The postman is about to deliver the fourth of seven letters to the churches in Asia Minor. Before he does that, however, I want to let you know something about all seven of these letters. Did you ever wonder why there are seven letters to seven churches? The reason is because seven is an important number in Hebrew where numbers are never quite as they seem, especially in the book of Revelation. It is one of the numbers that symbolizes completeness. That means that because Jesus wrote to seven churches, that was his way of saying that he was writing to the compete church, to all churches, everywhere at all time. These are his words for his people. They were not just intended for those early Christians. They are for all of us. There is more here than meets the eye.
The postman arrives the city of Thyatira. It is a prosperous trading centre filled with artisans and trade guilds. If you want to be successful at your trade, then you had better do your best to fit in with the guilds and do what is expected of you. That’s the challenge for the Christians in Thyatira. Will they live the way that the guilds want them to live or will they live according to the will of Christ?
What we will discover about this letter is that it is all about holiness. But what is holiness. Holiness is the way that we live. It is how we put our faith in Jesus into action in our own lives, in what we do every moment of every day.
WHO IS JESUS?
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. (verse 18)
Through the angel Jesus speaks to his Church and he says something about himself. He calls himself the Son of God. Although this would not raise an eyebrow among us, it is the one and only time that Jesus is referred to as the Son of God in the entire book of Revelation.
Jesus then points out two aspects of his person. His eyes like blazing fire and his feet like burnished bronze. Once again things are not as they seem. Jesus is not saying that he literal has blazing eyes and bronze feet. Nonetheless these images are significant.
In Scripture blazing eyes always symbolize eternal wisdom and knowledge. In Hollywood, red blazing eyes are generally seen as evil but that’s not true in the Bible. Those with blazing eyes are able to see through the veneer of life, beneath the surface to the way things really are. With blazing eyes, Jesus sees all and knows all. He sees our lives and knows our actions and knows if we are living the holy lives he demands. We might be able to hide from others, even ourselves, but we cannot fool Jesus.Blazing red eyes know that things are not as they seem.
The feet of burnished bronze speak of strength. Bronze feet symbolize a firm foundation but they signify more than that. They speak of an ability to crush that which contrary to God’s will and way. The one who has bronze feet can do that. He has the power. All things are under him. There is more here than meets the eye.
I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. (verse 19)
Jesus is talking about the holiness of the Christians in Thyatira. “I know your deeds,” he says. “With my blazing eyes, I see what you do. I see your love and your faith. I know your service and your perseverance.” Then he takes it to the next level when he tells them that not only are they doing what they were supposed to be doing, they are doing even more then they did at first.
Compare that for a moment to Jesus message to the church in Ephesus. There Jesus condemned the church for not keeping to its first love. He demanded that they get back to that initial, all encompassing love and put him back where he belonged; first in their lives. Thyatira, however, is not Ephesus. Not only are the Thyatirans doing the things that they did at the first, they are exceeding them in every way. Jesus, with his blazing red eyes, sees this.
In this verse, Jesus commends the church for its holiness. That is so important because holiness is God’s purpose. But here’s something else to think about: just as it is God’s purpose to make us holy, Satan’s purpose is to frustrate that holiness. That’s why he seeks to lead us and our churches into sin. That means that, on a daily basis, we have to make a choice. Do we seek the holiness of God or do we fall to the temptations of Satan? Who do we follow? Which way to we go? The choice is ours. But be sure to note this; we have to make a choice.
Jesus commends the church in Thyatira for its deeds of love and for its perseverance. The people are living the way that they are supposed to live. But then, in the midst of their holiness, he tells them what they are doing wrong, a condemnation:
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. (verses 20-21)
What Jesus has against them is that, while they are living holy lives, they tolerate those who do not. Who is this Jezebel? She was no doubt a real woman who is part of the church. She is a real flesh and blood person. The only symbolic thing about her is her name, Jezebel, who was the wife of King Ahab and one of the most wicked women in the Old Testament because she caused Israel to sin greatly.
This Jezebel, who lives in Thyatira, also teaches Israel to sin greatly. She uses the same dualistic philosophy and beliefs as the Balaamites and the Nicolatians whom we discussed last week. For them, the body and soul are separate. So physical sins like sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols are not an issue since they do not impact the immortal soul. The issues were exactly the same as the ones faced by the Christians at Pergamum.
In the midst of the holiness that is so evident in the church in Thyatira, there is Jezebel who continually encourages the people to move from holiness and back into sin. The message for us today is that Jezebel still has her prophets. There are still those in the Church who try to convince us that the Bible’s view of morality is out of date. We need to get with it and conform to the ways of the world. But Jesus, with his blazing eyes and bronzed feet says differently.
This type of chronological arrogance is what passes today for the message of the prophets of Jezebel. Those prophets are all around us, even in the Church, and they are not only tolerated but they are encouraged to spread their unholy message. But the truth is that the prophets of Jezebel have caved into the prevailing social norm and they want to the rest of us to follow them down that unholy path.
Not so the people of God. We don’t look to Hollywood and pop culture with its flavour of the day morality. We look to the unchanging Word of God. For us it is the only infallible source of life and faith, a sure witness to God’s will.
Jesus sees all of this with his blazing red eyes. He is concerned for the church in Thyatira. But he is also concerned for Jezebel. His desire is that all people be saved. And so he offers her the chance to repent and turn her life around. Isn’t that amazing! He was willing to hold off judgment and give her a chance to mend her ways and return to him.
What we need to remember is that Jesus compassion extends to all people. Jezebel’s problem is that she is not willing. She is stuck in her sin and refuses to return to her first love. She refuses to repent and change her sinful ways. Jezebel has come to the end of her chances.
We don’t want to hear that because we want to believe that God will give us endless chances. In fact, God does. If Jezebel returns to Jesus in the future he will accept her with open arms. As long as we live with the breath of life, we can return to him. But there comes a point where Jesus says, “Okay, if you want to live an unholy life, I’ll let you do it. I will not force my love upon you.” Jezebel is about to realize what that means.
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. (verse 22-23)
Once again we have words here that we don’t want to hear but we need to hear them and understand what they mean because there is more here than meets the eye. Do you remember those bronze feet? This is where they come in. With them Jesus will crush that is contrary to God’s will. And that includes Jezebel and her followers.
Actions can never be divorced from their consequences. If Jezebel and her followers wanted to participate in immoral behaviour, then they were welcome do that but there would be a price to pay. Their punishment will fit their crime. Just as they defiled the marriage bed in their attempts to gratify their lustful desires, so that bed will become a bed of suffering.
What exactly that meant, we are not sure. Did their immorality result in sexually transmitted diseases? That’s quite likely. They existed then too. Were there unwanted pregnancies? Did women die from abortions? Did wives leave their unfaithful husbands? Who knows? All we know is that their ungodly behaviour lead to unholy consequences.
What about the notion of the children being struck dead? What’s that all about? To understand that, we need to go back to the original Jezebel, Ahab’s wife. Because of her wickedness, her children all died before they could ascend the throne (2 Ki. 10:17). In that way, God ended the reign of an unholy family. Whether or not the children of the new Jezebel met the same fate or whether this is simply an illusion to the old Jezebel, we cannot say. All we can say for sure is that actions have consequences. Jesus will ensure this. With his bronze feet, he will crush that which tempts the people away from holiness.
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 secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold on to what you have until I come. (verses 24-25)
Not all of the Christians in Thyatira follow Jezebel. There are still many who live the holy life that Jesus demands. To them Jesus sends a comforting message. He will not impose any further burdens on them. All they have to do is continue to live the way they are living. All they have to do is maintain holiness in life.
This is good news. We need to understand that Jesus is not expecting too much of us. He does not expect anything from us that we cannot do and, even then, he has promised that he will help us even with those light burdens. His demands are not unreasonable. But note that they are demands.
A sincere and honest faith will result in a changed life. We simply cannot get beyond that reality. When we put our egos aside and allow Jesus to sit on the throne of our hearts, he will turn the rudder and sail the ship of our lives in a new and holy direction.
To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations – “He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery” – just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (verse 26-28)
As in the other letters, Jesus ends with a promise to those who overcome, who continue to live in holiness. He offers them two things. The first thing is authority over the nations. This authority is symbolized by the iron scepter, an emblem of power.
This is nothing new. Jesus has already given his disciples authority over the spiritual realm. He has given them the power to drive out demons and confront the forces of evil. Now he gives them authority over nations. But what kind of authority is this? Surely, he is not saying that they would become kings and rulers over the earth. Even Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world (Jn. 18:36).
Here’s the key; their authority will not be one of power over the nations. It will be power to withstand whatever the nations can throw at them. When the pressures of the world demand that they compromise their morals they will not give in. When the authorities insisted that they do what they are told to do, they will be given the strength to respectfully do what Jesus calls them to do. That will be their strength, their iron scepter. That will be their authority, the authority to overcome.
Jesus will also give them something else. He says that he will give them the morning star. What is that? In Revelation 22:16, we find out. It is in that verse that Jesus said, “I am the Root, the Offspring of David, and the Bright Morning Star.” What is the Morning Star? It is none other than Jesus. Chief among all of the gifts that he gives to his Church, besides the wisdom, the courage, the perseverance and the strength, he promises to give himself. What greater gift is there than that? For what more could we ask?
He who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Blessed are you, O God, whose river of hope washes over us with refreshment and healing. We thank you for your presence in our lives. When we call you come to us with love and compassion. When we are blinded, you enable us to see. When we are deaf, you unstop our ears. By your love, you invite us to enter into life fully and freely in Jesus’ name.
We offer our thanks for the gifts of creation. Thank you for the warmth of the days and for cooling evening breezes. Thank you for fishing and walks in the bush. Thank you for the songs of birds and the cry of the ducks and geese.
We pray for our nation as we seek to reopen. And we pray for your church which also is hoping to open safely so that we can worship you together. Help us to do things correctly and properly in order to minimize any danger. We are aware that there will be those who cannot join us because of preconditions, age or health concerns. May we continue to support them as well in this time.
We lift up our concerns for the world. We pray for racial justice but we also pray for an end of needless violence and an end to anarchy. True justice happens when you work in people’s hearts O God. Do you work and to it quickly we pray.
We pray, finally, for those who are sick at home or in hospital. We think, especially of Richard, Gary, Neil and others who are experiencing difficult times right now. Bless all who are sick with your healing touch, filling them with your Holy and Healing Spirit. All of these prayers, we lift to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
June 14, 2020 / Pentecost 2
Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: Turn your ear to us, O God;
ALL: Hear our prayer.
ONE: Turn your eyes to us, O God;
ALL: see our actions.
ONE: Turn our lives to you;
ALL: in worship and praise.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
O God, be in our head, and in our understanding. God be in our eyes, and in our looking. God be in our mouths, and in our speaking. God be in our hearts, and in our thinking. God be at our beginnings and at our departings. We gather in worship and praise to remember your great love for us. Fill us with your Spirit and open our hearts to your incredible Word in Jesus Christ. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Mercy, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. We open our lives to your mercy. Nothing can be hidden from you for you know all things. You see us at our best and at our worst. You notice every success and every failure. Turn us from our self-imposed path of destruction and lead us unto the streets of gold that are in your heavenly Kingdom. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God sees the sparrows and cherishes their every breath. How much more does God love us. The Mercy of God is great. The love of God is everlasting. God calls us to repentance that we might be freed from our sins and live the renewed life in Christ.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
You sow the seeds, O God. You water the plants and send the sunshine. You make all things grow, O God of Creation. What we give to you is yours already. Our prayer is for the wisdom and courage to use it to the glory of your Kingdom. Amen.
May the love of God be with you. May the grace of the Son rest upon your face. May the strength of the Spirit renew your life and give you peace.