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"Thyatira: We Must Not Tolerate What Jesus Hates" Revelation 2:18-29

Thyatira boasted no administrative or political significance in the Roman Empire, but local manufacturing and trade guilds flourished in the city. Inscriptions have been found identifying the presence of trade guilds for a variety of industries: clothing, leather, bronze, dyers, tanners, and wool makers. In the New Testament, we meet one of Thyatira’s merchants, Lydia, a seller of purple goods (Acts 16:14).  The purple or red dye was made from the madder root that grew in the valley nearby. The trade guilds in Thyatira were centers of friendship where meals were shared, business plans made, and religious rituals observed. The patron god of the guilds was Apollo Tyrimnaeus, portrayed on coins as a man astride a horse with a battle-ax on his shoulder. It would have been difficult to make a living in Thyatira apart from membership and participation in them. Think of the trade guild as a labor union with strong religious overtones. Their activity explains why some in the church caved to the economic pressure and compromised the faith. With respect to the history of the church in Thyatira, we know only what is given by John in Revelation. It is likely, though not certain, that the church was established during the great Pauline missionary drive in the early A.D. 50s.

The Son of God in Our Midst (vv. 18-19)

Jesus the Son of God, Not Idols or the State

It is hard to live by God’s word and trust him for your daily bread, from the ravens, if necessary. This is the reason Jesus greets the believers in Thyatira as the “Son of God.” It is the only time the title is found in Revelation, though it is one of John’s favorites in his Gospel and Letters. To be the Son of God is to be one with the Father in power, glory, and eternity. It is to be one with the Father in heart, purpose, and will. The title is connected to the later citation of Psalm 2. The local patron deity in Thyatira, Apollo Tyrimnaeus, was viewed as the son of Zeus. This local worship was joined in Thyatira with emperor worship, and Tyrimnaeus’ sonship was linked to that of the Roman emperor. In contrast to the false claims to deity of Apollo Tyrimnaeus and Caesar, Jesus Christ is the true Son of God.

Our Lord thus boldly challenges and directly condemns Roman statism and Thyatiran idolatry. The believers in Thyatira can remain steadfast because Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He has all power and glory. He assumed our nature, suffered, and died for us. He is now risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, where he appears in the presence of God for us (Heb. 9:24) and lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25). Faithful disciples will come into conflict when men demand allegiance to their gods. The Lord knows this – his eyes are like a flame of fire and his feet like polished brass. He is the burning furnace that sifts men’s hearts. The feet of polished bronze signify his strength and express his preparation to grind all his enemies to powder. Thyatira was famous for its bronze works, and they manufactured a product that was somewhat unique to the area. There may be a note of irony: Jesus will crush Thyatiran idolatry with feet made of their manufacturing products. These two descriptions set the groundwork for the Lord's subsequent commendations and warnings to the church.

Jesus Commends Works of Faith and Love

What a wonder for the Lord to commend us for graces that he gives to us! He commends the church for their love, service, faith, and patience. The trials of life had not quenched their love. This is a congregation that loved God with all their heart, soul, strength and mind. They loved one another. They tolerated false doctrine, however, which makes them the inverse of the church in Ephesus, which was strong in doctrine but cold in heart. The Thyratiran believers served one another diligently through hospitality, sharing, and sacrificing for one another. Faith should be taken to mean that they believed in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of sinners. They sincerely trusted in him alone for salvation. In love, service, and faith, the congregation persevered. Patience is the Spirit’s gift to endure hardship and rejoice in trials, by building one's life upon God’s promises.

The Toleration of the Jezebel Spirit (v. 20)

Christ Condemns Toleration of Idolatry and Impurity

"Nevertheless" strikes a note of warning, and we should tremble to hear it from our Lord’s lips. A congregation that possesses “much fruit” in some areas can be guilty of heinous sins that bring the Lord's rebuke. Their chief sin lay in that they allowed false doctrine and sinful practices to go unchecked within the congregation. The congregation and its leaders were not taking appropriate steps to deal with the offending parties. The ringleader of the group was a woman named Jezebel, for her doctrine and life were the same as the infamous queen of Israel (1 Kings 16:31; 18:4,13; 21; 2 Kings 9:22). Ahab's Jezebel was a foreign queen, sensuous and idolatrous. The practices advocated by the Thyatiran Jezebel are so wicked in the eyes of Christ that she is symbolically named after one of the most infamous women in the Bible. This woman called herself a prophet, though certainly she ought not to have dared to teach in the house of God, as the inspired apostle commanded (1 Cor. 14:34). But she claimed to be a prophet, and church leaders were afraid to speak against her. There were legitimate female prophets in Israel and in the early church (Acts 21:6), but they did not preach and teach in public worship, for there the Lord commands a certain order and authority be kept. Jezebel did not worry about these things, and she boldly delivered her doctrine of compromise with the world.

Surveying the situation in Thyatira, especially the economic deprivation the people were facing if they refused to participate in the religious rituals of the trade guilds and the sexual activity that usually transpired as a result of those gatherings, she advocated participation. She encouraged the people to participate fully in Thyatiran cultic life: to eat meat sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication. This was in direct contravention to the apostolic decrees (Acts 15:20,29). Given the situation in Thyatira, these should be taken as literal acts, as well as spiritual metaphors for harlotry against the Lord. She gave persuasive reasons for so acting: the need to work and provide for one's family, the importance of not appearing socially isolated from their friends and neighbors in the city. I suspect she cited “grace” and “higher spirituality” as a reason not to worry about sin or the body. We are forgiven, and provided we love God in our hearts, the body does not matter. Grace makes us stronger than sin, and we can live as the world while staying clean in our hearts. This is the same general doctrine as the Balaamite and Nicolaitan heresy, but in Thyatira the problem was especially severe.

False Prophets Encourage Harlotry with the World

“Jezebel” has been the church’s constant temptation – embrace the world to overcome the world. Enter the chaos of sin to show the liberty you have in Christ and the power of his grace. The early Gnostic form was operative in Thyatira and her Jezebel. How could the church survive if it did not participate? And, did the incarnation really occur? Is not Jesus Christ like all the other ideas and spirits and philosophies that have floated down the corridors of history? The body does not matter; do with it what you will. Paul had to deal with the same lies in Corinth. You can love Jesus in your heart but do as the world with your body and in your life. This is a false, sinful, and dangerous duality. Jesus Christ has purchased us completely, body and soul (1 Cor. 6:18-20). We are to glorify him in our bodies as much as in our spirits (Rom. 12:1). And therefore, we must maintain a holy separation from the world (1 John 2:15; 1 Cor. 6:17) and trust him to provide for us (Matt. 6:11). In the church, we should recognize that false doctrine and loose living are often found together. False views of God, Christ, the gospel, the origin of the world, the creation of man and woman in his image will eventually corrupt the life.

One reason the congregation did not reject this woman is that she claimed to be a prophet. No one resisted her, therefore, out of a misplaced fear that to do so would be to go against God. If this congregation had only remembered the apostolic decrees delivered in Jerusalem (Acts 15), they would never have tolerated this woman. It does not matter who a person claims to be or how many follow their errors. If they abandon the faith once for all given to the saints, they are not to be heard or greeted by God’s people (2 Thess. 3:6,14; 2 John 9,10). Our guilt on this point is far greater because we have the completed Scriptures, and they expressly forbid us to look to any other source for truth or guidance. Yet, there are many pseudo-prophets in our day, who claim to speak for God but in reality they are emissaries of Satan. We must not be afraid to judge all claims to teaching authority in church by the written Word of God. Those who encourage embracing the spirit of the age depart from his word and must be rejected as lying spirits sent from God to test the church.

Our Lord hates our worldly compromises. This was the heart of Jezebel's message. A little compromise, a little promiscuity, a little show of respect for the emperor at a small guild meeting, and one could avoid trouble. As attractive as this sounds to men of weak minds and fleshly feelings, the child of God recognizes the lie of Satan. Satan tempted Jesus to take the easy way out, to obtain the crown without submitting to the cross. All Jezebels do the same. Avoid the world’s opposition by joining with the world. We should not seek out suffering, and our Lord's example during his earthly ministry was to avoid trouble as long as possible, we may not avoid it when called in God's providence to stand for righteousness and speak the truth in love. The sooner American churches learn this lesson, the sooner we will cease calling evil good, reject the applause of unbelieving media and academic institutions as Satan’s clapping, and recover our ability to stand for the faith with integrity before the world.

Jesus Christ Intolerant of His Church’s Tolerance (vv. 21-23)

I Gave Her Time to Repent…She Did Not (v. 21)

The Lord gave Jezebel time to repent, but she would not. The Lord does not delight in the death of the wicked but offers mercy to the vilest offenders. The angels rejoice when one sinner repents. Thus, not to repent when given time and invitation from Christ is stubborn evil. Many souls deceive themselves that because the Lord does not immediately punish sin, he will never punish it. This is a tragic delusion that has brought many into hell. What – you remember that sin? You are punishing me for something I did fifty, seventy, ninety years ago? You are a monster, the sinner audaciously curses God, and thus deservedly extends his hell forever. No, the Lord replies, but I am holy, and I did give you space to repent. I am abundant in mercy; you are overflowing with rebellion. What you have sown, now you must reap. Hearing this, may we all flock immediately to Jesus Christ and seek in him the grace of true repentance. He will not cast off but pardon all our sins and make us righteousness by his obedience.

I Will Cast Her into the Sick Bed…Unless She Repents (v. 22)

Christ warned Jezebel and her followers that judgment is coming. Instead of the adulteress' bed, he will throw Jezebel onto a sickbed of suffering. Those who commit adultery with her will experience great tribulation, unspecified judgments that fit the grievous nature of their sins. There may be a play on words here. Do you want to 'go to bed?' I'll give you a bed, but it will not be for pleasure but for pain. This adultery is spiritual, and it was likely bodily, at least among Jezebel’s followers. To commit fornication against Christ is to be a spiritual harlot. This is done by worshipping other gods, compromising with the world, or living in unrepentant immorality. These break covenant with the Lord Jesus Christ, our Husband. While Jezebel's time to repent is over, the Lord graciously encourages her followers to repent. The door of repentance is ajar for them if they will repent and return in faith and obedience to Christ.

I Will Kill Her Children…I Search the Hearts (v. 23)

The Lord Jesus promises to "kill Jezebel’s children with death." Her children are the second generation of "Jezebels" who follow in their "mothers" footsteps. This is an instance in which Jezebel’s children must stop following their mother immediately; and her present followers must know that their continued approach to life will not save their skins. The Lord declares that the purpose of this horrible visitation is to cause the church to know that he searches the minds and hearts. He is different from the emperor gods and idols men make with their own hands. He is real. He walks in our midst, and he knows what every member of his church is thinking and feeling. He is longsuffering, but he will not allow sin to go unpunished. Those piercing eyes know us far better than we know ourselves. "Jezebels" may deceive the wicked and unwary, but Christ knows them thoroughly.

This is certainly not the Christ that we hear preached today. Nevertheless, the Christ who rules the church and world is a covenant keeping Head, who rewards his faithful disciples and punishes the disobedient with terrible afflictions. “That which a man sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). We may escape the condemnation of men, but we cannot escape Christ's. His searching eyes remind us that the Christian religion is one of the heart as well as the actions. The Lord desires truth in the inward parts. It is wicked and dangerous to pretend religion and piety for the approval of men; Jesus knows if there is any real devotion to him in the heart. In good Old Testament fashion, Christ proclaims the same jealousy over the purity and faithfulness of his people as Jehovah did over Israel. Therefore, he will visit the iniquities of the fathers and mothers upon the children. Those who follow in the same wicked footsteps, either in doctrine or practice, as their parents can expect for Christ to judge them as he did their fathers and mothers. Christ established the new covenant by his own sacrifice and blood; he expects us to keep covenant with him by sincerity, faith, truth, and obedience. We are Christ’s friends if we do what he commands (John 14:15). He will “be merciful to our unrighteousness, and our sins and iniquities he will remember no more” (Heb. 8:12; 10:17). At the same time, when his professing followers flagrantly disregard him and his Word, he will judge and punish.

It may be objected that it is unfair to punish the children for their parents’ sins, especially in the light of Ezekiel 18:20: “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the Father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” The judgment upon the children indicates that children often walk in the footsteps of their parents, either for good or ill, and that sometimes God punishes the sins of the parents by allowing their children to walk in those same ways. There is a covenantal imitation down through generations. Should we not loathe ourselves for our sins and turn from them all to walk in the ways of obedience? We should also be strongly motivated by this warning to be faithful parents in discipline and education, holiness, dependence upon God, prayer, and modeling of kingdom faithfulness. Where these are lacking, the children inevitably follow the evil tendencies of their parents, thus bringing down the Lord’s judgment upon themselves. In his sovereign grace, God often intervenes in a sinful generation, and rescues an individual from the evil example of bad parents. If a son or daughter turns from his parents’ sinful ways, he will not be punished for his parents’ sins.

But He Encourages the Faithful (vv. 24-29)

Be Ignorant of the Deep Things of Satan…No Other Burden (v. 24)

In the midst of his terrible denunciation against Jezebel and church leaders who tolerated her teaching, our Lord’s meekness toward the innocent is powerfully revealed. He will place no additional burden on them. This comfort is offered to those who do not know “the deep things of Satan.” This enigmatic phrase indicates something of the great evil of Jezebel’s doctrine. The irony is that she thought this was a higher plane of spirituality. She likely reasoned thus: one really cannot know the depths of grace until one is immersed in evil. It is only then we can truly experience the power of God and the powerlessness of Satan. According to some in those churches, the true believer does not really sin (1 John 1:6-10). So the only outcome of the experience will be stronger faith, a more victorious Christian life, and a deeper spiritual experience. In the process, you will make a living and be accepted in the surrounding culture.

Knowing the “deep things of Satan,” i.e., the details of pagan beliefs and practices, enables one to know God more deeply. This form of mystical piety provided a convenient rationale for members of the Thyatiran congregation to participate in pagan rituals and immorality in order to avoid hardship for the cause of Christ. But Jezebel’s doctrine of compromise was a form of Satanism. The narrow way is not to get as close as possible to the spirit of our age but to maintain a vigilant separation between the holy church of Christ and the rebellious world that is deceived by Satan. We need not immerse ourselves in evil before we can truly appreciate God’s grace. Rather, God reveals his grace and covenant only to those who pursue ethical purity and maintain a strict separation from evil (2 Cor. 6:14-18; Tit. 2:11-12).

Hold Fast and Overcome…You Will Reign with Me (vv. 25-27)

If we are not to compromise when the tides of evil are rising and our lives are threatened, what are we to do? “Hold fast what you have until I come.” Rejecting evil, we must embrace and rejoice in the truth. We must not compromise the truth, tolerate Jezebel and her followers, or seek to be acquainted with wickedness. The elders must awake to the danger in their midst and deal decisively with Jezebel and her followers (Acts 20:28), especially watching against all forms of spiritual harlotry and fornication.  The remedy for compromise in a pagan environment is zealous safeguard of doctrinal orthodoxy and moral purity. The phrase “until I come” is instructive. In one sense, it certainly refers to Christ’s final coming at the end of history, for this is the moment for which all believers desire for as long as they live on earth – to see him in glory, as he is, surrounded by his holy angels, opening the books, throwing death and Satan into the pit of hell, and recreating the heavens and earth. How the heart longs for Him, and the longing inspires faithfulness! Christ also comes in history to expose false teachers in his church. He comes to show the evil fruit of their doctrines and sometimes their evil lives. But come he will to defend his faithful ones, even if it is his coming each morning by his Spirit to refresh the soul that opens his Bible and gets on his face to seek the Lord’s face. And when he comes in this way to strengthen us to faithfulness, we reign with him already as a kingdom of priests, for we are raised and reigning with him (Eph. 2:5-6). When he returns at the end of history, we shall reign with him in his everlasting kingdom of heaven. Do we think of the moment, like Jezebel, or of eternity?

You Will Have the Glory of the Morning Star…Me (vv. 28-29)

Overcoming the world requires perseverance in the faith against sin in every form and temptation to compromise. Overcoming requires union and communion with our Lord, for he is our only strength (Phil. 4:13). Overcomers keep Christ’s works unto the end, regardless of what that end may be. Overcoming may mean martyrdom. It is not glamorous, and it will require hardship and self-denial in pursuing the kingdom of God. Overcoming will result in the progressive victory of the church in history, but in any given generation, our progress may be obscured by the smoke of our warfare! Overcoming always requires that we walk by faith, not by sight.

The promise in verse 27 is taken from Psalm 2. It is a promise to partake in Christ’s victory over the nations. Jesus Christ rules the nations with a rod of iron. With this same rod, he “shepherds” his people. He protects us from our enemies and chastens us when we go astray. Those who overcome “live and reign with Christ.” The Lord promises that his faithful church will conquer and rule the world even as Christ conquered and now reigns at the right hand of God. We must believe this promise, put on God’s armor, and fight in the Lord’s strength.

The background for the “morning star” is Balaam’s fourth prophecy (Num. 24:16-17). A “star shall come out of Jacob,” a reference to the reign of the Messiah. The image is one of brilliance, power, and supremacy. This is consistent with John’s use of the symbol at 22:16 – Christ is the morning star! The star indicates that with his coming into the world, a new era of human history has begun. He will disperse his gospel light over all the nations, resulting in all submitting to him. That Christ gives this star to the overcoming believer is equivalent to “sharing in his reign.” It means that he is our reward! We possess and enjoy our Lord now, by faith, as we follow him and forsake the Jezebels that come and go.

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