Pastor Scott Andrews | July 3, 2022
We are in the fourth of the seven letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor. Now, one of the challenges of going verse by verse through Scripture is sometimes things can sound repetitive – even redundant. For example, through the years, how many times have we talked about false teachers or sexual immorality. Too many to count, including last week.
The truth is, it’s all over the Bible – meaning, apparently, it was quite widespread and important. And so, most NT books contain some warning about false teachers. Many of these letters to the seven churches talk about false teachers – Balaam, the Nicolaitans, and today, the false prophetess Jezebel. And we will find again these false teachers in Ephesus, Pergamum and Thyatira seemed to be cut from the same cloth – that is, they taught the same heresies.
So, a reasonable question, why just not skip it and move on down the road to Sardis? Do we have to hear about sexual immorality and idolatry again? It’s a reasonable question, so let me answer. We won’t skip it for a couple reasons. First, it’s the Bible, and we do go verse by verse, believing this is all God’s Word and relevant to us. If God didn’t sense the necessity to skip it, to write to six churches instead of seven, we won’t either. And secondly, if this was so prevalent and needed then, how much more is it needed now.
Which brings us to our text – the letter to the church at Thyatira. Let’s talk a little about the city before we read the letter. Thyatira was about 40 miles to the southeast of Pergamum. Notice we are going in a clockwise circle – again, like you would go on a postal route.
Now, Thyatira was the smallest and least important of the seven cities. One commented, “The longest and most difficult of the seven letters is addressed to the least known, least important, and least remarkable of the cities.” As with Smyrna and Pergamum, the book of Acts does not record the founding of the church – we assume it was while Paul spent two years in Ephesus.
However, there is another intriguing possibility. During Paul’s second missionary journey, he visited the churches of Galatia which were planted on his first journey, delivering the decision made by the apostles and elders during the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.
You remember that council – it was called to deal with questions regarding Gentiles becoming believers in Jesus and becoming part of the church. What to do with them? Some Jewish believers were suggesting they needed to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. Of course, the Jews had never been able to keep the Law – why impose that on the Gentiles. Further, circumcision didn’t make you a Christian, so why require it? Gentiles throughout the empire breathed a sigh of relief. Instead, the Council decided on four things for these Gentile believers:
- First, they should abstain from things – like food – sacrificed to and therefore contaminated by idols.
- Second and third, they should abstain from blood and things strangled – those would be offensive to their Jewish brothers and sisters,
- And fourth, they should abstain from sexual immorality.
Hmm, does any of that sound familiar? So the Jerusalem Council decided to send Paul and Barnabas – who then chose Silas and John Mark separately – to go report the decision of the Council to the Gentile churches. Thus Paul began, with Silas, his second missionary journey. So again, they traveled through the churches of Syria, Cilicia and Galatia. They then intended to go to western Turkey – to Asia Minor and Bithynia – but were prevented from doing so by the Holy Spirit. So instead, they traveled to the port city of Troas, where Paul received a famous vision. You know it – a man appeared to Paul, pleading for him to come to Macedonia and help them. We call it the Macedonian Call.
Paul rightly understood the call was from the Spirit, so they traveled across the northern edge of the Aegean Sea, ultimately to Philippi. There, on the Sabbath day, they went to a nearby river seeking a place of prayer, but began to share the gospel with women gathered there. We read these words in Acts 16:
14 A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.
15 And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
That’s interesting – notice, the man from Macedonia was actually a woman from Asia Minor. Is it possible she returned to her hometown and started the church there? Notice, she was a merchant, and God-fearer. That means she worshiped the God of Israel – but needed to know about the Jewish Messiah named Jesus. She and her household believed and were baptized. And, this is the first mention of Thyatira – that is, while Paul is on his second missionary journey delivering the decision of the Jerusalem Council – that Gentile believers abstain from food sacrificed to idols and from sexual immorality. It’s everywhere.
Back to Thyatira. It was originally built as a military outpost – to guard Pergamum. It was constantly invaded and destroyed, until it finally came under Roman rule and the Pax Romana in 190 BC. Located on an important north-south road connecting Pergamum, the provincial capital, with other interior cities, Thyatira then became a flourishing commercial city. At the time of Revelation, the city had just begun to reach its greatest period of prosperity.
Now, the story of the merchant, seller of purple, Lydia gives a clue as to its commercial importance and economic makeup. You see, the city was known for its merchant guilds, of which Lydia was likely a part. They had guilds – think of them as labor unions – for everything, and they were known for that. There were guilds for wool and dyed goods, especially purple goods dyed from the purple dye of the madder root. They had guilds for every kind of textile, to include linen workers, outer garments, dyers, leather workers, and tanners; there were guilds for potters, bakers, cobblers, slave dealers, and metal workers to include a special kind of bronze smith. Don’t miss that last one.
Why is that important? Because to belong to a guild as a businessperson was an economic necessity. While it wasn’t required, it was the center of religious, social and business life. And you had to participate in their celebrations and festivals. In fact, each guild had its own patron god, and you were required to participate in the frequent celebrations of that god, complete with food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality. Christians faced the dilemma of either denying their faith or compromising their faith by attending those pagan feasts or be faithful, and be ostracized and potentially lose their livelihood. Oh, by the way, the patron god of Thyatira was Apollo – the sun god, and the son of Zeus. All that brings us to the text – let’s read it, Revelation 2:18-29.
As usual, we’ll cover the seven-part outline – of which this letter contains all seven. But there is a change: the last two points – the Call to Hear the Spirit and the Promise to the Overcomers is reversed. In fact, it remains switched in the final four letters. There’s probably not any great significance, other than, John’s call to repentance or change is so strong, he jumps right to the promise to those who do.
We’ve already looked at Thyatira, so let’s look at Christ’s self-description in verse 18 – The Son of God – stop right there. This is the only place in these letters, in fact, the entire book of Revelation, that Jesus is called the Son of God. Sure, in several places, we see the Father/Son relationship, but this is the only place Jesus is called the Son of God. In fact, in the description in chapter 1, John says Jesus is one like a son of man. Certainly, that may be a nod to His humanity, but it’s actually a clear reference to Daniel 7. You remember that, where one like the Son of Man approaches the Ancient of Days and receives dominion, glory and an everlasting kingdom such that all people of the earth might serve Him. The point is, the Son of Man is more an exclusive title of the Christ. But here, Jesus calls Himself the Son of God – also a clear declaration of deity. We see it in Psalm 2, which by the way, John quotes at the end of this letter. But, why would He do that – call Himself only here the Son of God?
Because, the patron god of Thyatira was Apollo, the son of Zeus. He was even called the son of god. Jesus is simply making clear who the true Son of God is. That’s important you see, because this false teacher was suggesting that you could worship in a pagan temple – a pagan god – a false son of god without problem. Really?
Further, Jesus says He is the Son of God who has eyes like flames of fire, which speaks of His penetrating, clear, and judging gaze, and feet like burnished bronze. I told you in chapter 1, this is a unique word, found only here and in chapter 1 in all of the Bible – in all of Greek literature. But you should know this – the bronze metalworking guild in Thyatira was also unique. They had a process which made superior bronze – they even made bronze for the Roman military. The readers would have made the connection immediately – Jesus’ feet are burnished bronze – the best bronze by which He would stomp out all falsehoods.
Which brings us to the Commendation of the church in verse 19. He starts with the typical, I know your deeds. I have blazing eyes with penetrating insight – I know your deeds. I see and it’s good. He then lists them – I know of your love and faith and service and perseverance. This is all great. Remember, Ephesus was doing good deeds, but had no love. Not this church – Jesus starts with what could be called the central hallmark of the Christian faith. I know your love – so does everyone else. That’s great. I know your faith, meaning, your faith in Me and your faith in the gospel and your consequent faithfulness. It’s all good.
Further, I know your subsequent service. That’s important – they weren’t just doing good things for good things sake – no, they were motivated by love and faith. Not only that, you have persevered – in the midst of a culture that demands polytheistic worship – you have persevered in the faith. Such that, your works now are even greater than at the first. Think of the contrast with the Ephesian church. They had lost their first love and were only going through the motions. Not this church – their love was strong, and their deeds were even greater than when they began. This is an incredible commendation – statements we could pray would be true of us. That we be a loving, faithful, serving, persevering group of people.
But, Jesus is not done – bringing us to the Correction of the Church in verses 20-23 – and it’s frankly long and strong. But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel. Stop right there. Jezebel was likely not her real name, but an epithet John attached to her. You see, Jezebel was an evil woman who by this time was the personification of evil. You’ll remember she was the wife of wicked King Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel. We are first introduced to them in I Kings 16 with these words:
29 Now Ahab the son of Omri became king over Israel in the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years.
30 Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him.
31 It came about, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went to serve Baal and worshiped him.
32 So he erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal which he built in Samaria.
33 Ahab also made the Asherah. Thus Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him.
This was one unholy, ungodly couple. Ahab and his wicked wife led the northern kingdom into blatant and atrocious idolatry – worship of Baal and Asherah. You’ll remember they eventually did battle with Elijah on Mt. Carmel. You can read about it in I Kings 18 – I won’t recount all the details, but 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah were called by King Ahab to Mt. Carmel. We read these were the ones who ate at Jezebel’s table.
On Mt. Carmel, they each – the false prophets on one side, and Elijah on the other – erected an altar with a sacrifice on it. The prophets of Baal and Asherah tried all day to get him to respond to their sacrifice – to no avail. Elijah then began to show off – he had them dig a trench around his altar and flooded the altar with water. He then prayed a simple prayer, fire came from heaven and consumed the sacrifice. He then had the false prophets seized, led them to the brook Kishon, and slaughtered them there. You say, well, all that blood and gore is OT. Hold on.
There are so many other evil stories told about Ahab and Jezebel. Finally, it comes to a head – and Elijah prophecies that Ahab and all his descendants will be killed – as for Jezebel, the Lord spoke saying, “The dogs will eat Jezebel in the district of Jezreel.” Why? I Kings 21:25, “Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD, because his wife incited him.”
That’s the picture – Jezebel was an evil woman who led Israel to worship false gods. Back to Revelation 2 and the church in Thyatira. But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess [notice, she calls herself that – she is however not one – she is a false prophetess], and she teaches and leads My bondservants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.
How did she do that? Lots of discussion, but most agree that she likely told the church – it’s okay to gather in your guild festivals and eat foods sacrificed to idols and engage in sexual immorality. She could have misused Jesus’ words, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. She could have misused Paul’s words in I Corinthians 8 when he said an idol is nothing – we know there are no gods but one – the One we serve. So why not eat – violate the word of God for your economic prosperity and livelihood. And really, what does a little sexual immorality matter – it’s just going along to get along. Everybody does it, and to be accepted…
After all, we are in a significant minority in the church who believe that sexual relations are reserved for a man and his wife. Not outside of marriage, and certainly not outside of how God defines marriage – between a man and a woman. I know, we are in the minority – so will we just go along to get along? The opportunities for sexual immorality are as prevalent – perhaps more – than in the days of Revelation. Then, they engaged because everyone did – why, it was even an act of worship. Today, much the same. What excuses and rationalizations do we use?
How about idolatry? How is that seen in the church today? Listen very carefully – an idol can be defined as the controlling center of your life, the last in a series of priorities to go, that which you would sacrifice everything for – that which is most important to you. Listen, idols don’t have to be little fat statues – they can be anything you put before your commitment to Christ. What is that for you? What is it in your life that sits on the throne of your heart? What needs to go so that God will be all in all?
Jesus goes on in verses 21-23 with a stunning pronouncement of judgment. I gave her – that is, Jezebel – time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Not only is she encouraging her followers to engage in sin, she is doing so herself. But don’t miss what Jesus said – I gave her – even evil Jezebel – time to repent. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, how bad you’ve been – even in the church and to the church like Jezebel – Jesus is calling you to repent. And He will forgive you – that’s what He does. But don’t miss this either – refuse to repent, continue in your sin – and His patience will finally run out.
Verse 22 – Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. Notice again, Jesus is giving her followers time to repent. But for her – He will throw her, cast her into a bed of sickness. I love when people say, God never makes anyone sick. They just haven’t read the Bible. Yes He does. He often does it for punishment. Now, He could have just killed her, but again, He gives her one more chance to repent.
You say, wow – that sounds so unkind. You make Jesus to be a monster, who will just kill people with little provocation. You see, that’s our problem. We minimize sin and rebellion against the holy God of the universe. Jesus loves His church, and He will not tolerate attacks against her – even though the church of Thyatira did – even though we sometimes do. False teaching in the church is a serious thing. Sinning against the body of Christ is a serious thing.
You remember in Acts 5 when Ananias and Sapphira lied to the church about how much money they had received for selling a piece of land? It seems such a small thing – to misrepresent the total to the church. But Peter said, you have not lied to men, but to God. And both of them dropped dead. Who do we suppose killed them?
You remember in I Corinthians 11 that some in the church of Corinth were taking the Lord’s Supper – Communion – as we will do shortly – in an unworthy manner. What was that unworthy manner? They were eating and drinking without regard to others in the church. And as result, some of them were sick, and some had even died. Who do you think did that? For this reason, Paul says, we ought to examine ourselves before taking of communion – to make sure our hearts are clean and right before the Lord, and one another. You see, Jesus loves His church.
I will throw her into a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence. Those who commit adultery with her are probably those enticed by her false teaching – but notice, He gives opportunity to repent. Those who are already fully in her grasp – her children – He will kill with pestilence. Remember, this is Jezebel, and the OT Jezebel – all her children were killed in one day. Meaning here, in some way, they will receive the just penalty for their sin against Christ and His church. Could it be a premature death of judgment? Could it be the second death? (Provocative –July 4 – celebration of the founding of our nation. I love our founding documents – Declaration of Independence, later, US Constitution. 1787. 1789. Amendments. First Amendment. Freedoms. Have you ever stopped to think that God does not believe in freedom of religion?)
As a result, all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts – remember the penetrating gaze of His flaming, all-seeing eyes. Nothing is hidden from Him with whom we have to do. When this happens, all the churches – the other six churches, and all the churches today – will know that I love My church, and will protect her. I will give to each one according to their deeds. This is a direct allusion to Jeremiah 17:10, “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.” This is not a works salvation – but an understanding that if you know Christ, your consequent works will receive reward. If you do not know Christ, your consequent works will prove you don’t, and you will receive retribution.
At this point, in verse 24, Jesus encourages His church – true believers. To those who do not hold this false teaching – you’ve tolerated it, now I’m stepping in to do something about it – but to those who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them. Stop there a moment. What are the deep things of Satan? Two possibilities. Some suggest Jesus through John is being sarcastic – that Jezebel and her followers were saying, we know they real truth, we know the deep things of God, as they call them. And Jesus here says, they are actually the deep things of Satan. Or, it’s even possible that this teaching allowed for diving deep into the things of Satan so you would know him and his schemes better – that being involved in idolatry was really nothing – just a reconnaissance mission to know Satan better. Sounds ludicrous, but certainly possible. Jesus condemns the teaching nonetheless, whichever it means here.
To those who do not hold this teaching, I put no other burden on you than this – hold fast to what you have until I come. Don’t give into the culture, don’t give into false teaching, don’t compromise, and don’t tolerate. Hold on – I am coming.
Which brings us quickly to the promise to the overcomers – to those who hold on. In verses 26-28, the overcomer will receive two things. But notice first who the overcomer is. It’s not necessarily the one who repents and does the deeds they did at the first, like Ephesus. It’s not the one who stays faithful in the midst of persecution, like Smyrna. It’s not the who repents and doesn’t give into the teaching of the Nicolaitans, like Pergamum. Certainly it includes not giving into – further, not tolerating the teaching of false teachers like Jezebel – giving into idolatry and sexual immorality.
But here Jesus says, he who overcomes all that, and who keeps My deeds until the end. That’s interesting. To the one who overcomes by resisting sin, yes. But also, to the one who overcomes by keeping My deeds. Again, this is not works salvation – earning your salvation. It is the one who perseveres and proves he is truly redeemed who will be rewarded. Remember, the author of Hebrews said is this way, “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.” Wait a minute, we are partakers of Christ if we hold fast to Him firmly until the end? Yes – but it is not our holding fast the produces salvation, but proves salvation. You see, the opposite of that verse is this, For we have not become partakers of Christ if we do not hold fast firm to the end. In other words, if we don’t hold fast, we were never partakers.
Lots of people in the church of Jesus Christ are deconverting – walking away from the faith. Some of your kids have – as have mine – those who grew up in this church. What are we to make of that – that they had and lost their salvation? No, they never had it in the first place.
But now, notice the promise. To the one who remains faithful proving the reality of saving faith, he or she will rule with Me. Incredibly, Jesus applies Psalm 2 to His followers. Look at verses 26 and 27, “He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces.” This was a promise to the anointed one of Psalm 2, to the Son of God. That’s why Jesus goes on to say, as I also received authority from My Father.
But now He says, we will co-reign with Christ – ultimately under God’s authority. This is absolutely amazing. And don’t miss – those who have opposed believers will be ruled with a rod of iron, and if necessary, broken to pieces. Yes, we will suffer now by being faithful followers, but ultimately, the just will receive their reward, and the unjust their retribution.
Finally, and I will give him the morning star. Lots of discussion about that, but many agree it has to do with the fulfillment of all the messianic promises to believers. As Christ is the bright and morning star, we will receive Him and all He has promised to His own.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Ultimately, the problem in Thyatira was an unhealthy tolerance. They recognized the problem of the false prophetess, they recognized the evil character of her teaching; but, they tolerantly refused to deal with her. Inherent was perhaps a hidden motive, namely, an unwillingness to suffer persecution for the sake of Christ.
So, Jesus had something against them. If the conditions which existed in the church at Thyatira can exist at any time in any church, then the lessons for us are at least fourfold: 1) We cannot tolerate sin or false teaching in the church for fear of persecution. In a country which elevates tolerance to the highest virtue, we must remember that tolerance may actually be sin itself and bring judgment. 2) Teaching that accepts any form of idolatry must be exposed and removed. 3) It is never right for Christians to participate in the licentious lifestyles of unbelievers. 4) Sin in the church which is not dealt with will bring divine judgment.
Close in prayer.
Jesus loves His church, and He will go to any extent to protect His church. And He wants us to be loving, faithful, serving and persevering. He wants us to be holy. And so, communion, once a month, gives the opportunity for self-examination. Am I loving, faithful, serving and persevering? Am I holy? Am I eating today without regard to my brothers and sisters? Do I love the church, like Jesus loves the church?