Email From Jesus – 4. Sleeping With the Enemy
Revelation 2: 18 - 29 It was not exactly a holiday spot. You wouldn’t go there on a honeymoon. If you went there at all, you were usually just passing through. Of the 7 cities of Revelation, Thyatira was the least important. (MAP) The city was known for its high-quality bronze used to produce weapons that when properly polished gleamed like gold. It was also known for producing cloth dyed red or purple. (PICTURES) Acts 16 tells of Lydia, the dealer in purple cloth from Thyatira, who met Paul when he came to Philippi. Economically the town was dominated by various trade guilds that mixed their trade with paganism and immorality. If you were a carpenter, a potter or a metalworker, you joined a trade guild that met at the local pagan temple. Along with the regular trade guild business came the associated idol worship, drunkenness and rampant sexual perversion. It all came as one big package. You couldn’t say, “I want to be in the guild, but I’ll skip the idol worship part.” That wouldn’t go in Thyatira. It is ironic that the church in the least important city should receive the longest message from our Lord. Small churches matter to Jesus. His eyes see the true faith of the church on a remote island, and he sees the faithful saints huddled behind locked doors in North Korea. Let no one say, “My church is too small for Jesus.” In his eyes there are no small churches. Jesus does not favours the megachurches of the world. Though big churches get a lot of publicity, by and large the work of Jesus goes forward in churches of less than 100 people. This is true in our country and it is true around the world. Do not despise the day of small things. Our Lord loves small churches just as much as he loves big churches. 1. Jesus Knows the Truth About the Church v. 18 This is the only time in Revelation where Christ is called the “Son of God.” In our society this is the most divisive claim we can make. We believe that from all eternity God has existed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To say Jesus is the “Son of God” means that when we worship him, we are truly worshiping God himself. So this is God speaking to the church at Thyatira. His eyes blazing like fire are the eyes that see all things and overlook nothing. The feet like burnished bronze come in judgment over those who oppose him. We’d better pay attention to what Jesus says. It’s like when a pilot tells the passengers, “Buckle up. We’re about to hit some turbulence.” 2. Jesus Praises the Good in the Church v. 19 First the good news. In many ways Thyatira is the best of the 4 churches we have studied so far. This church has the good works of Ephesus along with the love Ephesus lacked. It has the perseverance of Smyrna and the good theology of the majority of the church at Pergamum. Jesus even says, “You are doing more than you did at first.” We shouldn’t think, “It must have been an extremely busy church.” He means that the congregation was growing in faith, growing in love, growing in hope and that growth was seen in the way they worshiped and served and reached out to others. To Ephesus, Jesus said, “You were strong but now are getting weaker.” To Thyatira, he says, “You are good and getting better.” That’s high praise from our Lord. The Lord clearly says that they were making progress spiritually. It’s wonderful to be part of a united church that is growing in love and knowledge and zeal for Christ. So our Lord has high praise for this church that was advancing for the gospel in an unlikely place. It is that high praise that makes the rest of this passage so unsettling. Somehow in the midst of their growth they had allowed an ungodly woman to rise to a place of enormous spiritual influence. 3. Jesus Exposes Evil in the Church v. 20 Who was this woman and how did she rise to prominence in an otherwise excellent congregation? Our Lord clearly refers to a real person - the name Jezebel is not her real name but an allusion to the wicked wife of King Ahab. The crafty Jezebel became a symbol for a seductive form of evil that not only allowed for idolatry but promoted it, and not only allowed adultery but encouraged and rewarded it. Such a toxic mix will soon destroy a nation or a church. How could such a woman come to power in the church at Thyatira? The answer is in the word “prophetess.” By claiming to speak for God, she gained credibility with gullible, untaught Christians. One could imagine that such a woman combined a powerful personality with persuasive speech, a seductive smile and withering scorn for her critics. She was no doubt clever, quick on her feet, slick in her presentation, and extremely dangerous. With Jezebel you could have it all: Salvation, Jesus, Heaven, Idol worship, Friendship with the world, Guilt-free sex. Be wary of those who advertise themselves as “prophets” and “prophetesses.” It is one thing to be a Bible teacher or a pastor, but it is something else to claim to receive special messages from God. Anyone who says such things takes upon themselves a fearful responsibility. It is one thing to say, “God has said this in Romans 8.” It is another thing to claim that a dream or a vision you have comes from the Almighty. How could such a woman be tolerated in such a fine church? Perhaps she was related to one of the church leaders and that gave her cover for her sin. Perhaps the leaders feared that if they confronted her, she would split the church. Perhaps they hoped that by tolerating her, she would eventually go away. Who knows? They may have thought that it was a mark of grace to “accept her” in the hopes of reaching her for the Lord. I suspect it was some combination of all those factors. Whatever the reason, the church had gravely sinned by not dealing with this evil woman. It is frightening to consider that this sort of thing may happen in an otherwise strong congregation. You can go to church and believe what you want and do what you want. 4. Jesus Judges Evil in the Church v. 21 - 23 The church leaders had confronted her about her sinful behaviour and she did not respond. While it is true that the patience of God is meant to lead us to repentance, it is also true that God’s patience has a limit. He will not wait forever. If we persist in sin, judgment day will come. The one piece of good news is that her followers still have time to repent. Jezebel is beyond redemption. Her followers are not. But the bell that tolls for her will toll for them. Let no one be deceived. You cannot continue in sexual sin forever without facing the judgment of God. In this case the judgment is spelled out: 1.There will be intense suffering. 2. Her followers will die. 3. All the churches will know that God is serious about sin in the church. These harsh words must not be watered down. Let those who promote free sex, casual sex, sleeping around, premarital sex, fornication, filthy talk, child pornography, prostitution, adultery, sexual experimentation, homosexuality, bisexuality and all other forms of sexual sin hear this message from heaven: Be sure your sin will find you out. What you do in secret will be shouted from the housetops. What you do in the darkness is seen as if it were done at midday. 5. Jesus Encourages His Faithful Followers v. 24, 25 Christ’s call to the faithful remnant at Thyatira. False prophets love “deep secrets.” It’s almost irresistible. “Let me tell you a secret.” Why be stuck with the Bible when you can enter into a world of direct messages, omens, signs and prophecies that give you insight into the “hidden world” that regular Christians don’t have? Jesus doesn’t tell them to cast the woman out of the church. Christ will take care of her personally. Remember Ananias and Sapphira. Remember those who got drunk at the Lord’s Supper. Jesus has only one command to his faithful followers: Hold on! Don’t give into her seductive schemes. Don’t join those who follow her teachings. Sometimes godliness is measured by holding on when it would be easier to give up. 6. Jesus Promises to Share His Victory With Us v. 26 - 28 This is the promise Christ makes to those who hold on in Thyatira. Those who remain faithful will one day reign with Christ on the earth. They will share with him in his coming kingdom that will spread across the globe. 2000 years ago the world crucified Jesus. But one day he will rule the world with an iron sceptre as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. If we are faithful, we will share in his victory. We will know him deeply and personally for he is the true “morning star” that lights up all of heaven. Starving on the Inside Let’s consider the implications of this passage for the 21st century. No one disputes that we live in a sex-saturated society. We glorify sex and talk about it so much that it almost bores us. But rampant sex is only a symptom of a much deeper problem. We are starving on the inside. A starving man will eat anything you put in front of him. He’ll eat food that will kill him in the end. Why is pornography such a huge business on the Internet? It’s a matter of supply and demand. People make millions off pornography because it offers a temporary fix for the inner emptiness we cannot satisfy. Though many have tried, no one has ever improved on God’s plan for sexual happiness: One man with one woman, faithful to each other for a lifetime. Everything else is a cheap counterfeit. Beware of Jezebel! She’ll take your body and your soul and then she’ll lead you straight to hell. There is no such thing as casual sex. There is no such thing as a guilt-free one-night stand. God wired us so that we would find our deepest sexual fulfilment inside the boundary of marriage between one man and one woman. Sex starts not with a physical act but with a relationship that leads to a commitment that makes a covenant before God that creates a “marriage bed” that God delights to honour - Hebrews 13: 4. We honour God when we honour marriage and the physical union of a husband and wife. We ought to teach our children that when God created sexual desire, he also created the proper place where it can be fully enjoyed. God takes sexual sin seriously. He judges those who practice it, he judges those who promote it, and he judges those who tolerate it, laugh at it or make light of it. This sort of message is not very popular. Let’s keep the lines sharp and clear between the church and the world in the area of sexual ethics. Let the world do as it will. Left to itself, the world always chooses the path of self-indulgence. But it is the church’s job to shine the pure light of God’s truth in the midst of the darkness. If the church lives like the world, why would the world ever want to be part of the church? Saved After Sexual Sin What, then, do we say to those who have made repeated mistakes in the sexual area? Is there grace for them too? Could Jezebel herself have been saved? Could such an evil woman have found forgiveness? We aren’t left to wonder about that – v. 21. Jezebel preferred her version of sex plus idolatry to the work of repentance before the Lord. She had her chance but she was unwilling to repent so for her there was nothing left but judgment. But we find in that solemn statement the hope of the gospel. If you are willing, you can be changed. If you are willing, you can be made clean. If you are willing, you can have a new start. If you are willing, your sins can be washed away. We are all saved the same way, by the free grace of God. To those who are scarred by wrong choices in the past, if you are willing, you can be forgiven and made clean. You may still live with certain consequences of your past, but you can have the burden of guilt lifted from your heart. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5: 17). Think of it this way. You can have Jezebel or you can have Jesus, but you can’t have them both. You can have the cheap thrills of the world or you can have Jesus, a new life, forgiveness, real pleasure and you will one day rise to shine like the Morning Star. If you want Jesus, you must turn your back on Jezebel and turn your heart over to the Lord. Give to him all that you are, including the sins that stain your past, trust in him as your Lord and Saviour. Come to Christ just as you are, and he will never turn you away. He loves you. He came from heaven to save you. He died on the cross for you. He invites you to come to him. Will you come? A new life awaits those who say “Yes” to Jesus. But you’ll never know until you come to him.