Richard Ritenbaugh provides introductory information to his ensuing series on the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3. Letter-writing, as a means of communication, became highly formalized in the Greco-Roman world. The Scriptures contain a large number of letters, the epistle being the dominant literary form in the New Testament. The "Seven Letters" are an example of letters embedded in a larger book. Christ has written these letters to all the members of His Body, that is, to individuals having the Holy Spirit and therefore capable of understanding their highly symbolic language. God intends the book of Revelation to be a disclosure of vital information, warning us to prepare for those things that will occur with lightning speed. God admonishes the members of Christ's body to read and keep the spiritual lessons, not just to "figure out" prophecies. The seven churches represent the composite church of God in its multiple personalities, as well as each individual God has called-out. The book's dramatic introduction, emphasizing the sovereignty of our High Priest and His Father, projects us into the Day of the Lord and offers vital information as to how to endure that horrendous time. Christ, standing in the midst of the seven golden lampstands (the church of God) rules and teaches the church. The seven angels (Greek: angelos, or "messenger") could apply to spiritual guardians, physical leaders, or even individual church member as we also serve as messengers of the Way.
Martin Collins, reminding us that the Days of Unleavened Bread dramatize the difficulty of our perpetual lifelong struggle to extricate ourselves from the bondage of sin, points out that the despicable institution of human slavery has been perpetually with us, and is still practiced today around the world, whether we speak of sex slaves, sweat shops, or cultural caste systems. Consequently, there are 30 million people living in slavery around the world, with 14 million slaves living in India, and an estimated 60,000 slaves in the United States today. In theApostle Paul's time, 60 million slaves lived in the Roman Empire, with strict laws enforced in order to discourage revolt. Runaway slaves were branded with an "F-U-G" on their forehead, becoming the etymology of the word "fugitive." Although Paul was powerless to attack the system of slavery, he tried to neutralize its evil within the church, advocating that slave owners relinquish the owner-property relationship to a brother-brother relationship. Paul appealed to Philemon to develop this kind of relationship after his slave Onesimus ran away, stealing his money, running to Rome to assist Paul during his imprisonment. Paul wrote a humble, brotherly, diplomatic letter to his old friend Philemon, offering to pay a substitutionary debt for Onesimus if he would treat him as if he were Paul himself. Apparently, Philemon obliged, and the once lowly slave Onesimus evidently became a profitable bishop in his later life, paying back Paul's and Philemon's trust, demonstrating generosity and Christian hospitality. We learn from Onesimus that the Christian is not to run away from his past, but instead to rise above it, making overcoming more of a conquest than an escape. Like Paul's assumption of Onesimus' debt, Christ took our sins on His account and put His righteousness on our account. As an heir with Christ, our bondage is only temporary until we are resurrected as family members of the God Family.
Understanding our obligation to Christ leads to a deeply held, personal loyalty to Him. John Ritenbaugh explains that our redemption by means of Christ's sacrifice should make us strive to please Him in every facet of life.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the deeply felt sense of obligation we feel knowing that a ransom has been paid to redeem us from the death penalty. While we have been justified through grace by faith, good works are the concrete and public reality of this faith. Because we have been bought with an awesome price, we have no right to pervert our lives, but are obligated to look upon our bodies as sacred holy vessels in His service. In John 15:16 Christ teaches that He has appointed us to bring forth fruit. Christ's special calling produces a sense of gratitude, loyalty, and intimate friendship in which we feel an abhorrence of letting Him down.
John Ritenbaugh insists that, when it comes to the consequences of sin, "there ain't no free lunch" (likewise there is no such thing as a victimless crime.) Children (actually all of us) need to learn that we often suffer the consequences of other people's sins. Children, because of their failure to connect cause and effect or time connections, do not seem to comprehend the devastating long-range consequences of sin. Only the immature think they can escape the penalties of broken laws. God's Law is immutable and unchanging. Parents need to teach their children to consider the long-range consequences of current behaviors, chastening and disciplining them while there is hope. The historical testimony of the scriptures reveals that God's purpose or counsel cannot be altered and that His judgments are totally impartial. If we, as parents, realize these principles, we will rear our children to fear God and respect authority. Children must be taught the long-range as well as the short-range cause/effect relationships between sin (or lawbreaking) and the deadly certain penalties that follow.
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