Richard Ritenbaugh, examining our belief regarding the nature of God, which rejects both the Catholic-fabricated trinity as well as the Protestant assumption that Yahweh was the harsh God of the Old Testament while Jesus was the benevolent God of the New, explains the context in Deuteronomy 6:4—"the LORD is One." The Hebrew noun transliterated Elohim is plural, but takes a singular verb, denoting that it is a collective substantive. More than one Being constitutes the God Family. Before Christ revealed God the Father, the world as a whole was ignorant of the Father—that Our Lord has a LORD to which we are all subject. The Old Testament Scriptures provide powerful hints about the existence of the Father, beginning with the proclamation in Genesis 1:26, "Let Us make man in our image." The substantiation of God the Father's identity was obscured by a narrower cultural understanding that "My LORD said to my Lord (Psalm 110:1)" referred to any anointed Israelite king, who the Scriptures recognize to be a son of God. After Christ revealed the Father (acknowledging Him as the Supreme Deity), it became clear that: (1) God the Father is Our Creator; (2) We physically resemble Him; (3) He has strict, unchanging standards for eternal life; (4) He is sovereign; (5) He is the Father to Christ and to us; (6) He works through His Son; (7) He bestows authority in the Son; (8) He aims to set up an everlasting Kingdom that will bring peace everywhere. Deuteronomy 6:4 refers to God as one, signifying unity of purpose and single-mindedness in character!
Richard Ritenbaugh detects a massive inconsistency in the persistently saccharine assessment of Jesus as meek and mild, ignoring His wrath, while at the same time teaching the concept of an ever-burning Hell. God's wrath is measured and just, not excessive and cruel. The breakaway Protestant daughters of the Roman Catholic Church have faithfully carried on the heretical error of their mother, promulgating the fantasies of Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy, while ignoring or twisting the clear meaning of the Scriptures. The Hebrew word transliterated "sheol" is simply the grave or pit—the inevitable destination of every human being. In this context, everyone who has ever lived will "go to hell." The Greek word transliterated "hades" is a synonym of sheol. The Greek word transliterated "tartaroo" applies to the place of restraint for Satan and his demons, but not for humans. The term "Gehenna" refers to a garbage dump outside Jerusalem, made vile by the ancient pagan custom of infant sacrifice. Because it was the city dump, a fire burned there constantly, consuming a steady stream of refuge and garbage feasted upon by maggot. The maggots eventually turned to flies, which, reproducing, yielded more maggots, a cycle which informs the image of "their worm" never dying. Gehenna is not a metaphor for an ever-burning fire, but rather for the Lake of Fire into which God consigns the incorrigibly wicked, whose unquenchable flames will cease only after all the fuel is consumed. Oblivion, not eternal torment, is the merciful end for the wicked. God is both good and severe, but His mercy endures forever.
John Ritenbaugh concludes the series on Christ's sacrificial death by asserting that it was, first, Preternatural (planned before the foundation of the world), second, Natural (as He died of blows to His body), third, Unnatural (as He was totally sinless), and fourth, Supernatural (as He displayed more-than-human power in leading His life and controlling His death). Christ's life and death were supernatural in that He had God's Holy Spirit from the get-go, giving Him power of things animate and inanimate, as well as the ability to knock Satan's lies in the head with undeniable logic. His identification as the Good Shepherd places Him in a unique category, far superior to any other human shepherd (that is, minister, teacher or lead). When He stressed that He would lay down His life voluntarily for His flock, He meant He would give it in expiation, atoning for sin. His death was not a suicide; rather, it was planned with the approval of God the Father, who had the power to resurrect Christ. Jesus was never a victim but was totally in control of the situation throughout the ordeal, consciously fulfilling every Messianic prophecy. From the time of His betrayal to His final breath, Jesus controlled the unfolding of events. At the end, He bowed His head, giving His Spirit to His Father at exactly the right time. The image of a delirious, semi-conscious, almost comatose Jesus is a mendacious fabrication spawned by Satan. Christ modeled for us how we must be willing to give ourselves voluntarily for God, yielding to the shaping power of His Holy Spirit, the mind of Christ.
Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that war has personally touched only a fraction of Americans. Not since the aftermath of the 'Civil' War has any part of the nation suffered the ravages of war and the bitterness of defeat. The offspring of Jacob, for the most part, continues to enjoy a period of relative peace and material blessings. The dire events narrated in the Book of Lamentation seem foreign to our scope of experience. For this reason, the events it vividly portrays help us to vicariously imagine the sense of hopelessness and despair experienced by ancient Israel during this historical period. As we approach the coming self-examination prior to Passover, we can apply six significant lessons learned by these people to our personal lives. As human beings we can learn: 1.) Human life is tough, as exemplified in Christ's agonizing sacrifice for us. 2.) Humans are slow to accept blame, but quick at doling it out to others. 3.) Repentance is difficult and rare. Thankfully, we also learn: 4.) God is sovereign, controlling every aspect of Creation. 5.) God is just and is a Deity of Law, giving us precepts that tell us how to live. 6.) God is merciful and faithful, providing a mechanism for our redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, balancing His "severity" with His "goodness."
Martin Collins, assuring us that those whom God has called will be kept safe, protected, and sanctified, reminds us that: 1.) No one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him, 2.) All whom the Father has given to Him will come to Him, and 3.) None of those who remain in Him will be lost. In the prayer Jesus offered on behalf of His disciples, recorded in John 17, Jesus also prays for those called in the future, asking for their safe-keeping, sanctification, unity, and fellowship, all referring to matters of the spirit—protection from evil, separation from the world, and training for future responsibilities in God's Kingdom. Before our lives conclude, Satan, secular influences and our own carnality will all assault us. God as our true Shepherd provides total protection of His called out-ones forever. Being kept in God's name refers to assimilating the attributes of God: Joy, holiness, truth, responsibility, unity and love. Joy is an endangered characteristic among today's saints. We can have joy in the midst of trials when we take our minds off immediate circumstances and focus on the mind of Christ dwelling in us. This indwelling Spirit enables us to develop a vertical relationship with our Heavenly Father and a horizontal one with our brethren. God has separated us out to love and obey Him and teach others to do the same.
Mark Schindler, focusing on the events occurring between Christ's resurrection and ascension, offers some speculation as to specific details occurring within this period of time, shedding light on the second part of the Atonement sacrifice. During these hours, Jesus Christ qualified to be our High Priest because He experienced the horrendous effects of sin and separation from God the Father for our sins, undergoing purification, typified by the cleansing of the priestly garments by the man who released the goat laden with sin, enabling him to return to the camp (Leviticus 16:23-28). The absence of the 100 pounds of aloes, the folded "turban," and the rolled away stone indicates much activity had taken place and that a thorough cleansing and purification had occurred, perhaps in the Garden of Gethsemane amidst a company of angels, a mere 45-minute walk from the tomb. As we count toward Pentecost, we need to reflect as to how Christ qualified to fulfill His role as our empathetic High Priest.
Richard Ritenbaugh, cuing in Psalm 118, the sixth and final halal or pilgrimage psalm, proclaiming, "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad," emphasizes that this prophetic psalm, demonstrating God's sovereignty over all events, motivates us to have optimism, realizing that God can make lemonade out of any lemon. The miracle of our calling demonstrates God can take something weak and base and transform it into something strong and mighty. The late Norman Vincent Peale in his runaway best—seller The Power of Positive Thinking stressed that optimism provides multiple physiological and psychological benefits over pessimism, enhancing a person's quality of life. Dr. Suzanne Segerstrom added that optimistic people have better control of their emotions, are better communicators, get more done, are more resilient during hardship, and are focused on their goals. The spiritual benefits of optimism transcend the physical benefits, enabling us to see the big picture, the trek to eternal life. When adversity strikes, we can see its context in God's eternal plan, enabling us to see that with grounded optimism, effort, and God's help, we can conquer any obstacle. When the Lord lifts His countenance upon us, it serves as a counterweight to any doom and gloom we may currently experience. The entire creation groans in futility anticipating the arrival of the sons of God, following the pattern of Jesus Christ's transformation from flesh to spirit. The apostle Paul wrote some of his most optimistic and buoyant letters from prison, anticipating the possibility of execution, but absolutely convinced that ultimate victory was imminent. We need to have that same assurance in our current trials, exercising the same optimism, confidence, patience, joy, and a hope that will not fade away.
Ted Bowling, acknowledging that our sins have separated us from God, asserts that, if we want to walk with God, it must be without sin. It is for our benefit that God holds such a high standard; we would not want God to lower His standards one iota. The thick curtains separating the people from the Holy of Holies indicates the seriousness of God's desire to separate Himself from sin. The curtain. 60 feet high and four inches deep, dramatically illustrated the intensity of the separation. David, a man after God's own heart, nevertheless felt hopelessly separated from God as he penned Psalm 22. David's life was not the best all the time. Psalm 51 demonstrates David's desire to tear down the wall of separation. Sin divides everything; like David, we must be alert for distractions that will lead us into sin. Thankfully, we have been given a gift, namely Christ's sacrifice, giving us the boldness to enter the Holy Place.
Richard Ritenbaugh, refuting the Pagan oriented concept of Hell reinforced by Dante's Inferno, laments that most of mainline Protestant and Catholic theology is hopelessly immersed in this false concept. The Hebrew word sheol simply means a pit or a hole where dead bodies are placed. Errant connotations evolved from this, including a void and a haunting, mysterious place, influenced by Greek myths of Hades. Realistically, when a body goes to sheol, it corrupts and is broken down by bacteria. Often, translators render the Hebrew word sheol (the pit) into the English word Hell (connoting flames and pitchforks). Jonah referred to the belly of the fish as sheol. In the Greek language, Hades is equivalent to the Hebrew word sheol, without any reference to flames or torment. When Christ went into the tomb, He was in Hades, the storage place of the dead. Hades and death are equivalent terms. The term tartaroo refers to a place or condition of restraint for fallen angels or demons, not humans. The Bottomless Pit was reserved for Satan, symbolized as a fiery dragon. The term Gehenna (of Hinnom), referring to the valley of the sons of Hinnom, was actually a place of refuse, at one time used for child sacrifice. It was consecrated by God as a burial ground, and later the city dump of Jerusalem, with a fire burning the trash. Jesus used this venue as a symbol of the Lake of Fire—eternal Judgment (where the trash and garbage are burned up.) When one dies, the body decomposes and consciousness ceases; the spirit (the record of our life experiences) goes to God for safe keeping. When Christ returns, He will resurrect those who have believed and eventually all either to life or condemnation (depicted in Malachi 4:1-3). The soul is not immortal; the soul that sins shall die; the wages of sin is death. The gift of God is eternal life for those called by God.
Martin Collins, asking us about the longest period we have had to wait for something, reminds us that waiting for God is an acquired virtue requiring patience and longsuffering. Before the coming of the Holy Spirit in 31 AD, Christ's initial followers experienced a period of delay or a waiting period, a time to practice obedience and fellowship with those who were also waiting. People need other people of like mind; we do not become Christians in isolation. We are obligated to have a dialogue with Almighty God through the means of prayer and Bible study, a conversation in which we listen significantly more than we speak. As Christ's disciples did not know what was expected from them as they waited, we also to do not know what to expect as we wait for Christ to establish His Kingdom. Peter, during his waiting until Pentecost, thoroughly studied the Scriptures relating to the Holy Spirit, enabling him to give a powerful message, a combination of Old Testament Scripture and explanation, focusing on God the Father and Jesus, emphasizing the ministry of Christ, His crucifixion, His burial, His resurrection, His ascension, and His current ministry. Peter's first sermon powerfully influenced 3,000 people. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit emboldened the apostles , bringing effectiveness in ministry, making effective proclamation of the Gospel, giving power for victory over sin, Satan, and demonic forces, making possible a wide distribution of gifts for the ministry, and the power to work miracles.
In thinking about David son of Jesse, we immediately bring to mind that he was King of Israel, a shepherd, a warrior, a psalmist, and a man after God's own heart. But we often fail to realize that, among his many other accomplishments, he was a significant prophet. Richard Ritenbaugh examines Psalm 22, a most clearly recognizable prophecy of Christ's suffering among the many psalms of David.
Richard Ritenbaugh urges us to look upon the Passover as a beacon of hope in an otherwise hopeless milieu. The book of Job, initially a seeming extended treatise of hopelessness, turns into Job"s speculation about a possible resurrection, realizing from his prior experience that God enjoys the company of men and wants men to be like Him. Hope can be defined as "confident, enduring expectation," and the heart of hope is faith in God. The strength of our hope depends upon how deeply we know God. Abraham, after 50 years of experience trusting God, knew He would provide despite the visible circumstances. Jesus provided hope to His disciples at His last Passover, exuding confidence and hope, despite His knowledge of what was immediately ahead. In Hebrews, we are counseled to emulate Jesus, who endured due to the joy before Him. We can have rock-solid hope that God will provide despite the intensity of our trials.
"While [Jesus] was being tortured, hated, and crucified, was He 'thinking' of all the dirty sins for which He was dying?" asked a correspondent. The Bible shows that Jesus' thoughts were elsewhere—and more constructively—engaged.
In the third part of this series, John Ritenbaugh uses the Beast power of Revelation 13 to compare with God's sovereignty. Who will we yield to in the coming years?
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Jesus was placed on trial not for what He did, but for what He claimed about Himself. John has provided at least eight separate forms of witness, establishing the veracity of Jesus Christ's identity as God in the flesh. Fulfilled prophecy from the Old Testament (over 300 separate prophecies) concerning Christ's identity and the events of His life is overwhelming, compelling, and mathematically irrefutable (The chance of fulfilling only eight of those prophecies would be 1 in 10 to the 17th power or 100 quadrillion). John makes a compelling proposal for belief and faith. The last part of the first chapter of John focuses upon the work of John the Baptist, a physical cousin of Jesus, the forerunner of Christ, who witnessed the Holy Spirit descending upon Christ at His baptism, again establishing Christ's identity as the Lamb of God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the episode in Matthew 20, in which Jesus was deep in thought, reflecting on the prophecies leading up to His crucifixion. At this point, His disciples were not converted, but displayed considerable carnality. The mother of two of the disciples asked for places of honor for her sons; none of the disciples had even an inkling of servant leadership. True greatness does not come from dominance but from serving and sacrificing with the attitude of a slave. Love is sacrificial. Willingness to sacrifice self is the secret to success in God's plan for us. If we would sacrifice instead of attempting to dominate one another, our marriages would be successes. Drinking ones cup is emblematic of enduring whatever we must go through, different for every human being. Our cup is to follow Christ in any situation, supreme sacrifice or lifelong commitment, acting how He would act. No one can really count the cost in advance. When the opportunity comes to learn spiritual truths, we must seize the opportunity as aggressively and boldly as the two blind men sought healing, rejecting any inkling of timidity. In our prayers, we must come before the throne of God boldly and then show gratitude for His response. God is not against doing something dramatic once in awhile in order to make an impact. When He made His entry into Jerusalem, it possibly attracted the attention of 2 ½ million people, most of them visitors. Evidently this event had been planned rather than done on the spur of the moment. His arrival prompted the overwhelming response "Hosanna" or "save now." The crowd was selecting the Lamb to be sacrificed. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]