Revelation 2:18-29 – Thyatira

Thyatira is a city about 35 miles southeast of Pergamum, it was a well-known center for commerce, historical records speak of their trade guilds that governed the life and trade for the area. Lydia, the first convert in Philippi and became the leader of the church that met in her home.
Thyatira was also the center of worship for Apollo, known as the son of god, Zeus’ son. Jesus addresses the believers of Thyatira as the true Son of God, with blazing eyes and burnished bronze feet. His eyes can see everything, nothing is hidden from God’s view and He has the authority to trample sin and injustice under his feet. Jesus says I know your deeds: your love, faith, service and steadfast endurance; your recent deeds exceed your earlier ones. By all outward appearances this was a highly successful church, they are growing, they are popular, they have many programs in place and they are full of loving people. But Jesus continues, the One who sees us, who can see into our heart and spirit. Jesus says, “I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and by her teaching deceives my servants to commit sexual immorality and eat foods sacrificed to idols”.
Apparently this Jezebel was a prominent teacher in the church, who was teaching and encouraging false teachings that were leading many astray. The church was tolerating Jezebel, allowing her to teach and promote pagan practices while proclaiming tolerance. The church knew what her name meant; Jezebel was the wife of the evil King Ahab who reigned in northern Israel for 22 years. She was a pagan from Sidon who brought the evil worship of Baal to Israel, this worship involved obscene sexual practices and temple prostitutes both male and female. Jezebel actively promoted and sponsored the evil by employing 800 prophets of Baal. She manipulated King Ahab towards ever increasing evil, which led to the eventual consequences for the people of Israel – death and slavery.
Thyatira’s particular issues involved participation in the trade union meetings, this involved idol worship and sexual immorality. The church had a choice, refuse to participate and lose the ability to work or just go along with the evils, known sin. This Jezebel gave the believers the false assurance that they could participate and God would overlook their sins. Jesus holds the church and Jezebel accountable for the false teaching, He has given them time to repent but they are not willing. Jesus says, “Look! I am throwing her onto a bed of violent illness, and those who commit adultery with her into terrible suffering, unless they repent of her deeds. Furthermore, I will strike her followers with a deadly disease, and then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts. I will repay each one of you what your deeds deserve”. Jezebel and her followers would suffer the consequences of their sins, Jesus said, “I will repay each one of you what your deeds deserve”. Jesus is the judge, with eyes blazing through all of our false reasons, His eyes see the truth of our hidden lives good and bad and He has the power to trample sins beneath His feet.
Jesus follows with a command to the church, “Hold on to what you have until I come!” To those who hold on to faith, truth and service, they will overcome and the overcomers will be given authority over the nations.
The issues for Thyatira ring so very true for the church today, who will we believe? The false prophets that proclaim we can fully embrace the evils and sins of this world and still be in right relationship with the Almighty Holy God. Or do we believe the Truth, Jesus the very image of God who was obedient, faithful and sinless fulfilling all the righteous requirements of the Law for our redemption. The false teachers continually repeat Satan’s tempting question from Genesis, Did God really say that? And surely you won’t die? Don’t believe the false teachers!
“Ephesus was strong in doctrine but weak in love. Thyatira was strong in love but weak in doctrine. It’s common for churches to be polarized in one of these two extremes. Either they will have full heads and empty hearts, or full hearts and empty minds. Either polarization is deadly. Balance is the key in any church. God demands both love and sound doctrine “.

Revelation 2:8-17

I am struck by how pertinent the letters to the churches in Smyrna and Pergamum are for us, as much as the world progresses we see the same challenges for believers continue. How do we respond when the pressures to conform come upon the church? Jesus addresses these two churches; He is the first and the last and He who has the sharp, double edged sword coming from His mouth. Both churches are suffering under the persecution, trials and testing but they respond differently.

Smyrna is a seaport about forty miles north of Ephesus, a thriving seaport that produced Myrrh a fragrant spice or perfume from the myrrh tree. The city was closely aligned with Rome and was the center for Emperor Worship for that area – all citizens of Smyrna were required to participate. Additionally, Smyrna had a large and actively hostile Jewish population that routinely slandered the church and stirred up anger and suspicion against the believers. Jesus says I know your afflictions; this conveys a sense of crushing relentless pressure to conform to the requirements of their times. Because of the persecutions the believers were unable to work and provide for their families, Jesus says I know your poverty – yet you are rich! The riches of the church at Smyrna are stored up in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal. Jesus warns the church that the persecution will continue and they will be tested for ten days. It is interesting to note from Daniel 1, Daniel asked for a ten day test, where the faithful Jewish youth would only eat vegetables instead of the food from the King’s table. Daniel asked the King to look at their appearance at the end of the test to see if they suffered under the restrictions, this self-imposed test was for them to remain faithful and not eat food offered to idols. Bottom line, Jesus says, “Be faithful even to death, and I will give you the crown of life and He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death”. Smyrna is commended for their faith, enduring persecution and trials – even to the point of death.

Pergamum is fifty miles north of Smyrna; it is the ancient capital of Asia Minor built on a cone shaped hill rising a thousand feet above the surrounding valley. Jesus says, “I know where you live – where Satan has his throne”. Pergamum was the center of the worship of Zeus, the altar to Zeus was set on a hillside overlooking the city, inside was a forty foot throne that could be seen from most of the city. Jesus commends the church in Pergamum for their continued faith under persecution, commending Antipas who was martyred there. Then Jesus says, “I have a few things against you”, Jesus condemns the creeping in of false teachings that he names as the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans.

Balaam was a prophet for hire, during the time of Jewish conquest of Israel. Balak the King of Moab, attempted to hire Balaam to curse the Israelites so that Moab would defeat them and drive them from the land. But God had a different plan, he spoke to Balaam and told him he must not go with Balak and curse what God has blessed. Balak persisted, sending more money and attempting to persuade Balaam to provide a powerful curse. Finally, Balaam is on the road to Balak when an angel sent from God blocks his path, Balaam’s donkey sees the angel and turns away, Balaam beats the donkey back to his intended path. This happens three times, then the donkey speaks to Balaam and God opens his eyes to see the angel that would have struck them both dead. Balaam arrives at Moab and performs the offerings they requested but when he was to pronounce the curse he only spoke the blessings that God gave him. Balak attempts this process three times, moving the ceremony spot to see if he can get what he wants from Balaam. Finally Balaam prophesies that Israel will crush Moab and that they will conqueror the entire area. Later in Numbers, Balaam gave advice to Midianite women on how to conquer the Israelites, they were to lead them astray, the women infiltrated the Israelite camp and lured them into sexual immorality and pagan worship.

The accusation against the church of Pergamum was that under pressure and persecution they allowed the pagans culture to infiltrate the church. They allowed pagan worship practices and sexual immorality to persist by flirting with false teachings. How appropriate to our struggles today, Satan works against the church in two clear ways: intimidation and enticement. He seeks to make us succumb from the slander, violence and persecution or undermine our witness by tempting the church to accept corrupt practices and false teachings.

Pergamum is called to repent; if they don’t repent the consequences are clear. Jesus says, “I will come against you quickly and make war against those people with the sword of my mouth.” Jesus himself will make war with the sword of my mouth, which is the word of God – the Bible.

For both churches Jesus delivers assurances to those who overcome, they will be given the crown of life, they will not be hurt by the second death, they will be given hidden manna and white stone with a new name. The crown of life refers to a reward for faithfulness. We receive the gift of eternal life when we receive the grace of God; this crown is a special reward for endurance under persecution. The second death is the lake of fire from Revelation 20:14, it is the destination for Satan and his followers. The hidden manna is the heavenly food available to a believer who overcomes, extra special spiritual nourishment that sustains us through trials. It stands in stark contrast to the food offered to idols that doesn’t satisfy and contrary to cultural beliefs actually destroys the soul. The white stone is a reward given to believers, a ticket to enter the special awards banquet as special blessing and privilege given to those who overcome. With our white stone we also get a new name given to us by Jesus, he knows us and calls us by name.

Revelation 2

The apostle John is told to write down what he sees, what is and what will be after these things. The mystery of the seven stars and the seven lampstands are revealed by Jesus saying the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

We know from the account of the tabernacle furnishing that the lampstand was to give light in the Holy Place and the oil represented the Holy Spirit. From Paul’s letters to the Ephesian and Corinthian churches we know that we who believe are the church, it is not a building or a place but the people who believe. The light of the lampstand represents the light of the Holy Spirit that indwells us when we accept Christ as our LORD and Savior. Jesus told us to let our light shine so that the world can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven. Jesus commands us to be the light of the world; however our current culture is demanding that we keep our light hidden away in the privacy of our church or homes. This is a great challenge for us, how do we be the light that Jesus commands us to be?

Ephesus was a very important Roman city; it was at the crossroads of trade and travel between Rome in the west and the provinces in the east. It was the center of worship of the goddess Diana or Artemis, the goddess of hunting, the moon and childbirth.

Jesus who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven lampstand says I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. Jesus knows us and our fellowship communities personally and he is interested in all we do both the good and the bad.

This begins the pattern for the letters to the churches; positive comments about their faith, negative comments on where they have failed, commands from the Father and assurances from their Savior. The church at Ephesus had been hard at work for over forty years; they are commended for their persistence, their purity and faithfulness. They appear to be everything we want to be as Christians and as a community of faith. Jesus continues to commend them for refusing the false teachers that attempted to lead them astray and then confronts the evil that has seeped into their lives.

But this I have against you; you have departed from your first love! The church had remained faithful to Christ, but their passion for Christ and the gospel had faded away. Jesus said we should, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength”. The church still believed, they remained faithful but they had allowed the struggles of living in the pagan Roman world to permeate their lives and worship, resulting in something less than what God requires. Jesus delivers a clear command, “Therefore, remember from what height state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds you did at the first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place – that is, if you do not repent”.

The church of Ephesus was a very prominent church, a lead church for the faith, but Jesus said he would remove the spirit from them if they didn’t repent. How could the church or anyone of us continue without the constant regenerating supply of the Holy Spirit? Jesus is calling on all of us to repent of our sins, to not allow the struggles of life to dim our light to the world. We are to remember what God has done for us, repent of our sins and return to our first love, trust in God alone.

Jesus assures the church and us that if we repent and return to our first love that God will heal us and we will overcome. “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life which is the paradise of God”.

We have a clear definition of how to love God from 1 John 5:4-5. “For this is the love of God: that we keep his commandments. And his commandments do not weigh us down, because everyone who has been fathered by God conquers the world. This is the conquering
power that has conquered the world: our faith”.

Revelation 1

Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy aloud, and blessed are those who hear and obey the things written in it, because the time is near!

Revelation begins with a prologue or preface which gives the purpose and importance of the letter plus the spirit and attitude in which it is to be read. From the very first verses we see that this is all about Jesus, it is an unveiling, a revelation of Jesus Christ to all of us so we can understand what must happen soon because the time is near. It is interesting to note that John writes that it is about what “must” happen soon – it is that “soon” word that we get hung up on instead of thinking about what must happen. But since it has been almost two thousand years since John wrote Revelation, we begin to understand that soon in God’s timing is very different from our view of soon.

John begins with a blessing, the first of seven blessings in Revelation – we are blessed if we hear and obey the things written in it. The number seven comes up repeatedly in Revelation as it did in our study of the Gospel of John. The number seven means completeness and perfection in the Old Testament, and John will continually directs us to prophecy in the Old Testament and the perfection of God’s plan.

The letter is addressed to the seven churches that are in Asia Minor, John sends greeting from Jesus – “who is and who was and who is still to come”. This begins John’s poetic writing using series of threes to emphasize the points, by repeated phrases. John identifies the source of the prophecy as Jesus Christ (1) the faithful witness, (2) the first born from among the dead and (3) the ruler over the kings of the earth. As we read Revelation aloud we can hear the poetic words, with emphasis and clear teaching about Jesus.

John identified himself as an eyewitness to the life of Jesus in his gospel he now declares that Jesus is the faithful witness to God’s plan and purpose. Jesus said repeatedly as he ministered among the people that his teachings “were from the one who sent me” – that is God Almighty. Jesus is the first born among the dead in that with His resurrection he conquered sin and death; he was the first to rise from the grave to eternal life. Remember when Lazarus was raised from the dead it was to eventually die at another time. Finally Jesus is the ruler over the kings of the earth – this is the position that God raised Jesus to, “God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord the glory of God the Father”

John hears a voice from behind him who identifies Himself as the Alpha and the Omega – “the one who is and who was and who is still to come, the Almighty”. God himself is speaking, and John is told to write down what he sees and hears and send it to the seven churches. So begins John’s letter and prophecy, John identifies himself as their brother, well known to the churches and as a fellow sufferer for the sake of the gospel, imprisoned on the island of Patmos.

John writes down what he sees, he sees a man, dressed in a long robe with a golden belt across his chest, his head and hair glowed white as snow, his eyes were piercing like a fiery flame, his voice was loud like the sound of roaring waters. In his right hand he held 7 stars; out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword and his face shone like the sun at full strength.

John stunned and frightened falls on his face in fear, and then the Son of Man reaches out to touch John and says, “Do not be afraid”. Do you think John remembers, all the times that Jesus touched people and said “do not be afraid”. Then the startling amazing being speaks and says, “I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!” It is Jesus!