************ Sermon on Revelation 2:18-29 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 18, 1999
"Thyatira: The Compromising Church"
Thyatira. The outstanding characteristic of Thyatira was the large number of trade guilds that flourished there. A guild looks after apprenticeship, licensing, enforcement of standards, advertising, and the assignment of the tradesmen to different jobs. In Thyatira there were guilds for the following trades: wool-workers, linen-workers, makers of outer garments, dyers, leather-workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave-dealers, and bronze smiths. As we shall see, these trade guilds posed a special problem for the Christians of Thyatira.
The letter-writer or author is Christ. Borrowing from the vision of chapter 1, He introduces the letter by saying,
(Rev 2:18) These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. (cf Rev 1:14,15)In Thyatira it was believed that the Roman Emperor and Tyrimnos, the guardian god of the city, were sons of the god Zeus. But, by this introduction, Jesus claims the title "Son of God" for Himself. Furthermore, Christ describes Himself as having eyes like flames of fire and feet like burnished bronze. The eyes indicate that Christ sees all – nothing is hidden from Him, not even the secrets of heart or mind (vs 23). The feet indicate that Christ will certainly and swiftly pursue all that is evil. We will see, in looking at this letter, how significant Christ's title is for the church of Thyatira.
I A Faithful Church
A He "whose eyes are like blazing fire" sees all things. He sees the good points of the Thyatiran church: "I know your deeds," says Christ, "your love and faith, your service and perseverance ..."
Christ praises this church for her works. This is a church that does good and righteous deeds. This is a church filled with good works. This is a church that looks after widows and orphans, that feeds the hungry, that gives water to the thirsty, that clothes the naked, that cares for the sick, that visits the prisoner.
Christ sees love in the Thyatiran church. It is filled with love for God, for man, for each other. It is a loving, caring, fellowshipping community.
Christ sees a church of faith when He looks at Thyatira. This is a church that has a trustful reliance on the Lord. This is a church that confidently awaits the future life. This is a church that believes the hidden things of God revealed to her.
Christ knows the service done by the Thyatiran church. The congregation is active and involved in the work of the church and kingdom.
Christ also points to the church's perseverance. This church patiently awaits the second coming of the Lord and, we can presume, she made herself ready for that coming. This church endures in the faith in the face of attacks from a hostile and unbelieving world. This church's perseverance means she believes in the ultimate victory of God over all the forces of evil and darkness. This church's perseverance means she believes in God's supremacy.
B Christ sees all of this and He adds, "you are now doing more than you did at first." The church of Thyatira has more deeds, more love and faith, more service and perseverance, than she had at first. There is progress in the life of this church. This church is growing in sanctification, in becoming more and more like Christ. This church is improving in living out the redeemed life. This church is not dead. This church is not at a stand-still. This church is attaining progress in the Christian life.
This progress is not something to be taken for granted. In fact, Ephesus, the recipient church of the first letter, is blamed for having slipped back. While the love of Thyatira has grown, the love of Ephesus has been lost. So the church of Thyatira has much to commend it. There is much that Christ finds to be praiseworthy in the Thyatiran church.
C When He "whose eyes are like blazing fire" looks at us He wants to see in our midst what He saw in Thyatira. Especially He wants to see that we too have made great progress in living the Christian life. He wants to see growth, not slippage or decline, in the area of sanctification. He wants to see a church that is alive, fired up, excited and enthusiastic. I believe that the Lord is not disappointed when He looks for these things in the Trinity United Reformed Church.
"I know your deeds, you love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first." How encouraging it is for any church to hear these words from the Lord!
II A Compromising Church
A Praise isn't all that the Lord gives to the church of Thyatira. He "whose eyes are like blazing fire" also has a word of criticism for this church. He says, "Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel ..." (vs 20). We can safely assume that Jezebel is not the real name of the woman Jesus is speaking against. We can further assume that the name is symbolic. Certainly, no Jew would have borne the same name as King Ahab's evil wife. Because of her, the name "Jezebel" has become synonymous with evil.
Jezebel – what does Scripture tell us about her? When we turn to the book of 1 Kings the following details are revealed: she was the pagan daughter of a pagan king and introduced Baal's worship and Baal's prophets into the northern kingdom of Israel after she married King Ahab (16:31); she killed the prophets of the Lord (18:4); she tried to kill Elijah (19:2); she ordered Naboth killed in order to secure his vineyard (19:21); she urged her husband, King Ahab, to do evil in the eyes of the Lord (21:25).
Why did Ahab marry such an evil, wicked woman? Ahab wanted Israel's borders to be secure. Damascus on the northeast border was a threat to Israel's security so Ahab made a treaty with the Phoenicians on the northwest border. Ahab also wanted Israel to be prosperous. So he also made a commercial treaty with Phoenicia so that Israel had access to Phoenicia's rich markets, treasure, and culture. This military-commercial treaty with the Phoenicians was sealed by the marriage of Ahab, king of Israel, and Jezebel, daughter of the Phoenician king.
In marrying Jezebel Ahab compromised his religious principles. Ahab compromised in order to bring security and prosperity to Israel. Ahab compromised and a great evil was introduced into the land.
B The Jezebel of Thyatira introduced a great evil into the church of Thyatira. This Jezebel called herself a prophetess. Now, prophets were highly regarded in the early church, and are mentioned in close relationship with the apostles (1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11). In Romans 12:6 prophecy heads the list of the gifts of the Spirit. In a church that does not possess the New Testament Bible a prophet has a special place and great authority. The Jezebel of Thyatira falsely claimed to be a prophetess having special revelations from God. So Christians in Thyatira listened to and believed what Jezebel said.
Jezebel taught the teachings of the Nicolaitans. We meet the Nicolaitans in the churches of Ephesus and Pergamum too. If you remember, the Nicolaitans said it was permissible for Christians to participate in the feasts and sexual immorality of pagan worship – two things the church council of Jerusalem specified Gentile converts had to abstain from (Acts 15).
The church of Thyatira tolerated Jezebel and her teaching. In fact, there were many in the church who did more than just tolerate her. Many in the church of Thyatira actually participated in the feasts and sexual immorality of pagan worship.
Here again is the opposite situation from that in Ephesus. The Ephesian Church tested those who claimed to be apostles and rejected them as false. But in doing this Ephesus lost or forsook love and became harsh and censorious. Thyatira, on the other hand, is a church abounding and even growing in love and faith. But in being this way she is also tolerant of a false and wicked prophetess and even follows her.
C Why? Why did the church of Thyatira tolerate and even follow this evil woman and her teachings? We can not say this happened because this church's faith and love was false or fake. For it wasn't. The Lord even praised this church for her love and faith. And, Jesus calls the members of this church "my servants" when He says Jezebel "misleads my servants" (vs 20). In Scripture a servant of God is one who is totally committed to the Lord. A servant of Jesus is one who has offered his or her life to Jesus as the risen and exalted Lord. These are not false believers, then, who tolerate and are led astray by Jezebel.
Why, then, did this happen? The church of Thyatira made a compromise for the sake of security and prosperity. The church of Thyatira compromised her faith, just as Ahab compromised his faith, in order to gain security and prosperity.
Remember what I said earlier about the trade guilds? In the city of Thyatira guild membership was necessary to have earthly security and prosperity. It was next to impossible to find work or to conduct business without guild membership. But guild membership meant participation in guild feasts dedicated to the pagan god Tyrimnos; guild membership involved participation in the feasts and sexual immorality of pagan worship.
Jezebel and the Nicolaitans of Thyatira urged the Christians of Thyatira to obtain guild membership. They urged the Christians of Thyatira to make just a little compromise here in order to gain a lot – security and prosperity.
D Christ speaks against any such compromise. For such a compromise is fatal – look at what compromise did to Ahab's Israel. Such a compromise is fatal for Thyatira too. There can be no compromise at all with the forces of darkness. The Apostle Paul says it the best in 2 Corinthians when he asks:
(2Cor 6:14-16) For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (15) What harmony is there between Christ and Belial ? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (16) What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?There is no middle ground between the two. No compromise at all is possible.
The Lord demands repentance for this sin of compromise and speaks very severely about what happens if there is no repentance: the Lord will cast Jezebel "on a bed of suffering," He will make her followers "suffer intensely," and He will "strike her children dead" (vs 22,23a). This leaves no doubt as to where the Lord stands. "He who searches hearts and minds," He "whose eyes are like burning fire," He "whose feet are like burnished bronze," has found Jezebel and her followers to be guilty and will judge each according to their deeds.
The Lord hates all compromise with sin and evil. He simply does not tolerate it. He condemns it and judges it with the utmost severity.
We would be guilty of a great sin of omission, though, if we did not complete the Biblical picture of God by saying that He is also a merciful and loving God. He gave the Jezebel of Thyatira "time to repent of her immorality" (vs 21). He told the followers of Jezebel they would suffer "unless they repent of her ways" (vs 22). The Apostle Peter can say the Lord "is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Pt 3:9). God doesn't want to judge and condemn and punish. He wants to forgive. He takes great delight in the repentance of His servants.
Nevertheless, God does not tolerate any compromise with sin and evil. So He says to the church of Thyatira, "Hold on to what you have until I come" (vs 25). The church is to be faithful to the Lord and is not to give away by compromise any part of what she believes.
E We can neither minimize nor dismiss the problem faced by the Thyatiran church as having no concern for us or as being irrelevant to our situation. Every generation of Christians must answer the question, "How far should I accept and adopt the standards of the world?" On the one hand, the Christian must not deny her faith. On the other hand, she must not deny her membership in society either. The cause of Christ is not served if Christians, like the Amish, appear as a group of old-fashioned people trying to retreat from the real world. Christians live in the same world as their unbelieving neighbors and face the same problems. But, they must find Christian solutions to these problems, solutions that do not compromise any part of what they believe.
It is precisely here where lies the greatest threat to Christianity today. The biggest threat facing Christianity today is not communism, or materialism, or atheism, or evolutionism, or hedonism, or Satanism, or secular humanism, or any other "ism" you care to name. The biggest threat facing the church today is the spirit of Jezebel and the Nicolaitans. The biggest danger facing the church today is compromise. Don't forget, it was servants of God in Thyatira who were misled by Jezebel into compromising their faith. These servants of the Lord had deeds, love, faith, service, and perseverance and were growing in these. What happened to them can too easily happen to us too. For all around us, both within and without the church, are those who urge us to compromise and accommodate ourselves to the world. And, it is so easy to listen to this false teaching.
What would happen, do you think, if we would compromise just a little? What would happen if we compromised our stand on the holiness of the Lord's Day? What would happen if we compromised our stand on the sanctity of human life? What would happen if we compromised our stand on pre-marital sex, adultery, homosexual practice, divorce and remarriage? What would happen if we compromised our view on infant baptism, the covenant, the kingdom, election? What do you think would happen?
Let's say we do compromise in all these areas. I ask you, would we still be the church if we allowed organized sports or recreation or vacation to keep us away from worship? Would we still be the church if we permitted abortions and euthanasia? Would we still be the church if we allowed common-law relationships, homosexual practice, easy divorce and the automatic right to remarriage after an unbiblical divorce? Would we still be the church if we permitted only a believer's baptism, if we didn't believe in the covenant, if we say the kingdom is a future and not a present reality, if we declare election to be conditional rather than unconditional and by grace?
I am sure you realize that compromise tears out the heart and soul of a church. She can have love, faith, works, endurance, and service, but if she compromises she stops being church.
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (vs 29).
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