Series on Revelation, I The Vision, D The Perseverance, 4 The Tolerant Church, Text:2:18-29, Title: Is Intolerance Bad?

Introduction

As we have seen the seven-fold description given us of Christ in chapter 1 is the key to these seven messages. The partial description beginning each message is seen to fit into the particular condition of the Church spoken to. Yet all these bits must be put together to get the full description. It is a description of one person. The word is from one person, with one passion, and one promise.  It was meant for the Church of that day, and of every day since. It stands as the one message from a risen Christ to His Church between His departure and His return. It is meant for the Church as a whole. We have also seen that we are not so different in the 21st century. People still act out of the pressure they feel from their peer groups, whether unions or political parties, or social circles. Intolerance is only bad when it is guided by the wrong motives. Many of the same conditions and problems are present today. Thyatira was economically prosperous. The local artisans produced a variety of merchandise, for they were bakers, painters, tanners, tailors, potters, and workers in wool, linen, and famous for their work in copper and brass. This is why Jesus is described in verse 18 with feet of bronze,  “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. Jesus comes to purify as in a furnace. The city was controlled by guilds, or unions. These guilds paid homage to the pagan gods Apollo and Artemis and they worshiped at pagan shrines. Members of the guild were obligated to attend festivals in honor of these gods, to eat meals in their temples, and to indulge in sexual promiscuity. Noncompliance with these rules meant expulsion from the trade union, lack of employment, and poverty. Christians who refused to honor pagan gods, eat meat sacrificed to an idol, and engage in sexual immorality jeopardized their material necessities. They were regarded as outcasts of society. This makes Jesus angry and you can sense His indignation and his fury at the female false prophet who has usurped His authority in the church and is leading the sheep away from the true Shepherd. Thus we see here first, Jesus praises their advance, then he accuses their laxity, and finally establishes His authority.

I The Advance

The believers in Thyatira had progressed as we read in verse 19,  I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. We should underline the words “I Know.” Jesus is thoroughly acquainted with the labors of love the believers in Thyatira have shown to God and to their neighbors. Their works include love and faith internally that come to expression in the externally in their service and endurance. Recently a political candidate characterized his opponents saying, "If you want a manager, I think Mitt's a very competent manager. I think that he tends to manage within whatever he thinks the realities are." This is also known as a backhanded compliment or faint praise. Alexander Pope wrote, “Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer, And, without sneering, teach the rest to sneer.” When it comes from Jesus it is never faint praise because he always speaks the truth and often prefaced his statements with the words,”Truly, truly I say unto you.” The church could receive no greater praise than that given in the words “your last works are greater than your first.” This means that their works of love, faith, service, and endurance were constantly increasing. Jesus summarized the Law in two commandments in Matthew 22: to love the Lord God with heart, soul, and mind; and to love the neighbor as oneself. With respect to love, Thyatira received words of commendation, that are the opposite of what Jesus said to Ephesus in 2:4, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Jesus has a most severe criticism in store for them so it is important that they understand that their activity and love and faith and patience and increasing activity in service are all counted over carefully and warmly commended. When we have to criticize someone it is always the path of wisdom to first point out the good qualities. The Master Psychologist, the Doctor of the soul does just that. We should do it more often. But now comes the accusation.

II The Accusation

The accusation is in verses 20-23, Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. The judgment of Jesus upon this false prophetess is swift and certain. The evil here is put into the gravest language. "You tolerate that woman Jezebel." This  is significant because there is no worse character in the whole Old Testament. She not only represented the worst adulterous uncleanness in herself, but she was the national leader energetically fostering unclean idolatrous practices among the people. Jezebel brought God's light-holder nation down to the lowest moral level it ever reached. She brazenly dominated king and people, and remained stubbornly obstinate and unrepentant to the terrible end. The account of her death in II Kings 9:30 and 31 leaves little question as to her brazen lascivious and salacious nature, Then Jehu went to Jezreel. When Jezebel heard about it, she painted her eyes, arranged her hair and looked out of a window. As Jehu entered the gate, she asked, “Have you come in peace, Zimri, you murderer of your master?” No more terrific parallel could have been made. Here this adulterous evil has actually come to a place of leadership in the Church. This was the prophetess of compromise and toleration of all the evils manifest in the first century in Thyatira: attending festivals in honor of false gods, eating meals in their temples, and indulging in sexual promiscuity.. But all who follow here will perish with her. In John 10:1-5 Jesus talks about false prophets. “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice. William Barclay, a Scotsman explained that Palestinian shepherds were different than Scottish shepherds. A shepherd of Jesus' time used simple equipment:  a bag to carry his food, a slingshot with which he was extremely accurate, and the shepherd's rod or crook. In Palestine the shepherd often tended the same sheep for many years. Thus, the sheep knew the voice of their shepherd. At night the sheep were kept in a pen without a gate or door. The shepherds lay down to sleep in the opening. The shepherd was literally "the gate." Only through Jesus, the good shepherd and the gate, do we find God, are saved, and are kept safely.   A famous actor was once the guest at a social gathering where was asked to recite favorite passages of literature. An old preacher who was also there asked the actor to recite the twenty-third Psalm.  The actor agreed on the condition that the preacher would also recite it. The actor's recitation was beautifully intoned, dramatic, and there was lengthy applause.  The preacher's voice was rough and broken from years of preaching, and his diction unpolished. But when he finished there was not a dry eye in the room.  Someone asked the actor what made the difference, he replied "I know the psalm, but he knows the Shepherd." Here, in Thyatira, was the stranger and those who listened were not Jesus’ sheep. Those who ran away were. Thus “He who searches hearts and minds, will repay each of them according to their deeds.” The true sheep of the fold are identified as the "rest" in the words of Jesus as he describes the promised reward.

III Authority

The promised reward is authority and we see this described in verses 24-29, Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold on to what you have until I come. To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—“He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery”—just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The so-called deep secrets of Satan are nothing more than the gnostic betrayals of the truth. As we noted before, the gnostics emphasized getting inside information through secret elevated experiences and therefore depreciated the importance of the physical in life. It didn’t matter to them what you put into your body, or what you did with it. This gnostic heresy was essentially another way of salvation and it needed to be removed and not tolerated. It required discipline by the leaders, the elders. It necessitated excommunication of the perpetrators. This was a matter of authority. Consequently, Jesus says that to those who overcome He will give a scepter which is authority over the nations. In Matthew 28 as He is departing after His resurrection, Jesus speaks to His disciples about His universal and absolute authority over all, Then Jesus came to them and said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. This is the authority that he shares with those who overcome, and it is an authority that needs to be exercised in the church in Thyatira and in our churches today. All the evil and falsehood must be purged. The second promise, the gift of the morning star. is similar but more personal. Jesus applies this term to himself in Revelation 22:16, I am the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star. In Numbers 24:17, Balaam prophesies, A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. The symbol of the iron scepter and the star are equivalent as symbols of royal authority that the believer shares, but the star suggests that we shall reign with Christ and be like Him. it is almost too much to take in.

Conclusion

Unquestionably there is a vital decision to be made by the members of the church in Thyatira. As James Russell Lowell wrote, “Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, In the strife of Truth and Falsehood, for the good or evil side. So will they follow the false prophet or the true Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep? They may scoff at the truth now and foolishly choose the path of destruction, and listen to the false prophet with the false promises, but as Charles Haddon Spurgeon reminds us, one day it will be too late. He writes, “ On every chain in hell there is written "for ever." In the fires, there blazes out the words "for ever." Up above their heads they read "for ever." Their eyes are galled, and their hearts are pained with the thought that it is "for ever." Oh! if I could tell you that hell would one day be burned out, and that those who were lost might be saved, there would be a jubilee in hell at the very thought of it. But it cannot be—they are cast into outer darkness for ever. Oh, bethink you that there is but one hope, and that one hope lost it is gone for ever! Defeated in one battle, a commander attempts another, and hopes that he may yet win the campaign. Your life is your own fight, and if it is lost, it is lost for ever. The man who was bankrupt yesterday commences in business again with good heart, and hopes that he may yet succeed; but in the business of this mortal life, if you are found bankrupt, you are bankrupt for ever and ever. I do therefore charge you, by the living God, before whom I stand and before whom I may have to give an account of this day's preaching ere another sun shall shine, I charge you to see to your own salvation.”