Martin Collins, acknowledging that hardships are a normal part of life, perhaps leading us to despair that God has abandoned us, focuses our attention on a segment of the Apostle Paul's life (recorded in Acts 23-26) when he could have had these depressing thoughts, but did not. Paradoxically, when God seems to be silent, He is feverishly at work micro-managing what otherwise appears as insignificant details. When forty Zealots took an oath conspiring with the Sanhedrin to take the life of Paul, it looked as though he was as good as dead. But God intervened on Paul's behalf to fulfill His purpose. Because of this intervention, an army of armed guards transported Paul out of physical danger, thereby unwittingly facilitating an opportunity for Paul to preach the Gospel to three Roman leaders while he was a prisoner. Characteristically, God uses small things to accomplish His purpose, as He does by calling the base and foolish of the world to confound the wise. Despite the fallacious charges made against Paul by his many enemies, God enabled him to refute the charges with the truth. Just as all the stratagems arrayed against Paul eventually crumbled, the stratagems conspiring against God's called-out ones will also come to nothing. We need to remember that, during those times we fail to see God's hand, He is hard at work intervening on our behalf.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the adjective preternatural refers to 1.) something beyond nature and to 2.) something well-planned in advance, maintains that God intended the majority of human beings to be saved. When we measure the ripple effect of all the sins committed from the time of Adam and Eve until now, we realize how greatly the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is needed. The promise given to Abraham that his descendants would number more than the sands of the seashore certainly points to the requirement of a preternatural intervention. Indeed, the majority of Abraham's descendants, along with the Gentiles, have polluted themselves with lawlessness, incurring the wrath of God. Simeon recognized the uniqueness of the infant Jesus—a human whom God would prepare unlike any before Him to bring about reconciliation of mankind with God the Father, achieved through an unnatural crucifixion of a sinless Being. Jesus was the only individual equipped to carry out the project God the Father had sent Him to accomplish—equipped though His birth as a fleshly human being and through His position as the only begotten of God, having the Holy Spirit without measure. From His birth in a stable to His agonizing and unnatural crucifixion, Jesus faced persecution His entire life. Destined for the fall and rising of many, His words would pierce many, repelling as well as drawing. Because of His sinless life, Jesus' death was unnatural, abnormal, unreasonable, but all that was God's preternatural solution for the salvation of mankind.
The letter to Smyrna contains a rarity among the seven churches—no criticism! What's so good about the Smyrnans?
Richard Ritenbaugh acknowledges that although many in God's church have gone through sore trials and tests of sorts, virtually no one has gone through the nightmarish persecutions suffered by the early Christians in Imperial Rome. Because most of us have lived our lives in modern Israel rather than a Gentile culture, we have been?to this point?shielded from the kinds of persecution (being put to flight, pursued, or martyred from an external source) experienced by the early apostles. This message explores both a time factor and a righteousness factor, explaining why intense persecution has not yet taken place. Paradoxically (a big horse pill to swallow), persecution may be regarded as a reward for righteousness, a kind of favor and kindness toward us, preparing us for a better resurrection and greater service as priests in God's Kingdom, following in the footsteps of our Elder Brother.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the intent or purpose of the scripture in Deuteronomy 23:2 prohibiting offspring from illegitimate unions (often carrying psychological baggage and irreversible physical damage) from holding offices of responsibility in physical Israel for ten generations. Acts 14 begins with the people of the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe mistaking Paul for Hermes and Barnabas for Zeus. When Paul convinces the crowds that he and Barnabas were not gods, they were treated with contempt rather than adoration. The church, it seems, has always been forced to live in hostile environments. At the beginning of chapter 15, the question is posed whether a Gentile must undergo circumcision in order to be saved or keep the law in order to become justified. Lawkeeping in the present does not justify past sins, nor is it intended to be a vehicle for salvation. This understanding does not do away with God's law, which must be kept in the spirit. Following the Council of Jerusalem, God now begins His spiritual work through the church, taking His Word out to the nations.