So, the message to Thyatira is the fourth of the seven messages to the seven churches in the Roman province of Asia. To the church in Ephesus, the Lord wrote to rebuke them because their love for him was not what it once was. To the church in Smyrna, a church which was facing persecution, the Lord wrote a letter of comfort and encouragement. And to the church in Pergamum, the Lord wrote a letter to rebuke them because some of them were holding to the teaching of Balaam and of the Nicolaitans and had compromised their faith by joining their unbelieving neighbours in the pagan feasts and festivals and in sexual immorality. And now he turns his attention to the church in Thyatira; and this is the longest of the seven messages and it comes at the middle of the seven messages. And it begins, as they all do, with a brief description of the Lord Jesus which corresponds to what the Apostle John saw in his vision of the Risen and Exalted Lord Jesus which he recorded for us in chapter 1.
Look with me at verse 18 where the Lord describes himself as the Son of God whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. Well, the eyes like blazing fire speak to us of the Lord’s special insight and how he’s able to peer into us so that there’s nothing in us which can be hidden from him. We try to hide our faults and shortcomings and failures from others; and often we succeed; but we cannot hide anything from the Lord’s blazing eyes. And the feet like burnished bronze speak to us of his moral purity, because just as metal is polished to remove all blemishes and to make it shine, so the Lord Jesus shines with perfect purity and goodness.
And, of course, just as we’ve seen before, the way the Lord describes himself at the opening of each of these messages fits what he’s about to say, because someone in Thyatira was leading the others astray; and, as a result, some of them were living unholy and impure lives. And the Lord sees it all with his eyes like blazing fire. In fact, later, in verse 23, he says that all the churches will know that he is the one who searches hearts and minds; he sees right into us. And so, the Lord’s people need to understand that their lives are to be holy just as their Saviour is holy.
Before the Lord rebukes some of the members of this church, he commends them in verse 19 where he says:
I know your deeds.
So, the one who sees all, has not only seen their shortcomings, but he’s seen the good things they have done. And the Lord goes on to expand on what he means by their deeds. He mentions four things: their love and faith; and their service and perseverance. And since the Lord commends them for these things, then that tells us that it’s important that we all possess these four qualities too. So, we ought to display love and faith and service and perseverance in our lives. These are the qualities he admires and which he hopes to find in all his people.
First of all, there’s love, because the Lord’s people must love him above all other things; and we must also love one another; and we must even love our enemies. Remember what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth? The people in Corinth were able to boast about all the spiritual gifts they possessed. However, Paul warned them that all their gifts amounted to nothing since they did not love one another.
Then there’s faith, because the Lord’s people must trust in him. We must trust in him for salvation, because the Lord Jesus Christ is the only Saviour of the world and we’re justified by faith in him alone. But we must trust in him for all things. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6, the Lord rebukes those who worry about what we’re going to eat or drink or wear. But there’s no need to worry about such things, because we’re to trust our Heavenly Father to help us. And we’re not to worry about the future, because we’re to trust that our times are in God’s hands. And even as we go through the coronavirus crisis, the Lord’s people must not worry, but must trust our Heavenly Father to help us.
And then there’s service. We must be the kind of people who serve one another. Think of what the Lord Jesus said about himself: he said that he did not come to be served, but to serve us, by giving up his life as a ransom to pay for our sins. Well, since he came to serve us, then it’s no surprise to find that he’s wants us to serve others. Or, think of what the Apostle Paul said about the Lord Jesus in his letter to Titus. He said:
[he] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
In other words, one of the purposes of the cross was to make us the kind of people who are zealous or eager to do good works to others. That’s what the Lord is looking for from us.
And then there’s perseverance, because, as I’ve said before, the Christian life is not a sprint, which is over in a flash, but a marathon, which is an endurance race. And we must always persevere and not give up or give in, but must keep going, along the narrow path which leads, eventually, to everlasting life in the presence of the Lord.
So, the Lord commends the members of the church in Thyatira for possessing these four qualities. And, since he commends them for being like this, then that tells us that he wants us to be like this as well.
But then notice what he says at the end of verse 19. He says:
I know your deeds — your love and faith, your service and perseverance — and that you are now doing more than you did at first.
He commends them for their progress and development. They’re doing more than they first did. And since the Lord commends them for this, then that tells us that the Lord wants all his people to make progress over time. When he looks at his church, he expects the church to develop and to do better as the years go by. So, our love for him and for others is to grow over time. Our faith in him is to grow over time. Our willingness to serve others is to grow over time. Our ability to persevere is to grow over time. And so, we ought to ask ourselves whether or not we are developing and progressing and whether our own love and faith and service and perseverance is growing, because that’s what the Lord is looking for.
Verses 20 to 23
But let’s move on to verses 20 to 23 where the Lord rebukes the church for what? Well, for tolerating this woman whom he calls Jezebel. Now, that’s probably not this person’s real name, but the Lord is saying that this person is behaving like Queen Jezebel, who lived in the days of Elijah, and who was married to King Ahab and who encouraged the worship of Baal in the land of Israel and who killed the prophets of the Lord. She was a wicked woman. And there was someone in the church in Thyatira who was behaving just like her. And look: She called herself a prophetess, which means she claimed to be sent from God and to speak for God. But by her teaching, she was misleading the Lord’s servants so that they committed sexual immorality and ate food sacrificed to idols, which probably means that, like the members of the church in Pergamum, they too joined their unbelieving neighbours in the pagan feasts and festivals.
So, this woman was acting like Jezebel; she was claiming to be a prophetess; she was misleading the Lord’s people. And according to verse 21, the Lord has given her time to repent; but she was unwilling. She refused.
What she was doing was terrible; it was wicked. But what the Lord rebukes his people for is that they were tolerating her. Do you see that in verse 20? They were tolerating her; and instead of disciplining her, they allowed her to continue to lead the people astray with her teaching. Now, church discipline is one of the marks of a true church. At the time of the Reformation, people wanted to know how to distinguish a true church from a false church. And the Reformers came up with three marks to identify a true church: you needed the pure preaching of God’s word; you needed the proper administration of the sacraments; and you needed biblical church discipline to ensure the purity of the church. Well, biblical church discipline was needed in Thyatira: for this women’s own good, and for the good of the whole church, the elders of this congregation ought to have prevented her from teaching these false doctrines, and they ought to have rebuked her for what she was doing.
In a way, this is similar to what we read in 1 Corinthians. Do you remember in chapter 5 Paul complained about the man who was sleeping with his step mother. That was bad enough, but what really troubled Paul was the fact that the church had done nothing about it. And that’s what was troubling the Lord about the church in Thyatira. This person was teaching these false doctrines and she was misleading the congregation. And no one was doing anything about it.
And so, because no one was prepared to discipline her, the Lord was going to come and exercise a kind of extra-ordinary discipline on her and her followers. So, according to verse 22, he was going to cast her on a bed of suffering, which probably means she would suffer an illness. And those who have joined her will also suffer intensely unless they repent. And the Lord warns that he will strike her children dead. Now, he’s probably referring to her spiritual children, those who have become like her. And again, the warning about illness and death reminds us of 1 Corinthians, where Paul explained that some of them had become ill and some had even died because they were abusing the Lord’s Table. And Paul said in 1 Corinthians that if the people had judged themselves, then they would not have come under the Lord’s judgment. In other words, if they had exercised ordinary church discipline, they would not have suffered his extra-ordinary discipline.
There are many reasons why we become ill; and the Lord sends illness on us for different purposes. However, when we become ill, it’s worthwhile examining ourselves to see whether there is any sin in us which we need to confess and turn from, because the Bible teaches us that sometimes, sometimes, the Lord sends illness to discipline us and to show us our sins. But, of course, when he sends illness to discipline us, it’s for our own good, so that we will confess it and repent.
So, this passage shows us we ought to examine ourselves and confess our sins before the Lord. It also reminds our elders of the importance of ordinary church discipline to preserve the purity of the church; and it reminds our elders of the need to be alert at all times, because just as this person, Jezebel, came and led the congregation astray, so it’s possible in every generation, for someone to come and lead the Lord’s people astray. And so, the elders always need to be alert.
And then, we’re also reminded here of the importance of knowing our Bible and knowing what we believe. If we know what we believe, if we know what the Bible teaches, then we’re better able to spot error and we’re less likely to be misled by false teachers. And if you go on to verse 24, you’ll see how the Lord commends those in Thyatira who have not been misled by this woman. And he says about them that they haven’t learned from her ‘Satan’s so-called deep secrets’. Well, presumably she didn’t call what she was teaching Satan’s deep secrets; she probably said she was able to teach them deep secrets about God. But you see, false teachers will always do that: they claim to have special knowledge, knowledge of deep things which the Bible does not teach. But no. We’re never to go beyond what God has revealed to us in his word, because his word is sufficient for showing us what we’re to believe and what we’re to do. And knowing our Bible well — knowing what we’re to believe and what we’re to do — is the best way of protecting ourselves and the church from false teachers like this woman, Jezebel.
Verses 24 to 29
There’s just time to mention the Lord’s promise in verses 24 to 29 to those who overcome. He promises that those who overcome will rule with him. And he’ll also give those who overcome the morning star. Well, in Revelation 22, the Lord Jesus describes himself as the bright, morning star. So, in chapter 2, he’s promising to give himself to those who love him and who remain faithful to him. You see, even though some of them had been led astray into error, even though some of them had fallen into sin, nevertheless, if they repent, the Lord was willing to forgive them and to come to them. The Lord is gracious and kind; and even though we sin against him continually, he’s willing to pardon our sins and to remain with us always.