The Compromised Church; Revelation 2:18-20
We are now in the fourth of the seven letters to the churches in Asia. These letters are evaluation reports that the Lord Jesus Christ is giving to these congregations. Each one of these letters has several parts. The first part is a commission. This is the opening address of each letter to each specific congregation. Now we come to the fourth church, the congregation at Thyatira. This is by far the most spiritually regressive congregation. This congregation has compromised itself. The church at Pergamum was a compromising church, they had not hit rock bottom yet; this church isn't quite at rock bottom but they are much further advanced in their departure from the truth of the Word and from their accommodation to and approval of not only false doctrine but moral licentiousness and antinomianism within the congregation. This letter is longer than those we have seen previously but it is also one that is very strong in its condemnation of this particular congregation.
In each of these letters there is the commission followed by a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ, and nearly all of these indicate some attribute and some element that was pictured in that initial vision that John had when he was on Patmos. Then there is a section of commendation. Remember that of the seven there are five that have elements of commendation and praise, but two that have no commendation. Those two are the worst. Then there is a section of condemnation, and just as there are two that have no commendation there are two that are very positive in their spiritual growth, wonderful congregations filled with mature believers who are not compromising, who are filled with love for the Word of God, love for the Lord Jesus Christ, advancing to spiritual maturity. The other five all have some element of condemnation, some element in the life of the congregation where they are as a congregation approving or sweeping under the rug some element of disobedience to the Word that had become culturally acceptable within that congregation. Then there is a correction identified by the command to repent, which means simply to change. Then there is a call to listen and apply: "Let those who have ears to hear, hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Then there is a challenge to the overcomer, the person who successfully works at changing the dynamics of his thinking. This isn't a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps change. This is a change that is done through the filling of the Holy Spirit, walking by the Holy Spirit, and being filled with the Holy Spirit and we are in fellowship with God. So it is not just an intellectual exercise of learning facts about the Bible, it is an opportunity to learn how to think biblically, and then when the opportunity presents itself, thinking biblically so that that changes overt behaviour and habits and practices which results in spiritual growth and advance as we apply the Word.
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." The angel of the church, as we have studied before, is like a heavenly court officer. This particular angel has a responsibility to the Supreme Court of heaven to record the operation of the integrity of the Lord Jesus Christ as he works out His justice within these various congregations. So it is going to be a record in the heavenly court of how these churches responded to the condemnations and the commendations of these evaluation reports. It is addressed to the angel of the church because the role of the angel, as we see throughout the whole book of Revelation, is to record information and to execute judgment on mankind. That fits the role of the angels. That is why AGGELOS [a)ggeloj] is never used anywhere of a pastor-teacher. We then have a threefold description relating to the character of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is called the Son of God, He has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass.
Thyatira is located about 50 miles to the south east of our last location which was Pergamum. It is located in the Roman province of Asia which was on the western end of what is today modern Turkey. The city of Thyatira was initially founded by the Lydian kingdom which was in central Turkey. Creosis was the Lydian king at one time and took it to its largest expanse and founded the city of Thyatira, but it had no real significance or meaning. It was simply a small garrison town on the borders of the Lydian kingdom. Later, after Alexander the Great died his kingdom was divided among his four generals. In the area of Asia Minor there was a power struggle between the Seleucids and the kingdom founded by Lysimachus. The Seleucids established a garrison and settled a large population in Thyatira so that it would serve as a buffer to Lysimachus and to his encroachments. Then there was another event that took place in around 310-320 BC, the revolt of Pergamum and the setting up of their own kingdom. So there was a tug of war going back and forth between the Pergamanain kingdom and the Seleucids, and at some points Thyatra belonged to one side and at other points to another side, so they went through a period of instability from approximately 300 BC down 190 BC. When Thyatira was strong then Pergamum was weak, and when Pergamum was strong then Thyatira was weak. It wasn't simply a military town. It was located on major trade routes. Goods were moved from the interior to the coast. It became a major trade center and attracted merchants and money. It also attracted a number of skilled craftsmen and one of the major factors in the city was the number of guilds. There were a variety of guilds for wool workers, linen workers, garment manufacturers, dyers, leather workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave dealers and bronze smiths. These guilds were very important for the social structure in Thyatira. All the social life would revolve around the guild. In the ancient world each one of these guilds had a patron god or goddess. So when they had their social functions they were held in the temple of this god or goddess who was the patron saint. If you were a believer and a silver smith or bronze smith, etc., and were in one of these guilds, and every month or so they had a big party which was important to go to and to rub shoulders with other people you worked with, the place to go was down at the temple. You would go there and participate in orgies and in eating the meat that was sacrificed to the gods, getting drunk and getting involved in ritual temple prostitution. If you were a believer you would recognize immediately that there was a problem with all of this, because if you were going to have any level of success in business you suddenly have a major conflict because you can't go to these social engagements without compromising certain things. The way out is just to say that it doesn't really matter. After all, all I have to do is confess my sin the next morning and I'm back in fellowship! Well that is a major problem because then they would end up in the ping pong effect, that is, they are in and out of fellowship, in and out of fellowship, and there is no growth taking place.
The point that Jesus made in John 15 is that if we are going to advance in the spiritual life it means that we have to abide in Christ. That means staying in fellowship—maximum amount of time in fellowship. The great principle of grace is that you don't have to feel guilty about sin, there is complete and total forgiveness because Christ paid for the sin. The great principle of grace is that, yes, we are going to sin and we are going to continue to commit the same sins over and over again, and there is always recovery, there is always forgiveness, God always meets us where we are, and it doesn't matter how much we fail or how many times we commit the sin there is always forgiveness, always recovery. But that doesn't mean there aren't consequences. It doesn't means that we didn't waste time in terms of our own spiritual advance and spiritual growth. This has always been the struggle among Christians through the ages: how do you balance a gracious attitude towards spiritual failure with the reality that you have certain mandates in Scripture to stay in fellowship. So we have to learn that we have to be gracious without become licentious or antinomian on the one hand, and we have to maintain strict standards for our own life without becoming legalistic in the other direction. So there always seems to be this push-pull in the Christian life and we can only take care of our own Christian life, we can't look across at somebody else. We each have to go through this and we can only do it through the teaching ministry of God the Holy Spirit.
This was a major trade center and one of their products was a purple dye. It was a different purple dye from what was usually available. It was made from a certain root and that made it a much less expensive cloth that the purples dye that came out of Phoenicia. This is why in Acts 16:14 when the apostle Paul came to a town in Greece named Philippi and went down by the river outside the city he found a group of God-seekers praying, and one of them was a business woman by the name of Lydia who was from Thyatira and was a dealer in purples. The speculation is (we have no other information) that she returned to Thyatira and witnessed to others there and it was through her ministry that eventually a congregation of believers was started. The other option, which is probably just as true, is that when the apostle Paul went to Ephesus at the end of his second missionary journey he spent a couple of years there and it was at that time that he sent out teachers and pastors and itinerate missionaries throughout all of that province of Asia. They took the Word and planted churches in all of these locations and it was at that time that these churches were established.
What we see in the background study of Thyatira is that they had a situation that is increasingly common through the circumstances that we find in the modern 20th century church. That is, the struggle to live the Christian life in the midst of a hostile surrounding culture, a culture that is officially hostile to Christianity and a culture that is socially hostile to Christianity. Their solution to the external pressure was to compromise, and they had compromised very deeply. There were those in the congregation who were positive and who had advanced in their spiritual lives and who have been very successful, but there were also those who have held to that same pernicious doctrine we have run across already, the doctrine of the Nicolaitans which was a form of antinomianism and licentiousness. In this particular section it says that there were some who had taken or knew the deep things of Satan. We are not exactly sure what that is but it certainly indicates absorbed and assimilated some profoundly false doctrine and this was acceptable to the rest of the congregation. This is what you always get in paganism, the destruction of any kind of absolutes. This is why there is such a battle over origins in our schools and the study of creation vs. evolution vs. intelligent design. There is always this conflict because the unbeliever doesn't want to come face to face with the fact that there is a God to whom they will be accountable. That is the bottom line. The unbeliever knows in the depths of his soul that God exists, and he knows that he is going to be held accountable. He has rejected God and he continues to suppress the truth by means of unrighteousness in order to avoid coming face to face with his own mortality and accountability, and the more he suppresses the more hostile he is to anyone who comes along and says there is absolute truth. And as our culture has slipped it anchor from its Judeo-Christian heritage we are adrift upon the sea of relativity, which is always what paganism produces. So we live in a world that has little understanding or tolerance of someone who is standing firmly for moral absolutes. What we have is the pseudo concept of tolerance which really means approval. We have to be tolerant of homosexuals, we have to be tolerant of different religions, which means we have to approve them. Of course, we can approve everything except biblical Christianity. If you are trying to hold to one truth, that there is only one absolute truth, one God who has revealed himself in the Bible and ultimately through the Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross as a substitute for our sins, then you are anathema, the enemy. More and more we are running into this in our culture where Christians are the bad guys.
Just as this impacts us today, and most of us come out of the morass of moral relativism, we struggle with that. We get bombarded with the things we watch on television, the ideas we read in the media, from our peers in the work place. We are pressured to show approval of everybody's lifestyle no matter what it involves. The attitude that we should have is not that we approve it but we tolerate it. We are not going to judge the homosexual we work with any more than I am going to judge the liars and the thieves and the lazy and irresponsible people and all the other sinners we work with, including ourselves. But that doesn't mean that we are going to whitewash anybody's particular sinful behaviour and say that it is good. That is what many of these groups want, for us to just validate their sin.
We have to deal with this issue that is manifest in our churches and that is the issue of compromise with the culture around us. A couple of examples. One is in the Pentecostal church. Pentecostalism has compromised with the worldview of mysticism. It is a form that is saying that God is directly communicating to me, speaking to me through various revelatory gifts apart from the Word of God and may even contradict the Word of God. We also have compromises with legalism in the form of lordship salvation which is permeating so many churches today. Many people don't know what it means by that term, but basically what lordship salvation teaches is that if you claim to believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins and then you reject Him or you continue a lifestyle of sin after that, then maybe it wasn't true faith and you weren't really saved to begin with. It is an assault of the grace of God, just another form of legalism and attempts to control local congregations. We also have the false doctrines of amillennialism, covenant theology, replacement theology, the influx of postmodernism into seminaries an into just the thinking of pew-sitting Christians. All of those are areas that seem to pressure us to compromise with the culture around us.
The church at Pergamum was compromising. They weren't really fighting the battle any more, they were just going to put up with the people in the church and accept them that held these views. But what we have in Thyatira is that they have gone a couple of steps further and they are actively embracing those who are violating the Word of God, and this would be comparable to what we find in many of the churches and mainline denominations that have been influenced by the 19th century Protestant liberal theology. This is the idea that the Bible isn't the Word of God, i.e., what we mean by it: from God, revealed by God to man, the objective source of all absolute truth, but that it is simply another religious book written by human beings, recording their various experiences with what they think is deity; and now the Bible becomes just another book, another moral code no different from other moral codes. It is just a matter of picking whatever moral code floats your boat and we are just going to warmly approve and accept everybody. And that is what we see today in many, many mainline denominational churches, especially those who are members of organizations such as the World Council of Churches who have truly sacrificed all sense of absolutes.
So the challenge to us is to maintain our biblical orthodoxy, both in terms of our academics and intellectual thinking and also in terms of our practical life, that we are living consistent with what we say we believe.
This is addressed to the church in Thyatira and it makes a threefold reference to the Lord Jesus Christ as he appeared in Revelation chapter one. That term "Son of God" is a new term, it wasn't used in chapter one. This is the only place ion the book of Revelation where we find the title Son of God. Second, He has eyes like a flame of fire; third, he has feet like fine brass. What does it mean that He is the Son of God? This is based on a Hebrew idiom, that of you had certain characteristics in your life then you would be said to be the son of that characteristic. It is an adjectival expression. It is not talking about ancestry, parentage, it is talking about the fact that you are expressing the characteristic of the noun. So when it says that Jesus is the Son of God it is saying that Jesus is God. When it says he is the Son of Man it is emphasizing His humanity. Son of God originated from the very lips of the Lord Jesus Christ; He claimed to be the Son of God. Those around Him indicated that He was the Son of God, and He is assumed to be and declared to be the Son of God throughout the New Testament. The phrase "Son of God," which emphasizes His deity, is used forty-five times in the New Testament. But it is used only this one time in Revelation. It is used in John 1:34 by John the Baptist when he announces to the crowds who this individual was that he had baptized. Also one of the disciples, Nathanael, when he first meets Jesus: "Rabbi, you are the Son of God." Notice that he immediately equates this with the Davidic covenant, that he is the King of Israel. John 3:18, we have the promise that is either stated by Jesus or by John: "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." Notice something. Look at one part of the verse. What is the condition to avoid judgment? Belief. Are there any good works in there? No. Any ritual in there? No. It just says, "Whoever believes is not condemned/judged." What is the condition for condemnation? Not believing. Cf. John 11:27, "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world." Notice: She connects the Old Testament concept of Messiah to the term Son of God. Romans 1:4, "and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord." What this verse and the next verse we will look at Acts 13:33, are, are references to the declaration of Jesus as "My begotten Son" in Psalm 2:7, which is quoted in Hebrews 1:5. It is a statement of the deity of Christ and His Sonship. Acts 13:33, Paul is talking: "he [God] has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: "'You are my Son; today I have become your Father.'" The context of Psalm two is talking about the Davidic sonship, but it also indicates divine sonship, that He is the Son of God. He is also the human son of David, and we see that also in Psalm two because in verse 6 we read: "I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill." He is the King. The King was to come as the eternal King that was promised to David, that the seed of David would culminate in an eternal King. That very concept there implies this merger of a divine eternal King and a human king. There is another interesting reference to the Son of God coming from the mouth of demons in Luke 4:41, "Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, 'You are the Son of God!' But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ/Messiah." The Messiah is the son of David.
Psalm 2:8, God says: "Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession." That is this pause we are in right now during the church age. Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father in session and he is asking the Father. That hasn't happened yet, it happens at the second coming. Psalm 2:9, "You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery." What is going top happen when Jesus returns? He is going to execute a rod of iron operation in order to bring all of mankind under submission to His authority. Psalm 2:10ff, "Therefore, you kings [leaders of the Gentile nations], be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him."
We looked at Psalm 2:9 with reference to the rod of iron. Now look at what happens at the end of this particular evaluation report on the church at Thyatira. Look at Revelation 2:26, "To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— …"This is the promise to the overcomer, the victorious believer. Where did "I will give authority over the nations" come from" Psalm 2:8. Revelation 2:27, "'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." This is the promise to all believers who are advancing in the Christian life. This is the promise to us if we take note of all these warnings in these epistles that challenge us to live the Christian life, to change our thinking, to grow and advance to maturity. Part of what we will have is that ruling and reigning responsibility with the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why He is pictured at the beginning of this evaluation report as a judge. He is the Son of God, He has the right to judge and to rule. He is the Son of God, He has eyes like a flame of fire, indicating that they pierce and the fact that they are a flame of fire indicates purification and judgment. Then third, He has feet like fine brass—a burnished metal, a bright shining metal that has been purified in the fire. That indicates that the Lord who comes back isn't just God, He judges us but he is the one who entered into human history, who was tested in all points as we are, yet without sin, who advanced and was matured through the things that He suffered. He has gone through the fire of testing and has come out qualified to judge us. It is peer judgment.
So the challenge for us is to recognize who Jesus Christ is and to let that impact the way we live, the way we advance in the Christian life.