Religious Deception in God’s Church?

The Feast of Trumpets symbolizes the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The Bible prophesies that in the end time, just prior to His Return, there will be massive religious deception and confusion. How can we protect ourselves against false prophets and religious teachers, as well as wrong doctrines? How can we prevent from falling away from God’s Truth?

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What did Jesus mean in John 17, verses 14 and 16, when He spoke to the Father, saying that His disciples "'…are not of the world, just as I am not of the world'"?

This statement by Jesus Christ highlights a misunderstood truth that very few have comprehended, about the purpose and message of Jesus Christ, as well as the conduct of His followers–those who would claim to be Christians.

In an earlier account, Jesus pointedly contrasted His origin to that of the Jews who heard His preaching (Compare John 8:21-30). What He addressed were their actions, their lifestyle–their very way of living. He plainly said that they were “‘…OF this world'” (John 8:23); while, on the other hand, He emphatically stated that He was “‘…NOT OF this world'” (Same verse).

In verse 44 of this chapter, Jesus powerfully indicts those rejecting Him and His message: “‘You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.'”

Then, Jesus adds: “‘He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God'” (John 8:47).

Two ways of living are presented in these quotations, and they are polar opposites! God’s words are contrasted to the desires of Satan. Furthermore, Satan is revealed to be a liar and “the father of it.” Those who listened to Jesus but rejected His teaching are described as “of” the devil. Their actions were representative of the wishes of Satan.

It is important to understand that this present world–this age and civilization filled with violence, lies, hatred and every evil (Compare Galatians 1:4)–is ruled over by Satan the devil (Compare John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11)! He is described as “…the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4). After a lengthy meeting explaining to His disciples things they should know and do, following His death and resurrection, Jesus also explained how He had dealt with the society that had rejected Him: “‘These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world'” (John 16:33).

The reason His disciples would suffer persecution and difficult times is because they would not be living any longer according to the ways of the world–that is, they would not be “of” this world ruled over by Satan and his demonic forces.

Jesus reminded His disciples: “‘”…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'” (John 15:20).

The disciples very quickly experienced exactly what Jesus had warned. Following the remarkable events on the Feast of Pentecost when God poured out the gift of His Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus, the religious leaders immediately rejected what the apostles were preaching: “So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard'” (Acts 4:18-20).

Following this warning, the apostles were again confronted by the religious leadership:

“And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, ‘Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!’ But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men'” (Acts 5:27-29). This time, they were beaten for what they said and what they did (Compare Acts 5:40).

These disciples were not “of” this world. They were not part of the government of Rome that ruled in the land of Judea. They were distinctly separate in doctrine and understanding from anyone else on the earth–all of whom were under Satan’s influence. Why? Because they were following the example of Jesus Christ! They were living their lives as Christians!

In his later life, Peter continued to teach the approach of Jesus Christ:

“For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness–by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:21-25).

Peter died because he was not “of” the world–the age and generation in which he lived. Jesus revealed to Peter even the manner of his death (Compare John 21:18-19). Another apostle of Jesus Christ, James, the brother of John, was killed by the political leader over the area of Judea, Herod the king (Compare Acts 12:1-4).

Paul, who had at one time persecuted Christians, later on was converted (Compare Acts 9). However, his conversion took him out of the social and religious relationships in which he had been living. Now he became an object of murderous plots, persecutions and constant trials–he no longer lived his life according to the way of the world (Compare 2 Corinthians 11:22-33).

For anyone called of God, the message is to come out of the world (Compare Revelation 18:4; 2 Corinthians 6:17). The special relationship of Christians is one that separates them from the world. Even in the matter of problems within the Church of God, Paul points to the higher standard of conduct for followers of Christ:

“I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner–not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person'” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).

Christians are to continue to live in the world–just as Jesus Christ did! Yet, they must separate themselves from the ways of this world–again, just as our Savior did!

Living in the world brings on the difficulty Jesus warned us about, and that is because we are to live as ambassadors of God’s Kingdom and as representatives of Jesus Christ (Compare 2 Corinthians 5:20). Christianity is a “way” of life that stands in stark opposition to the pattern of living adopted by mankind through the influence of the devil. It is even called repeatedly the “Way” in the book of Acts (Compare Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).

When Jesus said that His disciples were not of the world in John 17, He also said: “‘I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one'” (Verse 15).

John reminds us of why we are now living a way of life that is different–that is not “of” this world:

“You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:4-6).

We must differentiate between truth and error; between righteousness and sin; and between God and Satan. That means that we also must “overcome the world” as Jesus did. He did not participate in this world’s governments, showing that His Kingdom was not of this world–this age and civilization–rather, it was future (Compare John 18:28-38). Jesus did not violate the rules and laws of this present age, as long as they did not contradict God’s Law (Compare Luke 20:20-26). His ministers taught that Christians are to be subject to authority (Compare Romans 13:1-7). Of course, that is provisional in terms of whether it is a question of obeying God or man–as we have already read in Acts. When man’s rules and laws are in conflict with God’s commandments–in the letter OR in the spirit–then we must obey God (Compare Daniel 3:16-18).

Finally, we have these words from John that dramatically point out that those who follow what Jesus Christ taught must stand separate from the age and the world in which we live:

“We know that we are of God, and THE WHOLE WORLD lies under the sway of the wicked one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:19-20).

Lead Writers: Dave Harris and Norbert Link

What is the significance of the "firstfruits" as referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:20 and James 1:18?

1 Corinthians 15:20 says that “…Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the FIRSTFRUITS of those who have fallen asleep.” James 1:18, however, refers to Christ’s true disciples, in this day and age, calling THEM firstfruits: “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of FIRSTFRUITS of His creatures.”

We also read in additional passages that true Christians, who are called to the truth and to salvation in this day and age, are referred to as “firstfruits”:

Revelation 14:4 says: “These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being FIRSTFRUITS to God and to the Lamb.”

In Romans 16:5, Epaeneteus is called “the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ.” 1 Corinthians 16:15 refers to the household of Stephanus as the “firstfruits of Achaia.”

These Scriptures, and many others, point out a sequence or time order–they refer both to the time of calling, and, mainly, to the time of the resurrection. Although some were called to the truth in Old Testament times (compare Hebrews 11), most true disciples of Christ were called for salvation since the beginning of the New Testament church, in A.D. 31, when the Holy Spirit was given to Christ’s apostles and disciples. Romans 8:23 says that Paul and others had “the firstfruits of the Spirit.” In addition to the time sequence of calling, the risen Christ became the FIRST or the “firstfruits” of those being resurrected from the dead, as an immortal spirit being and a glorified member of the God Family. Christ’s true disciples in this day and age will be resurrected or changed to immortality at the time of Christ Second Coming. But they, too, are just the firstfruits of many others who will be resurrected from the dead AFTER Christ’s Return.

When God was dealing with Israel of old, He required of them the firstfruits of the land derived from their labors. This included the first ripe of fruits, grain, oil, wine, and first of fleece plus honey. These were required of the people as an offering. These offerings were to be free of blemish, presented at the tabernacle, and were given by God to the priests for their work at the altar.

But was there any other reason God required “firstfruits” at that time other than looking for obedience in His people? Several Scriptures in the Old Testament give a hint that there was much more to what God was doing.

In Leviticus 23:10-17, we read of the requirement of the wave-sheaf offering. In addition to its significance in the counting of days in arriving at Pentecost–also called the Feast of Firstfruits–the significance attached to the waving of the sheaf of the firstfruits and the waving of the two baked loaves are most important in revealing God’s intent. The sheaf of the firstfruits represented Christ as the first of the firstfruits; and the two loaves represented those God has called down through the ages who, if faithful to their calling, will make up the firstfruits of God whom He will use as He establishes His Kingdom on this earth! Although some have felt that the two loaves represent those called into the truth in Old and New Testament times, it is much more likely, based on the Biblical evidence, that these two loaves represent all of those called, from the creation of man until the time of Christ’s Return, both from the tribes of Israel and from non-Israelite nations–the “Gentiles.”

Christ, being the first of the firstfruits, was the first to be resurrected from the dead and has returned to the Father to carry on with His duties of our High Priest and Mediator or Advocate, intervening before God on our behalf, as was pictured by the waving of the sheaf of the firstfruits.

When Christ returns to the earth to establish His Kingdom, those who have died in Christ, will be resurrected first to immortality and glory to meet Him in the air. Then those who are living and faithful to their calling will also be changed into spirit and will rise to meet their King in the air! This was pictured by the waving of the two loaves, making no difference as to their national or racial origin or heritage. Christ, along with those who are with Him, will then descend to the earth and He will stand in that day on the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4).

Yes, Christ is the first of the firstfruits, and those who are His at His coming are the firstfruits of God.

1 Corinthians 15:22-23 tells us: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the FIRSTFRUITS, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.” The two resurrections noted here–Christ, in His day, and those at His coming–are represented by the wave sheaf offering and the Day of Pentecost [the Feast of Firstfruits].

1 Corinthians 15:24, still speaking about the resurrection from the dead, continues: “Then comes the end…” The balance of mankind will have the opportunity to be brought into the Kingdom later. This is pictured in God’s festivals: the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day. All of mankind will eventually have the opportunity to enter into and to have a part in God’s Kingdom. When this aspect of God’s plan is completed, Christ will deliver “the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death… the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him [God the Father], that God may be all in all” (verses 24-26, 28).

Once God calls an individual, in the order and at the time God has established, he will be required to be faithful to that calling in order to have the wonderful opportunity to live for eternity in that great Kingdom! For further information, please read our free booklet, “God’s Commanded Holy Days.”

Lead Writer: Edwin Pope

Paul writes many times about "Jews" and "Greeks" or "Gentiles." Compare, for example, Romans 2:9-10, 14, 17, 24. Does this mean that the term "Jew" only refers to the house of Judah, while all other tribes of the house of Israel are "Gentiles"?

The Bible distinguishes between the house of Israel (also referred to as the lost ten tribes) and the house of Judah, or the Jews. At the time of Paul, the house of Judah was politically composed of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and part of Levi. A careful study of Paul’s writings reveals that he uses the term “Jew” many times as a SUMMARY TERM, which also includes all the tribes of the house of Israel; for instance, Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh), Simeon, Levi, and Reuben.

We read, in Acts 21:39, that “Paul said, I am a man which am a JEW of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia.” However, in Romans 11:1, Paul explained: “I also am an ISRAELITE, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.” Notice that Paul called himself a Jew and an “Israelite” — a descendant of ancient Israel or Jacob — and not just a Jew.

Acts 9:15 shows Paul’s 3-fold mission; i.e., to bear Christ’s name before GENTILES, kings and the children of ISRAEL. Here, the Bible makes a distinction between Gentiles and the children of ISRAEL — not just Gentiles and Jews. This passage shows that the children of ISRAEL are NOT Gentiles.

In Matthew 10:5-6, the same distinction is made. We read, in the Authorized Version: “These twelve [apostles] Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The twelve were forbidden, at that time, to spread the gospel among the Gentiles, but they were to preach it to the house of ISRAEL — not just the tribe of Judah, commonly referred to as “Jews.” Again, we see from this passage that the children of ISRAEL (not just the Jews) are NOT Gentiles.

James defined the children of Israel in his letter as “the twelve tribes of ISRAEL.” The TWELVE tribes include not just the Jews, but ALL of the tribes of Israel (compare Revelation 7:4-8). James 1:1 says: “James a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the TWELVE TRIBES which are scattered abroad.”

As was mentioned, the term “Jew” in Paul’s writings is, many times, a summary term for all from the house of Israel and Judah. As we saw, Paul says he is a Jew and an Israelite; Christ says that “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22), but Paul writes in Romans 9:3-5: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my BRETHREN, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are ISRAELITES, to whom pertain the adoption [better: sonship], the glory, the COVENANTS, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises, of whom are the fathers [Abraham, Isaac and Jacob] and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came…”

Although the tribe of Judah is included here, the passage goes beyond the Jews and includes ALL tribes of the house of Israel. Many commentaries do not understand this distinction and equate Jews with Israelites, as if all of the tribes of Israel are “Jews.” This is, however, untrue. The Jews are ONE tribe of Israel. So, it is correct that all Jews are Israelites, but not all Israelites are Jews, and none of them are “Gentiles.” The law and the covenants were given to ISRAEL, not just the tribe of Judah (compare, too, Ephesians 2:12, speaking about the GENTILES who were formerly aliens from the commonwealth of ISRAEL, and strangers from the covenants of promise). The promises were made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the “fathers” — the forefathers of all of Israel, not just the tribe of Judah.

As “Jew” in Paul’s writings is many times a summary term for all the tribes of Israel, the term “Greek” is many times a summary term for all Gentile nations. Please note that Paul, many times, uses the terms “Greek” and “Gentile,” interchangeably. In Romans 1:16, Paul speaks about Jews and Greeks, but in Romans 2:9-10 (in the AV), in the same context, he speaks about Jews and Gentiles. (Compare, too, Romans 9:24.) At times, there might be a distinction between “Greeks” and other “Gentiles,” but at other times, the term “Greek” is all-encompassing. The Ryrie Study Bible explains in a footnote to Romans 1:14: “‘Greeks’ — Those who spoke Greek and who had adopted Hellenistic culture, in contrast to ‘Barbarians,’ who had not. However, in v. 16 ‘Greek’ means ‘Gentile.'”

In passing, we are not addressing here the additional aspect of “spiritual” Jews, that is, true Christians (compare Romans 2:28-29). It might be noteworthy, that even in that regard, the Church is referred to, in Galatians 6:16, as the “ISRAEL of God.”

The letter to the Galatians says much about Jew and Gentile. One key passage is Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Here the contrast between nationalities (ethnic), between slave and free (social) and between male and female (sexual) is drawn. The first one covering nationality is restricted to either “Jew” or “Greek”–REPRESENTATIVES of either Israelites or Gentiles. Especially considering that rulership arises from the Jews, the term “Jews” is used here as a summary term for all the tribes of Israel, represented by the RULING tribe. “Greeks” served as representatives of all other nations.

When Paul speaks in his writings about “Jews,” he is addressing, many times, all of the tribes of Israel. He did not mean to imply that everyone, who is not a descendant of the tribe of Judah, is a “Greek” or a “Gentile.” Today, the descendants of the house of Israel can be found in the United States of America, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Europe. They are not “Gentiles,” but of the house of Israel. This is important to understand, if one wants to comprehend what is prophesied about their future. For more information, please read our free booklet, “The Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord.”

I noticed that you use the expression, "We must accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior." This expression is used by many Protestant churches, to say that Christ accepts us as we are, without any need on our part to change. I know that you don't teach that, but wouldn't it be better to avoid using the expression to "accept Christ as our personal Savior"?

It is, of course, true that the Bible teaches that we must change, and that Jesus Christ does not accept us “as we are.” Our new booklet, “Baptism — a Requirement for Salvation?” explains in detail that we must repent BEFORE Christ accepts us — and, before we can properly “accept” Him.

The mere fact that some misuse and misapply a certain Biblical term is not enough reason for us not to use it. For instance, many preach a wrong gospel message (compare Galatians 1:6-9), or even a false “Jesus” (compare 2 Corinthians 11:4). This does not mean, however, that God’s Church should therefore refrain from using the terms “gospel” or “Jesus.”

In regard to the expression, “accepting Jesus Christ as our personal Savior,” the Church has used similar language for a long time (as it has used, of course, the terms “gospel” or “Jesus” for a very long time). As early as 1948, Mr. Armstrong wrote about “our acceptance of [Christ’s] death, burial and resurrection,” and our belief “on Jesus Christ as personal Savior.” (Compare WCG’s old booklet on water baptism, copyrighted 1948, 1954, and 1972, pp. 11 and 15.)

These expressions are Biblical. We understand, of course, that believing on Christ (compare Acts 19:4; Romans 10:14; Philippians 1:29; 1 Timothy 1:16) includes obeying Him (compare Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 6:46; John 15:14). Our new booklet on baptism explains this truth in much more detail. We must indeed accept Christ’s sacrifice and Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. At the same time, we must also accept God the Father as our personal Savior, as BOTH deserve that title. Remember, we read in John 3:16 that “God [the Father] so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

We are told in several Scriptures that Jesus Christ is our personal Savior. Isaiah 43:3 reads, quoting the “LORD” of the Old Testament — generally a reference to Jesus Christ: “For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, YOUR SAVIOR.” Also, we are told in Luke 1:47 that God the Father is our personal Savior. When Mary was told by the angel that she would give birth to Jesus, she stated, “And my spirit has rejoiced in God MY SAVIOR.”

Christ was recognized by the Samaritans as the “Savior of the World” (John 4:42). At the same time, God the Father is called “the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10).

In 2 Timothy 1:10, Christ is called “OUR Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” In Titus 1:4, Paul is wishing Titus “Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ OUR Savior.”

The Bible conveys the concept that we must ACCEPT Jesus Christ — and what He did and does for us — as our personal Savior. That is, we must accept Christ as the One who died for us individually and personally, and who thereby made possible a way for us to escape death and obtain salvation. Christ died for you and me. The amazing and mind-boggling truth is that if you had been the only person on the face of the earth, and if you had only sinned once, Christ still would have died for you, to offer you salvation. His death is to be understood quite personally. Paul understood it in that way. Although he explained that Christ died for all of us, he also emphasized the very personal sacrifice that Christ brought for him. He stated in Galatians 2:20 that Christ, the Son of God, “loved ME and gave Himself for ME.”

We read in Colossians 2:6 that “as you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” The Revised English Bible, as well as the Luther Bible and the Menge Bible, render this phrase in this way, “Since you have ACCEPTED Christ Jesus AS Lord, live in union with him.”

Before baptism, we must accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior who was willing, through His sacrifice, to pay on our behalf the death penalty for our sins (compare Romans 6:23). We must also accept Jesus Christ as the One who is now living His life in us. After all, we WILL BE SAVED by Christ living in us. Romans 5:8-10 reads:

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we SHALL BE SAVED from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son [by accepting Christ’s sacrifice, the process of our salvation began], much more, having been reconciled, we SHALL BE SAVED BY HIS LIFE.” Christ is willing to live His life in us, but we must follow and be submissive to His lead. Our ultimate salvation will come when we will be changed into Spirit beings.

We read that we “shall be saved” by Christ’s LIFE. Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…” Both God the Father and Jesus Christ live in a converted person, through the Holy Spirit. Christ told us in John 14:23, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make OUR home with him.” (To learn more about the Biblical teaching that BOTH the Father and the Son live in a converted person, please read our free booklet, “Is God a Trinity?”)

It is therefore appropriate to say that we must accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, as long as we understand what is conveyed with that meaningful expression.

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