What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Hosea exposes the problem between God and Israel. He describes Israel as a luxuriant grape vine sending runners in every direction, indicating a bountiful crop. It indeed produces great material prosperity, but it is consumed through self-indulgent gorging. This is God's way of showing that Israel abused its prosperity: It used its prosperity for the purposes of idolatry. Its prosperity played a part in corrupting the Israelites' hearts, which is why Hosea mentions the divided or disloyal heart in context with its bountiful fruit.
A large part of this world's appeal is its offer of financial security. However, God shows there is a possible harmful, secondary effect: As people become financially secure, their attention is diverted from His purpose to vain and unimportant things. In other words, prosperity turns people's heads. There is no doubt that prosperity is good, but unless one is properly focused and disciplined, it can also be a demanding master because of its power to distract one into idolatry. Recall God's prophecy in Deuteronomy 32:15, predicting that when Israel prospered, then it would rebel.
This connects with the curse of Laodiceanism because God shows in the Laodiceans what can happen spiritually as people increase materially. Because such people are drunk through riches' deceptive promise, their judgment is in danger of being radically altered. The Laodicean evaluates himself, saying, "I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing" (Revelation 3:17).
He is deceived into thinking that his material prosperity proves that God approves of his conduct and attitudes. His overall conduct may not be too bad, but his poor self-analysis persuades him that he has no urgent need to seek God any further. He then merely floats, going through the motions, even feeling good about himself as he neglects so great salvation (Hebrews 2:3). His opinion of his holiness as compared with God's judgment is so far off base, it causes Jesus Christ to regurgitate him from His body.
Recall the mention in Hosea 10:1 of increasing and embellishing altars just before Israel fell to Assyria. One would think that, if altars increase during this period of prosperity, then religion is flourishing. Indeed, religion flourished, as Amos, Hosea's contemporary, clearly reports (see Amos 5:21-27). However, it was not the religion God gave through Moses, but idolatry that flourished! It was a corruption of that religion, for the Israelites syncretized that holy way with Baalism and other idolatries.
In Hosea 10:2, God charges Israel with having a divided heart. Commentaries are at odds over what the Hebrew word translated divided means. Most modern translations use "false," "deceitful," or "faithless," and none of these are wrong, including "divided." The Hebrew word suggests "smoothness" or "flattering," describing people who "talk the talk" but do not "walk the walk."
Isaiah 29:13 clarifies what God means: "Therefore the LORD said: 'Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men.'" Their reverence for Him was mere intellectual accommodation intended to appease Him. They used the name of God frequently, saying they trusted Him, but they filled the nation with stealing, lying, and murder.
II Kings 17:33 illustrates their worship: "They feared the LORD, yet served their own gods - according to the rituals of the nations from among whom they were carried away." This describes to a T what Israel did then and their descendants are continuing to do today. Moffatt renders this, "They worshipped the Eternal, and they also served their own gods."
This chapter reports on the behavior of the people placed in Israel after Israel's conquest and deportation by Assyria between 722-720 BC. These people, who became known as the Samaritans, feared the Lord but worshipped their own gods. They were afraid of God, but they did not really change their way of life. Thus, they developed a syncretic religious system, a blending of the truth of God and outright paganism. The Jews of Christ's day clearly recognized this putrid blend and despised the Samaritans for it.
What is so interesting is that, by verse 36, God is no longer reporting on the Samaritans but is addressing Israel. In other words, God is saying that He was driven to defeat and scatter Israel because they were guilty of exactly the same sin as the Samaritans! They too had blended the worship of the true God with outright paganism, utterly corrupting the relationship He had established with them.
It is urgent that we understand what is involved here because it reveals the cause of God's anger that led to Israel's defeat and scattering. We must understand that our god is not what we say we worship but what we serve. Our god is what we give our lives over to.
Theoretically, the Israelites did not believe in idols, but in reality, they did. They believed in a Creator God, but they worshipped Him at the shrines they erected to the Baals. While they gave lip service to the Creator, they adopted most of the Canaanitish religion with its lewd immorality, and in actual practice, patterned their life after it. In daily life, they conformed to and reflected the Babylonish system just as Israel does today. This is exactly what God warns us to flee, and the only way to come out of it is by developing and maturing in our relationship with God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Be There Next Year
As Jesus says, the field is the world, in which He has established His church. The church is not of the world (John 17:14), but within it, just as a farmer may designate a specific plot of his land, separated from the rest, for a particular, unique crop.
However, Satan the Devil has also been at work, sowing his own seeds within the field. Using fragments of God's truth, Satan has founded false religions and counterfeit Christianities that preach distortions of truth. Like the tare that grows masquerading as the wheat, members of these false churches may appear good, pious, and very generous. Worldly Christians may possess a seemingly good heart and act with fine intentions, but when the top layer of goodness is peeled back exposing their core, they reveal deceived hearts lacking understanding or true love.
Further, the world's churches are in constant rebellion against God, refusing to keep His commandments and rejecting the absolute authority of His words. The world's ministers even pervert the Word of God with infusions from such pagan religions as Buddhism, Hinduism, or other mystic or New Age faiths. Through syncretism and false doctrine, these churches accomplish the will of their evil father: deceit and destruction (see John 8:44).
Satan's malignant influence is not felt only within the world. He has planted his own seeds, sowing false brethren and even ministers within the very church of God. However, as Christ reveals in this parable, God permits this intrusion of well-camouflaged counterfeits. Tares in God's church will appear religious and devout, with no obvious warning-flag identifying them to unsuspecting church members.
Ted E. Bowling
Taking Care With the Tares
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus' Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19). Not long before, the scribes, chief priests, and elders had accused Him of taking too much authority upon Himself, but in this parable, they find themselves indicted for high crimes. Having discounted Jesus Christ as the Son of God with all authority, in this story they—and the people (see Luke 20:9)—learn His identity, who sent Him, and the death He would die at their hands. In earlier parables, He had exposed the religious leaders of His day as spiritually empty impostors, and now, in this more condemnatory parable, He reveals them to be persecutors and murderers as well.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers
Christ is saying that an increase in lying and deceit will be a hallmark of the end time. Jesus speaks particularly of religious deception, especially of those who "will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many" (verse 5). Most likely, He did not mean those who acclaimed themselves to be the Messiah, but those who would use Jesus' name to preach falsehood. Every "Christian" church of this world professes Christ as Savior, but do their ministers preach the truth He brought? Are many "Christians"—1.9 billion strong around the world in 1996—being deceived by a false gospel? This prophecy is fulfilled every Sunday around the world.
But it affects not only Christians. The other religions of man are no more honest than this world's Christianity. Regarding the ninth commandment, Judaism's "great" rabbis of the past have made exceptions to allow for deceit and lying. For example, they would allow a Jew to lie to Christians and other "heathens," but it was a great sin to lie to another Jew. The Talmud maintains and endorses falsehoods about Jesus, vilifying Him with names and alleging He was illegitimate.
Islam fares no better. It purports that God chose Ishmael over Isaac and the Arab peoples over the Israelites, but it uses large chunks of Israelite history to fill out its past. It claims Mohammed is a greater prophet than Jesus, and that he ascended to heaven on his horse from the site of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Its adherents believe that killing infidels will earn them a place in heaven, spawning worldwide, state-sponsored terrorism.
The many Eastern religions range from polytheism and animism to abstract, existential philosophies. None teach the truth about the great questions of life. For example, regarding life after death, Eastern religions run the gamut from nihilism to reincarnation, while none preach the Kingdom of God. Some espouse living a moral life, and others take a more epicurean stance, but none teach all of the Ten Commandments. Billions of people have been and are being deceived by these false faiths.
The latecomers to the smorgasbord of this world's religions are the New Age groups. They often blend, or syncretize, traditional beliefs with some form of mysticism, spiritism, or rank demonism. Some of these call Jesus one of the "enlightened masters" or call Him an embodiment of Lucifer or, like some of the Gnostics, believe He was "the first emanation [creation] of God." Whatever the case, such religions have deceived millions and led them farther away from the truth of God.
Jesus' instruction, however, is simple: Be vigilant not to be deceived. Through the apostle Paul, He teaches, "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (I Thessalonians 5:21). In I Timothy 6:20, he writes, "Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and vain babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge."
In his next letter to Timothy, Paul expounds further:
Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit [which] dwells in us. (II Timothy 1:13-14)
Once we have proved what is right and true by the faith and love of God, we must never let anyone persuade us otherwise! We have the strength to hang on to it through God's own power.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Deceptions of the End Time
It is no coincidence that the first warning Jesus gives about "the sign of [His] coming and the end of the age" is, "Take heed that no one deceives you" (Matthew 24:3-4). In fact, warnings about deception are frequent throughout His Olivet Prophecy (verses 4-5, 11, 23-26, 48). The time of the end, it seems, will be one of falsehood and deceit.
In the book of Revelation, this same warning appears as the first seal, also known as the first of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:
Now I [John] saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, "Come and see." And I looked, and behold, a white horse. And he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. (Revelation 6:1-2)
Comparing Jesus' comments in Matthew 24 with these verses in Revelation 6, it becomes apparent that this horseman is not Christ proclaiming the true gospel but a counterfeit spreading the news of a false Messiah. For instance, this horseman carries a bow, but in every case, Christ is pictured with a sword (see Revelation 1:16; 19:15). Jesus interprets this horseman for us in Matthew 24:5: "For many will come in My name, saying, I am the Christ, and will deceive many."
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Let No One Deceive You
First, notice to whom He is speaking, His disciples. They had come to Him, asking Him to tell them the sign of His coming and of the end of the age (verse 3), and He proceeded to do just that. His remarks are pointedly toward His disciples, that is, He presents these signs from their perspective. In the first seal (Revelation 6:2), He is concerned that they, specifically, not allow themselves to be deceived because the effort to deceive the elect would be potent.
Second, the number of deceivers would be multitudinous: "many will come." This should be seen in contrast to the frequent description of His own disciples as "few," a "little flock," "a remnant," "not many," etc. The true disciples of Christ could be overwhelmed by the seemingly inexhaustible supply of false teachers, liars, and spiritual cheats that would be thrown against them.
Third, these frauds and double agents would come in His name, that is, appearing to bear His authority. In particular, the name of "Christ" would be exploited as cover for their nefarious trickery, and by this ruse, great numbers of people would be deluded. The phrase, "saying, I am the Christ," should not be understood, as the New King James Version has punctuated it, to mean that many would come claiming to be the Messiah. No, they would come claiming that Jesus is the Messiah—a truth—and thereby gain people's trust. From that point forward, deception through doctrinal change, both major and minor, provides the means of deception. As the anonymous maxim puts it, "The nearer a lie to truth the more deceitful it is."
If not earlier, this first seal must have been opened very soon after the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation. Once the last of the original apostles was dead, the false "Christian" church began its swift and steady rise to dominance, eventually collaborating with Emperor Constantine (reigned AD 306-337) to become a major influence in the Roman Empire. This church, with its pompous ecclesiastical politics and Christianized pagan practices, looked nothing like the church the New Testament describes. The relatively tiny true church, often persecuted for its "primitive" beliefs and demeaned for its "Jewish" practices, was forced to flee to the relative safety of frontier lands and wilderness areas where its members could practice their biblical beliefs more freely.
It was not until the age of the Protestant Reformation, when the power of the Catholic Church began to wane, that Sabbath-keepers could once again express their beliefs openly. Even so, Protestantism—its various denominations merely rebellious daughters of the Universal Church—has not been entirely sympathetic to the law-keeping elect. Even today, a spirit of antagonism and condescension exists within Protestant circles for anyone who really believes and practices the doctrines of Jesus and the first-century church.
Religious deception, false gospels, and unchristian philosophies have continued unabated to our own day. Mainstream Christian churches continue to teach an antinomian gospel about the person of Jesus rather than proclaiming the true gospel of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:15). They still lead their members to worship an unbiblical triune God, constructed out of a hodge-podge of Jewish mysticism, Gnostic Christian belief, and Greek philosophy a few centuries after the apostle John completed the New Testament canon with the book of Revelation. They continue to refuse to keep the biblical weekly Sabbath made for man (Mark 2:27), as well as the annual holy days that reveal God's plan for mankind. The churches also teach the pernicious doctrines of the immortality of the soul and eternal security, leading adherents to believe they already have eternal life and their place in "heaven" is guaranteed.
Another modern false gospel—endorsed by many, especially those who embrace New Age beliefs—is the "tolerant" idea that there are many roads to salvation. This notion posits that all religions are equal, and each is effective in bringing a person to eternal life. In other words, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and Christians will receive the same salvation and afterlife despite their markedly different beliefs and practices. This also means that there is no reason for a person to convert to another religion, so each faith should accept and acknowledge the others in a spirit of goodwill and ecumenism. Of course, this flies in the face of Acts 4:10-12, in which Peter asserts that only by the name of Jesus Christ is salvation possible.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Four Horsemen (Part Two): The White Horse
Increasing deception will mark the "end time." At a certain point, these deceptions will be augmented by signs and wonders—miracles! Whether they are true miracles or not, we do not know. Satan has the ability to do certain things of that nature. Whatever they are, they will seem to give credence to the ideas of the people who are doing them. If we are not careful, even the elect—if possible—could be deceived.
This phrase "if possible" has made some people wonder, "Can the elect be deceived?" Well, it is kind of a trick question. If they are deceived, then they are not the elect! This is because the elect do something that keeps them from being deceived! It is not as if God says, "Here's this one group. I am not going to let them be deceived." That is not how it works. They are the elect because they do not allow themselves to be deceived.
So it is not possible to deceive the elect. It is not because these people have a special "safety net" around them, so that they cannot be deceived. They cannot be deceived because they will not let themselves be deceived, which is why they are the elect. They are working hard so that they will not be deceived. And that is the group that we want to be part of.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
In each case, Christ's admonition is that we should have a healthy skepticism of miracles because miracles may produce deception. It is not that the miracle does not occur. The more important point is, does it witness to the truth? Does it witness to the ultimate reality, the will of God?
In both Jesus' instruction in the New Testament (Matthew 24:24; 7:22-23; Revelation 13:13-14) and in Moses' teaching in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 13:1-5), it is clear—regardless of the wonder done—if a person even implies that we are free to disobey God, the miracle is not a demonstration of God's truth. A miracle it was, but it does not validate God's truth.
We must be especially skeptical of those who say that they believe in keeping God's laws, and then turn right around and say that the Sabbath and holy days are no longer necessary and that "true Christians" can keep Christmas, Easter, Halloween, etc. But they "believe" that they are to keep God's laws! It is especially deceptive because so many of such people are really nice individuals.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is God a Magician?
2 Thessalonians 2:3
The apostle Paul prophesies of an apostasy in II Thessalonians 2:3, 9-12, and he prefaces it with a warning against being deceived. The great apostasy may already be fully underway, spurred by the rising tide of deception in society. With so much information available (Daniel 12:4)—along with so many ways to manipulate it—men find it extremely easy to deceive millions instantly. This is especially true for those who do not really believe the true source of knowledge, God and His Word. Thus, after subtle doctrinal changes, many of the brethren have fallen away.
The "coming of the lawless one," however, is still future. His rise to prominence and power will be accompanied by incredible miracles, but they will be false signs and wonders, lies produced by Satan to appear as if they are of God (see Revelation 13:11-15). He will use "all unrighteous deception," a hint that what he does and says will appear as righteous, yet someone who knows and loves the truth can see through it and avoid being deceived.
Satan will really pull out all the stops to deceive as many as possible, especially the called sons of God. The "lawless one" will be so slick that "all who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8). But, as Paul writes elsewhere, if we hold fast to "the pattern of sound words" that we learned, if we guard the truth, we will not be deceived.
Paul repeats these instructions to the Thessalonians in this context:
Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. (II Thessalonians 2:15)
The key to resisting deception is being convicted of the truth! The truth is what was first revealed to the apostles. As Jude puts it, "Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).
As they saw the first-century apostasy coming, all the apostles warn about deceivers and urge the brethren to be certain of and stick to the doctrines of God. It is our surest hedge against being caught up in the deceptions of the end time that are already upon us.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Deceptions of the End Time
The white horse and the crowned bowman on its back, embodying the first seal of Revelation 6:1-2, are all about religious communication. Like his fellows, this horseman has nothing benign about him—he goes out "conquering and to conquer." He is the one who commences—some would say ultimately causes—"the beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:8) that results in the death of a quarter of earth's population (Revelation 6:8)!
Biblically, white is an interesting color. In our day, it is immediately associated with cleanliness and purity, as all advertisers know: Marketing a cleanser that is itself white or comes in predominantly white packaging helps to convince the consumer that the product is effective. However, an ancient Israelite might not see white that way. In Leviticus, white appears as the color of leprosy more than a dozen times (see, for instance, Leviticus 13:3). In Genesis 40:16, white baskets presage the death of Pharaoh's baker, and in Joel 1:7, it is the color of a land stripped bare by an enemy.
Conversely, at other times it represents the more positive associations we are accustomed to. In Ecclesiastes 9:8, Solomon writes, "Let your garments always be white," which most commentators feel refers to the joy, purity, and beauty of a righteous, godly individual. The Shulamite describes her Beloved, a type of Christ, as "white" (Song of Songs 5:10), implying His spotless and holy character. Similarly, Daniel sees "the Ancient of Days" clothed in a garment "white as snow" and with hair "like pure wool" (Daniel 7:9), reminiscent of John's description of the glorified Christ in Revelation 1:13-16.
In the book of Revelation itself, white is predominantly positive in meaning, as most of its appearances describe God, Christ, glorified saints, or associated objects like the Great White Throne. Overall, white suggests purity, righteousness, holiness, glory, victory, and perfection. This preponderance of positive, symbolic meanings for the color white—without considering the mainly negative aspects of the other symbols—has led many interpreters to misidentify this horseman as a positive, even divine, image.
For starters, the white horseman carries a bow, a weapon of war. Strangely, John makes no mention of arrows or a quiver, although we may infer the former, since a bow is nearly worthless without arrows. (Then again, the lack of arrows may suggest war fought, not with blood-letting weapons, but with words or ideas; see Psalm 11:2; 64:2-4; Jeremiah 9:8; Ephesians 6:16.) A bow is a purely offensive weapon, even more so than a sword, and is highly effective from long range (for example, archers killed Uriah the Hittite and kings Ahab of Israel and Josiah of Judah). Thus, the foremost idea behind this biblical symbol is powerful, penetrating, deadly accuracy with an intimation of distance.
A sidelight of the bow's imagery is the frequency of its use as a symbol of God's judgment. Job complains, "His archers surround me. He pierces my heart and does not pity; He pours out my gall on the ground. He breaks me with wound upon wound" (Job 16:13-14; see also Lamentations 2:4; 3:12-13; Jeremiah 50:9, 14, 29; 51:3).
The white horseman's bow, then, represents an effective instrument of God's judgment on the world for rebellion against Him. Unlike the sword that Christ wields (Revelation 19:15), the bow's long range hints at God being somewhat removed in His judgment, yet it is just as devastating in its effectiveness at meting out justice. In addition, whereas the sword symbolizes the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12)—His truth—the bow suggests a counterfeit "truth" or a false gospel. As II Thessalonians 2:11-12 says, "God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness."
The rider of the white horse is given a crown to wear, after which he goes "out conquering and to conquer." These two symbols are related both in their proximity in the verse and in their meanings. First, the word order suggests that being endowed with a crown allows or authorizes the horseman to go to war. Who gives him this crown? Notice Romans 13:1: "For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God." An angel tells Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:17, "The Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men." God is sovereign over all earthly authority, and it is from Him that this horseman receives his crown and purpose.
Second, crowns generally represent some state of honor or blessing for the wearer. We normally associate crowns with royalty, which in Classical Greek is represented by the word diadema, which has come down to us as "diadem." The word in Revelation 6:2, however, is stéfanos, a circlet, wreath, or garland, oftentimes made of leaves and twigs but sometimes of precious metals. It was awarded as a prize of victory or triumph, as a symbol of honor or authority, as a badge of civic worth or military valor, or as a sign of nuptial joy or festal gladness. Due to the verse's heavy martial emphasis, it is likely that the horseman's crown signifies triumph, authority, or military valor.
Third, this horseman goes "out conquering and to conquer," a fairly literal rendering of the Greek. To us, this phraseology sounds strange, but it is merely expressing two different tenses of the same verb (nikao, "conquer," "subdue," "overcome," "prevail," "get the victory"): the present participle and the aorist subjunctive. In other words, John is telling us that the horseman begins and continues to conquer, and he will certainly conquer or will ultimately conquer (see A.T. Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament on this verse). The implication is that his entire purpose is to conquer, to dominate, to subjugate the peoples of the earth.
Overall, the white horse and its rider are vivid representations of a powerful, aggressive, victorious force running unrestrained over mankind. Like a knight in armor or a soldier in full dress uniform, the first horseman appears to the eye as glorious and noble, but its intent is to kill, destroy, and subdue its enemies. Its white façade is deceptive, concealing a deadly, unholy purpose.
These interpretations of the symbols may seem highly speculative and arbitrary until we unlock their mystery with the key supplied by Jesus Christ Himself in the Olivet Prophecy. In a series of four verses, He decodes the meanings of the Four Horsemen. Of the white horseman, He says: "Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, I am the Christ, and will deceive many" (Matthew 24:4-5; see Mark 13:5-6; Luke 21:8). The white horse and its rider represent religious deception.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Four Horsemen (Part Two): The White Horse
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