Sunday, November 22, 2015

LETTER TO THE CHURCH AT THYATIRA - REVELATION 2:18-29




Letter to the Church at Thyatira
2:18-29

Thyatira was an insignificant city. Yet, Jesus’ letter to its church is the center mark of the 7 letters and the longest. From this we ascertain that Jesus said something here that is important to all of the 7 churches and to present day churches as well.

The city relied on manufacturing and trade. It had many trade guilds, each dedicated to a patron god or goddess. That created much economic pressure on the church to be true to Christ and not compromise with idols. One of its products was purple cloth. Lydia, that Paul met and led to Christ in Philippi, was from Thyatira and was a “seller of purple goods”. (Acts 16:14) She was saved and baptized along with her entire household. They may have helped start the church in Thyatira.

Jesus described himself to the church at Thyatira as the Son of God, the one who has eyes like flames of fire and whose feet are burnished bronze. The reference to “the Son of God” is a reference to Psalm 2:7-9. That passage says “I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you. Ask of me and I will make the nations your heritage. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel”. It is a picture of the Father giving rule and authority to the Son. Hebrews 1:5 also quotes passage in the context of Christ sitting down at the right hand of the Father in heaven becoming superior over all of creation, even the angels. It is also a fulfillment of God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-17 to establish David’s throne forever (Jesus being of the line of David). As king and exalted Son, Jesus has the authority to judge.

The eyes of flame also suggest that Jesus sees and judges. In verse 23, Jesus says he is he “who searches mind and heart”. Nothing is hidden from him. He sees past appearances to the heart. Remember when the Lord picked David to be king, he told Samuel “For the Lord sees not as a man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

The feet like bronze might be a reference to the work of the bronze smith’s in the city, who likely made idols of bronze, and suggests Jesus is the one with the real strength of bronze. (2:18)

Jesus commended the church for its love, faith, service, patient endurance, and increasing works. (2:19) Ephesus may have lost its first love, but not Thyatira. It has grown in love and good works. It is a good commendation. A church should be known for all of these and this church was.

Despite these good things, this church has a significant problem. Jesus mentioned one big one. It was a lack of discernment, or maybe a lack of will to deal with a problem. The church tolerated a woman, a member of the church, who called herself a prophetess and taught that sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols was acceptable. (2:20) This refers to having sex with women priestesses in the pagan temple, in effect joining oneself to the god. It also refers to dinners and parties in which mean was offered as a sacrifice, then eaten in a meal dedicated to the pagan god.

Jesus calls the woman Jezebel. This is a reference to an Israelite queen in the Old Testament. She was the queen of Ahab, a very bad king. He “did evil in the sign of the Lord more than all who were before him”. (1 Kings 16:30) She was from Sidon, not a good Hebrew girl. She worshipped Baal. She might even have been a priestess. She turned Israel to the worship of Baal until Elijah came on the scene. As with many pagan religions, sexual intercourse with women dedicated to the worship of Baal was part of his worship and also of fertility rites for crops.

This indicates that Jesus was saying this woman encouraged Christians to participate in similar pagan rites in Thyratira. The city was known to have many trade guilds. Most of the guilds had a specific pagan god they worshipped and sought the favor of. It would be hard to practice your trade and not participate in these pagan rituals. This prophetess was likely teaching it was acceptable to do so. This would be a great temptation for those who were struggling economically. She probably led many astray.

This woman called herself a prophetess (20). She claimed to speak for God. She led people into what she called the “deep things”. This is so common in our day. People claim to have a special knowledge from God, to be a new prophet or prophetess. There are multiple books claiming to reveal secrets and hidden meanings in the Bible. Jesus calls these the “deep things of Satan”. (24) People are drawn to secrets and mysteries, to hidden knowledge and power. But the Bible was given to us as God's word. It is not a secret, as this book of Revelation is not, but God revealing himself to us through the writing of men he chose for the task. Peter wrote “For we did follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16)

The heart of Jezebel’s message is that Christians do not have to suffer economically or socially for their faith, that it is acceptable to Jesus to partake in idol worship and sexual immorality to get along with the culture. It is a secret, because that message is not in the Bible.

Participation in pagan rituals, even for business purposes, is idol worship to Christ. The most common image in the Bible for idol worship is adultery. In the New Testament, Christ is portrayed as the groom and the church as the bride. If the bride devotes herself to anyone other than her groom, she commits adultery. so Jesus said those who follow Jezebel commit adultery with her.

Jesus said he had given her time to repent, but she had not. (2:21) Even in her great apostasy, Jesus gave her time to repent. But, since she refused, he imposed a punishment of sickness for her and her followers. When Jesus says “strike her children head”, he is not referring to her literal children, just as she is not literally Jezebel, but to her followers. He would submit them to tribulation unless they repented. (22) Christ takes our devotion and worship seriously, just as the Father did in the Old Testament times.

This again shows us that Jesus, although full of grace, will not ultimately tolerate false teaching. This is a grave warning for all those who twist the scripture or say it is no longer valid.

But to those who did not follow this prophetess, Jesus was kind and compassionate. He said “I do not lay on you any other burden”. (24) He only charged them to continue to hold fast to their faith. And if they did this, he promised them authority and ruling with him. He has already received authority to rule and he will share it with those who conquer. (27)

Jesus quoted Psalm 2:8-9 to show he had the authority to reign: “Ask of me and I will make the nations your heritage and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

2 Timothy 2:11 says “If we have died with him, we will also live with him.; If we endure, we will also reign with him”. This will be the fulfillment, in Christ, of God’s command to Adam to have dominion, to rule, over the earth. (Genesis 1:26) Revelation shows us this in the new earth in chapter 22. It says “they will need no light of lamp or sun for the Lord God will be their light and they will reign forever and ever”. (Revelation 22:4)

The last thing Jesus promised the faithful was the “morning star”. (28) I think this is a reference to Jesus himself. Balaam prophesied to the King of Moab concerning what would happen to his people in the latter days. He said” I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near ; a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall arise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.” (Numbers 24:17) Jesus declared it himself at the end of the book of Revelation, saying “I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (Revelation 22:16)
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