"And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: 'The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. "'I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.' (Revelation 2:18-29)
Have you ever been put in a situation where you are forced to make an uncomfortable choice – a choice, where neither option is desirable, but you clearly know which one is the right choice? What if you were in a situation where your employer told you that you needed to denounce your faith, or gave you a task that clearly violated Christ’s teachings and commandments? What would you do? Do you risk losing your job in order to be faithful to Christ? What I just described isn’t unlike what the Christians in Thyatira faced.
Thyatira was founded around the time of Alexander the Great as a strategic military outpost (you’ll see several military analogies throughout the passage). The city itself did not have any political or cultural significance, but it became an important economic center, boasting of several industries such as bronze working, pottery, leather making, and the most prominent being the textile and dying industries. In Acts chapter 16, we see a woman named Lydia, Paul’s first recorded convert in Europe, who was a native of Thyatira and a seller of purple goods (Acts 16:14).
In Thyatira, the people working in these industries were organized into guilds. There were guilds for every major industry, and in order to do business in Thyatira, you had to be a part of one of these guilds. A major part of the culture in Thyatira was that these guilds would often hold festivals in the local temple to Apollo. During these festivals, people would offer food to Apollo as a sacrifice since he was credited for the success of the guilds and for having a good season of crops or bountiful herds. This food would then be eaten by the participants as part of the festivities. Another major part of the festivals was the sexual immorality that often accompanied the worship of these gods – prostitution, orgies, etc..
The church in Thyatira was stuck in the middle of all of this. The Christians living there wanted to do business and make an honest living. But in order to do business, you had to be a part of the guilds, and that invariably meant partaking in these festivals. This put the Christians there in a precarious situation – do they partake in the festivities or risk being kicked out of the guild in order to uphold Christ’s commandments?
That struggle to compromise your faith is the essence of what I want to talk about today. Is the American church, is this local church, and are you daily making that choice to follow Christ over the things that this world has to offer? When the world offers you a compromise between your faith and the world, do you take it? Christ’s challenge (dare I even say threat) to the church of Thyatira was to stop compromising with the world and stand firm in what you know to be right. In particular, he calls out two specific areas that we need to stop compromising in – sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols (in essence, idolatry). When given the options to choose between fully following Christ and following the things of this world, we need to choose to follow Christ.
Christ is Supreme
Getting back into the text, let’s look at the first verse.
"And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: 'The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. (Revelation 2:18)
This is the only church to which Christ introduces himself as the Son of God. Commentators say this is Christ declaring his supremacy over false gods like Apollo that were worshipped there. Romans 1:4 talks about how Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” Christ’s resurrection declares to the world without question his supremacy over all, including death. Jesus is supreme over the entire universe, by whom and though whom all things were made.
Christ also describes himself using metalworking imagery of fire and burnished bronze that would have been familiar to the metalsmiths of Thyatira. It is similar to how Christ describes himself in Chapter 1, verses 14-15 of Revelation and several other passages in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 1:4, 26-27, 8:2, Daniel 7:9-10). When God is described as looking like fire and gleaming metal, it usually means that God is preparing for judgment. God is preparing his judgment for the church in Thyatira. This is evident throughout this passage, when he talks about the consequences of obedience versus disobedience and about repentance.
God is also preparing his judgment for us as his people. If you are living a duplicitous lifestyle where you have one foot in the world and one in Christ, there will be consequences for that. God does discipline us out of love, and there are consequences for living a duplicitous life, where you come here every Sunday, lift your hands God in worship, and then go live your life like it meant nothing.
Areas of Commendation
"'I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. (Revelation 2:19)
There were a lot of good things to say about the church in Thyatira, and when it’s Jesus commending you for something, you know it has to be true. He says that they had love for God and one another; they had faith in Jesus and his complete work and sacrifice on the cross; they served one another and their community; and they were patiently enduring the trials of this world until Christ’s return. That sounds like a fairly complete list of things you need to do to live a godly life. And based on the fact that Christ says in verse 24 that he would lay no other burden on those who are doing these things, I would say that it is a pretty good baseline for the church at large to measure itself against.
I would also point out that Christ mentions that their latter works exceed their first, meaning that there is spiritual growth in this church. This is due to the good foundation of qualities that they are being commended for. Spiritual growth is very important for the church and for you personally. It shows that you are yielding to the Holy Spirit in your life and that He is moving and active in it. Listen to this passage from 2 Peter 1:3-8.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:3-8)
Having these kinds of godly qualities and continued growth in them helps us from being ineffective and unfruitful in living out the gospel in our lives. Another way of saying this is that when we become more Christ-like, then people will see more of Christ in us.
When I talk about spiritual growth, I don’t want you to think of it in terms of the ups and downs that we experience on a day to day or week to week basis because we all have good days where we are doing well and bad days where we struggle more than others. What is more important than those individual ups and downs is what the general trend of your heart is. Proverbs 24:16 says, “For the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.” We can fall at times and have struggles in our walk with the Lord and still have an upward trend of growth. My question to you is this – what is that trend in your life? Are you growing in your faith and your walk with the Lord? Are you stagnant and just waiting for something to change? Or are you declining and choosing to walk away from God? (Again think big picture here.) Whatever situation you are in, there are areas of our lives in which we compromise with the world or with our flesh in order to avoid paying the cost of truly following Christ. That’s what we need to stop doing.
Areas of Reproof
The church of Thyatira had sin in their midst that was holding many of them back from living in the fullness of God’s will for their lives and for their church.
But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.(Revelation 2:20)
Some of those within the church were compromising with the world because they didn’t want to risk losing their job or livelihood. And so, instead of standing for what was right, many of them were joining in the sexual immorality and idolatry that was going on in these festivals. So there arose among them a false prophetess who is called Jezebel who essentially taught what many of them already wanted to believe – that it was okay for them to partake of the things of the world and still be a Christian, in essence to live a compromised life.
[As a side note, many scholars debate whether Jezebel is her real name or whether her name is symbolic of Jezebel in the Old Testament – King Ahab’s wife – who led the Israelites astray to worship false gods and tried to kill God’s true prophets. Either way, this Jezebel was leading many in the church astray to compromise and practice sexual immorality and eat food sacrificed to idols.]
Now, I want to get into these two particular areas that Thyatira was compromising in – sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols.
Sexual immorality comes from the Greek word pornea from which we get the word pornography from. In the context of Scripture, pornea means having sex outside of a monogamous, heterosexual marriage. But don’t think sexual immorality is simply limited to the act of sex. It also includes what goes on in our heart. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:28 that, “Whosoever looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Sexual immorality has no place among the Christian church. Ephesians 5:3 says to not even let it be named among us. Turn to 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
"All things are lawful for me," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything. "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food"--and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, "The two will become one flesh." But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:12-20)
Why do you think God cares so much about sexual immorality? You might say, “Why does God care about whether I watch pornography, masturbate, or think certain thoughts about another man or woman? I mean – it’s not like we’re hurting anyone, right?” That’s the lie that the devil puts in our heads with those things. “This isn’t hurting anyone.” The truth is – sin is never victimless. Sin always has a victim.
Prime Minister Konoye of Japan, who committed suicide after his involvement in WWII and after being accused of war crimes, left a stark reminder of this on his night stand. On it was Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis with one sentence underlined. “As terrible as it was what I had done to others, nothing was more terrible than what I had done to myself.”
Sin – especially sexual immorality – always has a victim. Whether you are pushing boundaries with another person, or you are doing things alone in your room with no one around, there is always a victim. Like it says in 1 Corinthians 6:18, “The sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” You are sinning against yourself because you were created in the image of God with worth and value and for a purpose. That purpose is to glorify God. Sexual immorality never glorifies God.
Sexual immorality also victimizes others. If you are committing acts of sexual immorality with others, then you are violating God’s purpose in their life to be pure and holy and to glorify him. Even things like pornography and masturbation will affect the way you look at others. By dehumanizing them in your own mind, you have violated the purpose for which God created them and for which God created you.
Do not compromise on sexual immorality.
The second issue I want to address is eating food sacrificed to idols. Now, at first, this issue doesn’t seem applicable to our situation today, especially in America, because people don’t really do this anymore in a literal sense. However, Paul addresses this issue in 1 Corinthians chapter 8 in a way that is very applicable to us.
Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "an idol has no real existence," and that "there is no God but one." For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth--as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"--yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:4-13)
Just to explain this passage a little bit, pretend it’s just you and a friend. You are a mature Christian believer, and you understand idols are false gods, that there is no God but God, and that food sacrificed to those idols is an act of futility and therefore has no inherent negative value to it. So long as you give thanks to God like you would any other food, it’s not wrong to eat it. However your friend is a new believer, or has a history with eating food sacrificed to idols as an act of worship to those idols. So when he sees you eating food that you know has been sacrificed to an idol, he starts to think that it might be ok to do that. But because he struggles with this issue and has trouble separating just eating the meat from the worship of the idol itself, he runs the risk of violating his conscience and sinning. So, out of love, I should never eat meat sacrificed to an idol around that friend lest I contribute to them stumbling in their faith, thus making me sin against Christ.
Eating food sacrificed to idols, while not practiced today, is a part of a group of issues that aren’t necessarily wrong to do in and of themselves, however they can become idolatrous to us or a stumbling block to our brothers. Issues like this that are applicable to us are things like the kind of media we watch and listen to, whether it be video games, music, TV, or movies. Should we be watching rated-R movies or TV shows with a lot of sexual content? It can also refer to things like alcohol.
Let me take alcohol as an example. In my reading of Scripture, drinking in and of itself is not wrong. The strict guideline given in Scripture is to not be drunk (Ephesians 5:18) or overcome by it (1 Corinthians 6:12). However, that doesn’t give us permission to just drink whatever we want, whenever we want so long as we don’t get drunk. That’s not the only thing we have to consider. Out of love, we also have to consider how others will respond to our drinking.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
Some within Christianity and even some in the world classify drinking as a non-Christian behavior. Even though we might have the knowledge that it’s ok to drink in certain situations and even though we have the liberty to drink without it violating our own conscience, not everyone around us has that liberty. Some around us, whether Christian or not, think that consumption of alcohol is wrong. And even if they don’t think that it’s wrong, some people just don’t like being around it. Maybe they were abused by an alcoholic father or mother growing up. Maybe they had a bad experience where they drank too much and ended up doing something that they regretted. No matter what the case, those of us with the stronger conscience have the primary responsibility to bear with those with the weaker conscience.
I’ll give you another example. Something I’m particularly sensitive to that a lot of other Christians, especially our age, aren’t affected by is crass music. If it has swearing, sexual innuendos, explicit sexual references, or language that degrades men or women, then I can’t stand it. It just makes me feel dirty inside. Now that doesn’t mean that I’m on the other extreme where “unless it praises Jesus, then that’s the devil’s music.” But if I’m riding in your car or hanging out with you, then, for my sake, I would ask that you avoid playing that kind of music because it violates my conscience and puts thoughts in my head that I don’t want. So you, as the one with the stronger conscience, have the primary responsibility to bear with me as the one with the weaker conscience.
Now, you might think, “Well, I have the right to do this; so I’m just going to do it anyway.” You might have the right to do it and be able to do it without violating your own conscience, but you have no right to violate the conscience of a brother or sister in Christ or someone who isn’t a Christian at all. If you aren’t able to give something up for the sake of your brother or sister in Christ, or for the sake of not being judged by the world and losing an opportunity to share the gospel, then you need to seriously check your heart, because that’s a sign that whatever issue you can’t give up, it has become an idol. Romans 14 says,
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:13-17)
Holding your rights above the needs of your Christian brothers and sisters or above the need of people to hear the gospel is wrong. Do not compromise when it comes to idolatry and putting a stumbling block before others.
Consequences of Disobedience
Going back to Revelation, we see that the consequences are severe for those who compromise and refuse to repent.
I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. (Revelation 2:21-23)
Don’t think you can go on living a duplicitous Christian lifestyle, and not expect it to eventually blow up in your face. Like I mentioned before, sin always has a victim. Along with that, I will add that sin always has consequences. Too many of us think that we can continue to keep one foot in the world and one in Christ, and continue to live as if something bad isn’t going to happen or isn’t already happening. Now this isn’t me saying that unless you repent, God’s going to spitefully give you a flat tire and make you late to work, or that he’s going to inflict some sort of disease upon you. But God does discipline us out of love. And sometimes, for our own good, God allows us to experience things that in the moment are uncomfortable or even may hurt, but in the end will lead us to repentance and a right relationship with Him. A lot of times, God allows us to experience the consequences of our sin for that very purpose.
But whatever means God uses to get our attention, He says that, “All the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.” Don’t think that your sin is hidden from God or that God can’t see the real reason you’re sinning. But knowing all this, what choice are you going to make? Will you continue in sin and risk suffering the consequences inherent to that sin? Or will you repent and turn away from the world and turn towards Christ, the author and perfector of our faith?
Rewards of Obedience
I know I’ve been pretty harsh for most of this, but I want to end, as does this letter, with some encouragement.
But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. (Revelation 2:24-28)
To those who weren’t following the teachings of the prophetess and aren’t practicing the sexual immorality and eating the food sacrificed to idols (referenced here as the “deep things of Satan”), Jesus commands them to simply continue in what they already have – which is love for God and for one another, faith in Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice on the cross, service to one another and the community, and patient endurance of the trials of life until Christ’s return.
To those who follow this, Jesus promises something extraordinary – to rule and reign with him, to be given authority over the nations. Did you know that?
And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.' (Daniel 7:27)
Paul also mentions in 1 Corinthians 6:3 that we will even be judging angels. Not too many details are given to us about this in Scripture but it’s just amazing to think about – that when Christ’s kingdom is fully established on earth, Jesus will give us authority to rule and judge under his leadership.
But most of all, more important than anything else, Jesus promises to give us the morning star, namely himself.
Jesus answered him, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:23)
When you truly think about the depth and the riches that are contained in that thought – that God dwells within us through Christ and the Holy Spirit – it’s no wonder the high calling he has on our lives. When the God of the universe has saved you and redeemed you and set you free from the wickedness of your soul, how can we continue to compromise with the world and live a life that doesn’t reflect that reality?
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.' (Revelation 2:29)
Are you listening to what Jesus is saying to us as a church? Whatever situation you are in right now, I want to leave you with some encouragement and things to walk away with.
If you are in a situation where you are steadily growing in your walk with the Lord, then I simply challenge you, as Jesus did to Thyatira, to continue growing. Continue to walk in the ways God has set before you and to surrender your will to him. Make every effort in adding more godly qualities to your character and growing in them. Don’t be dismayed when you fall, but rise again and carry on in that growth.
But if you are not growing in your faith, if you are stagnant in your walk with the Lord or declining in it, then I would challenge you to figure out why. In my experience, the thing that holds you back most from growing in your walk with the Lord is sin. Sin is like a weight tied around your ankle, a ball and chain that will either slow you down (leading to slow growth in your walk with the Lord) or stop you in your tracks altogether (leading to stagnation). What are those sins in your life that slow you down? What areas of your life have you not fully surrendered to God? Where are you compromising with the world in order to satisfy your sinful nature?
To figure out where you are compromising, it all starts with seeking God through prayer. If you’re having trouble with what to say, I would advise memorizing this prayer by David in Psalms 139:23-24
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalms 139:23-24)
The next step is to confess to God and to your brothers and sisters in Christ where you are compromising, so that you may be encouraged and held accountable.
Lastly, draw near to God through his Word, through prayer, through fellowship, and through worship. When your heart and your mind are focused on what’s good and right, then your actions will be in accordance with that.
In closing, let me leave you with this.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Do not compromise with the world or what it has to offer. Throw off those sins that weigh us down, and pursue Jesus Christ with your entire heart, soul, mind, and strength.