John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the tumultuous time recorded in Acts is analogous to the current factional secularism, where God's Church is operating in the shadow of religious structures claiming to be "faith-based," but in fact denying God's Laws. Like the original audience of the Book of Hebrews, who battled a hostile established main-stream religion [Judaism] and persecution from an equally hostile secular Roman government, God's Church today faces a curtailment of tranquility. Like Paul and Nicodemus, God has pulled His people from pagan traditions practiced by the mainstream religion. As we are individually called by the Father (John 6:44), and the spiritual scales fall out of our eyes, we are just as disoriented and bewildered as the apostle Paul, finding our former friends and family members estranged from us. We learn that counting the cost means putting Christ ahead of friends, family, and especially self. At the time of the writing of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the newly converted Jew to the Way encountered persecution from the established religion and culture similar to what God's called-out ones experience today from established religion, family, secular culture, and government, all militating against God's Truth. Although textual criticism, citing stylistic differences in style between the Book of Hebrews and the identifiable Pauline Epistles, casts doubt on Paul's authorship, compelling internal evidence points to Paul as the actual author of Hebrews.
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.
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, observing that Psalm 78 reveals Israel's intermittent fractured-and-restored-relationship with God, emphasizes that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are destined to repeat them. Israel has forgotten her unique position as the only people to whom God has revealed Himself. Sadly, Israel is squandering this treasured opportunity. As God's called-out ones, we must recognize our distinctiveness, thereby ensuring that we do not emulate Israel's unfaithfulness. Just as Jesus Christ personally selected every one of His original apostles, so has He hand-picked us by the will of the Father (John 6:44). There will be no "self-made men" in God's Kingdom, He having empowered us to fulfill a particular role in His masterplan. We assist God by yielding to Him, obediently submitting to His Laws and bearing righteous fruit. The Book of Hebrews emphasizes that Jesus qualified as High Priest, giving vital instruction about living by faith in the New Covenant, which mandates that we keep all His commandments. We must not fall for the dangerous heresy that "since Jesus kept the Commandments, we do not need to keep them." If we refuse to submit to God's Laws, we will not be in His Kingdom. Through obedience, we provide evidence that our love for God is genuine. The offspring of Jacob today are reaping the consequences of disobedience to God's Covenant; These consequences include (1.) hordes of aliens seeking to dominate and destroy the host culture, (2.) secularists persecuting those who believe in God, (3.) a welfare state stealing from the productive and gratify the indolent, and (4.) a Government using 'education' as a control mechanism.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Despite the many millions who profess to be Christians in this world, throughout most of its existence, the church of God has been small and scattered. Jesus calls His disciples a "little flock" ...
With the giving of the New Covenant to God's called and chosen people, the church, problems arose among both Jewish and Gentile converts. God inspired the writing of the epistle to the Hebrews to answer the difficult questions church members were struggling with during the tumultuous first decades of the church. John Ritenbaugh begins to unravel the reasons early Christians needed the book of Hebrews.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Genesis 6:5, prior to the Flood, in which mankind's thoughts and intents were evil continually, warns us that a parallel time is on the horizon for those living today. Like our ancient ancestors, we share a habitation with Satan and his demons, evil beings who have been preparing for our demise for thousands of years. The hideous perversions (such as homosexuality and infanticide) did not arrive on the scene instantaneously, but the demonic world has been working to make them the cultural norm for thousands of years. Demons have fostered to the point of fury the ancient conflict between Ishmael and Isaac, and Jacob and Esau. These spirit beings chose to become demons into order to stop God's purpose. They have succeeded to erase all discussion of God out of the public schools by spreading the humanist agenda previously introduced into the universities by anti-God philosophers such as Marx, Darwin, and Nietzsche. John Dewey promulgated this 'progressive' doctrine into the public schools, where it has spread like leavening, fostering a whole generation of individuals lacking any knowledge of God at all. As God's called-out ones, we have entered (through baptism) the same Covenant God made with our forebears before they entered the Promised Land God has not removed the demonic influence which plagued our forebears, deeming it necessary for our spiritual growth. However, God has given us gifts our forebears never received, such as His Holy Spirit, thereby enabling us to advance in the face of massive enemy fire. We are marching to the beat of a different drummer from the rest of the world.
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.
Clyde Finklea, marveling at how quickly heresies infiltrated the early church, as identified by the warning messages of Paul, John, Jude, and James, asserts that Peter in his second epistle (II Peter1:1-7) provides not only an effective antidote to corrosive heresies, apostasy, and false teachers, but also a practical formula for spiritual growth. The process incrementally moves from faith to diligence, valor and courage, knowledge of God's truth as revealed in His Word, self-control and temperance, patience, endurance, dogged determination to overcome and endure under the severest trials, respect, love, and awe for Almighty God. The ultimate result consists of an active outgoing agape love for our brethren. As we examine ourselves for Passover, we need to determine whether we are incrementally developing our spiritual maturity from faith to love.
Charles Whitaker, reflecting on the events taking place as Christ bid His disciples farewell upon His ascension into Heaven, suggested that the approximately 75 days between the resurrection of Lazarus and Pentecost- brought about tumultuous activity and earth-shaking events. The disciples wanted eagerly to know what would happen next, just as we do do today. In that relatively short period of time, many miraculous and dramatic events occurred, including: (1) the resurrection of Lazarus, (2) the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem, (3) the Passover , (4) the ripping of the Temple veil, an event which reverberated throughout the entire Jewish world , (5) the opening of tombs, populating the region with many people who had earlier died,, (6) the resurrection of Christ, (7) the ascension of Christ, and (8) Pentecost (the miraculous beginning of the New Testament Church). But then God seemed to turn off the fulfilled prophecy machine; God did nothing further dramatic during 31 AD. Years and months rolled by, speculations emerged and fizzled, with hope that Christ would re-appear on one of the impending holy days. Paul, who thought Christ would return in his lifetime, urged people to be eternally vigilant never letting down, reminding us to earnestly love His appearing. Those who love His appearing will receive a crown of righteousness. The apparent discrepancy in the number of days in Daniel's prophecies equal 75 days, perhaps duplicating the 75 dramatic days occurring between the resurrection of Lazarus and the resurrection of Christ. We may not see those 75 days, but will receive the blessing on day 1,335 if we continue to look forward to Christ's appearing.
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.
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 C. Grabbe: Matthew, Mark, and Luke, together called the Synoptic Gospels because of their similarities, each contain language that appears to put Jesus and the disciples' Passover preparations and observance on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. ...
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.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing on Deuteronomy 30:15-20, maintains that our worldview must include the value of our calling, determining the kinds of choices we make to overcome and pursue our spiritual journey. We alone can determine the value of that calling. The primary responsibility of the church is to continue what Jesus started in His ministry. We have to carry on , doing what the disciples did, walking the walk Jesus had given to them. The church has the responsibility to preach the Gospel to the world and to magnify and sharpen the teachings of Christ to the called-out ones, showing them the Way. Every member of the body of Christ has priestly responsibilities, not hiding our witness under a bushel. We don't hide God's way from others, keeping God's Commandments. We have all been given different, specific responsibilities. Every single one of us has been gifted for the equipping of the saints. Ministry is a synonym for service pertaining to equipping and teaching. We don't want to go beyond the gifts that have been given to us, but must use them with humility,employing them to edify the body. The Church is a teaching institution preaching the Gospel to the World. Each member of the body has been gifted by Christ. Human reaction to one another is deeply wired in our brain, compelling us to "follow the crowd" The human mind has an overpowering compulsion to follow what everybody else does. We need to be thinking people, realizing that everything matters: it is not a walk in the park. Satan in the most influential entity aligned against us, using the world and its systems as his tool. Government and educational institutions have been formed to deceptively use language to create and manipulate attitudes have made us vulnerable to Satanic, worldly influences, twisting and influencing our minds. The state-controlled media (that is, television, radio, and newspapers) are owned by the same groups of sinister, clandestine elite progressives, whose goal is collective manipulation of the sheep-like masses. We are
Martin Collins indicates that, even though II and III John are the shortest books of the Bible, they do contain significant themes, amplifying the contents of I John, emphasizing the fellowship with God. II and III John, addressed to elders in supporting local churches, advocate hospitality to legitimate teachers and forbid supporting false teachers. II John provides tests of life, determining authenticity of genuine believers, as well as advocating faithfulness in large and small responsibilities, including the friends with which one chooses to associate, realizing that true wisdom is the right application of spiritual language. No conflict should ever exist between the spirit and the letter of the Law. The message of II John has special application today, where the church is also besieged by perennial schisms and heresies, not unlike the kind of problems experienced in the Corinthian congregation. Love for the truth automatically leads to love for one another within the congregation. A common commitment to the truth is the foundation of genuine Christian fellowship. In our quest for unity, we can never compromise with the truth. True love between brethren is impossible without an equal love for the truth, leading to a perpetual walking in the light of truth, elevating the Word of God over the traditions of man and every wind of questionable doctrine which inevitably leads to lawlessness. We have the obligation to test everything presented to our minds, examining it against the standard of the Scriptures, holding fast to the truth, filtering out and discarding any toxic prevarications.
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.
Martin Collins, focusing upon various interpretations of who or what constitutes antichrists, examines several characteristics of this group of beings, including fostering deception and confusion, preventing fellowship, and creating intense spiritual conflict. Realizing that our real enemies are not human beings at all, but demonic principalities emanating from the spirit of darkness, we are mandated to put on the whole armor of God, embracing the truth. The mystery of evil and lawlessness has been extant from the beginning of the early church, recognized by Paul and John. Some teachers in the early church actually attained leadership and influence in the teaching of noxious false doctrine. Ultimately, the being or order emerging as the antichrist will be motivated directly by Satan. Historically, antichrist teachers have proclaimed that Jesus was only a man, or that He had a phantom body and never really experienced death. The syncretistic new religion of Chrislam is actually a prime example of antichrist doctrine. The false prophet and the great political leader in Revelation 13 and 17 will both be worshipped by people duped by Satan to believe a strong delusion. We need to be on guard for antichrist influences attempting to penetrate the greater church of God. We are admonished to test the spirits, realizing that heretical tares have been permitted to test our faith. The spirit of the antichrist is alive and well today, attempting to sabotage our spiritual welfare and steal our spiritual crown.
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on Peter's proclamation that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God, recognizes that after this awesome insight, Jesus realized that He could begin building His church. Sadly, the church that publically appeared in the second century was hopelessly corrupt, but appropriated the name 'Christian.' The Roman Catholic church presumed to speak for Christianity, attempting to control political and religious constituencies. The medieval (Roman Catholic) church was awash in sexual sins, as well as sins of avarice. The custodians of the 'keys to the kingdom' wielded their power to bind and loose for carte blanche control, using tithes, papal fees, papal taxes, fiefdoms, the threat of excommunication, and the selling of indulgences to increase the revenue of the church and promote tyrannical political power over secular domains. This massive, corrupt monolith was not the small flock that Jesus Christ founded, a group called and empowered by God's Holy Spirit, the same power that gave Peter the insight to recognize Christ's true office. Although Peter was given responsibilities of leadership, as connoted from the rock imagery or symbolism, he was not granted the post of 'vicar of Christ.' Peter would be considered first of the lively stones selected for His Temple. The apostles are indeed part of the foundation and Jesus Christ is the Corner Stone. Peter gets credit for being the first stone selected for the foundation that would also include us as part of the living stones. The 'keys of the kingdom' simply refers to the office of steward or caretaker to maintain the physical operations of the church, facilitating access to believers and protecting the sanctity from scoffers and detractors. Binding and loosing refers to powers of judgment, based on what God has already allowed through the apparent and manifest principles already revealed by the Scriptures.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: While most professing Christians consider the Passover to be a Jewish festival, it should also be a sacred observance for all Christians. The apostle Paul writes to the predominantly Gentile church in Corinth ...
George Santayana's famous quotation—"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it"—applies equally well to the church of God. Richard Ritenbaugh compares the history of the early church with the events and trends being exhibited in the modern church of God. Will today's church follow the disastrous example of early second-century Christianity?
With many "churches of God" around the world claiming to be part of or even the only church of God, the question "Is There a True Church?" is a pertinent one. John Ritenbaugh examines, not their claims, but what the Bible reveals about the makeup of God's church, especially as time draws near to the return of its Head, Jesus Christ.
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.
David C. Grabbe: During these restless days in the church of God, it is common for us to wonder when the really exciting things are going to begin happening, what God is doing now, and where He is working. ...
John Ritenbaugh tackles the eternal security doctrine, a teaching that militates against good works, something that God had ordained for all of us. Works demonstrate our faith, our response to God's calling and His freely given grace. Reciprocity is always a part of our relationship with God. Trust is a response to God's tests. Abraham's response to God reciprocated his love back to God. The indictment against the Ephesian church stemmed from their lack of reciprocity (or first love). When our expectations have not been met, it becomes hard for us to maintain our zeal. We need to maintain the intensity to actively hear God's message. If we do not actively exercise our minds, work to maintain our relationship to Christ, and become dead to the world, we will drift away. We cannot allow what Christ is to slip from our minds. Where there is no love for Christ, there is no salvation and no membership in God's family. As in human love or infatuation, if we love another person, we like to think about him/her; likewise, we need to have Christ dwelling in our hearts at all times.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that we are to follow Abraham and Sarah's example of relying on God's guidance, learning to trust in the wisdom of Almighty God rather than the world. In order to avoid strife, Abraham allowed his forward nephew Lot first choice. Likewise, the apostle Paul admonished the New Testament church to refrain bringing law suits before the public. Abraham and Sarah were willing to suffer loss in order to achieve peace. Regarding the current scattered flocks, any spirit of competition is the way of enmity and strife. The sheep do not belong to any man or any one group, but they belong to Christ, given to Him by the Father. It is Christ's, not the minister's responsibility to get the sheep into the Kingdom of God. The Church of the Great God sees the other splinter groups as brethren in the greater church of God rather than competitors. Unlike certain understandings in our previous fellowship, each person is directly and individually responsible for his own submission to God's government. No external coercion will develop character or submission to God. Throughout history, the large congregation has been the anomaly rather than the norm. The scattering of the flock has been a blessing, forcing people to take individual responsibility to develop godly character, responding to a still small voice rather than to brazenly get out in front of God. The Bible is replete with examples of great leaders, with hubris, presumptuousness, or pride who got out in front of God (Satan, Abraham, Sarah, Korah, and Josiah) causing irreparable consequences for their descendents. The antidote to presumptuousness involves patiently waiting on the Lord, following God's lead, resisting any impulse to get out in front of God.
"Gnosticism" sounds like an old and very dry Greek philosophy, the subject of a somnolent college lecture. Not so, says David Grabbe. Gnosticism is very much in vogue today in books and movies—and in the belief systems of a great many people who profess to be Christian.
Richard Ritenbaugh continues the theme of the difficulty we have in this age to distinguish truth from error. Satan's biggest targets for disinformation are God's called-out ones. As the apostles turned the world upside down by the Gospel, Satan's implanted tares immediately began to spread disinformation—so much so that the 'Christian' church of the second century bore little resemblance to the church Christ founded. Who, then, are His true disciples? They may be identified by: 1) being led by God's Spirit dwelling within, causing them to yield to God's will; 2) behaving in love toward friend and foe; 3) abiding perpetually in God's Word (not merely agreeing with, but actually living the teaching, coming to know the truth by practical experience; and 4) bearing much spiritual fruit.
In Revelation 10:3-4, the apostle John tells of seven thunders--seven distinct, sequential reverberations of God's message to mankind, delivered by His church during the seven church eras described in Revelation 2 and 3. ...
John Ritenbaugh observes that someone had recently taught that Passover, rather than the Night to be Much Observed, should be designated the first day of Unleavened Bread. Leviticus 23:5-6 designates two separate festivals: the Passover (on Abib/Nisan 14) and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (on Abib/Nisan 15; see also Numbers 28:16-18). Deuteronomy 16:6 indicates that the Passover took place on the eve of Nisan 14 at ben ha arbayim (twilight). Numbers 33:3 clearly shows that the departure from Egypt took place on Nisan 15, the day after the Passover. Exodus 12:18 delineates that the eating of unleavened bread runs from the end of Nisan 14 (at ba erev - the end of the day) to the end of Nisan 21 (at ba erev). John 13:29; Matthew 26:5; John 19:31; 40-42 plainly prove that Christ, the disciples, the chief priests, the Jews, and Nicodemus did not consider the Passover a holy day, but a preparation day.
Since God has authorized no day other than the Sabbath, John Ritenbaugh observes that Sunday worship is a pagan deviation, perpetuated by Hellenistic Gnosticism, a multi-faceted movement that despises Yahweh, the Sabbath, and God's laws. Though Constantine enforced Sunday-keeping (the counterfeit Sabbath) on Western culture, the ugly tentacles of Gnosticism had already surfaced in Paul's warning to the Colossians about "rudiments of the world," angel worship (actually demon worship), and "white" magic. Gnostics have incorporated Neo-Platonic notions of real (supposedly appearing in the Pleroma) and corporeal (corrupt, earthly, physical forms) to counterfeit the shadow and reality concept as described by Paul. Christ, not angels, is the reality and the fullness of God. Antinomianism, Dispensationalism, eternal security, and irresistible grace—all assimilated into evangelical Protestantism—have all derived from Hellenistic Gnosticism.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the sheer variety of choices (distractions) available to us today (with their potential accompanying temptations and enervating time-wasting diversions) is extremely stressful because it automatically increases sin and lawlessness, automatically decreasing love, zeal, and affection. Like our society, the recipients of the general epistle of Hebrews were a group of people living in confusing rapidly changing times — experiencing intense economic, cultural, social, and moral upheaval. These "crusty old soldiers" or weary seasoned veterans identified in the book of Hebrews (like the Ephesians and far too many of us) were becoming inured and indifferent to mounting societal sin, allowing their spiritual energy to be sapped by resisting negative societal pressure, draining them or diverting them of their former zeal and devotion to Christ. If we incrementally lose our love, affection, and devotion to Christ, we automatically lose our desire and motivation to overcome, endangering our spiritual welfare as well as our relationship to Christ. God Almighty has mandated that we reignite the spark and rekindle our first love.
John Ritenbaugh, repeating his caution about uncritically reading certain theological books and commentaries, warns that deception will abound exponentially in the Information Age. The elect are not immune to antinomian deception, including the doctrine of eternal security, the total depravity of man, unconditional love, irresistible grace, and the "once saved always saved" mentality. These pernicious, surreptitious teachings are designed to remove personal guilt and the necessity for personal responsibility or works (anathema to antinomian, "rule-hating," syncretistic, evangelical teaching), casting aside the law of God and substituting personal standards. Without a demonstration of works (prompted and empowered by God's Holy Spirit), it will be impossible for God to judge whether we will actively adhere to His standards, steadfastly walking in the footsteps of Christ. Finally, the amazing history of the rejection of the Sabbath and the embracing of Sunday is explained.
John Ritenbaugh, exploring the invasion of the early apostolic church by Gnostics(interlopers who savagely denigrated the "enslavement to Yahweh, His Law, and the Jewish Sabbath," replacing it with 'enlightened' Greek philosophy- the immortality of the soul, eternal security, irresistible grace, and predestination) traces its development within mainstream 'Christianity.' An early source of Gnostic thought into mainstream 'Christianity' was Augustine, originally saturated in Manichean religion, later transferring Gnostic thought into the Catholic Church. The Protestant reformers Luther and Calvin, both heavily influenced by Augustine, taught the doctrines of eternal security, irresistible grace, and predestination. Modern evangelical leaders, continuing in this Gnostic tradition, promulgate "once saved always saved" and "unconditional love" — tolerating the most hideous abominable sins - allowing 'Christ's blood' to give license to this lawless behavior.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the cosmology of ancient Greece (a combination of pagan and scientific thought), explains that these ideas and notions—many totally saturated with astrology and Gnostic dualism—filtered into the doctrines of the early church. These syncretized, polluted Hellenistic ideas have never left the cardinal doctrines of mainstream Christianity. The incorporation of Gnostic dualism into doctrine has led to sloppy stewardship of physical health laws (dressing and keeping our bodies), a consequence of anti-nomian thought processes. The denigration of grace to license—"sin, that grace may abound"—derives directly from Gnosticism. "Modern" Gnostic thought (including the pernicious doctrines of progressive revelation and the immortality of the soul) literally destroyed or blew apart the Worldwide Church of God. We need to ensure that these virulent strains have not infected us.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that belief or faith is difficult enough to maintain if the doctrines are put in proper order, but greatly confused when the pastor dilutes correct doctrine with "benign" false doctrine derived from the belief systems of the world's cultures under the sway of Satan's manipulation. Seemingly minor changes affect major trajectories in direction. A person's cosmology (his understanding of the nature of the world) largely determines his belief system and attendant behavior. If evolution determines his cosmology, man becomes his own God. Until our cosmology is synchronized with God's (as we think as God's thinks), our spiritual well-being will be in continuous deadly peril. What a person believes shapes his views and behavior. The Axial Period (deriving from sixth- and seventh-century BC Hellenistic thought) has largely shaped the dominant cosmology of today's world.
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.
As this world keeps on turning, more people become skeptical about the return of Jesus Christ. The Bible, however, insists that He will come again and quickly. Richard Ritenbaugh advises watchful, sober expectation because the Lord does not delay His coming.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the writings of Malachi Martin, suggests that as the Catholic College of Cardinals have a large number of prudent agnostics within their ranks, we also have a great many fence sitters within the church of God, demonstrating an alarming deficit of faith. In times of intense stress and uncertainty, many become extremely apathetic, unwilling to persevere, unwilling to work at overcoming. We are on the threshold of the greatest period of testing ever to come upon mankind. We need to be developing a sense of internal hope and faith through the motivating power of God's Holy Spirit, striving to keep our focus on our calling (God sought us out purposefully), passionately striving for goodness. The apostle Peter wrote an entire epistle (I Peter) on the subject of hope—stressing that what we really need, God will not hold back—including shaping trials. Thankfully, we are not left without resources.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: In America, where the political process is proudly hailed as free and democratic, it is considered somehow "un-American" not to vote whenever the polling stations open. ...
In this sobering sermon, John Ritenbaugh warns of the consequences of fellowshipping outside of God's called-out church. People who suppose they are supplementing their spiritual diet with a poisonous blend of heresy and lawlessness risk losing their identity and witness, and ultimately their spiritual life. God has made his covenant with one body, the Israel of God, which yields to His way of life, keeping His Sabbath as a perpetual covenant. Fellowship with organizations which despise or denigrate God's Sabbath is tantamount to spiritual adultery. Bad doctrine inevitably deceives and destroys. Our behavior and practice must inevitably derive or grow out of our core doctrines - that we were called to qualify as members of His Family, something of which the world's religions have no inkling.
Are we "once-saved, always-saved"? Once God grants us His grace, are we assured eternal life? Richard Ritenbaugh exposes the fallacies of this Protestant doctrine of "eternal security."
John Ritenbaugh analyzes the five-point warning message given to the scattered Hebrews by Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews does not identify a single flagrant violation of law, but instead delivers a general castigation for incremental, continuous, disrespectful, and forgetful neglect—a failure to esteem what should have been thought precious, their calling and salvation, while esteeming inferior things like wealth or status. Hebrews expounds four other warnings, all designed to wake the church member up and motivate him toward greater devotion to God. Similarly, the modern church of God stands in danger of allowing salvation to slip away from pure neglect. By these warnings, we should know how to turn our lives around so we do not fall short and lose salvation.
John Ritenbaugh, noting a parallel between the recipients of the book of Hebrews and our current situation, suggests that the pressure these people encountered was not a bloody persecution, but instead constant psychological pressures (economic, health, persecution on the church, social, family, etc.) coming right after the other in a wave that never seemed to end, causing weariness and unfeeling apathy. The book of Hebrews provides resources to recapture flagging zeal and motivation, focusing again upon the reason for our hope and faith, establishing clearly Christ's credentials and the import of His message, re-igniting the original excitement of their (and our) calling and their (and our) awesome future which they (and we) have put in jeopardy through apathy and neglect. We are admonished to resuscitate and readjust our focus and damaged belief system, reestablishing our access to God through Christ our High Priest, claiming the promises of the New Covenant.
In this lead-off sermon of the 1999 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh draws an instructive though disturbing parallel between the warning given to Belshazzar and the warning given to the greater church of God. A major contributory cause in the splitting of the church has been the wholesale rejection of the doctrines Herbert Armstrong, under God's inspiration, worked to restore. When the shepherd was smitten, false teachers systematically undermined the faith once delivered. We need to realize that if God were not with Herbert Armstrong in those formative years, then indeed the handwriting is on the wall for us. We desperately need to hold fast to those doctrines restored through Herbert Armstrong's ministry.
God's sovereignty is one of the most important issues a Christian must consider. Is God supreme in all things? Have we acknowledged that He has total authority over us in particular?
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 shares the significance of Herbert W. Armstrong's role in the church. Increasingly, some fail to realize Herbert Armstrong's stabilizing role in God's church. The scattering we have experienced since his death has been a blessing from God, revealing our collective, pitiable spiritual deficits. God deliberately engineered the scattering to save us from our precarious spiritual condition. Like the virgins in the Parable of the Ten Virgins, we have all slumbered. In the meantime, God has been working on His spiritual creation, fashioning us in His image. At this juncture, we are not being scattered because of persecution, but because of punishment brought about by our wholesale lack of obedience, requiring loving, firm corrective action. We are not victims of Satan, but bear much of the responsibility for this dismantling from our failure to discern false doctrine. The division of Israel and Judah (between Jeroboam and Rehoboam), occurring because of disobedience, was engineered by Almighty God, and was designed as a lesson for us. If we sin, God will scatter us. He who scatters the church will re-gather it in His good time. Herbert Armstrong, while not perfect, not infallible, and not sinless, nevertheless served as the custodian of the precious truths of God - occupying the role of God's servant and messenger. To reject the message from God's messenger is to reject God. We need to collectively repent and go back to the first works and the faith once delivered to the saints.
The Sermon on the Mount is as vitally important to us today as it was when Christ preached it. It contains within it the very way we are to conduct our lives as God's representatives on this earth. How well are we following what Christ taught?
John Ritenbaugh cautions that we must be careful lest we be deceived into thinking that justice delayed while continuing in a sin means acceptance of that sin by God. Justice delayed does not equate to justice denied. We will absolutely reap what we sow. We desperately need to guard against naiveté, immaturity, ignorance, carelessness, and negligence in handling God's word. Spiritually, fear is the first line of defense, keeping us from profaning God's name, tarnishing the image of the Lord, and defending us from pain and/or death. If we hold something precious, we will guard and protect it with our life. Unlike the perverted concept of grace taught by many Protestant denominations, real grace promotes the right kind of fear and respect for God,serving as the essence and power behind an obedient life. The fear of God (following the principle of reciprocity) is the key to God's blessings.
Richard Ritenbaugh contends that the book of Jude, a scathing indictment against false teachers, is perhaps the most neglected book in the New Testament. It was designed for the end time, a time of apostasy, when most of these problems would occur. Jude admonishes ministers to protect the flock, warning that brute beasts (false teachers), having wormed themselves into leadership positions in the church, governed by lusts and desire for gain, will attempt to devour the flock with their cunning antinomian, ungodly teaching, twisting the doctrine of grace into licentiousness, encouraging unbelief, rebellion, and immorality. Jude, seeing the coming apostasy, admonishes people to put forth agonizing effort to be grounded in the truth, taking on God's mind.
This is a subject that has long been a source of controversy. However, when we let the Bible interpret itself, the answer is plain!
Just how do you rend your heart? John Reid describes how searching for instruction on rending the heart, he came across an answer: Recapture your first love!
How are the young people in the greater church of God supposed to approach the dating situation today? This article addresses this issue and gives advice on dating, sex and enjoying your youth.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the pressures and conflicts that the church has undergone is part of a larger Zeitgeist (spirit of the time) that has embroiled institutions religious and political institutions worldwide. The mindset reflects (and is a function of) an unseen spirit world under the sway of the prince and power of the air. This Zeitgeist or wisdom of men (evidenced by carnality) could well dominate our lives. We need to be extremely careful about what we allow into our minds, from academia, psychology, politics, and especially from people supposedly speaking for God (false prophets), but having their taproot in the world and Satan the Devil. Any message, true or false, has the capability of producing a faith. Faith in the wrong thing will bring deadly consequences. To counteract the heresies emanating from the spirit of the world, we must have union with Christ (through His Spirit), giving us direct access to God's wisdom.
A Statement of Purpose and Beliefs of the Church of the Great God
When we sing this popular hymn, are we singing a lie? No, this is a commision to apostles, and right now we are doing what God desires of us.
All the signs point to Christ's imminent return, yet the Bible warns us not to let down! John Reid, using Hebrews 10, exhorts us to strive zealously to please God and finish our course!
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.
In this keynote message of the 1996 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the causes of the atomizing of the greater church of God into very small particles. Almighty God, as a means of mercifully disciplining and chastening His faithless children, initiated the scattering of the church (the Israel of God) for our ultimate good (Deuteronomy 28:25; Romans 8:28; Hebrews 12:5-6). Christianity is a religion of revelation- not human intellect. When the revelation of God was replaced with the wisdom of this world (the leaven of errant intellectualism), God had no choice but to scatter. As Israel did not repent at the preaching of Amos, or Judah at the preaching of Jeremiah, the members of the greater church of God did not take the warnings of Herbert Armstrong personally and individually. Any regrouping of the scattered pieces will be done only on God's terms.
How does God define the church? What comprises it according to the Bible? The ekklesia, the Greek word translated "church" in the Bible, is not a humanly defined corporation, but the mystical body of Christ, having the Spirit of God. The true church of God is an invisible, spiritual organism, of those people that have and are led by the Spirit of God. And such a person will not turn away from the teaching delivered by the apostles.
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.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the Word of God is not ever improved by syncretizing or alloying it with human philosophy, a pattern of reasoning which often begins with a faulty or dangerous premise. The Gnostics criticized by Paul in Colossians 2:16-17 were guilty of bringing in ritualistic ascetic discipline to propitiate demons. While Paul never criticized self-discipline and rigor, he did condemn the practice if it did not emanate from Jesus Christ and if it contaminated the keeping of the Sabbath or Holy Days. God is not merely interested in what we do, but why we do the thing. Some misguided scholars, looking at the "touch not, taste not" phrase, assume that God is not careful about rules. They ignore the context in which Paul condemns an attractive self-disciplining mind control regime or system (Gnosticism) totally cut off from the Headship of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the S.P.S. (Specific Purpose Statement) of the entire Bible is "Let us make man in our image, according our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). To this end God has given us His Law, which serves as a map showing us the way of sanctification and holiness. Because God desires companionship of beings like Himself, He is in the process of reproducing the God-kind. The map showing the way consists of the Old and New Testament, works inextricable as law and grace and letter and spirit. As Paul's writings reveal, the Old Testament is in the New revealed while the New Testament is in the Old concealed. Contemporaries of John and Paul (and some deceivers this very day) have tried to throw out the Old Testament and the Law, replacing it with Gnosticism.
How do we lie to the Holy Spirit? Does this mean that the Holy Spirit is the third person in the Godhead? Richard Ritenbaugh explains Acts 5:3 from the perspective of the whole Bible.
Many biblical prophecies have a type and an antitype, a former fulfillment and a latter one. If we really want to understand prophecy, we need to understand this concept.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the entire Old Testament was written with the New Testament church in mind. Certain temporary ceremonial sacrifices, washings, and rituals were set aside when the spiritual reality—such as Christ's sacrifice replacing animal sacrifices and God's Holy Spirit and His Word replacing physical washings (Hebrews 9:18; Ephesians 5:26)—added a spiritual dimension. All biblical law, including the ceremonies, comes from God. Paul never taught any Jew to forsake the Law of Moses, the constitution and civil code, but he did rail against Pharisaical additions for the expressed purpose of attaining justification. Even though a change occurred in the administration of existing law, no laws were done away. Instead, they are written in the hearts of the converted (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16).
Do you sometimes worry about your financial situation? Knowing that just about everyone does, Mike Ford explains Jesus' simple solution to this common problem.
Indeed, many heresies crept into the church over the past several years. John Ritenbaugh explains the difference between heresy and apostasy, how Satan works to introduce heresy into the church, and most importantly, what we can do about it!
In this Feast of Trumpets sermon, John Ritenbaugh, reflects on Malachi Martin's book, The Final Conclave, which claims that, not only are 60% of the College of Cardinals not firm believers, but that a hard core 27% are functional but prudent agnostics, hedging their bets. Some of us, facing the stress and uncertainties of the time, may also be going through the motions but losing every vestige of faith. The Day of the Lord, like a claw hammer, has both a business end (return of Christ) and a wrecking end (destruction, mayhem, and tribulation). In this stressful time, we had better have our convictions in order, realizing that not only is God preparing a place for us, He is also preparing us to be conformed to the image of His Son.
John Ritenbaugh, drawing a parallel from human physical love provides an eight-point checklist to determine whether our love for Christ is genuine. If we love another person, we will (1) think about (2) like to hear about (3) like to read about (4) seek to please (5) be with the friends of (6) be jealous of the honor of (7) like to talk to, and (8) always want to be with this person. Like the Ephesian church, in the wake of mounting disappointments, frustrations, deferred hopes and pressures, we cannot become weary of well-doing, allowing our first love and devotion to deteriorate, looking to the world to gratify our desires. We desperately need to redirect our energies (Colossians 3:1; Galatians 6:6-8), to rekindling our first love.
Most of us would like God to respond and instantly gratify our desires. Consequently, because we desire instant gratification, we find operating by faith extremely difficult. We think that God does not seem in all that big of a hurry. We look at time differently than God does because, like Abraham, Moses, and Gideon, we do not trust that He has things under control. As we encounter our own Red Seas, our faith gets exercised and toughened. In His infinite patience, God, as the Master Teacher, uses His time to instruct us so that, despite frequent failure, we will eventually grow in faith and get turned around. Faith is the quality that a person exercises between the time he becomes aware of a need he hopes for and its actual attainment. Like a muscle, the more we exercise faith, the more it grows. God will manipulate our experiences to make both our weakness and His power clear.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that love is not a feeling, but an action- defined by John as keeping God's commandments (I John 2:3), the only means by which we can possibly know Him, leading to eternal life. While what humans consider love is self-centered and carnal, God's love is essentially others-centered. When God begins the love cycle, by His Spirit, He gives us His love; then it only becomes matured in us as we use it (loving God and loving our neighbor by the keeping of His Commandments). If we don't use it, then it bounces off from us and nothing is accomplished. Using God's love may be compared to learning to skate; the more we use it the stronger it gets. Beginning as a feeling, it doesn't become love until an action is taken.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that our concept of time is vastly different from God's, indicates that our spiritual pilgrimage (including our participation in the work of God) is largely a matter of faith, not sight. If we see God in the picture, we will not be impatient, but will be carefully evaluating the evidence whether or not God is opening doors. The work of God does not always stay the same, continually shifting media, techniques, and approaches- following a zig-zagging cloud. The work has variously been concerned with building an ark, rebuilding a wall, preaching to the public, etc, but the focus was always on the furtherance of the Word of God. We need to make sure that we are not running where God has not sent us. Our approach to government ought to be voluntary (internally controlled) but unconditional submission to God's family structured hierarchical authority.
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 observes that in our modern fast-paced, hectic culture, we commit far too little time to God, depriving ourselves of the Holy Spirit and attenuating the faith required to draw close to God. The Sabbath was made to guarantee this needed time to establish our contact with God. We dare not pollute or profane this day by presumptuously doing our own thing, incrementally neglecting the hearing of sermons, fellowship, prayer, meditation, and Bible study. The Sabbath (a memorial of God's creation and a pre-figuration or promise of a future rest) provides the time for hearing God's word right now and doing good. God's presence has sanctified or set this recurring period of time apart as holy. During this time, we need to develop respect for instruction into God's way that will lead us into eternal life. We need to guard our thoughts, words, and behavior, making sure that we do not pollute this holy time.
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 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 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 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.
John Ritenbaugh characterizes the spiritual condition of the recipients of the Hebrews epistle as dangerously complacent, drifting into apostasy through neglect rather than from any blatant sin or perversion. Losing their zeal and first love after the manner of the Ephesians, having a complacent disregard for Christ's sacrifice, they were in danger of permanently searing their consciences and losing their vital access to God. The entire eleventh chapter provides examples to bolster their faith and rekindle their first love. The kind of faith described in this chapter is not blind and clueless, but is carefully developed as a result of systematic analysis of available evidence. Abraham, Sarah, and Moses were all motivated to endure by calculating or adding up all the evidence. Likewise God desires and has deliberately planned that we build our faith by the same kind of calculation, analysis, or adding up the evidence.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the infinite superiority of Christ's priesthood and one-time sacrifice as contrasted to the repetitive Aaronic sacrifices, which were incapable of remitting sin, purging consciences, or providing access to God. The shadow image of the Old Covenant could not possibly provide the clarity, dimension, or detail of the reality of the New Covenant, which gives participants access to God and eternal life. Christ's sacrifice, a dividing point in history, was vastly superior because 1) His human experience ensures empathy, 2) God called Him to be High Priest, 3) His offering was more than adequate, 4) His offering reached the Holy of Holies, 5) His priesthood was established on God's oath, 6) His offering was absolutely sinless, 7) He lives eternally, 8) He occupies the heavenly sanctuary, 9) He sacrificed once for all, and 10) His sacrifice can cleanse a guilty conscience, provide access to God, and guarantee our inheritance.
John Ritenbaugh explains that Jesus' caution to Mary in John 20:17, "Don't touch me," is more accurately translated "Don't cling to me." Either translation does not contradict the First Fruits symbolism. (After all, the Levitical Priests had to "touch" the grain in order to offer it.) Also the charge Jesus gave to the disciples in John 20:23 was not to "forgive sin" but only to discern the fruits of repentance, consistent with the binding and loosing authority of Levitical Priests, applying God's law. Having the "Mind of Christ" gives the New Testament ministry the ability to discern the fruits of repentance. The problem with Thomas was more his tendency to be a loner, having cutting himself from the fellowship of his brothers, than his doubting. Thomas's insistence upon touching refutes the Gnostic's claim that Jesus did not have corporeal substance. Not only does the book of John (written in 96AD) provides a plethora of signs corroborating Jesus Christ's authenticity, but also shows a pattern to actively live as God would live if He were a man, with the effect of building and sustaining faith. The epilogue (chapter 21) seemed to be added to counteract the assumption that John would live until Christ's second coming, as well as confuting the Gnostics' claim that Jesus did not have physical substance. The conclusion describes the disciples' bewildered reaction to their resurrected teacher. In this incident, Jesus formally, by using expressions identifying different levels of love, affirms the intense responsibility and difficulty of the commission given to Peter.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the final instructions Jesus gave to His disciples following the Passover meal preceding His death. Jesus provided sober warnings in order to prepare the disciples for unpleasant eventualities, including being ostracized from the religious and cultural community. Jesus warned that in the future sincere religious zealots, not knowing God, will consider it an act of worship to kill people who obey God. It was to the disciples' advantage that Christ returned to His Father because: (1) they would not learn anything until they did it themselves; (2) they would learn to live by faith; (3) and, they, by means of God's Holy Spirit, would receive continual spiritual guidance, becoming convicted and convinced that all problems stem from sin, leading or inspiring them to repent and practice righteous behavior, modeled after Jesus Christ, and guiding them into all truth required for salvation and into insights into God's purpose, allowing them to glorify Christ as Christ glorified His Father. Christ told the disciples about his imminent crucifixion and resurrection, but they were unable to comprehend until after the events had happened. Though Christ knows that we will inevitably fail, He knows He can pull us through as long as we yield to Him. Chapter 17 constitutes the prayer of our High Priest, asking that we would take on the Divine Nature and name of God, determining our future destiny.
John Ritenbaugh explains that Matthew is part of the synoptic ("seeing together") gospels, largely an embellishment of the more terse outline of basic events found in Mark. Both Matthew and Luke were evidently intended for different audiences, intended to expound or enlarge on specific tenets of doctrine. Matthew, a meticulous, well-educated, well-organized publican, appeared to be largely responsible for gathering and systematizing the specific sayings of Jesus. Matthew wrote his account with the Jewish people in mind, repeatedly saying, "This was done to fulfill the prophets," emphasizing the law and the Kingdom of God, as well as a detailed genealogy demonstrating his lineage from King David and Abraham, including Gentiles and women ancestors, legitimatizing the kingship of Jesus and His virgin birth, conceived of the Holy Spirit—the creative power of God. Jesus had at least seven siblings, half-brothers and -sisters. Luke, a Gentile, never included these details. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]