Revelation series: Thyatira
By John Clevely
Thyatira – the Tolerant Church – Rev 2:18-29
Today we are a laid back, tolerant society with a casual approach to many matters that would have made our forefathers shudder. We take for granted that people routinely experiment with sex before marriage, divorce and remarry serially, that explicit sexual film and photo are routinely available on TV and internet. Live and let live. Jacob last week spoke lovingly and clearly about compromise. When we continue to compromise we tolerate what God does not. He told a story of a girl who would not compromise for a job, this week a news story broke about Harriet Harman being asked to sleep with a professor to upgrade her degree. Thank God we have people who will not compromise or tolerate evil.
If Ephesus was the loveless church, Smyrna was the persecuted church, Pergamum was the compromised church then Thyatira was the tolerant church. At first glance tolerance can seem like a virtue, but it is not. It is not a fruit of the Spirit or a characteristic of Jesus Christ. He is the lion who rages against sin and corruption, even in his friends – perhaps especially there. He is also the lamb but not as one who indulges our sin but who sacrifices himself to deal with it. He loves righteousness and hates wickedness. He is a consuming fire who one day will burn up this present universe and bring forth a new heaven and earth in which righteousness dwell. Yet he who was consumed with love for us and so went to the cross, not indulging our sin but paying for it!
Jesus is committed to making the tolerant church into a pure church
So what is the problem with tolerance?
Jesus sees evil for what it is – he has eyes like a flame of fire (v 18), He is the one who searches mind and heart (v 23)
Thyatira was the smallest town where the seven churches were settled and it gets the longest letter. Jesus does not only look at the big churches and the high profile ministries. No one gets overlooked. His vision penetrates deeply within. He knows our motives and attitudes as well as words and actions. There is no dark recess in our hearts where his gaze does not settle. But Jesus never focuses on any church’s weaknesses to the detriment of their strengths. He does not see a blemish and go off the deep end as if there was nothing good going on.
Jesus had a true perspective and a balanced view of the church in Thyatira. (v 19) That is quite an impressive list. He knows all about the good things at Thyatira and he commends them for their growth. He is not so much concerned about the size of the church as it’s substance. Character is always his priority over gifting. There is evidence of much grace in the church in Thyatira, but spiritual strengths and weaknesses often go side by side. In the church in Thyatira a section of the church has come under the influence of a false teacher with a group of followers. The name given is Jezebel! Jezebel had lived several centuries earlier but the influence she carried bore remarkable similarity to what was happening in Thyatira.
Jezebel was a Phoenician princess she was brought up in the court of her father Ithobaal and followed the rites and rituals of the fertility cult associated with the storm god Baal. In order to get fertility whether in family or field certain rituals were to be followed that involved what they called “cultic prostitution.” Simply put women were devoted to the service of Baal and men would come and copulate with them in order to bring blessing on their sowing and reaping. The worshipers of Baal were antagonistic to the worshipers of Yahweh. There was no love lost between them. But Tyre had prospered and Israel had prospered during the reign of Omri and he decided it would be a good thing to make an alliance. The alliance involved a royal wedding. As with Solomon who married many foreign wives, they brought their own religious traditions with them. Jezebel married Ahab and began to introduce the worship of Baal. The word Baal means lord or husband, he controlled the weather and had power over the rain, storms and wind – hence the link to fertility. Israelites were being seduced away to the immoral and idolatrous practices and it seemed the whole nation had forgotten the Lord. But Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, and the Lord told him there was a remnant of seven thousand who had remained faithful. (1 Kings 19:18) While the victory of that day was resounding, Jezebel lived on. Hell hath no fury as a women scorned. Elijiah saw the way the wind was blowing and withdrew from society encountering God at Horeb, but it was after Ahab and Jezebel had stolen Naboth’s vineyard and had him killed that Elijah re-emerged with prophetic condemnation of them both. Ahab and Jezebel would both die and their blood be licked up by the dogs. Ahab died in battle and Jezebel managed yet again to survive until the reign of Jehu, when, hiding in the tower of Jezreel she was flung from the top and the dogs ate her body.
But the spirit of Jezebel survived. The spirit of Jezebel is often used to speak of manipulative seductive forces at work in the church to control and to entice into sin. In Thyatira as in Pergamum the worship of various gods was part and parcel of society and there were trades guilds that you had to belong to if you wanted to trade. This made day to day living very difficult for believers. The rites and rituals of the trades guilds are not known precisely but involved idolatry and immorality. Refusal to participate led to economic ostracism.
In steps the spirit of Jezebel. Its OK to go along with this. There are no real gods other than God. You don’t have to be sincere. If you don’t go you wont know what the world is really like. There is deep truth in this experience and as a Christian you are forgiven so you can be immunized against the corrupting power. Walk through it. Temptation always comes in the form of pressure or enticement. Manipulation, making you think what is evil is good or at least acceptable. So put up with it, even though it’s not what you want.
The problem is that evil grows. It seeks to capture the heart and to destroy. What happened to Jezebel displays this for all to see. Sin leads to death. Jesus came to bring life. (John 10:10)
So what is the solution?
Jesus calls the truth for all to see (v 21) Everyone gets to read this letter. All seven churches are copied in to each other’s mail. It is out in the open. Jesus brings what is happening in the darkness into the light. What is done in secret gets shouted from the rooftops. It’s both a horrible and a healing experience. It is unpleasant for sure, but far from unnecessary. Incentive to repent quickly.
The problem in Thyatira was identified spoken about and then left to drift. The nettle was not grasped. False teachers had established themselves and were influencing church members to compromise. Jesus had spoken to them and given them time, but they had not responded. (V 21) God is not eager to judge people. He is patient and longsuffering. Slow to anger and rich in love.
They didn’t repent but Jesus will not tolerate this any longer. Time to act. Jezebel lives for a while but her comeuppance is sure. Jesus bore our sins now he wants to banish them. Indeed he will.
Jesus does not tolerate sin. He is perfect in all of his ways. A blot or blemish in our character does not charm him, like a filthy mark on our best clothes would mean we must change. It has to be washed and made fit to wear. The comforting thing is that he will not leave us in our compromised state. He is the great physician who exposes in order to heal. The state of our hearts is his concern. Whatever remains of our old nature will be dealt with! He will not miss anything.
I read the story of a TV presenter who developed a lump on his throat. A nurse watching the programme realised this could be a serious problem and emailed in urging him to seek medical attention. He went to the doctor and was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He was treated and his life was saved. Jesus comes to save. He comes to restore our humanity, actually to make us like him.
He is perfect. We say, “no one is perfect” but that is his mission. That is why we cannot tolerate evil. It is on his agenda and within his power to completely conform us to his image. He is bringing many sons to glory.
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:11-13