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.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the devastating locust plagues described in Joel, marvels that the prophet, instead of promising a silver lining on a very black cloud, affirmed that things were going to get intensely worse before they got better. Nevertheless, Joel, whose name means Yahve is God, in the middle of his prophecy, promised a marvelous blessing which would satisfy His people. This prophesied blessing, which became Peter's first words of his Pentecost sermon on Pentecost in 31 AD, was that God would pour out His Spirit, prompting young men to prophesy and old men to dream before the awesome Day of the Lord. Only a type of Joel's prophecy was fulfilled in 31AD and much more is yet to be fulfilled. Joel described a gruesome locust infestation that totally ruined the economy of the nation, placing the citizenry in a state of hopeless, panicked despair. Because Judah had taken God's blessings for granted, He removed His hand of protection, something we see happening in our morally bankrupt culture today. God, in His sovereignty, is guiding His creation to its ultimate purpose, including the devastating plagues and afflictions, designed to motivate repentance and obedience. God represents both mercy and justice. When sin becomes a dominant condition of God's people, God's judgment is not far away, either in the form of political oppression or natural disaster. For a repentant people, there will be restored fellowship and tranquility. The 1915 AD locust plague in Palestine had all the biblical proportions, including the sky darkened with adult locusts, eating everything in their paths. The locust plague Joel described is only a foretaste, symbolic of a more devastating judgment to befall the earth in the future Day of the Lord. Both disaster and grace are tools God uses to motivate repentance, and the wise will act accordingly, turning to God in sincere, contrite, humble, heartfelt repentance, rending their hearts rather than their garments, leading to total conversion and change of mind.
We worship a God, who, though all-powerful and loving, seems to display irreconcilable contradictions, such as His great wrath and His deep compassion. Charles Whitaker explains that these are not contradictory traits but rigorous responses to sin and its consequences. Though His wrath burns hot "for a little while," His compassion follows quickly after, bringing restoration.
The Bible oftentimes speaks in polar opposites: good and evil, light and darkness, heaven and earth. A pair of opposites like these, called a merism by theologians, is destruction and restoration. Citing many prophecies, Charles Whitaker points out that restoration often follows swiftly on the heels of God's wrath, providing us with hope that God's blessing will come sooner rather than later.
Charles Whitaker observes that modern Israel, instead of expressing righteous indignation at the breaking of God's Covenant expresses a juvenile anger about the consequences of what their sins brought about. Sighing and crying involves far more than wallowing in worldly sorrow. As God's called-out ones, we must realize that on the heels of destruction will come the forces of reconciliation. The forces of destruction and construction will be virtually simultaneous. The knowledge of the Lord will cover the world as the waters of the seas, bringing physical as well as spiritual refreshment to the parched desert, restoring strength to those returning to the Promised Land. In the Day of the Lord, the haughty pride of man (symbolized by his lofty towers, high hills, or mountains) will be promptly leveled or destroyed. After this massive destruction, streams of crystal, restorative water will quickly heal all the broken lives resulting from man's misrule and his false religions. The curative act of restoration will follow quickly on the act of destruction during the Day of the Lord, unlike the unrelieved distress of the Great Tribulation. God's rod of correction is foundational, instrumental in building character, as every parent knows. The blow that God delivers to the Babylonian system will be foundational, laying the groundwork for a better civilization. The old has to go before the new can come. The destruction of the failed evil system ought to come with rejoicing. God's nature has a balance of goodness and severity.
Richard Ritenbaugh, contrasting Noah's optimistic reaction with Coleridge's despondent ancient mariner upon seeing endless bodies of water, suggests that Noah's optimism stemmed exclusively from his faith in God. Most skeptic scientists attempt to relegate Noah's flood as a biblical fairy tale. As much as the flood was a natural occurrence, it was also a supernatural occurrence, in which a loving God brought a hopelessly wicked world to an end. In Genesis 6:1-4, the conundrum about angels marrying people could be explained by demon possessed people cohabiting with other human beings, resulting in virtual "sons of Satan," otherwise known as Nephilim, a totally degenerate aggressive evil people, bred to dominate. This period of degeneracy was contemporaneous with the time of Enoch and Lamech, in the sixth generation from Adam, lasting approximately 1000 years, ending with the life of Noah. At the end of this degenerate time, Noah was commissioned to build an ark, a period in which time he intermittently preached to a people dead in their sins, a time perilously similar to current times, when every impulse is inclined to evil-doing, with no constraint whatsoever, having a totally seared conscience. Noah, like us, was called out of a sinful world at the end time-the most degenerate and violent time ever-but had to continue living in the world, walking with God. As the sinful society was destroyed by water in Noah's time, it will be destroyed by fire in our time.
John Ritenbaugh uses an impelling example of some Ukrainian Jews who applied foresight and sacrifice to escape from the impending onslaught of the Nazis, saving themselves from certain destruction. The sermon then focuses upon the dangers of sloth and procrastination, coupled with the effects of the second law of thermodynamics (the tendency of all physical matter to break down). If we as Christians fail to dress and keep, cultivating, embellishing, and improving what has been entrusted to us (including our bodies and health), we are equivalent to a destroyer. Fighting the forces of decay - a continuous struggle of overcoming planned for us by almighty God - requires constant, life-long work and vigilance. We should never delude ourselves that we are "innocent victims" of our own sins or destructive habits. We have a sobering responsibility to analyze our health needs, continually adjusting and changing as we learn, faithfully maintaining the temple of God's Spirit.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the shock and awe bombardment in Iraq, focuses upon the original shock and awe display on Mount Sinai, as well as the ultimate shock and awe campaign the world will experience at the second coming of Christ. Descriptions of this calamitous event abound throughout the Psalms and prophecies, depicting in awesome graphic detail the carnage and destruction of the Day of the Lord—the time of which no one knows! When these events begin to unfold (like a thief in the night), they will occur at meteoric speed. We dare not be caught sleeping but must show continual vigilance.
The tongue is maybe the most untamed "beast" on earth! James says we all offend in word. But James 3 is filled with wisdom regarding how we can overcome the beast.
Of all creation, man is the only creature made in God's image and given dominion over the rest of creation. When God breathed in the spirit of man (Genesis 2:7) to enable thinking, feeling, and creating, He imbued God-like characteristics, giving mankind the capability of subduing, controlling, and directing the rest of creation—a power not given to animals (Genesis 1:26, 28). With dominion comes responsibility to maintain (Genesis 2:15). The sad history of mankind shows that he has badly mismanaged his power, bringing about disease, war, and famine. Such people will be brought into account (Revelation 11:18). God's Spirit enables us to direct this power in a responsible, godly manner.
If hell does exist, where is it—and can those who are there ever get out? Will those in hell leave hell at the time of the resurrection—or are they confined eternally to hell, so that they shall be unable to take part in the resurrection? It's about time we took this question out of hiding, and took a good look at it!