Do you find yourself awkward in today’s world or do you fit in perfectly with the world’s culture today? Do you find yourself increasingly distant from the world’s desires? Today’s passage challenges the church in Thyatira and us today to leave the world’s culture to obey and worship God alone.
(A) Christ: the judge with full knowledge and authority (Rev 2;18-19, 23b, 27b)
To begin, we will study about the writer of this letter. There are 3 things that are mentioned. We are told that He is the "Son of God", has "eyes like a flame of fire" and "feet like burnished bronze" (Rev 2:18). Who is the Son of God? What does it mean? He has a direct relationship to God and share the attributes of God. Jesus is the testified and prophesied Old Testament Son. This is why the subsequent two descriptors are provided, for these are not attributes of normal people. We are reminded that God Himself is speaking here. The Triune God is speaking to this church, and this is what God chooses to establish here. Revelation and many of the teachings are also necessary to distinguish between false and true teaching. Do we know this God as He has revealed Himself, so we are able to identify false teaching?
Jesus is also one who sees and sees perfectly. The description of His eyes is similar to what Hagar used to describe God in Gen 16:13. He is all-seeing, all-knowing and omniscient, and this will be picked up later in Rev 2:23. The description of his feet is a picture of his authority and power. He has the ability to crush His enemies and borrows from the vision in Dan 10:6 which speaks of the crushing judgement of God against the pagan enemies.
This Jesus knows their "works, [their] love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that [their] latter works exceed the first" (Rev 2:19). The same pattern and structure appears in this letter to the church at Thyatira. But how would they display these qualities? What would it look like? They probably exhibited these qualities in their witness of Christ and how they lived it out. In Revelation, this enduring witness of Christ is what the saints are called to and reminded to persevere in. In Rev 1:5, Jesus also calls Himself the faithful witness. The church at Ephesus were also commended for patiently enduring (c.f. Rev 2:2). This was a church that was a faithful witness of Christ, and also seemed to be getting better at what they were doing. Can we say this of our own lives and our churches? This means that they were growing in this love, faith, endurance and works. Are you latter works exceeding your first? We can think of our Christian lives way, and also use this to think about our church! Is your church growing in her work for Christ.
Jesus mentions things that He will do. Firstly, He is the one who "who searches mind and heart" and "will give to each of you according to your works"(Rev 2:23b). This one with eyes like flame of fire is also a judge. He can also search mind and heart, seeing not just actions, but also thought and motivation. This is a human judge. We cannot deceive this judge, and He sees us perfectly. He can judge perfectly, and will give the due reward.
Secondly, He "will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces" as He has received authority from His Father (Rev 2:27). His burnished bronze feet can strike judgment. We read of a similar description in Ps 2:7-9. Thus, right at the beginning of this letter, we realise that this is not a letter from our friend! This is from an omniscient judge, who judges with full knowledge and authority.
(B) Consequences of compromise: great tribulation and death (Rev 2:20-23)
Christ next charges the church in Thyatira with tolerating a woman called Jezebel. Before we dive into this question, it is useful to give us some context of Thyatira. Thyatira was a city that found its identity economically. They had many guilds/associations dealing in their trade of fabrics and metal works. In many ways these guilds also came with their deities, and participation often meant taking part in idol worship.
Jezebel was mentioned in 1 Kings 16:30-33, and she was the wife of Ahab. She instigated him to conduct a purge of the prophets of Israel. This historical account is being recalled here in Rev 2, where she is described as one who "calls herself a prophetess" (Rev 2:20). She is however, not leading the church to God, but to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. Like the Old Testament Jezebel who influenced Ahab and the northern kingdom Israel to Baal worship, this Jezebel in Revelation is stood for compromise with idolatry. The sexual immorality here, though could point to actual sexual acts performed in idolatrous practices, is really a picture of idolatry, to worship other gods. It is to commit adultery against God with these idols. The church in Thyatira was compromising on participating in idolatry even as they probably had to perform these acts in order to participate economically in their trade associations.
Christ responds to all of this by giving Jezebel time to repent, but she has refused (Rev 2:21). Even in this, there is grace offered by Christ the judge. Yet, this is picture of an unrepentant sinner but also a picture of grace by Christ, who gives her time to repent.
We might think that this picture here is so foreign, but not entirely. We too participate and live in the culture of our world. This is a picture of us living in this world and compromising on our faith and worship of God. If we think of it this way, this isn't so far of! As a student, do you cut corners to score a better grade? What about in NS? Do you struggle with fitting in and swearing just because all your friends are? As a working adult, the dimensions that you can compromise on your faith are immense. You can chase so many things, such as a promotion. There are also real problems like relationship with bosses. Perhaps even coming to this Bible study is a struggle, and we have to fight certain temptations just to leave work early to come on time. Perhaps a question to ask is, are you working too hard? On top of that, what are you doing with the fruit of your work? Do you tithe or do you spend on yourself?
Jesus proceeds to declare that He will judge Jezebel and her followers. He will "throw her onto a sickbed" (Rev 2:22) and "will strike her children dead" (Rev 2:23). Destruction is promised for her and her followers, "unless they repent of her works". The warnings are extremely dire. There is no doubt that the self-proclaiming prophet will be judged and the judgment is a punishment and destruction. It is exactly what Jesus himself says in Matt 7:20-23, that not everyone who calls out to him “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of God. The consequence of not repenting is severe, and this should serve as a warning to us and cause us to carefully examine our lives today. Are you disobeying Christ in an area in your life? There will be those like Jezebel who will profess to be Christians, but turn out in the end to not be so.
(C) Rewards for holding fast: Christ Himself and a share in His rule (Rev 2:24-29)
Yet, Jesus has encouragement and comfort for the church in Thyatira. He does not lay on them any other burden, but calls them to one thing only -- "only hold fast what you have until I come" (Rev 2:24). Christ calls those who have not turned to the deep things of Satan (idolatry and Jezebel’s false teachings), to have no other burden than to hold fast to what you have until he comes. They are to stick to their works, love, faith, service and patient endurance. They are to stick to not compromising on their obedience to God by following Jezebel’s teachings. They are to not to exchange the glory of God for the promise of wealth in the participation of these trade associations.
To hold fast is to hold tightly and strongly. What does it mean to hold fast today? It is to remain faithful to God. It is about seeing God everyday as more valuable, more precious, better than what compromising faith can give you. It is about fighting the temptation to exchange God for something else, whatever your idol might be. It is about loving God and being faithful to Him.
Practically, we can consider the use of our time. Do we just go to church and do what we need to do on top of all the commitments and demands of life and work? Do you struggle to do the good things like coming for Bible study etc because you are just so tired. If you are a busy Christian today, ask yourself -- why are you so busy? Why are you going to church because it is inconvenient and requires a sacrifice and might not even yield any benefit because maybe it's so hard to understand the pastor? Do you think that Bible study prep time is enough, and you don't have to spend more time with God?
What does it look like in your life practically? To hold fast might make people think you're crazy and weird, and the temptation to compromise is real. But it is also a stubborn, obstinate resilience and resolve to be extremely faithful to God. It is to see God everyday as more valuable, more precious, better than what compromising faith can give you. It is about fighting the temptation to exchange God for something else, whatever your idol might be. It is about loving God and being faithful to him.
The command also comes with promises to the one who conquers (Rev 2:26-29). The authority given to the Son of God will also be given to the one who conquers. He will also give the "morning star", which is Jesus Himself! The language of holding fast speaks of union, and is also used in Gen 2:24 to describe how a husband relates to his wife. (Similarly, in 1 Cor 6). It speaks of great intimacy here and is the same picture between Jesus and the church. He joins himself to us as a husband to his church and likewise, this is what we are called to. What this means is that to the one who is faithful and holds fast, Jesus promises that He will give himself. We are tempted to stray away and to settle for the rewards of the world and what the world's culture can offer us in their trade associations. But that leads to death. Instead Jesus promises Himself, He who is life, and promises to bring us together with Him and join in His rule.
As we close this study and read about the warnings and promises given to this church, it is also appropriate for us to do some reflection. How are you tempted to compromise in your walk with God? What is God calling you to do about your compromises? The promises of “holding fast” are great. How can they bring you comfort daily?