October 27, 2019
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 16:30 in the audio file.
Or, The Burden of Reaching International Relevance
We don’t have a Jezebel in our church. No one should actually name their daughter Jezebel anyway, but even in a symbolic way, we don’t have any Jezebels. The church in Thyatira did. And like Ahab’s wife, this woman led at least some of those among God’s people into trusting gods who aren’t really gods and into sexual sin that wasn’t really satisfying. We don’t have any self-identified prophetesses among us, but that doesn’t mean we have nothing to learn from this first-century message from Jesus.
Jesus’ words to the church in Thyatira (2:18-29) is similar to His words to the church in Pergamum (2:12-17). In both churches there was false teaching, in both cases the church was too easy on the false teachers. At least the Ephesians tested those who taught among them and exercised discretion (2:2), though, of course, the Ephesians had a lovelessness problem (2:4). But again, the Pergamumites and the Thyatirans seem to have similar issues.
What’s different is the reason why the false teaching took hold in each city. In Pergamum, the Christians were tempted to indulge themselves according to Balaamite and Nicolaitan teaching for civic reasons. Pergamum loved and lauded the Roman Emperor, and failing to acknowledge the idols could be taken for a type of treason. In Thyatira, though, failing to acknowledge the idols was bad for business.
Thyatira was mostly in the middle of nowhere, at least compared to the seaport cities. It didn’t have any geographical defenses, like being built on a high hill. It was more like an outpost, a “garrison town” (Osborne), one of the first places to be attacked, so one of the places most frequently rebuilt. Rebuilding is good for business. There is evidence of a variety of goods and services, and in particular, of different guilds, with inscriptions discovered for “woolworkers, linen-workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave-dealers and bronze-smiths” (Mounce). You may remember “Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods” who believed Paul’s preaching when visiting Philippi (Acts 16:14). Each guild had a patron god, and that god required honor and provided social glue. In order to be in the union, you had to pay the dues.
Enter Jezebel. She claimed to speak for God, and her message from God was that it was more than just okay to pay the dues to economic idols, it was actually an expression to show how close one was to the true God. Some of those in the church embraced her message, because it is the kind of message that goes down easily. If it didn’t tickle the ears, it certainly padded the wallet.
Jesus was, and is, having none of it. One word that summarizes their problems: worldliness. They behaved like this world, and the things in the world, were important to have, even if it meant reinterpreting the truth for God’s sake. Jesus calls the Thyatirans to just conquer worldliness, and the Spirit calls us all to hear the message.
A few things stand out in this identification of Jesus to the Thyatirans.
First, these words are of the Son of God, which is the only time this title is used for Jesus in the book of Revelation. It is also the only title given in the identifications in these messages to the churches; even the rest in verse 18 are descriptions. It may be that the Son of God emphasizes that there is only one, because the “guardian deity” of Thyatira was Apollo Tyrimnos, the son of Zeus (Mounce).
That Jesus has eyes like a flame of fire emphasizes His piercing vision (see 1:14, from Daniel 10:6), a fact which is stated explicitly in verse 23. His feet are like burnished bronze (see 1:15), and this seems to connect to the metallurgy in the city as well as a military image of brass slender and strength.
There is significant good, though if measured by proportion of attention the good is not a high percentage.
I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.
Their works bookend the affirmation. In between are four things, and the first two (love and faith) may be the internal motivations while the final two (service and patient endurance) may be the external evidences. The Ephesians had patient endurance, but they did not have love. The Thyatirans didn’t just have first works motivated by first love, their love and works got better: your latter works exceed the first. Length of time as a Christian doesn’t automatically diminish energy for the life of a disciple. It also doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be any issues.
Jesus’ rebuke is grave.
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.
Toleration has limits, because toleration is not a virtue by itself. Toleration is only a virtue when we know what to tolerate, why we are to tolerate, and who said we should. God is our Who, and He gives us the why and the what. And He does not tolerate worship of other gods from those who claim to be worshipping Him, He does not tolerate anyone seeking satisfaction apart from Him, and He does not tolerate anyone who teaches that the first two are tolerable to God.
This Jezebel was probably not named Jezebel; this is a nickname (let’s say it was like her Instagram handle). The point of using the name is to remind everyone about the archetype Jezebel, Ahab’s bitter-peach of a wife, who coaxed others to idolatry by killing them if they wouldn’t join in. This lady in Thyatira was in the church, not just a pagan oracle, and had gained a hearing. She was teaching something similar to that in Pergamum, but again, it seems that the seducing found a willing audience who wanted a reason to get drunk and hook up at the office Christmas party. She said she had a message from God, what she really had was an easy audience.
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.
Who told her to repent (and go home)? How long ago had she received the call? Who knows. What’s clear is that she committed herself to her sin. And since her sin took place on a bed, her judgment would be contrapasso, fitting to her sin. Instead of a bed of passion, Jesus said, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and the sickness may have been a sickness to death.
For those who commit adultery with her, it wasn’t physical, because this is what she was teaching, not what she was offering. She was a prophetess, not a prostitute. This adultery was spiritual adultery, and Jesus will throw them into great tribulation. The children appear to be those who don’t merely listen to Jezebel, but those who are of similar nature. They are so given to worldliness that they aren’t called to repent, Jesus will strike them dead. The teaching they thought would get them out of suffering was plunging them into it.
This righteous judgment will make a point around the region.
And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.
Numerous times the Lord warned His people in the OT that if they didn’t obey Him, He would judge them such that people’s ears would tingle when they heard about it. All the churches will know.
What they will know is that God knows what they couldn’t know, that is, He knows the motivations. But God’s judgment is based on what the others could also see, which is the works that come out of the motivations.
Jesus is he who searches the mind and heart, belonging with His “eyes like a flame of fire.” In the original message the organs are mentioned, the kidneys and the hearts, which together referred to the inside workings of a man’s wants and will and thinking. The Lord’s judgment is according to the evidence, and He has the authority to make that judgment, along with the capacity to decide what deserves what. (See Jeremiah 17:10.)
Next Jesus moves to those who were tolerating the worldliness and the promotion of worldliness.
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.
The deep things of Satan may or may not be what Jezebel and her offspring called it. There is question about the some who are calling it. If it is Jezebel’s brood, they may have claimed that Christians could learn about, even get intimate with, Satan’s things just to demonstrate that Satan had no power over them. That idea itself is from the pit. The rest weren’t buying it.
But it was costly for them not to buy it. Though Jesus doesn’t talk about their poverty and tribulation like He did to the Smyrnaeans, this was a burden. Not agreeing to go along with the guildings, not joining the idol unions, meant carrying a heavy weight. Jezebel’s teaching had a market: those who wanted to work and buy and sell in the market. Jesus says that resistance was enough of a burden for them, and to hold fast what you have until I come.
In the previous three messages the call to hear comes first and then the promise. Now the promise comes first and then the call to hear, and this pattern continues for the final four churches.
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.
It is always the one who conquers, and that is always the faithful Christian, not a subset of über-Christian. This one who conquers is overcoming the temptation to listen to teaching that allows, or even promotes, worldliness to be more comfortable in the world.
As the judgment is apropos for one’s works, the promise is also fitting for one’s conquering. Jesus takes the promise that the LORD makes to His Son (so “Son of God”) in Psalm 2:8-9 about defeating the rebel nations and extends the promise to the one conquering. Later in Revelation this nation-ruling is done by Jesus.
From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:15–16, see also Revelation 12:5)
Not just Jesus, but Jesus will give (to him) authority over the nations. This is not the success of the gospel, this is a crushing of those who didn’t accept the gospel. This isn’t a brokenness of repentance, but a full defeat, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces. Pots don’t recover from that.
JustConquer promise #4: those who overcome the burden of resisting worldliness will be given rule over the world.
Christians who miss out on opportunities now for sake of faithfulness to Christ’s name will be given greater opportunities by Christ later. So JustConquer.
A second promised is: And I will give him the morning star, which seems to be a reference to Himself (see Revelation 22:16). The morning star is also a description of Venus, and Venus was the presiding planet/goddess of the Roman emperors as represented on Roman banners (Osborne). Jesus reigns better.
He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Worldliness is a constant threat, because the ruler of this present darkness is no friend to the faith. Hold fast what you have until He comes. This living by faith thing is for real. In the resurrection we will not only have bodies raised in glory and power (1 Corinthians 15:43), we will be raised to reign with Him (2 Timothy 2:12, 1 Corinthians 6:2-3).
Conquering like Christ is being more than conquerers no matter tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword. But that burden, of not being conquered by worldliness, will lead to international relevance. Let love and works keep getting better, and let not your hearts be troubled (John 14:27).
Paul told the believing brothers that if we are children of God then we are heirs, “heirs of God and fellow with Christ” (Romans 8:17a). What has the Father promised the Son? The defeat of every enemy and all things in subjection to the Son, every nation included. If we suffer with Him, we will also be glorified with Him (Romans 8:17b). Don’t let the state of the world get you down; this is not the final state.
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25–27, ESV)