What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The first curse includes the whole processes of childbearing, from conception to birth. The Hebrew word rendered "conception" in the New King James version (NKJV) includes the entire pregnancy, while "bring forth" can mean both the beginning or end of the birth process. The Revised Standard Version translates these clauses as, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children."
A human female is unique among mammalian creatures in this respect. Animal females generally bear their young without pain and rarely sicken and die during or from the experience. Women, on the other hand, always experience pain and grief throughout their pregnancies—from morning sickness to contractions—and have historically had a very high mortality rate from childbirth. Better nutrition and hygiene have cut the numbers of deaths dramatically, but the pain and grief remain.
Fortunately, God is a God of mercy. He put within the human female the ability to "forget" her pains in childbirth soon thereafter. Jesus Himself mentions this in John 16:21:
A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.
This curse on Eve has a direct relationship with the end of the curse on the serpent, which involves the woman's "seed," both general and specific (Genesis 3:15). We can infer that God intends us to understand that, because of sin, producing "seed" to fight Satan and his seed will be made more difficult. In a spiritual sense, the church, "the mother of us all," endures great hardship in producing children of God.
Thus, the Bible testifies, "the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matthew 11:12), "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22), and "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (II Timothy 3:12). Even the sinless Christ, the promised Seed, was "a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3), forced by sin—yet willing—to bear the agonies of human life and death to become the Son of God, the Firstborn among many brethren.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The First Prophecy (Part Two)
At this forbidding juncture, God reveals a spiritual doctrine that is supremely vital to our daily lives and ultimately to our salvation. If we do not grasp this doctrine and set its seriousness firmly in mind, it will throw off our understanding of who God's elect are, and we will greatly undervalue the degree of accountability and appreciation we owe to God for His mercy.
It is appropriate to dig into this doctrine at any time, but it is especially appropriate now because of the nature of the period we are living through. The Bible itself, combined with the daily news reports, indicates the time of Jesus' return is drawing near. Many believe that we are in the beginning stages of what has been called “the crisis at the close.” Consider how similar those pre-Flood times are to our own. As God tells the story in His Word, we are only into the sixth chapter of the first book, and the end of mankind, except for the few who would be spared, was near at hand!
This similarity brings up a critical question for all of us to consider soberly: Who was saved from the devastation of the Flood? Every person did not die in the Flood. We need to think this through because the Flood most definitely came, just as the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, as prophesied by the same unchanging God for our time, will also surely come.
The answer to the critical question is that only those God specifically spared were saved. He specifically names them. God's “grace” is the overall general reason, but the specific aspect of His grace that preserved their lives is that they were sanctified—set apart—for salvation from the Flood.
In both the Hebrew and Greek languages, the root words underlying “salvation” mean the same thing. Both terms mean “given deliverance,” implying prosperity despite impending disaster. In this specific instance, the impending disaster is the prophesied Flood. God's first step in delivering some was to sanctify those He chose, Noah and his family.
Sanctification is of major importance to those of us called into God's church, as I Thessalonians 4:3-5 points out: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like Gentiles who do not know God.” Sanctification (Greek hagiasmos) is the noun form of the verb sanctify, which means “to set apart for God's use, to make distinct from what is common.” Thus, those called into the church are set apart by God, as were Noah and his family, for His glory, for salvation from prophesied disasters, and for becoming like Him.
II Peter 2:5 carries the Flood record further: “[For God] did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing the flood on the world of the ungodly.” Noah and his family faithfully responded, doing what God sanctified them to do. Noah not only built the ark, which became the physical means of their salvation, but its construction gave them the time and opportunity to explain to the world why it needed to be built. Noah preached to mankind of God, of their sins, and of the prophesied certainty of the Flood if the people chose not to repent.
From this example, we must grasp God's intention in His sanctification of us. Noah and his family did not save themselves. Like Noah and his family, we are required to respond faithfully to what God has ordained us to do. We must understand that we are God's workmanship (Ephesians 2:10), and the responsibilities He assigns are part of His creation of us in His image.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Leadership and Covenants (Part Eight)
We can easily reach a conclusion about humanity by comparing the Bible's overview of mankind's pre-Flood activities with our more detailed daily news reports. Together, they suggest that we are experiencing times increasingly similar to those just before the Flood. This leads us to an unavoidable conclusion: What God did through the Flood proves that the cataclysm did not solve the problems that reside in the hearts of human beings. What is in man's heart created the necessity for humanity to witness that major disaster as part of its history. The internal stain was still there after the Flood waters drained away; the massive execution of earth's population did not erase the evil motivations of man's self-centered nature. That must be accomplished by another means.
By putting them to death, the Flood did clear the population of a vast number of troublemakers. However, only God's merciful and generous grace, as Noah and his family received, changes a person's heart and thus his or her conduct. Our hearts are changed by God initiating our calling, revealing Himself, granting repentance, giving His Spirit, and then personally working with us in a close, personal relationship. By this means, we are created in the image of God. This is the only permanent solution.
This fact should have the effect of causing us to resolve to follow through by willingly cooperating with God within the relationship created by His merciful calling. What practical, spiritual counsel will enable us to negotiate these times, which are so similar to what Noah went through?
In short, our salvation is to yield to God's guidance, as seen in Noah's story. His attitude and conduct become our practical, human example and spiritual guide. Just as he persevered in building the ark and trusting God to preserve his family through the Flood, we should put the same effort into preparing for God's Kingdom.
Genesis 7:1 provides us with a simple but meaningful instruction: “Then the LORD said to Noah, 'Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation.'” Noah did not hesitate when God commanded him to do this, as his labors in building the ark were ending. This command states the qualification to meet our time's spiritual challenges. Noah faithfully lived righteously within the difficulties of the times.
The biblical record shows that God oversaw and provided safety for Noah and his family during those challenges beyond their control. He will do for us as He did for them. The Flood of our times is not one of water but an overwhelming “flood” of deception combined with threats of violence against us. It is already upon us to some small degree. As far as can be determined, nothing of this world will turn it aside. In fact, it is already named in the Bible—our Flood is called the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Leadership and Covenants (Part Ten)
Where one might expect righteousness (as in a court), one finds iniquity. But Solomon cautions, "Hang on. God will judge." Another important point to understand is that God's plan seems designed to show men how weak and meaningless they are in the overall scheme of life.
Even injustice and wickedness serve a purpose. Though they are painful for us to deal with, they provide a massive demonstration of our ignorance of our own nature, clearly revealing the overall character of mankind without conversion.
This is a tremendous benefit to the converted because they can always look at the world and ask, "Do I want those results?" If what we see in the world motivates us to fear God and follow the path toward His Kingdom—even though it might be painful, cause us to make a great many sacrifices, or put us under some kind of persecution or tribulation—it is doing a positive work for us if it helps to keep us on the track.
If there were no benefit from it, God would not permit it. If we did not know what evil was, we could not repent. The world shows us, in lurid detail, what evil is. We have the opportunity to evaluate whether or not we want to do the things that have produced this world. Even in the courts, we will see evil, and we see it even in religion. Solomon says we should expect it and not be overly frustrated by it. Instead, we should learn from it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and the Feast of Tabernacles (Part 2)
Song of Solomon 5:1-10
Verse 2 begins a dream sequence. The woman is not really sure what is happening. Is it really happening? Many of us have experienced a simlar thing while in bed and dreaming, but the dream seemed so real that we wondered whether it was reality.
What is real when one is half asleep? The mind is still fogged by a state of drowsiness; it is simply not focused. Solomon presents this "dream" like this because many times, when we are fully alert and focused on what we are doing, much of what we are or think about is restrained or contained. But when we go to sleep, the mind begins to release the things the will has kept submersed. The subconscious begins to express itself when nothing restrains it.
This young lady is finding out that her love is not as deep and true as it needs to be for a successful marriage. She lies unclothed on her bed, which is reminiscent of the Laodicean: "wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked" (Revelation 3:17). Her feet are washed; her work for the day is over, she thinks. She will not stir herself to do what is disagreeable to her at this most inconvenient time, even though her lover is standing at the door, knocking (Revelation 3:20). She delays responding to him, unsure if she is dreaming or not.
She finally begins to respond positively in verse 5, but it is too late. This is reminscent of the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-12). The cry of the bridegroom goes out, but some do not have enough oil, causing them to respond too late to the bridegroom's voice. It is very interesting that oil of myrrh is mentioned both here and in Matthew 25.
In verse 6, she is struck with guilt and remorse for not having responded to his offer of love. She begins calling out for him and seeking to find him in the city.
The watchmen patrol the city, which represents the world. What is happening in the city, out in the world? The Tribulation! "The watchmen that went about the city found me. They struck me, and they wounded me: the keepers of the walls took my veil away from me." The stolen veil is a symbol of being shamed.
The watchmen are worldly people. They see only with their eyes, and thus they cannot see the deep and earnest repentance and yearning that is now within her. They do not see her as the bride, but as a woman—a common woman of the streets, which is why they beat her. They see her as a prostitute. So, without even bothering to find out who she is, they persecute her, tearing some of her clothing from her. Remember that clothing symbolizes righteousness in the Bible.
In verse 8, she turns away from the people who are persecuting her, represented by the watchmen, to the daughters of Jerusalem, from whom she would expect to receive sympathy. She hopes that they might relate to what she is going through. She asks them in her agony to try to help her to find her love, Christ, but we know that He will be gone for the 3 1/2 years of the Tribulation.
The daughters of Jerusalem respond with a question, "What is he like? Tell us about him, we don't know who he is." She begins in verse 10 to describe him. What she is doing, of course, is making her witness before the world. The Protestant Evangelical churches would say that she is giving her testimony of her beloved, of what he is like. She describes him in the most glowing of terms. Here, because of the theme, it has to be done in physical terms, but we understand that He is not just physically attractive. She also describes what He is spiritually to these people. She is complementing the preaching of the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:3-12), through her own personal witness, while she is in tribulation.
The point of all this is that it will be this way for some, but it does not have to be this way for anyone. If she had given of herself to him when he was courting her, this would never have happened. We are being courted by Jesus Christ right now. We are being led toward a marriage—the marriage of the Lamb to the church of God.
If she had really been working on yielding to Him—developing her relationship with Him—she would have known His love for her and would have made any sacrifice for Him, no matter how inconvenient. This is what Jesus teaches in the series of parables beginning in Matthew 24 after the Olivet Prophecy.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Place of Safety? (Part 3)
There is no doubt about the context in which this appears. A great trumpet is going to be blown, undoubtedly the seventh trumpet. What will happen at the seventh trumpet? The context says that God is going to bring the children of Israel back into their land, showing God making a judgment that involves, not only the people of Israel, but also the land of Israel.
The word that is translated "thresh" is not the ordinary word for that activity. Ordinarily whenever threshing is done, the Bible shows the grain either laid on a firm surface and then beaten with a stick, or taken in hand and beaten against something solid, like a wall. The purpose for this is to break the wheat berries from the stock, and it generally takes a fair amount of force to do this.
The word "thresh" here does not indicate that kind of threshing but a method that is more careful and gentle. This word is applied when a person gently strikes an individual piece of fruit—like an apple, peach, or pear—from the branch, or when the tree is gently shaken so that the fruit falls out.
Here is God's judgment. At that time, the children of Israel will not be in a condition in which they will need to be beaten. Taking all of the scriptures on this together, we find that they will be returning to their land weeping, their wild spirit broken. It has been broken, of course, through the tribulation and the Day of the Lord. So as He is gathering, He is doing it one by one, leading them, as it were, by the hand.
At that time it is God's judgment that the children of Israel will need more than the usual amount of concern. He is indicating not just a separation from the nations, but that an act of purification is also taking place.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fall Feast Lessons
He is obviously referring back to the coming out of Egypt, but what happened before will happen, in a similar way, in the future—when the children of Israel come out of their captivity during the tribulation and the Day of the Lord and have to be regathered. He says, "I want you to forget about coming out of Egypt. Something far grander is going to occur."
John W. Ritenbaugh
New Covenant Priesthood (Part 1)
This is what must happen before the Second Exodus. Notice that it is called "Jacob's Trouble," not either "Israel's Trouble" or "Judah's Trouble." Both houses will experience it. God causes Jacob's descendants to be greatly troubled because of their sins. This time of unprecedented crisis—"none is like it"—corresponds to the time of "great tribulation" of which Jesus Christ warns:
"Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand), "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. . . . For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened." (Matthew 24:15-16, 21-22; emphasis ours throughout)
Luke's version of the Olivet Prophecy uses different language to describe the same time and events:
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. . . . For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:20-24; see Revelation 11:2; emphasis ours)
Just as Christ reassures us in Matthew 24:22 that this will not be the complete end of mankind, Jeremiah promises that Jacob will be saved out of his trouble. Even though that "day" is great, and like nothing we have seen before, it will not be the end of Jacob.
Jeremiah 30:5-7 does not detail why that time is one of tribulation. The only clue we have in these verses is that God compares it, not just to a woman in labor, but to a man in labor. This is certainly an unusual symbol, but the picture of the sorrows and pains of labor and childbirth elsewhere helps us to understand what it portends. For example, Isaiah 13:6-8 prophesies:
Wail, for the day of the LORD is at hand! It will come as destruction from the Almighty. Therefore all hands will be limp, every man's heart will melt, and they will be afraid. Pangs and sorrows will take hold of them; they will be in pain as a woman in childbirth; they will be amazed at one another; their faces will be like flames.
A similar illustration appears in Isaiah 26:16-18:
LORD, in trouble they have visited You, they poured out a prayer when Your chastening was upon them. As a woman with child is in pain and cries out in her pangs, when she draws near the time of her delivery, so have we been in Your sight, O LORD. We have been with child, we have been in pain; we have, as it were, brought forth wind; we have not accomplished any deliverance in the earth, nor have the inhabitants of the world fallen.
Paul also uses this symbol in I Thessalonians 5:1-3:
But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, "Peace and safety!" then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. (see also Isaiah 66:6-24; Jeremiah 4:31; 13:20-27; Hosea 13:12-16; Micah 4:9-10.)
Overall, the symbol is one of anguish, sorrow, intensity, great discomfort, and pain. The prophets contain scores of examples of God's anger at the sins of His people. It is with good reason that the prophecies mention that only a "remnant" will return: Even though the descendants of Jacob will ultimately be saved, the percentage of the current hundreds of millions of Israelites and Jews who survive that trouble will probably be small (see Isaiah 10:20-21).
However, how this illustration is applied is interesting. When it applies to God's enemies, the emphasis is clearly on the pain, anguish, sorrow, and fear of what is ahead (Jeremiah 49:20-24). But when it refers to Israel, as in Jeremiah 30, there is always hope that the pain will be turned to joy, just as with a physical birth (Isaiah 66:8-9). It is painful, but a tremendous blessing is promised to come when it is over (compare Jesus' use of this metaphor in John 16:21).
A hint of this hope appears in Jeremiah 30:7: "But he [Jacob] shall be saved out of it." The pain and the anguish will not end in total annihilation. Certainly, a dear price will be paid in human lives, but the peoples of Jacob will survive and be blessed—both physically and spiritually
David C. Grabbe
The Second Exodus (Part One)
The hair represents the people of the nations of Israel. Most of the church is in the nations of Israel, primarily the United States and Canada. The church is represented in the "small number"—represented by the hair that he puts into his pocket—taken from the third group, which goes into captivity and is thrown to the "four winds," showing a measure of protection. However, he then takes a part from that group and throws it into the fire. Now hair is the most flammable part of the body, and surely, the fire must indicate death.
This can be connected with the fifth seal of Revelation 6: the martyrdom of the saints. One can also connect it with Revelation 3:10 and the "Philadelphians" who are kept from the hour of trial that comes upon the whole earth. The group that he took out of his pocket and threw into the fire (and are therefore consumed in the fires of tribulation) represents the Laodicean church. It surely seems to indicate that very few, if any, of them will survive through the Tribulation. Five separations are indicated here in Ezekiel 5, but only one very small amount is protected in the fold of his skirt.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Place of Safety? (Part 1)
One of the spirit beings who had "charge over the city" (verse 1) carried, not a battle-axe like his fellows, but a writer's inkhorn (verse 2), and he was also dressed differently, in linen. His is a different purpose. God charges him to go ahead of his fellows, saying in verse 4: "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it."
The others follow him, obeying God's command to go through the city killing and not having pity (verse 5), but in verse 6, God warns, "Do not come near anyone on whom is the mark."
Those people who sighed and cried somehow found a place of safety from the conflagration and the terror. They had God's mark on them, protecting them from His judgment. Sighing and crying over the abominations and the sins of the larger society, then, must be enormously important to us, too, as we also stand on the brink of similar tribulation.
The Torment of the Godly (Part One)
Some in the church of God today teach that just because a person is part of a certain group, he will escape this wrath. However, the mention of fleeing implies a generality rather than a promise given as an absolute certainty. According to traditions retained from history, all of the apostles except for John suffered violent deaths from persecution.
Are we more deserving of safety than they were? Paul writes in Romans 14:12, "So then, each of us shall give account of himself to God." Revelation 2:23 confirms individual judgment during Christ's evaluation of the Thyatira church, without a doubt part of His church: "I will kill her children with death, and all the church shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works."
We must not allow ourselves to think presumptuously that we deserve to be hidden. God is the Master, and we are slaves bought at a price with Christ's blood. He is the Master Potter, forming and shaping us into the character image of Jesus Christ. If He determines that we need the shaping that Tribulation will bring, then He will not hesitate to set that path before us. If He believes we need to glorify Him before men, He will do the same.
Notice also Daniel 11:32: "Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits." Not only does this show that Christians will undergo intense persecution, but it also shows that they will be doing things to glorify God during that period of testing. God specifically chooses those who know Him to carry out these exploits before men.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty, Part Three: The Fruits
Strong's Concordance reveals that "persecute" (Greek dioko) means "to pursue, follow after or press toward." Vine's Expository Dictionary adds "to put to flight or drive away." Only within certain contexts does it take on the sense of oppression, ill treatment, abuse, tyranny, and even martyrdom and murder. Persecution is aggressive and injurious behavior carried out in a hostile, antagonistic spirit, normally by a group, but occasionally by one individual toward another. It is often carried out with fiery zeal, as Paul remarks about his persecution of the church (Philippians 3:6), but the persecuted must always remember that the fiery zeal bent against them is, according to Romans 10:2, "not according to knowledge." Thus Jesus, while dying on the stake, asks His Father to forgive His persecutors, "for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34).
In the Bible, especially in the New Testament, persecution is so pervasive that it is presented as a more or less expected terror. Jesus, the epitome of righteousness, is also the focal point of persecution. As such, He clearly reveals persecution's source. In John 8 the Pharisees challenge Jesus' assertion of who He was, and the ensuing discussion leads to revealing its source.
The Jews claim to be Abraham's descendants and never in bondage to any man (though at the time they were subject to the Romans). Their statement is partly true. Jesus readily acknowledges they are physically Abraham's descendants, but He adds in verse 40, "But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this." He implies that, if they were truly Abraham's children, their conduct would display his characteristics, and they would not be persecuting Him.
Satan the Devil is the source of persecution of those bearing and living the truth of God (verses 41, 44). At times he undoubtedly works through people whom he has duped and inflamed to unrelenting anger toward God's people so that the persecution appears to be entirely of men. But the Bible reveals the reality of Satan as the source.
The church bears the brunt of Satan's persecution because, as the body of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23), it is the group of people in whom Christ is being formed (Galatians 4:19). Jesus warns us that this will occur:
If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 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. Remember the word that I said to you, "A servant is not greater than his master." If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. (John 15:18-21)
Thus, because of our relationship to Jesus Christ, persecution becomes our lot in life. Luke movingly describes this sense of solidarity and union with Christ during Paul's experience on the road to Damascus. Christ calls out, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Acts 9:4). Just three verses earlier, he writes, "Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest." Paul had physically and psychologically abused the members of the church, but Christ considers any attack against His church to be an attack against Himself personally.
His disciples can count on persecution. In fact, persecution serves as a sign of the authenticity of his relationship to Jesus Christ, as Philippians 1:27-30 attests:
Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.
The Bible also shows that the disciple's response to persecution is a veritable litmus test to determine that authenticity. Notice these two passages:
» But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. (Matthew 13:20-21)
» Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. (Matthew 24:9-13)
Clearly, God will count as righteous those who respond to persecution in faith.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 8: Blessed Are the Persecuted
It may seem strange that Jesus passes so quickly from peacemaking in the previous beatitude to persecution—from the work of reconciliation to the experience of hostility. But we come to learn from life's experiences following conversion that, however hard we try to live peacefully or to make peace through reconciliation, some refuse to live at peace with us. Indeed, as this beatitude shows, some take the initiative to oppose, revile, and slander us. We must live with and adjust to the fact that persecution is simply the clash between two irreconcilable value systems. God has called us, selected us, to represent Him in patiently enduring and even overcoming persecution as part of our witness and preparation for His Kingdom.
God is not without sympathy for the difficulties these challenges pose for us, but He calls us blessed, counseling us to "rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is [our] reward in heaven" for successfully overcoming persecution. We should realize we do not earn the reward because we are doing only what we are supposed to do (Luke 17:7-10). But God freely gives the reward; He promises it as His gift.
We are to face persecution remembering "that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18). When it comes upon us, we should not retaliate like the world, sulk like a child, lick our wounds like a dog in self-pity, or simply grin and bear it like a masochistic Stoic. Our Savior tells us to rejoice in it because it proves the authenticity of our faith, puts us into a noble succession of towering figures of faith who have preceded us, and guarantees us great reward in the Kingdom. It may also put us into the company of many martyrs exalted in God's Word.
Above all, persecution for His sake brings us into fellowship with the sufferings of our Savior. Our love for Christ should be so great that we rejoice that it has come upon us on His account. If He suffered so much to give us this awesome future, why should we not gladly suffer a little for Him?
Persecution is a blessing in disguise designed to bring out the best of Christian character. From it we frequently become aware of weaknesses in our character. Persecution's pressures are humbling. They make us understand that our spiritual infirmities are so great that we cannot stand for a single hour unless Christ upholds us. How true are His words, "Without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
Persecution can also keep us from certain sins because it makes us more vividly aware of the impossibility of friendship with the world. Seeing we cannot have both the world and the Kingdom, it can help us set our resolve to live righteously. "And not only that," the apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:3-4, "but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope."
At first glance, persecution seems contradictory to the way and purpose of God. Though we certainly do not wish it upon anyone, and though we sincerely hope we do not have to face it, we can understand in the broad overview that, because of the enmity of Satan, it is inevitable. And in reality, it is a disguised blessing, designed to complete our preparation for God's Kingdom.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 8: Blessed Are the Persecuted
This is a warning to us—that the iniquity that is in the world will cause a loss of love in the church. If we understand the progression of events in Matthew 24, then verse 12 speaks of the time of the Tribulation. We are leading up to that, living in a period in which the stresses against the church—from the world—are increasing. As they increase, it can have the psychological effect—because we begin to get weary of dealing with it—of becoming apathetic, that is, without feeling for what we formerly loved so dearly.
So the iniquity is in the world, but resisting it is a constant stress because it exerts tremendous pressure through an appealing façade—to give in and go along with it. As we live with it and everybody else is doing it, the world's behavior gradually becomes acceptable to us, thus giving evidence that apathy is taking over.
We need to look at every aspect, even in areas we may consider "minor things." How do they dress? What kind of music do they listen to? What are the world's movies like? What are their attitudes in dealing with each other—in stores, on the street, in communities? In many places, we can hardly get anybody on the street to greet us! There are many little behaviors like this. The iniquity is in the world, but it pressures us into doing things as it does—and then it becomes our behavior.
This is just hypothetical, but what if we evaluated ourselves against the world ten years ago and judged that we were 50% more righteous than the world. Then today, we did exactly the same thing, and figured that we are at least 50% more righteous than the world. However, if the world had become more unrighteous during that same period, then, even though we may be 50% more righteous than the world now, we have actually gone backwards in those ten years—right along with the world!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Hebrews: A Message for Today
The tribulation at the end—what we have traditionally called the Great Tribulation—will be the worst the world has ever seen. It will be far worse than the fall of Jerusalem; the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the Holocaust; the World War II bombings of Dresden, Hamburg, London, and Tokyo; the famines in East Africa and elsewhere; the Spanish flu—perhaps all of them put together! The world has never seen anything like this.
However, the terrors of the Great Tribulation are possible now, and they could happen soon. But, as Jesus said, the end is not yet. Humanity could erase itself from the planet—kill off all life through its technology and weaponry—so we are near, but other things must happen first.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The End Is Not Yet
"Tribulations" brings thoughts of trouble, anxiety, fear, and doubt. However, Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5 that those who have peace with God and access to Him
. . . glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which was given to us.
This peace is not a kind of secular contentment that men can find by lowering their standards and expectations. It is both a gift from God to those reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ and a product of the Holy Spirit in us as we grow in a continuing, trustful relationship through the daily affairs of our life.
The Christian's outlook on life can be entirely different from those in the world, untroubled by the calamity they see all around them. This does not mean that the Christian's peace is a sort of magic or that he ignores the seriousness of the situation. Nor does it mean that the Christian achieves this wonderful quality instantly or that it is always constant. However, it is always available through faith because he has access to the Sovereign, Almighty God. He always has everything under control and is filled with love and wisdom that He is willing to use for our benefit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Peace
2 Thessalonians 2:7
Pressure was mounting for these people. Jewish civilization was in turmoil. It would not come to a climax for some nineteen years after this in AD 69. An end would come upon Judea in 70 AD The church was already beginning to experience some of that turmoil. About a dozen years after the writing of I and II Thessalonians, Nero was emperor in Rome and persecuting Christians.
Tribulation against Christians broke out in one place and then another. It was scattered all over the world, a little bit here, a little bit there, some in Rome, some in Corinth, some in Thessalonica, some down in Jerusalem. Gradually, it built until the church was driven to the wilderness for 1,260 years, where it barely maintained its existence.
We cannot depend on that escape; that prophecy has been fulfilled. There will be no running away, not this time. There will be no disappearing into the woodwork, except for those to whom God gives the privilege of going to the Place of Safety. And who knows what true Christians will have to face between now and then? As it intensifies, the time of the end will be a very tumultuous period. We find in verse 10 that some were falling away, and unfortunately, that will be the "escape" some choose to take.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Don't Be a Prudent Agnostic
Hebrews was written to a group of people who were fading away in their walk toward salvation. They were going through some pretty difficult trials, but they were not facing up to them. The underlying theme here is chastening. Many modern translations will use the word "discipline," and technically, it is closer in meaning to the Greek word.
Discipline covers formal instruction, but it also includes drill. Drill is associated with learning something repetitively—over and over again till we get it.
Discipline also includes punishment: spanking, rebuke, stern correction. Paul is saying that the sons of God should expect correction and rebuke. God has a way of starting off easy, but the punishment, the rebuke, the discipline become more stern as we fail to respond until He finally gets our attention. This could go so far as the Tribulation.
God's discipline is always corrective. He is not a sadist; He does not discipline for the fun of it. He disciplines us because we need to be turned in another direction. He is removing impediments to our spiritual development, so we do not need to become discouraged.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 2)
This verse emphasizes the overall importance of patience. James 1:2-3 shows that patience allows the trial to become completed and produce the right thing.
John emphasizes the word "kingdom" (Greek is written emphatically to draw attention to certain words). The other two words, "tribulation" and "patience," are like parentheses on both sides of the word "kingdom." What this does is to cause the word "tribulation" to define the path to the kingdom! Think of tribulation in terms of trials and pressures that arise as a result of our faith in Jesus Christ, our journey toward God's Kingdom, and our faith that we will be a part of it. The way to the Kingdom of God is through trials. We will not just skate along because God has created work for us to accomplish in our lives so that we might be prepared for the Kingdom. If we are not prepared for it, we will not be there.
The way of preparation is for God to put us through trials, just as if we were going to school. We can think of trials in terms of lessons that need to be learned, character that needs to be built, attitudes that need to be adjusted. All of these put pressure on us. So tribulation—pressure or trials—is the path. "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (II Timothy 3:12). We are going against the flow of the world, and God has designed it this way to prepare us for His Kingdom. Thus, there will always be pressure on us.
Pressure is the way to the Kingdom, and patience is the necessary element for making it. If we are impatient, we will not be there! Salvation is by grace through faith, and faith is needed when we do not have what we desire—the Kingdom of God. There is no need for faith if we do not have to wait! Patience is required while we are waiting. It is that simple.
The way to the Kingdom is through testing and trial, and the way to succeed in testing and trial is to put our faith to work by being patient! That is the path that will exercise our faith. God will see that it is there, and His creative efforts on our behalf will work. All of us must have patience. It is there, but it has to be activated. We have to trust that God really wants us in His Family, and if we want to be prepared for His Kingdom, we had better start using patience.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Unity (Part 8): Ephesians 4 (E)
Before examining this promise, it may be helpful to understand what it does not say. Note how conventional wisdom would paraphrase this verse:
Because you consider yourself to be a Philadelphian, and because you are with the church organization that is doing the most to preach the gospel to the world, I will keep you from the hour of trial and will take you to the Place of Safety where you will be protected while all those who disagree with you will go through the Tribulation.
"Conventional wisdom" is not actually wisdom! It is what is generally held to be true by many, yet it may, in fact, be fallacious. This rendering of Revelation 3:10 is the conventional wisdom in some circles, illustrating how many take narcissistic liberties with this verse. It also shows why there is such an emphasis today on which church group is the best: because we are averse to pain and tend to try to avoid it. Thus, some convince themselves that they will be safe from what lies ahead because they are with the right church—rather than being right with God. This is extremely dangerous, as it indicates that they trust in the wrong thing.
The letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 are written in large part from a perspective of "if the shoe fits, wear it." In each, Jesus concludes with "he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches"—plural—meaning we should glean all that we can from each letter rather than focus on our favorite one.
In this light, a way to approach Revelation 3:10 is that perseverance is part of what Christ uses to define who a Philadelphian is. Thus, an individual is a Philadelphian because he keeps His command to persevere, in addition to exemplifying the other things He says, such as keeping His Word and not denying His name (Revelation 3:8). In short, a person cannot conclude that, just because he is fellowshipping with a particularly faithful group, he will be carried along in its positive momentum and benefit from the promise of protection and other blessings. An unfaithful individual in an overall faithful group will reap what he sows, not what the rest of the group sows.
Christ says similar things in other places, as in Matthew 10:22: "And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved" (emphasis ours throughout). He makes no mention of group membership but addresses the enduring individual. Similarly, in Matthew 24:12-13 and Luke 21:36, He emphasizes what we do as individuals—our personal faithfulness and endurance—rather than the merits of a particular group. Just as Laodiceanism can be found in each of us regardless of the church we attend, so each of us can persevere and courageously endure no matter where we fellowship.
David C. Grabbe
Who Will Be Kept from the Hour of Trial?
Revelation mentions patient endurance seven times. At the book's beginning, John sets the tone by introducing himself as "I, John, your brother and companion (sharer and participator) with you in the tribulation and kingdom and patient endurance [which are] in Jesus Christ" (Revelation 1:9, Amplified Bible). The construction here is peculiar, but John uses three words to describe one thing—namely, the tribulation that is connected with the Kingdom and which requires patient endurance (see Acts 14:22; II Timothy 2:11-12).
In the letters to the seven churches, several recurring phrases or themes appear. They all contain "I know your works" and "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Five letters contain the command to repent, and "patience" appears four times in three of them, a good indicator of the importance of patience to God's church, especially at the end time.
In addition to the mention in Revelation 3:10, Christ commends the church at Ephesus for its patience:
I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary. (Revelation 2:2-3)
Perseverance—patient endurance—is also a part of the praise that Christ gives to the Thyatiran church: "I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience" (Revelation 2:19).
As the prophecies of the end time unfold, the patience of the saints is highlighted twice more. The first is in Revelation 13:9-10: "If anyone has an ear, let him hear. He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints."
In the preceding verses, John describes the Beast, his power, and his blasphemy. God allows him to make war with the saints and overcome them. This is part of what the saints will have to endure. Some translations, like The Amplified Bible and the English Standard Version (ESV), end verse 10 with "Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints," which fits exactly with Christ's "command to persevere" (NKJV) or "[keeping] the word of [His] patience."
The first part of verse 10 can be confusing because, even though the book was written in Greek, John is actually using a Hebrew idiom that signifies the certainty of approaching judgment. This can be seen in Jeremiah 43:11; 15:2.
This Hebraism means that it is so certain that the Beast will carry out these things that none will escape being involved in some way. Thus, God calls for endurance and faith.
Revelation 14:12 contains another reference to the perseverance of the saints: "Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus."
The saints are defined as those who keep God's law and maintain and give attention to the faith of Jesus. Again, the context is the time when the world will worship the Beast and receive his mark. As in Revelation 13:10, translations such as the ESV render the first part as "Here is a call for the endurance of the saints," meaning that, when the saints see this occurring, their endurance and perseverance will be in greatest need.
David C. Grabbe
Who Will Be Kept from the Hour of Trial?
Because Christ criticizes Philadelphia very little, opens doors before her, and offers protection from the Tribulation, it is easy to think we "have it made" if we were or are part of Philadelphia. Yet Christ admonishes Philadelphia just as He does the other churches: Overcome! A Christian must never rest on his oars, no matter what his situation or era. We all must overcome the world (I John 5:4), our nature, and Satan to be granted salvation, and if we do, entrance to God's Kingdom is an absolute promise!
The Seven Churches: Philadelphia
The wealth of the Laodicean is not the problem. His problem derives from allowing his wealth to lead him into self-satisfaction, self-sufficiency, and complacency. His heart is lifted up. These attitudes lead him to avoid self-sacrifice by which he could grow spiritually. People normally use wealth to avoid the hardships of life, and although there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that, a person not spiritually astute will allow the comforts of wealth to erode his relationship with God. In his physical wealth, the Laodicean is poor in the things that really count and blind to his need. He no longer overcomes and grows. His witness is no good - and useless to Christ.
God reveals His love for the Laodicean when, rather than giving up on him, He gives him a punishing trial. He allows him to go through the fire, the Great Tribulation, to chasten him for his idolatry, to remind him of his true priorities, and to give him the opportunity to repent.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
Do we really want fellowship with God? Our frequent contact with God, or lack of it, is an easy, concrete measurement for both God and ourselves to know the true answer.
A Laodicean's central characteristic is an aversion to God's presence. He does not gladly throw open the doors to let Christ in. Instead, he wants his privacy to pursue his own interests, unimpeded by the constraints God's presence would impose.
Striving to pray always throws open the door of our minds to God, and just as Luke 21:36 indicates, by vigilant watching we can spot our Laodicean tendencies, overcome them, and avoid tribulation. Commentator Albert Barnes makes some interesting points on Revelation 3:20:
The act of knocking implies two things:
(a) that we desire admittance; and
(b) that we recognise the right of him who dwells in the house to open the door to us or not, as he shall please. We would not obtrude upon him; we would not force his door; and if, after we are sure that we are heard, we are not admitted, we turn quietly away. Both of these things are implied here by the language used by the Saviour when he approaches man as represented under the image of knocking at the door: that he desires to be admitted to our friendship; and that he recognises our freedom in the matter. He does not obtrude himself upon us, nor does he employ force to find admission to the heart. If admitted, he comes and dwells with us; if rejected, he turns quietly away—perhaps to return and knock again, perhaps never to come back.
Striving to pray always is our conscious choice to let God in. Psalm 4:4 (Contemporary English Version,CEV) emphasizes the seriousness of examining ourselves: "But each of you had better tremble and turn from your sins. Silently search your heart as you lie in bed."
Every night, at the end of another busy day, provides us—and God—an opportunity to evaluate the true intent of our hearts. We can ask ourselves: How much and how often did we acknowledge God throughout our day? How much did we talk to Him and fellowship with Him today? Where did we miss opportunities to do it? Why?
Perhaps the biggest question to ask is this: When did we hear the "still small voice" today and hide from God's presence? Our daily answers to these self-examination questions and our practical responses could in a large measure determine where we spend both the Tribulation and eternity (Luke 21:36).
Praying Always (Part Five)
This plaintive cry, "How long . . .?" is a New Testament echo of the Old Testament prophets, many of whom were persecuted and slain for their testimony. The psalmists use it most frequently: from David in Psalm 13:1 ("How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?") to Asaph in Psalm 74:10 ("O God, how long will the adversary reproach?") to Moses in Psalm 90:13 ("Return, O LORD! How long? And have compassion on Your servants"). Even Ethan the Ezrahite gets in on the act: "How long, LORD? Will You hide Yourself forever? Will Your wrath burn like fire?" (Psalm 89:46; see also Psalm 6:3; 35:17; 79:5; 80:4; 94:3).
This question continues in both the major and minor prophets. Isaiah writes, "Then I said, 'Lord, how long?' And He answered: 'Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant, the houses are without a man, the land is utterly desolate. . .'" (Isaiah 6:11). Later, Habakkuk asks, "O LORD, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, 'Violence!' and You will not save" (Habakkuk 1:2; see also Daniel 12:6; Zechariah 1:12). "How long?" has been a constant prayer to God through the ages, especially during times of great distress, particularly when God's servants are under intense persecution, when the surrounding culture has reached its nadir and the nation is ripe for judgment, or as it often works out, when both are happening simultaneously.
The intent of the request in Revelation 6:10 is for an indication from God of how long the saints have to endure the worst that Satan-inspired humanity can throw at them before He acts on their behalf as He has promised. As early as Deuteronomy 32:43, the conclusion of the Song of Moses, it is promised, "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and render vengeance to His adversaries." Jesus Himself promises, "And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily" (Luke 18:7-8). Paul later expands this considerably:
. . . it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed. (II Thessalonians 1:6-10)
There is never a doubt about God's eventual intervention to avenge the deaths of His saints. God's promises are sure (Isaiah 46:11; 55:11; Matthew 24:35; John 10:35). Obviously, "How long, O Lord . . .?" is a query about the duration of events until God intervenes, and the souls under the altar ask it, not in impatience or exasperation, but in anticipation of the end of the saints' tribulations and of the receipt of their reward.
In reading this, however, we must not forget that these martyred saints are dead, resting in their graves, as Revelation 6:11 confirms. Thus, the answer to their question is not for them—they know nothing (Ecclesiastes 9:5), their testimony having finished in death (Acts 20:24; II Timothy 4:7; Revelation 11:7)—but for living saints, who will undergo persecution and eventual martyrdom.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Seal (Part Two)
God is postponing the events that He has just described. If He does not do this, the events narrated in chapter 7 would have no opportunity to take place. In this historical digression, God will create an environment—even within the Tribulation (the fifth seal), the heavenly signs (the sixth seal), and the blowing of the trumpets (the beginning of the seventh seal)—that will make possible the conversion of an innumerable multitude of people. Even though all this trouble is going on, God will provide a way and means for many people to be converted.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 10 and the Laodicean Church
Revelation 11 is inset material. The only possible period of time when the Two Witnesses could testify is during the three and a half years that precede Christ's return—the time of the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord.
Most of this period of time has already been covered by chapters 6 (the fifth and sixth seals) and 8-9 (the trumpet plagues). Chapter 11 clarifies what has already occurred in the narrative, answering how people can possibly be converted during the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. The answer is that they are hearing a message thundered by the Two Witnesses! Revelation 7:9-17 suggests that by their preaching, an innumerable multitude will be converted.
The information is given in a digression—an inset chapter— from the main story flow. Inset chapters clarify what is happening within the time sequence.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 10 and the Laodicean Church
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