Revelation 2.18-29 – Jezebels

18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

19 “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.

20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.

24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come. 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star.

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

 

The church at Thyatira was in the smallest and in the least important city of the seven written to in this section of Revelation. It was a city of business and trade (Acts 16.14-15), and there is no documented persecution of the Christians there.

Again, as with the other churches, they are doing some things well. We read, ‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.’ So, the church in Thyatira were loving, faithful, serving, and had patient endurance. Perhaps the best commendation is the last; that their latter works exceeded their first, so, basically, they were progressing down the discipleship path that we are all on.

Isn’t that the goal for us all? Don’t we all want a deeper, closer, more fruitful relationship with the Lord?

But, nevertheless, they had some things they needed to repent of and turn away from (the two go hand in hand really, don’t they). Jesus sees with a Divine clarity, so He knows their good works, but also perceives what is wrong without a shadow of a doubt, remember He has eyes like a flame of fire. Their problem was tolerating sexual immorality amongst themselves and engaging in idolatrous practices. This centres around a woman called Jezebel (1 Kings 16-21, 2 Kings 9.30-37). This may not have been her real name, but the title implies a self-styled prophetess and comes with a negative connotation, for sure. Just think if someone called you a Judas, or a Hitler…not a good title to have.

Thyatira was full of trade guilds, and, likely what happened was that this woman, Jezebel, lured believers to the social gatherings of the guilds whereat they fell into idolatrous practices and/or sexual immorality. Feeling compelled to attend to further their work lives, they fell.

The church suffered because they tolerated this corruption from within, Jezebel flat rejected God and His perfect ways (I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality), and what a warning this is to us! Maybe there were just one or two in the church that practiced this, but, as we know, a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Given a glass of water with 99% water and 1% poison, we simply would not drink it, would we?

The Christians in Thyatira are told to

‘…hold fast what you have until I come. 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star.’

This is so applicable to us too, isn’t it, if we hold fast to the teachings of Jesus, resist the lure of ‘worldly wisdom’ (what some call the deep things of Satan), then we will have our share in the coming Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour. We read we will share in His authority to judge and rule (Psalm 2) and we will receive the best gift of all, the best gift ever, Jesus Himself (And I will give him the morning star. – Revelation 22.16)

Revelation is not some mystical, future-ish, science fiction, far off prophetical utterance for a special few at a special time…it is truly for all of us.

Here, it is for those who are like Jezebel, leading others to sin.

It is for those who are following the teachings of a Jezebel.

It is for those who permit a Jezebel to influence them or those around them.

It also applies to the faithful in Christ as an exhortation to hold fast to the pure Spiritual nutrition of the Word of God.

 

Revelation 2.12-17 – Heaven bound

12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.

13 “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith[a] even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.

14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. 15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.

17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’

Today the angel of the church in Pergamum is addressed. Pergamum was the political capital of Asia Minor, so another important city. It was a city noted for culture, as an educational centre (it had a library containing over 200,000 volumes), and was also noted as a ‘religious’ city. We read also that it is a stronghold of satanic power.

As to why it was such a stronghold, some believe because Pergamum was full or pagan religion, especially of “Asclepios Soter” or “Asclepios Savior.”, a pagan god depicted by a snake, a pagan god of healing. Sufferers would flock to this temple from all over the Roman empire and spend the night in the dark temple, being run over by tame snakes. To touch the snake, they believed, was to touch the god himself, and be healed…

Others believe it was because Pergamum had a huge altar dedicated to the Roman god Zeus, and yet others believe it was because Pergamum was the political centre of Caesar worship.

Clearly, a mixed up place.

This church are holding fast to the name of Jesus in a place filled with unbelievers, where the way of life totally revolved around worship of other gods, where people were known to be religious but were not in relationship with the One true God.

But, as there is no such thing as a perfect church, there are also behaviours and actions that they are told must stop, must be repented of.

Some in the church were still holding on to former ways of immorality and idolatry, as we read, they were holding the teaching of Balaam, see Numbers 22-24, and 31.

To live up to Biblical principles of morality means going against the grain, especially in Pergamum 2000 years ago. Listen to what Roman statesmen Cicero said,

“If there is anyone who thinks that young men should not be allowed the love of many women, he is extremely severe. I am not able to deny the principle he stands on. But he contradicts, not only with the freedom our age allows, but also with the customs and allowances of our ancestors. When indeed was this not done? When did anyone find fault with it? When was such permission denied? When was it that what is now allowed was not allowed?”

As believers we are called to stand against such ‘freedoms of the age’, and live with the timeless truth of the Word of God in mind, the timeless principles embodied by the Lord Jesus Christ.

We must never have a spirit of accommodation towards false teaching, towards idolatry, or towards immorality…the church must be doctrinally pure, and God promises us true manna from heaven if we are (John 6.41).

He also promises that if we see this through to the end, we are heaven bound, as evidenced by the white stone. Here the name on the stone is far more important than the stone itself.

Think, if you won the lottery and were told, ‘Do you want a cheque, a bank transfer, or an enormous bag of cash?’, you wouldn’t care how it got there, you’d just care it got there, you see?

So on the stone is our heavenly name, our guaranteed reservation to dwell with God forever…if we hold fast to His timeless truths despite living in a world that seeks to water them down, push them aside, or out and out crucify them.

 

Revelation 2.8-11 – To the church in Smyrna

8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

9 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

 

Smyrna was a big, beautiful, proud city at the time of writing, commercially rich and vibrant.

“Smyrna was a leading city in the Roman cult of Emperor worship”,

writes David Guzik.

The Christians here lost jobs, money, possessions, and sometimes life for simply being Christian; for professing the faith that we also profess to have. At times like that, when we are suffering simply for being a Christian, its easy to feel like we have been forgotten by God, that there is no rhyme or reason to it all.

But, just as the suffering of Christ on the cross achieved so much, so can our earthly suffering produce fruit too. We may never see it, but we need to, we have to, we must believe in the good and perfect will of Almighty God.

Its easy to feel forgotten, but, Jesus says, “I know your tribulation…”, He knows our problems, He knows our poverty, He knows the slander of those who claim to be living a Christian life which tarnishes the rest of us with the same brush…He knows.

Churches in the day and age when Revelation was written had a plurality of male elders, and then one pastor; one installed to lead the leaders and to teach. In the church in Smyrna, it was a man named Polycarp (a personal hero of the faith of mine).

He refused to burn incense and renounce the ‘atheist’ Christians, and in a culture where emperor worship was the ‘norm’, Polycarp stood up for what he believed.

Rome thought that by denying the pantheon of Roman gods you were atheist…how wrong they were…

So Polycarp refused to worship Caesar as a god, and, long story short, was martyred for his faith. The governor of the time asked Polycarp to deny Christ and promised that if he did, his life will be spared. But the faithful saint answered the now famous line,

“Fourscore and six years have I served him, and he has never done me injury; how then can I now blaspheme my King and saviour?”

So, when we are persecuted, pushed, prodded, poked, or just made to feel bad for being a Christian, when we feel like God has forgotten us, we can remember the words of Polycarp, ‘…he has never done me injury…’.

God has not forgotten you, God will never forget you, and, as Jesus says here,

Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

 

Revelation 2.1-7 – To the church in Ephesus

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

John now turns his attention, or rather, Jesus now turns his attention to the seven churches in Asia. Each paragraph is very formulaic (same same), and contains;

  • An address to a congregation,
  • an introduction of Jesus,
  • a statement on the condition of the church,
  • a verdict from Jesus about the church,
  • a command from Jesus about the church,
  • an exhortation to all Christians,
  • and a promise of a reward.

See if you can spot these things over the next few teachings!

So, chapters two and three address these seven churches (Paul also wrote to seven churches), then from chapter four onwards we go into future events (interestingly, some think that between chapter three and four is when the rapture of the church happens…)

Today, Ephesus. This church, on the surface, is good! They are patient, they toil, then endure, they cannot bear with people who do evil. So far, so good. They have tested the teachings they receive and found out false prophets, this means they knew correct teachings and they had doctrinal purity.

However, doing lots of good works doesn’t remove the bad ones, does it…

Their fault was that they abandoned the love they had at first. They have deliberately and consciously moved away from practicing love. Charles Spurgeon said (loosely) that if we lose love, we have lost all.

Its tricky, isn’t it, If we over emphasise keeping laws and truth, and forget love, we turn into Pharisees, don’t we, more concerned with protocol than people. We focus on the outward appearance of things, not the inner condition.

But, if we over emphasise love, we tolerate the wrong in people and seek to minimise it under the thought of ‘I’m loving people’.

There needs to be a balance, truth in love, love with truth.

Jesus calls for the church in Ephesus to repent and go back to their first love, a deliberate, intentional, and selfless love for others and each other that seeks to build people up in truth. Not cast them away when they stray, but not turn a blind eye to their sin, either. Balance is the key, and He is the example. Simply, loving God with everything we’ve got, and loving others as much, if not more, than we love ourselves.

For all of us, are we seeking the balance of truth and love?

Jesus says

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

which means that the messages we are going to read to these seven churches are, in principle and application, for all of us.

 

Revelation 1.9-20 – How He is

In Revelation 1.12-20 we read the only physical description of Jesus as He is now. We would – without really trying to – think of Jesus as He was…not as He is.

If I asked you to picture Jesus now, you would (most likely) picture a tall, kind-faced, bearded man with long hair by modern standards, and most likely to this image you would apply your own skin colour and/or tone. If you are really a clever boffin you would picture a Middle Eastern looking man, on account of Jesus’ geographical location during His incarnation, but, really, that’s how He looked then, not how He looks now!

I know, I know, you’ll say, well, the Bible teaches that the resurrection bodies we receive aren’t actually new, they are what we have (better start taking care of the skin you’re in, no?), because when Jesus rose He had scars and gaping holes in His hands…and you’re right, but, lets look how He is…

9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Some fascinating things in this passage, but we want to focus on the main thing, don’t we, we want to keep the main thing as the main thing…

So,

Jesus is wise (The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow.),

pure (clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest),

has impeccable judgement and can see the heart of men (His eyes were like a flame of fire),

is stable and permanent (his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace),

has a powerful, commanding, attention-grabbing voice (his voice was like the roar of many waters),

He holds the church in His hands (As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.),

His Word is heavy, powerful (from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword), *this is a different word from Hebrews 4.12. Here we read of a powerful, all-conquering sword, in Hebrews we read of a surgeon’s scalpel, precise and piercing.

and He radiates glory (his face was like the sun shining in full strength.)

Some people get hung up on the sacrificial saviour problem; how can I put my trust in a man who died, whose followers don’t even deny that died, whose followers actually proclaim His death as a good thing?

Well, when we read of the qualities, power, and characteristics that that broken, suffering, and loving human body belied, we can trust Him for the future with a new enthusiasm, love Him with a new vigour, and join Him in His mission to save the lost with more fervency.

We can do this because we know how He was, we know what He did, and, we know what He is like right now.