The Philadelphia church is often considered the best of the seven. Is it? Does it have any faults? Are we biased in our judgment?
David Grabbe, examining the implications of Isaiah 22:15-11, maintains that many major splinters of the greater Church of God have misunderstood the context of this passage which describes Shebna's expulsion from his role as Steward because of his blatant, self-important presumptuousness. Shebna was replaced by Eliakim who was a man of humility and lowliness of mind. Some of the self-exalting behaviors of those claiming to have the Key of David and an open door resemble more the self-focused attitude of Shebna rather than the humble attitude of Eliakim. The gracious promises given to the Philadelphians are given to those who absolutely know they have little strength and desperately need the continual aid of God's Holy Spirit to go through the open door of prayer to God's Throne Room. If we arrogantly compare ourselves among each other, boasting of our magazines, radio stations, and new members, we are no better than the pompous, self-important Shebna.
The modern church of God, particularly a few of its splinter organizations, have made a big deal out of Revelation's letters to the seven churches. Often highlighted is the "open door" promised in the letter to Philadelphia. David Grabbe provides proof from Isaiah 22 that our understanding of this image should be revised to reflect the insight given in this neglected Old Testament prophecy.
The seven churches of Revelation 2-3 have intrigued Bible students for centuries. Where they simply seven churches in Asia, or do they have more immediate relevance to us today?
The subject of a remnant occurs 540 times in the Bible! What is a remnant? How does it apply in this end time? How does it apply to the church?
John Ritenbaugh asserts that prophecy seems to be a well-orchestrated, interdependent series of events moving toward the logical intervention of Jesus Christ. The events that unfold—of a scope as massive and deadly as the Great Flood, a time when no flesh would be saved alive—seem to call for spectacular intervention and protection. God has the ability to protect and save in a variety of methods, but one has to consider both the practical and biblically outlined purposes for intervention, protection, and prudent escape (Psalm 91). Christ promises to deliver from the hour of trial only one remnant of His end-time church (Revelation 2:10; Ezekiel 5:3).
Kim Myers, lamenting the aftermath of the Presidential election, in which two candidates with extremely high negatives (evidently the best America had to offer) conducted (with the help of a dishonest media) one of the dirtiest campaigns in the history of America. Nevertheless, God Almighty is sovereign over the political affairs of this earth, appointing to office and removing from office as He sees fit. God's selecting a particular candidate does not necessarily mean He has given America a reprieve from the results of her sins or that God has given His called-out ones more time to get their act together. God's people must not abandon the sense of urgency which typified saints living before them. Satan knows that when people think they have all kinds of time, they lose all sense of urgency, becoming derelict in their spiritual chores (prayer, meditation, and Bible Study), lax in overcoming. Jesus forewarned His people that He would come unexpectedly as a thief. World conditions can change in the blink of an eye. God has always given the people of His churches urgent warnings, as seen in the examples of Sardis, Ephesus, Pergamos, and Philadelphia. As First Fruits, we must stay focused on God's overall plan, remembering that no one knows the time of Christ's return. If we stay vigilant, we aren't going to be caught off guard. The metaphor of a thief appears only in New Testament prophecies, suggesting that this message is intended for people living at the end of the age. The hand of God has been active in history, as during the attack on Pearl Harbor, occurring as it did when all three American aircraft carriers were safely out at sea. Likewise, the hand of God extended up north later during the Battle of Midway, where America attacks, as improperly coordinated as they were, still led to the destruction of three Japanese aircraft carriers, with almost their full complement of planes and pilots. Knowing that God actively intervenes in world events should give us the sense of urgency the foolish virgins lacked.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: This world is a horrible place. The planet on which we live along with more than seven billion other human begins is an evil, scary, terrible place. The facts are clear and obvious....
Over the last several decades, this world has shown itself to be one in which most people lack commitment, whether it is to their mechanics, their spouses, or their beliefs. Using Christ's exhortations to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, David Maas points out that Scripture foresees that a dearth of steadfastness marks the time of the end, but Christians are urged to hold fast.
It is an entirely human reaction to attempt to avoid anything that might be unpleasant, and this is especially true of an event as destructive as the Great Tribulation. David Grabbe posits that, if we show patient endurance now, overcoming and growing, God may bless us with protection from that horrible trial.
John Ritenbaugh provides compelling evidence that remnants of four out of the seven churches will be extant at the time of Christ's return. The inset chapters of the book of Revelation are digressions which give clarity to the sequential events. Revelation 10 and 11 constitute one inset, reflecting a time before the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, a time when the last of the seven thunders (symbolic of the messages of the seven eras of God's church) rumble to a faint whimper. After this time, the dramatic work of the Two Witnesses will begin. Because we have all become contaminated with the worldliness of the Laodicean era/attitude, we need to soberly reflect upon the extent of this contamination.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the term blessed and blessing, rendered into triviality by the prosperity gospel, cautions us not to be glibly equating God with a magic genie or spiritual automatic pill- dispenser. Material blessings do not necessarily equate to prosperity, even though God has commanded us to be productive and work hard. In the Beatitudes, the destitute and disenfranchised were given promissory notes of His Kingdom. Individually, most of the major figures in the Bible did not have abundant physical prosperity , but were immensely blessed spiritually. We should desire the spiritual side of the spectrum, worthy to be well-spoken of at Christ's return. When we ask to be blessed, it should be exclusively on His terms, leading to our eternal good. What God has done in our earthly lives should be the best preparation for our future responsibilities. There can be NO blessing without the indwelling of Christ through God's Holy Spirit, the true source of our joy and happiness. Without the fellowship with Christ, there is no prosperity, either spiritual or physical. The Seven Churches of revelation all received immense spiritual promises, a new name, co-rulership over the nations, being kept from the hour of trial , and being made pillars in the Temple of God. These rewards are contingent upon overcoming a specific deficit through performing a specific developmental task, all involving the keeping of God's Commandments.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that we must avoid distractions and keep our lives focused on God and His Holy Word. The prophetic messages in Revelation 2 and 3 are designed for the end times, shortly before the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. All seven churches—with their unique attitudes—will be extant contemporaneously at the end time. If a message ("he who overcomes," "I know your works") is repeated seven times in two chapters, God must want us to understand these concerns. Nothing is more important than repentance and overcoming, producing mature, committed, loyal disciples displaying exemplary conduct and good works, avoiding the distractions of Satan (Ephesians 6:12) and the allurements of this world (I John 2:15).
Herbert W. Armstrong began The World Tomorrow radio telecast on October 9, 1933. It was broadcast, uninterrupted, until October 9, 1971, when it was taken off the air for several months due to internal turmoil within the Worldwide Church of God. The World Tomorrow ran continuously for 38 years—two 19-year time cycles—to the very day ...
David C. Grabbe: The letter to Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-21), the Parable of the Faithful and Evil Servants (Luke 12:35-40), and the fifth chapter of the Song of Songs all picture Jesus Christ standing behind a door, waiting for His people to respond. ...
Back in my college days, one of my roommates was continually bemused by the football fanatics who identified with their team so closely that they would speak in the first person. ...
The biblical city of Smyrna, whose church received one of Christ's seven letters in Revelation 2 and 3, may be one that Bible students know the least about. In explaining Jesus' message to this church, David Grabbe shows how the city's name helps to reveal the themes that the Head of the church wants us to understand as His return nears.
Richard Ritenbaugh reflects that, over a period of time, we can become an aficionado, learning to evaluate works of art, distinguishing the works of one artist from another, or perhaps a mediocre from a quality work. Likewise, our spiritual works (as evidenced in the systematic chronological appraisal of the works of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 - including the Ephesus- the "crusty old soldiers" who left their first love, Smyrna - "sheep to the slaughter"-suffering continual tribulation but conquering in the process, Pergamos, "Spiritual Descendants of Lot" - or cultural compromisers, Thyatira- idolatrous worldly Christians "Married to the enemy," Sardis "Dead and Deader," living on past reputation, Philadelphia, the weak but faithful " Little engine that could" , and the self-centered "Good for nothing idle rich" ) also have come under close meticulous scrutiny or appraisal by Almighty God. Contrary to Protestant understanding, our works emphatically do count - showing or demonstrating (not just telling) that we will be obedient.
John Ritenbaugh, cautioning against the danger of presumption, warns against assigning biblical types (like Joshua and Zerubbabel) to any contemporary ministers, pointing out that, except for a few superficial similarities, there are not enough parallels or grounds of comparison to make such an inferential leap. Two major assumptions made by calendar changers are that: (1) the calendar is too complicated and (2) the Jews are guilty of deliberate manipulation in order to create a calendar that is more convenient in actual usage. The Bible nowhere says that the calendar should be simple; everything God has created, including life Bible, the calendar, as well as life itself, is complex. God, totally faithful and reliable, gave us a calendar, assigning the responsibility for its maintenance to the nation of Israel, not to the church or private individuals, guaranteeing order, stability, and unity within the culture. The Anti-Christ inspires tampering with times.
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 focuses on eight conclusions regarding fleeing and the Place of Safety: 1) There will be a geographical separation of the church. 2) We can be worthy to escape the Tribulation. 3) Lukewarm fence-sitters will go into the fire of tribulation for purification. 4) Faithful people are generally assured protection from the hour of trial. 5) The Bible is purposely vague about the specifics of the Place of Safety. 6) Obsessing about the Place of Safety is a sure way to disqualify oneself from it. 7) God calls some faithful, zealous ones for martyrdom during the Tribulation. 8) If we make the Kingdom of God our focus, being faithful day by day, yielding to God's purpose for us, He will faithfully supply all our needs.
Members of the churches of God often ponder and discuss going to a Place of Safety to be protected from the ravages of the Great Tribulation and to be prepared for the return of Christ. Taking his cue from Ezekiel 5, Ronny Graham speculates that those whom God hides will be few—and some of them may be "thrown into the fire" before the end!
We may not put our hope in a secret rapture, but could we be guilty of the same assumed-infallibility with regard to a place of safety? Is our hope in a telephone call announcing that it is time to flee? Is our trust in being on good terms with the physical organization that is "guaranteed" to be whisked away and protected from every inconvenience? ...
Reflecting that most prophetic interpretations have not been correct, John Ritenbaugh warns that we must exercise caution when attempting to interpret prophecy. As we have erred regarding Israel's identity, Protestants have erred by assuming that the tiny nation of Israel is end-time Israel. The greater church of God does not have all the pieces about the identity of Israel, the nature of the Laodicean and Philadelphian churches, whether the Beast will rise from a feeble and decrepit Europe, who the King of the South is, etc. The apostle Paul urged that we get our focus more balanced, emphasizing love over prophetic correctness, not remaining indifferent to what Christ deemed important, and learning how to use our trials to persevere and grow. Christ warned His disciples as He ascended not to obsess over prophecy. Instead, we need to persevere, not becoming distracted, and diligently submit to the Word of God.
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.
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, focusing upon an official poll administered by the Vatican, reveals that throughout the so-called Christian world, militant atheism may be decreasing, but religious indifference (or prudent agnosticism) is also increasing at even a more dramatic rate. People in both Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions feel smugly at liberty to reject major biblical doctrines, manufacturing their own private religions in their wake. If we refuse to follow Jesus' example (the Way- the system of doctrines once delivered to the saints), we will automatically lose the precious faith required for salvation. We need to (in Jude's admonition) ardently fight to hang on to the Way entrusted to us by God ' a way hated and vilified by the world. Christians have been increasingly stereotyped, marginalized, vilified, criminalized and persecuted by the political left, academia, and the left-dominated media. God will use persecution and tribulation to both purify and punish.
The concept of power brings many different ideas to mind, any and all of which may certainly be valid. David Grabbe, however, concentrates on the 'little strength' of the church of the Philadelphians, suggesting that Christ commends them for being 'faithful in little' and will reward them with much.
John Ritenbaugh maintains that the best matrix for salvation (or to come out of Babylon) is to diligently seek God, a connection lost in the Garden of Eden. Christians must rigorously practice their faith, having their senses trained, growing from immaturity to maturity. Sanctifying implies growing into perfection. We cannot seek God by standing still, but must continually pray, study, meditate, and fast, growing daily in grace and knowledge. Our biggest danger at this time is to be lured into spiritual drunkenness by the pagan Babylonian system. Our God is not what we say we worship but whom we serve. We dare not be at ease in Zion, settling on our lees- tolerant of sin and blind to our spiritual state- practical atheism or prudent agnosticism. God teaches us that the uncleanness from this world can be transferred from one person to another, but holiness cannot be transferred from one person to another.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the prophecy pertaining to the synagogue of Satan in Revelation 3:9, has concluded that this group of people who claim to be of Jewish descent are neither ethnic or spiritual Jews, but an insidious persecuting sect of vile, irreligious humanist elites, currently characterized by the Media as the "Deep State." This group of oligarchs have attempted to control the finances of the entire world, including the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission, and the Council on Foreign Relations, all having the common aim of seizing control of governmental and economic power by ruthless, underhanded, and criminal, if necessary, means. America, from its founding, has never been a Christian nation, even though it received moral underpinnings from the Puritans and from British Common Law, established on a modicum of biblical principles. "Christendom" itself considers God's law, especially that 'odious and burdensome' Sabbath, done away, and have instituted pagan holidays replacing God's Holy Days. The Constitution, in some ways, makes a mockery of God's sovereignty, preferring a hodge-podge of syncretism of the world's religions. Neither the Puritans of yesterday nor today's amalgam of Protestant evangelicals have ever embraced God's Law or followed in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, but have had an indistinct—and wrong-headed—vision as to what constitutes real Christianity.
A Statement of Purpose and Beliefs of the Church of the Great God
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the real issue in the calendar controversy is not mathematical or astronomical computations, but faith in God's sovereignty, His providence, His right to assign responsibility, and His capability of maintaining an oversight over this responsibility. God has been faithful in providing a reliable calendar for over 1600 years. God remains consistent with His purpose, maintaining oversight and control. Like our ancient forbears, we dare not stray from things given or entrusted to us. We must hold fast, guarding the truth, honoring our father in the faith, refusing to forage after pernicious false doctrine. The preservation of the calendar was entrusted to the Jews, and specifically the Levites. No church group or private individual should presumptuously arrogate this responsibility to himself or herself.
Focusing upon Galatians 4:6, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Jesus Christ constitutes that Spirit that had been designated to dwell within us. There is no third person in a closed trinity. Jesus Christ and God the Father are one in spirit and purpose, purposing to draw us toward that same kind of unity that currently exists between them. The word Elohim is not limited to god-beings, gender, or family. There are two God beings working in such harmony (John 10:30) that they are one family. The Father and the son are both of the God-kind (group, class, family)- creating, ruling beings. Absolute can be considered a synonym for supreme; there is no one to whom God the Father must submit. Jesus Christ did yield to the Father and had as His function revealing the Father. By Jesus' own testimony, Jesus recognized the Father as greater (or superior) than He (John 5:30; 6:38; 8:29; 12:49-50; 14:28). Paul recognized that the Father was superior to Christ in rank (I Corinthians 15:27-28). Revelation 3:12 The lesser is submitting to the greater. As fully spirit, Jesus still recognized the Father's superiority; Jesus was admitting He was not the Absolute God, even though both were equal in terms of their kind. In terms of function and responsibility, God the Father is superior (I Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 4:4-6, I Timothy 3:17); God's family has hierarchy. Jesus, subject to the Father- the Absolute God, is our Lord, Master, and Savior, and High Priest, and entirely worthy of our worship (Matthew 9:18, John 9:38).Jesus, His cousin John the Baptist, and the Apostle Paul gave substantiation to Christ's eternal pre- existence (John 1:1-2,30, 3:13, 8:58, 1 Corinthians 10:9, Hebrews 11:27)The God of the Old Testament was Jesus Christ. Jesus begotten siblings, once born into the God family as God-beings, are worthy of worship (Revelation 3:9); they are NOT the God head.
Directing his comments to teenagers and young people, John Ritenbaugh focuses on the epidemic of Adolescent Invincibility Disorder Syndrome, an affliction in which young people foolishly imagine themselves to be invincible and impervious to harm. Young people in the church must realize that not only is God's law no respecter of persons, but also sanctification can be lost. Young people must aim at self-mastery and self-discipline, developing patience, thinking ahead to the consequences of behavior. God's law proscribes death for a young person who curses his parents, and being cut off from God's divine guidance has just as deadly a consequence. Young people need to cultivate early the habit of remembering God, embracing His law as their code of life.
Christ says in God's Word that we can show no greater love than in sacrificing our lives for our friends. How do we do this? We must come to the point where we are doing this daily!
John Ritenbaugh reveals that taking God's name in vain is far more serious than swearing or profanity. To appropriate the name of God means to represent His attributes, character and nature. God's names are the signposts or revelators of His nature and descriptors of His activities. The glory of God was revealed through Christ by what He said and did- His entire repertoire of behavior. Our daily behavior, likewise, must imitate Christ just as Christ's behavior revealed God the Father. Behaving in a Godly manner enables us to know God and live a quality life. The third commandment has to do with the quality of our personal witness to everything the name we bear implies. Profaning or blaspheming God's name implies living in a manner inconsistent with God's name.