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Letter to the Church at Thyatira – Revelation Part 7

1 Kings 16:29-34

Rev. 2:18-29

AUDIO FOR THIS SERMON CAN BE FOUND HERE

Thyatira was a trade city, a very prosperous commercial center. Famous for its large number of trade guilds or unions.

Unions, that like those in Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamum required their members to sacrifice to the patron gods of those unions. Making life rather complicated for a committed follower of Christ Jesus.

You may remember the account in Acts 16 when Paul was ministering in the City of Philippi how he came upon a group of women gathered by the river there to pray – and among them was a woman named Lydia. She was from this city of Thyatira, and appears to be a wealthy woman engaged in the business of selling purple goods.

Now the letter to Thyatira stands out as unique in comparison especially to Ephesus and Pergamum.

The Ephesian problem was PERVASIVE. A general loss of their first love. Their sense of the greatness of Christ’s love and how that should fuel their love – for Him and for one another had waned terribly.

Pergamum however had those PRESENT who practiced immorality and compromise, reinforced by systematized errors. But it did not appear to affect all like the Ephesian problem.

Thyatira in contrast had a singular, influential PERSONALITY within its ranks leading people astray by claiming to have special spiritual insight as a prophetess.

So we move from a pervasive problem, to one simply present down to one located mainly in a person, tho others are also affected.

In them all, we see how individually Jesus deals with His churches.

As before, following the pattern Jesus has used so far – we begin with…

I. The Appeal to the revelation in Ch. 1: 2:18 And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

Once again, Jesus gives a sense of the direction He is heading in by virtue of how He presents himself to this Church.

  1. He has eyes like a flame of fire – He sees all. And sees all by virtue of His own light – He requires no additional source to get His understanding. He searches and knows with laser brightness and accuracy – with personal knowledge of their circumstances and condition.
  2. Whose feet are like burnished bronze: an allusion to the vision of Daniel in Daniel 10. Thyatira was known for having invented a process of creating a zinc/copper alloy that in their day was highly prized for its durability. It was used both for weapons and as coins due to its value. It is a unique word in all known Greek literature and may even have been a tradename like Kleenex. Even other brands of tissues we call Kleenex, and so this was a special mark of Thyatira’s success. So, as we saw when we first looked at the vision in Ch. 1 – this picture of purity and its value will play a major role in what He has to say to them and using their word – uniquely to them.

II. The Declaration of Insight: 2:19 I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.

The commendation Jesus gives them here is almost as startling as the severity of the problem He identifies.

This is a solid, solid church.

I know your works: They are a DOING Church.

I know your love (unlike Ephesus).

I know your faith – They are a believing Church.

I know your service – They are a Church of deacons!

I know your patient endurance – They are holding the fort well.

I know your latter works exceed the first – They are a progressing Church.

These are not hacks. Not Christians in name only. This is an active, vital, authentic, loving, serving and doing assembly.

And yet – with all of these truly good and laudable characteristics, there is still a severe problem.

We might be tempted to say – “C’mon! Leave them alone. Yes there is an issue – but golly, can’t we overlook that given all else that is so positive? “

Jesus in effect says – no.

2:20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.

With all of these truly wonderful things in place, they have a very critical issue: They have “tolerated” this woman – this “prophetess Jezebel, to influence some in the congregation without censure.

More than likely, Jezebel was not this woman’s actual name, but is a reference to the Jezebel of the OT we just heard read about in 1 Kings. That name is peculiar and is neither Greek nor Jewish. The likelihood of THIS Jezebel being her real name, and not a play on what she does is pretty slim.

It is interesting to note that of all the bad things King Ahab of Israel is noted for – marrying Jezebel is listed as his most egregious.

1 Kings 16:31 And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him.

Although Israel as the northern Kingdom separate from Judah had already fallen into some forms of idol worship – it was originally false worship of the true God. But Jezebel’s influence on her milk-sap of a sorry husband Ahab led him and the rest of the nation into the depths of full blown pagan worship of Baal. Ahab’s predecessor had set up golden calves as an alternative to worship in Judah at the Temple – but this action brought pagan worship right into their midst and attempted to blend the 2. We call that syncretism.

It’s from this we make the connection to the Thyatiran Jezebel. She, apparently claiming to have had direct revelations from God as a “prophetess” thought to lead Church into some sort of deeper spiritual life, which in the process – allowed Christians to worship and serve the Roman pagan gods without a problem. It was syncretism. You can serve the true God AND these other gods, and everything is fine.

Jesus uses the highly rhetorical “deep things of Satan” in vs. 24 to categorize this “deeper life” teaching Jezebel was espousing.

It’s deeper alright – but not deeper in God – deeper in Satan.

The question as to whether or not the “sexual immorality” mentioned here is actual immorality like that in Pergamum – or is more like the OT idea of serving other gods being spiritual adultery or immorality is open. But from what we’ll see later in Revelation – it seems spiritual adultery is the real idea here.

As Jesus had taught in the Gospels: Luke 16:13 “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Or as James puts it: James 4:4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

Wanting what the world wants, and bending our Christianity to baptize greed, lust, want of external security, or simply our own way – is spiritual adultery. This theme is graphically unpacked in the book of Hosea, where God treats the spiritual infidelity of Israel as whoredom.

Hosea 4:12–14 My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore. They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains and burn offerings on the hills, under oak, poplar, and terebinth, because their shade is good. Therefore your daughters play the whore, and your brides commit adultery.  I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore, nor your brides when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go aside with prostitutes and sacrifice with cult prostitutes, and a people without understanding shall come to ruin.

It is seeking from the world what belongs only to our right relationship with Christ: Where He is our greatest gain; He is our deepest satisfaction; He is our peace and security – and He is our Lord, where we live to serve Him, and He does not exist to serve us.

What would a modern counterpart to the Thyatiran problem be?

It is the theology of “God wants me happy – and that settles all questions of morality and ethics.”

It is false teachers and prophets who preach and teach that their divine revelations will give you money and fame and position and power and a self-indulgent life.

You know full well I do not say things like this often or easily – but Paula White. Mike Murdock. Joel Osteen. Kenneth Copeland. John Avanzinni. Creflo Dollar. Benny Hinn. Joyce Meyer and the like – fall squarely into this category.

They trade off of divine revelations and insights they have supposedly received that make the pursuit of money and personal prosperity in whatever form – the holiest thing you can do!

These revelations Jezebel claimed to receive told them they could go and worship in these pagan temples that were the gods of the trade unions – as long as they also kept up worship of Jesus – so that they could stay in the unions and avoid the hardship which might come as a result of fidelity to Christ.

Bottom line? Serving God AND money was in fact the real issue. And it produced what God saw as adultery against Himself. It was a betrayal of their relationship to the true and living God. It was trying to serve 2 masters.

So there was this actual thing going on – that’s the first part of the problem.  The 2nd part was that the Church lacked the courage or the willingness or both – to confront her.

Just like we are so often too timid to call out this very same deception and those proffering it in our day by name.

The very word “tolerate” here is informative. One of its main meanings is: “to release from legal or moral obligation or consequence, cancel, remit, pardon.” They just kept letting it go. They were not asking this woman to take responsibility for what she was doing. They kept releasing her and those she influenced from moral obligation.

The truth is, we can be so skewed in what it means to be patient and forgiving, that we fail to make people accountable for their actions at all.

When this happens in or outside of the Church setting – it opens the door for all kinds of folly under the pretense of being non-judgmental, accepting and forgiving.  But this tactic inevitably fails.

You see that in this very passage when Jesus says: 2:21–23 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.

I gave her time to repent and now it is too late! No repentance is left for her, she will have to suffer the full weight of my judgment!

It is the graphic display of Proverbs 29:1 “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.”

The Father is patient, and does not chasten without warnings and reproofs. But when those warnings and reproofs are repeatedly rejected, He does finally move. In those times, His action is swift, and decisive. Better to hear these rebukes and learn, to confess and repent. To take whatever measures we need to. For when He is forced to act like this, we seldom emerge without permanent damage.

How far is too far when testing the patience of God? No one knows. That is the point. Some take God’s patience as a sign He is simply pleased with them as is. Others think it simply impossible to provoke Him. The wise man knows “the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience…is meant to lead you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4).

On a related side note: Let me ask – what has God been dealing with you about, that you continue to put off?

Beloved – Don’t wait until it is too late.

What is amazing in this passage  – and where the Gospel comes into play here is – that even tho it is too late for Jezebel, Jesus allows for some of those who have been hornswoggled by her false teaching to still have time to repent (vs. 22). How GOOD HE IS!

III. The Call: 2:21–25 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come.

1. A simple announcement. She WILL BE JUDGED.

The idea of the “sickbed” here probably relates to physical sickness that will take her out of commission.

Had she been warned previously so that Jesus could say He had given her space to repent? Indeed – she had the Word at her disposal, and the right preaching and teaching of it apparently in the Thyatiran church. But she ignored the Holy Spirit’s true revelations on this subject in favor of her own.

And the striking of her children dead carries the idea of stamping out this detestable teaching once and for all. Not only will her teaching one day be destroyed, all that such teaching spawns will be wiped out as well.

And this, so that all the Churches will know how He searches the mind and the heart, and how He WILL bring justice in due course. A deceiver cannot remain undetected forever.

2. A call to her followers to turn around before it is too late for them.

IV. The Reminder: 2:26–29 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

2 kinds of conquering emerge here.

  1. Those who had been listening to and following Jezebel’s revelations – needed to repent of that.
  2. The Church needed to repent of having refused to deal with her and her teaching sooner. To call her to account publicly.

And then once again, as though we cannot see grace upon grace upon grace enough – Jesus goes on to pronounce the most wonderful things to those in BOTH camps who repent.

a. To rule and reign with Christ.

One cannot help but think of Paul’s words in 2 Tim. 2:11–12a The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him;

And how the Book of Revelation revisits this theme later: 20:6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

The promise to those who forsake seeking the treasures and pleasures of this life are a promise of the most glorious inheritance.

1 Cor. 2:9–10 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—  these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

What a contrast – to seeking the “deep things” of Satan here, vs the depths of God for those who seek Him instead.

b. The Morning Star. 22:16 makes what is meant here crystal clear: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

The glory of Christ Jesus Himself in all of His astounding and unveiled majesty and wonder. What of anything the world has to offer can compare to that? NOTHING!

Peter reminded us that Believers are a chosen race, a royal priesthood and a holy nation – so it is Ezekiel 44:28 prophesies about the day of restoration from the Lord – that for His people: “This shall be their inheritance: I am their inheritance: and you shall give them no possession in Israel; I am their possession.”

 

John Newton’s poem on the book of Lamentations.

From pole to pole let others roam,

And search in vain for bliss;

My soul is satisfied at home,

The Lord my portion is.

 

2 Jesus, who on his glorious throne

Rules heav’n, and earth, and sea,

Is pleas’d to claim me for his own,

And give himself to me.

 

3 His person fixes all my love,

His blood removes my fear;

And while he pleads for me above,

His arm preserves me here.

 

4 His word of promise is my food,

His Spirit is my guide;

Thus daily is my strength renew’d,

And all my wants supply’d.*

 

5 For him I count as gain each loss,

Disgrace, for him, renown;

Well may I glory in his cross,

While he prepares my crown!

 

6 Let worldlings then indulge their boast,

How much they gain or spend;

Their joys must soon give up the ghost,

But mine shall know no end.