A Bible Lesson on Revelation 2:18-29

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

These verses comprise the letter to the church at Thyatira. This city was the smallest and least significant of the seven sent letters. It was not a center of government or culture, but rather a city of industry. We know of Lydia from the book of Acts, and the fact that she dealt in purple cloth. Thyatira was a city where woolens were produced, dying was done, leather working was important, there was metal working industry, etc. It was a mill town. Thyatira wasn’t remarkable in religious terms, at least for a city of the ancient world. It wasn’t a special center of pagan worship, but had its usual allotment of pagan practices. But what is most likely significant for the purposes of this study is that it did have a remarkable number of craft guilds. These associations functioned like unions, and apparently had their own patron “godlets.” It would have been hard to live in Thyatira and run a successful business without belonging to one of these and participating in pagan practices that apparently came along with membership.

This, by the way, is the longest of the 7 letters and it is safe to assume that there is something here we ought to hear.

Revelation 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.

Again Jesus addresses a church using the hard-to-understand phrase “to the angel (or messenger).” This time He identifies Himself as the Son of God (not as the “Son of Man” used in Revelation 1:13 that is reminiscent of Daniel 10:16.) The description of his eyes harks back to Daniel’s vision in Daniel 10:6. Christ sees and knows. And the burnished bronze of His feet is a reminder of His immutable, powerful nature. This is not a picture of a God to be trifled with by such as you and I. In His great kindness He treats us gently, but we need to bear in mind that Jesus is the all-powerful sovereign of the universe.

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

The risen Christ (whose eyes are penetrating and blaze like fire) knows the situation of the church in Thyatira, and the situation is in some respects quite good. The love of the people for Christ is strong and has produced appropriate corresponding deeds/service. Their faith/dependence upon Christ is real and has born the fruit of perseverance. And what is essential, is that this love and faith has not been some flash in the pan, but has been increasing with time. It is not sufficient that we start strong for Christ. Rather, it is essential that we also see the race through to the finish.

So far so good, there are Christian people who would read verse 19 and immediately conclude that all is necessarily fine in Thyatira. Their presumption is that if a group of people is “sincere” in its love for Christ and each other, is active, and continues on as a body, it must be that the group is a healthy church. But the risen Christ has more to say.

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.

All is not well in Thyatira. Barclay made an interesting comment about this (particularly in light of the fact that he’s not uniformly conservative). He said, “Here is a warning. 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 to be instructed, and to be soothed 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.” There is more to a real church than warmth and activity, even warmth and activity sprinkled with mention of Christ. A real church maintains purity of doctrine.

“I have this against you: that you tolerate …” This letter is as fresh as today’s newspaper. Here is the cardinal secular “virtue” of our time, “tolerance” pointed out by the risen Christ as a serious deficiency of the church at Thyatira. The problem at Thyatira is one of tolerating bad doctrine, and it brings strong condemnation from Christ.

It is not clear exactly who this person is. She’s called Jezebel, after Ahab’s wicked pagan wife. But she has gotten a place of authority in the church at Thyatira. Apparently all it took to get this place was to announce that she was a prophetess. This too is as up-to-date as today. Even decent well-intentioned people sometimes allow themselves to be intimidated by a person who comes on strong as having some special spiritual insight or spirituality. People can then fail to apply any real discernment and swallow what the person says without asking whether it is consistent with Scripture or really makes any sense at all. The supposed special one often plays the game that “to question me is to question God who sent me.”

Bad teaching leads inevitably to bad conduct. This false prophetess has led people into two things specifically prohibited to gentile converts by the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. Exactly how they got to the place of eating food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality isn’t said. A possibility that has been widely discussed by commentators is that belonging to a craft guild in Thyatira meant that one needed to attend dinners of the organization (much as if one needs to attend Shriner or JC functions if one is going to be a Shriner or JC). These were likely held in the banquet halls of pagan temples, and then in the package comes the sexual immorality associated with the pagan worship. If this hypothesis is correct, then the teaching is essentially accommodation to the standards of the current culture. It’s a little of the “let’s get along here … after all, it’s not that big a deal … we can’t stick our heads in the sand …” kind of stuff that always goes around in Christian circles. After, if we’re going to reach them we have to go where they go, right? (Besides, it would be bad business not to go where they go!)

21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.

God is merciful to us fallen and stubborn humans. The real mark of our wretchedness and what will ultimately damn us is our unwillingness to repent. This is our unwillingness to embrace righteous rebuke, admit that we’re wrong, turn around and go the other way. This false prophetess has refused to change. She’s not without light, but is dodging it.

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,

The risen Christ says that He will take action in the here and now to punish this woman and those who follow her. Notice here, that there is no free pass for those who have been taken in by the woman’s teaching. We each stand responsible before God to keep our doctrine and conduct right. We cannot just pass blame for error on to a strong personality that introduces us to it and hold ourselves to be innocent. We’ve each got the Book, the example of sane, godly, saints and the restraint of the Holy Spirit.

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.

This is serious business. Bad doctrine and the bad living it produces are deadly. Presumably the “children” here are those who have fallen into the error of the false teacher. The same Christ who views the church at Thyatira with eyes blazing like fire and stands with feet as of burnished bronze will punish in this life and the next unrepentant sin. He sees and will act.

We ought to take to heart what happened in Thyatira. Christ says “all the churches will know.” If we have any sense we will let the example of Thyatira suffice and not have to learn their lesson over again for ourselves.

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.

There are some in Thyatira who haven’t been sucked in. They are to stand fast. They are to hold on to the truth they have been given till Christ returns.

The phrase “the deep things of Satan” might have any of several possible intended meanings. For one, it could be irony based on the how the woman was describing her teaching. It is our falleness that we think we should have some special “deeper” knowledge of God not available to others. She may have been advertising such and Christ here is saying “so far from being the deep secrets of God, what she was teaching really belonged to the evil one.” A second, perverse, possible meaning comes from the Gnostic teaching that to really win victory over the forces of evil, one needs to experience the depth of sin. Another (crazy, but fairly common) possibility is that she might have been saying that in order to really defeat the forces of darkness, one needs specialized knowledge of the deep secrets of Satan. That kind of thing is always around and it’s nonsense. What we need to know is Christ and Him crucified, not specialized stuff about how Satan and the demons work.

26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations,

“I will give authority over the nations.” I hear that say something about what happens now as we do the will of Jesus to the end. Believers have the authority of Christ to carry the Gospel to the nations. Christ has given that even now. It seems unlikely this is not about us as magistrates in the future. It is rather about Christ reigning supreme even as we speak.

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.

The quote is from Psalm 2:9.   It is a Messianic Psalm. It is Christ who rules or “shepherds” with an iron scepter, who dashes to pieces the imaginations of men. It is He who has the authority from the Father. It is His Word that is the believer’s authority to speak to the nations.

28 And I will give him the morning star.

Jesus is the morning star and the Christian’s reward. To him who overcomes there is the promise of an eternity in the presence of Christ. As the catechism says “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him eternally.” That is the Christian’s present and eternal future.

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

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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