David Jeremiah - The Adulterous Church
I don't think I've ever seen the church of Jesus Christ in such disarray and confusion as it is today. Interestingly enough, many of the problems that we are facing today are the problems that were a part of the early church. Now, unlike the cities we have already studied, the city of Thyatira was not located on a mountain. It was located in a valley between two cities. It had no natural fortifications. It was protected throughout its history by a Roman garrison. And it was a bustling trade center, boasting numerous guilds, and bakers, and bronze workers, and clothiers, and cobblers, and weavers, and tanners, and dyers, and potters all organized in trade unions in Thyatira. And Thyatira was a city of enduring sacrifices and shallow ritualism. To this church that was located in that city is written the longest letter of the seven letters, even though, by the estimate of most, it is the least important of the seven cities. We do know from Christ's words that there was a good church in Thyatira at the time the letter was written.
Now, in all of the letters that we have studied, we have learned that Jesus addresses himself to each of these churches in a different way. Notice verse 18, "And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write, 'These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass.'" In every instance, the Lord speaks to the church out of his essence as God, and uses the description that is necessary for the problem that's in the church. The problem that we're going to discuss in the church in Thyatira was more of a secret problem, more of a kind of thing that was done not necessarily always out in the open, but behind closed doors, yet known by all. And to that church, the Lord Jesus Christ addresses himself as the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire. In chapter 1, John sees Christ in his glory as the Son of Man, ministering to the seven churches. But here in the letter to the church in Thyatira, he sees Christ as the Son of God.
This title is used intentionally to add solemnity to the message which is about to be delivered to this church. You know, I think if you had the choice to meet the Son of Man or the Son of God, you'd probably choose the Son of Man, even though they're one and the same person. There's something about that phrase, "This is the Son of the living God," that brings a little seriousness to the discussion, which is what is necessary in this passage. Now, the authority of Jesus is followed up by the awareness of Jesus. Notice in verse 18 Jesus is described as the one who has eyes like a flame of fire. There is no escape from the eyes of Jesus. As the Son of God, he is omniscient as well as almighty. Peter said to Jesus after the resurrection, "Lord, you know all things". Isn't that true? He knows all things. After listening to Jesus teach in the upper room, his disciples said to him, "Lord, we are sure that you know all things, and you have no need that anyone should question you".
Notice there's one little phrase here about the anger of Jesus. Revelation 2:18, "And his feet are like fine brass". Fine brass was a hard alloy that, when adequately polished, looked like gold. In the Greek language, fine brass is just one word. It could be translated by burnished brass or bright bronze. It is found in the New Testament only in the first and second chapters of Revelation, and it reminds us that Christ takes on this visage of judgment. This brass was a symbol of judgment. The Lord Jesus is going to present himself to this church. After describing the good things of the church, he's going to present himself as an all-knowing Lord, who sees what is really going on and brings adequate judgment to those who are involved. Just hold that in the back of your mind.
Now, that's the designation of the letter. Notice what the Lord Jesus says about the church in Thyatira, as this letter is penned by John. Verse 19 is a pregnant verse. Notice, "I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first". Now, in many ways, the service of the church in Thyatira was better than any of the other churches. She had preserved the faith that was in jeopardy in Pergamos, and shared with Smyrna the patience that you need to suffer.
As we examine the Thyatiran church, we discover four positive things that Jesus says about her. First of all, Thyatira was a laboring church, "I know your works and your service". The church in Thyatira was, first of all, a laboring church, but notice next it was a loving church. "I know your works, and your service, and I know your love". The church in Thyatira was a match for the church in Ephesus. The church in Ephesus was known for its energy and devotion, but it had also kept the warm glow of love, which Ephesians had lost. Thyatira was a laboring church and a loving church, and it was loyal. The Lord Jesus says, "I know your faith". The word "faith" here is the word "pistos," which means more faithfulness and fidelity and loyalty.
The Christians in Thyatira were dependable people. They did what they said they would do. They stood behind their word. The ministry of the believers in this city was continued in spite of resistance and criticism. They fulfilled the one requirement of a servant that we read about in 1 Corinthians 4:2, "It is required of a servant that he be faithful". They were a laboring church, they were a loving church, they were a loyal church, and they were a longsuffering church. "I know your patience," says the Scripture. And the word "patience" is a word in the language of the New Testament that is made up of two words, which convey the idea of staying power under adverse circumstances.
In other words, when the pressure was on, they didn't quit, they didn't walk away. They didn't lose their fervor for Christ in the midst of all the pressure they felt. They were patient in tribulation, as we read about in Romans 12:12. And they were tested under tribulation, and it produced their faith. The church in Thyatira had a very humble ministry, and yet, it produced in its members the three graces Paul often discusses in his letters. It produced faith, hope, and love. And this is a church that, if we stopped reading right now, we would all say, "Where's the address, and how do I get there? I'd like to attend that church".
So, let me just stop for a moment and give you this final word about the goodness of the church in Thyatira. It was a good church. It did a lot of good things. But how many of you know that a lot of good churches start out good and don't stay there? You know, Satan doesn't bother bad churches. He's already got them. You got a church that doesn't preach the Bible, doesn't talk about Jesus, doesn't make the plan of salvation, why would Satan want to mess with that? They're walking right in his wheelhouse. But good churches, churches that have something going for God, they have a target on their back. The church of Jesus Christ is the one thing he fears more than anything else except the Lord Jesus himself.
So now let me share with you what he did in the church in Thyatira. How many of you know that when you see the word "nevertheless" in the Bible, you've already had all the good news and the bad news is about to come? Like when you say to your kids, you know, "You cleaned up your room good, and you put stuff away. Nevertheless, you know, you made a mess in the kitchen," you know? So this is the nevertheless. Verse 20, "Nevertheless, I have a few things against you because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce my servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things that are sacrificed to idols".
Whoa, I mean, that almost seems like it doesn't belong here. We've heard all these great things about this church, and then all of a sudden this expression. Thyatira had everything going for it except one thing, holiness. The Bible says that God's will for us is to be holy. "This is the will of God, your sanctification, that you should abstain from sexual immorality," 1 Thessalonians 4:3. Ephesians 1:4, "He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love". Titus 2:14, "Jesus Christ gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for himself his own special people, zealous for good works".
Here was the problem in Thyatira. Let me ask you if it doesn't seem like it has a little bit of application today. They were a good church, they did a lot of good things, but the lifestyle of the people wasn't much different from the lifestyle of the city where the church was planted. Today, as you read the statistics that come out from some of the surveys that are being done, you shudder to think that the statistics of moral failure in the church are almost at the same level as the statistics in the world. In that situation, Satan has infiltrated the church with this attitude that, you know, it doesn't matter what you do morally. And little by little, it becomes sort of a comfort thing within the church.
Now, notice how this is described in the letter. It says, "You have Jezebel in your church". Now, they didn't have actually Jezebel from the Old Testament. The Scripture says the spirit of Jezebel was in Thyatira. By the time Christ writes to the church in Thyatira, this woman, Jezebel, had been dead for nearly 1.000 years. Her spirit, however, had been revived in a prophetess who had become prominent in Thyatira. Claiming to be a prophetess of God, this new Jezebel was causing the Christians in Thyatira to indulge in immoral practices. Some think that the Christians were being enticed by Jezebel to attend ceremonies and festivals of the local trade unions, and these ceremonies were dedicated to some pagan god, and usually incorporated sensuality or sexuality as part of the festival.
So, in this church in Thyatira, Satan had infiltrated the church with this evil ideology, That even though you claim to be a Christian, you should not be concerned about entering into the frivolity that was so present in the city of Thyatira. Now, in verses 21 and following, the Lord's message to this church is presented in 3 packages. One part of the letter is addressed to the cult of Jezebel, one part is addressed to the few Christians who were still standing strong, and the other part is addressed to those who would be overcomers. Notice the message to the cult in verse 21, "And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed, I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am he who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works".
That is a pretty strong statement. A threat, first of all, of distress. Almighty God, through Jesus Christ, says to this church, "If you do not deal with the Jezebel cult in your center, I will cast her into a sickbed". Do you know that we don't do a lot with church discipline in our churches these days, but Almighty God is still at work in disciplining churches. There was the threat of distress, but there was also the threat of death, "I will kill her children with death". Like the sons of the original Ahab and Jezebel, these children are also doomed. Perhaps the reference here is to the actual illegitimate children of Jezebel's promiscuity, I don't know. It's more probable that this points to the spiritual children of this cultic family.
Just as Paul referred to his convert in the faith as his son Timothy, so these evil teachers bore spiritual children as well. Such literal punishments as sickness and death are certainly within the scope of this statement. This was the era of Ananias and Sapphira, remember that? That was pretty swift, wasn't it? They lied to the Holy Spirit. Do you remember that story in the book of Acts? Their fellow churchman, Barnabas, had sold a bunch of property and given it to the Lord, and he got a lot of pats on the back for it, I'm sure. Ananias and Sapphira had a lot of property too, and they decided, "Well, if he's going to get some recognition, we should too". And the Bible says they went out and sold their property, but they didn't give it all to the Lord. They deceived the church as if they were giving it all to the Lord, and kept back part of it for themselves.
A lot of people misunderstand that story. They weren't killed because they didn't give all the money to the church. They were killed because they said they gave it all to the church, and they were deceitful. And the Lord God in the early days of the church wanted to make a statement about holiness. Somebody said the sheet was white, and that little black spot on the sheet showed up like you wouldn't believe. And in an immediate moment of time, the Bible says they were both killed. "The feet of those who have carried out your husband have come to carry you out". That is the judgment of God, and we don't hear much about that today. In fact, I don't hear about it at all.
In fact, some of you are probably sitting here thinking, "I think Jeremiah's been staying up too late at night". But that's in the Bible, isn't it? Whether we like to accept it or not, God has his tolerance point with his family. You won't lose your salvation, you just get an early exit out of life, and go to be with the Lord. So the message to the cult was live your lives in the presence of Christ, know that he has eyes like the flame of fire. And you may not think anybody else knows what you're doing, but he does. He sees behind the closed doors you think nobody knows are ever open to anyone's view. That's why he's described like that in this letter. The message to the Christians is in verse 24 and 25, "Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no further burden. But hold fast what you have".
The Lord Jesus here is just saying to the Christians in that town who aren't caught up in this, he is saying, "I don't want to put any more burdens on you. Just hold fast". Not everyone in the church of Thyatira had become part of this evil cult. There were still some who did not follow Jezebel and her teaching, and therefore they had not known the deep things of Satan. This is the first time in the messages of the seven churches that a group is singled out within a local church as being the continuing true testimony of the Lord. To this group of Christians, Christ gives some clear instruction. He says they are to carry no other burden. They are to go forward and hold on to their faith.
You know, that's probably an important word, isn't it? Because sometimes in churches where you're maybe in a small group, or you're involved with folks, and you hear about stuff and you wonder, "Wow, am I the only one? I used to think everybody thought that was"... No, no, that's not the way it is. There's a kind of acceptance within the body of Christ of things today that would never have been accepted in earlier days. And some folks who still don't accept those things are singled out for special treatment by the more avant-garde members of the church sometimes.
When I tell people that I have never smoked and I don't drink, I've never had a drop of alcohol that I'm aware of, somebody might have put it in my food or something, but I have never had any alcohol out of a bottle, I've never taken drugs, I've never been unfaithful to my wife, you're almost looked at like, "Well, what's the matter with you? I mean, aren't you going to experience life"? No, I have no intention of experiencing that life. I have a desire to be a part of that group that decides not to do that. And by saying that, I realize that I put myself in jeopardy because, "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall".
But ladies and gentlemen, it's all right not to be a part of the cool bunch. It's all right to be faithful to the things of God, and to stand for the things you believe. Many people in this church who have those feelings, have those desires are frustrated because it's become so easy for the standards to be broken down in our churches. That's the message to the cult and the message to the Christians. And then finally, there's a message to the conquerors. Notice verses 26 and following, "And he who overcomes, keeps my works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations. He shall rule them with a rod of iron. They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter's vessels. As I also have received from my father, I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches".
As in all of the other letters, Christ closes his message to the church in Thyatira with a promise to those who are overcomers. He says those who overcome will receive the power to rule. Do you know what that means? That means that your faithfulness to God, to his holy plan in your life, and to the responsibilities he's given you here now, your faithfulness to that will determine your power to rule in the millennium, when we rule with Christ on this earth as a part of his kingdom. And I don't know how much responsibility you believe you should be given, but the responsibility you're given to rule with him will be related to your faithfulness in the responsibility you have been given now, and your faithfulness to carry that out with godliness and righteousness and faithfulness.
Those who endure will receive the power to rule, and then those who endure will receive the promise of the rapture. To the overcomers also is given the promise of the morning star. Jesus Christ is the bright and morning star. And this promise to the faithful then is a promise of his presence. It apparently refers to Christ as the returning one, who will rapture the church before the dark hours preceding the tribulation and the millennial kingdom. You don't go to heaven because you lived perfectly as a Christian, but you are rewarded for your faithfulness.
And whatever else we take away from this letter and the other letters that we have studied, let us learn that churches aren't much different today than they were back then. The same issues that they fought are the issues that we fight. If you could talk to the church leaders of the evangelical church, they would all say what we have discussed is basically the same issue we have today. I realize that Satan is alive and well today, and his target is the church. If he can allow the church to lose its influence because of moral failure, he will have accomplished a great goal in his life. Let us pray that it never happens, not here, not now, not ever.