One thing that really stands out to me while I am reading through the letters to the churches in Revelation is the danger of majoring on one good cause. We can be doing so well in one area, but if we are neglecting another, we are still culpable for our sin. Jesus’ words of judgment and call to repentance are severe.
And it is interesting how similar the battles our churches face today are to the first century churches addressed in Revelation. We tend to capitalize on one virtue at the neglect of another. The church at Ephesus was commended for their stance for truth. And yet, it was convicting to read the letter to this church. While they were praised for their discernment, they were reprimanded for abandoning their love to share the gospel with others. Shouldn’t a zealousness for the truth motivate us to be generous with this good news?
And then you see the flipside in Thyatira. Dennis Johnson’s commentary on the letter to this church in his book Triumph of the Lamb
made me pause. He quotes Colin J. Hemer, “The longest and most difficult of the seven letters is addressed to the least known, least important, and least remarkable of the cities” (79). Jesus begins his words to this seemingly insignificant church with praise for their “love and faith and service and patient endurance,” recognizing that their “latter works exceeded the first” (Rev. 2:19).
But he has strong words against them. Johnson sums up Jesus’ words to be, “I love your love but I hate your tolerance.” They are tolerating a woman Jesus calls Jezebel, giving us a flashback to Ahab’s wife in 1 and 2 Kings, a prophetess who seduced the Israelites into Baalism. We see the same kind of seduction from this Thyatirian Jezebel, who Jesus says is enticing his servants “to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols” (2:20). Johnson explains, “The combination of sexual immorality and food sacrificed to idols may suggest a setting of trade-guild banquets, held in honor of the patron’s trade-guild deity, especially in a city as dependent on manufacturing as Thyatira was” (80).
Here we see a capitulation to the materialism of the culture. Of course we want to participate in the economy and to be accepted by society. To decline participation in these events came with consequences. Johnson suggests that “Jezebel” was assuring God’s people that what they do with their bodies isn’t significant to their spiritual life, so they could participate. “Such a Jezebel was more dangerous to Jesus’ servants than a military oppressor, because her secrets drive a wedge between God’s people and the Lord” (80). Jesus goes so far as to say that these “deep secrets” that she supposedly reveals are actually from Satan. We cannot separate our spiritual life from our physical. God made us physical beings for a reason, and we look forward to real, resurrected bodies on the new heaven and new earth.
This false teaching and leading the saints into such sin sounds atrocious. What did the church do to correct and discipline her? Nothing. They tolerated Jezebel, and that is not loving. Jesus makes it quite clear just how damaging that is:
I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. (21-23)
I guess the church in Thyatira isn’t so insignificant after all. And the language from this Jezebel situation is developed even further in Revelation 17, when the harlot is introduced as another false prophet leading people away from truth. There are many similarities. So we see that this incidence in Thyatira is not unique to them.
There’s a lot to consider and apply here for our churches today. In his Shorter Commentary
, G.K Beale reflects on the ability for one person in infect an entire church. Was Jezebel a true believer? Are we to treat someone so dangerous to God’s people as a true believer? Often, we compromise in areas where we shouldn’t because we want to give the benefit of the doubt. We want to be loving. We can be loving in so many other areas, and yet our tolerance could be the very thing that gives a green light for God’s people to sin. Protecting perpetrators of both spiritual and physical harlotry is not loving.
It is tempting for us all to compromise. I know I would like to be accepted and well-liked in the church and in my society. It is much more comfortable for me to compromise some of the truths of Scripture and even allow myself to be deceived in areas where there is conflict between Scripture and culture. But Jesus has taught us all a lesson through this “Podunk” church. He places this letter right in the center as a sort of bull’s eye.
Beale asks yet another tough question, “Do we focus on God’s mercy because we are involved in compromise and would prefer to believe He will tolerate our behavior?” (77). I have to say that I am convicted by the question.
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