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We are once again back to our series on the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. Today we look at what Jesus has to say by the Spirit to the church in Thyatira – and also to us. This is the fourth and longest of the seven letters.

Thyatira was 35 miles inland from the Aegean sea. Its modern name is Akhisar. It was the least important of all the cities written to by John. It was not a religious or political center. It was situated at the intersection of several trade routes and was known as a trading town. It had a number of trade guilds or associations – e.g. tanners, potters, workers of wool, linen workers and dyers. In particular it was known for its purple dye. Lydia, converted by Paul in Philippi, was a dealer in purple cloth from Thyatira – Acts 16:14.

The situation in Thyatira

 First of all, Jesus commends them for their faithfulness. v. 19 – “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.”  So they’re doing well. If Ephesus had abandoned the love they had at first, The church in Thyatira is growing in its Christian walk. Their “latter works exceed the first.” The phrase, “patient endurance” may well refer to enduring persecution for their faith.

 But then we also have something bad – their tolerance of false teaching, which becomes the focus of the letter.  v. 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.”

 Jesus is referring to an actual woman in the church in Thyatira – a prophetess or teacher. But he uses ‘Jezebel’ as a code name to make a point. The real Jezebel was a wicked woman and a famous promoter of idolatry. She was the wife of Ahab, king of Israel. She supported 450 false prophets and tried to kill the true prophets of God. She led the people into spiritual harlotry – 2 Kings 9:22. So like this ancient woman, this Thyatiran teacher is leading these believers to practice idolatry and unfaithfulness.

 It is likely that all of the false teachers in these letters are a part of the same group – Balaam, Jezebel, the Nicolaitans. Under the pressure of the demands to worship the emperor, as we have talked about, they taught that you can offer up emperor worship. They said that you can eat the meat of the festivities. And most importantly, you don’t have to suffer for not doing these things!

In Thyatira this most likely took place in the context of their trade associations. These would meet together and offer up sacrifices to various gods and most likely the emperor at this time, and then feast together. This was how it worked, and if you didn’t do all this it would have been quite hard to earn a living in your trade. So there was real pressure to give in and compromise. And Jezebel is encouraging this.

 v. 24 refers to “the deep things of Satan.” The prophetess was probably saying, I teach the deep things of God. Something more profound than what John teaches. In Jesus’ language she is only teaching the deep things of Satan because her teaching leads believers to worship the emperor.

Jesus’ message

Once again, it is wrong to worship the emperor. If you do –

  • You are following Jezebel, a false prophet and an idolater.
  • You are practicing sexual immorality. Again this is almost certainly a figurative use. You are being unfaithful, or adulterous in your relationship with Jesus as Lord, acting like a prostitute.
  • You are eating food sacrificed to idols which is idolatry and thus a breaking of the first and second of the 10 commandments.

  There is a Psalm 2 theme in this letter. This is a Messianic Psalm, speaking of God’s coming ruler:

  • v. 18 which speaks of the Son of God, echoes Psalm 2:7.
  • v. 26 which talks about authority over the nations comes from Psalm 2:8.
  • v. 27 which refers to ruling with a rod of iron comes from Psalm 2:9.

This presents a contrast between Jesus, the promised Messiah, and the Roman emperor, who called himself the Son of God, and claimed to rule the world. The message is clear. Jesus is the only true Lord.

 Jesus also warns of judgment on Jezebel. vs. 21-23 – “I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 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, and I will strike her children dead.” Again the sexual language is used figuratively.

 Jesus has spoken to her already, probably through John or another prophet, but she refuses to repent.

 Note the seriousness of Jesus’ judgment:

  • She will be stricken with sickness—unto death?
  • Those who commit adultery with her (her followers?) will have great tribulation, which is exactly what they are trying to avoid by worshipping the emperor.
  • Her children (other false teachers?) will be killed.

 v. 23 – “And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.” (See – Jeremiah 17:10). This broadens things out to all the seven churches. Jesus knows what is in their minds and hearts and each person will be judged “as their works deserve.”

 Finally Jesus speaks a word to the rest. vs. 24-25 – “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. Only hold fast what you have until I come.” This is a addressed to those who have not gone along with Jezebel. Jesus lays no other burden on them, except to stop tolerating Jezebel (v. 20) and her associates. They are to hold fast to their commitment to him, to be faithful in their good works noted in v. 19, until Jesus returns.

Jesus speaks to us

 v. 29 says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Notice again the plural. Jesus’ words to the church in Thyatira go beyond just that church. They are also words for us. And we need to have ears that hear his words.

1. Don’t tolerate false teaching. In v. 20 Jesus held it against them that they tolerated Jezebel, who was actively leading people astray. These are not those who agreed with her, but who simply tolerated her.

 Jesus commended Ephesus in this regard. In Revelation 2:2 he said, “I know . . . 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.” They tested the various teachers that came through and we should also test the teachers that we listen to. Whether on the radio or on TV or in our congregation. We should test them and not put up with false teaching.

 2. Commitment to Jesus can cost us economically. This is what these believers were facing. If they didn’t go along with the others in offering up wrong worship, they could be excluded from the networks and resources of their trade guild.

 Would we be faithful if it cost us economically in this way? Or in our own situation – do we compromise our Christian integrity in order to make more money?

 3. Jesus will judge us. In the case of Jezebel, Jesus gave her time to repent, but she refused and so he warned her of the consequences. Jesus gives us time to repent too, but if we don’t there will be serious consequences as well. Jezebel is stricken, others were to have great tribulation or be killed.

  Do we think of Jesus as just a warm and fuzzy nice guy? Do we think he will just always love and accept us no matter what, because I like him and he likes me? Well, Jesus also judges, and the judgment can be severe. He tells us himself that he is a stern master and that he expects a lot of us. As he says in v. 23, “I will give to each of you as your works deserve.” He will judge each one of us impartially based on what we have done.

 4. You can’t fool Jesus. He says in v. 23 – “I am he who searches the heart and mind.” Do you think you can hide from Jesus? That he doesn’t see what you do? That he doesn’t know what is in your thoughts and the intents of your heart?

 You can fool others, you can even fool yourself, but you can never fool Jesus. He sees right through us. So lets be honest with him and others and stop trying to hide things.

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As we end lets remember Jesus’ words of encouragement for faithfulness: v. 26-28 – “The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 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. And I will give him the morning star.”

 May we be among those who are so blessed.

William Higgins

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We are looking again at the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. Today we look at what Jesus has to say by the Spirit to the church in Pergamum – and also to us.

Pergamum was 68 miles north of Smyrna; its modern day name is Bergama. It was once the center of its own independent kingdom. It had a huge Library. At one time, it was the 2nd largest in the ancient world with 200,000 books. It was also well known for its Aesculapium, which was dedicated to the god of healing. It was a large complex. Something of a mix of a hospital and a spa. Many who were sick came here for help.

Pergamum was long a Roman ally. It was the first city to erect a temple to a living Emperor – Augustus in 29 BC. It was a real center for Emperor worship, which we have talked about before. It was also the place where Roman judicial proceedings took place.

The situation in Pergamum

The believers here have suffered. Jesus says in v. 13, “You hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith,” talking about a time in the near past.

This language of “holding fast my name” and “not denying my faith” has to do with persecution. When they were put on the spot they did not denounce Jesus or give up their faith. They remained faithful. As Jesus talked about in Matthew 10:32-33, if we acknowledge him before others in times of persecution he will acknowledge us before the Father. But if we deny him, he will deny us.

Jesus even mentions a specific person: “Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you.” – v. 13. This word “witness” in Greek is “martyr.” He witnessed to Jesus by dying for him. He remained true unto death.

We also see that they live in a hostile environment. Jesus says in v. 13, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is . . . where Satan dwells.” This most likely refers to two realities:

1) The strong promotion of Emperor worship in Pergamum. This was required of all citizens at this time as a test of loyalty. Basically lighting incense to the genius of the Emperor and then you got a certificate. There were also games & festivities in honor of Caesar, and sacrifices and feasts from the meat of the sacrifices which were given out free by wealthy patrons. And eating meat was a rarity in that day so this would have been a real draw for poorer people.

2) Pergamum was where the Roman authorities judged cases. So if you were denounced, or exposed as a Christian; as someone who wouldn’t acknowledge Caesar as a god, but confessed Christ as the Son of God – this is where you would be taken to be judged.

So the potential for suffering here would have been great. They were living right in the shadow of the oppressive Roman persecutors. And this is the only letter that mentions someone dying for their faith – Antipas.

There is a complicating factor in the mix here, false teaching which is related to their suffering, as we will see. In v. 14 Jesus says, “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.”

The story of Balaam is told in the book of Numbers. The specific story comes from Numbers 25:1-3 (also 31:16). The Moabite King Balak wanted to destroy Israel. He couldn’t get Balaam to curse them, but Balaam gave Balak the idea to cause the Israelites to stumble through sexual immorality and eating food offered to idols. In other words, Israel can’t be defeated. But if you cause them to sin, then God will reject and destroy them. And indeed, there was a great plague for their sin and many Israelites died.

Jesus says in v. 15, “So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” We encountered these in Ephesus as well. Apparently they are the same as those who hold to the teaching of Balaam.

Their teaching was that you can participate in the festivities of worship for Caesar. Their message is that it is no big deal. Maybe, this isn’t really idolatry, or maybe – the Emperor knows he isn’t a god, its just a civic ceremony. Why suffer over such a small thing? And hey, there’s free meat!

  • you can light the incense
  • you can get your certificate
  • you can eat the meat

And most importantly, you don’t have to suffer!

Jesus’ message to them

It is wrong to worship the Emperor – v. 14. If you do . . .

  • You are following a false prophet, like Balaam in the Old Testament.
  • You are stumbling. That is, sinning.
  • You are eating food sacrificed to idols which is a breaking of the first and second of the ten commandments.
  • You are practicing sexual immorality. This is most likely figurative, since there was nothing sexual involved in Emperor worship. This is a common idea in Scripture. When you worship idols, you are committing adultery by being unfaithful to God; you are playing the whore (Jeremiah 3:6).

Jesus is asking fundamentally, ‘Am I Lord, or is Caesar Lord?’ They had to decide. If Jesus is Lord, then you cannot participate in activities that proclaim someone else as Son of God and Lord.

Finally, Jesus says that such behavior will bring judgment, just as with Israel in Numbers 25 where a great plague came on the people because of their sin. He says in v. 16, “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.”

There is sword theme in this letter. It begins in v. 12 when it describes Jesus in this way – “The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.” And in v. 16 it indicates that Jesus will come and judge the false teachers who lead his people astray with this sword.

Jesus speaks to us

v. 17 says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Notice again the plural. Jesus’ words to the church in Pergamum are also words for us. And we need to have ears that hear his words.

1. Don’t worship idols. We may think there aren’t any anymore, but there are lots of idols today. Jesus tells us wealth can be an idol in Matthew 6:24. And money even has images on it. In our culture we worship celebrities. We give them our money, time, and devotion. We even hang up images of them; posters and pictures.

We must remember that God is a jealous God; and Jesus is a jealous Lord. And when we inappropriately honor and serve these, we are like prostitutes, or adulterers. And we will be judged by God. As Jesus says here in v. 16, “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.”

2. Specifically we have to beware of inappropriate demands for political allegiance. This doesn’t just happen in the Roman empire or say, Hitler’s Germany. Whenever political leaders ask us to put our trust in them for our security and peace; when they ask us to do what Jesus forbids – they place themselves as idols in opposition to God. And they force a choice upon us: Do we obey the human authority or our Lord Jesus? The answer is found in the words of Peter in Acts 5:29. “We must obey God rather than men.”

3. Don’t listen to those who tell you to just fit in with the world. It’s easier to fit in and go along with the crowed. Why cause trouble? It isn’t that bad. And so we conform to the world’s sexual practices, lack of integrity, business ethics, gossip, pride, etc..

James 4:4 says, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Again, the image of religious adultery. A friend of the world is an adulterer and an enemy of God.

4. Sin will bring us judgment and defeat. Jesus speaks of a stumbling block here. The idea is that you are on the right path and want to stay on it, but someone puts something in your way so that you trip and fall off the path.

This is what Balaam did with ancient Israel. And this is what the Nicolaitans were doing with their teaching in Pergamum. And it is the devil’s strategy as well.

We too can’t be defeated if we stay on the path. But if we fall into sin through stumbling blocks, we can be defeated. So Satan sends us many opportunities to stumble. And Jesus sternly warns us in Mark 9:43, “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.” Whatever causes us to stumble, we must cut off to avoid sin and judgment.

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As we end lets remember Jesus’ words of encouragement for faithfulness: v. 17 – “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.”

These are gifts that God will give us at the time of the resurrection. May God help us to be among those who overcome and thus receive these gifts.

William Higgins

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