Thyatira – Tolerant Church

Revelation 2:18-29

Phrase common to all seven letters: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Why would Jesus say that to each church? Was something Jesus said more than once during time of earthly ministry. On one occasion, even explained it –

turn to Matt. 13:9-16 (pg. 1126)

Two sorts of people in audience – those with ears, those without. True of Jesus’ audience before his ascension, true of those who hear his word since. More precisely, all have ears but some don’t hear. In view here, hearing spiritual teaching. Two sorts of results – instruction and insulation. Those with ears to hear are instructed in spiritual truth and its application. Those without ears to hear are further insulated from spiritual truth, refuse or are unable to make personal application.

Like to think: if proclaim truth from God’s word long enough, loud enough, persuasively enough, people will respond positively. God’s word teaches something different: some will hear, understand, be changed by it. Majority will misunderstand, misapply, flat out reject what they hear; may even be further hardened, made even more resistant to truth by hearing it.

All this, instructive to individual churches and church at large, also a prelude to what follows in ch. 4 onward. Highly symbolic, meaning hidden from unbelievers… if they even read or care; designed to instruct the faithful. Also intended to shock out of erroneous ways of viewing what’s going on in world, how it all turns out.

turn to Mark 8:16-21 (pg. 1162)

Even committed Christians subject to drift – slowly acquiring flavor of surrounding culture.

Longest message to smallest city, perhaps also the smallest church of the seven. Clearly shows Lord of the Church does not despise small things – Jesus takes perfect care of his people whether gathered in large group or small. Remember: where 2 or 3 are gathered, there He is.

Ephesus’ problem – too much head, not enough heart; Thyatira’s problem just the opposite – too much heart, not enough head. Result: world and its ways of thinking had permeated the church. Sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it! Ranks right up there near top of issues plaguing church here in our day and place.

A. context

located on major trade routes – perhaps 1/2 of world trade passed by Thyatira on way to and from the east

industrial center, probably much higher percentage of working class; more trade guilds (modern equivalent – unions) than any other

trade guilds of coppersmiths, tanners, leather workers, bakers, clothiers, potters, wool workers, linen workers, and dyers of cloth

Lydia, God-fearer convert to Christianity in Macedonia, dealer in purple cloth from Thyatira – member of the union? don’t know!

typically, no guild/union membership, no work or access to merchants; similar in power and control to closed shops today

problem with unions: meetings ended with meal; at beginning and end of meal, cup of wine poured out in honor of pagan god; meal itself often included meat offered to idols first, then sold at discount

participation in labor guild giving tacit approval at least to all activities and their significance, unless otherwise stated

disagreement on religious grounds probably not looked on favorably – consider Demetrius, silversmith guild in Ephesus… stirred up riot against Paul and companions

not the wide variety of idols worshiped, no known temple devoted to emperor worship; primary deity – Apollo, sun god, also god of healing and medicine (father of Asclepius)

since Apollo was son of Zeus, the big guy and ruler of gods, Apollo known as “the son of god”… pretty close second to Zeus

B. character of Christ v.18

Christ as: Omniscient Holy One – the one who sees the truth and is committed to it

eyes like flame of fire – to search hearts; feet like polished bronze – power to trample (subdue) the wicked

but that’s not where Jesus starts in self-identification: once again, direct challenge / rebuke to those who call Apollo by the name that rightly belongs only to Lord Jesus

“These things says the Son of God” – the one who has divine power and authority, who has the right to commend, criticize and call the faithful to persevere

this one, Son of God, has right and responsibility to search hearts with his all-seeing eye: the Father has appointed Day and Judge

to judge all things rightly requires all knowledge – no secrets possible before this one with eyes like fiery flame who sees thoughts and motives behind every action

also, by introducing concept of “Son of God” here, sets stage for further references to Psalm 2 toward conclusion of letter

yes, is commendation for Thyatira, but warning overshadows the rest: judgment about to fall on those who persist in unrepentance

nothing can stand in way of this glorious Son of God – organizations that had nearly unlimited control in Thyatira powerless before Lord Jesus; fwiw, he knew all their trade secrets, too!

believers and unbelievers alike – need to recognize and submit to authority of Christ; believers need to do that and not fear

Lord Jesus presented in this character is strong encouragement – the fourth one Nebuchadnezzar saw in fiery furnace with 3 men

just as He was present with 3 faithful in their hour of trial, will be with those in Thyatira and the faithful in his church today

C. commendation v.19

recognized for love, service, faith, patience; as time has gone on, more recent deeds more excellent than earlier ones

talk about church family devoted to ministry!… and with right motivation – love and faith prominent in their commendation

showing love for one another, bearing one another’s burdens, growing in their faith… shown by their steadfast endurance

was not busyness for its own sake, programs and positions simply to keep people attached to church, activity list intended to impress… we’re the place with all the happening things

were doing the right things in relating to one another, and for right reasons; were experiencing hardship, too – growing in endurance as faith was tested

if were doing all that right, what could possibly be wrong? as if Jesus saying “I love your love, but hate your tolerance.” D. Johnson

D. criticism v.20a

tolerates a false teacher – was recognized as someone whose theology was “off”, allowed to continue influencing members of body

had position and recognition as teacher, not just whispering around edges… proclaiming wrong things with sanction of leaders

important: person probably didn’t start out as formal teacher; likely worked into that position over time

Satan – the real instigator, promoting teaching within the church that diluted purity and authority of truth from God’s word

seductive message, one that appealed to senses – if it feels good, must be ok to do it; rationalizing – persuasive arguments intended to overcome biblical principles

problem: they had the standard, truly understood it, failed to apply it and hold teaching to that standard – tolerated compromise

E. challenge v.20b-24

regularly being taught lies and deception about the content and meaning of God’s truth; in danger of losing the essence of the Gospel – once standard of truth starts to slide, all bets are off

is encouraged when listening to an authority other than Jesus and his Word, then not making sure they got it right

might say… we don’t have that problem – certainly no false teachers in our church, no sexual immorality; but… are we at risk?

who are authorities you listen to: radio, television, internet, neighborhood, magazines and newspapers – and doesn’t have to be just Bible teachers

how about for child training, investments, retirement planning and activities, time management – every one is addressed in God’s word… does what you hear and believe match up?

and then the immorality thing: what is portrayed in books, TV shows, movies, music that you consume on regular basis

how does that influence what you say to family and neighbors about apparel and activities and lifestyle choices

how about idols moving into church in subversive way, at least into those within our sphere of contact

idol of church growth, e.g. – here’s what you need: these programs, this schedule, that music, credit cards and coffee bars, youth pastors and worship leaders

if you do that, people will come, children will come, young people will come, you will be on the map… a cool church

every one of those ideas/principles came from secular business world and how to effectively market product to consumers

F. call v.25

Lord of the Church says: hold on to what you have – keep the faith: grasp on to pure truth from One who is truth

stay the course, will be no further burden, hold to clear teaching of Scripture… not false teaching that “smells like smoke and comes from pit of hell”

holding to Jezebel and those who follow her (children) leads only to destruction… regardless of appearances or assurances

what’s it look like in practice: whether in church or out, hold up every way of thinking and prioritizing and evaluating to word of God

if Bible has something to say about it, that is what we must do, and… must not tolerate error in homes or w/i our church

God has given us every tool we need – Bible and Spirit – to keep us from error: full-blown like Thyatira… or beginning stages when is easiest to let things slide

G. conquerors’ reward v.26-29

Promise: will have authority over the nations; be given the morning star – reference here back to our call to worship

in short: we will share not only in Jesus’ inheritance, will share in his ruling authority – matters not that we feel powerless in face of opposition by Satan and his agents

we in God’s strength will overcome all opposers because Warrior-King Jesus will subdue all his enemies

We must not compromise, we must not tolerate error because it appears expedient, we must never make peace with the world. We must keep our eyes and our faith firmly fixed on the Lamb of Calvary, the Lion of Judah who is our only hope and stay. Do not be afraid, He is with us!


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