The Corrupt Church

Revelation 2:18-29 1 Kings 16:29-33

The Lord of the Church writes next to the church at Thyatira, a city much different from the previous three (Ephesus, Sardis, Pergamum). It was at the same time easier and more challenging to be a Christian in Thyatira. The saints in Thyatira were not at risk from the state – imprisonment, banishment, persecution, execution – for living their faith. The city is known for its strategic location and commerce than for its houses of worship. Satan’s assault on the church came from within, at nearly the highest level of influence, in the form of a claim to inside knowledge; consequently, the temptations and pressures on Christians were more subtle and difficult to resist.

What was Thyatira like?

Compared to neighboring cities Thyatira was quite insignificant, more a place to go through than to go to! A garrison city between Pergamum and Sardis, it was occupied first by one then army, then another in the course of its history. In the 1st century, had a thriving local economy; home to bakers, painters, tanners, potters, coppersmiths, as well as ready-made clothing industry and associated suppliers. Lydia who met Paul in Philippi was a merchant trading in purple, or as it was known later, cloth colored with Turkish red dye (Acts 16:14). Dye was probably made from root of madder plant (relative of coffee); same basic dye in later years used for Redcoat’s uniforms.

Home of temple to Lydian sun-god Tyrimnos, known as Apollo in Greek mythology, son of Zeus and father of Asklepios. Games were held in his honor, his image commonly found on coins from the city. Also a temple to Sambethe, prophetess who claimed to speak for Apollo. Similar to previous cities, religion not confined to its own sphere; had tendrils of influence that reached the business world as well as social life.

Each trade or industry had an associated guild – association of craftsmen – as well as a patron god or goddess. All shops were closed – no guild membership, no chance of employment in particular trade. Sanctioned by Roman government, under authority of local magistrate. Guilds controlled trade secrets and access to them: recipes, formulas, manufacturing practices, material sources, customer contacts. Before construction of guildhalls, meetings held in temple of patron deity; guild social events almost certainly included at least token blessing in name of patron god, consumption of food that had previously been offered to that god.

Two forces at work here putting pressure on Thyatiran Christians: economic – how to make a living without developing some kind of parallel economy; personal – thrill of knowing/keeping secrets and the power/control/pride associated with possessing knowledge, especially “inside” knowledge. The Lord of the Church has strong commendation and also sharp rebuke for this church.

A. Characteristics of Christ v.18 the Omniscient Holy One

Each letter begins with reference to chapter 1 vision of Christ, not only identifying the person of the author but also his role relationship with the church. Here in our text he is represented as the one who:

The Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like fine brass. cf. Rev.1:14-15 the Omniscient Holy One

Three elements to Christ’s self-description: declaration of his deity, that he is God who will share his glory with no other (Isa. 42:8), who has authority to correct and command his church.

declaration of his omniscience, eyes that pierce through appearances to underlying truth and from which nothing can be concealed.

declaration of his purity and power, bronze purified in the furnace, crafted and tempered so as to stamp out all deception and opposition.

B. Commendation v.19

Works of love, service, faith, patience, increasing as time passed

love for God – real, warm, sincere devotion seen in outward expression

service to the saints – showing love for God by ministering to needs of others within their church and church-at-large

faith – living in dependence on God, confident in his keeping and provision; probably not talking about their keeping “the” faith as in maintaining doctrinal purity. focusing more on personal exercise of faith

patient endurance – not suffering persecution in the same way as other churches; rather, slogging on day after day when life is hard

growth – in love toward God and one another, in confidence toward God, in endurance of opposition and hardship. Church was growing in spirituality but foundation underneath was being eroded.

Church in Thyatira toward opposite end of the spectrum from church in Ephesus. Ephesus bound up in right doctrine nearly to exclusion of love in practice, all head and no heart, possessed of intellectual strength. Thyatira overflowing with love toward God shown by love toward others but with little time for maintaining right doctrine, all heart and no head, possessed of emotional strength. Obvious from Christ’s commendation to both churches that both are worthy attributes, both are also necessary in proper measure for a church to be in good health.

Church without heart will become harsh and exclusive, turning in on itself and losing its effectiveness in the world. Church without head will become weak and inclusive, allowing anything or everything to influence it and losing its distinctiveness from the world. Ephesus had nearly lost its ability to bring the light of the Gospel to the world; Thyatira was in danger of losing the light of the Gospel to bring to the world.

C. Criticism v.20

Tolerates a false teacher.

A worse situation than that found in Pergamum. Saints in Pergamum allowed those to remain in the church believed and practiced what was contrary to Bible. Saints in Thyatira allowed someone to remain in the church who taught was was un-Biblical. Believing and living wrongly is serious for sure; teaching error and encouraging others to believe and live it is far more destructive.

Compared to Jezebel, wife of Ahab, who encouraged her husband to such evil that he far surpassed those who came before him (1 Kings 16:30). Like namesake, this false prophetess encouraged members of Thyatira church to commit both physical and spiritual immorality – engage in behavior that represented unfaithfulness both to spouse and to God. Teaching was wrapped up in a package that made it especially appealing, seductively so – you can have your cake and eat it, too.

In a culture/economy that ran on inside secrets, this Jezebel offered her own version of secret information that would empower her followers. Professing to be teaching “deep spiritual truths”, was actually promoting “deep secrets of Satan” (see v.24). If you knew her teaching, you could remain a good Christian and get ahead in the world, belonging in good conscience to the business community and one of its guilds. Knowing the secrets would bring power, would actually advance the cause of the Gospel by giving opportunities to witness in the workplace.

Two likely errors she was teaching: since a Christian knows idols are nothing anyway, a little mantra, a little incense, a little food, no problem. Absolutely contrary to Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor. 10:14ff. Second: what you do with your body doesn’t matter, it’s gonna die anyway and you’ll get a new one, only your soul matters. Contrary to so much regarding behavior in Scripture, summed up in 1 Cor. 10:31.

Same basic lies as Satan told Eve in the Garden, appealed to same human desires for knowledge and power but even more effective in fallen man. Many today within the church, in positions of leadership, teach false gospel – offering hope in something less than Christ. If you only try hard enough, have enough faith, follow this formula for prayer, these 12 steps, etc…….

D. Instruction v.21-25

Hold on to what you have. Judgment coming, keep the faith, no further burden.

For this false prophetess and her persistent followers – severe gloom and doom. Christ, the righteous judge, threatens sickness and suffering and even death to those who will not repent. The Jezebel seems by this time to be beyond hope, had extended opportunity to repent but refused. Her followers perhaps not quite so far gone; however, would not escape judgment unless they turned from evil ways.

Those who have not fallen for her seduction: keep the faith; hold on to the true faith you possess, one that has Christ and nothing less as its object. That is enough, no further requirement is necessary to satisfy the Lord of the Church.

E. Promise v.26-28

Will have authority over the nations; the morning star.

Two promises to the one who overcomes: participation in Christ’s inheritance, partaking of Christ himself. All authority/power given to Christ (Matt. 28:18), delegated by him to others; he still reserves the right to rule the nations and it is by participation in Christ’s rulership that we can be said to rule. That’s only true when we are in union with Christ, joined to him by faith; also means we will have privilege of participating in rest of Christ’s inheritance, every spiritual blessing treasured up for us.

Even more incredible: the promise of the morning star, Christ himself spoken of by Paul as “the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Col. 1:27 Not secrets, not inside information, not even power, but the Lord Jesus abiding in us, nourishing our souls, making us fit for heaven and bringing us safely home.

God’s word is perspicuous – transparently clear; easily understandable. He has revealed in the Bible all that we need to know regarding what to believe and how to behave. We are to stop in our inquiry at the limits of Scripture: see Deut. 29:29, not falling for the seduction that there are secrets about God to be decoded if we just have the key. May God give us the discernment and determination to be satisfied with nothing less than our Lord Jesus himself.


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