“THE CHURCH AT THYATIRA”
The church is the Bride of Christ. Today the church is engaged to Jesus. The actual wedding ceremony is still future, but speaking metaphorically, the church already wears His engagement ring on her finger so all can see that we belong to Him. Soon Jesus will take His bride, the church, to our eternal home in heaven. It’s a home He has been pre-paring for the last two thousand years. Do you remember what He said about that?
1 “Let not your heart be troubled; (you) believe in God, believe also in Me.
2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.
3 “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; (so) that where I am, there you may be also.”
From the moment we are saved until the moment Jesus comes for us we are being made ready for that day when we will stand in His glorious presence. Our sanctification, that miraculous process by which God is making us holy, is ongoing. By it we are being made like Christ, spotless, pure, and fit to spend eternity with Him.
In Paul’s letter to the Christians at Ephesus he speaks of the husband’s, the bridegroom’s role, in caring for and nurturing his wife, and he compares it to Christ’s care and nurture of His church, His bride.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her;
26 (so) that He might sanctify her (make her holy), having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
27 (in order) that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she (the church) should be holy and blameless.
Clearly, it is Jesus’ intent to take for Himself a faithful and chaste bride. Paul says so in his second letter to the Church at Corinth.
2 Corinthians 11:2-3
2 For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.
3 But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.
Does the bride have a responsibility in all of this? Most definitely! We are called to be faithful to Jesus and His Word, in the very same way that an engaged woman remains faithful to her husband to be. She is not yet married – she is merely engaged – but she understands that she already belongs to the one to whom she has been promised.
The final result for the faithful bride will be seen in her eternal union with Christ in the New Jerusalem. John describes his vision of the dwelling place of Christ’s bride in a rich and beautiful metaphor.
2 And I saw the holy city, (the) new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.
But today, in the Church at Thyatira, we will see a church that, while once pure and chaste, has begun to foul herself by unfaithfulness to her intended bridegroom. That un-faithfulness will manifest itself in her desire to “marry-up” with the world. Whereas the last church, the Church at Pergamum, was beginning to tolerate the things of this world, the Church at Thyatira was beginning to embrace them.
In this morning’s text, just as He does with the other six churches, Jesus will name the city, describe a certain aspect of His person and character, commend the church for what it is doing right, indict the church for what it is not doing right, exhort and warn the church, and conclude with an eternal promise for all who will hear and obey His Word.
*Revelation 2:18-29 (Please stand with me in honor of reading God’s Word.)
18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this:
19 ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first.
20 ‘But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray, so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.
21 ‘And I gave her time to repent; and she does not want to repent of her immorality.
22 ‘Behold, I will cast her upon a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds.
23 ‘And I will kill her children with pestilence; and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.
24 ‘But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them – I place no other burden on you.
25 ‘Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.
26 ‘And he who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations;
27 and He shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also 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.’”
I believe that one of the best arguments put forth to support the view that these seven churches are representative and prophetic of church history is that their very names speak of both their place and their primary attribute during the church age.
Remember that Ephesus, the “good” church, means desirable or desirous. The apostolic church was desirable. Smyrna, the suffering church, means myrrh, a substance used to anoint dead bodies. Millions of faithful believers suffered and died during the time peri-od represented by Smyrna. Pergamum means twice married. They tried to be bigamists, married to Christ and to the world simultaneously. And so, for the first time since its birth at Pentecost the church began to unite itself to the world and the world’s systems.
The modern market-driven approach to church growth is further proof that this line of thinking still permeates the Church of Jesus Christ. A broad definition of the market-driven approach would be the idea that if something works in the secular realm, it will work in the Christian realm as well. But such thinking flies in the face of biblical truth. (“When the church becomes like the world, the world no longer needs the church.”)
And that brings us to the name of the fourth church – Thyatira. The name is derived from the words for “continual” and “sacrifice.” Does the Church at Thyatira represent the beginnings of Roman Catholicism? I believe it does. Is not the Mass itself a “continual sacrifice?” This is the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation where Rome says the wine in the cup actually becomes the very blood of Christ. In other words, Jesus supposedly sheds His blood at every Mass, ad infinitum. He never stops bleeding! This so-called truth was established in 1215 A.D. and reaffirmed by Pope Paul VI in September, 1965.
But the NT repeatedly teaches that Christ made one sacrifice. He shed His blood once. His sacrifice was perfect and would never be repeated. In fact it never could be repeated.
Hebrews 7:27 (speaking of how the priesthood of Jesus differs from the priesthood of men)
27 (He) does not need daily…to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.
The writer of Hebrews says it again and again. “(Jesus) entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption (9:12).” “…we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all; He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time; for by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified (10:10, 12, 14).”
So the Roman Catholic Mass itself has evolved from, and in fact is, a false teaching. It’s an example of the apostasy that has come into the church. It’s just this kind of thing that began in Thyatira. Thyatira was a small city located about forty miles southeast of Perga-mum. It was established during the reign of Alexander the Great and became famous for its purple dye. Acts 16 tells us that Lydia, Paul’s first convert in Asia, was a seller of purple and came from this city. Today there is virtually nothing left of Thyatira. Its ruins hardly cover one square block. But in Thyatira we have a church that is tolerating apos-tasy (false teaching) and becoming corrupt.
It’s important to distinguish between error and apostasy. Error stems from lack of know-ledge, or mistaken knowledge. At some time or another we’ve all been in error about one or more of God’s revealed truths. That’s not apostasy! Apostasy stems not from simple error, but from the deliberate rejection of God’s revealed truths. We do not all do that!
How does Jesus describe Himself to a church that is beginning to embrace false teaching?
18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this…”
In Revelation 1:13 Jesus refers to Himself as the “Son of Man,” in order to emphasize His humanity and His humility. But now, in speaking to a church that is embracing error, He identifies Himself as the “Son of God,” in order emphasize His deity and His glory. When Jesus says His eyes are “like a flame of fire,” the symbolism is readily apparent. This is brilliant, penetrating, and blinding light. It drives out all darkness and depicts absolute holiness. The point is that Jesus sees everything in His church; nothing escapes His gaze! Does that get your attention? It certainly gets mine.
When Jesus says His feet are “like burnished bronze” He is speaking of the judgment to come. The basis for this is found back in Exodus 38 where the bronze altar was the place where sin was judged. Revelation later confirms the fact that Jesus will judge sin at the Second Coming.
15b …and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.
(Battle Hymn of the Republic)
There are actually four commendations.
19 “I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance,
and that your deeds of late are greater than at first.”
There is no doubt that the Christians in Thyatira were doing good things. “Love and faith and service and perseverance” are all good things, aren’t they? Make no mistake. There is real commendation here. Jesus is saying that the Christians in the Church at Thyatira are demonstrating their faith by their good works, by their love, by their willingness to serve, and by their endurance. More than that, He says they’re actually getting better at those things as time goes by – “…your deeds of late are greater than at first.”
WOW! What a wonderful church! Jesus commends the Church at Thyatira for its love. I mean, He didn’t commend Ephesus, Pergamum, or even the suffering church, Smyrna, for their good works, their charity, or their love. I mean, if I’m in a church like Thyatira I’m starting to feel pretty good about myself. So can’t we just skip right to Jesus’ pro-mise in v. 28, congratulate ourselves, and go have lunch? Not quite yet.
But before we sprain our elbows patting ourselves on the back we need to answer a ques-tion. For the sake of illustration and application, let’s assume that we are like Thyatira. We know we do good things, we know we love people, we know we work hard at “Christian service,” and we know we persevere – and we’re proud of it.
So here is the question:
“Isn’t that exactly what Catholic and most mainline Protestant churches do today? Are they not quick to tell you how much they do and how much they love?” And since all of that is true, what’s the problem? With all Jesus’ commendations, how is it that we are about to see that this church, the Church at Thyatira, is by far the worst one yet?”
Tim LaHaye answers that question for us. “Their good works simply cannot stand up to bad doctrine and that which is soul-damning heresy.” What is this soul-damning heresy?
20 “But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants
astray, so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.
21 “And I gave her time to repent; and she does not want to repent of her immorality.”
There was an evil woman in the Church at Thyatira. She was a false teacher. Whether or not this woman’s name was actually Jezebel isn’t relevant.
What is relevant is that this woman was doing the work of the Jezebel of the OT. That Jezebel worshipped the pagan god Baal. She built shrines to him and brought the pro-phets of Baal into Israel. In 1 Kings 18 she had God’s prophets murdered. After Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal, Jezebel tried to have him killed, but he escaped her clutches. In 1 Kings 21 Elijah prophesied her death, and in 2 Kings 9 God ultimately dealt with her.
Just as the OT Jezebel led Israel astray, false teachers lead the church astray. This is why LBC is so committed to preaching and teaching sound doctrine. We’re convinced that the one thing that will keep us from being led astray is sound doctrine. That’s because it is only sound doctrine that imparts knowledge, true wisdom, and spiritual discernment. And when you have knowledge, true wisdom, and spiritual discernment you will recog-nize and know the false and the counterfeit! Listen to Jesus as He speaks of the last days.
21 “And then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ’; or ‘Behold, He is there’; do not believe him;
22 for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order, if possible, to lead the elect astray.
23 “But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.”
The elect (true believers) will not be deceived to the point of losing their salvation because it is not possible. But the deceivers will be judged! Jezebel was a deceiver and a fore-runner of the apostate church. In the Church at Thyatira there was a “Jezebel,” and the church was beginning to follow her and to mix Christian worship with pagan practices.
Today there are countless of examples of this. Here’s one. When African pagan rituals and Satanic religion came to the island of Haiti, the Roman Catholic Church was already there and established. What did the church do? It tolerated and finally accommodated those rituals and religions. What was the result? Voodoo! Voodoo uses (among other things) a wide variety Roman Catholic symbols and icons in its demonic ceremonies.
Here’s another example of Catholicism’s acceptance and willingness to accommodate the world’s pagan religions. (Milwaukee Journal – 2-9-05) (back to Revelation 2:21)
In v. 21 Jesus says, “…and I gave her time (but) she does not want to repent.” If the Church at Thyatira does indeed represent the Roman Catholic Church, then this verse is an indication of God’s great patience. God has given Rome over 1600 years to repent. But she does not repent. Rather, she brags that she never changes, saying, “SEMPER IDEM – ALWAYS THE SAME.” But they do change. In the last two hundred years the veneration of the Virgin Mary has only increased. Here’s an example: There is a mosaic on Saint Stanislaus Church in Milwaukee. It says, “Ascend mortals to this mountain top for here through Mary all shall obtain salvation.” But of Jesus the Bible says…
“…there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).” Yet false teaching takes on respectability, power, and authority when beloved “holy men” practice and promote it. Here’s an interesting fact about one of those much beloved “holy men.”
I quote from the Los Angeles Times (9-1-02). “Pope John Paul II has ‘dedicated himself and his Pontificate to Our Lady.’ He bears the letter “M” for Mary on his coat of arms. And his personal motto, which is embroidered on the side of his robes in Latin is the fol-lowing: ‘TOTUS TUUS SUM MARIA,’ which translates to: ‘Mary, I’m all yours.’”
How does this kind of false teaching work its way into the church? The answer is a little bit at a time. It sneaks in here and there. People say, “Well, I know that’s not what the Bible says, but c’mon, it’s not that big a deal. It doesn’t really matter. It’s just a little thing. Let’s not be so picky. Let’s not be so narrow. Let’s not cause trouble. And after all, we still love Jesus, don’t we?”
Listen, Roman Catholicism has been doing that for about 1600 years now. Most mainline Protestant denominations have been doing it for 400 years. They have all, to varying degrees, tolerated, accommodated, or embraced false teaching. The inevitable result is churches that are filled with people who call themselves Christians, but are not.
22 “Behold, I will cast her upon a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds.
23 “And I will kill her children with pestilence; and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.”
In v. 22 Jesus says those “in bed” with Jezebel, or with any false teacher, are commit-ting adultery with her. They will be judged! It’s worth noting that the word “sickness” isn’t in the Greek text. Therefore it makes sense to assume that Jezebel’s bed of sickness is in reality her bed of death. And all who join in her spiritual adultery and refuse to repent will join her in eternal death in the eternal hell that Jesus calls “the lake of fire.”
In v. 23 Jesus warns Christians who commit the sin of believing the lies of any false teacher will be severely chastened. They won’t lose their salvation, but they surely will be punished – possibly even losing their lives, as Ananias and Sapphira did in Acts 5.
All of this stresses our Lord’s command to jealously guard the spiritual purity of the church, Jesus’ own bride. There is a great lesson for us here. You, all of you, have the responsibility of seeing to it that you know and believe sound doctrine. False teaching in the church usually begins innocently enough, but left unchallenged and unchecked it can, and finally will, destroy the best of churches. We are called to be on guard.
24 “But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them – I place no other burden on you.
25 “Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.”
“…the rest” in the Church at Thyatira are the true Christians, the ones who refused to succumb to the lies of apostate teachers like the Nicolaitans. The Nicolaitans promoted things like adultery within the church, claiming that since it’s only done with the body, and since the body and the spirit are separate, the spirit can remain pure, undefiled, and unaffected by the sin of adultery.
Such are “the deep things of Satan.” So Jesus exhorts us to “hold fast” to the truth we already have…and wait – a clear reference to His Second Coming.
26 “And he who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations;
27 and He shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father;
28 and I will give him the morning star.”
In vv. 26-27 Jesus gives us a snapshot of the church’s role during the Millennial King-dom. The church, Jesus’ bride, will judge with Him, reign with Him, and rule with Him.
And in v. 28 “the morning star” is a direct reference to Jesus (Revelation 22:16). Think of it! As a husband gives himself to his bride, so too does Jesus give Himself to His church.
29 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
The children of Jezebel, the children of the apostates, the children of false teaching do not hear. The question for us this morning is: “Do we?” (Pray)
In a moment we’ll go into our discussion and prayer groups. I’m going to ask the discus-sion leaders (Andrew, Jim, Johann, Kelly) to change your focus a little today. Certainly discuss the dangers of false teaching and how we can spot it, but would you also spend some time in prayer for our church?
We need to be vigilant and aware of the danger and temptation to tolerate subtle changes into our midst that could ultimately turn us away from truth. So please pray for Jeff and Tim and me as your leaders, but don’t limit it to us. Pray for yourselves as well.