The following Scripture passages are offered to aid beginning fellowships. The readings and commentary for this week are more in line with what has become usual; for the following will most likely be familiar observations. The concept behind this Sabbath’s selection is Stephen.
For the Sabbath of August 1, 2009
The person conducting the Sabbath service should open services with two or three hymns, or psalms, followed by an opening prayer acknowledging that two or three (or more) are gathered together in Christ Jesus’ name, and inviting the Lord to be with them.
The person conducting the services should read or assign to be read Acts chapters 6 & 7.
Commentary: In his first recorded epistle to the Corinthians, Paul acknowledges the schism or schisms that had already developed within the Church when he wrote, “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” (11:18–19). Factions (denominations), according to Paul, are a necessary part of separating those who are of the one true Church from those who merely claim to be Christian. Can factions in the Christian Church not be then compared to a stack of screens that separates crushed aggregate into varies sizes of gravel, for the number of factions have at least kept pace with the number of years that have passed since Calvary? In recent history, denominations have increased exponentially, leaving the decomposing corpse of Christ in such bad shape that restoration to life will necessarily be traumatic.
The complaint that the Hellenists had against the Hebrews involved physical food, but their complaint forms the type and copy [chiral image] of a schism within the endtime Church in the Tribulation, with disciples born of God in the 1st-Century forming the mirror image of disciples fully empowered by the spirit after the second Passover in the 21st-Century. Physical food (i.e., the daily distribution) when elevated one level becomes spiritual food, or knowledge of God … how is it possible that one denomination or faction within the endtime church has more knowledge than another—the other—faction? The letters to the seven churches suggest that, indeed, there is a difference between fellowships, and a difference in the amount of knowledge each fellowship possessed at the end of the 1st-Century and will possess in the 21st-Century. Food/knowledge is not equally distributed. So seven men were selected by “the full number of the disciples” (Acts 6:2) and set before the apostles (v. 6) and appointed to wait tables. But Scripture reveals that both Stephen and Philip, two of the seven, preached the gospel. And the imbedded suggestion within the selection of the seven is that these men in the 1st-Century form the copy of seven disciples in the Tribulation who take knowledge to churches of God so that there is no want of knowledge by any fellowship or faction.
From the beginning, the Church of God was not a spiritually unified Body of Christ even though it was supposed to be so—and this lack of unity might explain why there are gospels from only two of the eleven (Matthew and John) first apostles and epistles from only one more (Peter). The remainder of the New Testament comes from Luke, Mark, two of Jesus’ half-brothers, and from Paul—eight writers—with Luke recording information from Mary, Jesus’ birth mother, thereby making much of his gospel really her gospel. And if Peter were the leader or head of the sect called the Nazarenes, why did Peter have to justify baptizing those whom the Father had called? Luke records that “the circumcision party criticized him [Peter], saying, ‘You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them’” (Acts 11:2–3). So the schisms within the 1st-Century Church ran deeper than an uneven distribution of knowledge; for it seems odd that Peter would have to justify himself to the circumcision party, unless some of those of the circumcision party were also Jesus’ first disciples.
If there had been a titular head of the Church, a person such as the pope, then that person was not Peter, who had to justify baptizing Gentiles to those who were keeping knowledge of Jesus to themselves. And if Peter couldn’t eat with a Gentile without having to explain himself to the Circumcision Faction, then it really was the Circumcision Faction that wielded authority in the early Church, authority the Faction did not want to surrender to Paul, thus making Paul an outsider who had to justify his actions to the Church, a position Paul described when formulating his Aristotelian argument to the Galatians as to why they should not give credence to those who advocate circumcising the flesh.
Simply put, the Circumcision Faction descended from the Hebrews against whom the Hellenists complained. They did not understand what Jesus taught, and were so far off target that their words have been lost to history. Nevertheless, the arguments of the Circumcision Faction return whenever disciples begin to turn away from Satan and turn toward God … it was needful for the Church as the Body of Christ to die through loss of the Holy Spirit as Jesus’ physical body died at Calvary; it was necessary that the Church hung on the cross, dead, visible for all to see; it was necessary for the Church to then be buried where it would await resurrection after the third day [of the Genesis “P” creation account]. And the Church today awaits resurrection: it is not a living, dynamic organization, but is a corpse that like any corpse looks like the person (Christ) but is without life, knowing nothing.
Only a “trace” (as in a linguistic trace) of disciples continued from the first attempt to restore life to the Body in the 16th-Century to the second attempt in the 18th-Ccentury, with another trace of disciples soldiering on from the end of the second attempt in the 20th-Century to the successful third attempt in the 21st-Century. But a trace does not constitute an assembly. When the age of miracles ended, so did life in the Body of Christ.
To understand Peter’s need to justify receiving a vision, disciples need to look at Stephen, chosen to serve tables by the brethren but chosen by God as an apostle:
And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (Acts 6:8–15 emphasis added)
Stephen’s offense was, according to false witnesses, to say that Jesus will destroy this place (the temple) and will change the customs Moses delivered … where is the falsity in the accusation, other than Jesus had already rebuilt the temple and had already changed the customs Moses delivered, for the sacrifice of goats and bulls could not take away sin (Heb 10:4)? The law made sin alive so that it could destroy the nation that when still in Egypt refused to listen to the Lord (Ezek 20:8).
Israel, as a nation, physically circumcised or circumcised of heart, never has listened to the Lord, which is why the bulk of the harvest of firstfruits will come from the third part of humankind (Zech 13:9) during the Endurance. Israel cannot understand the wisdom with which Jesus spoke, with which Stephen spoke, with which Paul spoke. Even today, endtime Israel (i.e., the Christian Church) can no more understand the wisdom with which Jesus spoke than can rabbinical Judaism, which denies that Jesus was of God, let alone the Lord who led their forefathers out from Egypt. It is as if both people have on blindfolds and their thumbs stopping their ears in spiritual foreplay with the devil: they need only gags to silence the damage they do with their tongues to newly born sons of God.
Both Christendom and Judaism commit adultery with demons, giving to rebelling angels the loyalty and love that the Father and the Son deserve. Both pervert the word of God, one to the left and one to the right. They are worthless servants of God, worthless sons, fit only for the fire—and they would be quick to stone Stephen again if they were given the chance. … There is no “making nice” with Satan, with his ministers, or with his children, spiritual bastards that claim to be born of God but who make a practice of sinning.
Yet from this extended fellowship of spiritual bastards will come both the saints who will be martyred as 1st-Century disciples were killed (Rev 6:11) and the ones who will kill their righteous brothers as Cain slew Abel; for righteousness and sin have no fellowship. From today’s visible Christian Church will come both a spiritual Stephen and a spiritual synagogue of Freedmen—and from the murderers of spiritual Stephen will come the remnant (from Rev 12:17) that are as Saul, renamed Paul, was.
Stephen’s words were not understood; Paul’s words were not understood. And the words of this Sabbath reading will not be understood by Christians who claim they are of “the synagogue of the Freedmen,” freed from the law and from having to keep the commandments … Paul wrote, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves [bondservants], you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness” (Rom 6:16) — what day is the Sabbath? Is the Sabbath commandment part of the law that leads to righteousness, or was the Sabbath added to the words spoken by the Lord from atop Mount Sinai? It wasn’t added, was it? For how is a person to remember what will be later added to the law? Rather, the giving of the Sabbath to Israel predates the giving of the law; for the Sabbath represents entering into God’s presence.
Abraham entered into the Lord’s presence when he washed the feet of the Lord; Moses entered in the Lord’s presence atop Mount Sinai; but Israel could not directly enter into the Lord’s presence except through the high priest on one day a year, Yom Kipporim. Israel could only indirectly enter into the Lord’s presence on the Sabbath and through Sabbath observance, with this indirect entering foreshadowing disciples (the inner new selves born of God) entering into God’s presence through Sabbath observance.
No flesh and blood person can enter into God’s presence on the first day of the week, the day that is represented by the Logos entering His creation to die as the man Jesus at Calvary. He returned to heaven on the day that He left, a statement that might take the reader a moment to comprehend. Disciples, however, are first born of God on this day, but do not enter heaven until the seventh day, represented by the last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In the course of the weekly calendar, Christ Jesus is crucified on the fourth day of the week (i.e., Wednesday) and ascends to the Father on the fourth day of Unleavened Bread, with the seven days of both weekly cycles representing the seven endtime years of tribulation and mid-day four through the Sabbath representing the Endurance (the last 1260 days of the seven endtime years) when the kingdom of this world is given to the Son of Man but before Christ Jesus returns as the Messiah.
But as the synagogue of the Freedmen could not understand or withstand the wisdom with which Stephen spoke, neither the visible corpse of Christ nor the failing Sabbatarian churches of God can understand or withstand the wisdom of Philadelphia in this end-of-the-age era. But it isn’t yet time for the other six endtime factions to come together and Philadelphia to share its knowledge as food was shared by 1st-Century Hellenist and Hebrew disciples. The sharing of knowledge will not occur prior to the second Passover, when the Lord will reveal to all Israel through whom He speaks.
The wisdom that Philadelphia speaks will seem to visible Christendom to be blasphemous; for this wisdom will deny that a triune deity exists and will condemn those who assign personhood to the breath of God [pneuma tou Theou — from Matt 3:16] and an immortal soul to human beings, and no spiritual synagogue of Freedmen will be able to withstand the wisdom of Philadelphia but must necessarily attempt to kill those whose arguments they cannot refute from Scripture. Presently, though, visible Christendom can ignore the wisdom with which Philadelphia speaks and can hide its head in the sand as this age quickly approaches the second Passover liberation of Israel, when firstborns of man and God that are not covered by the blood of the Lamb of God will be slain as the firstborns of man and beast not covered by the blood of a paschal lamb were slain in Egypt.
When defending himself before the high priest against charges of speaking against the temple and the law, Stephen recounted the history of Israel, beginning with Abraham in Mesopotamia. Stephen’s version of history doesn’t have Abraham leaving the land of Haran until after his father Terah dies (Acts 7:4), but a problem exists for the Genesis accounts says that when “Terah had lived 70 years, he fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran” (11:26), and “these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran” (v. 27). Apparently Abram was Terah’s firstborn son, making Terah 70 years old when Abram was born, and 145 years old [70 + 75 — from Gen 12:4] when Abram left Haran as the Lord told him to go. Yet Terah lived to be 205 years old (v. 32), living some sixty years after Abram left Haran and journeyed into the land of Canaan, then down to Egypt and back to Canaan. Terah did not die until Abraham was 135 years old, or until 40 years before Abraham died (the days of Abraham were 175 years — Gen 25:7).
Abraham lived forty years after his father (or old man) died, with these forty years becoming a representation of a complete length of time, such as the length of the reign of King David and the length of the reign of King Solomon and the length of time Israel was in the wilderness.
But it is what Stephen said that discloses the amount of knowledge he and the 1st-Century Church had: if a person reads Scripture, going from the end of Genesis chapter 11 and into chapter 12 (Scripture was not divided into chapter and verse in the 1st-Century), it would seem that after Terah died [“The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran” — Gen 11:32], the Lord came to Abram and told Abram to, “‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you’” (Gen 12:1). Stephen would have heard Scripture read in a narrative presentation that had Abram leaving Haran after his father died. Stephen probably did not have his own copy of Scripture to study—it would have been extremely unlikely that Stephen owned a copy of the Septuagint, let alone a copy of the scriptures in Hebrew. Therefore, considerable slack must be given to Stephen that should not be given to endtime disciples that have multiple copies of Scripture yet are still without knowledge.
Stephen relayed what he had heard read and relayed this information in the order in which he had heard it read, a point that is established in Stephen saying, “‘Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him [Moses] in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord: “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob”’” (Acts 7:30–31) … it wasn’t an angel that appeared to him, but the Lord. Yet in the translation of Scripture, an angel appears to Moses (Ex 3:2). So the knowledge and wisdom that Stephen possessed was that of what he had heard when Scripture was read. Stephen lacked the understanding that would come when Saul/Paul was called by Christ Jesus “‘to know his [God’s] will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth’” (Acts 22:14).
Based on the accusations made against Stephen, Paul was called to replace Stephen whose murder Paul approved (Acts 7:58). But in calling Paul, knowledge and understanding that Stephen, a true saint, lacked was given to Paul.
It is easy to believe that after spending three and a half years with Jesus the first disciples understood Scripture, but from what Stephen said to the high priest, including, “‘you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it’” (Acts 7:53), it becomes apparent that the first disciples needed to do more than devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). They still needed to go to school.
Biblical prophecy is not given to simply inform; i.e., give knowledge of the future to those who are of Israel. Prophecy is given for only one purpose: to affect behavior; i.e., to forewarn Israel of what will happen because of Israel’s (natural or circumcised of heart) present behavior. So prophecy isn’t about the course of history or about secular events not directly related to Israel’s behavior. And the history of Israel reveals the invisible history of the Christian Church from God’s perspective; so when Stephen recounts Israel’s history to the construction of Solomon’s temple, he prophetically discloses the history of the Christian Church from Christ Jesus, the reality of Abraham, to Jesus’ return and the beginning of the Millennium, foreshadowed by Solomon’s reign and construction of the temple, with the transition from David to Solomon representing a course of events that lies hidden in the parable of the ten virgins (Matt 25:1–12).
The tools that today aid the study of Scripture, tools that most endtime disciples have available to them, when compared to Stephen, are so much greater that today’s disciples really stand condemned before God by their unbelief … if Stephen could remember what he heard, accurately recounting the narrative of Scripture as it was read, then what excuse do endtime disciples have for their lack of Bible study? What excuse exists for not knowing Scripture? What excuse exists for “trusting” that these disciples will receive valid theological understanding from lawless “experts” that are themselves merely fat sheep, made fat on the tithes and offerings of now lean sheep scattered throughout Christendom?
As physically circumcised Israel forms the shadow and type of circumcised of heart Israel (i.e., the Christian Church), the restored and empowered Church in the Tribulation forms the shadow and type of angels; hence, those Christians that rebel against God when the Lawless One, the man of perdition, is revealed (2 Thess 2:3) on day 220 of the Tribulation form the shadow and type of rebelling angels that would, today, deceive the saints if that were possible … apparently deceiving the saints is not only possible, but will be widespread. So it is important that the knowledge and wisdom that Philadelphia has when the Tribulation begins—greater knowledge than Philadelphia possesses today—is given to the schisms and factions of the Church as quickly as possible. How to do this is an open question that waits hearing the voice of Jesus concerning this matter.
The person conducting the Sabbath service should close services with two hymns, or psalms, followed by a prayer asking God’s dismissal.
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"Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved."