Seven Churches - Part 4
February 05, 2017
Intro: We are now just a little over halfway in our series, the Seven Churches. In these churches we are looking for parallels to our church and even to ourselves individually as Christians.
We began on the coast of the Aegean sea with the church at Ephesus, the church that had left it’s first love. Then we moved up the coast a little ways to the church at Smyrna, the church that suffered great persecution. Then we turned inland to the church at Pergamum, the church that tottered on compromise. Today we curve downward just a little and visit the church at Thyatira.
Thyatira was perhaps the least of all the cities in terms of influence and beauty. She was situated in an open and vulnerable area, on a busy and well-traveled road that connected Pergamum to Sardis. She boasted of no position in the Roman Empire or architectural wonders.
But she was notable for her commerce and the guilds that went with it (guilds of ancient times were much like trade unions of today). There were workers of wool, leather, linen, and especially bronze; makers of garments and pottery; bakers and slave dealers; and those who produced a much prized purple dye.
Let’s look at Jesus’ words to them together.
Revelation 2:18 (ESV) — 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.
As with every letter, Jesus began with a description of himself, drawing on John’s vision of him in chapter one. These credentials were tailored to the situation. One commentator writes…
The Asian churches may well hear in Jesus’ biblical title “Son of God” (2:18) a direct challenge to the imperial cult. Emperors claimed to be deities and saviors in Asia; some commentators have further suggested a specific contrast with Zeus’s son Apollo, a patron deity of Thyatira, with whom the deified emperors were linked. … Although the matter is uncertain, it may be more than coincidence that Jesus reminds hearers of his feet like bronze (1:15) specifically in a city where metal-working was a prominent industry.
Jesus then moved on to his commendation of the church there…
Revelation 2:19 (ESV) — 19 “ ‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.
This quite the commendation!
What church wouldn’t appreciate being characterized by…
Love - Jesus said that’s what his followers would be known by.
Faith - belief and trust in Christ for salvation.
Service - actual, tangible ministry such as what the early church at Jerusalem had in ministering to widows.
Patient endurance - steadfastness, not giving up under pressure, not losing hope in difficult times.
Latter works exceeding the first - they were doing better at love, faith, service, and patient endurance than when they began. They had grown in these things.
There are two things worthy of note here:
- Our works as Christians can be tangible things like ministry, but they can also be intangible things like our faith, love, and patient endurance. Jesus is looking for them all!
- There is a contrast to Ephesus: Ephesus did good deeds at first and then drifted away. Thyatira was growing in love and doing greater deeds than those done at first.
Surprisingly, as good as things were for the Thyatiran Christians, Jesus then moved to the longest of his rebukes…
Revelation 2:20–21 (ESV) — 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. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.
A woman claiming to be a prophetess was leading believers into sin. Jesus called her Jezebel, which was almost certainly not her real name. Just like with Pergamum, Jesus used an OT character to address a present situation.
Jezebel was the wife of Ahab, king of Israel. She was the daughter of the king of a pagan kingdom nearby that was given over to the worship of Baal. When she married Ahab she brought with her hundreds of priests to Baal. She supported them, feeding them at her table.
Of course, as the leaders go so, go the nation. As her hen-pecked and weak husband stood by, she led God’s chosen people into Baal worship and the sexual immorality that went with it. It was the equivalent of spiritual adultery.
She was a wicked, conniving, evil, murderous woman, so much so that her name became synonymous with harlotry and idolatry. She was the ultimate “bad apple.” (Know anyone named Jezebel?)
The church at Thyatira had her own version of Jezebel, and this one was leading the Christians there to eat meat sacrificed to idols and commit sexually immoral acts just like her OT counterpart.
When we factor in what we know about the city it’s not hard to figure out what was going on.
Where would a Thyatiran Christian be exposed to the eating of meat sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality? The trade guilds. Each had its patron god, and its way of weaving the veneration of that god into the lives of guild members. When they gathered as a group, they did so in the name of such and such a god or goddess. The meat that had been offered up before that god or goddess as an offering was served as the main course. Wine freely flowed. Inhibitions came down. The evening climaxed with the grossest of sexual sins – all done in the name of worship.
Christians could not be a part of such, could they? Of course not! It’s easy for us to say that, to say, “I would never ever in big red letters be a part of something sp sinful.” But it’s more complicated than it seems.
To make a living you had to have a trade, and that meant associating with a guild. To be a bronze smith or a copper smith or a wool trader without participating in a guild would have been extraordinarily difficult. Trade guilds and the pagan worship that went with them were ingrained into Thyatiran life. In their culture it was completely normal and even commendable.
The Christians at Thyatira had been saved out of that environment. It had cost them financially and relationally, considering they had to have maintained relationships with friends and family there who didn’t follow Christ.
Imagine a teacher coming along and saying, “You can follow Christ and participate in the guilds, in the culture, of Thyatira.” It probably started in a Sunday School class. Jezebel offered to teach it and her class grew!
She was influenced by the teachings of the Balaamites and possibly the Nicolaitans, who believed what was done in the body had no bearing upon the spirit. A Christian could sin in the flesh and thrive in the spirit. Some even thought that since grace applied to sin glorified God, believers should sin all the more to give God glory.
This is exactly what Paul warned Timothy about…
2 Timothy 4:3–4 (ESV) — 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Thankfully, today we don’t have to worry about this right?
Wrong. If there are two areas above all others a Christian is tempted in, they are sex and money. And that hasn’t changed in 2,000 years.
Today, just like then, there are false teachers teaching false gospels to itching ears. And those false gospels, if you study them, have to do with sexuality and/or money.
It is no surprise, then, that the Bible has much to say about what we do with our bodies and our budgets.
1 Corinthians 6:12–20 (ESV) — 12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Matthew 6:19–21 (ESV) — 19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
1 Timothy 6:10 (ESV) — 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
We must move on. Christ follows with His correction and judgment (prepare yourselves)…
Revelation 2:22–25 (ESV) — 22 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, 23 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.
This side of Jesus makes us nervous. It sounds so angry and judgmental, doesn't it? It sounds that way because he is angry and judgmental.
Does that surprise you? The reason it doesn’t set right with us is that anger and judgmental attitudes are not generally a virtue among us humans. When we get angry we tend to get angry about the wrong things or even if it’s about the right things we take it too far, or don't take it far enough.
And when we assess faults in others, we set ourselves up as the judge, paying close attention to them while ignoring the very same faults or failures in ourselves.
But Jesus was - is - God come in the flesh. When God gets angry it’s for the right reasons and expressed in the right way. When God judges it’s not a choice he makes, it’s part of his very nature. He judges accurately and with perfect perception.
Jesus was angry and executed harsh judgment because the stakes were so high. His followers were at risk of falling into sin, and sin always destroys and maims and kills.
And now we see why Jesus introduced himself the way He did at the letter’s begininng: eyes like a flame of fire that can burn through all falsehood and pretense; eyes that can see clearly to judge and execute judgment. Feet like burnished bronze that cannot be moved or swayed.
I wish we could spend more time breaking down this section, but we can’t. Just know that Christ gave Jezebel time to repent but she refused (as bad as she was Jesus tried to show her mercy), and now sickness and death threatened her and her “converts.”
24 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. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come.
Those who had not given in were encouraged to “hold fast what they have” which means they were to hang on to truth and avoid the error of Jezebel at all costs! They were to resist the deeper things Jezebel was peddling, which were really the deep things of Satan himself, who is behind all error and untruth (his very nature).
As always, Christ closed with words of comfort…
Revelation 2:26–29 (ESV) — 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 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.
Remember, Thyatira had never known military or political might. They had not been associated with rule or authority. But Christians, in God’s coming kingdom set up on this earth, will be kings and queens who rule along with the King of kings and Lords of lords.
28 And I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
The morning star is not a star at all but Venus; the brightest light in the sky just before dawn.
One scholar writes
Jesus promises to ‘give them the morning star’. Since later in the book (22:16) it is Jesus himself who is the ‘morning star’, we probably have here another hint of the level of intimacy which he offers to his people. He will share his very identity with them, as we have just seen him do with his royal authority.
Conclusion: Steve Gregg writes…
In many respects, the church in Thyatira was a good church. The Christians apparently had no shortage of works, love, service, faith, and … patience, and their works were increasing: the last are more than the first (v. 19). There is a striking contrast between this church and that in Ephesus, for the church in Thyatira was not defective in love, whereas Ephesus had abandoned its first love. But, while Ephesus had no tolerance for error and false messengers, Thyatira’s fault was a willingness to allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols (v. 20). This contrast points up the difficulty of striking a balance between a generous and forgiving love and a proper intolerance for heresy and sin in the church.
Church, Christian, friend, heed the words of Christ…
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
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