Clyde Finklea, recounting an incident from his youth in which the tailwinds of a violent storm blew him off his feet, as well as reflecting on the lyrics of Bob Seeger's song, "Against the Wind," warns us that our calling resembles walking headlong into dangerous, deadly storm currents. Satan and his demonic entourage are fighting against God, stealthily working behind the scenes, influencing political, religious, and cultural currents of thought throughout the world. God has designated Michael, one of the former covering archangels to be the chief prince over Israel, providing protection against the relentless, continual onslaught conducted by Satan and his demons. In the fullness of time, perhaps it will be Michael who casts Satan and his consorts into an abyss. In the meantime, God's called-out ones must run against the winds created by the prince of the power of the air, resisting these deadly currents with fortification from the armor of God.
While the subject of the demons' ultimate fate is not a salvation issue, many people wonder how God will deal with them at the end of the Millennium. John Ritenbaugh tackles four assumptions that Bible students and scholars tend to make when dealing with this issue, showing that none of them holds up under biblical scrutiny.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that (1) not all flesh is the same, nor is all spirit the same either. God's Holy Spirit is the only variety of Spirit guaranteed eternal life; the other forms of spirit, including angelic beings like Satan the devil, are subject to extinction. (2) God did not make a colossal mistake by creating a being He could not destroy. (3) The "wages of sin is death" constitutes a universal law, applying just as much to angels as to human beings. (4) If sin were allowed anywhere in the New Heaven and the New Earth, in any form, that new creation would not be of the purity that God has promised in His Word. In the several encounters Jesus has with demons, they expressed fear of impending torture or death. Ezekiel 28 reveals that Satan's fate will be ashes in the Lake of Fire; it would be inconsistent with God's compassionate character for Him to inflict pain on a being eternally. God's called-out ones have received an earnest payment of God's Holy Spirit, which carries immortality and abundant life. We are being formed into new creatures, not just spiritual retreads on our carnal nature, equipped and designed to live in the Heavenly Jerusalem of the New Heavens and New Earth, the very offspring of Almighty God.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the symbolism of the two goats on this solemn holy day—the sacrificial goat (representing Jesus Christ's sacrifice for our sins) was slain, while the Azazel goat (which we have assumed to be Satan), with the sins of the entire nation pronounced on its head, was led into the wilderness to die a natural death—suggests that some aspects of our previous understanding may have been wrong. Not one human being, from our parents, Adam and Eve, to ourselves, can escape the responsibility of his own sins; Satan did not make us do anything, unless we willingly cooperated with his temptations. We cannot blame anyone else, including our physical parents, for our shortcomings. Because the Azazel goat in the ceremony was allowed to escape, we concluded that Satan (as well as the demonic spirits who followed him) would not die, but would be driven into a perpetual abode of restraint, symbolized by the term "outer darkness." Angels were created to serve as ministering spirits, assisting the Creator well before mankind came on the scene. To be sure, we have no scriptural evidence that an angel has died, but we cannot assume that angels are immortal and share the same kind of spirit God Almighty has. Though angelic beings are currently superior to human beings in intelligence and volition, we cannot assume they are indestructible. Speculation among the splinters of the greater church of God ranges from the thesis that Satan and his demons will live forever in a remote location to its antithesis that Satan and his demons will be utterly annihilated. We need to process four troublesome assumptions: (1) that all spirit is ever living and impossible to destroy, (2) that God was guilty of lack of judgment in creating something He could not take apart, (3) that angels are not subject to the same principles of judgment with which God judges men, and (4) that the new heavens and earth will not be of the purity God promised.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on the words of the covenant which the Lord made with Israel, recorded in Deuteronomy 29, maintains that this covenant still applies to the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) even though the vast majority of modern Israel have rejected this covenant and, consequently, can no longer claim to be God's "chosen people." We dare not go down the same path as our fellow Americans or our fellow descendants of Jacob have followed, remembering the absolute uniqueness of the Church (or Israel of God.) If we follow the dictates of our heart, as has physical Israel, we will not acquire peace, but will instead share in their curses. As long as we mirror God's characteristics, we are the Israel of God. We have been called to qualify to provide leadership under Jesus Christ, leadership which will be tested throughout a lifetime of testing and trial. We learn from our original parents that as soon as we sin, a stark change occurs throughout our nervous system, subjecting us to shame and fear. As part of God's judgment on Satan, a marvelous piece of workmanship who manifested himself in a heretofore beautiful creature, enmity was created between Adam and Eve's offspring and the serpent, a living organism forced to crawl on its belly rather than ambulate on its feet. Universal repulsiveness instantly replaced admiration. Sin turns all beauty into ugliness. Likewise, the creatures of nature expressed wariness of human beings, the same kind of wariness we should have for the fallen archangel, the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of this world. As Adam's offspring, we are forced to contend with a demonic presence in our worldview throughout our entire lives. Thankfully, the prophecy that Adam and Eve's offspring (Jesus Christ) will crush the head of the serpent advances the distinct likelihood that God intends to annihilate defective spirit beings permanently, including Satan and his entire demonic entourage, a prospect which fills them with terror and rage as the end of this age approaches.
John Ritenbaugh reflects on two recent news items in which individuals foolishly initiated altercations with police and lost their lives in the process. As a matter of common sense, it seems the height of idiocy to challenge constituted authority. Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 8:17 that we are not privy to God's operations under the sun, but we must nevertheless leave room for God's operations, realizing that He has the prerogative to impose both blessings and calamity, the latter as a response to man's disobedience. God wants us to witness difficulties and the natural consequences of sin. In these difficult times, we need to be mindful that God is carefully watching us. As we yield to God, and apply godly wisdom, analyzing, calculating, observing, etc., our knowledge increases and we add an extra dimension of character as we morph into God's offspring. One of the difficult lessons we must process is that God backs up constituted authority, regardless of the governmental structures that placed it into office. We must realize that whether we are dealing with federal representatives, city council members, the policeman on the beat, our employer, our teachers, or our parents, we owe them the same deference and respect we would give to God. The human family was given by God as the building blocks of all governmental structures. As the beginning of wisdom is fear of Almighty God, we humans learn to fear, giving deference and respect to our parents, and then transfer this deference to civil government and other governmental structures of society. We must continually remember that we are strangers, pilgrims, and sojourners in an alien land. Even if we consider ourselves ambassadors of a heavenly kingdom, our latitude to participate in the governmental structures in this world has been greatly restricted. Nevertheless, we are obligated to render respect, deference, and honor to constituted authority as though we rendered it to God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the Day of Atonement and our responsibility toward God in afflicting our souls. The intent of this process (made clear by the Hebrew verb'awnah'cowing or browbeating our human nature into submission) is to deflate our pride (the major taproot of sin), the biggest deterrent to a positive relationship with God. In humbling us, God causes us to lose our sense of self-sufficiency and pride. As lumps of clay, we cannot be transformed unless we endure the pain of pounding, shaping, and molding. The Day of Atonement adds the dimension of self-inflicted pain, modeled by Christ as He voluntarily endured, submitting himself to His Father's will. Pride caused our separation from God; humility will heal it. Pride generates self-sufficiency, blinding people to their real needs and to others' needs, making a person hard and non-resilient, predisposing him to destruction, shame, and disgrace. Fasting helps to restore at-one-ness with God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, responding to a challenge of our understanding concerning Satan the Devil, systematically substantiates Satan's existence. Christ was an eyewitness to Satan's fall from heaven, and Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 verify the veracity of this event. Jude and Peter add detail regarding the sins of the angels, and their confinement as demons. Sadly, we as humans share the prison cell inhabited by Satan and his fallen demons. Pride, vanity, presumption, and self-absorption led to Satan's demise—being cast out as a profane thing. Satan's madness (that he is his own god) is the spirit of this world, and he still possesses great spiritual and political power on this earth, even to deceive the very elect. We become protected from Satan's destruction by 1) the blood of the Lamb, implying our deepening relationship with God; 2) the conduct of our lives, constantly adding to our character; and 3) the willingness to sacrifice for righteousness.
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).
Genesis is a book of beginnings, and in that theme, it also contains the first prophecy. In the first part of this three-part series, Richard Ritenbaugh explains God's curse on the serpent in Genesis 3:14-15.
When the incorrigibly wicked are thrown into the Lake of Fire, will they be tormented forever? Richard Ritenbaugh sets the matter of Revelation 20:10 straight.