Two weeks ago I said that I had a college summer job on a construction crew. It was not only hard work but also a trying setting. Since I was a college student preparing to enter seminary, I was often the butt of many practical jokes and much harassing. However, since it paid well, I endured it and was in fact hoping to be able to work there the following summer as well.
I suspect the Christians in Thyatira would have understood. They had to deal with such issues regularly because of their jobs. I suspect that many of us here this morning also face similar situations in our work and life. We need to hear Christ’s message to this church because it speaks very clearly to our situation today. Let’s read Revelation 2:18-29.
I. Let’s look first at the church in Thyatira.
This caused a very serious problem for the Christians living in Thyatira. If you were going to do well in business, you would have to belong to your particular guild and that meant attending all of its regular functions. And the regular main features of these guild meetings were feasts at which the city’s patron god, Tyrimnos, was worshiped by offering sacrifices to this god. Moreover, these feasts would often degenerate into wild sexual parties as well.
If you refused to participate in this, you would not be a good member of the guild. And if you weren’t a good member of the guild, then your business would suffer. You would be in jeopardy both financially as well as socially. The Christians there were trying to be faithful to Christ but still exist and work in this business setting which is sometimes very difficult to do for people today as well.
This is the problem that Christ addresses as he speaks to the church in Thyatira. Note that in this message, Christ identifies himself as the “Son of God.” Often pagan gods were called “sons of god.” Christ says that, in contrast to those others, he is the Son of God.” Moreover, he is the One with eyes that are blazing like fire seeing into people’s hearts. And Christ has feet that are like burnished bronze, which is a sign of great power. This is the power that Christ will use to trample all evil under his powerful feet. It is this all-powerful Son of God who speaks to this church about a problem they have.
II. The problem is that they are tolerating the evil around them.
The evil was being taught and promoted by the prophetess Jezebel. Jezebel was the notorious queen of Israel described in 1 Kings 16 and following. She and her husband Ahab were the most wicked rulers of Israel. Her sin was that she lured the people away from God to worship idols. This “Jezebel” from Thyatira was luring Christians away from following Christ.
Jezebel proposed a solution to the tension the Christian workers had with the labor guilds. Her teaching was similar to the Nicolaitan heresy that held that since pagan gods aren’t real, it didn’t really matter if you worshiped them and did what the pagans did. On that basis, she told the people that they could be a guild member and participate fully in their feasts and sex parties. She taught that since the god isn’t real, by participating you will learn more about Satan’s dark secrets and so be better equipped to conquer him. And, of course, in doing so they would have the added benefit of being a part of a guild so that their business would thrive as well.
Moreover, since she called herself a “prophet,” many were following her. However, Christ clearly points out that she is really a Jezebel who, like her namesake, is luring Christ’s people away from following him.
Christ says that because she won’t repent, she will be thrown on a bed of suffering. She will become terribly ill and there will be no hope of recovery for her at all. Moreover, those who follow her will also suffer from sickness unless they repent. These followers are likely those Christians who are following her example without really thinking about what they are doing. Still if they oppose Jezebel, they will have a chance to repent. As for Jezebel’s children, those who are her followers, they will be killed.
The punishment was so severe because she taught what was simply impossible. It is like a husband, who is having an affair with another woman, saying to his wife: “Why are you so upset? You are still my real wife and that is what counts!” His actions, however, tell quite a different story. Christ, with his blazing eyes, can see through such pretentious nonsense.
We have to take note of this because there are some similarities between this sin of Jezebel and the dangers that the church today faces. For example, some preachers proclaim: “Have enough faith, and God will give you all the material blessings and good health that you want and ask for.” The problem with that is that Jesus says, “Whoever will be my disciple, must take up their cross and follow me.” That means denying ourselves, giving up the privileges and rights that we may think we have coming and being willing to die for Jesus.
Many in the business world daily face such issues that the Christians in Thyatira faced. In order to be successful in business, you may feel you have to compromise your beliefs with your business practice. That may seem to be the only way a person can survive in this competitive world.
And when you may try to incorporate your personal faith into your work, very often the secular world doesn’t understand. One pastor asked one of his parishioners, the CEO of a major corporation, to join a team meeting on Wednesday evening to help him prepare his weekly sermon. When the CEO woke up on one Wednesday morning, he realized that he had not yet read the biblical texts for the following Sunday. So on his way out the door, he grabbed his Bible. During a slow period in his morning office routine, the executive opened his Bible and began reading the assigned texts. One of his vice presidents interrupted him to deliver a report and then quickly left. Later the CEO’s secretary told him that when the vice president came out of his office, he had an astonished look on his face. “My God,” he exclaimed, “What’s happened to Frank? He’s in there reading a Bible!” Being faithful is tough in the business world when we want to be accepted by others, but Jesus lays out very clearly what the rewards are if we are faithful.
III. The positive message to those who are faithfully following is hold on!
In verse 19, Christ re-affirms the good things that he does see in Thyatira. Christ says that he knows that they are continuing in love. Christ commends them for being faithful in their love for God and for each other. Christ also says that he knows they are being faithful in their faith. They aren’t being lured into believing that it is good works that saves you.
Christ also says that he knows they are being faithful in serving. They are lovingly and actively serving each other. In fact, Christ says that they are doing more than before in all these areas. Some are being lured away and they must be dealt with, but overall the Christians there are being faithful and growing spiritually. Overall, they are doing quite well because of their steady growth.
So, in verses 24-25, Christ encourages those who have remained faithful to him. He says that he will not impose any other burden on them. Living a consistent Christian life will be challenge enough for them in that place. It will be tempting for them to conform and do what others are doing. And so Christ says in verse 25, “Hold on to what you have until I come.” In a real sense, Christ is saying to them that because of their difficult situation, he doesn’t expect outstanding things from them. He just wants them to hold on, be faithful and remember that he is the one who has all power and authority.
If they hold on, Jesus says in verses 26-28 that there will be rewards. The first reward is that they will be given authority over the nations. They will someday share in his victory over Satan. We too, with Christ, will have the joy of seeing all evil and rebellion dashed apart like a piece of pottery.
But far more important is the promise of receiving the “morning star.” This most likely refers to Christ himself. Those who remain faithful, who remain loyal to Christ to the end, will have the joy of living with the victorious Christ in eternity.
IV. Once again we are called to listen to the Spirit speaking.
I think that in some ways, we can identify with this church in Thyatira. We are probably a rather average church in the kingdom. We, like the people in Thyatira, are not facing intense persecution. Yet the pressures that we face as an average church are very real and big. We face the pressure to just give in a little to make things easier. We begin to think, “It’s okay to want more and more things for myself while others are hurting because I have worked hard for it.” “It’s okay for us to do some things in my job which are questionable because we have to make a living!”
How can we hold on and remain faithful? First, remember that Christ has eyes that blaze like fire and feet that pursue evil. We may think that we are getting away with things in our lives, but the fact remains that Christ sees and knows all. He sees the compromises we make and will punish us if we don’t repent.
Second, let’s ask ourselves, “Who am I really living for: myself or Christ?” Is my purpose to take care of myself, or is it to serve the Lord Jesus? Jesus knows if we are really serving him or our own desires and needs.
Two Kentucky farmers owned racing stables and developed an intense rivalry. One spring each entered a horse in the local steeplechase. Thinking that a professional rider might help, one of the farmers hired a world-class jockey. On the day of the race the two horses were neck and neck with a large lead over the rest of the pack at the last fence, but suddenly both fell, unseating their riders. The professional jockey remounted quickly and rode on to win the race. Returning triumphantly to the paddock, the jockey found the farmer who had hired him fuming with rage. “What’s the matter?” the jockey asked. “I won, didn’t I?’ “Oh, yeah,” fumed the farmer. “You won all right, but you crossed the finish line on the wrong horse.” In our drive to be successful in our lives, what are we riding on or holding on to: the world or the Lord Jesus?