We’ve been studying letters from Jesus to various 1st century churches. Often these churches are dealing with persecution from the outside. Whether it was ridicule, violence or temptation towards idol worship, the attack always came from the outside.
Sometimes the greatest attacks come from somewhere else.
I was playing soccer with some of the preschoolers. We divided up teams and I ended up on red team. We were trying to score against the blue team. And to be fair, it started with me doing that thing where I just dribble the ball by myself and let this entire wave of kids chase after me.
But eventually I decided I should let a kid from my team score. So, I passed the ball to him and…
He turned around and scored…
In our goal.
Today we are continuing our series called Dear Church. We’re going to hear about a church that was being attacked from within. Our goal is to identify how they were being attacked, hear God’s warning for our church, and learn what we can do to defeat attacks from within.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Thyatira’s Problem from Within
This letter starts in Revelation 2:18 “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.”
A couple of notes:
Thyatira is to the east and south of Pergamum, the home of the last letter recipients. It’s located in the middle of modern Turkey.
It was the home of a woman named Lydia. If you remember from this summer’s sermon series, that’s the name of a purple dealer who was doing some work by the river when she heard the message of Jesus from Paul. She believed, was baptized, and then became part of the church’s mission work. As a result, it’s conceivable that she was one of the founding members of the church in Thyatira.
In this letter, Jesus introduces himself as the Son of God. It’s the first time in the book of Revelation. Using that name here, communicates that the letter isn’t from some bumbling human, but from God himself:
And the Son of God has eyes like blazing fire. That means he has divine vision. It’s better than 20/20 vision, better than X-ray vision, better than hawk-like vision.
He sees us…
Finally, he has feet of burnished bronze. If you’re an NFL running back, that isn’t the best footgear. With bronze, you can’t move quickly. If you’re in the NBA, bronze footgear won’t win the Dunk contest.
But if want to stand still without moving, bronze footgear is perfect.
Jesus has bronze footgear.
Because he doesn’t move.
And his Word is unshakeable.
Look at what the unshakeable Son of God who sees into the very hearts of his people had to say:
I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. (v.19)
That’s good. They’ve been increasing their faith filled acts amid a challenging environment:
A Roman government that hated Christians.
A Jewish influence that hated Jesus.
False god worship that led people away from following Jesus.
Yet, that isn’t all Jesus sees:
Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. (v.20)
Have you ever heard of Jezebel before? She’s an Old Testament queen of Ancient Israel. She’s most famous for being wicked. During her regime, she organized more idol worship in Israel than ever before, she commanded soldiers to murder God’s prophets, and led hundreds of thousands her subjects away from the true God.
One-time Jezebel’s husband Ahab was sad because he wanted this nice vineyard that a neighbor owned. He had asked the neighbor to buy it, but the neighbor wanted to keep it because it had been in his family. As a result, Ahab pouted.
“I want it.”
“It’s not fair.”
“I’m the king.”
When Jezebel hears his tantrum, rather than giving him a time out or a lecture on how, “You can’t always have what you want, and pouting won’t get you anything anyway…”
She had the neighbor killed.
Scholars doubt whether the New Testament woman at Thyatira was called Jezebel. The reality is that thanks to OT Jezebel, the name wasn’t that attractive. Most parents didn’t want to name their children after a villain. (It’s why there aren’t a lot of Darths, Maleficents, or Voldemorts—although Jezebel would have made a very scary Halloween costume.)
Rather than being her real name, this could simply be Jesus’ way of describing how similar this woman was to that ancient queen. Both found joy in challenging God’s authority and leading people away from truth.
Both attacked from within:
Old Testament Jezebel tried to attacked God’s kingdom from within the palace of Ancient Israel.
New Testament Jezebel did it from within the pews of the Thyatiran church.
Both used deadly weapons:
Old Testament Jezebel attacked God’s kingdom with actual swords.
New Testament Jezebel? With false teachings.
She was misleading God’s servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. (v.10b)
It’s as if she’d gather her small group together and say: “I know pastor says that we shouldn’t sleep around, but…that’s unrealistic.”
Or she kept raising her hand during adult Bible study and said, “False God worship is just as good as fair as worship of Jesus. Equal rights!”
Or she wrote her own song to sing for meditation, “The church’s one foundation is illicit immorality.”
Or she taught the Sunday School Lesson, “The Bible says God created the world, but…that’s really not true kids. We’re all accidents evolved over billions of years. You don’t really matter.”
Jezebel was teaching falsehood within God’s church.
II. The Truth about False Teaching
That’s the difference from last week. If you remember, some of the people of the Pergamum church were holding to the same teachings of sexual immorality and false God worship. But none of them felt comfortable enough to teach them.
Jezebel, on the other hand?
She took every opportunity to teach falsehood within God’s church.
He takes this opportunity to express his opinion on false teaching:
God hates FALSE TEACHING in his church.
It’s like being a vegan. If you were a vegan and went to a healthy restaurant to get a Quinoa Burger. But then, as you took a bite of that Quinoa burger and it tasted like beef…You’d be upset.
But do you get the point? God is 100% for the truth.
In fact, Jesus said, “I am the truth.” (John 14:6)
That means God can have anything to do with falsehood.
And if his church, which is his body deals in falsehood, which he is against…
God isn’t happy.
He hates false teaching in his church.
And he hates it because…
False teaching is DANGEROUS.
Look at what was happening in Thyatira. The teachings of Jezebel were leading other members of the church into a sinful lifestyle and away from their Savior Jesus.
It’d be like driving along I-540 to the East. You go to the end of it where you’re supposed to segue onto 87. But instead of having you segue onto 87, Siri simply said, “Go straight.” And if you listened, Siri’s false teaching would lead you off the road to death.
False teaching does the same thing.
False teaching can lead people to hell.
And doubly so, when it comes within the church.
Because if you hear that teaching from someone in the church, you’ll probably trust it. You’ll think:
It was a church person who posted that message on Facebook…must be true.
It was a long-time member who said that thing in Bible study…must be accurate.
It was a big-time giver who wanted that thing in the leadership meeting…must be correct.
Now you might not think this is all that important for you.
You’re not a pastor.
You’re not a teacher.
But it absolutely is.
Sometimes people drop off books for us at Precious Lambs. And since we’re a Christian center, they often drop off Christian books. Seems safe, right?
A while back I was reading through a book all about Jesus’ life. It had cute little Jesus’ pictures. It had cute little rhyming words. It even had a child friendly picture of the cross.
But at the end of the book, it said this:
Jesus rose on Easter Day.
Following him is the way.
If we truly do what we should.
We’ll have heaven which is good.
We don’t do what we should.
We won’t have heaven by doing good.
And the point of Easter isn’t: Do good to earn God’s love.
The point of the Gospel is: You couldn’t do good, so Jesus earned heaven for you.
Can you imagine if a kid grew up hearing this?
The constant burden and weight of the law?
The guilt and shame of never being good enough?
The false teaching that they need to earn God’s love?
Rather than knowing her Savior.
Rather than knowing his love.
Rather than knowing forgiveness.
False teaching is dangerous.
Watch out for it in “Christian” books.
In “Christian” music.
In “Christian” friendships.
In “Christian” Facebook posts.
And if you find something that’s false, do something about it!
Because…TOLERATION of false teaching is a sin.
Look at whom Jesus is speaking to in this letter. It isn’t Jezebel. It’s the people that are tolerating her message.
And understand. Tolerate simply means, “to allow.”
And it can be a good thing.
It’s good to tolerate your country music.
It’s good to tolerate your kids’ TV shows.
It’s good to tolerate your coworker’s lunch smells.
If you tolerated an alligator, that had gotten into your living room….
If you didn’t call 911.
If you didn’t call Animal Control.
And that alligator bites your kid…
That’s on you!
God doesn’t just want you to not teach falsehood, but he also doesn’t want you to knowingly tolerate it.
Because he doesn’t tolerate it.
Because it will lead people to eternal danger.
Jesus will DEFEND his church.
That’s why Jesus speaks up. In fact, look at what he says about Jezebel:
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 (most likely a reference to people who followed her teaching) …I will strike them…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. (v.21-23)
This is one of those parts of the Bible that, maybe, sound harsh.
But it isn’t.
Jezebel was leading people to hell.
God wasn’t going to stand back and let that happen.
Think about it:
Jesus already went through hell to save us.
He lived perfectly on this earth.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of our sins.
Through the Gospel, he has brought us into his kingdom.
God didn’t do all that to allow some false teaching to take us away from him.
He will defend his church.
And he will defend you.
In fact, that’s what he’s doing right now.
He’s calling out false teaching.
He’s warning us of its danger.
He’s calling his people to act against it
Because of his love for his church.
Because of his love for you.
III. Hold onto Truth
Look at what Jesus tells his church:
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.’ (v.24)
And what they had was the truth.
Don’t cling to falsehood.
Don’t search for some ‘better’ teaching.
Don’t scour the internet for a more socially acceptable doctrine.
Hold onto truth.
Hold onto Jesus.
Hold onto God’s Word.
Hold onto the Son of God.
Hold onto the one with blazing eyes.
Hold onto the one with feet of burnished bronze.
TRUTH: The Truth will DASH falsehood to pieces.
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.”
He mentions that falsehood, is a lot like a clay jar. It’s fashioned by humans. It’s shaped how they like it to be. It’s frail and fragile because a human put it together. You’ve got to be careful to handle it gently lest it fall to the ground, smash, and be exposed for the short-lasting thing that it is.
But that’s not the only metaphor in these verses.
There’s also an iron scepter. It’s bold. It’s strong. It’s intense. That’s what God gives his people to fight against falsehood.
The iron scepter?
Truth-holders are promised the MORNING STAR
A morning star is a scientific phenomenon. It’s not really a star. It’s a planet, like Venus, that on certain days can be visible from earth. Usually it’s visible just before morning. Hence, it’s called the morning star.
Because the morning star means…
…the night is almost over.
…the day is almost here.
…newness is about to star.
The morning star in the Bible?
Jesus said, “I am the morning star.” (Rev. 22:16)
Because of Jesus, the night is almost over.
Because of Jesus, the darkness will eventually end.
Because of Jesus, will experience something new.
Because of Jesus, we will shine…forevermore.