Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that some prophecy buffs have concluded that the end of the world is on the horizon, citing the media's sniping at President Trump, North Korea's hydrogen bomb threats, and the succession of three destructive hurricanes. When analyzing the overblown coverage of the hurricanes, for example, one must factor in the motives of the Weather Channel , including the insidious political motive of fostering a belief in climate change, and the materialistic motive of boosting ratings by playing on people's fears. God's called-out ones should not look to the media when seeking truthful information. What God reveals in His Word is more reliable than the evening news. God's people do a disservice to the cause of truth when they allow the media-hype to trigger a false hope about Christ's imminent return. We have no absolute guarantee that Christ will come in our lifetime; studying numerology or secret biblical codes will not speed up the event. No one, not even Jesus Christ Himself, knows when He will return; the Father alone has this knowledge. Many of the signs of Jesus coming are perennial, such as deception, wars and rumors of wars, famines and natural disasters. To be sure, Christ averred that the both the density and the intensity of world events would increase before the end, but one cannot build a prophetic marker on a series of natural events, many of which have been over-hyped by irresponsible media outlets. When we are commanded to watch and pray, Christ expects the faithful servant to be watching the progress of his spiritual growth, regardless of whether His return is imminent or far off. The recent disasters should be a wake-up call not as a pin on a chart measuring prophetic fulfillment.
Every Christian longs for the return of Jesus Christ, and we search for fulfillments of the signs signaling that wonderful prophetic event. The seemingly rapid increase in natural disasters and heavenly spectacles can excite us to a fever pitch. Richard Ritenbaugh cautions that we need make sure that our understanding and interpretation of such signs align with what the Bible says about them.
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.
Charles Whitaker, reflecting on the events taking place as Christ bid His disciples farewell upon His ascension into Heaven, suggested that the approximately 75 days between the resurrection of Lazarus and Pentecost- brought about tumultuous activity and earth-shaking events. The disciples wanted eagerly to know what would happen next, just as we do do today. In that relatively short period of time, many miraculous and dramatic events occurred, including: (1) the resurrection of Lazarus, (2) the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem, (3) the Passover , (4) the ripping of the Temple veil, an event which reverberated throughout the entire Jewish world , (5) the opening of tombs, populating the region with many people who had earlier died,, (6) the resurrection of Christ, (7) the ascension of Christ, and (8) Pentecost (the miraculous beginning of the New Testament Church). But then God seemed to turn off the fulfilled prophecy machine; God did nothing further dramatic during 31 AD. Years and months rolled by, speculations emerged and fizzled, with hope that Christ would re-appear on one of the impending holy days. Paul, who thought Christ would return in his lifetime, urged people to be eternally vigilant never letting down, reminding us to earnestly love His appearing. Those who love His appearing will receive a crown of righteousness. The apparent discrepancy in the number of days in Daniel's prophecies equal 75 days, perhaps duplicating the 75 dramatic days occurring between the resurrection of Lazarus and the resurrection of Christ. We may not see those 75 days, but will receive the blessing on day 1,335 if we continue to look forward to Christ's appearing.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that godly leadership is lacking in Israelitish countries, maintains that grace is the single most important gift God gives us, and without this gift we would still be a part of this world—a world which has become equally as sinful as the times of Noah, when every thought of man was evil. From the time of the creation to the Flood was 1650 years, roughly about the same timespan as from the fall of the Roman Empire (classically taken to be 476 AD) until today. In both epochs, the population of mankind exploded, making it possible to develop the God-given resources placed at its disposal. God gave human beings long lives and brilliant minds to take advantage of the earth's resources. When we consider that in the last 150 years, mankind has advanced from travel on horsebacks to rocket ships, we can only speculate as to how advanced the world's technology was at the time of the Flood. God, who is not coldly mechanical in what He does, moved with calculated mercy, executing the destruction mankind brought on itself, snuffing out the reprobate minds before they self-destructed, rendering later rehabilitation impossible. As creatures with carnal minds, we realize, along with the apostle Paul, that we are in a continual life-and-death battle with sin. The only way out of this predicament is to keep God in our hearts rather than carnality. The previous course correction for sin involved water; the future course correction will involve fire. We are again in the societal context in which seemingly every thought of mankind is evil, driven by carnality and raw lust. As God sanctified our father Noah, saving him from the flood waters, we must trust God to sanctify us, protecting us from the holocaust of fire which will burn this earth to a cinder, in preparation for a new earth and heavens. As father Noah, sometimes identified as the Roman god Janus, who could see before and after the Flood, so we, living at the conclusion of this age, have a similar vantage point. God wants to see how we wil
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that the Church is unique in that it does not believe God's Law has been done away, warns that the governments and culture of the offspring of Jacob suffer from a dearth of leadership, dramatizing the observation of Ralph Waldo Emerson that "an institution is but the lengthened shadow of one man." The book of Isaiah was written in Judah, castigating the people for their lack of leadership, but the book of Ezekiel was written to the House of Israel, long after the Northern Kingdom had gone into captivity, intended for the modern nations of Israel. Individually, we must become leaders in our own families, protecting them from the curse and scourge that is already falling on our nation. We have the solemn obligation to fear God, to refrain from being hypocrites, and to thoroughly repent, allowing ourselves to become pliable clay in God's hands. In this context, we must: (1) establish that the covenants are a gift from God, designed for our freedom, (2) understand that a covenant is a legal agreement between us and the unseen God, (3) understand that the covenant is not cold and legalistic, and (4) understand the Covenant was offered by the True God, who has never failed in His obligations. The New Covenant, promised in Hebrews 8:10 for the entire nation, has commenced as a forerunner in the Israel of God. As Christ's affianced Bride, God's called-out ones must not emulate the example of physical Judah and Israel, who shamelessly committed adultery (which is spiritual pornea—absorbing Pagan idolatrous practice), but must remain chaste in the keeping of the Covenants. Breaking God's covenant is the equivalent of adultery.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that we are approaching the end of a seven year cycle, the seventh year on the Hebrew calendar, a time of the year of release, when the Law was publicly and solemnly read. This event has always proved more solemn with a sense of urgency than the services of a regular Feast of Tabernacles. In the current grim background of the accelerating decadence of the western democratic democracies, we must remember that for God's called-out ones the responsibility for a life of faith is not the church, but rather on the individual. Because none of us are privy to the time of Christ's return, we must continually seek God's counsel rather than being distracted and mesmerized by the Zeitgeist around us. During the time of Noah, there was a lengthy witness from a preacher of righteousness before God's hammer of judgment (in the form of the flood) fell upon the world's populace. We must be continually aware and alert to our own spiritual condition, remembering that the times would be identical to Noah's, when people were absorbed into the spirit of the time, failing to heed God's warning. God's called-out ones must remain single-minded, fortifying their spiritual reserves with Bible study, prayer, and meditation, maintaining a vigilant, watchful eye out for the surreptitious lures of Satan's decadent socio-cultural milieu.
Martin Collins, warning that all prophetic speculations have been accompanied with a high degree of error and subsequent embarrassment to the speculator and his adherents, admonishes us that any prophetic speculation, accurate or not, is useless unless it is promotes diligence in living Godly lives, eagerly and expectantly preparing for the return of our Savior, living our lives to the glory of God. If we begin to doubt the veracity of Christ's return, our hearts will turn cold, causing us to imitate the evil servant who begins to mistreat his fellow servants. We have to exercise the same kind of watchful care as a night watchman on guard against thieves and robbers. It is natural for all of us to desire to protect our physical property; protecting our spiritual property should warrant a much higher priority. We must assiduously emulate the faithful servant rather than the evil servant, caught up in cruelty, carousing, and shirking responsibility. Faithless Christians will be judged with greater strictness and severity than non-believers who do not know any better; knowledge always creates a greater level of responsibility. The anticipation of seeing Christ return should be the greatest motivator, bringing about a dramatic change of behavior, living sanctified, set-apart, holy lives that please God, the kind of behavior which could actually bring about an acceleration of God's plans. We should be emulating Christ's model prayer, diligently beseeching the establishment of the Kingdom of God. We need to avoid two dangerous extremes, believing that nothing we can do will make a difference, and the notion that God cannot do anything unless we personally do it. As God's called-out ones, we avoid becoming unstable by growing spiritually, realizing that being saved by grace is only the beginning of the process; we must be constantly strengthened by grace, prompting us to keep God's Commandments as a testimony of our love for Him, maturing to the full stature of Christ.
Martin Collins, characterizing the scoffer as a dangerous mixture of pride, malice, ignorance, and shallowness with a high degree of combativeness, suggests that scoffers will increase exponentially as we approach the time of Jacob's trouble, the dreadful day of the Lord, the return of Jesus Christ and the judgment upon mankind when evil will be utterly expunged forever. Peter warned of scoffers in the church, apostate tares, devoid of God's spirit, ridiculing the doctrine that Christ would return or doctrines of judgment, treating lightly those things we should take seriously. Apostates want to be able to live comfortably in their own sins. Peter assures us that God's Word is true, God's Word is consistent (the world is being reserved for fire as it was previously reserved for a cataclysmic flood following creation), and God's Word is consistent all the way through, focusing on a future day of judgment. God's good creation has been turned into a groaning creation, polluted and desecrated by man's horrific sins. The only reason God has not brought the destructive antics of mankind to an end earlier is that He is merciful and longsuffering, desiring all to repent and embrace salvation. In Peter's sermon on Pentecost, he explains Joel's prophecy of God's Spirit poured out on His saints, given to those who repent, with the expectation that this spiritual gift would be used to edify the Body of Christ—the Church. Peter encourages us with the assurance that, though the elements will burn with fervent heat, we will be given protection if we yield to God, allowing Him to carry out His will for our lives.
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....
Martin Collins, acknowledging that people universally are curious about the future, asserts that prophecy is difficult and perplexing. Regardless of when Christ will return, we must be ready. False teachers, apostasy, and wars, as well as rumors of wars, will be a permanent part of the birth pangs ushering in Christ's Second Coming and the end of the world. Our challenge in the wake of the terrible things we witness now (an arena of passion and fury) must be to retain confidence that God is in control, even though our faith will be tried to its ultimate. The zeal we had at our calling cannot hold up to the current rigors. We need to learn to fear God more than those who persecute us. When we are ill-treated, we are persecuted for His sake—a high honor. God will give us special ability to witness for Him in the midst of gruesome trials and persecution. God's promises have conditions, namely, that we come to the stature of Christ. We are commanded not to be deceived, not to be afraid, and not to worry. Because Jesus will come unexpectedly and suddenly, we need to always live as though Christ will be returning tomorrow. God encourages us to stay settled in times of conflict, to stand firm in the faith, and to preach the Gospel to the world until Christ returns, an event which will be as the blink of the eye regardless of when we die. Consequently, we need to maintain a solid relationship with God, watching and praying continually, protecting our spiritual valuables. Until Christ returns, we must serve our brethren, using the spiritual gifts God has given us, in direct contrast to the evil servant, who is careless, cruel, and engages in carousing, believing he has plenty of time since Christ has supposedly delayed His coming. Faithless Christians will be judged more harshly than those who do not know Christ. To whom much has been committed, much will be expected.
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.
As He was finishing His Olivet Prophecy, Jesus charged His disciples, "And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!" (Mark 13:37). It is an intriguing command because He does not specify in so many words what we are to watch. Pat Higgins argues that the evidence points to the fact that watching has everything to do with spiritual preparation.
Martin Collins, reiterating that God's sovereignty is a major theme in the book of Daniel, reminds us that if we submit unconditionally to His sovereignty, we have a win-win situation- even when initially, it looks bleak and hopeless. After Nebuchadnezzar's death, the successive tenures of each of his descendants became increasingly attenuated and truncated, mortally weakening Babylon's here-to-fore impregnable position. Belshazzar's blasphemous banquet was the last straw, bringing about the cryptic 'handwriting on the wall' - a somber judgment from Almighty God against the haughty, presumptuous grandchild of Nebuchadnezzar. The words "Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin" signified that Belshazzar's kingdom had been weighed in the balances and was seriously wanting, forcing a calamitous division and destruction at the hands of Darius the Mede. Belshazzar had to learn the painful lesson that sin is not static, but its path leads precipitously downhill to perdition. Sin, the real opiate of the people, makes us oblivious to danger, giving us a debased and reprobate mind. God is not static; His deferred justice will not be deferred in perpetuity, but evil will be totally recompensed. As Daniel experienced, devotion to God and His laws will stir up jealousy in high places. Daniel maintained his devotion to God in spite of dangerous political circumstances, seemingly standing alone amidst a totally pagan culture. Yet, Daniel was the only one who had it together in the whole empire, totally convicted about what God would soon bring to pass. God wants a voluntary relationship, but leaves it up to us as to how to show our devotion. We could emulate Daniel, seeking contact with God multiple times in the day through prayer, praying in all kinds of situations (in the morning when we are beginning; evening to offer Thanksgiving for the mercies of the day, Before sleep to commend ourselves to Him, in times of embarrassment, and when tormented with strong temptations.) In life and death, God is in control.
In the unsettling letter to the church of Laodicea, Jesus Christ paints a picture of Himself in relation to the end-time church. Notice the figure He uses in Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. ...
Martin Collins, focusing upon various interpretations of who or what constitutes antichrists, examines several characteristics of this group of beings, including fostering deception and confusion, preventing fellowship, and creating intense spiritual conflict. Realizing that our real enemies are not human beings at all, but demonic principalities emanating from the spirit of darkness, we are mandated to put on the whole armor of God, embracing the truth. The mystery of evil and lawlessness has been extant from the beginning of the early church, recognized by Paul and John. Some teachers in the early church actually attained leadership and influence in the teaching of noxious false doctrine. Ultimately, the being or order emerging as the antichrist will be motivated directly by Satan. Historically, antichrist teachers have proclaimed that Jesus was only a man, or that He had a phantom body and never really experienced death. The syncretistic new religion of Chrislam is actually a prime example of antichrist doctrine. The false prophet and the great political leader in Revelation 13 and 17 will both be worshipped by people duped by Satan to believe a strong delusion. We need to be on guard for antichrist influences attempting to penetrate the greater church of God. We are admonished to test the spirits, realizing that heretical tares have been permitted to test our faith. The spirit of the antichrist is alive and well today, attempting to sabotage our spiritual welfare and steal our spiritual crown.
John O. Reid (1930-2016): Herbert W. Armstrong often turned to Ezekiel 33 to expound upon being a watchman over Israel, saying that if he did not warn Israel about the approaching "time of Jacob's Trouble" ...
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the parable of the faithful and wise servant and the evil servant as well as the wise and foolish virgins, suggests that the Day of Trumpets emphasizes the state of caution and faithfulness required at the turbulent end times. The parables focus upon the relationship which we must have toward our fellow workers, warning us not to fall into a state of spiritual malaise in the midst of increasing stress. As a metaphor, sleep often has negative connotations of insensitivity, lack of alertness or awareness. Because the exact time of Christ's return is not known, we must be continually motivated as though His return were imminent. Those not prepared for the Day of the Lord will be blindsided by its unexpectedness. Christ and Paul realized that God only knows the time of Christ's return and have subsequently warned that we cannot rest on our laurels or fall asleep as in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. We must be making our preparations individually, not cuing in on our brethren, our family, or the world around us. As children of light we must conduct ourselves soberly, making positive use of our time, not allowing it to drift away. Being spiritually asleep or drunk will lead to poverty. We must wake up spiritually, taking off our carnal pajamas (the old carnal man) and clothing ourselves with the armor of God (Christ), redeeming the time and urgently pressing toward sanctification, holiness, and the Kingdom of God. The apostle Paul, afflicted with multiple health problems and considering his past life as worthless refuse, nevertheless, with sterling self-discipline, single-mindedly pressed on toward his spiritual goal, providing us an example for conduct under affliction and pressure. If we follow Paul's advice, we will not be emulating the wicked servant or the foolish virgins; we will be prepared.
A survey of the New Testament reveals that, though we may recognize the "signs of the times," we will not be able to determine when Jesus Christ will return. David Grabbe pursues the concept of Christ's second coming "as a thief in the night," and what this means to Christians in this end time.
Similar to the old E.F. Hutton commercial, when the preacher speaks on prophecy, everyone listens. Studying prophecy is good, argues Richard Ritenbaugh, but doctrine and Christian living are far more necessary and helpful to our practicing and growing in God's way of life right now.
As we trudge relentlessly into the time of the end, and the bright summer days continue to be spiritually dark, we frequently cast about for any indicator of how much longer it will be until Jesus Christ returns, bringing the mad rule of man to a close. ...
Jesus gave the Parable of the Ten Virgins to encourage His disciples to be watchful and to make preparations for His return. In Part One, Martin Collins compares the two groups of virgins, applying the lessons to our situation at the end of the age.
After showing that today's Europe is far from "Beastly," John Ritenbaugh speculates on the identity of the Woman depicted in Revelation 12. Is she, as the church has dogmatically taught in the past, the church itself—or is she another prophetic entity that we can see active in the world today?
As this world keeps on turning, more people become skeptical about the return of Jesus Christ. The Bible, however, insists that He will come again and quickly. Richard Ritenbaugh advises watchful, sober expectation because the Lord does not delay His coming.
Jesus teaches His disciples to be ready at all times for His return. We show how well prepared we are by the quality of our service to the brethren.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the writings of Malachi Martin, suggests that as the Catholic College of Cardinals have a large number of prudent agnostics within their ranks, we also have a great many fence sitters within the church of God, demonstrating an alarming deficit of faith. In times of intense stress and uncertainty, many become extremely apathetic, unwilling to persevere, unwilling to work at overcoming. We are on the threshold of the greatest period of testing ever to come upon mankind. We need to be developing a sense of internal hope and faith through the motivating power of God's Holy Spirit, striving to keep our focus on our calling (God sought us out purposefully), passionately striving for goodness. The apostle Peter wrote an entire epistle (I Peter) on the subject of hope—stressing that what we really need, God will not hold back—including shaping trials. Thankfully, we are not left without resources.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the shock and awe bombardment in Iraq, focuses upon the original shock and awe display on Mount Sinai, as well as the ultimate shock and awe campaign the world will experience at the second coming of Christ. Descriptions of this calamitous event abound throughout the Psalms and prophecies, depicting in awesome graphic detail the carnage and destruction of the Day of the Lord—the time of which no one knows! When these events begin to unfold (like a thief in the night), they will occur at meteoric speed. We dare not be caught sleeping but must show continual vigilance.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Bible students know that Scripture is about thirty percent prophecy, and preachers have cautioned that prophecy should take no more than the equivalent percentage of our study time. ...
Prior to the study of Lamentations, John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the meaning of Matthew 24:40-41, contends that the separation that occurs does not apply to a secret rapture but, more probably, to a separation suggested by Revelation 13:10-16, in which a portion of the church is preserved in a place of safety and another portion is designated to endure the persecution of Satan. Lamentations 3 and 4 show the stark contrast of a once proud people (secure in their wealth, technology, and cleverness) suffering bitter persecution and humiliation at the hands of a people considered by them to be their moral inferiors. In the midst of this suffering, in which the ravages of famine have brought about a degradation of compassion and moral sensibility in Israel, the narrator (presumably Jeremiah) stresses that vindication and ultimate restoration will come only from God.
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.
[Editor's note: the Matthew portion of the Bible Study begins at the 49min-30sec mark] Before continuing the Bible Study in Matthew 24, John Ritenbaugh, after first examining the role of the Levites, goes into great detail explaining the various roles or functions of offices of responsibility within the church, including that of apostle, evangelist, pastor, and elder- sometimes called bishop, presbyter, or overseer. All of these appointed positions carry the singular responsibility as shepherds to perfect, correct, and edify the saints, bringing the entire congregation to the unity of Christ. The series of events described by Christ in Matthew 24 should be compared to the six seals described in Revelation 6 and the seventh seal described in Revelation 7, showing a definite chronological progression from the Great Tribulation to the terrifying cosmic signs, followed by the climactic Day of the Lord. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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