior. He particularly focuses on idolatry, which is spiritual fornication.
Christ severely criticizes the church of Pergamos for its problems with the doctrine of Baalam and idolatry. Nevertheless, to those who overcome these sins, He will grant eternal life!
Christ's first letter to the churches focuses on the Ephesians, a people who succeeded in trying the spirits, but in the interim left [their] first love.
Historically, the modern church of God has believed that the seven churches are types of seven eras from apostolic times to Christ's return. Is this a valid belief?
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 reiterates that neglecting to feed the flock has been detrimental to preaching the gospel to the world. Because of this unwitting neglect, many members succumbed to the "lost in the crowd" syndrome, feeling insignificant, meaningless, and useless. The vine and branches analogy (John 15:1-6) and the body analogy (Romans 12:4-5; I Corinthians 12:12-17) indicates that we are all responsible for one another, with no one having an insignificant role. We draw upon God's Holy Spirit, not for ourselves only, but for the well-being of the entire body. Putting first things first,the condition of the body or temple is dependent upon the spiritual condition and well-being of the individual members of the body.
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 reminds us that God is not in the torturing business but in the creating business, using calamities as part of His creative process. As Jacob's spiritual descendants or the Israel of God, we possess some of the same faithless proclivities as Jacob had before the decisive wrestling match at which time God prevailed. The scattering of the greater church of God has been brought about by casual indifference, deceit, and ultimately spiritual adultery (idolatry), leading to a fatal deterioration of first love. Like Jacob, who initially succumbed to weak faith and fear, we, as Jacob's spiritual seed, have to do what he did and repent of our loss of devotion to God and His purpose.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Daniel's prayer, observes that there are no hollow threats with God. Confusion, disorder and scattering (the current state of the greater church of God) are the automatic (God-engineered) results of sinning against His law. Under the current scattering, we must acquiesce to the responsibility that God has called us to, and not presumptuously attempt to do something we were not appointed to do. Success in spiritual things does not consist in growing large and powerful, but humbly living by faith, overcoming, being faithful, and yielding to God's shaping power, establishing a dynamic relationship with Him. Unity will only occur when we are yielded to God's leadership. If we were scattered because of sin, we will be unified because of righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that biblical history substantiates that God does not always have the church perform the same functions continually, but sometimes drastically alters the course according to needs and conditions. The perceived detours are necessary adjustments God makes to accomplish His purpose. "The work" changes according to God's direction and our need. Currently, God has imploded, exploded, and scattered (a pattern He has used before) His Church for our ultimate spiritual safety. The primary focus of "the work" at this time is the repair or re-attainment of the believing faith (the faith once delivered through revelation) that has seriously deteriorated because of heresy, apostasy, and self-satisfied Laodiceanism. The turn-around begins individually with the purification of each living stone through repentance and re-commitment to our covenant with God.
Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that the fulfillment of the Day of Trumpets has the biggest immediate impact on us of all the Holy Days. This day depicts the time immediately before and after Christ's return, a time that if God would not intervene, no flesh would survive (Matthew 24:22). The Baby Boomers enabled us to annihilate life in many different ways many time over. The characteristics of their offspring - the Thirteenth Generation (or Generation X) provide a perfect match to the characteristics of II Timothy 3:1-3. These attitudes provide positive substantiation that we are living in the last days. Realizing these signposts should give us the urgent incentive to repent and overcome, preparing for the time fulfilled in the Day of Trumpets- the Day of the Lord.
John Ritenbaugh stresses the importance of listening over merely hearing, suggesting that only from God's Word can we know who is really regulating the affairs on the earth and which truth to believe. The scriptures, substantiating God's sovereignty, assure us that Israel's history was no accident, the church's succession of Israel was no accident, and our calling into the church was no accident. Even though God's thoughts are not [yet] our thoughts and His judgments unsearchable, we have the assurance that just because scary, inexplicable things happen in our lives, God is still sovereign; we must develop the childlike faith to trust in Him for the solution.
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.
In Galatians 6, verse 16, the apostle Paul refers to the church as "the Israel of God." Why? Why not "the Judah of God," or "the Ephraim of God" or "the Galilee of God?" Why did God not inspire Paul to call the church by Israel's original name, Jacob—"the Jacob of God?" Charles Whitaker explains.
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).
John Ritenbaugh asserts that prophecy seems to be a well-orchestrated, interdependent series of events moving toward the logical intervention of Jesus Christ. The events that unfold—of a scope as massive and deadly as the Great Flood, a time when no flesh would be saved alive—seem to call for spectacular intervention and protection. God has the ability to protect and save in a variety of methods, but one has to consider both the practical and biblically outlined purposes for intervention, protection, and prudent escape (Psalm 91). Christ promises to deliver from the hour of trial only one remnant of His end-time church (Revelation 2:10; Ezekiel 5:3).
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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