John Ritenbaugh, suggesting that most of us resemble the Samaritan woman in our understanding of the value of our calling, maintains that our relationship with God is our sole protection from carnal human nature and the deadly pulls of the world. Whatever consumes our time has the power to either edify or distract us. Faith and works are interchangeable components in our salvation, demonstrating a cause-and-effect relationship. The apostles Paul and James preached the same message, approaching the faith-works coin from different sides. Faith grounded in truth produces works in agreement with truth. Faith without godly works resembles an automobile without an engine. As a minority religion, God's Church appeared on the world scene in the midst of cultural upheaval. Peter's message on Pentecost led not only to exponential growth, but also to vicious persecution. As God stirred the cultural pot then, so He is doing today, on the cusp of Jesus' return. The frightful conditions during the First Century are only typical of the horrific times yet to come. To weather these horrendous conditions, we will need the encouragement of the Epistle of Hebrews.
David Grabbe continues his exposition of Dominion Theology, a doctrine derived in part from a misapplication of two parables in Matthew 13:32-33, both of which assume that the phenomenal growth of 1.) the mustard plant into a grotesque tree housing birds and 2.) the leavening which puffs up the dough, indicates that the Kingdom of God was to spread through the dramatic growth of church membership. The point of the mustard plant was that it had become a habitation for demons, while the meaning of the growth of leavened dough was that the Kingdom of God had grown corrupt by becoming leavened with Halakhic traditions, including bald-faced pagan traditions, Gnostic varieties of Judaism, and shameless hypocritical behavior exhibited by the Jewish leadership of Christ's time. Dominion theology is one of the dangerous false doctrines threatening to leaven God's Church. Certainly, God is not finished with physical Israel, but the Israel of God has the unique opportunity to "do it right" by consuming the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
David Grabbe, taking issue with nominal Christianity's faulty doctrine of dominion theology (the belief that it is the Church's responsibility to spread God's Kingdom before Jesus Christ returns), using the "kingdom as leaven" parable as proof, takes apart this fallacious reasoning. We are correct to understand God's Kingdom (basilea) as a present reality, as Jesus the King stands among men, as well as a future reality, as when the glorified Jesus Christ will establish His Kingdom, putting down all human government. In the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers, the "kingdom" refers to the national kingdom, which would be taken from the chief priests, elders, and Pharisees. This usage informs the first four parables of Matthew 13 (the Sower and the Seed, the Wheat and the Tares, the Mustard Seed, and the Leaven). The history of God's relationship with His people has been troubling, His own ultimately rejecting Him and attempting to usurp His rightful power. For that reason, the parables forecast God's removal of power from physical Israel and His handing the keys of the Kingdom handed to the Church. The first four kingdom parables of Matthew 13 address the deficient and soon-to-become defunct physical kingdom, while the last four parables address the emergent spiritual kingdom. In the next installment of this message, we will delve into the significance of the Leaven parable.
Martin Collins, reminding us that we, as followers of Christ, may suffer persecution, provides encouragement by reminding us we are promised boldness through the power of the Holy Spirit, making it unnecessary to prepare a response against the persecutors. When the laws of God conflict with the laws of man, civil disobedience is the only correct response, as was patterned by Peter, Paul, and the apostles, who boldly proclaimed Jesus' resurrection from the dead despite intimidations and threats from the religious establishment, terrified at losing their power base. The disciples knew, however, that with the power emanating from the Holy Spirit, the gates of hell could not prevail against their work. Peter was not in the least intimidated, boldly proclaiming to these religious leaders that: (1) they were guilty of crucifying Jesus, (2) Jesus rose from the dead, (3) the purpose of God was completed despite opposition and God's purpose alone will stand, and (4) Jesus is the only means of salvation, a statement which seems 'harsh' and 'intolerant' to most of the world. If we are following God, we will be compelled to disobey civil authority at some point. We cannot reclusively join a monastery nor should we become secular, cowardly assenting to evil laws, but we must fear God rather than man, righteously performing what God requires of us, realizing that our citizenship has been registered in Heaven. We should entrust ourselves to God for safe-keeping, realizing that the just shall live by faith.
Richard Ritenbaugh, decrying the incredible dearth of leadership around the world (no Churchill's, no Bismarck's, or no Reagan's), avers that the state of affairs prophesied in Ezekiel 34:1-5, in which self-centered, narcissistic 'shepherds' feed off the flock rather than feed and protect it has now become the norm rather than the exception. The high water mark in statesmanship in leadership was King David, who not only served as a shepherd (protecting and nourishing the flock, giving it peace and rest) but also demonstrated leadership protecting the flock from danger and providing it justice, loving his neighbors and judging on behalf of God, qualities and commitments absent in the current corrupt political leaders of greater modern Israel. One of David's descendants, Jehoshaphat, had the potential of being # 2, receiving an "A" on his shepherding ability, but a "D" on his leadership ability. Although he was relatively mature and well-trained when he began his reign, he made a horrible blunder in judgment, making a political alliance with wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, becoming a weak junior partner in an alliance with Israel and Phoenicia, further complicating affairs by permitting the political wedding of his son Jehoram with Athaliah (daughter of Ahab and Jezebel), a union which later spawned multiple fratricides and filicides. Jehoshaphat foolishly was talked into a military alliance with Ahab, even though one of God's prophets predicted the gruesome outcome. Evidently, because of the outcome of this event, as well as some disastrous outcomes with trading alliances with Ahaziah, Jehoshaphat finally became convinced that any decision without God in the picture is patently stupid. When the wicked king of Moab threatened to destroy Judah, Jehoshaphat finally sought the Lord, who gave him the victory, enabling him to neutralize his earlier leadership blunders by making substantive reforms.
Some Bible students scratch their heads over the incident, recorded in Matthew and Mark, in which Jesus curses a fig tree for not having any fruit, even though it was not yet the season for figs! Martin Collins explains this difficult passage, showing that Jesus used the situation to teach His disciples a lesson on hypocrisy.
In this parable, Jesus manipulates His enemies into admitting their guilt in rejecting, persecuting, and even killing the prophets—and ultimately Himself. Martin Collins shows that Jesus uses this parable to proclaim God's plan to take His message to others, the church, who would accept it.
This is an oft-repeated refrain in these days of distrust of the ministry. But is it a proper, Christian attitude? What does the Bible say about human leadership in God's church?
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that chapter 21 describes Jesus Christ's public announcement of His Messiah-ship, when the crowds would select Him to be the Paschal sacrificial Lamb of God. After overturning the money changer's tables and cursing the fig tree, Jesus relates a parable about a man (symbolizing God) who planted a vineyard (symbolizing Israel and Judah), turning it over to some husbandmen (symbolizing the religious leaders who were responsible for the education of the nation), who later proved to be unfaithful, beating the owners servants (symbolizing the prophets) and killing the owner's son (symbolizing Jesus Christ). The responsibility for tending the vineyard was removed from those wicked husbandmen (symbolizing the priests and Pharisees) and given to new servants who would tend it faithfully, bringing about quality fruit replacing physical Israel with the Israel of God- or the Church. If the Church fails in its responsibility, God will take it away again and give it to someone who will bring forth fruit. When God gives us a responsibility, He gives us all the tools we need to carry it out as well as the freedom to decide how best to do it. God wants to see how we do with what we have been given. As future kings, we must learn how to solve problems. We are going to be accountable for the outcome. Jesus Christ as the cornerstone of the Kingdom of God will either be a sanctuary or a stumbling block or grinding stone to those leaders, peoples, or nations He encounters. We cannot allow the cares of the world to run interference with our calling. Spiritual goals, including nurturing our spouses and families, have to come first. Prayer and Bible study must be regarded as our lifeblood in establishing a relationship with God. Walking by faith (rather than walking by sight) will help us establish the right priorities. Our betrothal to Christ at this time does not have a specific date for the actual marriage; we must be prepared at all times. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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