To The Church In Thyatira
Key Verse 2:25
“Only hold on to what you have until I come.”
Warnings about false prophets were made throughout Bible history. In other words, there had always been false prophets masquerading as God’s messengers. Sooner or later they were identified as false prophets and people stopped listening to them. But damage was usually already done on the hearts and minds of the people. The Lord Jesus himself warned his disciples to be on the watch for false messiahs. (Mtt.24:4) In his farewell address to the Ephesian church Apostle Paul warned them with these words: “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:30) It is amazing how many false prophets and false shepherds and false teachers had risen in the church and had done irreparable damage to the hearts and minds of those who were unequipped to defend their faith and the gospel. And now generations of Christians after Jesus’ and Paul’s warnings, John writes down letters to the churches. One of them he writes to the Church in Thyatira warning them regarding a false “prophetess” no less. What the Risen Jesus told the Christians who were not affected by the false prophetess’ teachings was so unusual and unlike anything that we would expect Jesus to say. Jesus had hardly ever said to his people to “only hold on to what you have.” Rather he should say: “be faithful to the point of death”. But the words of the Lord here tell us how intense the battle against evil— even evil in the church itself— is. The battle against the evil false teaching of this false prophetess must have been so severe that the Lord urged them to hold on to what they had. The battle against false teachings in the church are as intense today as they had been at the time of the writing of this revelatory letter to the Thyatiran church. Unsurprisingly we face danger from the same source of corruption they faced. Twice now, in two separate letters to two churches of Revelation, the corruption of sexual immorality and that of Idolatry surface as the cause of their demise. Yet, we face the same corruption but in a much greater danger than they ever did, for our generation needs not false teachers who promote sexual immorality, nor idolatry, since the church at large has for the most part become secular, and therefore, immorality and idolatry are of no consequence since they’re accepted as the norm.
We live in dangerous times, and we ourselves are engaged in battles that would leave us exhausted and vulnerable to giving in to the very teachings that we know the Lord abhors. We live in dangerous times because we must fight for our very spiritual lives when it comes to the rampant corruption that we witness all around us, and which has slowly been creeping into our very doctrine. We must know that the fight will not ease up but rather intensify as the end of the age draws near. That the end of the age may come in 10 years or 10000 is not the issue, but that the biblical gospel faith is under attack and is slowly losing ground to the secular philosophies and cultural ideas is the issue. As a church professing Jesus Christ as Lord, we must be ever on the alert to put to the test everything that is being taught in the modern church and in the world, so as to keep the Gospel teaching we know to be true intact in our hearts and minds, and to go as far as to defending it. In that sense, we must continue to study Bible alone and together, and pray and put what we learn to practice, so as to keep alive what we already have. We too must heed Jesus’ words “hold to what you have”. Verse 29 says it best: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
This letter was given to the church at Thyatira. Look at verse 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 free are like burnished bronze.” Therefore these are not just words in a letter. They are the living word of the Son of God who is the author and perfector of Christian faith. He alone suffered unbearable suffering in our place. He alone died on the cross for our sins. He alone rose from the dead conquering our worst and final enemy death. He alone ascended to heaven to take his place at the right hand of God. He is the Son of God to whom God promised to put all his enemies under his feet. His death and resurrection were not in vain. They paved the way for countless men and women of faith to enter heaven by their faith in him. He has given us the gospel for he is the gospel and its author. And by this gospel so many have made their way out of the life of sin and into a life of faith and mission. “These are the words of the Son of God” challenge the church to hold on to the gospel and its teaching above any other teaching that seems good or right in human standards. When Jesus spoke these words to the church in Thyatira, he wanted those who had received grace and life through him, not to make the mistake of listening to a false gospel that may make sense humanly but that carries with it the stench of corruption. He is the Son of God. He holds the truth— the truth that we must all listen to and hold dear in our hearts.
Thyatira was a secular city. But somehow when Lydia, who was Paul’s first convert in Europe, received the gospel at the banks of a river one day, that gospel came back to Thyatira with her and apparently flourished and drew many converts. A church also soon grew among the believers until they were holding services and Bible studies and prayer meetings. It is truly amazing when the godless, the unbelievers, the pagan and the atheists take hold of the gospel of life and are transformed into the children of God, for that is exactly what happened in Thyatira. And their faith was incredibly influential. And for years they practiced the core of the Christian faith and teaching. What exactly did they practice?
Read verse 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.” Unless a church and its Christian membership have love, faith, service to God and to others and perseverance, it is not really a practicing church nor are its members practicing Christians. The Thytiran Christians were remarkable in these Christian virtues, so much so that Jesus commended them for these very practices before turning around and rebuking them. They had several virtues. They had love. Love is the substance of God, the very thing that a Christian practices on God and on others because he or she is first loved by God. Christian love is also not emotional love. It is a love that listens to and obeys the word of God, for that is what Jesus said and taught us about the essence of love. These people had love. They practiced it with all their hearts. In love for Jesus, they loved each other, as well as they also loved those who are unlovable and unlovely. When they remembered day after day that the Lord had loved them, they were able to love others with the love of Christ until Christ was formed in their hearts. Christian love is a powerful thing. Christian love loves even when it is hated, and blesses when cursed. This love is the substance of God, the very thing that compels the world to look to God rather than to our feeble selves.
They also had faith. They had faith in Christ as a foundation for all other faiths they may have had. Their faith was rooted in the Son of God who sacrificed himself for their salvation. They had faith that trusts Jesus even when they were ridiculed by the world around them. They had faith to believe that Jesus would return one day to gather his people from among all people and take them to be with him forever. But they also had day to day faith to trust God with their sustenance, and with all the activities of the day. As powerful as love is, so is faith mighty powerful. Jesus always taught us to have faith. He taught us that faith is that on which we stand. And it is not just any faith, but faith in his great and glorious promises. And not just the promise of eternal life and the Kingdom Of God but also the promises he makes to us in his words. Faith alone can take an emotional and spineless human being like me, steeped in anxiety and fear of the world and of its vices and turns me into a man like rock, immovable, and strong enough for others to shelter in. the Thyatira Christians had faith, and Jesus commended them for it. Soon they would need this same faith to withstand his rebuke, repent of whatever is offending Jesus among them, and with that same faith to receive forgiveness and a new beginning.
They also had servantship. A church or a Christian without servantship is like a lion without teeth. Christian servantship is the foundation of what Christ has called us to do— to be his servants. Christ not only saves us from our sins, but gives us a mission to serve his kingdom in bringing others to himself. Unless a Christian has a sense of servantship, he or she are ineffective, and tasteless. Christian servantship comes not from our own goodness, but we only follow what the Christ himself had already done, and we receive the strength to serve from the power of the gospel working in our hearts. The Thyatira Christians had servantship, for Jesus commended them for it. They served the church with all their hearts. They served each other as if they were all one big family, for they were a big happy family. They also served the wretched flock of God who have yet to learn faith and love and Christian servantship. In their love and service to these, they exercised patience and tolerance. They exercised the love of Christ to serve and not to expect to be served in return. They also exercised the principle of servantship through example, they imitated Jesus in everything, and after Jesus they imitated the apostles. When a Christian is too good to serve, even his worship to God is offensive to God, for worship is to serve God’s holiness, and serving God is worship. We need to learn how to serve as Jesus served. He served us with his life. No service we do then is too good or too costly, for our Lord did it all.
The Christians in Thyatira also persevered. Perseverance is also a great Christian virtue. Perseverance comes with maturity. Perseverance is a gentle and humble and noble thing for a soul to engage in. The Christ persevered under trial, and never compromised the truth. The Christian is also called to persevere under all circumstances, in persecution or in better times we must learn to persevere because the fruits of perseverance is maturity and faith. And when we have loved and stood our faith, and served and persevered under the difficult worldly and spiritual trials, when we have fought our human urges and desires, and when we have acted nobly as a Christian ought to act, and when we have fought off temptation, then what must we do after that? Look at verse 19 again. “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” We learn from the Thyatira Christians what we ought to do after we have done all that. We learn that we ought to do more. They did all this and then they did more. This is our obligation as a Christian— to do more than we ever imagine we should do. If we loved now is the time to love more. If we stood our ground in faith in difficulty, it is always time to stand even more and more. If we had served, surely it is always time to serve more until we have satisfied the gospel demand. And if we think we have persevered enough with an unruly person, or have had enough abuse from another, or have persevered enough under the weight of temptation, then it is time to persevere even more. May God enable us to learn from these Thytirans how to please Jesus our Lord with our love and faith, with our servantship and perseverance. Amen.
Yet there was something in that church that truly marred their reputation, to which the Lord was displeased. Read verses 20-23. “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 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.” This is the second church in which they are rebuked for the two detestable practices of sexual immorality and idolatry. Only some in the church of Thyatira are not only tolerant of such terrible corruption and practices, but they had a false prophetess promoting such teachings. Jesus calls her Jezebel after the most wicked woman who had ever lived. This woman was dangerous because she was pretending to be the voice of God, playing down the sin of sexual immorality and of idolatry. There is no room in the Christian church for immorality, especially sexual immorality and for idolatry. They both offend God deeply. They both incur the wrath of God especially when Christians practice them. Most people think that they can get away with their secret sins of sexual immorality and idolatry. Most of them think that God is tolerant as long as one is baptized in the name of Jesus. But that is abomination to think like this. We may hide our secret sins from each other, or we may think that we are above the teachings of the church. But Jesus says to those who think this way: “I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” When we discover sexual immorality and idolatry in our hearts, Jesus tells us that the only way out of their poisons is repentance. Repent is what Jesus said to those who offended him in his church. Repentance is what we all need from time to time to purify our hearts from all the impurities that corrupt the gospel faith we so dearly hold on to.
Read verses 24-25.”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): Only hold on to what you have until I come.” Some in the church at Thyatira did as they pleased. They listened to false teachings of a false prophetess. They engaged in sexual immorality. They nearly worshiped at idol altars. But regardless of the prophetess’ teaching, even man and woman who chose to listen to a false gospel chose to do so out of their own rebellion against God and in answer to their own corrupt desires. Jesus warned them that if they do not repent terrible things would happen to them. But what about those who did not listen to the false teaching and who did not engage in immoral and idolatrous practices? Jesus simply urged them to hold on to what they have until he returns. This means that Jesus wanted them to remain faithful to the gospel teaching. He wanted them to continue living the life of faith and mission he had called them to live. He also wanted them to continue in love, in faith, in servantship and in perseverance. Sometimes when bad things are happening all around us, we may be discouraged and think that it is all in vain, our life effort to live for Christ is in vain. But it is not. Jesus commands us in such times to hold on to what we have in him. Till when? As long as we live, or until he returns, whichever comes first.
Read verse 26-28. “To him who overcomes” has thus far been the theme of all his letters. Overcoming is the promise of God to those who love him who live according to his good purpose in their lives. There is no place in heaven for false teachers and false prophets who distort the truth and who lead people astray. But for those who hold on to the gospel and to gospel faith, Jesus promises authority— authority to be a co-teacher and co-ruler over the nations. Real authority comes form the gospel and consequently from gospel faith. So for those who overcome the false teachings by their faith, Jesus promises many precious things. We can overcome anything when we stand on the gospel faith and look up to the Lord who is our shepherd and protector, the Son of God who will come again in glory to gather us to himself. Overcoming is not an option for us who live at the tail end of history. We must make every effort to hold on to what we have and overcome the world. It was Jesus’ promise to his disciples that they would overcome. That they would conquer their temptations. That they would conquer the world. It is his promise to us as well. We must overcome, through repentance and through faith. Amen. Let us be careful of false teachings and false prophets of our time and overcome them by standing on gospel faith.