Martin Collins, focusing on the designation of six cities of refuge in Exodus 21:12-13, finds a spiritual parallel outlined in God's annual Holy days, beginning with Christ as a refuge for us in the Passover and our making a refuge for others during the Feast of Tabernacles. The institution of cities of refuge, havens for those who have committed unintentional manslaughter, highlights the great importance God placed on the sanctity of life, especially in beings created in God's image. In the Ancient world, where blood revenge was widely practiced; a large number of people died violently. The cities of refuge prefigure Christ's final refuge from death, protecting us from Satan's murderous intentions. The elders of the city, Levitical priests, trained to counsel individuals in the ways of God, would examine the weapons used in the killing and would investigate the history of prior relationships between the killer and the victim in order to determine whether the verdict of manslaughter or murder be handed down. If the seeker of refuge were exonerated, he was confined to the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest, at which time he could return home. When Christ, our High Priest, died for our sins, we were set free and allowed to reconcile with our Heavenly Father. Besides providing refuge for the twelve tribes of Israel, these cities became a refuge for non-Israelites who had killed another person unintentionally. The cities of refuge did not provide protection for premeditated murderers, unlike the bogus 'sanctuary cities' created by liberal progressives, which protect law-breakers and felons instead of protecting the innocent. The code of law in God's sanctuary cities is universal, not one set of standards for one ethnic group and one for another. Christ is our place of safety; we have refuge in Him at all times. The names of these cities all represent aspects of Christ's character. For example, Kedesh signifies setting apart as holy (Passover) while Golan represents joy and dancing in the Millennium.
John Ritenbaugh somewhat modifies his amazement at individuals who made gigantic sacrifices in the fledgling days of the Radio Church of God, concluding that it is in fact God who expends the lion's share of the energy, putting us all through flip flops in our sanctification process. Our yielding to God's will is a relatively minor sacrifice compared to what He does continually on our behalf. In no way are we interfacing with a passive God, but instead with One extremely active in our lives from before the foundation of the world. As the destinies of the major biblical luminaries were predestined, so are all the lives of God's called-out ones. God does the choosing; God does the moving, micro-managing the lives of those He has called as His servants (such as Abraham, Isaac, Moses, etc.), protecting us from the hatred of the Gentiles (emanating from the spirit of Satan), who are jealous of the hedge of protection and prosperity (both resulting from grace) God has given Jacob's descendants, the current custodians of the prosperous western world. God set apart (that is, made holy, sanctified, and metaphorically married) the entire physical nation in order to model His Laws and way of life to the rest of the world. Physical Israel failed in its responsibility, squandering its precious blessing. God destroyed the physical Temple, national Israel's "security blanket," but concomitantly began building, under Christ, another temple, this one made up of called-out believers. (In a supplemental metaphor, these believers represent Christ's Body, wherein the Holy Spirit dwells.) Whether seen as a body or a temple, these called-out believers represent a new institution, an entity distinct from the previously set-apart nation of Israel. This new institution will eventually have a holiness on a vastly highly plane than that of physical Israel, as it will come to possess the very holiness of God Himself. No one can come to this level of rel
John Ritenbaugh indicates that we are being fitted as lively stones into an already formed Kingdom, being conformed to the image of Christ, who has been designated as the Cornerstone. As God's future priests, becoming living sacrifices, we will constitute God's department of health, education, and welfare, serving and helping humanity. The Israel of God becomes God's firstborn, being set aside as a chosen generation to help the High Priest, Jesus Christ. This role as Christ's assistants is what we are being prepared for, a role which will call for rigorous discipline. This rigor will enable us to be totally transformed from the inside out, bringing about a renewal of our minds and a change of character. We are appointed on men's behalf to deal with things pertaining to God. We will become the link between men and God. We will offer sacrifice, largely consisting of intercessory prayer. We have to have compassion, sympathy, and empathy with mankind, realizing the repertoire of our own weaknesses. Like Christ, we must learn from the things we have suffered, making us able to aid those who have been tempted. God has hand-picked or chosen us as forerunners because He loved us; we dare not squander this precious calling of training for the Royal Priesthood. The more we know God, the stronger and more insightful we will get, enabling us to build one another up in Godly love, thinking with the mind of the Father and Jesus Christ, with His Law written in our hearts.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that if we do not know who we are and where we are going, we are destined to undergo continuous stress. If we yield to God's manipulation of our lives, we will handle stress constructively, developing a relationship with Him, bearing spiritual fruit. As our forebears followed the pillar of cloud and fire, we are instructed to follow God's written Word. The goodness of God leads to our repentance and transformation, progressively becoming a peculiar people, a royal nation of priests. Our uniqueness and greatness stems from keeping God's laws, and having them implanted in our hearts. We can make it on our wilderness journey if God is continually with us all the way to the end. God has given us more spiritual understanding than the most sophisticated leaders and educators of the world will ever hope to have. Only those who have been called understand the mystery of God's will. Much of our overcoming involves dissolving prejudices we may have against those God has called into His family. We have been put into an already- designed structure, living stones in a spiritual structure. There is no such thing as an "independent" Christian. Our inheritance will be the whole earth as a sanctified, holy nation, a royal priesthood and a holy priesthood, performing the work of the Lord, offering ourselves as living sacrifices.
Throughout man's long history, cruelty—both to other people and to animals—has been a frequent stain on human character; it is an unfortunate part of human nature. The Bible consistently denounces cruelty in all its forms.
Believe it or not, music in religion is a contentious subject! David Maas, a talented musician in his own right, considers the Bible's approach to music, concluding that it is a blessing from God and an appropriate vehicle for praise and worship.
Focusing upon II Corinthians 13:5, John Ritenbaugh cautions us of the futility of assenting to a code of standards we do not intend to apply. Belief without conduct equals a dead faith leading to death. Works give evidence that we really do believe and have the Holy Spirit in us. What we believe (correctly or incorrectly) will inevitably produce works. According to a survey conducted by Barna, a large segment of professing Christians have rejected major tenets of the Bible (in effect, calling Jesus Christ a liar) fashioning their own subjective, private religions, giving themselves license to sin in selected areas and fostering a tolerance for hideous societal perversions. Rejecting a biblical world-view, unfaithful modern Israel has degenerated into a habitation of demons. As God's called out ones, we are admonished not to conform or follow suit, but to yield to God's purification.
Most people understand the basic point of this well-known parable. The whole story describes working compassion as contrasted to selfishness. It also clarifies just who is our neighbor.
John Ritenbaugh admonishes that amidst the erosion of doctrine in truth from the Gentile culture of moral relativism, we must, after the manner of Jeremiah and Nehemiah, build a wall, be a wall, and summon the courage to stand in the gap. We must stay focused in our thinking, girding up the loins of our minds, submitting to the will of God, realizing that in these perilous times we will be hated by the many. Conforming to God will set us apart, sanctify us, separating us from the world, making us a virtual wall. Our determination will determine the strength or the durability of this wall. Building a wall requires standing, holding firm, showing alertness and a readiness for action- even if it requires self-denial and unpleasant dirty work, ultimately aspiring to know God, living as He lives, cleansing ourselves from filth and becoming holy.
The Bible shows Christ, at the end, measuring the church with a plumbline, testing for uprightness and determining standards of justice and righteousness. The seven eyes seem to refer to the messengers of the seven churches having a worldwide influence. The olive trees in Zechariah 4:11 refer to the Two Witnesses who pour oil (spiritual instruction) into a golden bowl (a receptacle for this teaching), supplying the churches with spiritual nourishment during their period of testimony before the whole world. They will have power to kill those who would harm them, following the pattern of Elijah (2 Kings 1:10), a kind of carte blanche authority to destroy in order to do their work (Revelation 11:5)
It is an unusual fact that the subjects of God's spring holy days and firstborns appear in the same contexts. Here is what this means to us.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that only God, not man, can determine whether something or someone is holy or authentic as opposed to profane and strange. God will accept only what He has set apart or designated as holy or authentic, such as the sacred fire in Numbers 16 (symbolizing God's cleansing and purifying power) as well as the fuel and the incense. The 250 men offering strange or profane fire in their censers represented a blatant refusal to accept God and His standard of righteousness. The bronze covered altar made with the censers recovered from the charred remains of the rebels constitutes a stark reminder of the folly at rebelling against holy things, replacing God's standards with human standards.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that in Numbers 16 through 18, God performed several miracles to demonstrate conclusively that not everyone is called to the same function and that He remains the Boss. The events included: (1) The execution of the rebels Dathan, Abiram, and Korah; (2) The sparing of Korah's sons; (3) The lightning bolts zapping the 250 men offering profane fire; (4) The intercessory activity of Aaron stopping the plague from consuming the murmurers; and (5) The budding and blossoming of Aaron's Rod, determining once and for all whom God set apart for the role of the priesthood. God performed these specific acts to demonstrate that He, and not men, has the final word on everything.
John Ritenbaugh discusses the implication of Dathan and Korah's rebellion in Numbers 16:1-5, agitating for a democratization of priestly responsibilities. God clearly reveals that not everybody set apart is holy in the same way, nor is God dealing the same way with each person. The privileges granted the priesthood are accompanied with equally weighty responsibilities. The New Testament church as a priesthood has been 1) set apart by God (not by people or self), 2) totally belongs to God, 3) has been awarded gifts for very specific functions, and 4) given the exclusive duty of drawing near to God.
In this follow-up sermon on the antidote to presumptuousness, Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that a person who is truly content is never presumptuous. Korah and Abiram were not contented with where God had placed them in the body, but, in a spirit of pride-filled competition, wanted to arrogate to themselves the office of Moses, as Heylel wanted to arrogate to himself God's office. God is very quick to punish presumptuous sins. Self-exaltation leads to debasement. Following the cue of our Elder Brother, we ought to humble ourselves, content to be nothing, allowing God to do the exalting. We need to be content in whatever position God has called us (Philippians 4:11-13).
[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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