Sermon: Thyatira: The Tolerant Church Revelation 2:18-29

Thyatira: The Tolerant Church

Revelation 2:18-29

 

Rev. 2:18-29 (ESV)

   “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.

   [19] ” ‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. [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. [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 as your works deserve. [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. [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. [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 city of Thyatira has no real claim to fame. It’s not a very significant city by human standards. It wasn’t a chief port city like Ephesus. The church wasn’t strategically located as was the Church at Pergamum. Compared to the other churches, this would be the small town church.

The church itself was made up of blue-collar workers. The city was famous for trade guilds in the fields of clothing, pottery, metalworking and baking. Here is where some of the context helps us understand the text’s meaning. Thyatira, at that time, was famous for trade guilds. These can be compared to today’s trade unions with one large difference. To be employed in this city, one had to be a member, you had to worship its god, attend the guild festivals, and eat food, part of which had been sacrificed to its idol. As a Christian, during that time, you found yourself in a dilemma. Which is most important to you, your job or your Lord?

Today is no different. Many people in churches today have sold their soul to their occupation. Whether it’s in the form of tolerating sinful practices of their employer, whether its working so many hours there’s no time to do what the Lord would have you do or whether you can’t be faithful even in attending worship on the Lord’s Day.

One lady we know of from reading the Book of Acts that came from this town was Lydia. She was a seller of purple cloth.

Acts 16:13-15 (ESV)

   And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. [14] One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. [15] And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

Lydia is a very good example of how to use your job and the money you make for Christ. Your occupation or the money you make is not the end. God supplies you with money so that you can have your needs met and then minister to others like Lydia did.

  1. Christ’s Commission (2:18)

   “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.

In light of the idol worship that had crept into the church, Jesus wants to remind the church and the leadership whom they’re dealing with. Jesus Christ is the One with the penetrating gaze. Jesus Christ knows everything. He is the One who knew Achin had taken what was forbidden (Judges 7). He is the one who knew the real selling price of the property that belonged to Ananias and Sapphira in (Acts 5). He is the All-Knowing-One who is in a position to smash anything in His path. Whose feet are like burnished bronze. Meaning, His judgment is pure and His ability to execute it is sure.

While our Lord’s words here echo Psalm 2 and Daniel 7; there is also another important echo here from the Old Testament. When we add the image of a furnace with molten metal to the image of our Lord’s eyes like blazing fire, there is a strong allusion to Daniel 3; when Daniel tells us of one who looked like a “son of the gods” walking in the blazing furnace with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo. Such a connection should remind the Thyatirans that even as Jesus preserved these three young Hebrew men in the midst of a Babylonian furnace, so too, he will preserve the Thyatirans in the midst of their troubles as well. 4 Jesus is a Savior who knows full well how to preserve his people when they suffer persecution at the hands of God’s enemies.[1]

  1. Christ’s Commendation (2:19)

   [19] ” ‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.

They were doing well in two significant areas. By today’s standards, they would be considered a success. When a church uses man’s pragmatic ways to measure, a church may look very successful. This is what is behind today’s market-driven seeker-friendly church strategy. Here’s how it works. Its modern marketing techniques used in the church. You give the people what they want and your product will be successful.

One key resource in this area says, this is what marketing the church is all about: providing our product (relationships) as a solution to people’s felt needs—George Barna

For much of the modern church, felt needs determine the road map. The idea is basic selling principles. Satisfy an existing desire rather than trying to persuade people to buy something they don’t want. So that’s why in today’s church growth strategy we see millions spent on demographic surveys, polls taken among members, community surveys etc, all trying to see what people want.

Well, let’s be clear, this isn’t the church that Jesus Christ is building for His glory. These are social clubs that man is building for his glory. In many churches today, the customer is sovereign not the Lord. The people determine the direction it goes not the Lord. Oh, and here’s the hard truth, in these settings, those making these marketing choices are mostly lost people.

They Were a Growing Church

They were a church that was in the process of growing in maturity. They were doing more, serving more and loving more than they did at first. In all this they were doing well.

  1. Christ’s Condemnation (2:20)

[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.

Tolerating that woman, Jezebel-

Jesus tells them that they have allowed the current culture to dictate their direction. Their big problem was that they were tolerant. That sounds weird doesn’t it? In a world where we are told that we must be tolerant of all. Every idea and belief is as valuable as any other. That’s not what our Lord says. He isn’t interested in opinions, marketing surveys and entertainment. He’s interested in truth and obedience to His Word and true love for one another.

Tolerating women teaching men…

The first specific act of tolerance Jesus condemned was the fact that the Church of Thyatira tolerated women teaching within the church setting. The first thing that we have to address in this description is that this person is a woman. Women are used mightily in the church. The church would not be what it is without the faithfulness, love, patience and kindness of the ladies that have been models of holiness and humility through the centuries. However, Scripture is very clear as to the roles of men and women in the church. Men are to be the leaders in their churches and in their homes. When we fail in this we forfeit God’s blessing and we tempt ladies to sin by stepping in and trying to take up the slack.

1 Tim. 2:8-14 (ESV)

   I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; [9] likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, [10] but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. [11] Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. [12] I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. [13] For Adam was formed first, then Eve; [14] and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

Jesus sharply admonished the church of Thyatira for allowing the woman Jezebel to remain a member of the church (Rev. 2:20). Jesus required the church to discipline this Jezebel and, if necessary, to cast her out. Three sins characterized this Jezebel.

-She called herself a prophetess As far as God is concerned, women can only wickedly pretend to be ministers but they cannot in fact be ministers (I Cor. 14:34I Tim. 2:11).

Tolerating Sexual Sin…

Second, this Jezebel lived in sexual sin She was not an example to others of what God desires which is sexual purity. One man and one woman married for life. This couple to be pleasing should serve the Lord with glad hearts.

– She teaches and seduces God’s to commit sexual sin   She taught that the church should tolerate the evil fornication of cohabitation.

Appearing in the January 20, 2012 edition of The Banner, the official magazine of the Christian Reformed Church is the article by Virginia Miller Lettinga entitled, “Parenting: Mom We’re Living Together.” Lettinga serves as a University Chaplain and calls herself a Christian minister. She has allowed her role and her worldview to become tainted with worldly views and opinions.

“Dear Mom,” wrote a university student, “I wanted to let you know that John and I are planning to move in together next semester. I know this will be disappointing to you, and want to reassure you that I value the principles you gave me, but we have been dating for a long time and we really love and respect each other. Sharing a single apartment would also save a lot of money. I still expect us to get married sometime, and I hope this makes sense to you. We’re not turning our backs on God, but we think this will be best for us.”

Jesus sharply admonished the church of Thyatira for allowing the woman Jezebel to remain a member of the church (Rev. 2:20). Jesus required the church to discipline this Jezebel and, if necessary, to cast her out. Three sins characterized this Jezebel. First, she “calleth herself a prophetess.” Lettinga, too, is guilty of this. A note included with her article in the Banner says she once claimed to share with her husband “the position of Christian Reformed campus minister.” Lettinga calls herself a minister, but God does not. As far as God is concerned, women can only wickedly pretend to be ministers but they cannot in fact be ministers (I Cor. 14:34I Tim. 2:11). Second, this Jezebel lived in fornication. There is no reason to believe that Lettinga lives in fornication. However, Lettinga is guilty of the third and distinguishing sin of the Jezebel mentioned in Revelation 2:20—she teaches and seduces God’s “servants to commit fornication.” Lettinga teaches that the church should tolerate the evil fornication of cohabitation. Lettinga is a modern-day Jezebel.[2]

Who was Jezebel and what did she do and why does Jesus use that example as a picture of this church?

She was the wife of King Ahab of Israel. She practiced witchcraft (2Kings 9), worshipped false gods (1Kings 16), supported and encouraged hundreds of false prophets (1Kings 18), and tried to kill the one true prophet of God, Elijah (1Kings 18). She succeeded to the point that Elijah thought he was the only true prophet left. In (1Kings 21) Jezebel proves to be a liar and a murderer. Being married to King Ahab she drug him down to the pit with her. She greatly hindered his commitment to God and was much to blame for his worship of false gods as well. All because king Ahab allowed his wife to rule and lead. Jesus is comparing that way of life to the sin that was going on in this church.

1 Kings 21:25-26 (ESV)

   (There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. [26] He acted very abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord cast out before the people of Israel.)

The problem wasn’t so much Jezebel; the problem was that her husband, the king of Israel tolerated her evil and didn’t set her straight. He tolerated her evil and found himself doing what should not be done.

In this case, the Jezebel of Thyatira fancied herself as a prophetess of sorts–claiming to reveal the secret things of God through means of predictive prophecy. Furthermore, this woman was actively encouraging the Thyatirans to participate in paganism, probably that associated with the local trade guilds. These pagan practices once again involved sexual immorality and eating meat sacrificed to idols, which is probably a reference to eating certain foods within the context of pagan feasts. As we have seen, if Satan cannot conquer Christ’s church through the sheer power of the Beast, he will attempt to do so through the introduction of destructive false teaching, depicted throughout Revelation as seduction by the harlot, whose end is depicted in Revelation 18 when Babylon the Great is destroyed.[3]

This is what Christ is saying: The church in Thyatira was guilty of allowing false teaching to go on at the expense of the Gospel. They tolerated the false teaching similar to that of Jezebel of the OT.

Rather than King Ahab rebuking her he allowed her to dominate and spread her pagan philosophies and sexual sin throughout the land. Similarly, the Church of Thyatira refused to rebuke and remove the false teaching that had crept into the church.

The mark of a true prophet is that the prophet’s words agree with God’s words. This lady’s words were the opposite.

Remember the letter that was circulated by Paul and the others after the Council at Jerusalem?

The Word of God says,

Acts 15:19-20 (ESV)

   Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, [20] but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.

Acts 15:28-29 (ESV)

   For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: [29] that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

This lady had somehow usurped authority in the church. Perhaps she was a leader’s wife who began to rule the church. I’ve heard of elder’s or deacon’s wives who have ruled their husbands to the point that their will was accomplished in the church. They manipulated their husbands to achieve their own directives. She was teaching that it was ok to disregard God’s Word. It was all right and we should be tolerant of all people and all ideas. She was endorsing sinful things and teaching other to accept them. God warns about the evil of calling sinful things good.

Isaiah 5:20 (ESV)

   Woe to those who call evil good

       and good evil,

   who put darkness for light

       and light for darkness,

   who put bitter for sweet

       and sweet for bitter!

This woman was interested in unity; however, this was unity around sin and unity in ungodliness. This is what Christ is dead set against. Unity at the expense of purity and truth is a false unity.

1 Cor. 6:18 (ESV)

   Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.

1 Cor. 10:14 (ESV)

   Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

Pergamum had compromised with the world and allowed the world’s system to creep into the church. This church was allowing false teaching that had been introduced from within the church. Pergamum needed to separate itself from the world and Thyatira need to cleans out the leaven from within.

  1. Christ’s Confrontation (2:21-23)

[21] I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. [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 as your works deserve.

Christ begins His rebuke. Who is guilty? Who’s in need of rebuke?

The sting goes to the

  1. Church leaders, to whom the letter is addressed. They were guilty of tolerating this false teaching. They were guilty of not addressing the problem of a self-proclaimed prophetess who was teaching the people sinful heresy.
  2. The Woman (Jezebel), who was not willing to repent. She was seeking to get the people to practice sexual immorality. Christ says, I will throw her onto a sickbed. Now there is a graphic picture here. She is involved in sexual immorality, which is another use for a bed. Christ says she won’t be lying in bed for her pleasure but that Christ will strike her with sickness. Her perverted bed will become a sick bed.
  3. Those Who Take Part in Her Sin, Christ promised similar punishment as well. Those who shared in her harlotry, unless they repent, would be struck with sickness and even death.

What’s the result of Christ’s judgment on those in the church who are continuing in this sin? 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.

The surrounding churches will get a wake-up call as well. The Lord’s judgment will affect the churches in a positive way.

Jesus is the One with the eyes of fire. His penetrating gaze sees all the sinful activities within His churches.

  1. Christ’s Challenge (2:24-28)

[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. [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. [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.’

It’s good to know that not everyone in this church was guilty of joining this lady and her sinful doctrine.

What does Jesus say to this last group? Stay pure. Hold fast to the truth. Apparently, the main sin in the church was that there was sinful false teaching being tolerated. Jesus says to those who were not a part of this teaching to hang on.

Jesus tells them that they will be rewarded.

So, really, there were two main groups in the church. Those who wanted their own way…their will and there were those who submitted to God’s will. There were those who lived a lifestyle of sin and there were those who lived a lifestyle of godliness.

Two rewards:

  1. [26] The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations,

The principle from this verse is that if we are faithful in the things of Christ while on earth, greater responsibility will be given in the life to come. As believers make right judgments now they are showing their trustworthiness to be given bigger things later.

  1. [28] And I will give him the morning star.

Rev. 22:16 (ESV)

   “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

Jesus is the star who promises to give Himself for all eternity to His faithful followers.

What can we learn from this letter to the Church in Thyatira?

1- Men we need to step up to the plate. It’s easy to get side tracked. We must get our priorities straight and move ahead. If we’re not careful we can allow ourselves to drift downstream with the current rather than standing firm. We can do what Adam did in the garden and what Ahab did in Israel and what this church was doing in Thyatira. Men take action and leadership in your families and in the church.

2- Ladies do not help. If there is a job in your family and in the church that is clearly a job for the men you are sinning by jumping in, even if your intentions are good. It’s better to leave it undone than for you to be guilty of usurping the authority that God has clearly given to men.

3- We must all be on guard against heresy and false teaching not only in our church but also in our homes. Be very careful when you turn on the TV. Don’t tolerate false teaching coming into your homes through so-called religious networks. You know the ones I’m referring to.

4- Remember the mercy and grace of Christ. Remember that He is in charge of the church. Grace Community Church isn’t ours. We don’t own it. We must never be in charge. Christ is in the process of sanctifying His beloved bride. He wants to return to a pure church. One dressed in white wedding clothes. These words from our Lord in Revelation are the last words spoken before He returns. They are meant to be read, applied, and cherished. Our Lord is preparing His church for eternity. So the things we are doing well we must continue, the things we are not doing so well we must heed the Words of Christ and repent and begin to do them better through His power and for His glory.

Lettinga’s call to place God at “the center” rings hollow. In her entire article she puts people before God. God’s Word has something to say about fornication, but Mrs. Lettinga says those passages are not to be used. She knows that God calls cohabitation an “abomination of fornication,” but she advises that it is best to avoid calling it that. Refusing to call cohabitation sin, Lettinga puts lipstick on it, describing it as “a kind of commitment toward faithfulness, sexual exclusivity, and responsible shared life.”
By her twisting of the teachings of the Bible to accommodate them to the philosophies of men, Lettinga reveals what she thinks of God and of His Word and truth. She appeals to John 8:11 as if Jesus shares her views that people living in adultery should not be told they are living in sin but should only be encouraged to see that marriage is a better option than cohabitation. But Jesus did not encourage the woman living in adultery to get married. He told her to “go and sin no more.” Jesus called for her to repent and leave her sin behind. Lettinga’s teaching is contrary to Jesus’ teaching. She teaches that cohabiters should not be judged as sinners who need to turn from their sins, but that they should be viewed positively as people who are seeking to live in a committed relationship but need to be encouraged that it would be better for them to marry.
Mrs. Lettinga promotes the false idea that God loves sinners “as they are” and therefore Christians should also love sinners “as they are.” If she meant by this only that God loves sinners, then perhaps we could accept the statement that God loves sinners “as they are.” But Mrs. Lettinga’s teaching is that God loves sinners “as they are” and does not demand change. Even if they do not change, God will still go on loving them, and Christians should love them too. But this is not the teaching of Scripture. God loves sinners with a powerful love that changes them. In His love God renews His people in the image of Jesus Christ. In His love God calls sinners to repent and leave sin behind.

 

We should have the attitude of the Psalmist who wrote:

Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV)

   Search me, O God, and know my heart!

         Try me and know my thoughts!

   [24] And see if there be any grievous way in me,

       and lead me in the way everlasting!

We must never be tolerant…never!

[1] http://thirdmill.org/newfiles/kim_riddlebarger/kim_riddlebarger.Rev.6.html

[2] http://standardbearer.rfpa.org/articles/modern-day-jezebel

[3] http://thirdmill.org/newfiles/kim_riddlebarger/kim_riddlebarger.Rev.6.htmlSermon:

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