David C. Grabbe: In John 6:35-40, Jesus expands on His earlier saying that believing in Him is the work of God: "And Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me ...'"
David C. Grabbe: As the book of Hebrews ends, the author—likely Paul—pens this benediction: "Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, ..."
Jesus Christ's Olivet Prophecy provides a handful of specific signs of His return, one of which seems particularly obscure. David Grabbe analyzes His saying, "Wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together," in Matthew 24:28, explaining that it is a warning that Jesus will come back in judgment against those who resist Him.
David Grabbe, cuing in on verses in Matthew 24 and Luke 17, referring to the sign of eagles or vultures gathering together in the wake of God's impending judgment, corrects some misapplications of these verses, wherein people believe it refers to the Rapture. These pictures refer to the judgment against sin, providing a banquet for the vultures feasting upon those who have rebelled against God. As God's called-out ones, our biggest concern is not the Great Tribulation or the Beast, but instead it is being unprepared for Christ's return, and hence becoming food for the physical vultures or the symbolic demonic carrion. We dare not push off the time we seek God; we must not be like the foolish virgins who thought they had more time to get ready. Judgment is coming on the world, but it is coming on the church of God right now; let us be sure the vultures do not mistake us for the nearly dead.
Richard Ritenbaugh, challenging the Protestant assumption that "getting our lives straight" (morality) distracts from the Gospel message of grace, suggests that this emphasis on "hyper-grace" is wrong-headed, denying any need for repentance and overcoming, and totally at odds with the teachings of Christ. The Gospel of the Kingdom emphasizes the plan of God, requiring that we become cleansed from our past sins, living a life of righteousness, preparing for the Kingdom of God—the endgame of God's plan, which is the creation of sons and daughters formed in His image and character. As our character is changed through the sanctification process, we can be turned into Spirit beings. Protestants have an extremely truncated concept of the gospel, denying the sanctification process of salvation and the resurrection. In order to destroy sin, it is necessary to get rid of all sin. God the Father and Jesus Christ want to get rid of all sin—a major part of God's plan. Repenting requires glomming onto God's Law and relinquishing our carnal control over to God's Holy Spirit. God has never finished His Work. In our Christian life, we have lots of rough edges which have to be smoothed before we can rule and reign. The hyper-grace gospel denies any responsibility for our behavior, revealing it to be a throwback to antinomian Gnosticism. Like He did for our forebears, God performed acts of grace to free us, but we have to walk away from sin, repenting of our sin and overcoming our vile human nature in the sanctification process, growing spiritually. The whole Bible is about putting on morality. God's people are to be involved in their sanctification— from consecration, separation, and the rigorous purification process, removing the dross, a process which takes place over a lifetime. The only proper response to grace is obedience to God, walking in His commandments to please Him, fulfilling His will. God called us to be Holy, exercising His Holy Spirit to make moral choices, cleansing ourselves
Living by faith is not easy in this world—not by any stretch of the imagination. Among the spiritual realities that a faithful Christian must understand is God's sense of justice. John Ritenbaugh uses the instantaneous deaths of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, to illustrate the differences between His sometimes swift and terrifying—but perfect—justice and our own imperfect judgments.
While we must express some of our own faith as we come to salvation, the great bulk of "saving faith" is a gift of God, given graciously and miraculously as part of God's creative process in us. In particular, John Ritenbaugh uses the examples of Abel and Enoch to illustrate the pattern of faith through which God walks His people.
With all the military metaphors in the Bible, there can be no doubt that God likens the Christian life to a fight, a war, against the evils and temptations we face daily. In this light, John Ritenbaugh begins to examine Hebrews 11, the Faith Chapter, showing that the patterns revealed in it provide deep instruction for us in our Christian fight.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the Bible shows a clear pattern of how people leave the Church. The first step in the pattern is looking back, as in the case of Lot's wife. The second step is to draw back, motivated by self-pity, shrinking back as from something distasteful. Step three consists of actually walking away and looking for something else. Step four consists of arriving at the point of no return, going backward, refusing to hear. In contrast, the book of Hebrews is a compact book laying out clear doctrine and practical exhortation to called-out ones who had started to drift, giving a practical model of being sanctified. Chapter 10 contains a fearful threat of the Lake of Fire for those having committed the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin constitutes sinning willfully and deliberately. To sin willingly means to be disposed to do it as of a second nature. We need to draw near God's throne with boldness, cleaning up our acts, using faith, hope, and love.
The story of Esau and his selling his birthright for a bowl of soup is a cautionary tale for Christians today. What it is we really value? What we treasure will ultimately determine our destiny.
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.
God has often used micro metaphors to illustrate macro events. For example, in Isaiah 1:4-6, God compares the whole nation of Israel to a sick patient with an incurable disease, signalling impending captivity. The church has been alternately compared to a bride, vine, virgin, woman, mother, and body. Extrapolating from these metaphors, the condition of the greater church of God resembles a patient languishing from a deadly disease like cancer. This condition has resulted from a diet of spiritual junk food (the philosophies and traditions of the world) and abstinence from the life-sustaining bread of life (John 6:63). The words we "eat" create a faith that forms the walls of our belief system?a kind of spiritual immune system, protecting it from disease. Good health, then, is not merely a matter of diet, but an entire interactive process of prayer, study, obedience, and conformity to God's purpose for our lives.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that whether we do or do not make it to the Feast of Tabernacles next year depends on our faithfulness at stirring up the gift of God's spirit within us through consistent prayer, Bible study, and hearing God's word. Distractions brought about by love of the world, neglect of Bible study, neglect of prayer, or neglect of God's word could seriously erode our faith, making us vulnerable to false doctrines and cares of the world.
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.
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.
It is quite rare to see a person who truly hungers and thirsts after God's way, but this is the kind of desire God wants us to have. John Ritenbaugh explains what Jesus means in this fourth beatitude.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the watchman responsibility as defined in Ezekiel 33:2 and Isaiah 62:6, consisting of both physical and spiritual aspects. Part of the pastor's responsibility is to carefully observe economic, social, meteorological, and political trends, warning the flock to take prudent precautions, including making a prayer offensive, making careful and thoughtful self-examination, actively repenting, submitting to God, looking to God's providence for a possible way of escape, but realizing that the place of safety has conditions attached to it. The exact standards of qualification for a Philadelphian have been left purposely vague to keep the prod to spiritual growth fairly intense. Our focus should be to seek God's kingdom, reciprocating God's love, committing ourselves to a life of service fulfilling His purpose for us, doing so without complaining, or comparing our lot with others, realizing He will supply exactly what we need.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the New Covenant seals the agreement with the body and blood of Christ, which is consumed inwardly. Partaking of this cup indicates that we are in unity with those in the body—fellow heirs of the world, as Abraham's seed, participating in the death and resurrection of our Savior. We must thoroughly examine ourselves, exercising and strengthening our faith, actively giving love back to God, to avoid taking this solemn event in a careless, irreverent, or nonchalant manner, jeopardizing our relationship with God, our relationship with our brethren, and our Christian liberty.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that the practical advice in Hebrews 12-13 fits our current condition like a glove. Like the recipients of this epistle, the greater church of God, having drifted away and given in to sin, we must also lay aside every weight which encumbers, accept God's chastening, receive encouragement from those who have already succeeded (Hebrews 12:1), and energetically get back into the spiritual race. We should allow nothing to deter us from the goal, remembering the consequences if we fail. All of our behaviors — including demonstrating brotherly love and hospitality, exercising empathy, strengthening our marriages, being content with God's blessings, submitting to leadership, avoiding strange doctrines, coming out of this world, praying without ceasing, and being charitable — must be done out of a pure heart.
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 emphasizes that the ordinary cares of life- making a living and being concerned with our security- have the tendency to deflect us from our real purpose- seeking God's Kingdom (Matthew 6:33) Becoming overburdened with devotion to wealth or surfeiting will cause us to lose our mobility or ability to stand, limiting and robbing us from precious time we could spend developing a relationship with God. We need to fight against the world's pulls (including the incessant messages from advertising to be discontent) simplifying our cluttered lives, seeking solitude and quiet to meditate and establish a relationship with Him.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that we ought to be devoting considerable time getting to know our prospective bridegroom, like the Apostle Paul desiring to conform to Christ in every way before the marriage. This challenge becomes extremely complicated because Satan has deliberately designed this world to burn up our precious time, creating an artificial sense of urgency and a perpetual state of discontent, taking something that was formerly simple and making it extremely complicated. Following Herbert W. Armstrong's mandate to simplify our lives, we desperately need to redeem the time, seeking the Kingdom of God and conforming to God's personality.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that prayer is perhaps the most important thing we do in terms of maintaining our salvation. The purpose of prayer is not to overcome God's reluctance, but rather to yield and conform us to His will. The oft quoted slogan 'Prayer changes things' is only true if the prayer conforms to God's will (James 4:13-15). Unlike indulgent tolerant parents, God does not give into the whims of His children, but instead grants petitions which lead to greater spiritual growth and conformity to His image.
John Ritenbaugh uses an analogy of a 1910 automobile as opposed to a modern one. Obsolete doesn't mean, as Protestant understanding would have it, "done away." The fault of the Old Covenant was with the hearts of the people. Christ took it upon Himself, with His death, to amend the fault enabling us to walk in the light, keeping the commandments. Salvation and conversion is a cooperative effort between God and His called-out ones, requiring both a calling and a response (justification and sanctification), a circumcision of the heart, imposing responsibilities on the participants of the covenant. Though the process took a unilateral act of sacrifice on behalf of the Testator to make it work, God demands of us unconditional surrender.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that we do not have immortality as a birthright (the lie which Satan told Eve), but that God is the sole source, making our relationship with God and God's judgment the most important focus of our life. One common denominator in all four Gospels is that a parallel exists between our lives and what Christ experienced on the earth. As part of Christ's body (I Corinthians 12:14-15), we all experience together what Christ experienced (crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and glorification- Romans 8:17). The death of self (Romans 8:13 and Galatians 3:5) must absolutely precede the resurrection to life (Romans 6:5).
Conversion is a growing relationship with God, and thus it is a process that, if not worked on, will deteriorate. Like a dating couple, if the partners in this relationship do not spend time with each other and become closer, they will drift apart. Conviction is paramount to this process: We must be absolutely loyal and faithful to God. Our conviction reveals itself in living by faith. The life of Moses is a stunning example of how a "convicted" Christian should live.
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 warns that presumptuous sins carry far greater penalties than those committed out of weakness. No sacrifice can be made for sins done deliberately. A person who sins presumptuously deliberately sets his will to do what he knows is wrong. Nadab and Abihu, Ananias and Sapphira, and Uzzah, all totally aware of the penalties for what they were contemplating, arrogantly rebelled against God's clear and unambiguous instructions. We need to realize that it is impossible for God to act unjustly, and soberly reflect on God's mercy and grace as a prod to repent.
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 reiterates that when a person contemplates revenge, he makes an enemy of God. Amos, like a circling hawk, makes dire pronouncements on all of Israel's enemies but reserves the harshest judgment for Israel, who should have known better, having made the covenant with Almighty God, but profaning their calling and drifting into moral complacency. God's church, the Israel of God, must realize that closeness to God comes with a weighty responsibility. God's justice is the same for everybody; He is no respecter of persons. The church is warned not to mix His truth and pagan (or worldly) error in the manner of Jeroboam I. We desperately need to cultivate (with the help of God's Holy Spirit) an ardent love of the truth. Modern Israel, prosperous and indulgent, is chastised for covetousness, indifference to the poor, and perversion of justice.
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 stresses that without continuous maintenance and attention, it is difficult to maintain a spiritual mind in a carnal physical body. We, like Christ, were made a little while lower than angels to be made perfect through suffering. He has blazed a trail, showing us a pattern for qualifying (through intense suffering and resisting temptation) for our ultimate responsibilities as future kings and priests—or bridge-builders, reconnecting man and God. As Christ endured the suffering and temptation successfully, we are exhorted to hold fast, activating the hope to endure to the end.
John Ritenbaugh observes that Hebrews is addressed to a people living at the end of an era, who were drifting away, had lost their first love or devotion, and were no longer motivated by zeal. Through lack of prayer, Bible study, and meditation, they had incrementally lost their portion of God's Holy Spirit, which now resembled a tiny, sporadic drip from a water skin. Through careless neglect, they were allowing something precious to slip out of their fingers, squandering a far greater treasure—their potential to become members of the God Family—than the people under the Old Covenant had neglected. Christ, our Trailblazer or Forerunner, was perfected through suffering, and we are to be perfected in the same way. We also need to be made perfect (adequate for our ultimate purpose) through suffering.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that disciples of Christ should expect persecution, often from people we normally would feel comfort and protection from, such as members from our own family. The two-edged sword (the Word of God) divides families because receptivity of this word is not a given- especially if one has not yet been called. Many more people ridicule God's Word than keep it. God's called out ones have to love God's Word more than family. Service in the work of God will inevitably bring persecution, but it will also bring reward. Chapter 11 focuses upon the ruminations of John the Baptist, who even though he was close to Christ, may have misunderstood the nature of Christ's true mission. John the Baptist, labeled as "none greater" never performed a miracle. It will take a great deal of expended energy to make it into the Kingdom of God. We cannot afford to be negligent or complacent about our calling, or our willingness to yield to His teachings, letting it dissipate like the ancient Israelites, the people of Bethsaida or Chorazin - or the Laodiceans . We must be teachable and adaptable, willing to take Christ's yoke, not tripped up in intellectual vanity or pride. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
Can a Christian commit a sin, and still be a Christian? Or would this be "the unpardonable sin"? Or would it prove he never was a Christian? Thousands worry, because they do not understand what IS the sin that shall never be forgiven.
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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