Today we are arriving at the next stop on our tour of the churches addressed by our Lord and Savior in Revelation 2-3. Our last visit took us to Pergamum, but today we will nestle down in the flatlands of Thyatira and pray that we will have ears to hear what the Savior is saying to us as we study what He said to the folks in Thyatira.
Thyatira was located about 40 miles southeast of Pergamum. Thyatira was founded by Seleucus I, one of Alexander the Greats successors who used the city as a military outpost to guard the north-south road that led to his empire. The city was also built on flat land with no natural barriers to help protect it from invaders. Needless to say, the city was easily attacked by invading armies. Because of its location and lack of natural barriers the city was constantly in turmoil until 190 B.C. when the Romans took the city and made it part of their empire.
The Romans brought military might and stability to the city which allowed it to prosper and become a force in the world of manufacturing and marketing. The main road that led through the city became a huge asset for moving products produced in Thyatira to other cities in Asia Minor like Pergamum, Laodicea, and Smyrna.
As Thyatira became more and more prosperous under Roman rule the city became inundated with trade guilds. William Ramsay writes,
Thyatira was noted for its numerous guilds (roughly the equivalent of today?s labor unions). Thyatira?s main industry was the production of wool and dyed goods (especially purple goods, dyed with purple dye extracted from the madder root), but inscriptions also mention guilds for linen workers, makers of outer garments, dyers, leather workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave dealers, and bronze smiths (William Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia (Albany, Oreg.: AGES Software; reprint of the 1904 edition], 260).
Thyatira?s workers were linked together by their trade guilds and yet for those who converted to Christianity this posed a huge problem. You may wonder how being a member of a labor union would cause problems for Christians in Thyatira? These trade guilds weren?t formed to simply fight for better working conditions or higher wages, the Thyatiran trade guilds were religiously oriented and pagan to the core. Robert Mounce writes,
In a city whose economic life was dominated by trade guilds in which pagan religious practices had become the criteria for membership, Christian converts would be faced with the problem of compromising their stand at least enough to allow participation in a common meal dedicated to some pagan deity. To reject this accommodation could mean social isolation and economic hardship. (Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, pg. 86)
The pressure being exerted upon the hearts and minds of the followers of Jesus in Thyatira wasn?t coming from the Roman government, they weren?t being led away by adherents to Zeus, or Asklepios, but they were being tempted by their wallets. If a man or woman was a merchant in Thyatira and unwilling to attend the weekly trade guild meetings where there was a buffet of food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality available to everyone on a weekly basis then they would suffer financially. If they weren?t willing to attend the trade conventions and participate in the pagan practices with the rest of their friends then they could be blacklisted and suffer economic hardships.
How would the church respond to this situation taking place in society? Would the church take its stand or would the church sit on the sidelines and simply watch? Let?s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Revelation 2:18-29
18?To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. 20Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. 24Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan?s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): 25Only hold on to what you have until I come. 26To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations?27 ?He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery??just as I have received authority from my Father. 28I will also give him the morning star. 29He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 2:18-29 NIV)
I don?t know if you noticed as we were reading the letter to the church of Thyatira, but there is a different tone in our letter for today. You can sense it from the opening verse where Jesus describes Himself as the ?Son of God,? the one ?whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.? This is the only place in Revelation where Jesus is referred to as the ?Son of God.? If you will remember, all of the introductions of Jesus in the seven letters are taken from Revelation 1. In Revelation 1:14-15 we read,
14His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. (Revelation 1:14-15 NIV)
In Revelation 1 Jesus is described as the ?Son of Man,? but here He is described as the ?Son of God.? You may think, ?What?s the difference?? Well, I?m so glad you asked! The title ?Son of Man? conveys to us Jesus? identification with us?He knows our frailty, He understands our humanity?He is our Savior, our Priest, our Intercessor. The title ?Son of God? emphasizes Jesus? deity?He is our Judge and His blazing eyes see things as they really are. He sees the good of our lives and He also sees right through all of our games, deceptions, and pretense. Folks, we might be able to hide from one another, but it is imperative that we know that we will never be able to hide from God. He sees what?s happening. In Jeremiah 16:17, God says,
17 My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes. (Jeremiah 16:17 NIV)
In the New Testament we find that God hasn?t changed one bit. In Hebrews 4:13 we read,
13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:13 NIV)
There is no greater Scripture to illustrate the omniscient gaze of our glorious Savior than the Lord?s letter to the church in Thyatira. Take a look at verse 19 with me. Jesus says,
19I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. (Revelation 2:19 NIV)
Jesus says that He knows the people?s ?deeds, love, faith, service, and perseverance.? He knows that they are doing more now than they did at first. Jesus commends the church. He will have some harsh things to say in the next few verses, but in verse 19 Jesus gives the church a standing ovation. This is a wonderful working church. They are loving people, they are working hard in the ministry, they have great faith, they are servants, and they know how to bear up under difficult times. The people of 1st Church in Thyatira aren?t resting on their laurels, they aren?t gloating over what they?ve accomplished in the past, they are working more diligently now than they have ever worked in the past.
If we were looking for a new church home and we were given this description of one of the churches we were thinking about visiting?we would be excited wouldn?t we? Sure we would. They have everything we would want in a church. They are a loving church?who doesn?t want to feel like they belong, that they are loved? They are a serving church?they are involved in the community?who doesn?t want to feel like they are making a difference in someone?s life? It is a church characterized by faith?isn?t part of the reason we go to church to have our faith increased? Last of all, this is a tough church, it knows how to bear up under hardships and persevere?what a wonderful characteristic for a church. This isn?t all Jesus sees though. There is more to this church than meets the eye. Let?s take a look at Revelation 2:20-23 and see what else is happening in the church at Thyatira.
20Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. (Revelation 2:20-23 NIV)
Jesus says, ?I have this against you:? This same phrase is used in 3 of the 7 letters to the churches of Revelation. To the church in Ephesus, Jesus said they had lost their first love. To the church in Pergamum, Jesus said that they were holding to the teachings of Balaam. Here in Thyatira, Jesus says they are tolerating the teachings of Jezebel. They should not be tolerating the teaching of Jezebel.
I?ve been thinking about the tolerance of the people of Thyatira this week. I hope it is evident to each of us that the tolerance of the church was a negative and not a positive. This is interesting to me because tolerance seems to me to be the highest virtue of our society. Our society teaches us that we should aspire to be increasingly tolerant. We are taught to be tolerant and yet we read that Jesus judged the church in Thyatira because they were tolerant of Jezebel?s teaching. Which is it? Should we be tolerant or intolerant? How tolerant are we to be? That is a great question.
First, let?s just look at the definition of ?tolerance.? Webster?s defines the word as ?sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own belief: the act of allowing something.? There is much going on in our society that does not align with God?s Word. Are we to organize a crusade and overthrow the powers or are we to dive in and embrace everything that society offers us? Neither! We are called to be in this world, but not of this world. We are called to be salt and light in a tasteless and dark world. We are not called to be the saviors of our society, but we are called to hold up the standard of righteousness and holiness given to us by our God.
If you will notice in our Scripture for today, Jesus doesn?t condemn the people of Thyatira for not burning down the meeting halls of the trade guilds; He judges them for allowing Jezebel to teach her ungodly doctrines in the church. Jesus doesn?t command the believers of Thyatira to overthrow the officers of the trade guilds; He stands in judgment of those who allowed the practices of the trade guilds to come into the church.
How does this apply to our day? Great question! Jesus doesn?t call us to bomb abortion clinics and burn down crack houses, bars, and strip joints, but He does command us to live a different life than those who have given themselves to these things. God is calling the Church to be different than the world, but for this to happen the Church cannot allow the ways of the world to become the ways of the Church. This is why Peter wrote,
17For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17 NIV)
Judgment begins with the house of God because God has called the Church to be His instrument of hope, His living epistle of holiness, and His model of reconciliation to a broken and lost world. We are not to model and mimic the world; we are to model the lifestyle of our Savior!
For all of those who think this is setting up some elitist, Puritanical society within American society you are absolutely wrong. Jesus reached out to those in society who knew they were broken, they knew they were outcasts, they knew they had messed up their lives and He said,
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)
He brings the broken and sin-scarred in so that He might deliver us from darkness and destruction, heal our brokenness, and lead us into righteousness and holy living. Jesus doesn?t deliver us from the world?s way so that we can transform the Church into the world. He brings us out and lifts us up so that we might walk in His steps. He gives us a different standard than the world lives by. Within the Church He calls leaders to live a set apart life. This is why James wrote,
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1 NIV)
Our society expects us to be tolerant of anything and everything, but we are called to a higher virtue than tolerance, we are called to love. Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler wrote a wonderful article several years ago called, ?New Tolerance No Virtue.? In the article they write,
Tolerance says, ?You must approve of what I do.? Love responds, ?I must do something harder; I will love you, even when your behavior offends me.? Tolerance says, ?You must agree with me.? Love responds, ?I must do something harder; I will tell you the truth, because I am convinced that ‘the truth will set you free.’? Tolerance says, ?You must allow me to have my way.? Love responds, ?I must do something harder; I will plead with you to follow the right way, because I believe you are worth the risk.? Tolerance seeks to be inoffensive; love takes risks. Tolerance glorifies division; love seeks unity. Tolerance costs nothing; love costs everything. (Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler, ?New Tolerance No Virtue? http://www.bobhostetler.com)
The church in Thyatira came under the judgment of Jesus because they were tolerating the teachings of Jezebel. Who was Jezebel? Well, Jezebel wasn?t her real name. Jesus used the name Jezebel because it would immediately strike at the heart of the people of Thyatira as to how severe their sin was in Jesus? eyes.
In 1 Kings 16 to 2 Kings 10 we can read the story of Jezebel, King Ahab?s Queen, who brought the worship of the Phoenician god Baal into the life of the Israelites. Jezebel led the persecution of God?s prophets and sought to turn the hearts of God?s people to her false god. In 1 Kings 16:29-33 we read,
29In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years. 30Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. 31He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. 32He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. 33Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him. (1 Kings 16:29-33 NIV)
You need to know that Ahab had no desire to abandon YHWH God. His chief aim in life was to be as politically savvy as possible. To help his country he married the King of Sidon?s daughter. Ahab felt that if he married Jezebel that it would put him in a better position with Israel?s Phoenician neighbors. His marriage to Jezebel, although it was an act of blatant disobedience to God, it was a prudent, utilitarian move in Ahab?s mind. As a result of his move Ahab?s kingdom prospered financially, but it was a spiritual train wreck just waiting to happen. The Holman Bible Dictionary says,
According to 1 Kings 22:39, he built an ?ivory house? for Jezebel, the remains of which were discovered in the Harvard excavations at the site. Rooms and furniture were decorated with ivory inlay which in many cases featured Egyptian deities. His surrender to the influences of idolatry is illustrated by the construction of a temple for Baal (1 Kings 16:32), the massacre of the Lord?s prophets (1 Kings 18:4, 19), and seizure of an Israelite?s property (1 Kings 21).
Ahab appears to have been a worshiper of Yahweh, God of Israel, but probably along with other deities. He frequently consulted with Yahweh?s prophets (1 Kings 20:13-14, 22, 28; 22:8, 16), used the divine name in naming his children (Ahaziah, Jehoram, and Athaliah) and did not interfere with the execution of the priests of Baal after the contest on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:40). The influence of Jezebel in his life, however, overshadowed any significant influence the prophets of the Lord had in his life. (Holman Bible Dictionary)
It?s that last sentence that really sticks in my mind: The influence of Jezebel in his life, however, overshadowed any significant influence the prophets of the Lord had in his life.? We need to ask what influence ?Jezebel? has had on our life. We need to allow the Lord to search our hearts to see what it is that is overshadowing the influence of God?s Word upon our life? What is it? I can?t answer the question for you, but God sure can if you will allow Him to search your heart and reveal His truth to you.
Jesus is going to judge Jezebel for her false teaching. Jesus says that He will cast her on a bed of suffering. (Revelation 2:22) What a contrast to the bed that Jezebel was accustomed to. Jezebel had been teaching the people of Thyatira that there was nothing wrong with indulging their sexual appetites and fulfilling their sexual fantasies. They could live however they wanted and still claim to be a Christian. Jesus said that He would turn her bed of erotic pleasures into a bed of suffering.
This verse really hits at my heart because I had a friend who chose to live his life like this and indulge his every sexual whim. By the time I met him he was suffering from AIDS. I watched as that horrible disease ate away at his body and eventually confined him to his bed where he wasted away. It was a horrible death.
My friend, God has given us the covenant of marriage to enjoy the gift of human sexuality?the gift that He has given to us as husbands and wives, but only to husbands and wives. If we violate the parameters God has set for sex then we, or someone else, will suffer.
Jesus is also going to judge Jezebel?s offspring. We?re not talking about her biological children, but her spiritual children. There is a great lesson in this for us my friend. For those who want to walk with one foot in the world and one foot in the faith?you need to know that there are those who are watching you. You and I are not to send mixed messages to those around us, they need to see Jesus, they desperately need to see Jesus. Cain asked God, ?Am I my brother?s keeper?? The answer to the question is ?Absolutely Yes!? We will be accountable for those we lead astray my friends. The truth of the matter is that we are all leaders?we are either leading others closer to the Lord or we are leading them away from Him. Where are you going to lead those in your life today?
In our last section of Scripture for today we see the reward for those who give themselves to following Christ alone. Read along with me from Revelation 2:26-29.
26To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations?27 ?He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery??just as I have received authority from my Father. 28I will also give him the morning star. 29He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 2:26-29 NIV)
This Scripture is taken from Psalm 2, a Messianic Psalm, that tells us that God will give universal rule to His anointed King, our Savior Jesus. Jesus says that we will rule along with Him. I don?t know the details of how that rule will work out for the followers of Jesus, but as long as I get to be with our Lord then everything else is iciig on the cake.
Jesus also says, ?I will give him the morning star.? There is a lot of debate about what the phrase means. Venus is the morning star. From Babylonian times Venus was the symbol of sovereignty. In Roman times it was more specifically the symbol of victory and sovereignty and Roman generals built temples in her honor. Caesar?s armies carried her symbol on their standards. The morning star of Venus was the sign of conquest and rule for the Romans. There is one star brighter than Venus and that is the bright and Morning Star of Scripture. In Revelation 22:16 we read,
16″I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” (Revelation 22:16 NIV)
Jesus is the Morning Star and He promises to give Himself to those who will bow their knee, pledge their allegiance, and give their lives to serving Him alone. My friend, the teaching of Jezebel is alive and well in our community today, but that doesn?t mean that we have to follow the false teaching of our society. You and I can keep our lives fixed upon Jesus and follow His teaching for our lives. For those who will do this there will be a great reward.
If you have never accepted Jesus as Lord of your life then I need to tell you that you really have no defense against the teachings of Jezebel and all of the other false teachers of our day. Sooner or later she?s going to get you. Before the day of destruction comes won?t you surrender your life to the King of kings, the Morning Star who will cause His light to shine in all of its radiance through you.