“Purify yourselves,” Jesus commands

The first entry in this series can be found here.
The previous entry can be found here.

Thousands of years ago there was a man who fell in love with a woman. In fact, the feelings were mutual. The only problem with their love was that she was married to a king. Her name was Helen. Her husband’s name was Menelaus. And, as you might have guessed, her lover’s name was Paris. In the end, Helen ran off with Paris, and when Menelaus found out, he sent an army against Paris’ city of Troy to bring her back. We will come back to this story at the end of the post.

We are now within the first main section of Revelation. The letters to the churches. While all seven letters are addressed to literal, first-century churches, we must not miss that there are seven of them. It was said above that Jesus walks amongst the seven churches. Jesus did not only walk among these seven churches. Instead, He walks amongst THE church. These seven churches represent the seven primary places in which the church as a whole, or any given local church, might find itself during its history.

With that, we turn to Revelation 2:18-29.

Write to the angel of the church in Thyatira: “The Son of God, the One whose eyes are like a fiery flame and whose feet are like fine bronze, says: I know your works—your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first.  But I have this against you: You tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and deceives My slaves to commit sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols.  I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to repent of her sexual immorality.  Look! I will throw her into a sickbed and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her practices.  I will kill her children with the plague. Then all the churches will know that I am the One who examines minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works.  I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who haven’t known the deep things of Satan—as they say—I do not put any other burden on you.  But hold on to what you have until I come.  The one who is victorious and keeps My works to the end: I will give him authority over the nations—  and he will shepherd them with an iron scepter; he will shatter them like pottery— just as I have received ⌊this⌋ from My Father.  I will also give him the morning star.  Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.”

The Author and the Addressee

Write to the angel of the church in Thyatira: The Son of God, the One whose eyes are like a fiery flame and whose feet are like fine bronze, says:

This is the longest of the seven letters Christ sends to the churches. Interestingly, this is the town least known in the ancient world. One reason for this is the fact that due to its strategic location, it was repeatedly attacked by invading armies. Regardless, aside from Ephesus, this town has the most references in the Scripture. Besides this letter, we read in Acts 16 that Lydia was a trader from Thyatira. Lydia was the first convert in Philippi, and it is possible she took the gospel back to her hometown of Thyatira and was instrumental in the founding of the church there.
(Paige Patterson, New American Commentary – Volume 39: Revelation, [Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2012], WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 112.)

Jesus’ introduction here contains three facts, two-thirds of which are drawn from his appearance to John in Revelation 1:12-20. Son of God. Eyes like a flame. Feet like bronze.

Feet like bronze. Christ is not easily moved. When He sets out on a course of action, He will accomplish His goal. There is a reason for this picture being sent to this church. As we work through the letter, we will reflect on the basis for this image. Why does He want them to know He is unmovable?

Eyes like a flame. When Christ looks around, He purifies what He sees. There is a reason for this image being sent to this church. We will reflect on the reasons as we make our way through the letter. Why does He remind them of His purifying gaze?

Son of God. This one is different from the portrait in 1:12-20. John says there that He was “One like the Son of Man” (1:13). There must be a reason for the change. As we work through the letter, we will come back to this thought and reflect on the reason for this change. Jesus wants to be known as the Son of God to this church and not the Son of Man. (Certainly He is both, but the emphasis here is on the divinity aspect.) Why?

The Announcement

I know your works—your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first.  But I have this against you: You tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and deceives My slaves to commit sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols.  I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to repent of her sexual immorality.  Look! I will throw her into a sickbed and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her practices.  I will kill her children with the plague. Then all the churches will know that I am the One who examines minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works.  I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who haven’t known the deep things of Satan—as they say—I do not put any other burden on you.  But hold on to what you have until I come.

Like the church at Pergamum, this church has two sides to it. There is a side that is faithful to Christ, and there is a side that is not staying faithful to Christ—a party in fact that is in danger of severe discipline.

Let’s look at the good first. It covers all of one verse, though Jesus does come back and encourage the church again at the end:

I know your works—your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first.

Each of the seven letters begins with Christ saying, “I know…” but with this church, He comes back to the knowledge of their works. For Smyrna and Pergamum Jesus defined their works as actions.

  • “I know your affliction and poverty.” (Smyrna, 2:9)
  • I know where you live.” (Pergamum, 2:13)

For Smyrna, the church was doing a marvelous job of enduring the persecution they were facing from “the synagogue of Satan.”
For Pergamum, the godly people were harangued continuously by the false teaching of Balaam. But, Christ was clear there were two different groups He was addressing: “You” (the persevering ones) and “them” (the vacillating ones).
Here, in Thyatira, the division is not so clear, as we will see in the next section.

Jesus defines four works He is pleased with: love, faithfulness, service, endurance. These are virtues every Christian should see increasing in his/her life. If they are not growing, a Christian is not working as he/she ought. These works are not a way to earn salvation, but rather proof that salvation is already present.

Love. If Christ loved us, and if we are to live as He lived, not only will we love God, but we will love His people. To have no love for His people is to prove you have no love for Him.

Faithfulness. If Christ gave His life for ours, shouldn’t we follow Him so closely we would never be mistaken as not belonging to Him? To fail to keep the faith is to prove His sacrifice means little to you.

Service. This is another aspect of love. Our love should motivate us to help others actively. If all our love does is make us say, “I’ll pray for you,” what good is our claim of love? Love must show itself in observable service.

Endurance. This is another aspect of faithfulness. Our faithfulness should motivate us to keep pressing on even when things look bad. Even when we are tempted to say, “Will He ever come back?” (cf. 2 Peter 3:4), our faith will propel us to throw those thoughts out and endure. Faithfulness must show itself in observable endurance.

Jesus praises the church at Thyatira for possessing these virtues. And not only for possessing these virtues, but for growing in these virtues. Christ sees you, Christian, and He knows your toil and your struggles. He encourages you in passages like this to keep you going and growing. This is grace.

For the Christians at Thyatira, He is telling them what they need to focus on positively before He turns to what they need to cast out negatively. For those in Thyatira who can look at their life and say, “I do love, I do endure, I do serve, I am faithful, and I am growing in these areas,” Christ wants to encourage them. For the rest, He has a different message.

But I have this against you: You tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and deceives My slaves to commit sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols.  I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to repent of her sexual immorality.  Look! I will throw her into a sickbed and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her practices.  I will kill her children with the plague. Then all the churches will know that I am the One who examines minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works.

There is a large portion of this church who has been caught up in licentious false teaching. It is possible that even some of the loving, serving Christians were caught up in it too, because there is no clear separation between the good and bad in Thyatira like there was in Pergamum. It is “you” all the way through. The church in Thyatira, for whatever reason, is scared to throw the false teaching out, scared to call sin “sin.”

Jesus calls the false teacher Jezebel. Jezebel was the wickedest woman in the Old Testament. She killed the prophets and propagated false religion in Israel. Jezebel is not a desirable nickname.

Jesus is clear. He doesn’t look at this false teacher or her teaching positively. She has caused Christians to backslide, deceiving them with her honey-drenched words. She deceptively propagates false teaching similar to that of Pergamum—false teaching that promotes the exact things that Christians are to avoid over and above everything else (cf. Acts 15:20).

One likely reason why “meat sacrificed to idols” is a big deal is because part of idol worship involved sexual immorality. This is why Jesus only states “sexual immorality” in the things He gave her time to repent of. It is also important to note that Jesus did give her time to repent. While that time has now expired, this evil false teacher was given time to repent. (We should never be too quick to damn “false teachers” in our day, when Jesus even gave this one time to repent.)

But, since she did not repent, Jesus wants us to notice something. Judgment is coming. She will be struck with a plague, and her followers will suffer too. Jesus adds a repentance clause here also. Those who follow her must repent or face the consequences with her. Death is coming for those who don’t repent.

Jesus explains why He referred to Himself the way He did in the introduction. His eyes burn through motives and excuses, and He sees the truth. His eyes purify what they touch. When someone refuses to repent, He stands firm and must carry out the judgment He has promised. He is the Son of God, and He must be seen as holy. He cannot wink at sin. He cannot put up with any competition for the title of God. Jezebel’s idolatry will fall back on her head because she is fighting against God. Those who follow her will also fall with her.

Jesus will purify His church. Don’t try to stand against Him on this point. His feet are fine bronze, and you cannot move Him. Jesus’ complaint about this church is that they have not thrown Jezebel out; when we refuse to stand against false teaching or sinful living in the church, we might as well participate in it ourselves.

So, in short, are you worshipping Jesus, or are you placing your faith in something else? Sex, maybe? It’s a primary problem in this church, so it is the topic of application in this post. Jesus wants your heart. He will get your heart. Or, you will face the consequences of refusing to submit to Him. In the moments when your heart tells you, “This is wrong,” Christ’s eyes are boring into your soul. Heed His gaze! Flee to Him! Find your hope in Him! Even though it requires faith and perseverance, He will never leave you disappointed. Everything else will. Repent today!

After the negative, Jesus turns back to His faithful ones and encourages them again:

I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who haven’t known the deep things of Satan—as they say—I do not put any other burden on you.  But hold on to what you have until I come.

Jesus doesn’t want to burden them. He says, in essence, “Keep loving, keep serving, stay faithful, endure! If you do that, and if you hold onto that, look forward to My return!”

Jesus will return. We do not know when. The question for both groups in Thyatira, and in our churches today, is: Will you be ready for His return? Or will you be ashamed when He returns?

Seek Him! Fight for purity in your church.

The Assurance

The one who is victorious and keeps My works to the end: I will give him authority over the nations—  and he will shepherd them with an iron scepter; he will shatter them like pottery— just as I have received ⌊this⌋ from My Father.  I will also give him the morning star.  Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.

This letter was rough. It was also long. As such, the final assurance and sign-off at the end is longer than any other letter. It is also intensely personal and beautiful.

Jesus promises the one who overcomes, who perseveres to the end, who doesn’t fall into error and false teaching, who doesn’t capitulate with the culture, He promises this one the right to reign with Him eternally. He quotes from Psalm 2:9, about His own eternal reign over the nations, and says believers will have this right as well. Christ inherited this from God (cf. Psalm 2:8), and He gives it to His faithful, victorious followers in the eternal state.

Jesus also promises the morning star to His victorious followers. This refers back to Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:17:

Numbers 24:17 (HCSB)
I see him, but not now; I perceive him, but not near. A star will come from Jacob, and a scepter will arise from Israel. He will smash the forehead of Moab and strike down all the Shethites.

Because Balaam was referenced in the letter to Pergamum, and because his false teaching was the same as Jezebel’s in this letter, it makes sense that Christ would use Balaam’s prophecy of Christ’s future rule against him.

While Balaam’s ultimate end was idolatry and sin, he did speak God’s word accurately for a short time. (Even false teachers sometimes speak the truth.) Balaam ultimately died and was condemned because he failed to heed the words that came from his own mouth. Jesus here promises His faithful followers that if they heed His words, they will get what Balaam prophesied. They will get Christ. And not only that, but they will get to rule and reign with Christ.

Jesus here offers two choices. First, hear His words, repent of sin, follow Him to death, and find eternal life and royalty in Christ. Or second, ignore His words, pursue your own path of sin, try to find life on your own, and end up with death and poverty separated from Him.

He died so you could live. He reigns and invites you to run to His throne. If you persevere, you will reign with Him. This is good news. There is no better news. Sacrifice pleasure now for eternal joy! Christ commands you to heed His purifying gaze and repent!

If you have already repented, He commands you to heed His purifying gaze and allow Him to purify your love, faith, service, and endurance. He wants to increase your effectiveness. Heed His purifying gaze!

Don’t be like Paris of Troy. Don’t fraternize where you have no business fraternizing. When you do, there will be consequences. And when you do, other people will be caught up in your consequences. Troy was destroyed as a result of Paris’ actions. Don’t do anything that might cause your church to face a similar fate. And if you’ve already started walking down that path, repent and look to Christ!

In this with you.

Soli Deo Gloria
Solus Christus
Pro Ecclesia

Thanks for reading.

The next entry can be found here.

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