Revelation #8 Revelation 2:18-29 (MSG) End Time Dilemma: When In Rome....
Revelation #8 Rev 2:18-29 (MSG) End Time Dilemma: When In Rome….
So far in Jesus' message to the churches we have found Ephesus to be doctrinally pure but lacking love and told to repent, to get that love back. We have found Smyrna in poverty and persecution told to endure, we found Pergamum to be doctrinally lax but full of love and told to no longer compromise. Overcomers receive a reward from Jesus. In those congregations that fail, the glory of God departs, and you are left with a religious organization instead of a vibrant church manifesting the glory of God.
Now Jesus turns His attention to the congregation in the city of Thyatira. The patron god of the city was Apollo Tyrimnos, worshipped as the son of Zeus. Thyatira is a city of manufacturing and merchants; woodworkers, linen-workers, makers of outer garments, dyers, leather-workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave dealers, and bronze smiths all can be found here. We all know what a union is, workers in a particular industry that have banded together to ensure fair treatment of their constituents. Before the industrial revolution similar to the union was the guild. “Guilds regulated the production and sale of goods and services in a particular trade, and they also provided social and economic support for their members” (Bard, October 9, 2023). To work one had to be a member of a guild. Once again economics comes into play, for a believer to make a living he or she had to be a guild member. The major problem of being a guild member was the expectation that you would take part in not only the regulations of the guild but also its social observances. That meant members shared common meals that were dedicated to the local gods of the city. Complicating these common meals is that they tended to include “unbridled licentiousness” (Ladd, p 50). Expect gluttony, excessive drinking, and promiscuity, throw in a little gambling and you get a good idea of what is going on. You can see the problem can’t you? It’s like that office New Year’s party that gets totally out of control. The only stipulation the Jerusalem Council gave to the Gentile believers was to abstain from food sacrificed to idols and to abstain from sexual immorality. In such a cultural situation Jesus tells John to write:
Rev 2:18-29 (MSG)
18 Write this to Thyatira, to the Angel of the church. God's Son, eyes pouring fire-blaze, standing on feet of furnace-fired bronze, says this:
19 "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.
20 "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. 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.
24 "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.
26 "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!
29 "Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches."
Jesus introduces Himself to the congregation as God’s Son. Here is a contrast between the patron deity of Thyatira, an idol, a false god, reported as being a son of god. There is only one Son of God and that is Jesus. [Psalm 2:7] Not the pagan gods, not the emperors of Rome, only Jesus from Nazareth.
We again have the imagery of fiery eyes and glowing bronze feet. The imagery is drawn from the book of Daniel (Daniel 10:6). Those eyes see through all the excuses, all the rationalizations, all the arguments, that people use to justify their disobedience. Remember this message is to Jesus’ disciples. Those feet “convey the idea of strength and splendor” a firm foundation that will not be moved (Mounce, p. 102).
Jesus goes on to commend the congregation for their love, their faith, their service, and their persistence. Not only as a whole does the congregation have this going for them they are continually growing in love, faith, service, persistence, and tenacity. Love is obedience to God and seeking to meet the needs of others. Faith is loyalty, it is personal trust in Jesus. Service, in the original language, means “serving at table” doing services to God and one another that result in mutual fellowship (Rotz, p. 75). Persistence means they have their eye on the prize and are constantly working towards it no matter the obstacles, setbacks, or challenges. This congregation has got it going, they’re “rockin'” it. The members are growing deep, growing up, and growing fruit. It’s the kind of church you want to be a part of.
With all this going for them, some believers have a huge blind spot. Jesus asks, "But why do you let that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet mislead my dear servants into Cross-denying, self-indulging religion?” We do not have a lot of background information concerning who this Jezebel is. From the Old Testament, we know that Jezebel is the wife of Ahab the king of Israel. Together they instituted the worship of Baal and Asherah throughout the land. Their story can be found in the book of 1 Kings, the 11th book, or writing in our Old Testament. Jezebel is a symbol of a false teacher that leads the followers of Jesus astray. She has proclaimed herself to be a prophetess, which means a teacher. Without the New Testament, the church relied on the teachings of the apostles and prophets to instruct them in the way to live exemplary lives. Some of the dear servants of Jesus allowed her to influence their thinking. Cross-denying and self-indulging religion give us an idea of the behavior she was promoting, the original language is more explicit, identifying sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols as her misleading ways. “When in the guild do what the guilds do.”
We don’t have the background to figure out what the circumstances were that allowed Jezebel to repent. There is comfort in the thought that God calls us to repentance and allows us to mend our ways. But if we persist in rejecting God’s overtures to realign ourselves with Him we are in danger.
Idol whoring is a reference to how the Old Testament understood worshiping at the shrines of manmade gods (Ezekiel 23:20). If you follow Jezebel’s teachings you are one of her children, one of her partners in crime. These are believers who give into this cultural compromise of eating food sacrificed to idols. We don’t have an equivalent to eating food sacrificed to an idol. An idol is anything that becomes more important to us than our fidelity to the one to whom we have bent our knee. Money and Status, Success and Power, Physical and Social Media Appearance, Comfort and Ease, your negative habits, attachments, and addictions are a small sampling of the idols worshipped today. One of the biggest idols today is the identity idol, the worship of self—what a nice selfie. If we were to draw a parallel to food, we could say that gobbling up all the tidbits of news, media promotion, entertainment, and paraphernalia that promote our particular idol is eating resources that have been devoted to them.
When it comes to sexual immorality we are not hard-pressed to find examples. Traditionally the Church has interpreted sexual immorality to be any sexual activity outside the bonds of a heterosexual marriage. Yikes, today we have believers hooking up (1 Corinthians 6:18-20), believers living together (Hebrews 13:4, Ephesians 5:3-5), believers engaging in adultery (Exodus 20:14, Matthew 5:27-28), believers entertaining themselves with pornography (Matthew 5:28), believers engaging prostitutes (Leviticus 19:29, Corinthians 6:19-20, Deuteronomy 23:17), and believers acting upon their same-sex attraction (Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-27). Hooking up, living together, and acting upon same-sex attraction are all culturally acceptable practices and all are practices inconsistent with discipleship.
Thank God for allowing Jezebel an opportunity to repent and realign with God. The 4 “c’s” of repentance are conviction, contrition, confession, and conversion. We must realize that our actions are an offense to God. There is genuine sadness over the damage in our relationship with God and others (2 Corinthians 7:10). We admit our wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Finally, we have to forsake our wayward behavior, realigning ourselves with God’s commands and Jesus’ teachings (Acts 26:20). If you find yourself compromised with the culture, conviction, contrition, confession, and conversion puts you right.
Jezebel taught that you can compromise with the culture. Jesus says no you can’t. We read Jesus is so angry that He will kill. But how does Jesus kill, how does Jesus strike someone dead? The only weapon Jesus has is the sword in His mouth. That sword is Truth. Truth challenges the status quo, our worldview, and our motivations. Truth exposes hypocrisy, corruption, and injustice. Truth shatters illusions, delusions, and lies. Truth forces us to confront who we are, what we believe, and what we do; nothing remains hidden. Truth brings judgment, and there are no gray areas to rationalize. Truth ends all arguments revealing reality. Truth is inescapable. Truth is the weapon Jesus wields.
Those blazing eyes of Jesus look through appearance and see motivations. In Thyatira to make a buck, you had to be in a guild, to be a member in good standing with the guild you had to eat food sacrificed to idols and indulge in sexual immorality. Spiritual infidelity for the sake of making a living meets with Jesus' condemnation.
For the believers who are committed to love, faith, service, and persistence a reward will be given. “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!” Ruling the nations with a rod of iron is from Psalm 2:8-9. It was Jewish expectation that the Messiah would smash all nations and peoples that opposed Israel and the Messiah would extend Jewish rule to global domination. One of our interpretive choices is that Jesus is not going to change His character, the Jesus we read of in the gospels is the same Jesus we read of in the Revelation. The original language suggests that this is not the rule of a tyrant but rather a rule characterized by protecting and preserving a flock of sheep (Ladd, p 54). The iron rod is a metaphor for Jesus’ absolute rule. He will rule with justice and compassion. Anything that opposes Jesus’ rule will be vanquished. Faithful followers will share in that victory.
The gift the Father gave the Son is resurrection, life eternal, and authority to rule. This same gift Jesus will pass on to all faithful disciples. With the gift comes the Morning Star. What exactly the folks in the churches would have understood this to be is not known. At the close of the Revelation Jesus is identified as the “bright and morning Star (Revelation 22:16). In Jewish theology the morning star “represents messianic hope, redemption, God's presence, and guidance. It is a symbol that reminds us that God is with us and that he will guide us through the darkness to the light” (Bard, October 10, 2023). We can be comfortable with the idea that the Morning Star is Jesus who guides us through our times of tribulation.
The problem in the Thytrian congregation is even though they excelled in deeds of service that demonstrated their love, and faith, some followed a teaching that it was justifiable to partake in the customs of an anti-Christ culture to make a living. Jesus has problems with their lack of discernment and their lack of holiness. Personal holiness is to be dedicated to living a life that is pleasing to God, conforming our thoughts, words, and deeds to His. That means anything that God would disapprove of, no matter how advantageous or pleasurable it might seem to be, is to be avoided.
In the message to the churches we also see a great need for discernment. Without spiritual discernment, we can be led astray by charismatic charlatans saying “Thus says the Lord.” Spiritual discernment is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It helps us to avoid sin, make wise choices, be more effective in our Kingdom business, and grow in our relationship with God. It helps us judge between right and wrong.
2 Timothy 4:3-5 (MSG)
You're going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food—catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They'll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you—keep your eye on what you're doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God's servant.