Revelation 2:18-29

Thyatira is the site of present-day Akhisar in Turkey, a little further inland from Izmir (Smyrna) and Bergama (Pergamum). It was founded by Seleucus I (311 – 280 BC) as a military outpost but, in John's time, was noted as a commercial centre. In fact, commerce was extremely important to those who lived there and it operated something of a "closed shop". In order to do business, it was necessary to belong to one of its many trade guilds. These guilds would regularly hold parties at which sacrifices were made to various gods. This made it almost impossible for Christians to earn a living in the town without running the risk of compromising their faith in some way. Thyatira was also the centre for trade in purple cloth and was where a business-woman called Lydia had come from originally. She later met the apostle, Paul, in Philippi, where she had made her home. On hearing his preaching about Jesus, she and her whole household became believers and were baptised and it is believed that Lydia started the first church in her area. (Acts 16:13-15)

Our all-seeing God

There is no mistaking the one who sent this message to the church in Thyatira: Jesus Himself. He is the head of the church, which is His body. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we grow up, healthy and robust in love, in God. (Ephesians 4:14-16) Jesus is speaking to His church and to nobody else. The words that He says are powerful, forceful and exceptional. It was He who created the entire universe, who is jealous for His church and who wants every member of that church to achieve the purpose for which he or she was created. His penetrating eyes reflect the vivid insight and knowledge He has of every believer. He knows us thoroughly. He knows what we are doing. He understands what we are thinking. Nothing is hidden from Him and we cannot deceive Him!

The description here of His appearance, including His feet like burnished bronze, remind us of the vision given to the wise man and prophet Daniel whilst he was exiled in Persia: "His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze and his voice like the sound of a multitude". (Daniel 10:6) The description of His feet as burnished bronze shows us the immovable power of the risen Christ.

Our all-knowing God

Nothing is hidden from the one who had given life to those believers in the church at Thyatira. He reminds them of this and it an encouragement to us today that Jesus longs to know each and every one of us intimately. (Psalm 139:1-6; Psalm 139:23-24) Just as He knew the deeds of the believers at Thyatira, so He knows ours today. Just as He knew of their love and faith, so He knows of our love for Him - how much (or how little) that is and how we exercise our faith in Him. (Hebrews 11:6)

He also knows of our service and perseverance, just as He knew theirs at the end of the first century. He has called us, too, to serve Him but we are not automatons; we have choice and can choose to do what He asks or not. If we do choose to serve Him, then we can expect opposition from Satan, our Enemy. The more we serve Jesus, the more Satan will oppose us because, the more effective our service becomes, the more Satan’s kingdom is threatened. Men and women, who have been deceived for their entire lives and bound in spiritual darkness, will be set free from the prisons in which they find themselves, whether physical, mental or spiritual. Satan will oppose us at every turn.

However, there is a higher law at work here! The greater the opposition, the more we need to persevere to win through. The more we persevere, the stronger and more mature we become and the greater danger we present to Satan! (James 1:2-4 - The Message version) Jesus knew that the believers in Thyatira were operating in love, faith, service and perseverance. He also knew that they had grown stronger since the time they first turned to Him. In fact, the church there was doing well in many ways, growing in strength and authority, but Jesus (who knew them all intimately) also knew their problems. He wanted them to be stronger - to be victorious - so he pointed out their weaknesses to them.

The so-called prophet: Jezebel

One of the main problems concerned a woman in the church called "Jezebel". We don't know if that was actually her name or simply what Jesus called her. The original "Jezebel" had been a foreign princess, married to Ahab, king of Israel. She had worshipped the Baal, the pagan fertility gods who were central to Canaanite religion. She had engineered the death of many of God's prophets, but Elijah escaped, eventually to challenge and defeat the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. (I Kings 18) The woman at Thyatira, "who calls herself a prophet", claimed to be teaching with divine inspiration, but was advocating a dangerous compromise with the prevailing, non-Christian culture. Meetings of the trade guilds would have included a common meal, dedicated to a pagan god and frequently ending in drunkenness and debauchery.

Sadly, so-called "prophets" like this have risen up in churches throughout the ages and still come to prominence today. It is primarily the responsibility of church leaders to know the Scriptures and to resist false teaching, wherever it appears but, unfortunately, this safeguard is not always effective. This is why all believers also have a responsibility to study and to learn the word of God for themselves. It is good to be taught the word of God - and we can thank Him for every faithful Bible teacher still doing this today - but it can never replace private reading and study.

Knowing the truth

God cares for us so much that He left us a legally binding document – the Bible - to govern our relationship with Him. This Bible - the word of God - is legally binding on God Himself. It contains the terms of the covenant under which we enter the kingdom of heaven and inherit eternal life. It describes the way in which we are redeemed from the curse of religious laws, regulations and rituals, through which so many believe that they can earn a place in God's kingdom. The truth is that we can do nothing, nor pay any amount of money to earn a place in His kingdom. The debt can only be met by one person: the Lord, Jesus Christ who has paid it in full through His death. This is grace and it is the only means of entry to the kingdom of heaven.

The Bible also describes the problems which we will face and gives us the answers to them by teaching us the way to triumph over them and the method of overcoming Satan. Using the Bible’s instruction, we will be able to overcome Satan every time. This is not a game of chance where sometimes we will win, and sometimes we won’t; this is a covenant of certainty. There is no room for doubt, although one of Satan’s ploys is to try to make us do exactly that: to doubt God’s word. There can only be one outcome if we use the word of God properly and that is complete, not partial, success. The choice as to whether or not to follow the terms of the covenant – the New Testament – is all ours, just as it was the choice for the church at Thyatira.

Jezebel’s teaching was not for people outside the church; it was for members of the church. We need to be cautious of those among us in the church whom we do not know and whose teaching we do not know. If we choose to listen to them, let's remember to assess their teaching carefully and measure it against the only true measure: – the word of God. If part of their teaching is wrong, we need to step away from all of it. We should not change our views to accommodate theirs. Error can only exist where truth is perverted. Let's not forget that so-called teachers like Jezebel may resemble good, sound Bible teachers; that is why they are able to deceive others. They appear to be spiritual and always claim to have insight into the word of God, but they themselves have been deceived! "Jezebels" will always attempt to single out the weakest members of the church. How can they do this? Simply by observing those who do not really know what their Bible contains, then quietly getting alongside them, to plant ideas and thoughts in their minds. The battlefield is always in the mind. Once an idea takes root, it can be nurtured and fed. Before long, the idea becomes so strongly established that it is difficult to remove and others in the church start to be swayed and influenced by it.

Then and now

At Thyatira, Jezebel was able to mislead believers into thinking that sexual immorality amongst themselves (and with those who were not Christians) was perfectly acceptable and that eating food sacrificed to idols presented no problem. The error was easy to sow into the lives of new and immature Christians because education and communication in those days was expensive and limited. It took some time for the apostles and early church leaders to gather together the record of teaching by Jesus and then the apostles in the writings that now form the "New Testament" section of our Bible. This teaching then had to be circulated amongst newly established churches and, until that was done, everyone depended heavily on the word of God given in the Hebrew scriptures (what we call the "Old Testament") and the Holy Spirit of God.

In Acts, chapter fifteen, we can read about the first "Council of Jerusalem", where the matter of how to apply the law of Moses to non-Jewish (Gentile) believers who had become Christians was discussed at length. Some Jewish believers were demanding that Gentile believers should not only be "born again", but must also observe the Jewish laws and practices. (These included the need for males to be circumcised and for everyone to keep the Mosaic law with all of its six hundred or more conditions. Eventually a decision was made and a letter was drawn up by the apostles, of whom James (Jesus’ brother) was the chief. It stated this:

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: you are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.” (Acts 15:22-29)

This guidance would have been extremely helpful at a time when people from all sorts of different backgrounds were becoming believers. Nowadays, we have less excuse when it comes to deciding how we should behave because education is far more widespread and the internet is able to bring the word of God to many more people, all around the world and, increasingly, in their own language. However, certainly in the West, the number of competing religions and ideologies is growing all the time and the pressure on things such as sexual morality is as great now as it was then. If we do not study our Bibles, but rely on what we hear people say without asking the Holy Spirit for guidance and direction, then we can easily fall into error ourselves.

Sin will have consequences

Jesus did not simply allow Jezebel free reign in the church. He had made it abundantly clear that what she was teaching was wrong and was leading believers astray. He had also given her time to repent. The problem was that she "she was unwilling". We don't know why she refused to repent but, when a person goes out to deliberately mislead those in a church, God does not stand idly by. He gives a warning then, as in this case, He deals with the person concerned and any followers. Reading this passage in "The Message" version makes it acutely clear in contemporary (American) language:

"But why do you let that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet mislead my dear servants into cross-denying, self-indulging religion? I gave her a chance to change her ways, but she has no intention of giving up a career in the god-business. I'm about to lay her low, along with her partners, as they play their sex-and-religion games. The bastard offspring of their idol-whoring I'll kill. Then every church will know that appearances don't impress me. I x-ray every motive and make sure you get what's coming to you.” (Revelation 2:20-23 - The Message version)

God is immensely patient with human weakness and sin. Whilst He hates the sin, He loves the sinner and goes to enormous lengths to turn us back to Himself and the joy of goodness and purity that He longs for us to experience. But, when it comes to those who are leading others astray and actively teaching what is false, He is is not prepared to allow such things to go unchecked for long. We have only to read some of the examples in the Old Testament to know that God takes very seriously the responsibility of those who are "His chosen people, a royal priesthood and holy nation". (1 Samuel 2:22-25); 1 Peter 2:9-10)

So, Jesus warns that he will bring physical suffering to Jezebel and all those that follow her, to the extent of striking her children dead. We must believe that, when God says that He is going to do something, He will. Churches in many of our western nations today have grown into lazy, spoon-fed children who are open to almost any wind of false doctrine that blows. Believers rarely study the word of God for themselves, relying on the voices that say what they want to hear from the front! God regards the immorality that has infiltrated the church today very seriously and He will not continue to tolerate this for ever. He gives us plenty of time to repent but...

"Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion." (Hebrews 3:12-19)

The problem of sexual sin

If we are not tempted by sexual sin and it is not a problem to us, we should not stand in judgement on others who do find that difficult. Rather we should make it a priority to show love, compassion and forgiveness, remembering how much we ourselves have been forgiven. All sin has been placed under the same blood of Jesus. If we each recognised the amazing love of the Father, would we really choose to commit sexual sin, knowing that we are really hurting the one who loves us so passionately and who would never refuse to allow us to do anything that would do us good?

Do we really believe that extra sexual activity will benefit us in the long term? The use of pornography today is an ever-increasing problem amongst Christians. Research indicates that the number of Christians looking at pornography is very high. It is a "secret activity", especially among the young who are being hooked, with no knowledge of how to break Satan’s control over their thought life. Read again what Jesus says: “...those who commit adultery with her [her paramours] I will bring down to pressing distress and severe affliction, unless they turn away their minds from conduct [such as] hers and repent of their doings.” (Revelation 2:22 - Amplified version)

Jesus is saying here to not only repent of the sin, but to "turn away our minds" from sexual sin. This is very hard because the images can remain in our memory long after the activity has ceased. We need a divine touch of healing after genuine repentance and a humble recognition that we desperately need the grace of God to release us from this bondage and give us His freedom - the freedom found only in Jesus Christ. (Psalm 51:1-17; Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 18:31-32; 1 John 1:9)

This is a predicament that churches today find themselves in all the time as false teachers whisper the soft, sweet lullaby of success into the ears of those who wish to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season and to pay for them later. Do not be misled. God will not be mocked and will repay each according to their deeds. Only when they are placed under the blood at repentance, do we not have to receive all we deserve.

Some words of encouragement

But not all those in the church at Thyatira followed the deceptive and sin-loving teachings of "Jezebel". They took God at His word and were prepared to stand firm for their faith. To this group of people, Jesus says this: "The rest of you Thyatirans, who have nothing to do with this outrage; who scorn this playing around with the devil that gets paraded as profundity, be assured I'll not make life any harder for you than it already is. Hold on to the truth you have until I get there.” (Revelation 2:24-25 - The Message version)

In other words, "Stay strong, remain in my love; listen to me, read my word and do not listen to the lies of the enemy!" Why mess around with the devil when we have the truth in Bible? One day Jesus will return, or perhaps some of us will die and meet Him before He returns. How shall we face Him? Shall we be able to say that we held on to the truth, that we trusted Him and persevered; that our faith is stronger now than it was at first and that we love Him above all others? To those who are victorious in this fight against the powers of darkness, Jesus has this to say:

"Here's the reward I have for every conqueror, everyone who keeps at it, refusing to give up: You'll rule the nations, your Shepherd-King rule [will be] as firm as an iron staff, their resistance fragile as clay pots. This was the gift my Father gave me; I pass it along to you — and with it, the Morning Star!” (Revelation 2:26-28 The Message version)

So the question that we must answer individually is this: "Am I an 'overcomer?’" If we can each say that we are, then the promise is that: "We shall rule the nations firmly and with the word and authority of God." Between now and when Jesus returns, we shall have opportunities to stand firm for what we believe - or, more precisely, what Jesus stands for. Do we know what that is? Do we know how to teach others and to encourage them in studying the word? In the western world, we do not understand what it is like not to be able to take a Bible from the shelf and read it when we want to. In many third world and Arab countries, owning a Bible is slightly more problematic. Many pastors and teachers only own a New Testament and in some countries, it is considered a privilege to own a single page from a Bible.

We must consider how God wants us to be involved in spreading His word, in written form to those who can read and in audible form to those who cannot. In this way, all may be able to benefit from understanding the contents of the "New Covenant", which can also be described as the "last will and testament" of the Lord, Jesus Christ. We can all be informed in order to pray. Some may be called to go, so we can support them. We and all other believers, past, present and future, are (or will be) beneficiaries under that will!

Suggested websites for further research

These sites offer further encouragement for present-day "overcomers" from all over the world who continue to love Jesus, even after unbearable treatment and through very tough circumstances.

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