Picture this scene.
It’s a rainy Sunday morning at the 10:00 am worship service of a local Church.
In spite of the weather, the Church is packed full. An email was sent to the congregation earlier in the week that an important, possibly Church-altering announcement will be made at the morning service.
A nervous anticipation fills the air. The worship team has just finished their worship set and the upcoming-events video is wrapping up. Everyone is eager to hear what the “new news” is.
The senior pastor walks to the stage and straightens his notes on the pulpit. His face looks a little somber. He doesn’t open with his usual humor, but with a pensively low tone.
“Church, I …we …something important has come up that we have to talk about.”
The “something important” is a very personal letter he's received from Jesus for His Church. This particular Church exists during a time in history when Jesus clearly and powerfully communicates to His Church through apostles and prophets. The letter the pastor holds in his hands was hand delivered to him the previous night by an apostle who walked closely with Jesus.
The senior pastor hesitates and wipes tiny beads of sweat from his face. He’s read and reread the letter a dozen times in the last 12 hours. He knows its shockingly troubling contents by heart, which makes what he’s about to do even much harder.
“I… we… um… we received an important word from the Lord last night.” He says.
Excited Cheers, applause and a few “woots-woots” resound through the sanctuary, but the pastor hushes the congregation. He knows the letter in front of him does not call for celebration. He’s spoken with the other senior pastors in the region, the pastors of the Churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum, and he knows they received similar letters from Jesus with contents pertaining to their respective congregations. It pains him deeply as he takes another look at the report card Jesus just sent his Church.
“Folks, I don’t know how else to say this, but to simply read what the Lord Jesus has sent us through His apostle, John.” The pastor explains with a deep sigh.
Clearing his throat one last time, he begins reading:
“To the members and leaders of the Church of Thyatira. These are the words of God's Son, the one with eyes pouring fire-blaze, and standing on feet of furnace-fired bronze. I see everything you’re doing for me. Impressive! The love and the faith, the service and persistence. Yes, very impressive! You get better at it every day.”
A few congregants excitedly yell out, “Amen!” and “Praise da Lawd!”, unsure of why their pastor isn’t more excited about Jesus’ greetings.
Looking up from his notes to his wife, she nods backs empathetically, encouraging him to press on. Rallying his emotions once again, he looks back at his notes, then in the direction of a particular group of congregants seated on the far left front section of the Church and directs Jesus’ next words at them.
“But why do you let that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet mislead my dear servants into Cross-denying, self-indulging religion? I gave her a chance to change her ways, but she has no intention of giving up a career in the god-business. I’m about to lay her low, along with her partners, as they play their sex-and-religion games. The bastard offspring of their idol-whoring I’ll kill.”
Shock and awe doesn’t even begin to describe the reaction of the congregation. Terrified looks fill every face, and surprisingly, a few people immediately burst into silent sobs. The Holy Spirit had clearly already begun stirring the hearts of some folks about their involvement in this matter.
Returning his concerned glare to the rest of the congregation, the pastor continues:
“Then every church will know that appearances don’t impress me. I X-ray every motive and make sure you get what’s coming to you. The rest of you Thyatirans, who have nothing to do with this outrage, who scorn this playing around with the Devil that gets paraded as profundity, be assured I’ll not make life any harder for you than it already is. Hold on to the truth you have until I get there. “Here’s the reward I have for every conqueror, everyone who keeps at it, refusing to give up: You’ll rule the nations, your Shepherd-King rule as firm as an iron staff, their resistance fragile as clay pots. This was the gift my Father gave me; I pass it along to you—and with it, the Morning Star! Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.”
Can you imagine being a congregant in this Church on that Sunday morning? Picture the woman (along with her followers) who was the main culprit in Jesus’ letter hearing these words from the senior pastor. Imagine her trepidation (or perhaps, obstinacy). Imagine the rest of the congregation looking around in confusion, wondering if they were guilty or caught up in this Jezebel-cult (as Jesus describes it).
I assure you, this was one worship service no one would ever forget because this Church would never be the same after that letter.
Do you want to know what’s even more troubling than all that? It’s the fact that though this Church setting is a fictional scenario, the actual letter is not! What you just read is THE MESSAGE translation of the same letter Jesus sent to the very real Church in the very real ancient city of Thyatira in Revelation 2:18-29.
This is clearly not the kind of letter any Church, or any Christian for that matter, ever wants to receive from Jesus Christ! To be fair, though, Jesus does commend them for doing a few things right, four to be exact. So it isn’t all bad, though mostly.
we loooove everyone at our church
Firstly, in verse 19, Jesus says they were a hardworking Church (“I know your works/deeds”). So, this was the Church that never struggled to get volunteers. You’ve heard it said that 20% of the Church does 80% of the work? Well, in Thyatira, they were so hardworking that each congregant served in at least one ministry capacity or another. They had 100% volunteer rate! They served in Children’s ministry, in youth ministry, women's ministry, and with the homeless. They hosted a canned good collection for the community regularly, they partnered with the non-profit organizations in their city to care for the needy regardless of religious affiliation. They were the kind of Church that homeless people sent their homeless friends to! In fact, Jesus says at the end of verse 19 that they were presently doing more than they did when they first launched as a Church. So, they received much kudos there!
Secondly, Jesus says they were a loving Church (“I know [of] your love”). So, this was the Church that everyone in the community felt welcomed in. They not only cared and loved one another, but they were the kind of Church you would feel super comfortable bringing your non-Christian, and even gay friends to! They were seeker-sensitive and super sensitive about everyone’s feeling. They loved without regard for race, gender, or creed, and were tolerant of everything and everyone, which we’ll discover in a moment, might not always be a good thing.
Third and fourthly, They were a Church that was full of faith and they excelled at service and perseverance. This means they were not afraid to take bold leaps for the Gospel; at a minimum, it means they were a praying Church. More importantly, perseverance means that they were not easily broken or shaken in times of difficulty.
Based on these four commendations from Jesus Himself, one has to admit that on the surface, they weren’t a shabby Church! If you visited the Church of Thyatira on any given Sunday church, or checked out their website or online videos, you’d be impressed and might even be inclined to start attending their Church because they were a such a caring, loving, and tolerant bunch.
WHEN BEING LOVING AND TOLERANT LANDS YOU IN A REALLY BAD SPOT
Jesus, however, had a different point of view, literally. Looking with His fiery blazing eyes, that have the ability to see past every veil, He sees something very disturbing that causes Him to say, “Hey, good job with those four things, but there are some serious issues in your midst that you have failed to address”, or in His own words, “ Nevertheless, I have this against you:” (verse 20)
To give you some perspective on what’s happening in the Thyatiran congregation, consider the fact that their diagnosis sounds awfully similar to that of the Church in Pergamum. Both Churches had ill-intentioned people in their congregation who were teaching people to engage in sexual sin and eat foods offered to idols at the local pagan feasts. The Church in Thyatira, however, had taken their sin a step further. Whereas the folks in Pergamum may have been ignorant to the deceit of the false teachers in their midst, (or too intimidated to confront them), the Church in Thyatira was fully aware and openly tolerating the false teachers so that they continued unhindered in their deception. Hear Jesus Himself explain it, “But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” (verse 20)
So it could be said that if the Christians in Pergamum were “dating” the false teachers, then the congregants in Thyatira were already “married” to them. If the Church in Pergamum was occasionally engaged in sexual foreplay with false teachers, then the Church in Thyatira had already engaged in sexual intercourse multiple times with the false teachers and had produced several babies…in Church! (I'm speaking metaphorically).
Specifically, the Thyatirans had been infiltrated by a spiritually dangerous woman who had gathered around herself quite a following. She was claiming to be some sort of prophetess who had divine access to spiritual truths no one else was seeing. This apparently impressed many in the Church as they allowed her to increase in influence and prominence. They were such a loving, accepting, and tolerant Church that they allowed what was clearly an unholy-union, to continue happily ever after. She grew so bold that after a while, she cast her pretension aside and blatantly began teaching those she had lured into her cause “Satan’s so-called deep secrets” (verse 24).
It’s for this reason that Jesus takes such a harsh and severe tone with the Church’s tolerance of her. This woman in question is the one Jesus refers to as “Jezebel.” Jezebel is clearly not her real name, but Jesus assigns it to her to reveal to the Thyatirans her true nature. The story of the real Jezebel can be found in the Old Testament book of 1 Kings 16:29-34, and all you need to know is that she was a vicious, evil, crazy, witch-queen who violently imposed idol worship on the Israelites. Her idol of choice was a cult-deity named Baal, whose worship involved sexual degradation and lewdness.
In Thyatira, this Jezebel-like woman was doing something similar to her predecessor. She was aggressively seducing and misleading the Church through sexual enticement and false teaching, all of which led many congregants to engage in spiritual adultery (and very possibly, actual adultery).
ARE YOU the source?
Let’s take a moment here and consider the intentions of this woman and its relevance to our actions today as Christians, because Jesus is NOT playing nice with her!
It’s one thing for you and I to struggle with a sin that has a stronghold over our lives, but it’s another thing to be the person importing that sin into the Church and misleading others to engage in it. Is that you? Are you a spiritual predator dressed as a sheep in Jesus’ Church? Are you knowingly spreading unbiblical teaching or enticing others in the Church to engage in any form of sin or rebellion?
If that describes you, then know this, the LORD OF THE CHURCH, CHRIST HIMSELF, the One whose eyes blaze like a fiery furnace and whose feet are as strong as burnished bronze is onto your game! You may have your present Church fooled, but “the One who sits enthroned in heaven laughs; He scoffs at you, and will soon rebuke you in His anger and terrify you in His wrath.”
YOUR TIME’S UP!
Incidentally, Jesus was incredibly gracious to this woman and her followers in the Church. According to verse 21, He had actually confronted her in the past and revealed her sin to her as well as given her time to repent of it, but she had refused to turn from her sexual immorality. She had unfortunately now reached the point of no-return.
Judgment was inevitable. What makes His judgment even more petrifying was the extent to which Jesus was going to carry it out. Look again at what He says starting in verse 21-23, “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.”
Now, because of the terrifying nature of the judgment Jesus pronounces on the Church (and even more specifically, the woman), let me clarify what I believe Jesus is getting at here because this is not a warning as much as it is an announcement of a judgment that’s soon about to take place. I don’t believe Jesus is speaking to those of you who have an addiction or a sin you are struggling with and longing to overcome. Jesus is speaking here to those of you who, whether willfully or unintentionally, are spreading your sinful trade to others within the church, and are unrepentant about it.
Note the play of words He uses in verse 22 when He speaks of casting her on a, “bed of suffering” and striking dead the children that come from that affair. So, in other words, the very sin you are engaged in and unwilling to repent of, will be the very source of what you will be judged by. He’s saying, “The bed you lay on to commit adultery is where you will die on, and when I’m done, everyone in the Church will know that I can see past every façade.”
Make no mistake about it, Jesus is very involved and protective of His Church because She is still His bride. He already gave His life for her, can you imagine the extent He would go to keep her pure and safe?
BUT I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING, LORD!
While Jesus was going to deal directly with the root source (the false prophetess) of the trouble in the Thyatiran Church, there was of course still the issue of the rest of the congregation who turned a blind-eye and allowed the errors to continue. Clearly, those who were directly involved with the woman (“…those who commit adultery with her”; “…her children…”) would be dealt with too, but I’d imagine that there were many in the congregation hearing the words of Jesus and thinking to themselves, “Wait, but what about me, Lord? I haven’t engaged in these sins with them. I’ve been tempted, and I’ve strayed a few times, but I have repented and haven’t engaged in it since. Will I get swept away in judgment with everyone else?”
It is in response to this concern that Jesus writes what He says next in verse 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, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’ To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
YOU SHOULD SEE WHAT I HAVE IN STORE FOR YOU!
What I find most encouraging (and you should too) about these words is the fact that Jesus can tell apart those who are His from those pretending to be His! (Ever read the parable of the weeds and wheat?). To His own who have remained faithful, He even goes as far as to encourage them, saying, “I will not impose any burden on you” but to urge you to keep doing the great work you’ve already been doing despite all the ungodly craziness around you. It brings to mind another statement He made during His time on earth in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
That’s the first piece of good news for those who “keep at it” and remain faithful to Him. The second encouraging news is the promise and future reward from Jesus that they will be given the authority to rule over nations, the right to serve as judges over the affairs of His coming kingdom, and something unique called, “the Morning Star.”
To really appreciate the incredible significance of these rewards, you need to understand that Jesus is speaking here of a thousand-year period known as the Millennial kingdom. This is a period still in our future that will be ushered in upon the 2nd return of Jesus Christ (seven years after the rapture of the Church), a time during which every believer will rule alongside Him as His representatives. It’s in this time and place that many of the promises of scripture about prosperity and blessings will FULLY be realized.
This means that, as a reward for not “signing up” with the Jezebel-cult, and as a result of choosing to remain faithful to Christ in a tolerance-gone-corrupt culture, Christ Himself will entrust you with a governing office position to administer His justice over nations. Did you catch that? You will someday rule over NATIONS!
There’s an interesting verse in 1 Corinthians 6:3 that gives some insightful perspective on the extent to which believers will rule with Christ. According to Paul’s words in that verse, it appears that followers of Christ will not only be entrusted with governing human affairs, but even angelic affairs; “Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!” The best part is that every believer will have a glorified body in the Millennium and the mind of Christ, hence we won’t lack for wisdom on what to do and how to do it!
Then of course, there’s the question of the “Morning Star.” Every Biblical indication is that this phrase is a reference to Christ Himself. In other words, you and I will have unprecedented access to Jesus Christ. Whereas today, we may sometime feel unsure if Jesus heard our prayers or "gets" us, on that day, you'll have something tantamount to an all-access pass to meet with Him. On that day, you will regularly see Him face-to-face, you'll be able to run your ideas by Him, you'll be able to chat with Him over lunch at Panera Bread (because there WILL be Panera in the Millennium!), you'll be able to seek His direct advice on matters, and you'll be able to personally invite Him to a celebration you’re hosting, and so on …allow your imagination to run wild here! It's as if Jesus Himself were saying, “In the Millennium, I will be there when you need me, so much so that while your prayers are still on your lips, I will hear you and answer you!!”
This is ultimately what our hearts long for, isn’t it? Christ Himself.
So let’s wrap this up with the big idea put forth earlier.
SERIOUSLY THOUGH. YOU SHOULD CEASE & desist IMMEDIATELY, FOR YOUR OWN GOOD!
The loving grace of God covers ALL our sin and He invites us daily to surrender our burdens to Him. However, what may prove problematic in your relationship with God is if you are the source through which sin is being imported into the lives of others. Jesus expresses as much in Luke 17:1 when He says, “There will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting!” Other versions say, “…but woe to anyone through whom they come.”
Is that you? Are you a spiritual predator dressed as a sheep among Jesus’ flock? Are you knowingly spreading unbiblical teaching or enticing others in the church to engage in immorality?
Understand (again) that Jesus sees in High Definition every activity that takes place under the sun. In His great mercy, He will repeatedly call you to repent and surrender your sin to Him, but if you persist and stubbornly hold on to your sin and rebellion, and you’re unwilling to change, your time may soon be up.
The LORD is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. While there is no sin so great that the cross of Jesus isn’t greater than, there is a point of no return where unrepentance can and will lead to severe judgment.
A word to the wise, if you are a sin-importer, cease your evil trade immediately, otherwise the LORD Himself will do it for you!
Husband. Dad. Pastor. Nigerian American. Storyteller. Aspiring Prayer Warrior. Steak Lover. Follower of Jesus Christ reminding you that God the Father still loves you.