The Church at Thyatira
So far, we have looked at three of the seven churches that John wrote to in the book of Revelation. We have seen how the people of Ephesus were strong in doctrine, but they were lacking in love. Then we saw how the church at Smyrna was heavily persecuted, yet they remained faithful to Christ in the midst of their persecution. And then last week, we examined the church at Pergamos, and saw how they were enduring persecution, but how they had allowed sin to creep into their church in the form of a heresy called the Nicolaitan heresy. Tonight, as we moved east of the port city of Pergamos, we are going to look at the church in the city of Thyatira, and examine how this church in the first century A.D. can help us in the twenty-first century A.D. I invite you to turn with me to Revelation chapter two, and we’ll be reading verses eighteen through twenty-nine. Again, Revelation 2:18-29.
“And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; ‘These things saith the Son of God, who hath His eyes like unto a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass; I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first. Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
Out of all of the seven churches, Jesus has more to say to the church at Thyatira than He does to any of the other six. When Christ wrote to the church in Smyrna, His words only filled four verses. But tonight, Christ’s words take up twelve verses. So what that means for us here tonight is that, for the sake of time, we have to deal with each verse more briefly than we would on a normal week. And if you remember last week, we talked about how Christ always identifies Himself by emphasizing an aspect of His character. Last week, Christ said that He was the One who had a two-edged sword. Look how Christ identifies Himself in verse eighteen. He says that He is the One who has eyes like flames of fire, feet like fine brass. When we talked about the vision of the Son of Man in Revelation chapter one, we talked about what the eyes of flame and the feet of brass meant. Basically, the eyes of fire represent Christ’s passion, both for judging sin and for saving the righteous. And the feet of brass represent how Christ has gone through the fire, and He has shown Himself to be completely pure. And don’t forget that He chose to emphasize these attributes for a reason. As we study Christ’s words to the church in Thyatira, let’s remember that He is the Christ who has shown Himself to be completely pure, and His eyes are determining who is evil and who is righteous.
In verse nineteen, Jesus praised the church in Thyatira. Look at what He says to them: “I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.” While the grammar in our English Bibles is a little bit hard to understand in this verse, John is essentially writing down a list of their good works. Christ mentions their love, their service, their faith, and their patience. And then, He says that their last works are better than their first works. Don’t you hope that Christ says the same thing about us one day? This is actually the exact opposite of what Christ said to the church at Ephesus. Christ told them that they no longer had the love they used to have. Christ is telling this church that their love is now better than it was before. And for the sake of time, let’s move on.
Verses twenty through twenty-three highlight what’s going on inside the church at Thyatira. Let’s read those verses again. “Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.” Last week, the heretics in the church were compared to the prophet Balaam. This week, they are compared to the wicked Queen Jezebel. While Balaam was no doubt a bad dude, Jezebel is potentially the most wicked human being mentioned in the Bible, outside of the antichrist. Jezebel was a worshipper of Baal; and when King Ahab married her, she made it her life’s mission to convince the nation of Israel to worship Baal instead of God. And when Elijah the prophet opposed her, she made it her top priority to hunt down and kill Elijah. So when Christ identifies people within this church with the wicked Queen Jezebel, you can imagine that how ill He thinks of them.
And notice in the second half of the verse that their crimes are seducing the people to commit fornication and eating meat sacrificed to idols. If you remember, these are the same two things that the Nicolaitan heretics were teaching. So it’s possible that it is the same heresy creeping up in this church as well; but by the language that Christ uses, it appears that things are much more serious in Thyatira than they were in Pergamos. And remember that Christ told the church at Pergamos that He was going to give the people time to repent. But notice in verse twenty-one, that Christ said that the heretics in the Thyatira church had already been given their chance, and they had not repented. And so, Christ pronounces judgment in verse twenty-two. He told the church that if the people did not repent, He would throw them into a bed. Literally, the idea here is of throwing them onto a deathbed, but it is a play on words because they were guilty of fornication, and fornication normally happens on a bed. In verse twenty-three Christ elaborates by saying that He will kill all of the children of Jezebel. In other words, not only will Christ destroy the original people that taught the heresy, but He will also destroy the people that bought into this great lie. Next Christ says that He is the One that searches the reins and the heart. “The reins” is an idiom referring to the mind, because the mind controls the body, just like the reins control the horse.
Moving on, verses twenty-four and twenty-five are words of comfort to the people in Thyatira who are not a part of this heresy. Let’s read those two verses again. “But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.” In these two verses, Christ says that He is not going to punish all of the people who are not a part of this heresy. His only charge to them is to hold fast to the truth of the gospel until He comes back.
At this point, I think it would be prudent to make some application to our world. What we have here is a great illustration of the physical church and the spiritual church. The physical church of Thyatira was made up of two groups of people. There were those who were true believers in Christ, and there were those in the church who were trying to seduce true believers into sexual sin. But the spiritual church of Thyatira was made up of only one group of people, and those were the people who truly knew Christ as their Savior. And Christ is saying that He is going to punish those who are in the physical church, but not those who are in the spiritual church. In other words, Christ is going to destroy all of those who say they are Christians, but who in truth are not Christians.
So how can we apply this to our world today? First off, I don’t really think that we can apply it to our particular church. I mean, is it possible that someone who is a member of our church is not a true believer? Yes, it’s possible, but it’s not likely. You see, the church of Thyatira was not only compromised by these heretics, it was being overrun by them. And in this church, we can safely say that the true message of the gospel is not being compromised. And so, I do not think that we can really apply this simply within our church. But let’s look instead at the entire church in America. And when I say “church,” I am talking about every person, every denomination, and even every cult who says that they belong to Jesus Christ. I think you will agree with me that, as a whole, the American church has fallen into some grave heresies. Just recently, a prominent Evangelical pastor named Rob Bell published a book that triumphantly said that hell does not exist, and everyone will ultimately end up in Heaven. What?!? While that may sound nice, it is simply not the message of the Bible. In many denominations, churches are happily ordaining homosexual ministers. In some denominations, the life-changing power of the gospel has been traded in for a feel-good, heart-warming message. While their sermons may sound nice, they have completely neglected the power of the Cross.
And yet, despite all of these heresies, there is a spiritual remnant of believers who refuses to bow their knee to false doctrines. And just like the true believers in Thyatira, Jesus Christ desires for us to keep on keeping on. He wants us to never cave to the heresies that have infiltrated some churches. And, sometimes, it seems as if the American church is on the eventual path to extinction. You read magazine articles accounting how another pastor was caught cheating on his wife, or you watch a news clip of another church leader saying that Jesus is not the only way to Heaven. But, I can triumphantly say, that while the physical church may slide into moral decay, the spiritual Church that has been bought with the blood of Jesus Christ will never be defeated. My prayer is that this church will always be a church that preaches that Jesus Christ is the only Name under heaven by which men can be saved. And may we, as individuals, always be found faithful to our God, even though there are countless people who would love to see us fall. May Christ always find us faithful to Him.
Let us pray.
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