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.’” (Revelation 2:18-29)
The city of Thyatira was the smallest and least significant of the seven churches that are addressed in the book of Revelation. And yet, this is the longest of all of the letters that were given to the churches.
And when you read the opening words of this letter and begin to consider the attributes of Jesus that are used when He addresses this church you quickly get a sense of the tone of this particular letter. For example, consider that in Revelation 1:13, when the apostle John sees Jesus in a vision (we read that entire section two weeks ago), Jesus is described as the “son of man”.
This title describes Jesus in His humanity
Here Jesus identifies with sinful men as their High Priest and as the Lamb of God who will take away their sins.
Upon seeing Jesus in this vision John falls to the ground as though dead, Jesus - the son of man, reaches out His right hand to John and says, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:17-18)
Contrast that scene, however, with our text today in which Jesus has the title, “the Son of God”. Jesus comes to this church as the exalted God and LORD of all. He comes as the one who judges sin.
In Revelation 2:21 we see that the time for mercy has come to an end and now Jesus says, “I gave her (Jezebel) time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.” (2:21) Furthermore Jesus speaks of throwing ‘Jezebel’ upon a sickbed, throwing others into great tribulation and still others He will strike dead.
Revelation 2: 22-23 – Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation…and I will strike her children dead.
In the introduction of this letter we also see Jesus described as having “...eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze” (18).
With His eyes, Jesus searches the mind and the heart of every person.
These are the eyes that can separate the wheat from the tares;
the sheep from the goats;
those who profess faith from those who actually possess it;
the saved from the unsaved.
These are the eyes that bring light to the darkness. It brings the light that sinners try so desperately to escape from. John 3:19-21 – And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
Jesus is also described here as having feet like burnished bronze.
In Isaiah 5 the Lord speaks of an enemy who is being sent by Him to judge Judah. The description of this army who is coming for battle is so intimidating and even horrifying. He says, “None is weary, none stumbles, none slumbers or sleeps, not a waistband is loose, not a sandal strap broken; their arrows are sharp, all their bows bent, their horses’ hoofs seem like flint, and their wheels like the whirlwind.” (Isaiah 5:27-28)
This is a picture of an army who arrives to battle ready to conquer.
They arrive and they do not desire rest or need sleep - they arrive unweary.
They arrive as a skillful warrior ready to fight victoriously.
This is the sense that we ought to get when we read of Jesus whose feet are like ‘burnished bronze’. This speaks of Jesus being skilled in battle. His armor is polished and it will reflect Jesus’ holiness and glory, blinding His enemies eyes.
Jesus’ opening words to this church begins with the highest of praise. He says, “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.” (work or works is mentioned five times in this text)
These words are similar to the words that the apostle Paul says to Timothy when he says, “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me...”.
Timothy has watched carefully Paul’s life and has come to know him in a profound way.
Paul’s life is an open book before Timothy.
Paul hides nothing from him and in doing so Paul’s life is proved to be genuine and sincere.
Similarly, Jesus knows His church.
He watches over the congregation and cares deeply for them.
Nothing is hidden from His view.
He is concerned about everything that goes on in the church from the teaching to how they are persevering in trials and suffering.
And as scary as this may be to us it can also be a great comfort for us as He is able to direct a church successfully in this world.
After affirming the good that He sees in the church in Thyatira, Jesus quickly transitions with these sobering words in v.20, “But I have this against you...”. This church appears to be a healthy church, but there is a problem that is growing within the church. William Barclay says, “A church which is crowded with people and which is a hive of energy is not necessarily a real church. It is possible for a Church to be crowded because its people come to be entertained instead of confronted with the fact of sin and the offer of salvation; it may be a highly successful Christian club rather than a real Christian congregation.”
(A comparison between the city of Thyatira and the church in Thyatira)
The city of Thyatira was important to the protection of the capital city of Pergamum. The capital was just down the road from this small city and so a garrison of soldiers were stationed there to help protect the capital from an invading enemy.
These soldiers were not able to protect the city for very long, nor were these soldiers able to stop or defeat an invading army; but their job was to slow them down long enough so that the soldiers in the capital city could prepare to mount a defense. If these soldiers were to neglect this responsibility they would pay for it with their life.
This seems to be analogous to the church that resided in Thyatira
This congregation should have been ready to engage and defend against the churches enemies from within and from outside the church. But they, like so many churches, were failing to guard against the enemies of the church.
Because of this neglect, a false teacher and her teaching had crept into the church and was causing problems. Therefore, the Lord now comes to remind them that they need to stand ready to defend truth, reject false teaching, and maintain godliness and holiness.
Jesus calls this woman - Jezebel. She must be similar to the Jezebel of the Old Testament, who was known for her idolatry and wickedness. Jezebel in the Old Testament married King Ahab. Before this she was a princess from Sidon, and she brought with her into Israel the worship of Baal and soon killed all of the prophets of the LORD who would not compromise their worship of the One True God – Yahweh.
There was a woman in this congregation who was doing something similar in this church. How was this being done? Archaeology has found that Thyatira was a manufacturing town that worked with many different materials like: wool, fabrics, metals, bronze etc. They have discovered that each of these manufacturers had guilds which are similar to today’s trade unions. To be successful in business you had to be a part of one of these guilds. What would be the problem with that? These guilds often held banquets in which sacrifices were made before and after to their particular deity and at some point they became a place in which sexual misconduct was practiced.
It is believed that this person, Jezebel, was teaching that a Christian could still go and participate in these things without offending God. William Barclay says, “She urged upon the Christians that there was no need to cut themselves off from society or abstain from the guilds. When she did so, she was not proceeding on grounds of principle but was simply trying to protect her business interests. Jezebel is to be counted amongst those to whom the claims of commercial success speak more loudly than the clams of Christ.”
Jesus confronts her and this teaching by stating that she has been given time to repent but she has refused (21).
Therefore, Jesus will throw her onto a sickbed and all of those who have committed this spiritual adultery, will be thrown into a great tribulation, unless they also repent (22).
Jesus continues by saying that He will strike dead those who have heard, received and practiced what she has taught (23). In doing this, all of the churches will come to know that it is the LORD who knows the hearts and the minds and who gives to each according to their works.
But to those who do not hold to the deep things of Satan, Jesus will lay upon them no other burden. If they will hold fast to what they have they are promised two blessings. First, they will be given authority over the nations, and they will rule with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces. This is a statement that is first found in Psalm 2:8-9 and it refers to the church who will engage in evangelistic exploits for the kingdom of God. (Psalm 2:8-9 – Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.) Instead of the church in Thyatira being conformed to the culture around them they will be transformed and engaged in great exploits within their very culture and beyond.
Secondly, those who conquer will be given the morning star. This is probably a direct reference to Christ himself as in Revelation 22:16 in which Christ is the Morning Star. (Revelation 22:16 – I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright Morning Star.) In other words, to those who obey Christ’s words, Christ will make Himself known to them in a more profound way. Revelation 22:4-5 says, “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”
In his book called, Duties of Christian Fellowship – A Manual for Church Members, John Owen lists 15 rules for walking in fellowship with other believers in the church. As you read through this book you get a clearer sense of the responsibilities that every member of a church has if they are to function in a way that will strengthen and protect their church from falling into sin. The church of Thyatira was neglecting these responsibilities.
Many of the duties that Owens mentions would have been enough to have kept the church in Thyatira from falling into this troubling situation that they were in. The congregation was to be like a soldier who defends truth and purity, but they were caught unaware, and even found to be neglectful, concerning the dangers that were in their midst. They were unresponsive to the traitor who was climbing up the ranks.
Let me give you some of the duties that Owens lists that would have helped to prevent this situation.
The first duty that Owen mentioned is, “Believers have a duty of affectionate, sincere, genuine love in all things towards one another; a love compared to that of Christ for the church.” Concerning this duty Owens adds, “This is the fountain of all duties towards God and man, the basis of all rules that concern the saints, the bond of communion, the fulfilling of the whole law, the advancement of the honor of the Lord Jesus, and the glory of the gospel.” Upon this first duty all of the others rest.
Believers must maintain continual prayer for the prospering of the church under God’s protection. Of this obligation Owen’s writes, “Prayer is a benefit which the poorest believer may bestow, and the greatest potentate has no power to refuse.” A church who prays fervently will be more aware of the things that are going on around them and they will be less likely to be caught unaware. Not only will they be like a soldier who stands guard but the Holy Spirit will also direct their attention to the dangers that lurk near.
Believers must strive and fight with determination, in every legitimate way, by their actions and sufferings for the ordinances, for the honor, liberty and privileges of the congregation, and in order to help others in the face of all opponents and adversaries.
Believers are to separate and keep apart from the world, and from men of the world in their ways of false worship, so that we are seen to be a different people. Owens goes on to say, “Someone who will not separate from the world and from false worship has separated himself from Christ.”
Believers ought to note watchfully and avoid carefully all causes and causers of divisions; they are particularly to shun seducers, false teachers and those who spread heresies and errors that are contrary to the Word of God. Owens describes such men as having “private interests, worldly goals, high conceits, and proud spirits.”
Believers should cheerfully accept the lot and portion of the whole church, in prosperity and affliction, and not draw back for any reason whatsoever. In other words, in whatever the church experiences, blessing or affliction, we are to come together and not drift apart.
Believers must watch one another’s behavior carefully and warn one another to avoid all disorderly conduct. Will we allow other brothers and sisters in Christ to lovingly correct us when they see sin in our lives?
Believers should live and walk in an exemplary way in all holiness and godliness, to the glory of the gospel, the edification of the church, and the conviction of those outside the church.
It is proper I think to end the sermon while contemplating the duties that we have within the body of Christ. It is said that baptism is the celebration of the believers introduction into the church; and that, communion is the celebration of the believers continuence in the church. A church that celebrates communion together will be a church who grows in their love and appreciation of Christ and His Church.
There are countless temptations upon us to compromise and to justify the choices we make and the things that we do. As we take communion today let us specifically ask the Holy Spirit to show us if there is any compromise in our hearts. Are there any areas in our hearts where we are seeking to justify what Jesus would call sin?
I began this sermon by contrasting Jesus’ titles ‘the Son of man’ and ‘the Son of God’. If Jesus were to come here today and address each of us, would he come to you as the ‘Son of man’ or as ‘the Son of God’?
Will you do something today that this Jezebel never did and repent before the Lord? Will you find the mercy and grace of God and the forgiveness of your sins and the salvation of your souls.
For those of us who are believers, will we be like John and humble ourselves before Jesus as we celebrate communion today? Will we consider the duties that John Owen spoke of and ask the Holy Spirit to show us how we might be more faithful to Him and His church?