You Aren’t Ezekiel, and We Aren’t Israel!
Unfortunately, most of the Armstrong Churches of God are operating under the delusion that they have been commissioned by Almighty God to preach a message of warning to the English-speaking peoples of the world. They claim that they are the only TRUE Christians extant on this planet (some will allow that a few other Sabbath-keeping Christians are brothers and sisters in Christ), but they completely ignore or reject the commission which Christ gave to his disciples! How did this happen? Why aren’t they doing the work which Christ gave his disciples to do?
It all began many years ago with a man named Herbert Armstrong. Unfortunately, Herbert was a man with very little background, formal education or experience in the study and practice of religion and history. That, however, didn’t prevent him from becoming obsessed with those subjects or eventually proclaiming himself to be an authority in both. In short, Armstrong was struck by what he saw as the Bible’s preoccupation with the people of Israel. “This book is all about Israel,” he reasoned. This awareness led him to wonder why such a book would be of so much interest and concern to the English-speaking peoples of the world.
Herbert immediately began searching for an explanation for this enigmatic phenomenon and quickly stumbled upon a theory that had gained some traction in Nineteenth-Century England as an explanation for the success of English-speaking peoples on the world stage. Based largely on myths, legends, questionable etymologies, and notions of British superiority, some folks had decided that the Anglo-Saxon people of Britain must be one of the long-lost tribes of ancient Israel! They reasoned: Hadn’t God promised that Jacob’s descendants would one day possess great wealth, power, territory, and the “gates of their enemies?” Ancient Israel had never received those blessings, but Great Britain certainly had – the people of the United States had received those blessings! Hence, the English-speaking peoples of the earth MUST be Israel! Never mind, that history, archaeology, linguistics, and genetics made such a notion absurd – it explained so much!
From there, it wasn’t a big leap to start imagining that all of those Old Testament prophecies must also apply to modern Israel, the English-speaking peoples of the earth. As Armstrong studied those prophets, it dawned on him that they were always warning Israel of God’s impending wrath for their many sins and general wickedness. Well, he reasoned, there certainly was a lot of sin and wickedness extant among the English-speaking peoples of the world. Could it be that God was raising him up to warn these modern Israelites of their impending doom?
Armstrong stumbled across the thirty-third chapter of the book of Ezekiel, and he read there:
“So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.” (Ezekiel 33:7-9)
Armstrong turned to the book of Isaiah and read:
“Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” (Isaiah 58:1)
“God must intend for me to warn modern Israel of his impending doom!” Armstrong reasoned. The logic appeared so compelling to him. Hadn’t his conclusions been reached by carefully building on each new revelation that had been given to him? Armstrong had constructed this edifice by building line upon line, scripture upon scripture; and it explained so much! This all had to be from God – how else could he have figured all of this stuff out? And, if others couldn’t see it, it must be because God hadn’t revealed it to them!
Nevertheless, although Herbert now believed that he had his commission from God, he still wondered about how this could be reconciled with the traditional message of the Christian Church. Wasn’t the Church commissioned by Christ to preach the gospel? And wasn’t the gospel about Christ and salvation through him?
After his resurrection and just prior to his ascension to heaven, Christ had told his followers:
“All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
How was Herbert to get around what had always been characterized by Christians as the “Great Commission?”
“They are ignorant of the TRUTH of the Sabbath and Holy Days (and they observe pagan days), and they don’t even know who they are (Israel),” he reasoned. From there, it wasn’t hard to imagine that they hadn’t been preaching the correct gospel! Armstrong read that Christ had preached “the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14-15), and he was off to the races! After all, wasn’t the kingdom all about the government that God would set up on this earth to displace all of humankind’s Satan-inspired kingdoms? “Traditional Christians must have had it wrong all along!” he thought. They had been preaching a message about the messenger and had ignored his message!
For most Christians, however, Herbert Armstrong had gone down a heretical rabbit hole that was impossible to reconcile with that clear language at the end of the Gospel of Matthew. Christ had commissioned his disciples to go out and make new disciples and to baptize them – NOT to berate Israel for their sins and warn them about their impending doom! Most Christians also realized that it was impossible to reconcile Armstrong’s “Warning to Israel” and promise of “The World Tomorrow” with the message that Christ’s apostles had preached.
The first sermon that Peter delivered on the day of Pentecost was ALL ABOUT CHRIST (see Acts 2:14-36). Paul preached to the Romans about Jesus Christ (see Romans 1:1-5). Likewise, he wrote to the Corinthians about the one who had made them Holy, Jesus Christ (see I Corinthians 1:2 and 23). Paul wrote to the saints of Galatia:
“May God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen. I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.” (Galatians 1:3-7)
He also wrote to the saints at Ephesus that
“God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So, we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.” (see Ephesians 1:5-7)
Indeed, all of Paul’s messaging was about this salvation that we receive through Jesus Christ!
Now, in hindsight, it is easy to see how Herbert Armstrong went astray – how he came to believe that he was doing God’s work. This should serve as a parable to all Christians of how Satan can lead us astray and divert our energy and attention away from the work which God has given us to do. We must never forget that Christ commissioned us to preach the good news about salvation through him. He said NOTHING about warning Israel about the consequences of their sins! That was a commission which God gave to his prophets of old – it has NOTHING to do with the work currently before the Church of God!