Revelation 02

This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on January 25th, 2009.  To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Rev 2A.

Rev.2:1-7   —   HOLDING ONTO THE TRUTH WITH LOVE

Test the Truth…

Background:   Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian leaders… “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.  I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.  So be on your guard!  Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you day and night with tears.”  (Acts 20:28-31)

Ephesians faced at least two major sources of false teaching.  First, the Jews in Ephesus had rejected Paul’s teaching about Jesus and were actively against them.   The early church constantly faced pressure from Jewish teachers to add Jewish practices (such as circumcision) to the Gospel.

Secondly, Ephesus was the center of worship for the goddess Artemis.   The temple of Artemis was one of the wonders of the ancient world.   Many of the early believers from Ephesus had left the worship of Artemis – but would have certainly been strongly influenced by their former beliefs and practices – (such as getting drunk to be filled with the Spirit).

How Important is Truth to Us?   In our day it is common for preachers to rail against teachings outside the church:   ~ Modern day psychology that excuses sin   ~ Atheism that denies God’s existence   ~  Scientific claims that only what is measurable is real.

But the Ephesians – in keeping with the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles – were guarding against false teaching within their own church.  They were carefully measuring everything that was preached and taught to see that it measured up to the teaching of Jesus…

Matt.7:15ff –  “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves… Test everything. Hold on to the good.”

1 Jn.4:1-7  – “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world…”

2 Peter 2:1-3  – “But … there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies… Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute… these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up.”

1 Thess. 5:20-21  – “do not treat prophecies with contempt.  Test everything. Hold on to the good.”

The Ephesians listened carefully and tested everything they heard against the teachings of Jesus so that they would know the truth and so that they would not be led astray.   They were extremely careful to be faithful followers of Jesus.  Their zeal for the truth should be an example for us.   Jesus praises them for their work and perseverance – for putting false teachers out of the church – testing those who made claims of Apostleship – and enduring for the sake of protecting the name of Christ from false ideas and teachings.

In a culture that listens to preachers for entertainment – we are a perfect set up to be led astray.   How often do we listen to preachers on tv or the radio without ever checking what they say by the Scriptures?  Do we know the Scriptures well enough to know when we are being led astray in the first place?

… But Do Not Let Love for the Truth Become Suspicion.

You Have Left Your First Love:   With all of their testing and work to hold onto the truth and put away false teaching – the Ephesians had – ironically – fallen into error themselves.   They became watchdogs to guard the truth – rather than servants who recognized the truth as God’s loving deliverance, to be shared with others.

The truth is meant to set us and others free to love God and our neighbor – to put away sin – to live abundantly.   When the truth becomes a matter of being right – rather than a matter of being set free – we have left something crucial behind.

When The Truth No Longer Leads Us to Love God or Others, We Cease to Be the Church:   “Repent and do the deeds you did at first, or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place, unless you repent”     The truth we preach is not just about accuracy – it is about how to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbor as ourselves.   Jesus is the perfect example of what God’s truth is all about.   Jesus did not use the truth as a weapon to attack other people or as a wall to separate himself from others.  Jesus spoke the truth to everyone – not separating himself anyone (he spent time with both prostitutes and Jewish traitors – with both murderous political zealots and with self-righteous Pharisees).    Jesus spoke the truth to all of these people in order to deliver them from blindness and sin.   Jesus strongly opposed and rebuked false teaching without ever pushing people away.

Continue in the Balance of Truth and Love:  When the truth stops being Christ’s loving invitation of new life and becomes a wall of safety we hide behind – we cease to be a light – to have the power of God.   This is a mentality – a way of thinking that says, “we need to come up with the right answer for this pastoral issue or problem”.   So we write out an answer – a statement  – we adopt a policy – at which point two things happen…

1) We stop searching the Scriptures in a living way because we have found our answer.

2) We stop interacting with people because we now have a “right answer” – and so the shape of their circumstances and the issue don’t matter – we have made pastoring easier – neater – less living.

Right now, at our church, we do a pretty good job with holding onto the tension of truth and love.   We have been blessed with teachers who hold that balance well.   But the pastoral issues will continue to challenge us to hold this balance.   We will always struggle with pastoral issues that defy safe, easy answers (addiction, homosexuality, divorce).  Christ calls us not to become answer men and women – but to engage people with the truth and point them to Him.

Nicolaitans:   “Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate”   This statement is somewhat ironic – but also a loving call to repentance.  The Nicolaitans were a heretical sect within Christianity that taught that their spiritual freedom allowed them to practice idolatry and immorality.   Obviously the Ephesians hated their teaching and deeds.  But Jesus does not say – You hate their teaching – but rather – You hate their deeds.  The Nicolaitans were known for their lack of love for others and for holding all people in contempt.

Jesus is graciously giving the Ephesians a clear picture of what he wants them to turn from – a picture of what they will become if they continue in their unloving ways.

Hold Onto the Truth and Love Your Neighbor.

Remember and Repent:   “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.”     What does Jesus want of the Ephesian church?  He wants them to return to a balance of passion for the truth and love for others.  The truth should create in them/ and us, a warm-hearted zeal for ministry.   If the truth  is just our own – if what we hear on Sunday morning is just information or entertainment – something to be protected and held onto but not good news for others – if the Gospel we preach does not move us to bring our neighbor to Jesus – then we are holding the truth but denying its power.

Right now, you should be encouraged.   I see people in our church being a light to their neighbors – allowing the Word of God to affect them – not simplifying the truth into right/wrong answers.   But I want to encourage you this morning because we are prone to forget that the church is a lampstand – a hospital for the sick and dying – a place of light and life.    Let this letter serve as both an encouragement and a warning.

God’s Blessing for the Overcomers:   “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”    Jesus promises the Ephesians that if they return to the Gospel he will give them the right to eat from the tree of life that was in the Garden of Eden.

Why this particular promise for this particular church?  Because the tree of life is a picture of what Jesus wants the the Ephesian church to become.   The church should be a lampstand – a community of light and truth – but also a community that feeds the soul.  The church should be a community where God’s Spirit brings life.  The only way that can happen is if we hold onto the life-giving truth of the Scriptures – and love people enough to both confront error and lead them to the truth.   The church needs both truth and love to survive.

——————————————————————————————–

This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on February 8th, 2009.  To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click this link – Rev 2B.

Rev.2:8-11    —    CONFRONTING THE BOASTFUL CITY

Webster’s Dictionary:  “Boast:  to speak with excessive pride, especially about one’s own accomplishments, abilities or possessions – To take pride in or be enhanced by the possession of…”

Make Jesus Your Boast.

Smyrna – The Boastful City:  The Smyrnians referred to their city as The First or Chief City in Asia.    Smyrna was the most beautiful city in Asia and claimed – in competition with other cities to be the oldest and most prestigious.   Their pride also came from the fact that Smyrna, which had begun as a city in 1,000 B.C., had been destroyed – mostly abandoned for 400 years and then rebuilt as a planned city.  (If you think about New York City and its pride in comparison to other cities – and it’s comeback after 9/11, you will begin, perhaps, to understand the city-pride of Smyrna).

The Boast of Jesus:   “These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.”   Even as he introduces himself to the church, Jesus uses titles for himself that challenge the boastfulness of Smyrna.   Are they the chief city?  He is the Creator and Judge – the first and last – to whom all answer – to whom all owe their being – to whom all owe worship.   Has the city survived destruction and been rebuilt?  Jesus has risen from the death of mortal life to immortality.

These titles and this challenge of the boasting of Smyrna is at the heart of why the Christians in the city were suffering.  They were suffering because  of their worship and boasting in Jesus Christ – because they proclaimed him as Lord and alone as worthy of worship and praise.

No one liked this.  The Smyrnians did not like the challenge of the Christians against their boasting about their wonderful city.   The Jews, who had learned to fit in with the city – and had become wealthy in Smyrna – and who had given a gift of 10,000 denarii for the beautification of the city –  did not like the boasting  of the Christians about Christ against their old ways of worship.

Make Your Boast in Christ:  We are to speak with excessive pride about the fact that, in Jesus Christ, God has shown grace and favor to weak and sinful people.   That although we continue to be struggling sinners, God, through Jesus, has declared us righteous and beloved and is bringing us to glory and immortality.

This is the battlefront of our faith – the forefront of our witness – to challenge the boasting of the world with our boasting in Christ…

~  We challenge the boastful self-sufficiency of people by pointing out that all people are sinners in need of the grace and forgiveness of Jesus.

~  We challenge the boast of temporary wealth with the riches of knowing Christ and the hope of glory.

~  We challenge the boast of the educated with the wisdom of Christ that leads to life.

~  We challenge the temporary strength and athletic ability of those who love power with the weakness and shame of Jesus on the cross – who defeated death and sin.

~  We challenge the empty boasting of people and point them to Christ.

Do Not Be Afraid to Suffer.

You Will Face Tribulation:  “Do not fear the things you are about to suffer.”    The Smyrnian Christians faced occasional tribulation – which is to say that, from time to time the city or some governing official would decide that the Christians needed to be taught a lesson or reigned in – or the mob would become angry at the proclamation of the Gospel – and would riot.   During these times the homes of believers would be robbed or taken away by the govt. or destroyed, believers would be beaten.  Consequently the Smyrnian believers were poor.   They were considered a blight in the city and despised.

Where the church is boasting in Jesus, there will be opposition.  Jesus himself said this… “”Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  (Matt. 5:11-12).

Those who despise Christ will hold his followers in contempt in proportion to our boast in Christ.   If we boast in Christ – we will face tribulation – we will be squeezed and pressured, slandered, persecuted – NOTICE  – both by those who claim to serve God, but actually serve themselves as well as  by those who are outside of the church.  But take note of Jesus’ words in Matt.5:12 – This is cause for rejoicing.   We are blessed by God when we are suffering for the name of Jesus.

Know Where Tribulation Comes From:   “See, the devil is about to…”  Jesus is very pointed about this – not because he is unaware of the Jews who slander the Christians or the hostility of the city – but because he sees the true enemy of the church who is behind the hostility of men.   “Look” he says, “See!”  – the devil is about to do this.  These Jews who persecute you are doing Satan’s work – they are his slaves.

Men and women boast in wealth and their knowledge and their accomplishments and their abilities because they are enslaved by the enemy of their souls who blinds them to the truth through these things.   People are not our enemy – Satan is.

Face the Test:  “…  put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days.   Be faithful…”    How do you face the test of persecution – slander – suffering?   What are these believers supposed to do to face the test?    They are to “be faithful” – they are not to give up their boasting in Jesus – even to the point of death.  They are to continue to talk about how Jesus their joy, their hope,  their salvation, their Lord.

Overcome.

Smyrna Will Fall:   “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.”    Again, this is a challenge to the city of Smyrna – the city will fail, will come to judgment one day.   Those who trust in the boasting of the city will be disappointed when Christ returns to judge the earth.

We need to be aware that this is also true of those around us who boast in having figured out life so that it suits them – and those who boast in their own worldly wisdom to get through life – and those who boast in how others have wronged them and their own innocence.  Those who boast in such things have been blinded by the enemy of their souls and are held as his slaves, boasting about empty things.   On the day of the Lord all boasting will fail except boasting in Christ Jesus.

How Do We Overcome?   Perhaps this is a new idea to you.   Most of us have thought of boasting as something negative that we ought not to do.   While it is true that we should not boast in our own abilities or righteousness – Scripture does call us to boast –  to speak with excessive pride… [concerning the] accomplishments, abilities… [and] possessions [of Christ Jesus] – To take pride in or be enhanced by the possession of [our standing in Him].”

Learn to boast – to take pride in – Christ Jesus.   Learn to hear the boasts of other people around you.  Have compassion on those who boast in the emptiness of their own abilities and hopes and in their love for this world – pray for them – recognize their bondage -and boast in the Lord.

——————————————————————————————–

This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on February 15th, 2009. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click this link – Rev 2C.

Rev.2:12-17    —   PROTECTING GRACE

This morning we want to talk about the misuse and distortion of grace.   We want to see how some people in the ancient church twisted and misused grace to excuse evil behavior.  We want to understand the purposes of grace and see the ways this passage calls the church to repent.  As we begin, we want to look at the central descriptive image of sin in this letter – the story of Balaam (Num. 22-24) …

Grace Can Be Distorted and Misused.

The Story of Balaam:  To the early church, Balaam was a profound example of the misuse of grace.  Balaam was a holy man or a “seer”, who was not an Israelite – but to whom God spoke and revealed himself.

During the time that the Israelites were traveling to the promised land, they were attacked by the Amorites, whom they destroyed.   Because of this, Balak, the king of Moab, was afraid of Israel and sent for Balaam – offering to pay him handsomely if he would curse Israel.  But God told Balaam only to say what God told him to say- and so three times, rather than cursing Israel, Balaam blessed them.

At the end of Numbers 24, Balaam went home, but right after this – in the first vs. of Numbers 25,  we find,  “the men [of Israel] began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods.”

Ancient interpreters saw this and filled in what must have happened:  Balaam, in order to receive Balak’s “handsome gift”, must have advised Balak to send women into the camp in order to lead the Israelite men astray.

Balaam in the Early Church:   So why is Balaam a profound example of the misuse of grace to the early church – such that Christ can say,  “You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality”, and everyone knows what he is talking about?

Because the lesson of Balaam to the early church, was a lesson about someone who took the supernatural gift of God and used it for his own desire (to get wealth) – while leading the community of God’s people astray.   Balaam was, for the early church, a picture of all those who turn the gift of God’s grace towards their own uses and selfish pursuits.

Balaam and the Pergameans:   So what, specifically is Christ saying to the church at Pergamum?  Some in this congregation had distorted grace – the gift of God’s favor – into a warped picture of spiritual freedom.  They taught that God forgave sin so that they might go back to their own selfish pursuits – their own way of life – doing as they pleased.   Grace became their excuse to ignore Christ’s call to a holy life (see  Matt.7:21-27, Eph.5:3-6, Gal.6:7-9, Heb.12:14-15).

This, of course is a danger for us as well.  We talk about grace a lot – but we must be aware of the purposes of grace, and must recognize that grace can be misunderstood, mishandled and distorted.

Do Not Turn Grace into an Excuse to Sin.

Do Not Use Grace to Keep From Being Confronted (Jesus the Judge):  “These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.”    In this context, Jesus introduces himself to the church using this picture of judgment.  The double edged sword was a weapon used in battle as well as for official executions.   Jesus introduces himself to this church as the judge, using this image so that they will understand that, although he is the giver of grace,  he is also the judge of sin.

This phrase that He uses to describe himself is from Hebrews 4:12 –  For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”  

Is Jesus telling this church that he is no longer offering grace – that he is now going to deal with them as a judge until they get themselves straightened out?   No!   Rather he is telling them that, as the holy judge, he must confront sin in their lives – this is a true picture of grace.

Grace is given so that we will not be taken in, deceived and destroyed by sin.  The double-edged sword of Scripture (the word coming out of Jesus’ mouth), judges the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts – exposes our selfishness, our lack of love for others, our lust and our dishonesty before God.  Because sin is deceitful, and is like a cancer to the soul, Jesus the judge is showing us favor when he uses his word to cut away at our sinful attitudes.

Do Not Use Grace to Avoid Standing- Walking in Faith:   I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.”

Jesus points the Pergameans back to a time when they were under extreme pressure – telling them that they have been faithful to him despite living in a city where Satan has his throne.  He points them back to the martyr Antipas – tradition tells us that he was roasted alive in a brazen altar.

These reminders point to a time when the Pergameans had grace to follow Christ faithfully in the face of pressure.   This previous faithfulness, for which Christ praises them, is in sharp contrast to the misuse of grace that is now happening in the church, where grace has been turned into a comfort for those who want to fit into the immorality and idolatry of the world around them.  Grace has become a reason not to be faithful – not to stand – not to follow Christ.   It has become an out.

Overcome By Using Grace Rightly.

Repent or I will come and fight against them with the sword of my mouth:   What happens when we use grace to excuse ourselves so that we can continue in sinful practices?   We sense that our own permissions to do as we please (our distorted view of grace – our own self-justification) are inadequate.   We sense that our forgiveness is from ourselves and not from God.  We experience fear and condemnation.

Ironically, it is only when we fully confront sin – our responsibility – and face Christ the judge honestly with the attitudes of our heart – that we find grace and forgiveness.  Christ fights against all of our attempts to hide – to deceive ourselves or him.  He graciously keeps confronting us as a judge until we come to him in open honest confession.

Use Grace Rightly:  Two images are offered to the overcomers here…

~ The Hidden Manna: Tradition held that, when the Temple was destroyed, Jeremiah had hidden a sacred pot of manna – that when this was found – those who ate it would become holy and able to do good works and usher in the kingdom.

Christ uses the image as a picture of grace.  Grace is the food that energizes us to do what pleases God.   The right use of grace is not to excuse and perpetuate evil behavior, but to empower us to do what is right.

~ The White Stone with a Name:  This is an amulet.  Amulets were sacred stones with a name on them that protected their owners from evil.  If someone else knew the name on the stone they could also use the amulet.

Christ uses this image as a picture of protection against manipulation and being led astray – taken advantage of – by the deceiver.   Grace is the protection God gives us not to be led astray.

The promise for those who turn from distorted grace is that they will be empowered to live a holy life and will be protected from going astray.

——————————————————————————————–This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on February 22nd 2009. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Prov 2D.

Rev.2:18-29    —    THYATIRA: IMMORALITY IN THE CHURCH

To the messenger of the church in Thyatira write:   These are the words of the Son of God,  whose eyes are like blazing fire  (Rev.1:14)  and whose feet are like burnished bronze (Rev.1:15).  I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

Nevertheless, I have this against you:  You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess.  By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.   I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling so I will cast  her on abed of suffering and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.  I will strike her children dead.   Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds/ kidneys.  (Jer.11:20)   And I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets,  I will not impose any other burden on you:   Only hold on to what you have until I come.

To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations.   He will rule them with an iron scepter.  He will dash them to pieces like pottery (Ps.2:9), just as I have received authority from my Father.   I will also give him the morning star.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Covenant Names:  Thyatira is difficult because so little is known about the specifics of this letter.  However, it seems clear that John would not depart from what he has been doing all along as he writes this letter.  Consequently, if we are going to understand what Christ is saying about himself, we need to draw connections to what little we do know about the city.

Thyatira was initially an armed garrison, manned by Macedonian troops.  Its’ importance was that it was in the valley that led to Pergamum – and so its purpose was to guard the approach to Pergamum.  The city itself, being in a valley, was not very defensible, and so, if it came under attack, could only hold long enough to send messengers to Pergamum to prepare for battle.  Pergamum needed a guard city because it was on the top of a conical hill, and vulnerable to siege.

Thyatira had no special religious significance – it was not the center of Caesar worship, like Pergamum, nor of Greek worship.  The hero god of Thyatira was Tyrimnus, and he appeared on its coins – on horseback with a battle axe and a club.

There was, however, a fortune telling shrine, run by a female oracle called the Sambathe.

The covenant names used in this prophetic oracle to Thyatira, are surely a response to, and pick on these images.  Jesus, here, bluntly says that He is the Son of God, in contrast to the hero god of the city.  He has eyes that blaze with fire and brazen bronze legs, pictures of divinity (associated with fire) and of power and strength.  Clearly the Son of God is contrasting his divine, supernatural power with that of the warrior god of Thyatira.  But at the same time, the eyes blazing with fire are a picture of divine sight that exposes whatever it turns its gaze on.  This image would have brought to mind, immediately, the Sambathe, while, at the same time, challenging her.  God is the one who truly sees. The Sambathe depends on false gods and gives fortunes which are vague enough that that superstitious would believe they were in contact with the gods – but the eyes of the Son of God penetrate the hearts and motivations of men and can see into the future.  This is reinforced by the fact that these images come from Daniel 10:6, where in Daniel’s vision the being who appears to him with blazing eyes and burnished arms and legs, has battled and overcome other spiritual beings, and shows him what will happen in the future.

Praise for the Church:  It is very easy to skip over this part and move on to the interesting stuff about Jezebel.  The reason is that, unlike some of the other churches – the praise for what they are doing right is really not that specific.  And yet…

They have love with faith – unlike the church of Ephesus which had left its first love.  In a sense the whole idea of the importance of love has already been covered in that oracle.  The Ephesians left their first love and consequently had ceased to reflect the character of Christ truthfully.  They had truth without love.  The Thyatirans held their faith with love for one another.

They have perseverance and service – like that which the church in Smyrna was being called to in its  suffering.  Although there was no specific threat connected with faith in Thyatira, its believers were subject to the general persecutions that came out of Rome from time to time.  They had been faithful apparently – continuing in their service to God.

And they had these things increasingly – they had increased in their love and faith and faithfulness and perseverance.  So the church is Thyatira is favorably compared with the churches of the greater and more important cities.

Note, however, that He does not say that they have purity.  In a sense, the situation here is very similar to the situation in Pergamum – which is not surprising since (1) Pergamum was right down the road, and (2) This kind of temptation and problem was common in the ancient world, as we mentioned last week.

The Charge Against the Church:  We need to say a little about who Jezebel is, and what it means to call this woman in the church “a Jezebel”.

Jezebel was the daughter of the King of Sidon – Ethbaal.  As the daughter of a king, she took seriously the gods of her people – the Baals.  In marrying her, Ahab, King of Israel, broke the prohibition against intermarrying with the nations.  Being an evil King he was swayed by her.  The writer of 1Kings tells us that he, “…did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.  He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, (idolatrous type worship of Jehovah w/golden bulls), but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him.  He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria.  Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.”  (1 Kings 16:30-33)

It is important to understand that the driving force behind the idolatry of both Ahab and Jezebel was political and military power.  Jezebel was not out to get rid of the worship of Yahweh the God of Israel – she was out to add the powers of her gods to his power.  The understanding was that the more gods one had, the more power one had access to.

Ahab married Jezebel as a way of making a political alliance with Sidon (a common practice at that time).

What is fascinating about this couple is that we know from extra-biblical sources that Ahab is one of the greatest military generals in Israel’s history.  But the author of kings makes him out to look like a sniveling coward.  In place of what is probably his greatest military victory – where Israel was attacked by a far superior enemy and Ahab and his army drove them back in what appears to have been a blood bath – the author of 1Kings records the story of Naboths vineyard.

Anyway, the point is, that to call this woman Jezebel (a name associated with this very evil woman, and contrived from the names of the gods of the Sidonians, and so very unlikely to have been an actual name given to anyone at that or any other time after the life of Jezebel), is to create a portrait of her character.

First – this is a woman after power.  She is probably someone who has become prominent in the church through her charisma and teaching.  This also is probably the key to why the Thyatiran church tolerated her – she had a following, and to confront and get rid of her would have meant a church split and a great reduction of the church.

Second – this is a woman who is not telling the church to abandon Christ – but who is telling the church to compromise their sole devotion to Christ. This is really the key to what is going on in the church.

Thyatira was not a great city, but it did have great number of guilds.  The point of the guilds was that if you wanted to trade or sell or if you were an artisan, you needed to belong to a guild.  The guilds were associations much like trade unions.  Consequently, not belonging to the guilds affected the believer’s ability to do business and to have social relationships.

“To refuse to join one of these guilds would be much the same as to refuse to join a trade union today.  It would mean to give up all prospect of commercial existence.  Why should a Christian not join one of these guilds?  They held common meals.  These would very often be held in a temple and even if not, they would begin and end with a formal sacrifice to the gods, and the meat eaten would be meat which had already been offered to idols.  Further, it often happened that these communal meals were occasions of drunken revelry and slack morality.” 

The big issue was – very much like the Pergamean church – whether or not believers could join the trade guilds and take part in idol feasts in order to do business and to take part in society.

Apparently, Jezebel was encouraging people in the church to take part in these things, but this was only symptomatic of the real problem with Jezebel.  Although it is not mentioned in this letter by name, she was involved in the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

The Nicolaitans:  Nicolaus was a proselyte from Antioch – which is to say that he had been a Gentile who converted to Judaism (before the church accepted Gentiles).  He is mentioned as one of the seven deacons chosen to deal with the problem of distributing food to the poor and to widows in the early church so that the disciples could give themselves to prayer and the preaching of the word.

Apparently the Nicolaitans had taken a saying of Nicolaus, that “the flesh must be abused”, and twisted it saying that Nicolaus had taught that one must experience sin – that this was what it meant to abuse the body – and that such abuse would make one spiritually pure.  Consequently, early writers tell us that the Nicolaitans, lived lives of unrestrained indulgence” (Irenaeus).  Another writer claims that Nicolaus, “…departed from correct doctrine…” (Hippolytus).  And Clement of Alexandria says they, “…abandon themselves to pleasure like goats…leading a life of self-indulgence”.

Jezebel was a Nicolaitan.  Apparently she encouraged those who listened to her to “experience the deep secrets of Satan”, or to experiment with entering into all kinds of sin, while keeping their spirit pure.  This was the heretical understanding of Jesus teaching of entering into the house and binding the strong man (in reference to casting out demons).  The Nicolaitans believed that they could enter into Satan’s stronghold, participating in idolatry and immorality, and, by keeping their spirits pure, overcome and have power over Satan.

Repentance:  The oracle makes it quite clear that repentance is no longer possible for Jezebel.  She was given time and opportunity to repent, and refused to do so.   It seems pretty clear that, while the church would not kick her out, she had been confronted by some in the church.

Now the timer for her judgment has come.  Jezebel is about to be thrown onto a bed of suffering – disease seems to be in view here.  Also her lovers – those who have been swayed by her example and who have begun to take part in idolatrous worship, are going to suffer the same judgment – however they are being given a chance to repent.

Her children – those who have become fully persuaded of her teaching and way of life and who have made it their own, and who are now teaching others to take part in this lifestyle – are going to be struck dead.

This language of judgment is hearkening back to the language of Acts 5 where Annanias and Sapphira are struck dead.  The connection is this – that many of these believers who are enjoying material prosperity because they have compromised themselves, are giving generously to the church.  It is part of the justification for their compromised lifestyle.  Basically Christ is saying that, although these converts of Jezebel’s are being generous, they will be struck dead like Annanias and Sapphira because although their giving appears generous – like that of Annanias and Sapphira – it is perverted and based on falsehood.

The idea that all the churches will know that Christ is the one who sees and judges the hearts and minds (hearts and kidneys) also comes from the same passage, where the church is filled with a holy fear (Acts 5:5,11).  And everyone will be judged according to their deeds – so that, although the Nicolaitans claimed purity of spirit, they are now being confronted with judgment and with the fact that the risen Christ has looked right through their false way of living, weighed the motivations of their hearts and their minds and their actions – and that nothing is hidden from him

Those in the church who have remained pure and who have rejected the teaching of Jezebel and her ways – who have continued in faith and love and perseverance  – are not confronted about anything else.  The sense is that this will be battle enough for the church – and Christ does not ask anything more of them than to continue as they have been.

Overcomers:  So now, what is this sudden hostility against the Gentiles?  John is not even writing to a Jewish church – like Pergamum, the chances are that the Jewish community of Thyatira was small.  So why should the promise for overcomers be one of  ruling over and destroying the Gentiles?

The quote is from Ps.2, where the context is that the nations are plotting against God and his holy one (which in the historical context of Ps.2 would have been the nation of Israel’s king – but is understood in the NT church to be Christ and his people.

The thought seems to be that the idolatrous Gentiles are trying to squeeze the people of God into a situation in which they must take part in idol worship and immorality just to live and get by.  But Christ is promising those who overcome – who reject the idolatry and immorality of the Gentiles, even though it means that they will suffer – are going to overcome the Gentiles and their idolatry and are going to rule over them.

Also overcomers are promised the morning star.  Jesus identifies himself as the bright morning star in Rev.22:16.  This reference is also used in 2 Peter 1:19.  The promise here seems to be that the promise to the overcomers is Christ himself.  Those who overcome will be given  – in context – the glorious brightness which is fitting to the purity they practiced in Christ – and which is reminiscent of the burning eyes of Christ.

Here, more than in Pergamum (where the issue was one of believers remaining distinctive) the issue of purity – sexual and spiritual – is most important – is most urgent.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s