John Ritenbaugh, examining the socio-cultural milieu before the writing of the Epistle to the Hebrews, explains the difficulties experienced by the new Jewish converts to the Gospel. The powerful testimony of the recently risen Christ, combined with the apostles, who had spent 3 ½ years under His tutelage, were the main factors behind the fast growth of the church to 6,000. The Jewish leadership deemed these converts to be traitors to the of the religious heritage of Judaism. The estrangement these people felt is similar to that experienced by today's people of the true God. Christ told His Apostles not to become fixated about the fulfillment of prophecy, but instead to engage in the work He had given them. God's people today have the same no-nonsense orders Christ gave to His original Disciples, namely to take the Gospel to all nations. God's worldwide institution, the Israel of God, makes a transition to a New Covenant, not 'doing away with the law' but making it applicable to both Jew and Gentile. Repentance and baptism replace circumcision as the spiritual sign of the New Covenant. The Council of Jerusalem indicated that Jesus Christ's words and behavior proved the final word on New Covenant decisions, bringing about a significant change in practice.
Richard Ritenbaugh, citing Dr. Dobson's warning about the deleterious effects of permissive child-rearing, affirms that the horrendous results we see today, including out-of-control ADHD, defiance of all authority, and rampant narcissism, is a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy that children will become the oppressors of Israel (Isaiah 3:4-5). Israelites have always rejected God's common-sense child-rearing principles, adopting permissive practices from their own carnal impulses or the cultures surrounding them. They never wanted to hear what was good for them, preferring instead to heed Egyptians or Assyrians. Consequently, when the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled, the Lord will make a quick end of this rebellion in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. God does not like to inflict punishment on people, but because of sin, He is obligated to correct. But as quickly as God punishes, God restores and heals. When God has made rebellious Israel thoroughly jealous through the blessings He was bestowed on the Gentiles (that is, giving them access to the New Covenant), He will graft them back to their natural juncture in the vine. God wants a Kingdom full of His children doing godly things. All He asks is that they humble themselves and conform their ways to His.
Gary Garrett, taking issue with the common understanding that the Church of God originated in 31AD with the outpouring of God's Holy Spirit, advances the contention that the Church's origin might lie in Abraham's meeting with Melchizedek, who was the pre-incarnate Christ. The honor roll of faith in Hebrews 11, including Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Samson, and David, all living well before 31 AD, but still sanctified through the working of God's Holy Spirit, intimates that the 31 AD dispersal of God's Holy Spirit was in fact merely a continuation of a much older distribution. What makes outpouring of the 31AD unique is the inclusion of Gentiles, a merciful act of God designed to ultimately provoke Israel to jealousy—and hence to repentance. As Jesus Christ assumed His glorified spiritual body, He also re-assumed His original office as the King of Salem and the High Priest to those the Father has called.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on a classic radio program Lights Out in which one episode featured a terrifying accident in a laboratory in which a growing chicken heart could not be stopped until it consumed the entire earth, asks whether people think God is so irresponsible that He would allow something to come into existence He could not control. Most of modern Israel has been afflicted with a blindness of God's purposeful intent, even though it is eminently clear in both the public revelation (the creation itself, Romans 1:20) and the private revelation (God's Holy Scriptures unlocked through God's Holy Spirit). The apparent reason for Israel's current blindness is an adjustment on God's part to allow the "fulness of the Gentiles" to occur (Romans 11:25. Because God has purposely chosen to keep Himself invisible, even though His works proclaim ample evidence of a purposeful builder or designer, some presumptuous fools think they can call God into account, advising Him of better ways to manage His work. Even though the evidence from creation is insurmountable, people deliberately want to disregard it because accepting it would require that they submit to His will, something which the recalcitrant carnal mind from Adam and Eve to the present day is loath to do, preferring to satisfy its selfish, greedy desires. Our carnality wants wiggle room to dominate and to focus on the here and now rather than the ultimate purpose for which we were created. The lying, carnal mind, despite the testimony of creation and scripture, claims that if God exists He has no plan or purpose, ignoring God's stated intention of creating mankind in His image. Obviously, the majority of Israel, still under spiritual blindness, is oblivious to this intention. We must resist God-denying insanity of atheistic, 'progressive' evolution-based humanist education permeating our culture, reinforcing our rebellious carnal nature.
John Ritenbaugh gives an antidote to the ubiquitous trait of human nature—the proclivity to complain and express impatience with God. The story of the wealthy philanthropist watching the construction of his home shows the importance of point of view. He asked two masons what they were doing. One replied, "I am laying bricks," while the other retorted, "I am constructing a mansion." Our forebears in the Wilderness were the most blessed people on earth, having God's daily presence, but they let their carnality "limit the Holy One of Israel," often railing against Him as the clay metaphorically argues with the potter. This same carnality led the Jews to crucify Christ in total rejection of His teachings. God, in order to continue to work with them, provoked them to jealousy by calling the gentiles into the Israel of God. Paul declares that (1.) God's judgments are unsearchable, (2.) absolutely no one knows the mind of God, and (3.) no one could ever qualify as His counselor. God's highest goal is not salvation, but sanctification into godly character, leading to membership in His family as co-rulers with Christ. As God equipped Adam and Eve to successfully respond to their environment and trials, so He also equipped His called-out ones. Still, they need to conquer carnality, which is corrupted human nature, an entity originally free from sin. God created human nature with a mild pull toward the self for the purpose of self-protection. However, sin (with the prodding of Satan) corrupted the wholesomeness of human nature, distorting it toward self-centeredness and vanity. We must set our minds on spiritual things while resisting the deadly pulls of the flesh.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that, in these times when innovation and knowledge are increasing, time appears to be speeding up as well, and that the emerging, Satanically-inspired Beast is already beginning to wear out the Saints. If we have not yet experienced persecution, it is around the corner. To combat our weariness, we must turn to God's Word, a document which is totally enigmatic unless we have the power of God's Holy Spirit to put it together slowly like a jig-saw puzzle, understood a little bit at a time. To the carnal mind, the Bible reads like gibberish. But, God's Word has both story line and theme, most prominently including 1.) the prophecy of the promised Seed, 2.) the holy line, beginning with Seth and culminating with Christ, and 3.) the "I will" promises to Abraham. The Bible also contains mysteries (best understood as God's invisible activities on our behalf) which have been 'hidden' in plain sight, but made clear by revelation from God's Holy Spirit. The spiritual cleansing and grafting in of the Gentiles, motivating Judah to jealousy and, ultimately, to repentance, is an example of one such mystery. Another mystery is the revealing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that is, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, attended by God's granting to those He calls the ability to understand the Gospel's message—God's reproducing Himself, creating the family of God.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Ephesians 1:13-23, reminds us that as God's Called- out ones, we are recipients of the promised seed made to Adam and Eve, the Holy Line, beginning with Seth leading through Noah, Abraham, Jacob, David, and Jesus Christ, the promises given to Abraham which include being a blessing to all nations. The Gentiles would be grafted in as spiritual descendants of Abraham, as was seen in Cornelius' household receiving the Holy Spirit in a similar fashion as on Pentecost. As we examine the obscure details of God's promises to Abraham, we see how He engineered the boundaries for all of Jacob's children, and later the migration patterns for physical Israel, literally filling up a virtually empty continent with people seeking religious liberty and improving their economic status from serf to landowner. Where the Israelitish people are right now came about as the result of God's blessings to Abraham's offspring, even though they did not prove faithful to the covenant. Though the United States was not established as a Christian nation, the Puritan forbears implanted a sense of morality and the founding Fathers established a legal system, based upon biblical ethical standards of British common law. The Protestant Reformation and the revolt against Roman Catholicism ignited the unsettling of Europe and the population of the North American continent. Desire for better economic circumstances motivated the completion of the migration to America. God has a purpose for where He has placed all peoples. In the fullness of time, the reason for the population distribution patterns of God will become clear as final preparations are made for the return of Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh, describing an ongoing "bloodless coup" in which a major political party and a complicit propagandistic media are feverishly trying to high-jack the controls of governmental power, taking choices away from the individual and giving them to the government, maintains that we are reaping the consequences of the episode recorded in I Samuel 8:4-7, in which Israel demanded a king instead of trusting in God as their ruler. As unsettling as current world events may be, we know that the invisible God actively inserts Himself into the affairs of men, working out all events for His purpose. As we look through the history of the offspring of Jacob, we can see God's hand in preparing godly seed, a holy line from Seth to Noah to Shem to Abraham, to Moses, to David, to Mary. Jesus Christ was the Seed promised to Adam and Eve who would crush Satan. God admonished us in Deuteronomy 32:7-9 to remember the thread of events from the Garden of Eden to our current state, recognizing the artful way in which God distributes people over the face of the earth. God's separating physical Israel from the gentile nations was phase one of His master plan. His creation, at the time of Christ, of spiritual Israel, which recognizes faithful gentiles as full citizens, is phase two. The founding of the United States and the other nations of modern Israel was not random or accidental, but purposely orchestrated by our Creator. Indeed, God is moving the entirety of world affairs toward the day Christ will establish His Kingdom on the earth and crush the head of Satan, in doing so destroying no only his destructive ideas but his life.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his comparison of the timid, insignificant sparrow with the virtually unnoticed, timid Church, reiterates that God has complete oversight over the awesome plan of creating offspring in His image. Consequently, we should not fear Satan, his demons, or the world, but we should fear and respect the One who has complete involvement in our lives. The calling of God the Father, compelling us to conform to the image of Christ, is in fact, a calling to participate in the ministry of reconciliation, reuniting mankind with God the Father through Jesus Christ. God's called-out ones, selected and predestinated before the foundation of the world, continue to submit to His instructions, while other professing 'Christians' throw out whole portions of His Law, including the Sabbath, a major tenant in both the Old and New Covenants, created, like light, water, air, and food, as a benefit and blessing to mankind. As God called out the Jew and the Greek, He began with the least significant of all people (including us) that no flesh should glory in His sight. Whatever gifts or assignments God has given us are to be used boldly for God's glory, not our own. We are undergoing sanctification, set apart for a special purpose of being refined into His likeness, a process which takes a lifetime, honing skills of endurance and resisting sin. Currently, the scattering of the church has furnished us a measure of protection, but Satan is doubling down on his plans for persecution, and we will (with God's Spirit dwelling in us) resist his pulls as did our Elder Brother before us. The battle lines have already been drawn between the seed of Satan and the seed of Eve, with the separation of the line of Seth from the line of Cain. At least in part, God instituted marriage to reproduce, something angels cannot do (Luke 20:36). Though the sons of God have a natural fear of Satan, God has, in a sense, provided Satan to us for resistance, in order to develop godly character, becoming like Him, becoming one, as husband and
John Ritenbaugh reflecting on the curse imposed upon Satan and the enmity created between the serpent's seed and Eve, asserts that, paradoxically, this curse could be considered a blessing for those called of God, providing a practical means by which God creates character in those whom He called out before the foundation of the world. This understanding runs counter to the faulty dispensationalist theory which assumes that God, as a somewhat absent-minded tinker, must continually adjust His method of giving salvation (moving away from works to grace), making it easier and more inclusive. Dispensationalism assumes too much randomness or chance in God's plan, overlooking the intense purpose and planning of God's mind, having pre-planned or pre-destined all of us individually before the foundation of the world. Christ has full control of the church. Everything of consequence, including the development of our character, is engineered by Him; we did not find God by ourselves, but were chosen. The mystery of His plan, hidden from the world, has been revealed to the saints. The God who designed complex cells, molecules, and atoms certainly has the savvy to design a viable plan of salvation. God has had the same plan from the beginning of the world, having chosen us as the weak of the world so that no flesh could glory. The called-out church was not a passing fancy of God, but an entity which has been on His mind from the very beginning. Nothing happens randomly; God is in total control; the death of a sparrow (a rather insignificant and drab creature) does not occur without His full attention. We, like the sparrow, are undistinguished and drab by the world's standards, but given a glimpse of the mystery that God is reproducing Himself, bringing us altogether into one family in His Eternal Kingdom, at which time mother Eve's seed, from the line of Seth to the present, will be glorified.
David Grabbe, focusing on the sign of Jonah, asserts that there is much more to it than the timing of three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, debunking the nonsense of a Friday afternoon 'good' Friday to Sunday Morning "Easter" cycle. It appears likely that Jonah may have been literally dead when he was cast into the sea, with the great fish serving as his coffin rather than his domicile for that time. When God then resurrected Jonah, the reluctant prophet preached a powerful message of repentance, leading the entire population of Nineveh to fast and repent, sparing them from destruction. Jonah had fled from his responsibility, opting for self-sacrifice rather than to be used by God for something he considered distasteful, facilitating the future demise of his people. All of us have similarly turned away from God's will for us; it should come as no surprise that God lovingly sends disruptions our way to get us back on His trajectory. Both Jonah and Jesus Christ were prophets of God, preaching repentance and seeing the positive fruits of their preaching. Both Jonah and Christ provoked their own people to jealousy by preaching a message which admitted Gentiles into God's plan of salvation. While Nineveh repented and was spared, Judah did not repent, and consequently witnessed their temple desecrated and destroyed, failing to see that when anyone repents and turns from his evil ways, God relents and forgives.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in Romans 11:26, which states that the calling of God is irrevocable and eventually the vast majority of Israel will be saved, suggests that the conversion of the Gentiles is part of God's plan to bring maximum conversion. As God's called-out ones, having been gifted with special spiritual gifts, we must learn to see ourselves and our function as God sees us—as a distinct, unique entity—a holy people, a special treasure above all people on the face of the earth. God loves the church in a way He does not love the world. Among the billions of people, we are separated out, set apart from the aggregate of people, identified as a special people gifted for a special purpose, and called to His marvelous light. God has chosen the weak and base things in order that nobody would glory in the flesh, but God would receive all the glory. We received our calling before the foundation of the world, children of the Promise to Abraham and Isaac, part of the Great Creator's personal selection. We should know and appreciate that we have been called, walking by faith rather than sight. As we walk in humility, God gives us spiritual gifts to accomplish His purpose, preparing us to live by faith. God actively involves Himself in the process, giving us life, education, conversion, faith, gifts, His Word, and the resurrection to come. Very few people, apart from the Church of God, are living their lives by faith, allowing our worldview to change from the perspective of the flesh to the perspective of Christ. The world should be able to marvel at the drastic transformation in our orientation and behavior. God will be holding us responsible for the gifts He has entrusted; we have no excuse to fail.
Martin Collins, reflecting on an administrative decision about care of the widows in the early Church (mentioned in Acts 6:1), suggests that dual languages and dual cultures (Greek and Hebrew) led to at a perceived "double standard" in the way welfare was distributed to Jewish and Hellenistic widows. The solution was to select deacons with leadership or organizational capabilities. These deacons were largely of Greek extraction. The necessary qualities of deacons are patterned on the servant-leadership model established by Jesus Christ; a deacon is a servant. Christ does not want His staff to exercise Gentile patterns of tyrannical, top-down leadership, but to humbly serve people without striving for greatness. Jesus taught His disciples how to be servants by washing their feet. Stephen proved himself one of the most effective witnesses, forgiving his enemies just as Christ had previously given the example. His recorded sermon proved a powerful witness outlining the connection of the Old Testament (Israel's History) to the teaching of Christ and the New Covenant, as well as launching the Gospel to the Gentiles. Throughout Israel's history, prophets have been persecuted; Moses had been rejected by his people. According to Stephen, the Jewish leaders had taken on the rebellious attitude of Joseph's brothers. They had murdered the prophets, resisting the Holy Spirit, and had not followed the Law of Moses (as they claimed to have done). The day of the physical temple, according to Stephen, had ended; God is omniscient and omnipotent, dwelling in all locations, choosing representatives from all peoples of the world. Stephen was full of faith, grace, power, light, scripture, and love. Jesus stood as an Advocate and Mediator for Stephen. He will do no less for us. God will, through His Holy Spirit, provide the extraordinary strength we need, giving us the power to be living sacrifices and true witnesses.
John Ritenbaugh, fearing that we may be following suit in the world's religions by focusing on "getting salvation" rather than preparing for service in God's Kingdom, cautions us that we must re-orient our mindset, seeking to grow in the stature of Christ. Many mainstream religions believe that much of the "pesky" rules of the Bible have been 'done away.' We dare not 'do away' anything that is part of God's mind, or we will not be in His image. In judging, one size does not fit all. Some of the Commandments are more important than others, but they are all important. Acts 15 did not give Gentiles exemption from keeping God's Law. The laws of clean and unclean were not done away, but the vision Peter saw was given so that he would not judge Gentiles as common. The "yoke" Peter described in Acts 15:10 was not the Old Covenant laws, but rather Pharisaical regulations which were not a part of the Old Covenant. The Sabbath, Holy Days, and Clean and Unclean laws were not done away; the sacrificial system will be re-instituted for a time in the Millennial setting. We have been commanded to pursue holiness, moral purity, a necessary quality to grow into God's image. The term holy, in every context, does not always mean morally pure, but instead to cut something, or to set apart from the group. The term Greek haggios, however, denotes moral purity, only possible through God's Holy Spirit, enabling us to become partakers of the Heavenly calling, justified by Christ's blood, faithfully keeping the Commandments of God in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Those who have been called now have an advantage over the ancient Israelites, having power to faithfully keep God's Commandments (written indelibly in our hearts), motivated by His Holy Spirit. Holiness encompasses all of what was written in both the old and new covenants.
John Ritenbaugh, 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.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Of all the disciples of Jesus Christ, the one that we usually consider to have the most personality is Simon Peter. This opinion may merely be the result of the fact that no other disciple's words and actions are so often recorded in Scripture ...
During His earthly ministry, Jesus did not often teach or heal Gentiles, as His work concentrated on His own people, the Jews of Judea and Galilee. However, He made an exception for the Phoenician woman's daughter due to the boldness of the elder woman's faith. Martin Collins shows how Jesus tested her faith—a test she passed with flying colors.
Jesus Christ's exorcism of the daughter of a woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon was more than just another astounding miracle. It also brings out the surprising depth of the woman's faith in Him. Martin Collins expounds on this faithful Gentile's persistence and humility in pursuing Christ's favor on her daughter's behalf.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that we keep the Days of Unleavened Bread, not just as a memorial of the Passover and Exodus event, but because of what the Lord did to bring us out of sin (typified by Egypt). What God does sets everything in motion, significantly eclipsing what we are required to do. God continually does battle for us, breaking down the resistance of Satan (typified by Pharaoh). While God compels us to make choices, He is with us all the way, leading us out of our abject slavery to sin into freedom and eternal life. It is God's calling that makes a difference; no one ever volunteers to follow Him. All that God did to get physical Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land served as a type of what God does for us, calling us out of this world into the Kingdom of God. God is sovereign, necessitating that we diligently seek Him in order to be like Him, yielding to His sanctification, getting rid of all our false gods, worshipping Him in spirit and truth. As a branch attached or grafted to a vine, we cannot do anything without Jesus Christ, who alone enables us to produce or bear fruit through God's Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, and Christ's own Spirit dwelling in us. God is exclusively the God of His people and no one else.
Most Christians believe that the clean and unclean laws were "done away" at the crucifixion. But is that the case? John Reid looks into the most troublesome New Testament scriptures on the subject.
Peter's first sermon took place on the Day of Pentecost, yet his subject seems to 'fit' the Day of Trumpets. Charles Whitaker explains that the fulfillment of Pentecost begins what will be completed in the fulfillment of Trumpets.
Jesus exposes the Jews' rejection of the gospel using the illustration of a king sending invitations to a wedding celebration. Though God is shown to be merciful and just, the invitees' character is revealed to be wanting.
Hope conveys the idea of absolute certainty of future good, and that is exactly what the Bible tells us we have upon our calling and acceptance of God's way. John Ritenbaugh shows that, because the Father and Son are alive and active in their creation, our hope is sure!
In this sermon on Judgment, John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the actual process of handing down a decision. In this aspect of judgment, sanctification and purification bring about a restoration or refreshing in which liberty and reconciliation is restored. The seven reconciliations, or regatherings include: (1) Judah and Jesus Christ, (2) Israel and Judah, (3) Israel, Assyria, and Egypt, (4) All nations, (5) Man and nature, (6) Families, and (7) Ultimately God and mankind. We can accelerate this process by fearing God and keeping his commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
John Ritenbaugh, insisting that God is not the author of confusion, affirms that God, throughout the scriptures, has used a consistent pattern of appointing leaders over His called-out ones. God has invariably chosen one individual, working with him until it becomes obvious through his fruits that God had intended him to lead. After choosing the leader, God brings the people to him, placing within them an inclination to voluntarily submit to him. Rather than a cacophony of discordant voices, God designates one individual (Abraham,Moses, Peter,etc.) to serve as a representative, taking a pre-eminent role as spokesman.
The story of Ebed-Melech goes far beyond a historical vignette. Concluding his series, Charles Whitaker shows how the story is an allegory of God's grace to the Gentiles.
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.
When the mixed multitude came out of Egypt with Israel, God gave them an opportunity to join His chosen people. Charles Whitaker weaves together some vital lessons for us from this.
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing upon part of the festival scrolls (the Megilloth) read during Pentecost, reveals that although many of the lessons allude to Old Covenant teachings, Ruth prefigures New Covenant principles also, including (1) God's mercy and mankind's loyalty to the covenant (Boaz serves as a type of Christ and Ruth serves as a type of the church), (2) God's unilateral work on our behalf (typified by Boaz's proactive watchful care for Ruth), (3) the vessels of water (Ruth 2:9) as a type of God's Holy Spirit, and (4) Boaz's acceptance of Ruth despite her gentile status indicates God's extension of His covenant or family relationship beyond Israel by means of union with Christ.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon God's management of mankind. God has consistently moved His creation toward its ultimate purpose, setting the bounds of nations, motivating rulers (Proverbs 12:1) to pursue a certain course of action, sometimes against their will. It is God's will that we submit to governmental authority (legal or illegal), obeying God, of course, rather than men (Acts 5:29) to the end that by doing good, we provide a good example, silencing the foolish accusations of men. God has chosen a tiny fragment of weak individuals, rescuing them from Satan's rebellious mindset (Ephesians 2:1-3) to fashion into obedient and submissive vessels of glory.
Eternal life, emphasizing a special intimate relationship with God the Father and Christ, is vastly different from immortality, connoting only endless existence. John Ritenbaugh suggests that we have been called to a state of fellowship and a quality of life which has not been made available to the rest of mankind- a fellowship higher than the intimacy of marriage- a God-plane relationship we can experience right now (John 5:24) if we seek His will and keep His commandments, loving the same things and hating the same things God does, constantly overcoming, and fellowshipping with His called-out saints.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on Luke's message of Christ the man, the son of man, the high priest of man, and the savior of man, having all the feelings, fears, anxieties, compassions, and aspirations of man. In this account, Luke emphasizes the universality of the message (Gentiles as well as Jews), emphasizing the common concerns of humanity, highlighting many lowly circumstances. Luke, demonstrating Jesus' humanity emphasizes His frequency in prayer, reflecting His total dependency upon God the Father. Jesus, as the pattern man, learned by obedience, by the things He suffered, qualifying as our high Priest and savior, providing a model of perfect man for us to emulate.
Through Acts 1-15, God (primarily through the work of Peter, Paul and James) has removed His work out of the Judaistic mold, creating the Israel of God (the church) designed to spread to the Gentiles. Though certain ceremonial and civil aspects of the law were (for a time) suspended, the Law of God was never suspended, especially as it relates to defilement of conscience or disregarding of scruples that could cause permanent spiritual damage or unwittingly place one in communion with demons. We must always conduct ourselves with the long —term spiritual interests of others paramount on our minds, being sensitive to conscience and scruples of others as we exercise our 'rights.'
After explaining the context in which Paul advocated going from house to house, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Paul, who understands clearly that God alone calls (John 6:44), makes his initial contact with non-believers in public places (synagogue and forum), going later to private dwellings by invitation only. Chapter 15 focuses upon the Council of Jerusalem, discussing the controversial subject of circumcision and its relationship to salvation. Peter, speaking from his experience working among the Gentiles, realized that some aspects of the ceremonial laws (including circumcision) were not obligatory to Gentiles for salvation, but that the entire Law of God (given by Jesus Christ), far from done away, is to be kept in a more responsible spiritual sense (respecting the boundaries or constraints of conscience) by both Jews and Gentiles. It had become apparent to the apostles gathered at Jerusalem that God had made a parallel visitation and calling to the Gentiles as He had originally concluded with Israel. The new spiritual tabernacle (the Israel of God) would be composed of Gentiles as well as people of Israel.
John Ritenbaugh 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 reiterates that the martyrdom of Stephen, largely instigated by Hellenistic Jews, actually had the paradoxical dramatic effect of spreading the Gospel into Gentile venues, enabling individuals like Cornelius and the Ethiopian Eunuch, upon repentance, belief, and baptism to be added to the fellowship. Even more remarkable in this section of Acts was the miraculous dramatic conversion of the zealous learned Pharisee Saul (virtually handpicked by Jesus Christ and rigorously trained in Arabia for three years) into Paul the Apostle, fashioned (his intense zeal redirected or refocused) for great accomplishment as well as great suffering. Like Jeremiah and John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul was sanctified in his mother's womb, set apart for a specific purpose. At the conclusion of the chapter we find the account of the resurrection of Tabitha (or Dorcas) following Peter's fervent prayer.
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 reiterates that everything about the Priesthood of Jesus Christ is superior to that of the Levitical system, which was only intended to serve as a type (a forerunner, shadow, or symbol) of the access to God that Jesus would later fulfill. As splendid as it was, there was neither provision for the forgiveness of sins nor a purging of guilt in the Old Covenant. The real barrier that separates us from or denies access to God is our guilty and defiled conscience, which cannot be cleared by a repetitious sacrifice of animal blood. Only Christ's voluntary sacrifice (done on a totally moral and spiritual plane) can purge our consciences of guilt. We should remember that unless the sacrifice of Christ transforms us (leading us to emulate Christ's sinless life), we have not really repented. The chief difference between the Old and New Covenants is that the letter kills while the Spirit gives life.
John Ritenbaugh continues to examine the shepherd and door analogies occurring in John 10, depicting the close relationship of Jesus with His flock as the security and stability provided by His protection, as opposed to the approach of the hireling. Christ not only promises us life without end, but He also promises abundant life (eternal life; living life as God lives it) as well as protection from Satan. As Christ is one (in mind and purpose) with God the Father, we must be at one with God and other fellow believers through the medium of godly love, as opposed to the anarchy resulting from seeking our own way. Peace is produced by love; Christians are at unity with God and with each other when love is the driving force in our lives, prompting us to keep His commandments. An individual commissioned by God is God to Whom he is sent. With God's Holy Spirit, God sets His called ones apart, enabling them to live righteously and in unity with one another.
John Ritenbaugh probes into the reasons the book of John had to be written and the major differences distinguishing the book of John from the other Gospels. John omits entirely certain topics which the other gospels go into detail. Where the other Gospels have short narratives, John goes into lengthy descriptive and quantitative detail, providing in-depth characterizations of the disciples. From the perspective of an eye-witness to the events, a Jew (from a well-to-do family) having been thoroughly acquainted with Hellenistic culture, John, a physical cousin of Jesus, is able to bridge the gap explaining the significance of these events to an emerging gentile population not acquainted with Hebrew culture or tradition, but familiar with Greek patterns of thought- including the Platonic (and Gnostic) dichotomy of real and corporeal. Building on this concept, John presents Jesus, not as a phantom emanation, but as the reality—transcending the shadows represented by the temporal physical life. John presents the miracles of Jesus (not so much as acts of mercy) but as signs of the reality of God- indicating the way God works and thinks.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that Matthew, a former publican, wrote an orderly account of the Gospel easily outlined and analyzed. This account included Christ's genealogy, the circumstances of His birth, John the Baptist's introduction of Christ, Christ's presentation to the local congregation, the sermon on the mount (a collection of sayings that Matthew had collected over 30 years), the rising of the opposition (Pharisees, Sadducees, and local synagogue leaders), the installation of Jesus' personal staff (the twelve apostles), ordinary men ranging from a hated publican to a revolutionary zealot to a plain blue collar contractor, and working men, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, called not so much for their current abilities, but as to what they would become by yielding to God, much the same as it is for all of us. The commission to the disciples evolves from their preliminary marching orders to go to the House of Israel to their ultimate commission of going to the Gentiles. The observation is made that the disciples seem to appear in groups of four, with one disciple assuming the leadership position of each group. Jesus warns His disciples then and now to be aware of persecution from inside the church, the government (incited by slander and libel) and our own families. Jesus cautions us never to fear or show timidity because our lives are entirely in God's hands and He will provide us whatever resources we need to overcome and build character in our brief 70 to 80 years we are allotted to live in mortal flesh. If we remain steadfastly loyal to God, we will experience abundant life in His family and Kingdom. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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