Asbury Free Methodist – June 5, 2022
We have been working our way through the seven churches in Revelation, and today we come to the church in Thyatira. Thyatira was the least important of the seven cities that the apostle John wrote to, yet it warrants the longest letter. Jesus cares about his churches, whether they are found in major metropolises or small towns. Jesus cares about the state of Asbury – he cares about the state of your soul.
As with all the churches, he introduces himself with part of his character that the church needs to understand to face the situation they are in. So, he introduces himself in verse 18
Revelation 2:18 (NIV)
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.
The eyes, like blazing fire, indicate that he sees all. Fire is often a symbol of judgement as well. He judges correctly because he sees all. The feet of burnished bronze is a symbol that he is steadfast, unmoveable. He is strong, and he doesn’t change.
So, when he says
Revelation 2:19 (NIV)
19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.
He has seen the whole picture of their life. He knows about all that is going on in their life. They have grown in their hearts. They have grown in love and faith. They have grown in what they do – in service and perseverance. So, these are growing Christians.
I want us to think about that for a moment in light of what Jesus is about to say. This church was growing in their faith. They were growing in their love. They were growing in how they lived out their faith. That is exactly what we want to see happen here. We at Asbury want to be growing in our faith and in our love and in how we live out our faith.
How does that happen? The primary way you grow is through your own spiritual disciplines. Are you praying regularly? Are you reading your Bible? Are you listening for what God is saying and are you obeying? Are you doing what you believe Jesus would have you do? The Christian life boils down to abiding in Christ and doing what he says.
The primary factor in your personal growth will be what you are doing personally.
The second-largest factor in your spiritual growth will be those Christians that you are hanging around with. In our church, this usually happens in small groups. Sometimes these small groups happen organically. Sometimes we as a church organize them. But if you are going to grow significantly, you need a small group of people who you regularly meet with to have spiritual conversations and pray.
When you are around people who are encouraging one another in their spiritual journey, growth happens. There are normally three parts to this kind of growth. There is the content that we are learning. There are the relationships that we are forming. Then there is the service we do together. These things are incredibly important to growing spiritually. You were never met to live the spiritual life on your own. You were made to it in community.
Now, these groups take place within the context of the larger church. A healthy church is made up of people who are practicing their own spiritual disciplines. Those same people are in a small group of people who are learning, growing and serving together. They are encouraging one another to grow and go deeper in their faith. They are discerning how to live life for Jesus together. A bunch of these small groups make up the local church. This is the way the church is supposed to work. It is the way that God designed it to work.
But here is where a problem can come in. I have seen this dynamic happen in a number of churches. You have someone come into the church, and they are a dynamic teacher in their own right. They may teach a small group or a Sunday School class, but however, they do it they create a following in the church.
Sometimes, it can be a healthy thing. If they are a great teacher, teaching the word of God and supporting the church as a whole – it can be a wonderful thing. Sometimes though, what they do is try to create a church within a church – and I have seen this dynamic split the church.
In the first century, however, they were unfamiliar with denominations and different kinds of churches. Church splits were not really a thing. There was only one church.
So, you have this dynamic going on in the church in Thyatira. There is a group of people in the church who are following a woman who Jesus calls “Jezebel.” That probably wasn’t her name, but a name given by Jesus to indicate what kind of woman she was.
Verse 20 – Revelation 2:20–22 (NIV)
20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 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.
You may remember Jezebel from 1st and 2nd Kings. She was King Ahab’s wife and the Queen of Israel. Ahab worshiped Baal – which involved sexual immorality and child sacrifice on the urging of Jezebel. Jezebel plotted the murder of a good man. To sum it up, here is what the bible says.
1 Kings 21:25–26 (NRSV)
25 (Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord, urged on by his wife Jezebel. 26 He acted most abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord drove out before the Israelites.)
Ahab was the worst of the worst kings of Israel, and he was urged on by Jezebel. So, when Jesus calls the woman who is teaching in the church of Thyatira “Jezebel” – it is not a compliment.
Revelation 2:20–22 (NIV)
20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 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.
Jesus, who sees everything, outlines what she is doing. She calls herself a prophet. She misleads God’s people. She urges them towards sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols. She urges them to sleep with her and each other.
I have been around Asbury long enough to know that we don’t have any self-proclaimed prophets resembling Jezebel. Eating food sacrificed to idols is not really the burning issue of our day either. So, the question is, is this passage relevant to us at all.
The answer is a resounding – yes. We have different dynamics in our world. But the overarching issues are the same.
While it is always possible that a self-styled prophet might try to make inroads into Asbury, it is unlikely. What is more likely is a teacher that uses podcasts, books, YouTube and Facebook to capture a portion of our church. They could be located in Toronto or San Francisco. Location doesn’t really matter anymore. But one of you listens to him or her, and shares it with another and all of a sudden, you have a small group that is enthralled by the person.
They are unlikely to teach on eating food offered to idols. In our age, the likely heresy will be around sex outside of marriage, the promotion of racism, the denial of the authority of scripture, the denial of the divinity of Jesus, and the promotion of hating our enemies. It is likely that they will try to make secondary items into primary items. –Anything to do with the government is a secondary item. That is true of prayer in schools, to vaccine mandates to tax-exempt status for churches. Whenever you make secondary items primary focuses – you lose what the church is meant to be.
I don’t know what the next heresy will be – but they seem to flow over the church in waves.
Here is what I want you to see. Let’s go back to Revelation
Revelation 2:21–22 (NIV)
21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 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.
Jesus says that he has given time of Jezebel to repent – but she refuses. So, I am going to judge her. Ok, we get that. But we have said that we don’t have any self-styled prophets in our midst.
But look at the next line, I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.
God is not only going to judge the teacher – he is going to judge the followers. You are responsible for who you follow and what you act on.
I know that should seem self-evident. However, in this age of fake news and the left and the right spinning everything to absurdity, you are responsible for what you believe and how you act.
One thing that has become evident in the last number of years is that you can find a group on the internet to confirm whatever you want to believe. If you want to believe that the earth is flat – there is a group who will confirm that. If you want to believe that we should violently overthrow the government, there is a group that will confirm that. What also is obvious – is that you can find a so-called expert to affirm whatever you want to believe. You can find an academic that will say almost anything. But here is the thing, you are responsible for who you follow, what you believe and how you act.
The Jesus you serve is the one who reveals himself with eyes like fire – they see everything.
What do you think the followers of Jezebel would have been like? They were probably like the rest of the church. They were trying to grow in faith and in love. They were growing in perseverance and in service. I imagine these people to be good-hearted people.
Then Jezebel comes along and says, you know the Christian life is all about love. We need to love each other. We need to love each other fully. What better way to love each other than to have sex with each other?
Her followers were saying we want to grow in love. We know we need to love each other. This seems a little weird – but whatever. She seems like a lovely person. So, they started to participate. So, you had a sex club form within the church.
Is it any wonder that Jesus said, “I have this against you – you tolerate that woman Jezebel. But I am not sure Jesus would be any more pleased with a gossip club, a racism club, or a club that promoted the deconstruction of faith. As Paul put it,
Galatians 5:19–21 (NIV)
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Don’t be involved with people, even people in the church, who are promoting what is not good.
Here is what Jesus says of Jezebel.
Revelation 2:22–23 (NIV)
22 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. 23 I will strike her children dead. (Scholars think that that is a reference to her converts) 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.
Did you catch that phrase – unless you repent? If you have been involved in any of those things – There is always hope for those who are willing to repent.
Note at the end that Jesus will repay each of us according to our deeds. Jesus is smart enough to not lump everyone together. You can trust him with you.
Revelation 2:24–25 (NIV)
24 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, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.’
To the rest of you who are growing in love and faith; To those of you who are growing in faith and service; You haven’t bought into Jezebel’s lies which are really lies of Satan; Hold fast until I come. Keep on growing in faith. Keep on growing in love. Keep on serving. Keeping on persevering. Hold fast until I come.
Notice to whom he is talking to, “To the rest of you.”
When I look around at the church in North America, it is easy to get discouraged. Roman Catholics and mainline denominations are reeling from the residential school fiasco. Evangelicals are reeling from high-profile pastors caught in affairs. We are known for what we are against, now what we are for. Now the largest protestant denomination in the United States has been caught covering for pastors who have been abusive.
When I look around, it is easy to get discouraged. But I think Jesus would say – to the rest of you-; Hold fast until I come. Keep on growing in faith. Keep on growing in love. Keep on serving. Keeping on persevering. Hold fast until I come.
Don’t give up on the church because you need each other to grow. You cannot do without each other. But hold fast until I come. Test what people are saying – even people in the church – and see what is consistent with what I have said – and hold fast until I come.
Continue to grow in love and faith and service and perseverance with each other.
Revelation 2:26–29 (NIV)
26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—27 that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’ (That is a quote about God from Psalm 2:9)—just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give that one the morning star. (That is a reference to Jesus himself. Rev. 22:16) 29 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
If you break these verses down, basically, Jesus is saying to those of you who overcome – I am going to give you authority and I am going to give you myself. That is good news. Because when all is said and done, what we need is more of Jesus.
The way to grow spiritually is first of all to walk with Jesus personally. Abide in him. Connect with Jesus deeply through prayer, through his word, through listening for his voice. Then we need to connect with each other. We need a small group of people who we are having spiritual conversations with and growing in our love for one another, and we are serving together. You were meant to grow in community.
But one thing Thyatira teaches us is that people can rise up in community and misled followers of Jesus. In those cases, you are still required to grow – but you need to reject what Jesus does not approve of. You will be held accountable for you.
When I looked at this morning’s passage of scripture, there were easily a half a dozen different sermons that I could have easily preached. I chose to preach this one because there are so many voices within and outside the church that want to lead us away from Jesus. Some of them are very seductive like Jezebel’s where we need to love everyone so we need to approve of everything that people call love. We are not called to judge the world, but we are called to walk in righteousness as the people of God.
There are so many voices that target the church – and try to make her afraid. Listen, politics is all about creating fear about the other and then positioning oneself as the one who will stand against what you fear. The church is often the target of the messages that are designed to create fear. Don’t give into that even if some in the church do. You walk in faith and peace.
There is fake news and false beliefs all around us. In a world like this, hear the words of Jesus – Continue to grow in faith and love, in service and perseverance and hold on to what you have until I come.
Sermon Questions – The Church in Thyatira
June 5th, 2022 – Revelation 2:18-29
1. What are you giving thanks for?
2. What are you praying about this week?
3. Read Revelations 2:18-29. Why does Jesus introduce himself the way that he does? (Verse 18)
4. What does verse 19 tell us about the Christians in Thyatira? Do you picture this as an “alive” church or a “dead” church? Why?
5. Read verses 20-22. What do we know about Jezebel? What do we know about her followers? How do you think Jezebel got to that position in church?
6. If we had a “Jezebel” kind of leader arise in the church, what do you think he or she might be promoting?
7. Read verses 21-23. How do you feel about the fact that Jesus is not only going to judge the teacher, but he is also going to judge the followers? In this time of fake news and spin, do you think it would be easy to fall into this kind of trap? How can we protect ourselves against that?
8. Read verses 24-25. There are people who have not followed Jezebel. What is Jesus’ command to them, and what would that look like for them and for us?
9. Read Revelations 2:26-29 and Revelation 22:16-17. What is the morning star? What do you think it means to be given the morning star?