Revelation 2:18-29 – the Church at Thyatira

Here are my notes for tomorrow’s Sunday School lesson. Since I know that many will be trapped indoors due to snow, I thought posting them early might be helpful.

PJW

To the Church in Thyatira

Thyatira was a city in a valley – a central hub of communications in its day. It sat on the bank of the Lycus River, which was a main tributary of the Hermus Valley in which the city was situated. Thyatira was built between 300 and 282 VC by Seleucus I, who was the founder of the Seleucid dynasty.[i] Initially it was built as defense against a colony of Macedonian soldiers in case they tried to invade Pergamum.

Its placement was strategic, as Ramsey suggests:

Not merely did all communication and trade between those two great and rich valleys (the Hermus and Caicos) pass up and down the vale; but also, in certain periods and in certain conditions of the general economy of Asia Minor and the Aegean lands, a main artery of the Anatolian system of communication made use of it. The land-road connecting Constantinople with Smyrna and the south-western regions of Asia Minor goes that way, and has been at some periods an important route. The Imperial Post-road took that course in Roman times. Above all, when Pergamum was the capital of Asia under the kings, that was the most important road in the whole country…[ii]

2:18 “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.

Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of God here, asserts plainly His deity, and therefore His authority. There can be no question in the minds of those receiving this letter whom is it that is addressing them. His eyes and his feet are describes in ways that we’ve looked at previously, and are taken from Daniel 10…

His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude. (Daniel 10:6)

These are attributes of the divine Judge. And, as Beale remarks, they anticipate (or tie in well with) the words of the Messianic Psalm 2:

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:12)

What this means is that at the end of the day – at the end of all time – Jesus will be the just and righteous judge because 1. He knows everything, all the circumstances surrounding your life He knows perfectly, and 2. He has the authority and strength to execute judgment with the power of his “arms and legs” as they are depicted in a “gleam of burnished bronze.”

2:19 “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.

This leads Jesus to give them a commendation – that they have loved others and been faithful. Their witness in the world has been good. Furthermore they have been patiently enduring for Christ. In fact they have persevered in the faith – their latter works exceeding even those that they did at first. I assume this means that they had been growing in Christ.

2:20 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.

Now He addresses the issue. Like those in Pergamum, they are giving “free reign to a group of false teachers.”[iii]

The result of this has been that many have been seduced. The cause seems to be from a woman Jesus calls “Jezebel.” It is possible that this is a particular person, though I’ve always leaned toward it being a more symbolic reference to the woman who “incited King Ahab and Israel to compromise and ‘fornicate’ by worshiping Baal (1 Kings 16:31; 21:25 cf. Beale).”

Beale remarks of the similarities between John’s writing style here and in 2 John 1:

Possibly the reference is to only one individual false teacher, who could be a woman. However, the reference to ‘the woman’ and ‘her children’ (2:23) evokes the phrase ‘to the elect lady and her children in 2 John 1, which in its context refers respectively to the community as a whole and to the individuals who compose the community (likewise 1 Peter 5:13 and female personifications of Israel in the OT and of the church in the NT).[iv]

Therefore the issue is that the people here in Thyatira have been led astray, and it seems that the false teachers are really flourishing. It is so easy sometimes to be caught up in false teaching. Sometimes the immature Christian can easily cling to that which tastes as sweet as honey, only to later have it turn to ash in their mouths.

This is especially why we have decried the false Gospel preachers like Joel Olsteen, and those who get major things wrong in their teaching, such as Joyce Meyer. These people have led many astray – not because the people are stupid, but because they have clung to untruths without testing them.

That is why the men and women of Berea were called “noble” by Paul for searching the scriptures to test whether his message aligned with what the OT had to say. More than simply living on feelings, we must test every form of doctrine by the Word of God.

2:21 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.

I mentioned before that Jesus is both all knowing, and able to execute judgment in power and authority. He is therefore a just judge.

Here Jesus says that if this group of people doesn’t repent, they will face great tribulation. Notice two things – first that He gave them time to repent, and second that He is the one who will through them onto a “sickbed.”

We sometimes don’t know if we are being punished by the Lord for a sin we’ve committed, and though sometimes trials are sent to refine us (see Hebrews 12), at other times trials are sent to punish us and bring us to repentance.

It can be hard to know which is which, but I find that the rule of thumb ought to be in situations where it seems as though punishment is upon us, that we bow before the Lord who knows all and repent of any sin in our lives.

Yet, as R.C. Sproul notes in an article on suffering, we must never jump to the conclusion immediately that our suffering is the direct result of our sin – God works in mysterious ways. Sproul says:

When we suffer, we must trust that God knows what He is doing, and that He works in and through the pain and afflictions of His people for His glory and for their sanctification. It is hard to endure lengthy suffering, but the difficulty is greatly alleviated when we hear our Lord explaining the mystery in the case of the man born blind, whom God called to many years of pain for Jesus’ glory.[v]

2:24-25 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. [25] Only hold fast what you have until I come.

Hendricksen explains what is going on here contextually when Jesus says they are learning “the deep things of Satan”:

She (Jezebel), apparently, argued thus: in order to conquer Satan, you must know him. You will never be able to conquer sin unless you have become thoroughly acquainted with it by experience. In brief, a Christian should learn to know ‘the deep things of Satan.’ By all means attend the guild-feast and commit fornication…and still remain a Christian; nay rather, become a better Christian!

This seems like an easily dismissed illogical idea. Why would anyone engage in wrong doing simply to become a better Christian? Well, the most I got to be thinking about it, the more I realized that in the moment of temptation to sin, we do many things that are illogical.

Furthermore, it is easy to take Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 9 and completely distort them, as many Christian do for their own selfish gain:

This is my defense to those who would examine me. [4] Do we not have the right to eat and drink? [5] Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? [6] Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? [7] Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? (1 Corinthians 9:3-7)

And…

If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. (1 Corinthians 9:12)

And…

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. [20] To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. [21] To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. [22] To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. [23] I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

Note that Paul uses his freedom, not as a way to enhance wealth or personal comfort (2 Cor. 111-12!), but as a means of spreading the gospel. His liberty is never used as an excuse for bad behavior, and he always bears in mind the weaker brother (Romans 14). Furthermore, Paul urges us to keep our bodies under control. As he finishes his discourse in 1 Corinthians 9 he says this:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. [25] Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. [26] So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. [27] But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

I just wanted to provide some more biblical thought here because often we fall prey to the false idea that because of our liberty and freedom, we can do anything we want with no consequences. But that is not how the Bible tells us we ought to live. We ought to live in freedom, governed by love for the gospel – not for our own comfort or selfish desires. When we do, we will be less apt to follow every wind of false doctrine (James 1), and crucifying our desires for selfish gain (Romans 6) we will live a life worthy of our Lord.

2:26-27 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.

Huge theological paragraph here! Major echoes from John 5 and Matthew 28, which helps lay the foundation for our understanding of what Jesus means by “received authority from the Father.” Here are those kingly passages respectively:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. [25] “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. [26] For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. [27] And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. (John 5:24-27 ESV)

And…

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)

Now that we’ve remembered these things, I want to point our attention to specifically what Jesus is saying. He is saying two things specifically…

1. Those who conquer and those who “keep” his works until the end are those who are Christians. In other words, those who behave like Christians are His children. In fact, the Christian life is marked not simply by negatives (not doing something, or just the past history of what Christ has done, for example), but by positives.

Francis Schaeffer understood this and spoke of how Paul demonstrated this in Romans 6 as well as in Galatians 2:20, which states:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

The negative grammar here is that “I have been crucified with Christ.” This is the past historical fact. But there’s more to the Christian life than this. That is what Jesus is reminding us here – there is “conquering” to be done. That is why Paul says, “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Beale remarks, “It is not just how people die that proves them to be overcomers, but the whole of their Christian lives are to be characterized by ‘overcoming’, which is a process completed at death.”[vi]

And as Schaeffer says, “The Christian negative is not a nihilist negative; there is a true biblical negative. There is a true life in the present as well as in the future.” And commenting on Romans 6, he states, “So we died with Christ, but we rose with Christ. That is the emphasis. Christ’s death is an historic fact in the past and we will be raised from the dead in future history; but there is to be a positive exhibition in present history, now, before our future resurrection.”[vii]

2. Jesus is saying that we will share in His reign.

For He states that those who conquer will rule the nations with Christ. The fact that our reign will be shared with Jesus is expressed in terms that we’re familiar with as they pertain to Christ’s own rule. For it says the one who conquers, “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.”

Let’s go back to Psalm 2 now once again. That messianic psalm says this:

I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. [8] Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. [9] You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” (Psalm 2:7-9)

Here it is Jesus, the “Son of Man”, who will rule the nations with a rod of iron. Jesus is telling us that we will share in this reign – by nature of adoption (Romans 8).

This is simply an astounding promise, and one which Jesus had already laid the foundation for in chapter one:

…and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood [6] and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:5-6)

Ladd sums up the situation:

The effective establishment of the Kingdom of God cannot be accomplished apart from the destruction of all hostile and recalcitrant powers. The new age cannot be inaugurated without the displacement of the old, fallen, sinful age with its rebellious hosts. In some way not made clear in the Scripture, the followers of the Messiah are to share in his triumph over the hostile nations.

When I read this it reminded me of the conquering of Canaan in the OT. God used His people along with mighty miracles and acts only He could do (crossing the Red sea and the Jordan, the destruction of Jericho, the Pillar of Fire and Cloud etc.), yet He also used an army of men – this is how He chose to act. To use men to cleanse that land, and leave no one alive who does not acknowledge Jesus as King. It is a picture of what is to come. There will be none who stand against the Lord and His “fellow heirs” (Romans 8). This is something we will see more clearly still as we continue our study.

2:28-29 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 final promise is that those who conquer, Jesus will give “the morning star.” This undoubtedly is Jesus Himself, our greatest reward and treasure.

I will share a personal thought here. It has long baffled me how people in the church struggle and search the scriptures to learn the nature of the reward we will gain in heaven. The scripture seems to indicate that we will be rewarded in heaven, but that reward when spoken of generally, if very vague. So it has always perplexed men who have sought to understand what those rewards could entail.

I don’t claim to be as wise as those who have taught me, but I would wager that the most important, most wonderful, most significant reward in heaven will be Christ Himself – the great Morning Star.[viii]

In Conclusion…

I will simply leave you with one of the reflections of G.K. Beale who challenges us as follows:

How can we express overcoming through suffering? And how are we to understand teachings that appear to present believers unconditional offers of material blessing in this life for their faithfulness? Sometimes where persecution is not present there is the temptation to compromise in some way (sexually, theologically, financially, etc.) and to not give in to compromise is to “overcome.”

FOOTNOTES

[i] William Ramsay, Letters to the Seven Churches, Pg. 317.

[ii] Ramsay, Pg.’s 316-317.

[iii] Beale, Longer commentary, Pg. 260.

[iv] Beale, Longer Commentary, Pg. 260-261.

[v] Sproul begins the article talking about a time he visited a lady in the hospital who was dying of cancer and feeling that perhaps she was being punished for having an abortion years earlier. The temptation from a pastoral response was to say “no that isn’t what’s going on here”, but Sproul basically said “I don’t know”, because we can never know the secret counsel of the Lord. The article can be found here: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/suffering-and-the-glory-of-god/

[vi] Beale, Longer commentary, Pg. 271.

[vii] Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality, Pg.’s 15-16.

[viii] Ladd has some troubles with this, but Hendriksen seemed correct to me when he states, “Here again the primary reference is to Christ Himself (Revelation 22:16). As the morning star rules the heavens, so believers will rule with Christ; they will share in His royal splendour (sic) and dominion. The star is always the symbol of royalty, being linked with the sceptre (sic) (Numbers 24:17; cf. Matthew 2:2).” This is the conclusion I came to on my own before reading the commentaries, and perhaps I am wrong, but it reminded me of 2 Peter 1:19 which says, “And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” So the passage here in Revelation could mean the coming of the Spirit and/or Christ, or be a reference to Daniel 12: 3 and the “immortality of the righteous” (Mounce, Pg. 107).

 

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