The holidays of this world counterfeit God's holy days, but it is obvious that they are very different. God warns us not to be involved in them.
New Year's celebrations often involve drunkenness, debauchery, and adultery. God commands us to separate ourselves from these customs and traditions of the world.
New Years, Christmas, Easter, Halloween and birthdays all originate in paganism. Satan entices many into accepting these pagan practices through emotional appeals.
Valentine's Day is supposed to foster and advance true love between men and women. Its origins—and its tenuous association with the so-called Saint Valentine—clearly point to something other than true love, the love of God!
As another Christmas season approaches, many in God's church dread having to endure it. Have you ever wondered how our children feel about it? What can we do to help them, not only to get through it, but also to understand why God's way is so much better?
Three brief essays, two by Richard Ritenbaugh and one by David Grabbe, contemplate the contradictions in Christmas, the modern debate over Christmas in an increasingly secular society, and the Christmas season as a time true Christians can make a godly witness.
The pagan origins of Christmas are well known. How can Christians practice something that has always been anti-God? Is this worshiping 'in spirit and in truth'?
Mike Ford takes a few stabs at Christmas trees, lights and Barbie dolls—all, believe it or not, traceable to pagan customs!
The Catholic Church chose December 25 as the date of Jesus' birth, centuries after the fact. However, internal biblical evidence gives a very different story.
The true story of Jesus' birth has been syncretized into a non-Christian festival, and even that has been obscured by a wrong date and a phony crèche scene.
If there is indeed a 'war on Christmas,' then let Rome defend it, for it was pagan Rome that co-opted the winter solstice and inserted the presumed birth of Jesus.
Christmas is a very blatant form of syncretism, the blending of diverse religious practices. The origins of Christmas testify of why we should reject it.
No one wants to have his traditions or treasured fantasies burst. But when a real Christian is presented with truth, he embraces it out of reverence for God.
Christmas, Easter, and Halloween all derive from sex, fertility, and sun worship. Christmas traces to the incestuous relationship of Semiramis and Nimrod.
Did Christmas come from the Bible or paganism? Here are the origins of the Christmas tree, Santa Claus, mistletoe, the holly wreath, and exchanging gifts.
Over the past few generations, orthodoxy in virtually every aspect of life has been discarded, indicating how perverse human nature is in its determination to rebel against God. John Ritenbaugh uses several examples from real life to illustrate human presumption, a tendency which we all share—and one God takes a serious stance against.
Galatians 4:9-10 is a favorite crutch of those who claim Christians no longer need to observe God's holy days. However, Paul's meaning is quite different.
Ronny Graham, reflecting on the world's holiday of Christmas, suggests that if it really is Christ's birthday, it is strange that everybody else except Christ receives a gift. Christmas does not celebrate Christ's birth, but all of its trappings derive from worldly mythical pagan sources, including Samhain and Old Nick (another name for the Devil). Mistletoe is a poisonous herb, but ironically serves as a counterfeit of the tree of life. The Christmas tree, alternately associated with the tree spirit, the trinity, and the Virgin Mary, totally derives from pagan sources. A cult of Shamanism in northern Europe used the hallucinogenic mushroom as their mystical 'eucharist' celebrating the 'Christmas season' long before Christ was born. Nothing in the symbolism of the season has anything to do with Christ or His birth.
Halloween has become the second-most popular holiday on the calendar in recent years—even to the point that Christian churches sponser parties on it. Richard Ritenbaugh shows, however, that this night of ghouls not only lacks biblical foundation, but the Bible warns us against participating in such activities.
Many think keeping Christmas is fine, yet God never tells us to celebrate His Son's birth. Celebrating such an obvious mix of paganism s presumptuous.
Christ has never been in man's holidays, which are built on lies, and which teach children they cannot trust the veracity of their own parents.
Martin Collins, reiterating that St. Valentine's Day is a shameless syncretism, an attempt to blend pagan rites with Christian observances, asserts that the practice started as a lewd, sensual festival in Rome. Lupercalia is an archaic rite connected with fertility, honoring Venus, the goddess of sexual love. The Roman Catholic Church, in an effort to attract pagan converts, began to attach 'Christian' significance, claiming that the purification of Mary occurred on February 14th. Saint Valentine of Rome was a priest imprisoned for performing weddings for Christian soldiers who had been forbidden to marry by the government of Rome. Protestants, who did not care for the worship of saints, were nevertheless pleased to blend the trappings of pagan culture with 'Christian' tradition. Sadly, every pagan rite practiced has been adopted and allegedly 'sanctified' by giving it religious significance, despite God's warning in Deuteronomy 12 not to mix the worship of God with pagan customs, lest one participate in demon worship.
Jesus said He would be 3 days and 3 nights in the tomb, but that is impossible in a Friday crucifixion, Sunday resurrection scenario. Here's the biblical truth.
When did Jesus rise from the rich man's tomb? The world—because of tradition—says Sunday, but the Bible reveals the only possible timing of His resurrection.
Most Americans do not believe in demonic spirits enough to think of Halloween as a celebration of them. Rather, Halloween is a massive escape from reality.
If we are going to search for truth, we should not be seeking it in the philosophies of men, but rather in the fullness of truth found in God's revelation.
Easter is not a Christian name, but belongs to the idolatrous 'queen of heaven.' Here are the origins of Easter eggs and sunrise services, which pre-date Christ.
February 14, Valentine's Day, may seem harmless enough—until the truth of its origins comes to light. Mike Ford exposes this pagan day.
A scriptural explanation of the time of Christ's death, burial and resurrection, showing that He died on a Wednesday and rose from the dead on the Sabbath.
If we do not keep God's holy days, we will deprive ourselves of the knowledge of God's purpose. Jesus and the first century church observed and upheld these days.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that keeping the Feast of Tabernacles in a central location enables us to realize that we are involved in something larger than our own salvation- part of a universal and eternal mission, giving us unity toward God's purpose. Jeroboam, motivated by political ambition and self-centered fear, incrementally and surreptitiously established a more convenient idolatrous festival, replacing the Levites, and establishing new centers of worship in order to prevent his people from keeping the legitimate Feast of Tabernacles in Judah. The modern parallel seems quite clear.
Good and evil do not mix; we cannot associate with what is wrong. The proper fear of God plays a significant role in ridding evil from our lives.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon two sets of verses (Colossians 2:16-18; Galatians 4:9-10) which Protestant theologians have blasphemously charged that Paul was referring to God's Law, Sabbath, and Holy Days as weak and beggarly elements of the world. In both instances Paul was not referring to keeping the Holy Days at all, but instead an attempt by some in those congregations to syncretize Gnostic asceticism with the keeping of Holy Days, perverting their right use, in addition to bringing in superstitious lucky days, months, and seasons from pagan customs involving demon worship. In both contexts, Paul admonishes these congregations that the object of our faith must be Christ (including keeping His Commandments) rather than demons or human tradition.
John Ritenbaugh, rehearsing one of the major factors which divided the Worldwide Church of God, the denigrating of all aspects of God's law, averring that belief in Christ trumps everything, claims that some major elements of righteous judgment were cavalierly tossed out the window. Such a careless approach led to the rejection of the Sabbath, wholesale embracing of Pagan holidays, discarding tithing, eating unclean meats, circumcision and other, what they considered to be purely ceremonial aspects of the law. Like the days of the Judges, the last days of the WCG demonstrated a dearth of righteous judgment. As with the first century church, God expects us to think wisely within the parameters of His Law, coming into alignment with His Word. Without applying righteous judgment, a person without God's Spirit might be inclined to discard the Sabbath, along with the dietary and sacrificial laws. The New Covenant also requires that we live by every word of God; the Law was not done away. Without God's Law, we cannot judge righteously. One should never carelessly assume that any law of God is done away, but we should also consider that not every law has the same level of seriousness and does not warrant the same level of judgment, as illustrated by the difference between willful sin and sin committed out of weakness. The weightier matters of the law (love and mercy) are more important than other aspects of the law, including faith and sacrifice. We need to develop righteous judgment to keep proportion as we make decisions about applying God's Law.
Halloween has seen a recent surge in popularity, now ranking second only to Christmas in retail sales. There is no doubt, however, that Halloween should never be celebrated by true Christians. Not only is it pagan in origin and practice, but it also promotes self-indulgence, deception, and other ungodly behaviors. Far from being a harmless holiday, Halloween has the potential to destroy our relationship with God.
Most people consider the second commandment to deal with making or falling down before a pagan idol, but it has far greater scope. John Ritenbaugh shows that it covers all aspects of the way we worship, including setting ourselves up in God's place by becoming enslaved to our own desires.
Old Testament activities picture New Testament realities, elevated to their spiritual intent. The church has been chosen as a royal and holy priesthood.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the unique emphasis made by the apostle John in his gospel. Unlike the emphasis on Christ's humanity, shared by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John's depiction of Christ seems to be more spiritual, depicted in the image of the eagle, whose ability to soar, having keen eyesight and the ability to transport its offspring out of harm's way, gives Christ His proper God-dimension. John realized that he had been in the presence of God Incarnate—a Being indescribably transcendent?the very source of eternal life. Christ provides a model of how to live a godly life in the flesh, living life the way God lives it. Using His light, we can negotiate our way in this dark, hopeless world, finding eternal life and partaking of His divine nature.
John Ritenbaugh insists that because what we believe automatically determines what we do; it is impossible to separate faith and works. If our source of belief is not grounded in Jesus Christ, we will be held captive to our traditions and our works will be contaminated. If our belief is grounded in Christ (our Spiritual Bread and our High Priest), we will have a relationship with God and access to eternal abundant life, leading to works (fruits of the Holy Spirit) that glorify God. The word "draw" in John 6:44 implies that there is some degree of carnal resistance or reluctance to accept God's calling. If we do not metaphorically eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood, ingesting the Word of God daily, we will die spiritually. The moral and ethical demands of these Words often make them "hard sayings," but yielding to these demands (having an intimate relationship of God- living the way God lives in every aspect of our lives) will incrementally develop the character and the spiritual mind, bringing about eternal abundant life.
Israel had every opportunity that the Gentiles did not have. God gave the Israelites gifts to live a better way, but they completely failed to reflect Him.
The spirit of Babylon is one of self-determination and independence, antagonistic toward every institution of God, even something as basic as God-given gender.
At one time or another in our lives, we have all watched small children at play. Perhaps we saw them playing in a park or in a school playground. Most likely, they were carefree and happy. ...
Martin Collins, taking the apostle Paul's cue that persecution expresses our relationship to Christ, suggests that persecution involves a wide spectrum, ranging from torture, physical beating, social excommunication, imprisonment and death—fates endured by the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11. Paul did not ask for the harassment and persecution he endured, but maintained that everything which befell him proved to be for the ultimate good of spreading the Gospel. Because of his impeccable witness, the entire Palace Guard at Rome received testimony, some persuaded to the point of conversion. Ironically, jealousy from other 'Christian' factions probably led to Paul's execution rather than persecution from the outside, a harbinger for those living in end-time persecution. The churches in Revelation 2-3 all receive their portion of persecution, but God promises deliverance and reward for those who endure. In the current diaspora of the Greater Church of God, the trials and problems are not much different than those of the first century, and Christ still promises boldness to those who see the big picture. Our boldness and confidence should match that of Paul's trusting in God to give us strength to overcome or endure, following Christ's example of esteeming others above ourselves, even those who maliciously abuse us, realizing that God will open their eyes at the right time. God will never disappoint us, but will give us His Holy Spirit and mind to navigate the spiritual minefield. Like Paul, we need to realize that all things, horrible and pleasant, will work God's ultimate purpose and our good.
Charles Whitaker, reflecting on the events taking place as Christ bid His disciples farewell upon His ascension into Heaven, suggested that the approximately 75 days between the resurrection of Lazarus and Pentecost- brought about tumultuous activity and earth-shaking events. The disciples wanted eagerly to know what would happen next, just as we do do today. In that relatively short period of time, many miraculous and dramatic events occurred, including: (1) the resurrection of Lazarus, (2) the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem, (3) the Passover , (4) the ripping of the Temple veil, an event which reverberated throughout the entire Jewish world , (5) the opening of tombs, populating the region with many people who had earlier died,, (6) the resurrection of Christ, (7) the ascension of Christ, and (8) Pentecost (the miraculous beginning of the New Testament Church). But then God seemed to turn off the fulfilled prophecy machine; God did nothing further dramatic during 31 AD. Years and months rolled by, speculations emerged and fizzled, with hope that Christ would re-appear on one of the impending holy days. Paul, who thought Christ would return in his lifetime, urged people to be eternally vigilant never letting down, reminding us to earnestly love His appearing. Those who love His appearing will receive a crown of righteousness. The apparent discrepancy in the number of days in Daniel's prophecies equal 75 days, perhaps duplicating the 75 dramatic days occurring between the resurrection of Lazarus and the resurrection of Christ. We may not see those 75 days, but will receive the blessing on day 1,335 if we continue to look forward to Christ's appearing.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the people everywhere seem frazzled, distressed, and terrified as a dark, evil, sinister force seems to be engulfing the world. The continued angst from dealing with this continual pathogenic zeitgeist threatens to render all of us, including God's called-out ones, into a state of hopelessness, apathy, depression, with absolutely no reason to ever expect a positive outcome. The church must forcefully deal with this overwhelming feeling of hopelessness or it too will succumb to this terrifying vortex of despair. We live in the same kind of cultural milieu as Noah before the world perished in the Great Flood. Over the past few centuries, and especially the last 70 or 80 years, the 'liberal', 'progressive' humanist philosophers and educators have successfully hi-jacked the minds of our populace, steering them totally clear from any reliance upon God by poisoning their minds with the patently illogical theory of evolution, forced upon unwary, naïve minds as fact and truth. The Day of Trumpets militates against this foolishness by restoring hope for the establishment of God's Kingdom which will permanently terminate decay, sin, and death. As God's called-out ones, we are fish swimming against a violent current, compelled to turn to God and keep His Commandments when the rest of the world rejects Him. As God gave the original Promised Land to Jacob's children, He also gave the North American continent (largely virgin territory) to the descendants of Jacob. In 240 years, we have indulged in affluence, but forgetting its Provider.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the apostle Paul's response to the bitter altercation between Euodia and Syntyche, women church leaders at Philippi, who succeeded in polarizing the congregation by their contentious pride, placing their obsessive desire to be right over unity. Paul urges them to follow the example of Christ, who emptied Himself of His divinity, assuming the role of a bond servant, exalting others over Himself, prompting God the Father to exalt Him above all others. Godly leadership is a function of submitting to the covenants God has made with us, including the marriage covenant, setting the proper pattern of all forms of institutions, including educational, governmental, medical, and religious institutions. Secular, progressive humanists, inspired by Satan, in their hatred toward God's covenants, through their endorsement of moral relativity and the new morality, fostering adultery, fornication, as well as feminism, homosexuality, polygamy, and transgender aberrations, have savagely attacked God's marriage covenant. Progressive humanists over the years have succeeded in making divorce as easy as falling off a log, and murder on demand (abortion) a convenience attended with no longer any trace of resistance. Paradoxically, hedonism, a philosophy which holds that pleasure is the highest aim in life, can never lead to real pleasure, but seeking to please God by serving others brings maximum pleasure. The marriage relationship, becoming totally one with one another as God the Father and Jesus Christ are at one with one another, provides the pattern of the true meaning of love—not feelings, but actions (consisting of serving and caring). Keeping God's Commandments demonstrates the highest form of love. Along with all the other gifts in the universal Edenic Covenant, identifying God as our benevolent Creator, who designed this earth for mankind to tend and keep, providing the marriage covenant as a God-plane relationship, the Sabbath Day educates us for service in God's Kingdom.
Martin Collins, focusing on the danger of pride of intellect and knowledge, affirms that knowledge of the truth is essential, but it must be God's knowledge, and not a syncretistic mixture of worldly philosophy or mystical Gnostic admixtures. Political correctness, a modern application of Gnosticism, can usher in some unacceptable consequences, such as occurred with the prideful 'tolerance' of incest as practiced in the Corinthian congregation. Like leavening, toleration of one offense would lead to toleration of other offenses. Progressives in American politics shamelessly call evil good and good evil, murdering fetuses in the name of 'women's rights and practicing sodomy in the name of marriage 'equality.' All of these progressive insights emanate from Satan, who has 'transformed' himself as an angel of light. Similarly, ditchism in religion (veering from one extreme or the other, such as overly strict or overly lenient) leads to unpleasant imbalances. Relying "solely" on human intellect is one such ditch when it is isolated from the heart and from practice. Proper knowledge must always be joined to the will of God. A person who is puffed up parades his knowledge either by exhibiting impatience, intolerance, or an obsequious false modesty, marginalizing what they consider to be the weak or uneducated. Some prideful people, caught up in their wealth of knowledge, are rendered totally useless in serving others. Conversely, the love of Christ surpasses all knowledge, putting us into proper humble and lowly perspective; to know and love God is to understand Him. Knowledge of God creates love for God as well as perfecting our relationships with others. The happiest people in the church are those who know His teachings and practice them 24 hours a day, growing in grace and knowledge of the Lord, actively practicing love as motivated by God's Holy Spirit, instilling in us the mind of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that the book of Hebrews was written for a group of people living at a time of the end of an age (the end of Jewish life in Judea), suggests that this nation is also languishing in an end-time decline. People are in a general malaise from culture shock, moving from surprise, anger, and demoralization, leading to lethargy. We, as a culture, are being pummeled by continuous assaults to our core values, witnessing murderous abortion advocates, homosexual activists, and the hard core leftist collectivists getting their way, while the silent majority has been bullied into submission to disgusting, evil mandates. The increase in the acceptance of evil is leading to a state of hopelessness and lethargy. We must reorient our focus onto God's Word and His message of hope, never giving up our quest for righteousness and integrity in the midst of the cesspool of immorality and progressive secularism.
On Tuesday, April 14, 2009, crowds gathered in Bingham Hall, a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill educational building, filling the seats with college students, professors, and members of the community, waiting to hear Congressman Tom Tancredo speak about illegal immigration....
Kim Myers, reminding us that the Egyptian army perished on the Last Day of Unleavened Bread, suggests that the army typifies the aggressiveness of sin determined to utterly destroy us. He suggests we are admonished to diligently deleaven our homes demonstrating to God that we are serious about getting rid of sin. Getting rid of sin is difficult, demanding economic and social sacrifices. We should be willing to give up anything for the Kingdom of God, controlling our speech, thoughts, behaviors, and even our lives. Jesus Christ gave up everything to spare us from the death penalty. Once we have come out of sin, we cannot go back to our previous behaviors. There are works required in addition to faith to overcome and get rid of sin. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins indicates that work is required to grow in grace. The rich young man could not give up his lifestyle (evidently his last bit of leaven) for the Kingdom of God. We cannot grow in grace without works.
Unlike tumultuous waves, the sea of glass before God's throne is tranquil and serene. Before we can stand on this sea of glass, we must be set apart and cleansed.
John Ritenbaugh tackles the eternal security doctrine, a teaching that militates against good works, something that God had ordained for all of us. Works demonstrate our faith, our response to God's calling and His freely given grace. Reciprocity is always a part of our relationship with God. Trust is a response to God's tests. Abraham's response to God reciprocated his love back to God. The indictment against the Ephesian church stemmed from their lack of reciprocity (or first love). When our expectations have not been met, it becomes hard for us to maintain our zeal. We need to maintain the intensity to actively hear God's message. If we do not actively exercise our minds, work to maintain our relationship to Christ, and become dead to the world, we will drift away. We cannot allow what Christ is to slip from our minds. Where there is no love for Christ, there is no salvation and no membership in God's family. As in human love or infatuation, if we love another person, we like to think about him/her; likewise, we need to have Christ dwelling in our hearts at all times.
Leprosy is a horrible disease, one that the ancients said could only be cured by God Himself. Jesus' healing of a leper manifested His divine power and mercy.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the Bible shows a clear pattern of how people leave the Church. The first step in the pattern is looking back, as in the case of Lot's wife. The second step is to draw back, motivated by self-pity, shrinking back as from something distasteful. Step three consists of actually walking away and looking for something else. Step four consists of arriving at the point of no return, going backward, refusing to hear. In contrast, the book of Hebrews is a compact book laying out clear doctrine and practical exhortation to called-out ones who had started to drift, giving a practical model of being sanctified. Chapter 10 contains a fearful threat of the Lake of Fire for those having committed the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin constitutes sinning willfully and deliberately. To sin willingly means to be disposed to do it as of a second nature. We need to draw near God's throne with boldness, cleaning up our acts, using faith, hope, and love.
The Sermon on the Mount contains a explanation of what it takes to be a Christian. Matthew 5:38-42 provides the principles behind the 'above and beyond' attitude.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Matthew 17:13 and clearing up some misconceptions about the resurrected Elijah coming before the arrival of Christ (a mission fulfilled totally by John the Baptist in Christ's time), cautions us to apply duality of prophecy carefully and cautiously rather than indiscriminately. With this admonition in mind, the sermon focuses upon a major world event even secular historians have termed a dramatic axial period, occurring within the sixth century B.C. -a time faithfully described by the prophets beginning with Jeremiah- a time sometimes referred to as the time of the Gentiles- reckoned to be the origin of the present Babylonic system or world order. Paradoxically, this system has been embraced and perpetuated by the modern house of Jacob. A new axial period, beginning with the testimony of the two witnesses, will again turn this world upside down, replacing the present decadent Babylonian system with God's government.
A lack of self-control, as well as the cultivation of self-indulgent perversions, will characterize large segments of our society living at the end times.
Using II Corinthians 5:14-17 as a foundation, John Ritenbaugh affirms that after the initiation of the conversion process, the hostility that formerly existed between God and us has been removed, leading to a state of peace and rest. Although we often speak of "building character," implying that we are primarily responsible for its completion, God actually provides the unseen force, bringing the raw product into perfection, reshaping and reforming us though good works into the image of Christ and God the Father. The Sabbath rest depicts the miracle of conversion, in which God's crowning achievement (the transformation of fallible human beings from a state of chaos and disorder—tohu and bohu—into spiritual entities conformed to His image) brings about a rest of satisfaction, a rest in which God takes pleasure in His workmanship.
John Ritenbaugh warns that keeping the right days on the calendar is no guarantee of attaining a right relationship with God. How and why a person keeps the Sabbath determines whether this test commandment is really a sign between God and His people or an idolatrous act of futility. The Sabbath could metaphorically represent a date between God and His affianced bride, a special 24-hour time to become more intimately acquainted, the actual courtship stage before marriage. Letting worldly concerns enter the Sabbath is like committing adultery or flirting with other lovers. When we take time to know God, we become refreshed, strengthened, and actually liberated from worldly entanglements.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that the practical advice in Hebrews 12-13 fits our current condition like a glove. Like the recipients of this epistle, the greater church of God, having drifted away and given in to sin, we must also lay aside every weight which encumbers, accept God's chastening, receive encouragement from those who have already succeeded (Hebrews 12:1), and energetically get back into the spiritual race. We should allow nothing to deter us from the goal, remembering the consequences if we fail. All of our behaviors — including demonstrating brotherly love and hospitality, exercising empathy, strengthening our marriages, being content with God's blessings, submitting to leadership, avoiding strange doctrines, coming out of this world, praying without ceasing, and being charitable — must be done out of a pure heart.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that things written in the Old Testament were written entirely for Christians. The operations of both the Old and New Covenants overlap. The differences focus on justification, access to God, and eternal life, but not doing away with the law (especially the Sabbath) which Protestant theologians would have us believe. Modern Christianity, like the mongrelized Samaritan religion, is a syncretized mixture of some biblical truth with unadulterated paganism. To worship God in spirit means to put heart and mind into applying God's law, with a circumcised heart (Philippians 3:3) realizing that the motivating principle behind every one of God's laws is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts through the power of God's Spirit. (Romans 5:1-5)
No part of God's Law has been 'done away'. Jesus came to magnify the law, giving it a far more penetrating, spiritual application. Man flounders without law.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the prophecies concerning the Man of Sin refer to a personage having immense political power with global significance rather than to an errant leader of a small church. The mystery of lawlessness which Paul warns about 19 years after Christ's resurrection (II Thessalonians 2:7) was the insidious religious deception of the Babylonian mystery religion infiltrating the church, appropriating the name of Christ, but despising and rejecting His Law, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness (Jude 3-4). The mystery of iniquity is progressive in nature, building to a fearful climax just before the return of Christ, when the Man of Sin, along with the Beast, will have aligned a major portion of the world in a fierce battle against Christ. If we don't love the truth, we will be absorbed into this hideous system.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the valley-of-shadow imagery symbolizes the fears, frustrations, trials, and tests needed to produce character, quality fruit, and an intimate trust in the shepherd. His rod, an extension of his will and strength, serves not only against predators, but also prevents members of the flock from butting heads. It also helps him to identify and to judge. The staff, symbolic of God's Spirit, represents gentle guidance. The prepared table depicts a plateau or a mesa that the shepherd has made safe and secure for grazing. Christ, our Shepherd, has prepared the way for us, safeguarding us from predators and removing our fear of starvation and death. The oil, also symbolic of the Holy Spirit, refers to protective salve that prevents maddening or deadly insect infestation. Goodness and mercy refer to the agape love that we desperately need to acquire and use so we can leave behind a blessing. The house depicts contentment in the Family of God.
John Ritenbaugh indicts modern Israel for its blatant hypocrisy, playing games with God's truth. A community can only be established upon a foundation of stability and truth. The two most influential persons in any community are the preacher and king — roles that our Elder Brother Jesus has rightfully assumed by virtue of His inherent embodiment of truth. The Ninth Commandment carries some striking harmonic parallels with the Third Commandment, the latter regulating the quality of our relationships with others as the former regulates the quality of our relationship with God. God wants our relationship with other men to be based upon His truth, establishing a solid reputation for honesty, faithfulness, and reliability. Conversion (and being a good witness) hinges upon recognizing, submitting to, and embracing truth, totally uncovering and displacing any deceptive shameful hidden things in our lives.
John Ritenbaugh explains that Jesus' caution to Mary in John 20:17, "Don't touch me," is more accurately translated "Don't cling to me." Either translation does not contradict the First Fruits symbolism. (After all, the Levitical Priests had to "touch" the grain in order to offer it.) Also the charge Jesus gave to the disciples in John 20:23 was not to "forgive sin" but only to discern the fruits of repentance, consistent with the binding and loosing authority of Levitical Priests, applying God's law. Having the "Mind of Christ" gives the New Testament ministry the ability to discern the fruits of repentance. The problem with Thomas was more his tendency to be a loner, having cutting himself from the fellowship of his brothers, than his doubting. Thomas's insistence upon touching refutes the Gnostic's claim that Jesus did not have corporeal substance. Not only does the book of John (written in 96AD) provides a plethora of signs corroborating Jesus Christ's authenticity, but also shows a pattern to actively live as God would live if He were a man, with the effect of building and sustaining faith. The epilogue (chapter 21) seemed to be added to counteract the assumption that John would live until Christ's second coming, as well as confuting the Gnostics' claim that Jesus did not have physical substance. The conclusion describes the disciples' bewildered reaction to their resurrected teacher. In this incident, Jesus formally, by using expressions identifying different levels of love, affirms the intense responsibility and difficulty of the commission given to Peter.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the over-riding motivation for the individuals bringing to Jesus the woman caught in adultery was to trap Him, impaling Him on the horns of a dilemma. (Condemning the woman to death would have brought Him into conflict with Roman law; not condemning Her would have brought Him into conflict with the law of Moses.) Jesus, when He wrote in the dirt, perhaps listed instances in which the spirit of the law was violated in the thoughts or behaviors of the accusers, exposing the cruel, condemnatory attitude of the Pharisees. God's approach to authority is that it should be used to serve, and that the chief function of judging (from the stance of humility, mercy, and understanding) is to evaluate and to gently correct and reclaim rather than to condemn. Jesus, claiming to be the light of the world (drawing on a familiar temple ceremony involving candelabras), emphasizes His function as the Messiah, the embodiment of truth, giving form, shape, and substance to our lives, guiding us around or through life's difficulties. Believing that Jesus is God will motivate us to submit to Him in every aspect of our lives, providing an antidote to enslaving fears common to all of mankind, freeing us from the bondage of sin.