Compromised Integrity; Revelation 2:20-25
Revelation 2:20 begins the section for the condemnation which extends to verse 25. "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."
What we see here are some trends that have showed up in the previous letters, and in the letter to Pergamum where they were related to the doctrines of Balaam and the doctrines of the Nicolaitans. So there were certain similarities. In fact, what we know from the sparse amount of evidence that we have of what was going on in the Roman empire at this time is that there were various groups that were splintering off of Christianity as they merged their pagan ideas with Christianity. We don't have a record of all of these different groups. But here we have a reference to one group who were the followers of Balaam and another of the Nicolaitans, and in Thyatira there was a group that was following Jezebel. But they all seem to have the same things in common, and that is eating things sacrificed to idols, emotional and sexual immorality and an overall atmosphere of antinomianism where they didn't take the standards of Scripture seriously. They were compromising and they had different levels of compromise so that the church at Pergamum has not deteriorated as far as the church at Thyatira. The church at Ephesus has not deteriorated as far as the church at Pergamum.
The church at Ephesus hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans. Then the church at Smyrna had no condemnation, the church of Pergamum was condemned because they had those who held the doctrine of Balaam. They allowed that in the congregation. We go to another step in the church at Thyatira in that they permit this to be taught in the church. It wasn't taught in the Pergamum church, there were just those that held the doctrine that were a part of the church and therefore their very presence did have an influence. But in the church at Thyatira there was an overt active acceptance, tolerance and a promotion of these doctrines through the teaching of a woman that is identified as Jezebel.
If we look at the translation of this from the Greek it doesn't say, as the New King James version does, "Nevertheless I have a few things against you." It picks up that phrase from the previous letter to Pergamum. Literally in the Greek it starts with a strong contrast, ALLA [A)lla], But I have against you." It is very abrupt. It is a stark contrast. He has listed various positive things and then He abruptly shifts: "But I have against you that you allow the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, both to teach and seduce." The word "allow" is an interesting word. It is the Greek word APHIEMI [a)fihmi]. It is a present active indicative here, second person plural. And the word is the same word we have in 1 John 1:9 for forgiveness. It means to let something go in its root meaning. The present active indicative here is a customary or habitual present which indicates that this is an ongoing situation. It has gone on not just for days but weeks, months, years; the this is the standing operating mentality of the church. The concept of APHIEMI means not only to let go or to send away, but it also means to allow, to permit, or to tolerate, and that is the idea in this context. They are allowing Jezebel to get up and to teach and to deceive or seduce the congregation. So there is a very active involvement in this activity, it is not passive. They are permitting this, going along with it, they think it is fine and giving it their approval.
The woman is called Jezebel. Jezebel here is taken from an Old Testament episode. She was the wife of one of the kings of the northern kingdom of Israel whose name was Ahab. When Ahab came along he was the son of his father Omri, one of the most well-known generals in the ancient world. In fact, he is attested in various Assyrian tablets that we have, as well as the Moabite stone. He was quite victorious in battle. But even though he was victorious in battle and victorious in protecting the borders of the northern kingdom his compromises with evil and with idolatry led to the nation's ultimate defeat. So it is not all about military prowess, it is ultimately all about spiritual integrity. If a nation gives up its spiritual integrity then they will fall. It does not matter how great their technology is, o0r how much money they are spending on the military, or how well trained the miliary is, the most important issue is always the spirituality of the nation. Omri set the stage for the destruction of the northern kingdom because he entered into an alliance with the nation that was on the north western border of Israel which was known as Phoenicia, and the king of the Phoenicians was a man named Ethbaal. And that last part of his name tells us his religious orientation. It was toward Baal, the god of the Phoenicians. In all likelihood Ethball was the high priest of Baal worship. He had a beautiful and intelligent daughter by the name of Jezebel, and it has been the practice for many, many centuries that if you want to cement an alliance between two nations then you take the offspring of two different kings and have them get married. So Omri married his son Ahab to Jezebel. And when Jezebel came she brought with her as part of her entourage four hundred priests of Baal and four hundred and fifty priests of the Asherah. This brought a worse level of idolatry into the northern kingdom. They had already been following the golden calves that had been worshipped ever since Jeroboam had led a tax revolt against Rehoboam and separated the northern kingdom from the southern kingdom. But along came Ahab and the Scripture says that his sins were worse than the seven previous kings of the northern kingdom. Jezebel whom he married had been brought up in the court of her father and there wasn't an official king per se in Phoenicia, he got there through devious means and through lots of intrigue, deception and manipulation, and so she was schooled in all of the manipulative arts of the political system in Phoenicia. She learned her lessons well. She was brilliant, beautiful and attractive, and people would be attracted to her and want to be in her favour because she was also very wicked and vindictive, and if you were not on her good side then you were probably dead. So people always sought to curry favour with her and to do what she wanted. Every time you try to do what a tyrant wants to do because you think that you are going to get something out of it you just compromise your integrity a little more.
Jezebel introduced a false religious system into the northern kingdom that involved sexual immorality, the fertility cult, and all of those systems. We see that parallel, this woman who is anonymous in the letter to Thyatira follows the same pattern. She is introducing a greater level of evil into the church at Thyatira, the aspects of the fertility cult related to the worship of Dionysius and some of the other goddesses in the Greek system. And just as Ahab was weak and was manipulated by Jezebel, and just as because of a lack of doctrine in their soul the people in the northern kingdom of Israel were manipulated by Jezebel, so too the church in Thyatira is being manipulated by their Jezebel. Because there is no doctrine in their soul and there is no willingness to stand firm on the truth they are no match for Jezebel. Just as the Old Testament Jezebel promoted sexual licentiousness, moral compromise and spiritual degeneracy the New Testament Jezebel, the Jezebel of Thyatira did the same thing. She was beautiful, seductive, and she made people feel good about what they were doing, and that it was not a compromise of their integrity. Satan and satanic doctrine never comes right out and shows you what the dangers are. This is what was going on.
Jezebel claimed to be a prophetess. You could get away with this at the end of the first century. It wasn't clear yet that the gift of prophecy had disappeared. Remember, the gift of prophecy doesn't disappear until the closing of the canon, and the canon isn't closed until the book of Revelation is completed. It is believed that it took some time before that was fully recognized. There may have been a ten or twenty year transition period when some of these revelatory gifts were still operational until the canon began to fully circulate. So what there was at the end of the first century was a continuation of the gift of prophecy. The gift of prophecy was not a leadership gift, it was not a communication gift; the gift of prophecy was a revelatory gift. Therefore the authority that was associated with that was the authority of the Word of God that was revealed, not the authority of the individual who was utilizing the gift of prophecy. Therefore woman could have the gift of prophecy, and there are two situations in the Scripture where it is affirmed that women had the gift of prophecy: Acts 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5. The gift of prophecy involved an individual as a mouthpiece. God revealed certain things to the prophet: "Thus saith the Lord." So there is no interpretation involved, no authority of teaching involved; there is simply an individual repeating what God said. Teaching, on the other hand, involves study and interpretation. It is an office that had an inherent authority for the individual who held the office. Because of that the apostle Paul prohibited women from teaching or having authority over men. This is seen in 1 Timothy 2:11, 12, "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent." That is in relationship to the meeting of the local church. This doesn't apply to teaching children.
What is interesting in this verse is that the construction in the English makes it look as though Paul is prohibiting two things: teaching and having authority. And it looks as if both of these verbs have as their object males. So it looks like it is teaching men or having authority over men, and that is probably how you have heard it taught, that women shouldn't teach men. But that is not how the syntax of the passage is constructed. Putting this in the Greek word order, the very first word is present active infinitive of "to teach." Then Paul says, "To teach, I do not permit a woman, nor to have authority over a male." When we look at the phrase "over a male," that relates to the near infinitive, which is having authority. The apostle Paul constructed this in such a way as the infinitive "to teach" is as far away from he concept of "over a male" as it could possibly be and still be in the same sentence. He wanted to make it clear that the concept of over a male is only related to authority, not to teach. We don't allow women to teach the Word of God, period. But that doesn't apply to Sunday school and teaching children up to the age of puberty. In our view this pretty much excludes all the various women's ministries where you have women teaching women. The justification that is usually given for that is found in Titus chapter two where Paul says the older women are to teach the younger women. But look at what they are supposed to teach the younger women. Older women are to teach younger women how to love their husbands, how to discipline their children, how to be good workers in the home. In other words, it is the role of the older woman who has learned the Word of God, learned what it means to be subordinate to her husband, to help the younger women get through those hurdles and learn how to be a good wife. The context of Titus chapter two is not talking about older women teaching in a classroom setting the Bible to younger women. This is a concept that just doesn't play well in our culture. We have become so immersed by the doctrines of feminism that to even teach this in some context we have some people get up and walk out. But this is what the Word of God says, it is not our opinion.
Jezebel claims to be a prophetess, and then as a result of that she is teaching. The verb there to teach is the same verb that is used in 1 Timothy 2:10, DIDASKO [didaskw]. It has to with the authoritative exposition or explanation and interpretation of the Word of God. So she is both teaching and deceiving PLANAO [planaw]; "my servants." This is a very important thing to note here. The object of her teaching and deception are believers. Christ identifies them as "my servants." They are not unbelievers, they are believers, and she is both teaching them and deceiving them to commit sexual immorality and eating sacrifices to idols. The Lord is condemning this.
Revelation 2:21, "I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling." The idea here is grace. Grace is written all over this verse. God doesn't lower the boom on us immediately when we get out of fellowship, even if we have sin patterns in our life that we just allow to hang around for year after year after year. The Lord deals with us in grace, not in some sort of harsh judgment. He gave Jezebel time to give her the opportunity to respond positively to the teaching of the Word of God. The word that is used for "repent" is the Greek word METANOEO [metanoew], and this is crucial for understanding this passage. "I have given her time to repent" is the aorist active subjunctive. The subjunctive is always the mood of potential, and that indicates volition. She was given time in order that she might repent. What is she repenting from? Is this woman a believer or an unbeliever? She is a believer, a self-deceived believer as well as one who is deceiving others. She is called to repentance just as the Lord Jesus Christ calls the other churches to repentance. It is not repentance from unbelief. The salvation message is to repent from unbelief in Jesus Christ because the issue at salvation is believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. John 20:31, "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." The Gospel of John is written for one primary purpose: to explain the gospel. If repentance is part of salvation John never mentions it. He never mentions it in the Gospel of John; he never mentions it in 1 John. Repentance is mentioned in five of these seven letters (8 times), and it is always addressed to believers in terms of changing thought and behavior in the Christian life. Repentance is not the equivalent to confession. Confession is a starting point. We may confess a lot before we get to the point of repentance, because repentance really means change. Sometimes is takes some time before enough doctrine gets into our soul before there is true significant change in our behaviour patterns.
Frequently the Word of God addresses repentance to unbelievers just in relationship to sin. Acts 17:30, "In the past [Old Testament period up to the cross] God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." It is a call to unbelievers to repent of their sin. This is not a salvation passage here. It is not talking about repenting of sins as being part of salvation, it is a recognition that unbelievers will be evaluated on the basis of their works. Their sins were already paid for on the cross, but they are to repent of their human good and those activities. Revelation 9:20-22 does the same kind of thing: "The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts." This is not talking about salvation, this is talking about the fact that God is going to temporarily judge these unbelievers for the sins that they are committing in time. It is not a salvation related issue. Remember, Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sin, but that doesn't mean there is not temporal judgment in relation to it. Revelation 16:9ff, "They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him. The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done." They are refusing to admit the sovereignty of God so there is temporal judgment poured out on them because they did not repent of their works.
What we learn from this is that you have to understand repentance in terms of its context. Repentance that is addressed to believers is related to sin. There is also an address to unbelievers related to their sin because there is temporal judgment. But when the issue is salvation the object of repentance is to repent from unbelief in terms of changing to belief. This is used that way just a few times in the book of Acts.
One thing that we should note here in order to understand that Jezebel is a believer is that the discipline promised here is not the discipline of eternal condemnation or the lake of fire. There is no evidence in the text that she is not saved. This is an assumption that so many people make when they read these passages because they assume that Christians can't commit acts like this. That is rather a naïve view. The eight times that the verb METANOEO occurs in these letters it is not once addressed to the issue of changing from unbelief to belief. So the issue here is not related to her salvation.
"I have given her time to repent of her [sexual] immorality." Here is another word that gives us a clue to the fact that these are believers. The word for sexual immorality is PORNEIA [porneia], a general noun for unlawful sexual intercourse. It covers sexual immorality, fornication, homosexuality, adultery, prostitution, and it is used metaphorically for violating the spiritual relationship with God. It is a broad, general word indicating physical sexual immorality but it can also refer to a spiritual unfaithfulness.
Revelation 2:22, a promise of discipline: "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." Here we find the word KLINE [klinh] for a bed or a couch. This could be any kind of bed. It could be some thing positive, something to sleep on. There is a sort of a paronomasia here because in her adultery, her sexual licentousness, she was constantly in the bed, but now she is going to be cast into a sick bed. The word can be used for a bed or a couch, but it is also used for a stretcher or a dining couch. Here the context indicates that which is a sick bed. The second important word here is the word "adultery." Adultery or MOICHAO [moixaw] is a more technical word than PORNEIA. To commit adultery you have to be married. You don't have to be married to commit sexual immorality. So if there is a violation of the marriage contract here it means that there is a relationship between these people and the Lord Jesus Christ. The core meaning of MOICHAO is covenant unfaithfulness. So you commit adultery when you break the marriage contract. This indicates a family relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and those who are committing adultery. It indicates that they are believers.
That is important because the next phrase says, KJV"I am going to cast her into great tribulation." There are those who want to take "great tribulation" here as a technical term for the Tribulation, but these seven letters to these seven congregations must be understood to be historical. They were written to a church in Ephesus, in Smyrna, etc. These folks have been dead for 1900 years. Whatever judgments were pronounced here were carried out at that time. So this isn't talking about the Tribulation period, it is talking about the fact that if they do not change their thinking and their ways God will bring great adversity into their lives.
Hebrews 12:5-7, "And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: 'My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.' Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?" This tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ only disciplines those He loves who are part of the family. He is not going to be executing the kind of discipline we see promised in Revelation 2 against Jezebel unless she is part of the family. What we see here is a promise of divine discipline for Jezebel and a promise of divine discipline for those who follower her. That indicates that they are indeed believers.
We see the same kind of punishment and discipline indicated in 1 Corinthians 11:30. "That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep." The word "weak" indicates a spiritual lethargy. It is warning discipline to get the disobedient believer's attention so that they will use 1 John 1:9 and get back in fellowship. "Sick" indicates those who are now physically ill. There is a dimension to sin and this brings in intensive discipline where the Lord is bringing a physical sickness upon them. It is to get the habitually carnal believer to repent and to change. Third, there are many that sleep—the sin unto death.
Revelation 2:23, "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." The word for "death" here is THANATOS [qanatoj] which means physical death, but it frequently indicates plagues or physical illnesses that culminate in death. Cf. 1 Corinthians 11:30. The word for "know" is GINOSKO [ginwskw], coming to an experiential knowledge about something. Here they are learning about the Lord Jesus Christ, that He is the one "who searches the minds and hearts." They are learning through experiential knowledge of the Lord's discipline. The word "searches" is EREUNAO [e)reunaw], an articular present active participle, and it means to make a careful and thorough examination of something. The Lord Jesus Christ knows everything that goes on in our lives. He searches the minds and then hearts. This comes directly out of Jeremiah 17:10, "I the LORD search the heart [the thinking part of the soul] and examine the mind [conscience and volition], to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve."
Revelation 2:24, a word to those who have not yet succumbed. "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)." These are the believers who haven't yet bought into the doctrines of Jezebel. "…and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets." What was going on was that in this form of antinomianism people had the idea that to really know what was going on, to understand the other side, you had to experience it. But because they were already picking up the sort of dualism that was in Gnosticism they had the idea that they could go into the temples and participate in all of the fertility rites and rituals and it didn't affect their spiritual life. So they were buying into an old form of platonic dualism which really came to fruition about 50 years after this in what came to be known as Gnosticism. These were the ones who had come to know the depths of Satan because they were going to the temples and participating and claiming that it really had no impact on their spiritual life. "I will not impose any other burden on you" – than what? Than holding fast to the Word of God.
Revelation 2:25, "Only hold on [hold fast] to what you have until I come." Stick with the Word, stick with doctrine; don't compromise to get along. Be careful of your social life, be careful of your business associates, be careful of the careers you choose and the places you go in your life, because as you work in certain places and as you have to live and operate within the world system you can put your spiritual integrity at risk by being put in a situation where you are forced top compromise the doctrine in your soul in order to keep your job, in order to be socially acceptable, or to be politically correct, and the result of this is destructive to your spiritual life. The Lord Jesus Christ will come with divine discipline and will provide correction for disobedience.