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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45am service, 2006-11-26

Text: Revelation 2:18-29

I. The Background of the Church

A. Its Location

The church was located at Thyatira, which is known today as Akhissar, a modern city in West Turkey with about 150,000 people. Its existence goes all the way back to 3,000 BC because its strategic location on an intersection of important roads has made it a commercial centre for trade. In fact Thyatira was one of the first few places where money in the form of gold and silver coins was first used in the world. And today it is still the trade and business centre in its region. Historical records show that in New Testament times Thyatira had an extensive trade union network. Every skilled worker in the city was a member of a trade union. There was a tailors union, a woolworkers union, a tanners union, a potters union, a bakers union etc. 

The most prominent of all these trade unions of Thyatira was the one which dealt with the manufacture and trade of a purple-coloured cloth. This purple cloth for which Thyatira was so well known, was expensive and usually worn by kings and queens. Purple was the colour of royalty and Kings and nobility would come from miles around to Thyatira to purchase its purple cloth (cf. when Christ was crucified the soldiers put a purple robe on him to mock him as the King of the Jews.)

B. Its Origin

How was a church planted in Thyatira? Although there is no record in the Bible or in church history of how the Gospel reached this city, some commentators believe that it was brought by a Thyatirean lady named Lydia. 

From Acts 16:14 we know that Lydia had probably brought bales of Thyatirian purple cloth to the Macedonian city of Philippi because there was a ready market for them there. She set up an offshore sales outlet to sell the famous cloth. As she stayed in Philippi she heard the Gospel through the apostle Paul, and was soundly converted! And the very first church in Europe soon started to worship the Lord in her house at Philippi. With the joy of salvation bubbling deep in her heart, Lydia and her family probably returned to Thyatira later on to bring her friends and loved ones there to Jesus Christ. Listen to what Bishop Trench wrote about Lydia: 'She who had gone forth for a while to buy and sell and get gain, when she returned home may have brought home with her richer merchandise than any she had looked to obtain.' 

Soon a thriving church was established at Thyatira, and by the end of the first century there was a rather large Christian community there. At the beginning of the third century Epiphanius wrote that almost all of Thyatira was Christian. And as late as the 10th century there are records of a church still existing in that city.

C. Its Environment

However, when the Church first started it may have been quite difficult to live as a Christian in Thyatira. This is because of the pervasive idolatry and immorality that was promoted by the powerful trade unions which dominated the whole city's economy. If you wanted to make any commercial gains in Thyatira, you had to join a trade union. Without joining a trade union, you would be oppressed and ostracized out of business. Now, each trade union had its own patron god. As a trade union member you would be expected to attend its regular fellowship meals which always began with the worship of the patron god's idol. The food was offered to the idol first before it was consumed by the members. After each fellowship meal, the members would freely engage in immoral acts with one another. 

Therefore, when a Thyatirian became a Christian, he would have to make a difficult decision. As a Christian, he cannot be involved in any idol worship or consume food that had been offered to idols because these sins are expressly forbidden by the Lord. He also had to abstain from fornication and from any form of sexual immorality (see Acts 15:20, 29; 1 Thessalonians 4:3). But in order to ply his trade successfully and enjoy any commercial and financial benefits at Thyatira, he would have to do these forbideen things or risk losing his membership in his trade union. 

Dearly beloved, what would you do if you were in such a situation? Would you compromise your stand for the Lord as a Christian, or would you be willing to forego all those commercial benefits? It was a choice between commercial suicide and spiritual suicide. In a few short years many Singaporeans may have to face such a decision. With the opening of the two integrated resorts, there will be plenty of lucrative job offers in the casinos up for grabs. As Christians must have the moral courage to forego such attractive opportunities in order to take an uncompromising stand against gambling.

That is not all. When the Antichrist appears on the world scene we may have to stake a stand against receiving the mark of the Beast (666) even though it means that we will not be able to buy or sell anything without having this mark (Revelation 13:17)

Perhaps it would not be too difficult to take a firm uncompromising stand if all your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are also taking the same stand with you. There is bound to be a large degree of mutual encouragement when there is unity of conviction and unity of practice. But if many Christians do not take the stand and they choose to compromise to reap the benefits, it makes it difficult for the rest to resist the offers. From what our Lord wrote to the Church at Thyatira we will see that this was the kind of situation that Christians were facing there. Let us find out why as we now look at:

II. The Message of Christ to the Church

Of all the messages to the seven churches, the one that Christ wrote to the church of Thyatira was the longest - 12 verses. It consists of four parts:

A. Christ's Approval of the Church (v.19)

The highest approval that you can ever receive in life is God's approval. We see this implied in the title that Jesus used for Himelf in v.18 'These things saith the Son of God.' This title is deliberately used in this letter to bring out the deity of Jesus Christ - it brings out the truth that He is none other than God the Son, the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity, co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father. Knowing that Christ is the Son of God would certainly encourage the Christians in Thyatira to treasure His approval above all things, rather than seeking to be approved by the world in which they lived and by its idolatrous and licentious trade unions. 

And His approval of them as a church is given in v.19 in the most glowing terms: 'I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.' What an impressive report card this church had! You could say that they had scored 'As' in every subject - their love (which is translated here as 'charity'), their service, their faith, their patience and their works. 

Unlike the loveless Ephesian Church, the ones who were at the Church of Thyatira had remained in their first love. The Ephesian believers had been told to return to doing the first works (v.5). In contrast to that, the Thyatirean believers were already doing more than their first works! Here is something good that we can learn from them: all of us should desire to keep growing spiritually and developing godly virtues. As we do that we can hope to receive the same divine approval that the Thyatirian Christians received from the Lord.

However, despite this glowing report, the Church of Thyatira had a very serious flaw which could not be hidden away from the Lord.

B. The Admonition (vv.20,21)

You will notice that in v.18, the Lord identifies Himself as the One 'who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass.' Under His penetrating vision everything that goes on within the church is exposed - even those things that were done in secret. Whatever sinful blemishes His burning vision exposed must then be removed. This removal is what His feet represents. Their description of being like fine brass speaks of Christ's work of refining His Church, because brass has to go through a refining process in a hot furnace to become 'fine brass.' 

This would have been familiar to the Thyatirians. Besides being known for its royal purple cloth, Thyatira was also quite well known for the fine quality of its brass ware. And now the Lord's piercing vision was about to expose a putrid and festering sore deep within the Thyatirean Church. Just as brass must be refined in a hot fiery furnace to attain its finest quality the Lord must refine this Church with His word to remove the dross of false teaching out of it. 

His word of admonition is found in v.20 'Thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.' You may notice here that Jesus did not admonish the Church for something that it had done, but for what it had not done - it had not stopped a false teacher within its own ranks. This is not even a case of a church agreeing with the false teacher or encouraging her to propagate her sinful teachings and practices. It was simply the case of a church allowing a false teacher to infiltrate its ranks. It is basically the sin of careless neglect. 

Are you guilty of this sin of neglect? Have you allowed sinful habits to 'build their nests' in your life? Please learn an important lesson from this: The Lord takes our sin of neglect very seriously. If you have certain sinful habits that you have done nothing to eliminate, do something about them. If you keep tolerateing them, they will only keep growing until your life is controlled by them. Whenever a problem starts to grow you have to nip it the the bud. 

This was something that the Church at Thyatira failed to do, and thus they incurred the displeasure of Christ. The problem there was like this: A certain member of the church had boldly proclaimed herself to be a prophetess from God. She was apparently quite influential and in a position to teach many other members of the church. And what was she teaching them? This is where our background knowledge of Thyatira that we learned earlier will help us. 

Do you remember the temptation that Christians at Thyatira faced to compromise their standards in order to be in the trade unions? Well, this false teacher was probably teaching them that there is no harm in taking part in the immoral and idolatrous fellowship meals that their trade unions required them to attend regularly. 

She may have reasoned that since Christ has already set them free from all legalistic prohibitions, they can do whatever they want as Christians and no one should judge them (cf. Galatians 5:1). She may also have taught them that in order to win sinners to Christ, they have to come down to their level and live like them to be identified with them (1 Corinthians 9:22). If they chose to stay away from these trade unions, who is going to witness to them? Besides that she may have also convinced them that their loving Heavenly Father will surely understand their need to make a living, and thus He will not mind their bending His Laws here and there just a little bit, in order to earn an income. 

Dearly beloved, these arguments may sound quite reasonable and convincing, but please be warned that they are deadly poison! To say that we can do whatever we want because Christ has set us free is to abuse our Christian liberty (Galatians 5:13). To teach that one can use any means - moral or immoral - to win sinners to Christ as long as it works, is using the end to justify the means. This is utterly unbiblical (1 Samuel 15:22). And to teach that God understands that we sometimes have to bend or break His Laws a little in order to make a living, is to grossly misrepresent God (Psalm 50:21; Matthew 6:25,26).

Recently a series of books has been published that has sold over 7 million copies worldwise and has been translated into 34 languages and has even been made into a movie. Entitled 'Conversations with God' these books were written by Neale Walsch to promote a teaching called 'the New Spirituality.' He claims that anyone can hear God's voice speaking directly without using the Bible. But the things that are revealed through this means contradict what God has given in His written Word. For instance, Walsch says that God supposedly told him, 'I do not forgive anyone because there is nothing to forgive. There is no such thing as right or wrong and that is what I have been trying to tell everyone, do not judge people. People have chosen to judge one another and this is wrong, because the rule is 'judge not lest ye be judged.'

Dearly beloved, please do not be fooled by such words even though they may sound quite appealing. Otherwise, you may become just like the Thyatireans who were misled by the false teacher who is called Jezebel in v.20 of our text. Now the name 'Jezebel' in v.20 may not be her real name, but it is used here by the Lord Jesus to expose her true character - that she just is as evil and wicked as the Old Testament Queen Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab. Queen Jezebel was notorious for making the worship of Baal popular in Israel. Baal was a fertility god, and his worship involved immoral and licentious practices. There were temple prostitutes, both male and female, associated with Baal worship.

It was Jezebel who promoted that depraved worship widely in the northern kingdom of Israel until it became the most popular religion of the day. She herself supported over 800 prophets of Baal, who ate at her table. She was the one who tried to kill Elijah after his famous encounter with 480 prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel when fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice. Elijah had courageously faced the 480 prophets of Baal, but when Jezebel threatened to kill him he ran for his life. 

Queen Jezebel was also the one who murdered her neighbor Naboth because her husband coveted his vineyard. She was a ruthless, immoral, seducer of the people, and that is why Christ uses her name for this dominant woman who was in the Church at Thyatira. Married couples, if you have a baby girl please don't ever give her the name 'Jezebel'! It is really not a good name at all, but a name of terrible reproach. And it signifies a terrible end. The Old Testament Jezebel met her end by being thrown down from her palace window and being devoured by dogs. Let us look at v. 22 now to see how the New Testament Jezebel met her end.

C. The Adjudication (vv.22,23)

'Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.' We observe that the Jezebel of Thyatira would be punished by being cast into a bed - Not a bed of pleasure and fornication, but a bed of pain and affliction! This implies that she will be struck with a plague or sickness. Today, many who commit sexual sins are similarly cast into a bed of sickness and affliction - by suffering from sexually transmitted infections. 

Whatever it was that this Jezebel of Thyatira suffered from, it is clear that it was divine judgment for her sins. Perhaps you may wonder why Christ punished her so severely. The reason why severe judgment is needed is that she was already beyond redemption. V.21 states that she had so graciously been given the opportunity to change her ways and to repent of her evil deeds. But she had refused to change. Hence the day of grace was over for her, and the only thing that remained for her now was divine judgment! Like a master surgeon, the Lord Jesus had to remove the cancerous tissue from within the Church before it spreads any further and does more damage. Now, in order to rid the church of this malignant growth Christ not only had to deal with Jezebel, but also with those that she had influenced in the church. 

Here we can see how the Lord is fair and consistent - since He had given Jezebel ample opportunity to repent of her sins (v.21), He also gives those who have been misled by her the opportunity to repent of their sins (v.22). He mercifully gives them ample warning about the divine judgment they would receive, so that they can take the necessary steps to be saved from it. If they refuse to repent despite His warning, they can have no one else to blame but themselves when they come under condemnation because they have proven themselves to be just like her.

Perhaps the Lord is also giving ample warning now to some of us here this morning. Perhaps some of you have heard the Gospel before and had been attracted to it, but you have yet to repent of your sins and turn to Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Perhaps you think that there is still plenty of time left for you to indulge yourself in the pleasures of sin. If this is true of you, I would plead with you now to stop being mistaken about God's mercy and grace. 

I want to say this to all our friends here who are still unsaved: God commands you to repent of all your sins right now. There are 4 truths about repentance you need to know: Firstly, Repentance is necessary to prevent your ruin. Secondly, Repentance requires time and opportunity to be committed to turn from your sins and seek God's provision of salvation through the precious blood of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Thirdly, where God gives you the time and opportunity to repent, He expects you to use the opportunity to repent. Fourthly, when the opportunity for repentance is not used, you will perish with a double destruction - not only for your sins, but now also for having despised and rejected God's mercy and grace. 

Dear unsaved friends, please consider this very carefully: Will your soul end up in eternal death like Jezebel and her children? I hope not. Turn to the Lord Jesus right now. The Bible says, 'now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.' (2 Corinthians 6:2) Believe in Him and receive Him as your Saviour and Lord, and He will surely save you from your sins. 

D. The Awards (vv. 24-28)

And instead of speaking words of judgement to you, He will speak words of peace to you. When you have turned to Him and been saved, the Lord will speak words of love and comfort to strengthen and encourage you, just like the words in v.24 which He wrote to His precious saints who had not followed the false teacher of Thyatira 'But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.' 

How tender are the words that Christ spoke to His faithful servants! He knows that their capacity and ability are limited, and He will not add more burdens to them than what is absolutely necessary. Dearly beloved, if you have been doing your part in Christian living and service for Him faithfully, perhaps Jesus is also saying to you in the same gentle and tender tones, 'I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.' To hold fast means to hold tightly and firmly on to something, and not loosen one's grip of it. Christ wants you to hold fast what you already have. There are at least two things that you have and must hold fast: Firstly, you have all the precious truths that you have learned from His Word: Retain them within your grasp and don't ever lose or compromise them. 

As Proverbs 23:23 says, 'Buy the truth, and sell it not.' In order to hold fast to these precious truths, you must live up to them. Let your life be fully conformed to these truths. As God's Word says in Philippians 3:16, 'Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.'

The second thing you have and which you must hold fast is your fellowship with the Lord each day. Please hold on most firmly to your precious daily quiet time with the Lord. Treasure it, and let nothing ever rob you of it. In the Song of Solomon 3:4 the Shulamite who went searching for her beloved finally says, 'but I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go'

Now we come to the question, 'What is there to gain from holding fast to what we already have?' There are two attractive awards you can look forward to, as given in vv.26-28. The first award for holding fast faithfully is to receive 'power over the nations.' This refers to the privilege we will have to reign on earth with Christ during the time of His millennial kingdom. 

This promise of power over the nations would have been especially meaningful to those Christians in Thyatira who suffered under the oppression of their trade unions. What does it matter to them now if their businesses and incomes declined when they refused to join in the ungodly fellowship meals? One day, they will be the ones to exercise power with Christ over the nations of the world!

I trust that this promise may also be a source of much encouragement to those who are presently being oppressed or even persecuted in your place of work by ungodly bosses and employers. If you are weary with being always on the receiving end of office politics because you are a Christian, please take heart: The day will come when you will be the one in charge and no one can oppress you any more.

The second award for holding fast is even better than the first one. In v.28 Jesus said, 'And I will give him the morning star.' What is this morning star? It cannot be a literal star, for what good is it to have a huge ball of burning gas? The answer is found in Revelation 22:16, where Jesus says, 'I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.' What Jesus promises to those who hold fast faithfully is Himself! And dear friends, if you truly love the Lord Jesus, there is no better award than this that you can ever hope to receive. To all of us who love Him, Jesus is truly our heart's greatest desire. He is 'the Lily of the valley, the Bright and Morning Star, and the fairest of ten thousand to our soul!'

Let us therefore take heed to the precious words which we have heard from our Lord Jesus today: Repent of those sins that you need to repent, and Hold fast to what you already have. As the last verse says, 'He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.'

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25