5. The Church of Thyatira

“…and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.”. Rev. 2.23

Once, when talking with a young Israeli fellow in graduate school, he pulled out of his pocket a Torah, which is the Christian’s Old Testament. He said to me, “This is the history of my people.” In the natural it is a history book. Yet threading throughout its pages is the hidden manna of the Gospel of Christ, and of the Church, the Body of Christ. It is two books: a history book and spiritual book with mysteries of divine plans and purposes waiting to be revealed. The apostle Paul wrote, “Now all these things that happened to them (Israel) as examplesand they were written to them for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come.” ( 1 Cor. 10.11) This is a very important principle to remember—the Old Testament is actually two books, one of the natural and historical and one of the spiritual revealing divine mysteries, written for our understanding and counsel.

We begin our message from the Church of Thyatira, not with the opening verse of the passage, but with verse Rev. 2.23. Please note the phrase, “…and all the churches shall know.” All the churches! Thus, as with Israel “as a type” described above, these individual letters to each of the seven churches of Asia are also written for our example and admonition. There is both a historical message and a spiritual manna in each letter.

And all the churches shall know;” literally, shall come to know, shall learn by experience. This statement seems conclusive with regard to the purpose of these letters. Although addressed to local churches at a particular crisis, they are for the instruction of “all the churches” throughout the world, and throughout all time. On the one hand the epistles are historical describing the conditions in existing churches, and on the other they are typical and prophetical to all the churches of Christ. Thus is the intention of this series of messages: “Lessons from the Seven Churches.” They are timely, relevant, and are to be made applicable to today’s Church(es). We are to stand and evaluate ourselves in the light of these letters. (See 2 Cor. 13.5)

The Commendation

And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this:

      I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first.”  Rev. 2.18,19

I know your works For those of this church, and all believers, there is no place to hide, nothing can be done in secret or go unnoticed, not even for a second. “…His eyes like to a flame of fire,” answers to Rev. 2.23, “I am He who searches (or examines) the minds and the hearts.” Do you see, before Christ, one cannot say I did such and such on Your behalf, or that I gained this much for the church. If the deeds we do outwardly do not match what we are inwardly, then those deeds are simply of the flesh and not of the Spirit. He examines the mind and heart, as a…, “ two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” Heb. 4.12,13

Man tends to focus on the outward accomplishments, deeds involving gains and accomplishments, in numbers, quantities, on material things and achievements, and on positions of power and authority. Did not Paul write, “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me *nothing.” 1 Cor. 13.3 *(Here again, the word nothing is a powerful negating conjunction. It ‘shuts the door,’ leaves no exceptions.) The Pharisees of Jesus’ time felt their outward acts such as tithing and keeping the law was the basis for righteousness. Jesus called them hypocrites for they neglected the weightier inward matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness. (Mt. 23.23) Beloved, Christ examines first the intangibles, such as those mentioned above: love, service (ministry), faith, and patience. These are the weightier measures that comprise one’s spiritual character. Less we forget, it is “faith that works through love” (Gal 5.6) brings forth deeds, or fruit unto righteousness.

Last Works Perhaps the greatest commendation to this church is, “your works; and the last to be more than the first.”  Instead of retrograding from “the first works” and “first love” as the Church of Ephesus (Rev. 2.4,5), the Church of Thyatira’s last works exceeded her first. Nor was She stagnant, becoming mundane falling into repetition and tradition. She seemed to be a realization of 1 Thessalonians 4.1, where it is written, ”Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. ”

Church programs of well-doing tend to become static over time, often becoming self-serving—my accomplishments, my servitude. Many seek to become involved in programs, well-planned “organized activities.” If they are not plugged into this program or that program they become disconnected, remaining idle or remote. Feed the poor drive, hand out tracts, team witnessing, crusade for this, fund raiser for that, programmed marriage or family counseling, to only mention a few. Few are individuals so walking in love, in service (or ministry), in continual and persistence patience of well-doing. These are spontaneous manifestations of life! They are seemingly un-orchestrated and unstructured, but are instinctive and extemporaneous.

As one grows in the inward qualities of love and faith, there must be a corresponding increasing outward manifestation of service, ministering to the young, the suffering, the needy members of the church, and to all in spiritual or temporal need. One must become a functioning member of the Body of Christ, in fulfilling “…from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” Eph. 4.16 This beloved, Christ commends.

Admonition

 20But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. 21‘I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. 22‘Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. 23‘And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. ”  Rev. 2.20-23

You suffer that woman JezebelJezebel (see 1 Kings 16.31 ff) was the wife of Ahab, the king of Israel. She was a woman of vast influence over her husband – an influence which was consistently exerted for evil. She was a princess daughter of Ethbaal, king of Tyre and Sidon, and lived about 918 years before Christ. She was an idolater, and induced her weak husband not only to tolerate her introducing the worship of her native idols, but to become an idolater himself, and to use all the means in his power to establish the worship of idols instead of the worship of the true God. She was highly gifted, persuasive, and artful; was resolute in the accomplishment of her purposes; ambitious of extending and perpetuating her power, and unscrupulous in the means which she employed to execute her designs. (Concordance)

Such a “Jezebel-type” was thus in the position of influence at the Church of Thyratira, and like Ahab of old, was equally tolerated and complicit with by the church. She calls herself a prophetess – Many persons set up the claim to be prophets from the times when the gospel was first preached unto now, and it is not improbable that many females would lay claim to such a position. Today, some even use it as a proper title, such as Prophet Jones or Prophetess Mary. An anointing may be upon some, but by and large caution must precede any such embrace.

Being a prophet, or an apostle or pastor or any ministry, does not exonerate one from the strictest and narrowest moral, virtues, and truths of fundamental Gospel principles. There is no privileged status, no hiding behind, “Touch not my anointed, and do my prophets no harm,” Ps. 105.15 as an excuse for immoral, erratic behavior, or radical doctrine. Without exception, all believers, leaders no exception, are to live their lives in the full light of the Gospel and under its microscope, and before the One, “who has His eyes like to a flame of fire.”

The moral issue here corresponds to that produced by the Nikolaitan sect at Pergamos, but the serious nature of the heresy at Thyatira appears from the fact that it was not simply propagated within the church but also notorious and long-continued, thanks to stubbornness among the “Ahabs” and adherents to this prominent woman. Being broad-minded and tolerant, they prided themselves on their enlightened liberalism. These people are accepting, free-spirited, thinking themselves to be “loving,” and open-minded while all the while exposing the church to harmful spirits of unjust men and women. A local church here proudly advertises to be, “open-hearts, open-minds, and open-doors.” It is like some so-called “spiritually minded” people that meditate with an open-mind, unaware that such an open-state is an invitation to any perverse spirit or deviant thought as well.

Discernment It is said of this Jezebel prophetess that “she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray (seduces!).” My servants, the possessive pronoun is emphatic—she seduces those who belong to Christ, to act as those in slavery to their flesh, to another, and to the god of this world. She teaches deviant doctrine, quite convincingly. The Church is warned of this subtle deception, it resembles the truth, but in reality it is “another Jesus” that is preached, “another spirit” received, and “another gospel” accepted (1 Cor. 11.4)

She seduces the naive, the gullible, the infants, and the unlearned. How true the writer of Hebrews speaks to these,

11 Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Heb. 5.11-14

Discernment is one of the greatest gifts to a believer, and is especially needed of church leadership. It is the spiritual ability to distinguish good from evil and to become discriminant. By “good and evil” is not meant “right and wrong” because there is no question here of moral distinctions; but it means “excellence and inferiority” in matters of instruction. To the natural man the things of the spirit are foolishness; it is only the spiritual man who can “distinguish between things that differ” and to be “discriminate.” (See 1 Cor. 2.14,15; Rm. 2.18; Phil. 1.9,10) How often I have heard a speaker make questionable statements, or use scriptures completely out of context, and it go right over the head of the people. Heads continue to nod, and supportive “amens” voiced. It is as if the people are mesmerized by the persuasive preacher.

We must pray for discernment. Seek it with all our hearts. It is badly needed. It is essential. A number of years ago my wife prayed, “Please cause me to be offended of those things that offend You, and to desire those things that are pleasing to You.” Personal sense of morality is of no value here. The ability to make these kind of moral choices can only be imparted by God. In other words, discernment is outside our logical or rational judgement. It is in the realm of the Spirit. At a time in the 1970’s many were chasing after particular TV preachers, faithfully listening to their messages, visiting their crusades, and supporting their ministries. However, there was this inward check in the spirit of our little flock regarding some particular ministries. We did not speak against them, but we kept them at arms-length. In short time the media exposed gross immorality, connivings that can only be rivaled by the corporate world, lies, financial mismanagement, and deceptive ministering tactics in which staged events were held to support their doctrine and appearance of “power.”

The doctrines of the “Balaaks,” “Nicolaitans,’ and “Jezebels” appeal even today to the nature of the natural man. They are enticing, pleasurable, full of good feelings. They are of the flesh, fleshly. And, they are wrapped around and perversely interwoven with the Gospel of Christ. This is what makes them seductive.

And she repented notThose who have a part in these perverse doctrines and behavior will have a share in their consequences—both for now and eternal. Those who have not merely been beguiled into sin by her (Jezebel), but are united to her in a permanent immoral relationship, shall be united with her in judgment by the visitation of God. She and her children (participant followers) will be visited with sickness and death and tribulation, because they will not repent. In the temporal this is not without precedent. With regards to the young man feeling justified to live in incest with his step-mother, it is written,

deliver this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”1 Cor. 5.5

And to those coming to the Lord’s table and partaking the Lord’s supper perhaps in the same manner as at an idol’s feast, or some other unworthy or common manner, it is written,

29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep (Lit. died)31But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment.” 1 Cor. 11.29-31

Sobering, is it not? And this is temporal judgement in this body. But what are the eternal consequences? Her (“Jezebel’s”) fate and that of her followers (children) is certain. They will stand before the judgement seat of Christ: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” 2 Cor. 5.10 However, an adverse judgement of her victims may yet be averted…there is His call to repentance. The one is be final with eternal consequences, the other remedial with present restoration.

The Exhortation

24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, 25except to hold fast to what you have until I come.’ 26To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— 27that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’ —just as I have received authority from my Father. 28I will also give that one the morning star.29Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Rev. 2.24-29

There are many elements in these closing scriptures that justly deserve elaboration. However, I will restrict comments to only a few.

Holdfast Till I Come

On a Personal Note: There are certain things that we hold fast to that are dear to our hearts. In my office are two old, dried rose buds—one from my natural father’s funeral, the other from my spiritual father’s funeral. They are tangible mementos that hold many precious memories. Though one day they may perish, the ideals they hold will never diminish. From the first, I “inherited” a love and commitment to my family. And, I learn consistence. My father was consistent in all things, like clockwork. We would make it to every Sunday church service come “hell or high water”—weather, distance, conflicts were not a problem. And, we would be there and on time. We consistentlygave thanks before we ate our evening meal. He was so consistent he was predictable.

From my spiritual father I inherited something different. By his example I learned persistence…in spiritual things. My heart became gripped with an intense desire to pursue God’s calling upon my life, both personal and as a ministry to the Body of Christ. From both “fathers” are driving forces that never cease to exert influence.

Consistence Do you know the difference between consistence and persistence? They are somewhat similar but definitely not the same. With consistence one becomes “steadfast,” adhering to the same principles and walk. One may become consistentat Bible reading, worship times, and prayer. One might even become consistent in attempting to practice over and over again a pet doctrine. Consistency is pretty much what most people are good at. However, consistency becomes routine and is really not a factor for spiritual growth or success, let alone happiness, or achieving one’s goals. For example, an AA (Alcoholic Anonymous) member must, by all means, be consistent to attend meetings just to maintain soberness. It is not a cure for alcoholism. With consistence, one is simply… repetitively faithful and successful at keeping the status quo.

Paul, as a Pharisee was consistent, daily practicing the rituals of that faith: study of the Torah, worship in the temple, service in the synagogue, etc. In the natural it gained him authority, prestige, and power. What did it gain him spiritually? Nothing! Any Godly righteousness? No! Regarding his life as a Pharisee, Paul wrote,

7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.8What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” Phil. 3.7,8

Unless feeding it as swill to pigs, garbage is worthless, smelly, and costly to get rid of. It is waste.

Persistence On the other hand, persistence is a continuance, a pressing on, even after what initiated it is no longer active. It is obstinately refusing to give up or let go regardless of circumstances, trials, persecution, or set-backs. As a mountaineer has his eyes set on the high goal, the mountain summit, sometimes only weather, equipment failure, injury or death can prevent him from pressing on. In like manner, one may receive a revelation of God’s higher calling upon his or her life, and His call upon the Church. It is a vision towards an ultimate goal. This one is gripped with this vision. As with Paul, he or she cries out,

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.13Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 3.12-14

Do you now understand persistence? In spite of opposition like hunger, beatings, prison, failure, weariness, personal limitations and inadequacies, one relentlessly presses on toward that goal. (The last four experiences are very personal.) One must put his or her “comfort zone” on the altar, and enter into responsibilities and undertakings never before anticipated, accustomed to, and perhaps even avoided.

The key is, being consistent while being persistent. There is nothing wrong with having a daily routine of prayer and Bible reading, or regular meetings every Wednesday and Sunday, or even to maintain some kind of pattern to those assemblies. Consistence is good. Consistence will not, however, bring the desired spiritual growth or gain toward the goal. The ultimate aim of those meeting must be persistence, to press towards the mark of the high call of God in Christ Jesus. This pressing onward and upward cannot be routine or tradition, but fresh and living. One continually “pushes the edge of the envelope,” i.e., to go beyond established limits, or commonly accepted boundaries, no becoming settled. A country’s space program begins by pushing the edge of the atmosphere envelope. The goal is much higher, the moon and beyond. Success only comes by persistence.

Holdfast Christ exhorts the Church of Thyatira to holdfast, to seize or cling to—be persistent with—those spiritual qualities imparted into their lives at the beginning. How often one begins with exuberance for these principles of a new life in Christ, but only, as a passenger jet, eventually level off in flight. Here, Christ targets four virtues: holdfast the love, and faith, and service, and patience, and to continue to grow in these virtues.

Briefly:

  • Agape lovethe most unselfish love, seeks only the physical and spiritual well-being of another.
  • His Faith, that which brings forth righteous deeds, born of the Spirit, after His will and intent of His heart.
  • Serviceor ministry, as a member of His Body, in which every joint supplies to the caring for, building up, strengthening, and establishing His Church…soon to become His bride.
  • Patience, properly, remaining under, endurance; steadfastness, especially as God enables the believer to “remain (endure) under” the challenges He allots in life. Christ esteems faithfulness in patience. It is a divine virtue.

Christ exhorts the church to hold fast to these virtues of one’s character, to be an overcomer in this life, “till I come.” One thing for sure, His return will be sooner than when this was first written by John. How we must live our lives as if the Day of the Lord is at hand. (Compare Rev. 3.11)

that one(the overcomer) will rule them”It must first be noted that the overcomers crown is not a regal crown of gold, but a victor’s crown of garland. It is not a symbol of kingly authority and majesty but a symbol of honor. However, the crown does bring one into a position of “reigning with Christ.” This is spoken of in 2 Tim. 2.12, “This is a faithful saying, if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall reign with Him.” To reign here means “together with Him”—much like the total dependency of the branches to the singular vine for their very life as addressed in John 15.5. Metaphorically, to reign is the supreme honor, liberty, blessedness, to sit with Christ in the kingdom of God.  

Thus, the promise is to share in the “shepherd-like” sovereignty of the anointed King. It is that final triumph of Christ over his enemies in the last day, when He shall crush all of them to utter and irrecoverable ruin, and when all His saints, raised from the dead, and clothed with robes of glory, having become His glorious bride, shall sit down with Him on His throne. The Bride and her exalted Head shall subdue every opposing power.  “And he shall rule them” — that is, these overcoming believers shall share with Christ, to rule; ”with a rod of iron” — which iswith irresistible power, exercised only on those who will not otherwise submit; who will hereby be dashed in pieces, totally conquered.  Victory will be made over all.

Conclusion

He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Rev. 2.29

The opening statements of this article emphasized the thought that these letters to the seven churches were not just written to those churches alone. It is what the Spirit is saying to the churches, not what He is saying to this or that church. The messages contained in these letters are for all; for the particular Church addressed in the letter, for the Church at large, as well as for the individual Christian. It must be remembered that these letters were not from the apostle John, who was only the instrument, but from the Son of God by way of the Holy Spirit.

It is especially noteworthy that all concluding exhortations to the seven churches, and its promises, are always addressed to the individual ChristianHe that has an ear, let him hear.” The letter progresses from the Church and its responsibilities to each believer, who must hear for himself. Though one’s church may perish, as warned in Rev. 2.5,  “else I will come to you quickly, and will remove your lampstand out of his place–unless you repent,” yet if he overcomes, he shall inherit the promises. Though his Church may be exalted and brought into glory by Christ, if he does not overcome he will suffer loss in those rewards relating to his walk and function in God’s Kingdom.

Every man “has an ear” naturally, but he alone to whom God has given ears to hear will be able to hear spiritually. (And eyes to see) “The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD has made even both of them.” Prov. 20.12 Pray therefore, as the blind received their sight, and the deaf began to hear by the touch of Christ, may He now awaken our spiritual senses, and our ears be opened to “hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

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