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.
John Ritenbaugh, re-iterating that internal evidence substantiates the high probability that the Apostle Paul authored the Book of Hebrews, stresses that Christ's ultimate goal is to bring the entire creation under the Father's subjection when God will be all in all. The recipients of the book of Hebrews consisted of converts from Judaism suffering estrangement from family and community, excommunicated from the temple. The etymology of Hebrew denotes someone who has "crossed over" a boundary (such as a river) and by extension connotes moving from one idea cluster to another (such as carnal to spiritual- requiring living tenaciously by faith), as demonstrated by our Patriarch Abraham. The intended audience of Hebrews was not exclusively descendants of Judah, but those who were called by God the Father into the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) which would include a large influx of gentiles. Because the Israel of God has departed from cultural expectations from both Jewish and Gentile communities, they suffer intense persecution. The Jerusalem Church, the headquarters congregation, had to meld the gentile and Hebrew elements together, deciding whether things like circumcision were still mandatory. The solution was to concentrate on the things Christ taught by example to the Apostles, granting the ability to apply God's law in gray areas as well as clear black and white distinctions. The New Covenant requirements outlined by Christ demanded that God's Called-out -ones must learn to worship in "spirit and truth" without the 'security' of a brick and mortar temple. The sacrificial system of the Old Covenant has not been done away but will re-instated during the Millennium for those who failed to learn its purpose the first time around. For God's called-out ones, the sacrificial system has certainly not been done away, but requires a living sacrifice of lifetime service, yielding to Christ's words and example.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the tumultuous time recorded in Acts is analogous to the current factional secularism, where God's Church is operating in the shadow of religious structures claiming to be "faith-based," but in fact denying God's Laws. Like the original audience of the Book of Hebrews, who battled a hostile established main-stream religion [Judaism] and persecution from an equally hostile secular Roman government, God's Church today faces a curtailment of tranquility. Like Paul and Nicodemus, God has pulled His people from pagan traditions practiced by the mainstream religion. As we are individually called by the Father (John 6:44), and the spiritual scales fall out of our eyes, we are just as disoriented and bewildered as the apostle Paul, finding our former friends and family members estranged from us. We learn that counting the cost means putting Christ ahead of friends, family, and especially self. At the time of the writing of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the newly converted Jew to the Way encountered persecution from the established religion and culture similar to what God's called-out ones experience today from established religion, family, secular culture, and government, all militating against God's Truth. Although textual criticism, citing stylistic differences in style between the Book of Hebrews and the identifiable Pauline Epistles, casts doubt on Paul's authorship, compelling internal evidence points to Paul as the actual author of Hebrews.
John Ritenbaugh, 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, 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.
As everyone knows, Scripture takes a very dim and stern view of sin because it is failure to live up to God's standard and destroys relationships, especially our relationship with God. After identifying the types and levels of sin, John Ritenbaugh suggests that the fear of God provides us the necessary motivation to overcome our iniquities.
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.
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 reiterates Christ's superior qualifications as High Priest. After the change from the Aaronic to the Melchizedek priesthood, it was also necessary to bring about a major change in the Covenant. The flaw in the Old Covenant was not in the law, but stemmed from the fleshly, deceitful, carnal hearts of mankind. All zealous rededications to the Old Covenant (such as that of Josiah) ultimately failed. In order to fulfill the New Covenant, God has had to perform a heart transplant operation, replacing the deceitful stony heart with a pure undefiled heart (a heart predisposed to keep God's law in both the letter and spirit by means of His Holy Spirit), enabling us to incrementally know God and to absorb His divine nature), an event prophesied by Jeremiah. The Old Covenant made no provision for the forgiveness sin, nor did it contain any means for man's nature to be transformed into God's divine nature.
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