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Bible verses about Church, The
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Who were the dignitaries the filthy dreamers spoke evil of in Jude? I John 1 suggests it was the first-century apostles, even as today some speak evil of those God uses to lead his end-time church. But it does not stop there. They say, "I'll never follow another man," as though following a man is inherently evil. Those people speak either from ignorance of God's Word or by design to get a following for themselves. They are forgetting, however, God's sovereignty over His creation. Is there any place in God's Word—except for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden—when a man is not included in the mix between Him and men?

Though God has occasionally stooped to speak directly to one of His servants, He has always used men as messengers to and leaders of those He was working with, including all the prophets and apostles and even some of the kings. These men may have held high positions, being close to God and at times directly inspired by Him. Nonetheless, all of them built upon what they had learned from those who went before. Thus, they too followed men.

These people may also say, "I'm just as good as he is and more intelligent." They might also say: "I can read the same resources he uses." "I can learn apart from him." "Ordinations don't mean a thing." "I've been in the church longer than he has." "My marriage is better than his." All of these may be true, but they are not the issue. God's sovereignty is the issue! It is whether God put that person in the position to shepherd a flock! A shepherd leads, and the rest, the flock, follows. Obedience to this principle is why Paul repented so quickly after reviling the high priest: "Then Paul said, 'I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, 'You shall not speak evil of the ruler of your people'" (Acts 23:5).

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Introduction


 

First-century Laodicea sat astride two major trade routes. The first road ran from Rome eastward into Asia Minor, then beyond to Cilicia where Paul was born. At Derbe it split: One leg went to the south through Damascus and on into Egypt; the other leg struck across the east to Mesopotamia, the ancient home of Babylon. Connecting the city to southern Europe through Byzantium, the second route entered Laodicea from the north and continued to the Mediterranean.

The founders built the city in the Lycus Valley where these routes crossed. This provided Laodicea with unlimited opportunities for trade but caused other significant problems. Ideally, prosperous cities are built close to abundant natural resources, especially water. Great cities are usually founded on deep natural harbors or on the banks of navigable rivers where water is abundant. Unfortunately, Laodicea was not established near an adequate water supply. More driven by trade, its builders located it where the roads crossed.

However, the city had much in its favor, and of special note were its three main industries. The Laodiceans produced a glossy, black wool that was prized by the wealthy all over the world. No one knows whether its rich color came from a particular strain of sheep that they bred in the area, or whether they dyed it, but the quality of the wool is indisputable. In fact, they cornered the market in this commodity, producing tremendous wealth.

Their second business was medicine. Laodicea boasted of one of the most renowned medical schools in the world, and with it came all of its associated industries like pharmaceuticals. They produced a world-famous salve, reputed to cure certain kinds of eye diseases. Another salve supposedly healed ear problems. People came from all over the Roman world in search of remedies for their ailments.

These two industries produced a third that multiplied their already vast wealth—banking. Laodicea became a center of currency exchange and money lending. Cicero, it is said, cashed huge bank drafts there. So huge were its assets that, when it was demolished by a first-century earthquake, the city refused Rome's offer of help, rebuilding with its own funds.

So Laodicea had a monopoly in textiles, a world-renowned medical industry, and a prosperous financial center. Writers of the ancient world speak openly of their envy of Laodicean wealth. Record after record attests to their status.

Their one weakness was the water supply. Water had to be piped in to Laodicea. Cold water could come from the abundant supply at Colossae, but by the time it traveled the ten or so miles from the cold springs, it was lukewarm. About six miles away in Hierapolis were hot springs, but that water, too, was lukewarm when it reached Laodicea. Whether they piped in the cold or the hot water, it arrived at Laodicea lukewarm.

What does Christ mean by this metaphor? Cold water stimulates and invigorates. Nothing refreshes more than drinking a glass of cold water on a hot day. And hot water? It is useful for health. Not only do we mix it with teas, herbs, broths, and the like, but it also works as a solvent, good for cleaning just about anything.

What does lukewarm water do? Christ's complaint against the Laodiceans is revealed here: It is good for nothing! The Laodicean is useless to Him. Lukewarm water is an emetic: It makes one vomit. In terms of God's work, a lukewarm Christian is useless. The other traits of Laodiceanism spring from this characteristic of uselessness. As Head of the church, Christ cannot use them in the spiritual state in which He finds them. We should think of this in terms of biblical symbolism: Water represents God's Holy Spirit.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

The Laodicean is not indifferent to making money or making his way in the world. He is not indifferent to improving himself through education or experience. Spending huge amounts of his time and energy pursuing his own interests, his problem is that he chooses the wrong priorities in life. He spends most of his time and energy achieving the wrong goals.

This pursuit of wrong goals restates the actual sin the Laodicean commits: idolatry, placing something above God in one's life. How? He serves himself within the church as if he did it for God. Perhaps he is involved in the work of God but only halfheartedly. Though probably attending Sabbath services faithfully, he is not personally involved with God on a day-to-day basis. He may serve within the church to be recognized, respected, maybe even ordained, forgetting that God called him to be a faithful and true witness of Him. Because he pays attention to the wrong things, his witness suffers terribly. Expending so much energy and enthusiasm in pursuing his own interests, he shows little or no interest in God or His goals. He is indifferent and lukewarm toward his relationship with God.

Because he has had such great success in amassing wealth, the Laodicean judges himself to be self-sufficient, which reveals that his faith is in what he can see, whether his own abilities or his wealth. He is not living by faith, but by sight (II Corinthians 5:7). To put more money in his pocket, he can become energetic, hard-working, and fervent, but he cannot seem to arouse himself about the things of God, which he cannot see. Such an attitude will incur the wrath of God every time!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

Why not choose Corinth, Rome, Philippi, Antioch, Pella, Derbe, and Jerusalem, or any other seven churches? Is it merely coincidence that Ephesus to Laodicea is clearly established by history as seven stages on a first-century mail route? Could a postman deliver his mail to all seven at once? Also, groups of seven are characteristic of Christ's writing style. In each case, the seven are sequential, not simultaneous. Why should chapters 2 and 3 break the pattern? Christ chose those cities because the patterns suited His purpose perfectly.

The chapters themselves imply the movement of time. The last four messages mention Christ's return, the first three not at all. To Thyatira: "Hold fast till I come" (Revelation 2:25). To Sardis: "You will not know what hour I will come" (3:3). To Philadelphia: "Behold, I come quickly!" (3:11). To Laodicea: "Behold, I stand at the door . . ." (3:20). Is it not interesting that the last four churches, not the first four, receive this end-time language?

These comments show there will be either remnants of, or sizable portions of, at least four eras existing at Christ's return. What is wrong about this? Nothing! Think about this. Revelation deals with global events. The church of God is not just an American and Canadian institution raised in the last two generations. Members of the true church live all over the world.

God understands humanity to a depth we can only begin to imagine. Along with listing the stages of the church's growth until Christ's return, Revelation 2 and 3 describe the attitudes many Christians go through during their converted lives. Do we go through them all at once or in stages? The chapters also describe the personality changes most congregations experience over time. Nobody has to be any one of these attitudes simply as a random matter of calling.

Revelation 2 and 3 reflect both eras and attitudes. Christ simply asks us to use this to identify where we stand as individuals, a congregation, or a church.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Letters to the Seven Churches: Attitudes, Eras or Both?


 

Perhaps the best preaching of all to look to is Jesus Christ's. With whom did He spend most of His time preaching and teaching the good news? Was it the public or His disciples? To whom did He give His most specific instruction and correction?

The answers are obvious. He told His disciples several times that the general public was either blind or that His disciples had been given help by God to understand (Matthew 13:13-16; 16:17). They lived with Him night and day for three and one-half years. It was to the heirs of salvation—what comprised His church at the time—that He gave the best and most of His good news. The same should be true today, perhaps even more so than ever before.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Get the Church Ready!


 

"Zion" may stand for Jerusalem (Zechariah 9:9), the church (Isaiah 40:9), or both (Zechariah 1:17)! At other times, a prophecy written to an ancient people (the antitype) will also apply to a modern people (the type), so great care needs to be taken when assigning prophecies to particular peoples. As in all cases of trying to understand the Bible, read the prophecy in its context to determine its subject, time frame, and purpose.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
What's in a Name?


 

The New Testament uses a number of words to designate leaders in the congregations: elder (presbuteros), bishop (episkopos), and pastor (poimen). Presbuteros generally emphasizes the dignity of the office. But because the elder has an office, as contrasted with others in the body who do not, it indicates a leadership role. The term is derived from the Old Testament where "elder" represented a village, town, or city leader.

Episkopos, meaning overseer or supervisor, highlights the elder's duty. The episkopos was appointed to oversee or supervise elements of the congregation's activities.

Poimen, in other contexts, is translated "shepherd." A shepherd leads, guides, and oversees the welfare of a flock of sheep that follow him wherever he leads. This word often stresses the manner in which a leader leads. In this article, however, I am not concerned about the quality of leadership, but that we understand that we cannot be true Christians without following a man.

John W. Ritenbaugh
'I'll Never Follow Another Man!'


 

The church is a spiritual body, the body of Jesus Christ. It is an assembly of people called to prepare for God's Kingdom and participate in and support the church's work in feeding the flock and preaching the gospel to the world. The church has two primary duties: 1) to provide a means of calling others to reconciliation and peace with God, and 2) to provide the full counsel of God to help the called know God and become holy. This is the vocation, the work, of all Christians under God.

In this church age, sanctification is the process by which an individual's peace with God reaches beyond a legal technicality (as occurs at justification) to be inculcated into the person's character. In God's paradigm, a person cannot really make peace unless he is first at peace with God. "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Romans 8:7). Describing unconverted mankind, Paul says, "The way of peace they have not known" (Romans 3:17; Isaiah 59:8). Until ongoing conversion dissolves that enmity and peace is thoroughly established in a person's character, we cannot truly be instruments of godly peace.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 7: Blessed Are the Peacemakers


 

In the biblical sense, the church is the continuation of Old Testament Israel, which can be seen in the promise of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31: "'Behold, the days are coming,' says the Lord, 'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.'" When Jesus came and founded the church, beginning with His disciples, He showed that the New Covenant has been made with His disciples, the church of God: "In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me'" (I Corinthians 11:25).

As a part of the church of God, we are forerunners of the covenant that will eventually also be made with physical Israel. "For we [the church] are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 3:3). As regenerated children of God, we are the true spiritual Jews or Israelites (John 4:22-24).

We are also the children of promise (Galatians 4:28-29) and Abraham's seed (Romans 9:6-8; Galatians 3:28-29). Of all mankind, we are the ones most directly involved in God's purpose. We are the ones most aware of and striving the hardest for the Kingdom of God. Because of this awesome calling as His New Covenant people, God had the Scriptures written for our benefit: "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (Romans 15:4).

Paul also writes, "Now all these things happened to them [the Israelites] as examples, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come" (I Corinthians 10:11). The church is specifically named "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16). God inspired the book of Amos so that in this end time His people, surrounded by materialism and worldly distractions unparalleled in human history, would not follow Israel's example.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)


 

How does God define the church? What comprises it according to the Bible? Must there be only one organization at a time?

Perhaps the best place to begin answering these questions is by tracing the etymology of the word "church" itself, and then looking at the way it is used in context. Many have assumed that it derives from the Greek ekklesia, but this is not true. The English word "church" descends from an Old English word cirice, akin to an Old High German word, kirihha. Both words derive from a Late Greek word, kuriakon, which comes from the Greek kuriakos, the possessive form of the word kurios, the term for "lord." Kuriakos thus simply means "lord's," showing possession, or "belonging to the lord" (Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, 1985, p. 240). It can denote anything that belongs to the Lord.

The apostles, when they wrote the books of the New Testament, could have used kuriakos, but it appears only twice in the Bible: in I Corinthians 11:20 (Lord's supper) and Revelation 1:10 (Lord's day). Neither usage contains any reference to "church." Instead, the apostles used the word ekklesia 112 times. Ekklesia does not mean "belonging to the lord," though that may be implied. The apostles used ekklesia because they had a more specific meaning in mind.

The word "church" to an English-speaking person is a dominating, inclusive term with definite spiritual connotations. A particular quality is always inherent in the use of the word "church" because it means "the lord's." The church is the Lord's. Yet ekklesia is different.

In comparison with other terms, ekklesia was relatively neutral and colorless, conveying by itself little theological meaning. It was open to use without basic shift in meaning, by unbelievers as well as by believers. (Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 1, p. 607)

Bible dictionaries, lexicons, and commentaries agree that ekklesia means "called out," and generally implies an assembly of people. It lacks qualitative implication to anything either carnal or spiritual. The context in which it appears must always supply the specific reason one is called out or assembled.

Again from the Interpreter's Dictionary: "Ekklesia was used primarily to designate a particular communal reality, not to describe its qualitative aspects" (ibid.). Ekklesia describes anything that might be happening within a community that requires an assembly. This assembly could be social, governmental, or religious. It could be legal or illegal.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!


 

Genesis 37:6-10

In Genesis, Jacob clearly understood that he was the sun, his wife was the moon, and his twelve children were the stars. This is the root of the nation of Israel. In Revelation, these symbols are used for two reasons. One is to signify the root of the woman portrayed there, that she is Israelitish: sun, moon, stars—Jacob, Rachel, and the twelve sons. But the sun, moon, and stars also have a secondary meaning: to indicate glory. She is a glorious woman—one that can be associated with the glorious things in the heaven—the sun, moon, and stars.

Note this allusion to glory because, as God is looking at Israel at this time—that is, in the prophetic sense, in the time within the prophecies—Israel is glorious. Israel's beginning was glorious—glorious as the heavenly bodies.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 3)


 

Exodus 12:48

God made His covenant with Old Testament Israel, a type of the church (Galatians 6:16). God's focus and concern were overwhelmingly on them, and He dealt with other nations only as they came in contact with Israel. Though God makes provision in His law to accept non-Israelites who wanted to join Israel and worship the true God, He nowhere commands the Israelites to go out and make disciples of other nations. Rather, His approach is to attract outsiders by the example of obedient Israel being blessed by Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Who Is Doing the Work of God?


 

Exodus 16:27

After all that God had done through Moses, it is amazing that some of the Israelites continued to disbelieve, disobey, and test God's (and Moses') patience in this way, especially when their disbelief concerned a miracle of God!

The Hebrew word translated here as "seventh" is shebiyiy (Strongs 7637), which has some etymological similarity and relationship to the words shabath and shabbath. Perhaps "seventh things" are to be set apart for rest or for special use.

Staff


 

Exodus 31:17

This special covenant—strategically placed by Moses between information on the building of the Tabernacle (a type of the church) and the Golden Calf incident (brazen idolatry)—creates a special sign of the Sabbath between God and His people. Generally, a sign identifies. It communicates the purpose of or gives directions to a person or place. Signs bring people together with shared interests and common goals. A sign can function as a pledge of mutual fidelity and commitment. Organizations use signs to designate membership, allowing members to recognize each other.

The Sabbath serves as an external and visible bond that unites God's people, and at the same time it sanctifies them from almost everyone else. Almost everyone in the Western world keeps Sunday or nothing. By the Sabbath, the true covenant-keeper knows that God is sanctifying him. Anybody who has kept both Sunday and Sabbath knows this: Sunday sets no one apart from this world.

If He created the Sabbath only because we need to rest physically, any old time would do, but ultimately, how and why we keep the Sabbath is what becomes the real sign. God is working out a purpose. He has invested a tremendous amount in us in the creation and in the death of His Son. The Sabbath serves as a major means by which He protects that investment. He made a specific period of time special so He can meet with His people and take major steps to make them different—holy.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part One) (1997)


 

Psalm 133:1

This first verse expresses the goal, the hope, the prayer of all Christians. What a great thing it would be if all the people could live together harmoniously! What things we could accomplish! What great pleasure we would have! How attractive that would be.

This verse certainly expresses the joy that results in brethren being united, when they have unanimity, when they are "at one." An irony of this "psalm of unity," however, is that the word "unity" does not literally appear in it. The literal translation of the last phrase is "when brethren dwell also together." The idea of unity is obviously there, but the final Hebrew word is yachad, meaning "together," "both," "joined." The phrase can be translated, then, "when brethren are joined in dwelling" or "when brethren dwell together." "In unity" is the translator's interpretation, not a direct translation.

The word "good" here is a fairly general rendering, but the psalmist's idea is "proper": "How proper it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" "How fitting, how right it is for God's people to be one."

Pleasant has the sense of "attractive": "How attractive [charming, lovely] it is when God's people dwell as one." And since we are God's dwelling, we could say, "How wonderful it is when God's dwelling, the Temple of the living God, is one building and not scattered pieces all over the place."

In God's sight, unity or togetherness among His people is proper, and it pleases Him to no end. It has the same effect on us. Brethren who are thus joined together receive the benefits of the goodness and pleasantness unity produces. That is why we should yearn for this unity, because it is right, good, and fitting and because it is lovely, attractive, and appealing.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Psalm 133


 

Isaiah 40:9-18

God commands Zion (a type of the church) to lift up its voice to reveal Him to the people. In His ensuing description of Himself, God proclaims Himself as the almighty, all-wise Creator. He has such incomparable power and wisdom that the combined might and intelligence of all nations are as nothing before Him. In our childish vanity, we think of ourselves as being of some account, but we are so insignificant that, compared to Him, all humanity combined is less than nothing and worthless! Considering this testimony, whose law should take precedence—God's or man's?

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment (Part 2): War! (1997)


 

Daniel 12:7

In the larger context of end-time events, "the holy people" refers to God's chosen nation, Israel. The church, however, can also be alluded to here in antitype: Peter calls the church "a holy nation, His own special people" (I Peter 2:9). Both of these groups, Israel and the church, seem to be in the process of having their power "completely shattered."

This expression in the Hebrew has the primary meaning of "broken in pieces," "scattered," or "dispersed by force." It can mean something akin to "explode." When an object explodes, its pieces fly apart, and it can no longer do what it was made to do. The individual pieces are powerless to accomplish what the whole object did. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

This must be part of the meaning of the verse because the word power is really the Hebrew word for "hand." The hand symbolizes a person's ability to do work, to accomplish, to act. The translators have taken it to mean the more abstract "might" or "power," but they could have rendered it as "ability," "strength," or "effectiveness."

If this is so, we can expect the church's ability to do an effective work to decline still further because our power is not yet completely shattered. That is why it is so important that we make use of the abilities still left to us: to prepare ourselves for God's Kingdom. As an encouraging Jewish proverb reminds us, "When God shuts a door, He opens a window." We can take other avenues in the meantime while the road ahead is blocked for doing a public work.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Remnant


 

Amos 5:4-7

The word "justice" used in verse 7 is associated with end-time circumstances in nearly every prophecy where social conditions are described in a nation on the verge of collapse. The Hebrew word is mishpat, translated justice, judgment, or ordinance. Because he is spiritually blind, the Laodicean, too, has lost his ability to judge between right and wrong. He can no longer discern, as the Bible phrases it, "between the clean and the unclean."

God speaks of this lack of judgment in terms of their courtship, their relationship, with Him. Similar to the situation today in the church, Christians need discernment, the ability to distinguish right from wrong, to make true judgments. The Laodicean lacks this ability and it shows in the decisions he makes.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

Amos 6:1

Zion is often used as a symbol of God's church. Is the Laodicean at ease within the church? He is surely not at ease when he has an opportunity to make money! He will work all day and all night to fatten his purse. He loves to pursue his distracting hobbies and interests. But God spits him out in disgust! He is distasteful to God like lukewarm water, unable to be used for any real, spiritual, eternal purpose! The Laodicean, according to Amos, puts his trust in his own wealth and power, his nation and its leaders. Where is his trust in God?

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

Zephaniah 1:12

Pictured as holding aloft a lamp as He walks, God searches through the city—Jerusalem, Zion—shining a light to reveal everyone to His judgment. No one escapes the judgment of God. Who is He looking for in particular? He looks for complacent men, like the Laodicean. Just as Hosea uses wine to illustrate the principle (Hosea 4:6, 11-12), Zephaniah also mentions wine though it is obscured in the translation: the words "settled in complacency" are literally "settled on their lees" like the dregs of wine (cf. the footnote on this verse, NKJV)!

Again, the prophet speaks of a prosperous people who had deluded themselves into believing that their physical wealth meant that they were equally rich spiritually. As the years passed, their relationship with God had diminished into lip service and complacency. When God describes them saying things "in their heart," He means a reasoning process that happens internally. A person could not see it with his eyes, but the attitude cannot be hidden from the Judge walking the city with the lamp of truth.

In today's parlance we call their problem "sins of omission." Like the Laodicean, the religious Jew of that day was not on the streets committing horrible crimes like murder or rape or armed robbery. These verses speak about the thousands and thousands of ordinary people who were stagnant and indifferent toward their relationship with God. Their problem was not what they did, but what they did not do.

Nor does God accuse the Laodicean of the more apparent sins in Revelation 3. He is angry with him because of what he is not doing! He is not a true and faithful witness, and indeed cannot be, because of his poor judgment in prioritizing his life. In focusing on his selfish pursuits and self-centeredness, he leaves God almost completely out of his life. Still, he bears the name of God, attends Sabbath services, and at least in a superficial way, worships God on the Sabbath. Yet the relationship is growing cold as he fails to seek Him earnestly as in courtship.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

Haggai 1:2-4

For those who are actively seeking God, now is always the time for the Lord's house to be built. The people of Haggai's day were saying, maybe not verbally, but their inaction spoke volumes, "Let's wait until a more favorable time to build the Temple." What made this particular time unfavorable? They wanted to take care of their own projects! They placed their own material comforts higher in priority than their spiritual obligation—God's work in their day—to rebuild the Temple. They spared no expense in doing well for themselves (e.g., their "paneled houses," verse 4), but to them the economy was not favorable for building the Temple.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

Matthew 12:1-8

Matthew 12:1-8 adds yet another example of Sabbath encounters Jesus had with the Pharisees. According to the Pharisees, the disciples reaped, threshed, and winnowed the grain; they were guilty of preparing a meal. What was the disciples' motivation? They were traveling, hungry, and had no place to prepare a meal. They were young and strong and could have fasted without harm, but because it was a Sabbath, Jesus drew attention to one of the Sabbath's main purposes. It is a day of mercy.

Christ draws his justification from I Samuel 21:1-6. He reasons that, if David under unusual circumstances could allay his hunger by eating bread consecrated for holy use, then the disciples could also legitimately provide for their needs in unusual circumstances. The emphasis here is on "unusual." How many times did David flee for His life and find himself hungry near the Tabernacle? It happened at least once, but even for a man of war like David, such situations occurred only rarely.

The overall lesson is that God does not intend His law to deprive but to ensure life. If the need arises, we should not feel conscience-stricken to use the Sabbath in a way that would not normally be lawful. Christ admits David's actions were not normally lawful, and neither were the disciples'—except for the circumstances. In this case, they were blameless BECAUSE A LARGER OBLIGATION OVERRULED THE LETTER OF THE LAW. In this circumstance, mercy is more important than sacrificing a meal. Holy bread or holy time can be used exceptionally to sustain life and serve God.

Christ takes advantage of the situation to teach another connected lesson. He draws attention to the extent of the priests' Sabbath labors in the Temple. Their work actually doubled on the Sabbath because of the number of sacrifices God required, yet they were guiltless. Why? They were involved in God's creative, redemptive work, as Christ explains in John 5, 7, and 9. They fulfilled a purpose of the Sabbath that someone had to do.

Because of the disciple's involvement in the work of God, circumstances dictated a profaning of the Sabbath. From this, we can understand that LOVING SERVICE IS GREATER THAN RITUAL FULFILLMENT. What is mercy? It is a helpful act where and when it is needed. It is an act of loving encouragement, comfort, pity, and sympathy for the distressed. It is the relieving of a burden.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part Two): Christ's Attitude Toward the Sabbath


 

Matthew 13:45-46

Though it is one of the better known parables, the Pearl of Great Price also happens to be misunderstood frequently. The common explanation is that the merchant represents a Christian, and the pearl of great price is the Kingdom of God to which he gives his all so he can be a part of it. Another interpretation is that the pearl is Christ, and a Christian gives his all to Him. As meaningful as these interpretations may be, another is far more meaningful, and the evidence given in the narrative favors it.

In this parable the merchant is seriously and deliberately searching the world to secure the best and costliest gems. It is the very business of his life. He travels widely with zeal and a lofty purpose because he can do so and appreciate the best when he sees it.

The common interpretation shows the sinner, the merchant, diligently searching the world and sacrificing all to find the Kingdom of God or Christ. This cannot be true! On several counts it is totally out of alignment with Scripture as well as experience. This approach puts the seeker totally in control of his destiny.

Three scriptures disprove that we are the merchant seeking to "buy" the Kingdom of God, Christ, or eternal life.

Romans 3:11: There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.
Luke 19:9-10: And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."
John 6:44: No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.

It is Christ who seeks the sinner! The Shepherd seeks the sheep, not vice versa. Furthermore, if the pearl is either Christ, the Kingdom of God, or eternal life, it contradicts other scriptures regarding God's grace. Notice II Corinthians 9:15, "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" Romans 6:23 adds, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Finally, in Luke 7:41-42 Jesus says in the Parable of the Two Debtors:

There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?

The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price shows the merchant willing to buy a pearl at high cost. Can we possibly buy the Kingdom of God or eternal life or forgiveness if we have nothing with which to buy? If we think we have something with which we might barter with God, or if we think we have something to sell in order to buy from Him, then grace ceases to be grace!

The Bible consistently reveals we have no righteousness, skills, or intellect that is of any value in purchasing anything from God. Isaiah 64:6 confirms this: "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags." Peter's denunciation of Simon Magus plainly shows that men cannot buy the things of God. "But Peter said to him, 'Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!" (Acts 8:20).

We are not the active agent in choosing Christ. John 15:16 specifically refers to Christ's apostles, but the principle extends to us: "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you." Jesus clearly states in Luke 19:10, "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."

By this time it ought to be clear that Jesus Christ is the merchant, the price paid was His life, and the church (the individual Christian in a very narrow sense) is the pearl. The church is one pearl, one body, composed of those He has sought out through the ages to be a habitation for God by His Spirit and who will be His bride at His return. This beautiful and meaningful little parable shows some of the extent of His labor of love for us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Parables and a Pearl


 

Matthew 13:45-46

The word "merchant" has had an interesting evolution. It originally meant a passenger on a ship, but gradually became applied to the wholesale dealer as distinguished from a retailer. This is how John uses it in Revelation 18:3, 11, 15, 23. The merchant made trips far and wide to buy specific merchandise in which he had expertise. The context of the parable gives no indication he was pursuing anything but pearls. He knew the real worth of pearls, and in this case, he assessed the value and was very willing to pay the price.

This is another indication that the merchant is not a human seeking Christ, the church, eternal life, or the Kingdom of God because before conversion we had only a vague notion of what to seek for. Before God sought us out, we were commandment-breaking sinners. I John 2:4 says, "He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.'"

Jesus knew merchants well. Nazareth, where He grew up, was very close to a major trade route linking Babylon, to the northeast of Palestine, to Egypt, to the southwest. Caravans bound in either direction had to pass by His door.

Even the use of "seeking" (Matthew 13:45) helps to identify the merchant as Christ because it means "to depart from one place and arrive at another." Jesus did this Himself to pay the price of the pearl. He departed from heaven and arrived on earth to complete His mission.

From this perspective, this parable presents a beautiful picture of the purchase of the church. Paul writes, "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). Psalm 45:11 adds a tender touch to this, "So the King will greatly desire your beauty."

It ought to inspire and encourage us to know that He never seeks us as a legalistic, grudging response to duty. He does not merely stumble across us, but He seeks us out. He desires us and pursues us as a man courts a woman to be his bride and wife. His is a whole-hearted and loving response to our Father's purpose and our eternal well-being.

It is no accident that we are part of His church. He sold all to possess us! Will we ever fathom what it cost Him to redeem us? Paul says in Philippians 2:6-7, "[Jesus], being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men." He adds in II Corinthians 8:9, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich." We should also understand, lest we get the wrong impression, that the pearl's value resides not in its own intrinsic worth, but in the immensity of the cost paid for it.

One final thought: Ordinarily, a merchant would buy a gem of this nature with the idea of selling it and making money on another's desire to adorn himself with its beauty. In this case, however, the merchant's intent is different: "That He might present to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:27). Jesus Christ purchased us so He can eternally possess us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Parables and a Pearl


 

Matthew 13:45-46

Our English word pearl is derived from Sanskrit, meaning "pure." The biblical concept of holiness carries the idea of purity with it.

The pearl is an interesting study. Unlike other gems, pearls are produced by a living organism, an oyster, as the result of an injury. It usually begins forming around a grain of sand or an egg of some parasite that invaded the oyster. The oyster protects itself by layering the irritant with nacre—mother-of-pearl—until, out of pain and suffering, it forms an object of great beauty. The offending particle actually becomes a gem of great worth!

So it is with us spiritually. We are an irritant, a botch, a scab on God's creation because of our nature and our sins. But because He loves us, we are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, and gradually we can become a thing of beauty, clothed with the righteousness of Him who bought us.

We can make a number of other comparisons between pearls and other objects used as teaching vehicles in the Bible, such as the mustard seed. Both begin as something quite small but achieve different results. The mustard seed grows into the largest of herbs, but the pearl remains small. What is the lesson? Size does not determine value.

We can make a second comparison with ourselves. The pearl is first embedded in a mass of live but corruptible flesh, then separated and cleansed from its surroundings so that it can appear in its purity and beauty. So it is with the church. It is surrounded by, deeply embedded in, this corruptible world, and must be separated from the world before it can make a proper witness. As long as the pearl (church) remains in the oyster (world), it is of no value.

The production of the pearl is a gradual, even tedious, process. Slowly, the oyster adds layer after thin layer of nacre until the pearl is transformed. So it is with the church. For nineteen-and-a-half centuries, it has been in the making. If we add all who will be in the first resurrection from the time before Christ, then God has been working and adding to its lustrous value for almost six thousand years! All of this has occurred, and the world has hardly noticed, if at all, that this awesome process was progressing right under its nose.

In essence, the formation of the pearl is happening in secret. Colossians 3:3 says that our "life is hidden with Christ in God." Jesus tells His disciples: "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19). The world does not know where God's truth is transforming people into beings of glorious beauty. They are now just as we were before God revealed Himself to us. They are blind to the beauty of holiness. In fact, they are not merely blind, but as this verse shows, hostile to it.

Drawing the comparisons further, we know the oyster is at home in the depths of the ocean, a scavenger living off the garbage that sinks to the bottom of the sea. Revelation 13:1 shows the beast rising out of a sea: "Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name."

The Bible often uses a sea to represent multitudes of people, sometimes multitudes of enemies. Revelation 17:15 says, "And he said to me, 'The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.'" Isaiah 59:19 reads, "the enemy comes in like a flood." God must take the pearl, the church, from among the ungodly just as the oyster must be lifted from the muck and mire of the sea bottom.

Psalm 18:4-6, 15-16 expresses this analogy beautifully:

The pangs of death encompassed me, and the floods of ungodliness made me afraid. The sorrows of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry came before Him, even to His ears. . . . Then the channels of waters were seen, and the foundations of the world were uncovered at Your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of Your nostrils. He sent from above, He took me; He drew me out of many waters.

So the church, an object of beauty to God, is presently hidden from the world because they do not really know true value when they see it. But it will not be that way for long.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Parables and a Pearl


 

Matthew 16:18

Jesus is prophesying here. Clearly, He intends His church to continue until His return, but He does not say it will always express the same personality. Is not a purpose of prophecy to provide the church with signs along the way to prepare for His coming? The letters in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 provide some of these signs.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Letters to the Seven Churches: Attitudes, Eras or Both?


 

Matthew 16:18

These very words of Christ clearly show He had a corporate body of human beings in mind, not just a spiritual organism. He used ekklesia, meaning an assembly of people, a group, and He confirmed this by using Hades, a pit into which dead bodies are cast. He thus shows His church to exist continuously as flesh-and-blood human beings.

It is clearly His will that all those having the Spirit of God be fellowshipping and serving together on a regular basis (Hebrews 10:25). A person may delude himself into thinking he can better serve Christ and prepare for the Kingdom of God free from all the pressures of a congregation, but the Word of God shows otherwise. He could even be condemning himself to the flames of the Lake of Fire by showing God that he is not pleased to associate with God's own sons and daughters, His holy people. The "independent Christian" must repent of his independence if he wants to glorify God, truly serve His people, and become spiritually mature.

John W. Ritenbaugh
In the Grip of Distrust


 

Matthew 16:18

Multitudes of organizations in the Protestant world have no idea of what the church actually consists. This illustrates that even on the simplest of levels, the Bible is a "coded" book. Many refer to a physical building or a legal corporate structure as the church. Few seem to understand the church consists of the members themselves. The word "church" is translated from the Greek ekklesia, meaning "called-out" or "assembly." The "church in the wilderness" consisted of those called out of physical Egypt; the New Testament church are those called out of the spiritual Egypt of false belief and practice dominating this world. Without this knowledge, it is extremely difficult to identify the church Christ built.

Staff
Biblical Symbolism: Symbols of the Church


 

Matthew 16:18

Upon establishing His church, Christ affirms that it would not die out, but continue until His return. This means a body of true believers has continued from Pentecost AD 31 until today. Revelation 2-3 is written in such a way that any Christian in any century could examine it and conclude he had some characteristics of each era, just as we can today.

As described in Revelation 2:1-7, the record of the Ephesian church closely resembles what happened to the apostolic church. Research done in the early days of the Worldwide Church of God also showed a close parallel between Smyrna, Pergamos, and Thyatira and the sketchy history of true believers until the modern age. This information indicates a possible succession of eras.

Staff
The Seven Churches: Eras?


 

Matthew 16:18

When Jesus said, "I will build My church" (Matthew 16:18), He was not describing a church in its normal English usage, as an organization with buildings, offices, services, and activities. He was implying a fellowship of believers. God's ekklesia is not a church in the denominational sense, but a fellowship of all believers in Jesus Christ, not identifying it with any particular group men might establish, but embracing all who fit the Bible's qualifications. So, when the biblical writers use ekklesia in a context involving God and His people, they are drawing attention to the transcendent purpose for which God calls them out.

In a majority of scriptures, the ekklesia is the whole of God's people, of which a congregation, a denomination, or a corporate entity form but a part. Remember the classical Greek usage: Ekklesia included all the citizens of Athens. An army parallel may help illustrate the point. A division is part of an army. The army has several divisions. So then a division is an element of a greater army, and the army in turn is part of something even greater, the nation. Ekklesia, in this analogy, is the nation. In the Bible it is most often used in this sense.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!


 

Matthew 16:18

Does this say the church will never die out? Yes, but only indirectly.

The translation of one word, "prevail," alters the focus of what Jesus says. It could also be rendered "stand." By choosing to translate the word as "prevail," it changes the church from being on the offensive against the kingdom of Satan, represented by the word "Hades," to being on the defensive, as continually under attack.

Jesus is promising that He would enable His church to be on the offensive and triumphant against Satan and death. Is the church constantly under attack? Of course it is, and there have been several times that, as far as we know, it has almost died out, but it has always emerged triumphant and continued on.

How was this accomplished? Jesus Christ would raise up a man to preach the gospel once again. Peter Waldo is one of the clearer examples. In the process, he became the one God used to call others into His truth, and around him, He formed a continuation of the church of God. Using this interpretation, even the first-century apostles, as they took the gospel into new areas, became weak types of Elijah—as did all the men God used down through the ages, like Peter Waldo.

Each of them, in type, had to reestablish things and preach repentance in preparation for the receiving of the gospel and the Messiah. But not a single one of them was the Elijah to come because that office and prophecy—by Jesus' own words—has already been fulfilled, and there is no higher authority.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Elijah and John the Baptist


 

Matthew 25:1-13

The Parable of the Ten Virgins pictures the church waiting for the Bridegroom's return. Because of an unexpectedly long delay, He finds half the virgins unprepared when He finally arrives.

In weddings of that time, the bridegroom traditionally led a procession of bridesmaids from where they waited to his home. Since the procession almost invariably took place at night, each bridesmaid was expected to supply her own torch or lamp. If the bridegroom came later than expected, the bridesmaid needed to be prepared with extra torches or oil for her lamp.

The difference between the wise and the foolish virgins in the parable is not that one group did not have oil, but that one group did not have enough for the unexpectedly long delay. When the cry went out, their lamps were still burning, but they were sputtering and going out. Oil, of course, represents God's Holy Spirit. The wise virgins, like the faithful and wise servant of Matthew 24:45-51, are prepared. They make sure that they remain in contact with the dispenser of oil, as is implied when they say to the foolish virgins, "No, . . . go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves" (verse 9). The wise had been in recent contact with the dispenser of oil, whereas the others apparently had dallied around. Going frequently to the dispenser, the wise, when the bridegroom arrived, had an adequate supply to trim their lamps and go into the marriage supper. The lesson is preparedness through vision and foresight.

Because it is an internal state, preparedness cannot be transferred. That is evident in the reaction of the virgins. It is a matter of the heart, an intangible that accrues by spending long periods of time under many circumstances with the Dispenser of the Holy Spirit. What cannot be transferred to those who are unprepared are matters of attitude, character, skill, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. They are personal attributes that are built and honed over months and years.

When one needs a skill immediately, how much time does it take to learn it? If a man suddenly needed the skill to repair an automobile, and he had never done any work on one, he may as well have no hands at all! It works the same way with spiritual attributes. Preparing for eventualities is the lesson of this parable. The wise virgins prepared for the eventuality that it might take longer for the bridegroom to come—they showed foresight and vision, and they entered the wedding feast. The others did not.

The oil cannot be borrowed either. In no way can it be passed from one person to another. We cannot borrow character or a relationship with God. The parable teaches us that opportunity comes, opportunity knocks, and then opportunity leaves. The foolish failed to face the possibility that the bridegroom would come later than expected, and when they were awakened, they had no time to fetch any oil and fill their lamps.

No one can deliver his brother. Each person determines his own destiny. No matter how close we are, even if we are one in flesh as in marriage, a husband cannot deliver his wife, and a wife cannot deliver her husband. Nor can we deliver our children. Everyone stands on his own in his relationship with God. God makes this clear in Ezekiel 14:14: "'Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,' says the Lord God." Though it is a hard lesson, it should motivate us to discipline ourselves, to exercise self-control, to be alert, and to give our attention to our spiritual priorities. Thus, each person determines his own destiny.

Equating the foolish virgins with their modern counterparts, the Laodiceans, their faith is perfunctory. Their church membership is routine, merely going through the motions. They have enough faith that they at least show up for church services. They have beliefs and character and motivation—but not enough!

The Bridegroom's refusal to admit the five foolish virgins (verse 12) must not be construed as a callous rejection of their lifelong desire to enter the Kingdom. Far from callous, Christ's rejection is entirely justified because these people never make preparations for their marriage to Him. In the analogy, though they realize they have met their future mate and admire Him, they never develop the relationship. In a sense, they have already rejected Him. Thus, an additional lesson in this parable is that our relationship with God must be worked on continually.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

Matthew 25:31-46

Understanding the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats lies in their surprised responses. Both the sheep and the goats respond, "When did we see you in need and help you?" (verses 37-39, 44). This parable contains two lessons.

The first lesson is that neither the sheep nor the goats are surprised at the place Christ assigns them. A careful reading of the parable shows that clearly. They do not respond to the place that Christ assigns them, but they express surprise at the reasons He gives for His judgment. A vital question to Christians is, on what does He base his judgment? The basis of His judgment is how they treated Christ! Of course, their treatment of Christ manifests itself in how they treated those in whom Christ lived, those who had His Spirit.

The second lesson is no less important than the first. Jesus, our Judge, eliminates the possibility of hypocrisy obscuring His judgment of the sheep and the goats. If the goats had thought that treating their brothers in the faith would have gotten them into the Kingdom, they would have done it. What is the lesson? Jesus is interested in love from the heart, not a false love.

The true love of God is seen in the sheep. As the sheep respond to their brother's need, they are united in their distress and at the same time unwittingly, unconsciously, without hypocrisy, align themselves with Christ. Apparently, they are not even aware of what they were doing. This is a kind of love that cannot be faked or put on. "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).

The reaction of the goats is quite different. They have little sympathy for God's way and remain indifferent, Laodicean, to their brethren. In so doing, they reject their Messiah, their King, since He lived in the people whom they would not serve. The goats are condemned because of their sins of omission.

Because they had developed their relationship with Christ through prayer, Bible study, fasting, and obedience, the sheep have love through a regular infusion of the Spirit of God. "[T]he love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Romans 5:5). A godly life always comes down to the basic things. The sheep are simply unconsciously and unaffectedly good, kind, sympathetic, and concerned, attributes of character that cannot be feigned.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

Matthew 28:19-20

If one stopped with verse 19, one would have a solid case for asserting that unless a church is preaching to the unconverted, one is not really preaching the gospel as Christ intended. Making disciples and baptizing certainly refer to conversions from the world into Christianity. But Christ also says, ". . . teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you." Teaching the fullness of God's way of life cannot be done before baptism and the receipt of the Holy Spirit.

If that is not so, why did Christ inspire the writers of the New Testament to discuss refinements to basic truths and deeper knowledge and understanding with already converted people? Why all the admonitions to grow and to overcome our sins? Why does Paul say, "Leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection" (Hebrews 6:1)? Why does he later say in the same book, "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:25)? Why all the encouragement to hope in God and His promises? Why all the strong correction?

John W. Ritenbaugh
Get the Church Ready!


 

John 2:19

Some have interpreted this verse to mean that Jesus Christ raised himself from the dead, which is based in Gnosticism—particularly Docetism, the belief that Jesus was a human, but Christ was a separate, spiritual being. This false belief manifests itself in the notion of Jesus being "fully man and fully God." This interpretation overlooks the plain meaning of "temple" in the Greek. The word "temple" also appears in verse 14, but it derives from a different Greek word, hieron, meaning a "shrine" or "holy building." In verses 19-21, John uses the word naos, signifying the "dwelling place" of deity.

In the New Testament, naos is used metaphorically of the bodies of believers (I Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19). Whereas the Jews of John 2:19 were thinking in terms of a building, the Temple, Jesus was referring to His body, the church.

During Jesus' trial, the Jews brought up what He said in John 2:19 as an accusation against him. However, Mark 14:58 adds two significant phrases that clarify what Jesus said beyond a shadow of doubt: "We heard Him say, 'I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.'"

To understand what He meant, we must consider what occurred as a result of His death and resurrection. The instant God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, the church—the "body" in which God dwells—became an accomplished fact. Jesus Christ is its first member and Head. This is also one of the senses of Matthew 16:18: "On this rock [Jesus Himself] I will build My church, and the gates of Hades [the grave] shall not prevail against it."

The true meaning, then, of John 2:19 is that Jesus makes a parable-like statement about His nature then and in the future. His physical body at that time represented the extent of His church; He was the only believer, its only member. But once the Father resurrected Him and He became Mediator and High Priest, He indeed raised up a body of believers, the Temple of God, of which we are part.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Man and Fully God? (2001)


 

John 3:3

Since the church is composed of flesh and blood mortals, it cannot be the Kingdom of God! God's children, begotten by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11, 14-17), will be born again—changed to spirit like God is (John 4:24)—at Christ's return (I Thessalonians 4:16-17), and then we will enter into God's Kingdom. Thus, only Jesus Christ and His Father comprise the Kingdom of God in its fullness at this time.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The True Gospel


 

John 11:51-52

Christ died for our sins so that the children of God can be gathered in one. One family. One kingdom. It begins with the one church; that we all have one spirit, that we are in one body that becomes the Kingdom of God that is Elohim—the Godhead.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Nature of God: Elohim


 

Romans 1:15

Paul's statement is very significant in terms of what "preaching the gospel" means. Paul, writing to an already established Christian congregation, wanted to go to Rome to preach the gospel to them! Why would he do that? Were they not already converted? Yes, they were! Paul compliments them earlier: "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world" (Romans 1:8). The congregation in Rome was remarkable, renowned for its faith. Can a congregation be recognized for world-renowned faith only upon conversion?

Though Paul had never been to Rome, these Roman Christians had been converted some time earlier after hearing the gospel through other ministers. They were growing, and Paul wanted to add to their growth by giving them more of the gospel, as he says in verses 11 and 12. "For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established—that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me." Then, he adds his desire to preach the gospel to them.

Paul wanted to preach the gospel—more of it, in greater detail—to a congregation of converted people! He wanted to be an instrument to reveal more of its glories to them so they might continue to grow. Clearly, the preaching of the gospel by the ministry continues in the church after conversion.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Get the Church Ready!


 

Romans 12:3

This is not meant either as a put down in any way, or that one is better than another. But not everyone is the same. God gives gifts to each to fulfill his position in the body. Another may not be as well-equipped to do a particular job because He has given other gifts for him to fulfill his function. He gives these diverse gifts so we can cooperate for the well-being of the body, not compete to its destruction. If offense and division among brethren are occurring regularly, we can be certain that the king of pride is stirring up pride in them to compete for something all cannot have.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Pride, Contention, and Unity


 

Galatians 3:25-27

Since Christ has come, the Old Covenant rules and regulations that isolated Israel from other ethnic groups are no longer needed. Israel no longer needed a guardian. The time had come to put away the need for the practices that separated Israel from other nations and caused such hostility between the Jews and the Gentiles. Christ had brought a totally new approach. The church, the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), is a spiritual organism made up of people of all races and nationalities who repent and keep the spiritual laws of God as Jesus had magnified them.

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
What Was the Law 'Added Because of Transgressions'?


 

Galatians 6:9-10

In its broader context, Galatians 6:1-10 has spiritual matters more directly in mind than physical needs. This does not deny that there are times to help out physically, but the chapter begins with, "If one sees a brother in a fault. . . ." This the real foundation of the charge in verses 9 and 10. It is concerned primarily with spiritual matters, where the church's problems really lie. The church's problems are spiritual in nature.

In terms of the ministry, from the top of the administration on down, its emphasis must be on "feeding the flock." If there is a spiritual problem within the church, and we are charged first with taking care of the church, then it means that the administration of the church has to shift gears and take care of that spiritual problem first. It has first priority, not the preaching of the gospel to the world.

John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 4)


 

Galatians 6:16

Characteristically, God's true church is a spiritual organism whose members, with God's help, will ultimately prevail over their own sinful natures, over the world, and over Satan. The Israel of God, like Jacob, prevails with God. Christ certainly remembered His wrestling match with the unrelenting Jacob when He inspired Paul to call His church "the Israel of God."

Charles Whitaker
The Israel of God


 

Ephesians 1:4

This verse proves beyond dispute that God had the church in mind before the foundation of the world. "The foundation of the world" was laid in Adam and Eve's sin, so God had the church in mind before our first parents were ever offered to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or of the Tree of Life. God, from the very beginning, right up to this time, has had the church firmly in mind. He has been looking forward to the church, its formation, its growth, and its birth into His Family.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 1)


 

Ephesians 1:11

Notice Paul says God "works all things according to the counsel of His will." This thought comes in the midst of a paragraph in which some commentators believe Paul reflects on how God arranged every detail to bring Israel out of a seemingly impossible situation in Egypt and into the Promised Land. It is perhaps most directly tied to Deuteronomy 7:7-8.

Consider Israel's roots, geographic location and history. They were a slave people in a foreign land, freed without a revolution, taken on a 40-year journey during which their needs were supplied, led to a stronger people's land and given it when they should have been easily defeated. This land, situated between stronger and larger nations, was constantly fought over, yet Israel somehow survived. Even today, they continue to exist, though the world thinks they have virtually disappeared!

Did all of this happen more or less accidentally? Paul is saying indirectly that even as Israel's history is no accident, and since the church has succeeded Israel as God's inheritance, God has a far grander purpose that He will just as surely work out in His sovereignty. Who can withstand what He wills to do? It is no accident that we are in the church because God has been working toward these events from the beginning, and what God wills is done. God is sovereign over His creation in all things.

Stretch that "all things" generally into other areas of life. It makes this subject very interesting in light of Jesus' statement that a sparrow cannot fall without God taking notice (Matthew 10:29-31). Perhaps we could make a case for saying that some things occur out in the world that are of no significance to God's purpose, but what about in His church, the apple of His eye, the focus of His attention? This is Paul's theme in Ephesians 1. Is God so unaware, so unconcerned about His children that things happen without His notice, without His scrutiny and His judgment about what He should do?

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Introduction


 

Ephesians 1:13-14

This chapter extols the uniqueness of the church, which Paul refers to as "the purchased possession." Israel became God's personal possession through the destruction of Egypt, and more importantly, with the killing of Egypt's firstborn as the price for Israel's liberty. God "purchased" Israel and its liberties by this means.

What we see taking form is a separate and unique people. Even though all mankind owes its existence to God as their Creator, Israel and the church are both separate and unique because they belong to God in a way other people and nations do not. Amos 3:2 declares, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth." God purchased these people at awesome cost and thus came into possession of them.

When Israel became His property, it gave them certain liberties. So it is with us, but we receive more besides. Among other things regarding the uniqueness of the church, Paul explains that its members have been set apart (redeemed and freed from the rest of mankind and its ways) and sealed through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The term sealed is important because it embraces, not only the sense of ownership, but also security and guarantee. Individual seals were unique, used on documents to identify the sender and to render the content secure from prying eyes and theft, and so they were a guarantee that the contents would reach the intended destination.

God's children may look no different on the outside, but they have been given something inside, something spiritual, that makes them different from others and special to God. They are different only because of something God has done, which also makes them His personal, treasured possession.

John 1:12-13 declares, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name: who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." That "something" is the right or power (KJV) to believe the Word of God, which opens our minds and imparts to us the knowledge of God and His purpose, faith, the fear of God, the love of God, and so much more.

Billions of people have access to the Bible. They read it and may even attend church and call themselves Christian, but they then ignore and disobey huge amounts of it, thus not living by every Word of God. This is actual evidence that those who are part of God's special treasure do indeed possess something that sets them apart and motivates them to obey more completely.

Deuteronomy 7:6 begins a section that reveals one of the major reasons why God has done this. "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth." Segullah appears again as "special treasure," but along with segullah is another, more familiar term that identifies being a special treasure as an aspect of a larger subject: the blessings and responsibilities of holiness.

Holy literally means "set apart." Being a special treasure has set us apart from other people. Others, without this advantage, are not set apart. When this principle from the Old Testament is combined with Ephesians 1:13-14, we can understand that the blessing of having the Spirit of God makes us special, different, and holy (Romans 8:9).

This occurs because, in God's self-revelation, His Spirit imparts faith and the love of God beyond what the natural mind is capable. It is becoming clear that being blessed as a special, holy people imposes responsibilities on us that we are required—indeed commanded—to meet. The standards within this relationship are high, requiring gifts and growth to meet them.

John W. Ritenbaugh
A Priceless Gift


 

Ephesians 1:22-23

Is not the church Christ's Body? Can the church be in different organizations?

The answer is found in Ephesians 1:22-23. "And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church [ekklesia], which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all."

In his discussion of these verses in Word Studies From the Greek New Testament, Kenneth S. Wuest writes, "The Church [ekklesia] is described as that 'which is His body.' The word 'which' is hetis 'which is of such a nature as,' and has a qualitative nature to it." The nature of ekklesia in this context comes from the association with its head, Jesus Christ.

Of the word "body," soma, Expositor's says:

The word soma, which passes readily from its literal meaning [the human body] into the figurative sense of a society, a number of men constituting a social or ethical union, . . . is frequently applied in the N.T. epistles to the Church, . . . as the mystical body of Christ, the fellowship of believers regarded as an organic [living] spiritual unity in a living relation to Christ, subject to Him, animated by Him, and having His power operating in it. The relation between Christ and the Church, therefore, is not an external relation. . . . (vol. 11, "Ephesians and Colossians," p. 56, emphasis ours)

In other words, it is not bound by human convention. It is not bound by corporate laws that men establish, for Christ is in the ekklesia wherever its members may be.

Continuing from Wuest's:

The relation between Christ and the Church, therefore, is not an external relation, or one simply of Superior and inferior, Sovereign and subject, but one of life and incorporation [within Him]. The Church is not merely an institution ruled by Him as President, a Kingdom in which He is the Supreme Authority, or a vast company of men in moral sympathy with Him, but a Society which is in vital connection with Him, having the source of its life in Him, sustained and directed by His power, the instrument also by which He works. (ibid., pp. 56-57)

This is the usage of ekklesia in the New Testament. It is a mystical body with no external relations. It is something that is internal; it is something mental; it is something of the spirit. It is not bound by race, by language, by city or state or nationality. It is not restricted to the earth or to time.

The word mystical means "having a spiritual meaning or reality that is neither apparent to the senses [an external relation, sensed by the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, touch] nor obvious to the intelligence; involving or having the nature of an individual's direct subjective communion with God" (Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, 1985, p. 785). The church, the ekklesia, consists of those who have been called out by God, summoned by Him, to receive His Spirit and have direct communion with Him.

Paul makes a similar statement to Ephesians 1:22-23 in I Corinthians 12:12-13.

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one bodywhether Jews or Greeks [transcends national boundaries], whether slaves or free [transcends cultural or social status]and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.

The ekklesia is not a humanly defined corporation, but the mystical body of Christ, having the Spirit of God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!


 

Ephesians 3:14-15

The Family of God is located both in heaven and on earth. In heaven there are two Beings of spirit who are part of the God Family. This flies right in the face of the concept of strict monotheism! But even more startling is that God considers true Christians to be part of the God Family already!

Currently two members of the Godhead are spirit. But God—Elohim—said, "Let Us create man in Our image" (Genesis 1:26), and what is evident from the beginning of the Bible all the way to the end is that Elohim is expanding! God is increasing what Elohim is. God is increasing the number of those who are in the God Family. This is not hard to understand. Now we are already children of God. We are in His Family.

To us, monotheism indicates that one is worshipping one distinct and unique almighty personality, and if anyone claims anything more than that, that person is considered to be a polytheist—worshipping many gods. This is hard to accept here in this Western world, and this resistance to accepting what the Bible clearly reveals about the God Family has in large measure led to the introduction of the "Trinity." People just cannot accept the simple truth of the Bible, that God is expanding. He is increasing His number. We will be part of that God Family.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Nature of God: Elohim


 

Ephesians 4:1-6

The part we have to play is to walk worthy of our calling, and as the apostle goes on to say, our calling is to be one: one body, one spirit, one faith, one baptism, one hope, just as we have one Lord and one Father. We are to be one bride of Christ. He is not a polygamist; He will not marry many brides but one united bride.

We in the church can be disunified if we fail to practice verses 2 and 3: Without lowliness (humility), without gentleness (meekness), without longsuffering (forebearance or patient endurance), without love and peace, we will never have unity. As long as we are proud, easily angered and offended, jump on every little thing, lack patience, and treat each other hatefully—as long as we cause strife—there will never be unity. Even with all that God does (I Corinthians 1:4-9), it will not happen. He will not force unity upon us if we show that we do not want it. The natural order of things is that we will disunify further if we fail to show Him that we are working toward it. So, without these virtues, even with God deluging us with His Spirit, we will not have unity.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Psalm 133


 

Colossians 2:16-17

For centuries, people have tried to use Colossians 2:16-17 to say that Christians are not required to observe the Sabbath and holy days. This distortion stems partly from a misunderstanding of Colossians 2:14, which many claim says that the law was abolished and nailed to the cross, and partly from having a carnal mind, which is enmity against God and His law (Romans 8:7). They reason that Paul is saying in verse 16, "Therefore [since the law is done away] don't let anyone condemn you for eating unclean meats or not observing the Sabbath or holy days." Consequently, they interpret verse 17 to mean that Paul dismisses the Sabbath and holy days as unimportant symbols of future events, while emphasizing that the only truly substantive Christian need is belief in Christ. From this, they conclude that we should not concern ourselves about these days because, since Christ died, their observance is not required. This is not true.

The Colossians had been significantly influenced by pagan philosophies that taught that perfection could be achieved through self-denial and abstinence from pleasure. As a result, Colossae tended to be an ascetic community which adhered to a religion of severity, and its citizens thought anyone who was religious should behave as they did. Many of the people who had come into the Christian church in Colossae had brought their pagan philosophies with them, and they soon began to have an adverse influence on the entire congregation at Colossae. Paul corrects the people in the church who were doing this in Colossians 2:20-23. It appears some of the people had begun thinking that this self-imposed asceticism could somehow contribute to their salvation and had begun turning away from trusting in Christ. They had more faith in their unchristian works. Paul warns them about this in Colossians 2:8.

God had called the people in the church at Colossae out of their pagan, ascetic way of life, and they had begun to learn how to enjoy life in a balanced manner as God intended. This included eating meat, drinking wine, and enjoying food and fellowship when observing God's Sabbath and festivals.

Because the converted Colossians were learning how to enjoy life as God intended, the people in the ascetic community began to look down on them and condemn them. In addressing these problems, Paul reminds the Colossians that they are complete in Jesus Christ; they have no need for the pagan philosophies of this world (Colossians 2:9-10).

Paul explains in verse 16 why they need not be bothered by the attitude of the Colossian society toward their practices and way of life in the church. To paraphrase, "Do not worry about what the people in the community think about your enjoyment of eating good food, drinking wine, and joyously celebrating the Sabbath and the festivals. Christ has conquered the world and all of its rulers, so we do not need to be concerned about what the world thinks about us."

In verse 17, Paul mentions that the Sabbath and holy days are "shadows," symbols or types, of future events in the plan of God. The Sabbath is a type of the Millennium when Jesus Christ and the saints will rule the world for a thousand years. The holy days symbolize various steps in the plan of God and remind us annually of God's great purpose in creating mankind.

A literal translation of the last few words of Colossians 2:17 reads, "but the body of Christ." What is the body of Christ? I Corinthians 12:27 shows that the body of Christ is the church! The exact same Greek expression that is translated "body of Christ" in I Corinthians 12:27 (soma Christou) is used in Colossians 2:17. Paul tells the Colossians that they should not let any man judge them or call them into question about these things but rather let the church make those judgments. He is pointing the members to the example of the spiritual leaders of the church who set the tone and pattern of worship on the Sabbath and holy days, exhorting them not to worry about what anyone in the community thinks about them. A similar exhortation is given in Colossians 2:18-19.

Far from doing away with the observance of the Sabbath and holy days, Colossians 2:16-17 is one of the strongest proofs that the early church kept these days and that Paul taught the Gentiles to keep them.

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Are the Sabbath and Holy Days Done Away?


 

Colossians 2:18-19

In these verses, Paul again warns the Colossians that they should not allow the pressures of the society in which they lived have any influence on their beliefs or practices and repeats his exhortation for them to look to the church alone for their spiritual nourishment and growth.

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Are the Sabbath and Holy Days Done Away?


 

1 Thessalonians 2:8-9

Although the context is somewhat different, I Thessalonians 2:1-16, like Romans 1:15, reinforces the point that "preaching the gospel" includes teaching the church. Not just a means of conversion, the preaching of the gospel supplies continued growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Paul followed this procedure in Thessalonica. He preached to the Thessalonians for a long time, stretching from their first exposure to the gospel through conversion until with further growth they became imitators of the churches of God in Judea (verse 14).

John W. Ritenbaugh
Get the Church Ready!


 

1 Peter 5:1-5

Notice all the words that suggest leading and/or following: elder(s), shepherd, flock, serving, overseers, lords, entrusted, and examples. This clearly establishes that God's church is a body in which He has placed leaders to oversee and care for His people. Further, the leadership is to provide examples for them to follow.

The Bible nowhere anticipates independent Christians in its instructions, but it always assumes the body has ministers given by Christ to provide teaching and guidance. Too frequently, people separate from one group then regroup around a person whom Christ has not appointed to teach His Word. It is not that this person cannot teach at all but that Christ has not given him the gifts to teach His people in His behalf. He was not placed in the body for that purpose. Steady spiritual degeneration within that group occurs.

John W. Ritenbaugh
'I'll Never Follow Another Man!'


 

Revelation 1:12-20

From other scriptures we know the church is one body. Why then does Christ stand among seven candlesticks? Why not just one? He could just as easily have said that one candlestick has seven attitudes. Clearly, He is showing not just attitudes, but also that He is in the midst of one church during seven stages as events progress to the end. These seven represent the entire church for the period covered by the prophecies.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Letters to the Seven Churches: Attitudes, Eras or Both?


 

Revelation 2:25

There is no sense that they are going to die before He comes. His return is so imminent, He says, "Hold fast till I come." It is as if He is saying, "You only have a little while to hang on."

John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 4)


 

Revelation 2:25

One can hold fast only to what one has previously been given. They had been given something in the past. They had drifted away into a relationship with the world. Idolatry was present in their character. But Christ says, "Hold fast to that which remains"—something that had previously been given—so that they would not drift any further.

John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 4)


 

Revelation 3:14-22

The seventh and last of the attitudes within the church, Laodiceanism is the attitude that dominates the era of the end time. It seems more natural to think that this attitude would be the least likely to dominate in such terrible times—that it ought to be obvious that the return of Christ is near. Though it seems contradictory for the church to become lukewarm during such a stimulating period, Christ prophesies that it will occur. It indicates the power of Babylon! Spiritually, she is so very alluring. To our eyes, the world may look ugly, but its spiritual charm distracts us from more important things. Why does Babylon dominate the church in the end time? It dominates the world, and the Christian permits it to dominate him!

In August 1987, a well-known evangelist in the church of God said, "You would be surprised how often the Work internally mirrors the world externally. I don't think we realize how often this is true." Why? Church members bring the world's ways into the body. Laodiceanism is so subtle that those who seemingly are best-equipped to detect it are blind to it! This is Christ's major concern for these people. It is not only that they are Laodicean, but also that they are blind to their own state!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

Revelation 3:15-16

Christ admits the truth about them. "I know your works [obedience and service], that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot" (Revelation 3:15). Why does He wish this? Because if they were either cold or hot, they would be useful to Him. Lukewarm Christians send confusing messages. In this state, being useless to Him, He spews them out of His mouth. All the messages to these seven churches highlight works because they are evidence of how Christians conduct their relationships with God. Works reveal the heart. They are a gauge of one's witness and spiritual state.

Metaphorically, what does lukewarmness signify here? To define it to this point, a rough definition might be "that which gives no refreshment, or that which has neither the cleansing properties of hot water nor the refreshing properties of cold." Modern synonyms of the word "lukewarm" give illuminating insights into its use in this letter: lacking ardor, enthusiasm or conviction; moderate; mild; unemotional; halfhearted; hesitant; indecisive; irresolute; uncertain; uncommitted; unresponsive; indifferent; impassive; languid; phlegmatic; apathetic; nonchalant; lackadaisical.

Recall the hallmarks of Babylon: pride, self-glorification, reliance on wealth, satiety, complacency, avoidance of suffering. Although he has the abilities and resources to be a great witness, the Laodicean is complacent, self-satisfied, bored with or indifferent to the real issues of life. For a Christian, the real issues are faith in Christ and our Christian responsibility. And to do the work Christ has called us to, our loyalty and devotion must be to Him, first and foremost!

A problem arises, however, in "spotting" a Laodicean—these qualities do not necessarily show on the outside. Why? Remember Christ describes a spiritual condition. This is a matter of the heart. What does He want to see in him? He wants the Laodicean to get off the fence—to be one way or the other, cold or hot. Conversely, the Laodicean judges that he is balanced, right in the middle. But his concept of balance is skewed. Why will he not move off the middle? He feels he has it good there! If he moves left or right, he fears that he will suffer! Thus, he has no desire to move.

Then what happens? The Laodicean must compromise. This is interesting in light of what the history books record. Ancient Laodicea's main line of defense was conciliation and compromise! Why? Again, the answer lies in the city's inadequate water supply, making it very susceptible to the siege of an invading army. By having its tenuous water supply cut off, the city was at the mercy of its attacker. With no water, it could hold out for only a short while. The Laodicean solution? They became masters of appeasement, accommodation, conciliation, and diplomacy. Peace at any cost! How did they appease? They bought their enemies off! Laodicea used its wealth to conciliate and compromise.

Christ uses the attitude of the surrounding environment to illustrate that those in the church of Laodicea are affected by the attitudes of the world. Without even realizing it, they behave exactly like their unconverted neighbors. They are worldly. Though they are not out on the streets robbing banks, raping, looting, murdering, mugging old grandmothers, or abusing children, in their hearts they have the same general approach to life as Babylon has. Theologically, spiritually, they hold the same values as Babylon, proved by their works. Spiritually, they become very adept in avoiding the sacrifices that might be necessary to overcome and grow in character, wisdom, and understanding. In other words, they are skilled in appeasing Satan and their own consciences.

Christ says He will spew, or vomit, the Laodicean from His mouth! That is how He views this attitude of compromise with principles, ideals, standards, and truth!

Some may expect Laodiceans to be lazy, but on the contrary they are often workaholics. Satan has foisted this false concept of Laodiceanism onto the church. One cannot become "rich and increased with goods" by being lazy! Their problem is a faulty setting of priorities. They are very vigorous people, but they are vigorous in areas that fail miserably to impress their Judge, Christ. Vigorous in conducting business and other carnal affairs, they are lackadaisical in pursuing the beauty of holiness, which is their calling. They are not vigorous or zealous in maintaining their prayer life with God or in studying. They are not energetic in making the sacrifices necessary to love their brethren or in developing their relationships with others. Nor are they enthusiastic about guarding the standards and principles of God. By erring in the setting of priorities, they victimize themselves.

Over the last fifteen years of his life, Herbert Armstrong expressed deep concern about the church becoming Laodicean. Because of the plethora of activities this world offers, he saw that ultimately they distract us, cause us to set wrong priorities, and keep us from putting our time, energy, and vigor into godly things. He often cited Daniel 12:4 as a telltale sign of the last days: "Seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase." Are we busy in this age? Satan is a slick strategist, and he really deceives anyone who allows himself to believe that busyness and prosperity are signs of righteousness.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

Revelation 12:1-17

Chapter 12 is another inset chapter, in which John sees another wondrous vision. Its events do not follow those in chapter 11 at all: Chapter 11 ends with the blowing of the seventh trumpet and the announcing of the return of Jesus Christ, while chapter 12 suddenly introduces a brand new vision. Rather, chapter 12 is a highly condensed history of the true church within Israel, the woman.

God begins the record all the way back in the time of Jacob. In Genesis 37:9, Joesph dreams that the sun, moon, and stars all bow to him. Revelation 12:1 borrows from that vision to help us understand that the true church has its roots in Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. It is, first of all, an Israelitish church, but its real roots are in heaven—where the sun, moon, and stars are. God is figuratively, symbolically pointing in the direction of the origins of the true church.

Chapter 12 unfolds a highly condensed history of that church. It takes us through the rebellion of Lucifer and Jesus Christ being born of the woman. We find the Dragon attempting and succeeding in killing the Child, who is, of course, Jesus Christ. However, He is resurrected, so no really serious damage occurs to the Child born of the woman—Israel.

In verse 6, the woman flees into a wilderness. This takes us in time sequence up through the Middle Ages—through the Inquisitions, Crusades, and tribulations of the times where the church hid in the mountains, hills, and Alpine valleys of central Europe. Then, in verses 7-12, the narrative digresses somewhat, showing us something yet to occur: a war in heaven between Satan and his demons and Michael and the angels.

At the end of the chapter, we find the church again experiencing another, far more intensive tribulation that will be not only intense but much encapsulated in time. One part of the church will be protected, and another part will undergo a great deal of persecution.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 10 and the Laodicean Church


 

Revelation 12:1-17

The nation of Israel is symbolically referred to throughout the chapter. In verse 1, Israel is described as a Woman clothed with the sun and moon and wearing a crown of stars. Tying the symbols to Joseph's dream in Genesis 37 confirms the Woman's identity. In the next verse, Israel is the Woman about to give birth.

In verses 3-4, the Child she is about to bear is the focus of the great red Dragon's—Satan's—murderous intent. Verse 5 identifies her child as the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the One born to rule all nations. In verse 6, the Woman who gave birth to Christ, Israel, flees to a place God prepared for her. That place is, I believe, where the Israelitish nations are located today.

Note that by verses 7-9, time has progressed to the end, when God throws Satan and his demons out of heaven for good. Verses 10-11 allude to the church by mentioning people overcoming the Dragon by the blood of the Lamb. At no time, however, is the Woman of the early verses of this chapter, Israel, indicated to be converted.

But where is the church located? Verse 17 provides a hint, mentioning "the remnant of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." Verse 13, which follows the interlude involving the Dragon being cast to earth, clarifies the object of the prophecy up until verse 17: "Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child." The Woman who gave birth to the Messiah is specifically named. She cannot represent the church because the church did not give birth to the Messiah, but the nation of Israel did. Thus, the people of Israel are the object of the Devil's persecutions.

In verse 14, no break in the narrative occurs to indicate the Devil's focus changes. It is Israel, persecuted by Satan, who is given two wings of a great eagle to fly to her place from the face of the serpent. In the past, we have always applied verse 14 to the church, but there is nothing to indicate any change in subject has taken place! Again in verse 15, the serpent spews a flood from his mouth to destroy the nation of Israel. Likewise, the nation is helped by means of the earth swallowing the flood in verse 16.

It is not until verse 17 that the church comes directly into the picture, identified as "the rest of her [the Woman's] offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ," the Messiah born to the Woman in verse 5. Israel, the nation, does not keep the commandments of God, nor does it have the testimony of Jesus Christ. Even as the Messiah was born of the Woman and definitely kept the commandments of God, so also does the remnant of her offspring, who are now clearly distinguished from her.

Putting verse 17 together with verses 7-12, the church, the Woman's offspring, will undergo some measure of persecution within Israel before the Woman—Israel—flees in verse 15. Otherwise, why would verse 11 say they "overcame . . . by the blood of the Lamb" and "did not love their lives to the death"?

Verse 17 clearly states that the Dragon leaves the Woman who fled and heads toward some other geographical location to persecute those who keep the commandments. In other words, the Woman who fled and her offspring that keep the commandments are, at the time verse 17 occurs, at different locations.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Four): Where Is the Woman of Revelation 17?


 

Revelation 12:6

Mark this, and mark it well. The woman who fled into the wilderness is not the church. It is the nation. Nothing has changed in the prophecy. The woman who gave birth to the child fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared of God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 3)


 

Revelation 12:17

It is evident that the church that Christ built will teach obedience to the Ten Commandments. A sign of God's church, symbolized as a woman, is the keeping of the Ten Commandments. A church that does not teach and keep them is a church of the world.

Martin G. Collins
The Ten Commandments


 

Revelation 12:17

It is not until verse 17 that the church clearly and directly comes into the picture by being identified as Israelthe woman remnant. This is how it is translated in the King James:"with the remnant of her seed." This means her "offspring." The offspring are identified in verse 17 as "those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ," who was born to the woman earlier in the chapter. Israel the nation does not keep the commandments of God, nor does it have the testimony of Jesus Christ. Therefore, in the last half of verse 17, the subject has shifted from Israel the nation to the Israel of God—the church.

The Messiah, who was born of the woman, most definitely kept the commandments of God. The remnant that was born of the woman (identified as her offspring, just like the Messiah), is also clearly distinguished and separate from her, and they too keep the commandments and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Now putting verse 17 together with verses 7 through 12 shows that the church (the woman's offspring) will undergo some measure of persecution within Israel (the woman, the nation) before Israel the nation flees. This is very clear, because verses 7 through 11 come before verse 14 in time. If this is not true, then why does verse 11 say that "they overcame by the blood of the Lamb, and they loved not their lives unto death"? That indicates a pretty harsh persecution within Israel the nation.

The whole subject of chapter 12 is Israel the nation, except for those mentions of keeping the commandments, the blood of the Lamb, and having the testimony of Jesus Christ, which appear in verses 11 and 17. So what do we learn from this chapter? That through the great expanse of time—from the time that woman [the nation] flees into the wilderness until verse 17 (an expanse of about two thousand years), Israel the church [the Israel of God] is within Israel the nation, wherever it is. This is not at all unusual.

Verse 17 then clearly infers that the dragon leaves the woman [the nation] who fled and goes some place else to persecute those who keep the commandments and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. It is at this point that a switch occurs between Israel the nation and the Israel of God (the church). Otherwise, why would it say that Satan leaves the woman that he is persecuting and goes to persecute those who have the testimony of Jesus Christ and keep the commandments? By this time, in verse 17, they have separated from one another. The nation and the church are in different locations at the time verse 17 takes place. If I can speculate, the church has gone to its place of safety that is different from where God caused the nation to flee.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 4)


 

Revelation 18:4

Revelation 18:4 is God's exhortation to the churches to shun the treacherous beauty and charm of this theological and political prostitute, Babylon. God uses very specific wording in His description of her in Revelation 17, calling her a harlot or prostitute. A prostitute can have beauty and charm. Any number of a harlot's attributes can snare a man's attention and divert him from his purpose. Because the world had already ensnared him before conversion, a Christian must be spiritually watchful that he does not return to it. Unfortunately, the world too easily reclaims the unwary, so the apostle counsels God's people to flee from it—to avoid the edge of the cliff.

But what must we flee? In Nebuchadnezzar's vision in Daniel 2, Babylon is the head of gold. Gold is attractive. People give their lives to the power and attractiveness of gold. The head of gold has a beauty that stimulates the eyes, the feelings, the desire for the good things of life. In addition, gold represents quality. In the prophetic image, the quality of metal degenerates or declines as time moves toward the end. Babylon represents a tolerable system, but through the ages, the system degenerates from gold to silver to brass to iron to a final mixture of iron and miry clay.

At its beginning, the system, represented by the whole image, is attractive. As in Paul's analogy of the body in I Corinthians 12, the head guides and directs the other parts of the body. In effect, this means that Babylon, the head of gold, has impressed its system, its ideas, its style, its qualities on all of civilization. Though the system is not acceptable to God, it nevertheless has stamped its mark on the whole world.

Everyone has participated in it. American culture is an Israelite adaptation of the head of gold. All other nations have absorbed its qualities, putting their own particular twists on them. The same basic system pervades the world—and as it is practiced, it is anti-Christ. Because of its attractiveness, its magnetism, and because all are defenseless before conversion, it has impressed itself upon God's people. Babylon is the world Christians must flee.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism


 

Revelation 19:7

This verse records in advance that the bride "has made herself ready." When Christ comes she is prepared to take her place beside Him. This indicates she yields to God to be ready exactly when He is, but it does not say how painful it is for her or what she has to go through to be ready.

Preparing for a wedding between a man and woman is stressful. Besides the bride and groom beginning to blend their lives together, a multitude of arrangements must be completed so that the marriage ceremony proceeds smoothly. Jesus Christ is energetically working on us now to prepare us to take Him as our Husband. Paul writes in II Timothy 3:12, "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." Jesus adds in John 16:33, "In the world you will have tribulation." There will also be times of stern correction (Hebrews 12:5-11). It can be very painful if we fail to yield because He will apply whatever pressure is needed to motivate us to use our free moral agency rightly. Does it not seem wise to yield? Why not make it easier on ourselves?

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Four


 

Revelation 19:7-8

At this time, the bride of Christ, the church, has made herself ready and is clothed in white linen, which represents her righteous acts. The implications are clear: Getting ready, walking worthy, and overcoming are the righteous acts of the saints that prepare her to be His wife in the resurrection to the Kingdom of God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Five): Who We Are


 

Revelation 19:7

Most believe that this person in question, "His wife," is the church, the Bride of Christ. Notice, however, what the verse says: "[She] has made herself ready." God does not lead us in wrong directions, so whhat this description suggests is true. The woman - the Bride, the church - has had to do things. She had to perform certain actions to get herself into position to be ready to marry Christ. It was not merely a matter of repenting, getting baptized, and receiving God's Spirit. She had to do something to be prepared to be in the Kingdom and marry her Savior.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 1)


 

Find more Bible verses about Church, The:
Church, The {Torrey's}
 




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