Rock Hill was built on the back of mills. There was the Hiland Park Mill, the Aragon, the Bleacher, Celanese, and Bowater. Each Mill had its own community. Neighborhoods were built to support the families of the mill workers. As neighborhoods were built so were churches. Park Baptist Church received its name from the Hiland Park Mill a few blocks away. Of course, not everyone worked at a mill, but everyone was affected by the Mill. The mills were the center of economic life in Rock Hill. Now imagine if each mill formed its own guild. Guilds were organizations of workers who bonded together to protect their economic interests and craft secrets for each vocation. To work at the Aragon, one would have to join the Aragon Guild and if one wanted to continue to receive raised or promotions then one would have to participate in the guild activities.
If there were guilds of workers in the 1940s and 1950s in Rock Hill, SC, the rituals and activities would most likely be non-offensive for Christians. The workers may include activities such as joining the local softball team or attending one of the area churches. Christianity was the dominant religion in Rock Hill so mill guilds would not have asked their workers to do anything that opposed their faith. Now would if the dominant religion in Rock Hill in the 40’s and 50’s was not Christianity but overtly pagan. What if the activities and rituals the guilds asked you to participate in would be to sacrifice animals in honor of the United States President. What if the only way you were going to continue to get raises and promotions is by participating by having sex with a prostitute to show your devotion and oneness to the “mill god.” The lack of participation would mean eventual mean the end of your job.
Every mill would have its own guild and every mill would require practices that were in direct contrast to the Christian faith. What would you do? How would you provide for your family without the mills? Would reject the guild practices and starve? Or maybe you would participate in the activities but only do so for a show without real devotion to the guild? Or would you fully participate in the activities so that you could gain more influence in the guild as time went on?
These were the questions faced by early Christians in Thyatira. Thyatira was 40 miles southeast of Pergamum on the road to Sardis. The town was relatively unknown until the Pax Romana enabled safe travel among the empire. The town’s economic and social life was centered around the various guilds of each trade. The town’s religious life was focused on the worship of Apollo, the sun god, and son of Zeus. Almost all worship was centered through the guilds or at the temple of Apollo. It was into this culture seeped pagan worship that 1st century Christians found themselves. And it was these Christians facing hard and perplexing questions of survival that the Lord Jesus spoke to. I pray as we study the letter to the church of Thyatira you empathize with their courage and learn from compromising spirit.
The Searching Son of God
As with each of the letters, Jesus begins by identifying himself with a specific aspect of the vision in chapter 1. Each letter begins with a unique descriptor which was most needed for each church. Revelation 2:18, “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.” Jesus begins by identifying himself as the Son of God. This is the only usage of the title in Revelation. Jesus is letting the people know that he is the only and true Son of God, not Apollo. Son of God is a title frequently used throughout John’s other writing that depicts majesty and divinity. Jesus is defining himself as the supreme divine king in his opening words.
Jesus then provides two descriptors: eyes like a flame of fire and feet like burnished bronze. The first-century audience would have immediately known what each of these images represented. The eyes of burnished bronze were to show the penetrating gaze of Jesus. He sees and knows all. He not only sees but he sees and will judge perfectly based on his sight. Nothing will escape his gaze. A Christian in Thyatira needed to be more concerned with the searching gaze of the true Son of God over the watching eyes of the guild and the false god and son of Zeus, Apollo. Jesus drives this home later in the letter when he says, “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.” Be careful how you live because the Lord sees and will judge you accordingly.
The feet like burnished bronze would have communicated the strength of the Lord. The burnished bronze would also have been an attack against the leading “polished bronze” guild of the city. The bronze would have been primarily used for the military and even Apollo was pictured as a divine warrior god wielding a bronze double ax. Jesus is the one with burnished bronze feet and is the true divine warrior king who will execute his strength upon the church based on his perfect judgment. It is important to notice that God sees perfectly and the judgments he makes against his people are perfect (eyes of fire). He also has the power and strength to execute his judgment (bronze feet).
The Christians of Thyatira needed to be reminded of the searching strength of the Son of God: Not to bow down to false gods, but to hold fast to Him who knows and sees all. Beloved, we need the same reminder. We may not be asked to bow down to Apollo, but we are asked to bow down every day to the idol of tolerance and sexual freedom. Beloved, there is one God whose penetrating gaze sees all and will judge accordingly. Stand fast.
The Loving People of God
The people of Thyatira were not with evidence of conversion. They were growing in their faith and love. Revelation 2:19, “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.” It is the opposite of Ephesus who left their first work of love. The church was growing in their love and faith. Love and faith are essentials for a Christian church. Faith is the most central characteristic emphasized in Revelation. John wants people to have faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing one may have life in his name. Persevering faith is the overarching theme in this book. The church had faith, but it was their misunderstanding of love that began to corrupt that faith.
Love is the strongest and most basic of Christian virtues. The two greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbors. Christian love is intoxicating to the gospel. It draws people into faith. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” Love should be the aroma of the Christian community. By God’s grace, I see love evident in our body. It is so encouraging to see how you are caring for each other throughout the week. Love gives itself to one another. 1 John 3:16, “By this, we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Jesus teaches us what love is. He laid down his life for us. He showed us his love that when we were still sinners he died for us. The heart of our faith is the gospel of love.
If you are a non-Christian, I pray that you see a window through our love for each other to the love of God has shown us in Christ. God loves you. We desire to love each other in an authentic, deep, true way to model the love God has shown us. Christians often fail in loving each other for we are sinners. We want to grow in our love because Christ died for us. We recognize our inability to love and serve others without Christ because of our sin. The Bible says that every heart is deceitful and desperately sick. It is only the Lord that can change a person’s heart. Our hearts were changed because we realized that we are sinners deserving of severe punishment, but God in his mercy sent Christ to take our place. Jesus died for our sins on the cross. He was dead and buried but God raised him from the dead. He now gives us the opportunity to call on him as Lord and Savior. We want you to see our love not because we want your praise, but because we want you to see the love that God has for you in Christ. God sent Jesus to die for the ungodly. We love because he first loved us. I pray that you would know the love of God in a small way by witnessing our love for each other.
Beloved, may we always desire to grow in love. Let us love one another more. Let us love deeper. Let us love in spirit and in truth. Who can you love better? Is there someone who is not like you, maybe age or ethnicity, that you can go out of your way to love? Our love helps people find Christ. Never underestimate the power of love between God’s people.
The Christians in Thyatira were a loving people, but their love was not according to the truth.
The Tolerant People of God
Love is not total agreement. True love has a corrective punch to it. I love my kids enough to correct them when they are wrong. I hope my friends love me enough to speak words of truth to me when they see me doing something that will hurt me, my family or my faith. Love without truth is dangerous. I believe that the Christians of Thyatira desired to love deeply, but their misunderstanding of love paved the way for a compromising spirit in the church. Revelation 2:20, “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.” The key word is: tolerate. They allowed the existence and practice of false teaching without interference.
There is no uniform agreement on who Jezebel is in Thyatira. Jezebel was the wife of King Ahab. She led him to the worship of Baal and sorcery. Her name has become synonymous with false teaching. Some believe that Jezebel mentioned here is a specific woman teaching false doctrine. Women were free to prophesy in the church as we see in 1 Corinthians 11:5. Others believe that Jezebel was more a symbolic picture of the entire church for John calls the church the “elect lady” in another letter. Others view Jezebel as the wife of the leader of the Thyatira translating woman as a wife. Regardless of who Jezebel is, whether one woman or a group representing a Jezebel spirit, she was teaching compromise. She encouraged the church to participate in the cultic worship of the guilds. She encouraged Christians to eat food sacrificed to Apollo and to engage with sexual immoral activities practices in worship. These were in clear violation of God’s Word and the word of the Church. During the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:29, the church decided, “that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.”
Remember the church was immersed in a culture that demanded participation in cult practices. If the church refused to eat food sacrificed to idols and to participate in the sexual immorality of the guilds, they would have been ostracized economically. They would have not been able to find work and could starve for holding true to Christ. There was probably a group in the church that said, “We should just go along with the culture so that we can survive.” Or “We should just follow their ways so we can gain influence in their circles.” Or “We should be patient with them as they practice these things because God was patient with us.” There are many reasons the church may have tolerated false teaching.
We may be shocked that a church of the Lord Jesus Christ would have such a compromising spirit, but this type of tolerance has befallen the church throughout history. Even today we see the Western church falling to a spirit of compromise. First, I believe that compromise and tolerance in the church is often motivated by love. The church wants to love people so they feel like they should allow people to live the way they want. “Who am I to judge?” We are taught that accepting and tolerating is the highest form of love.
Our culture wears this kind of love as a badge of pride. Churches today hang rainbow flags on their buildings to show the world that it is a place of love, but in so doing they deny biblical love. Biblical love accepting of all people in Christ. There is no previous sin that can keep people from Christ if one repents. If one turns to Christ, his arms and the arms of his church are open wide. The cross is the greatest picture of love the world has ever known. And in the cross of love, we see a condemnation of sin. The cross does not make light of sin but punishes it. God hates sin so much that Jesus had to bear it in his own body on the cross. The intensity of facing God’s wrath against sin was so great that Jesus was sweating drops of blood pleading for another way. But there wasn’t another way. Sin could not be tolerated. Friends, in our efforts to love people let us not condemn them by allowing them to continue in sin. Let us not tolerate those who would propagate false teaching. False teaching false hope and false hope leads people to hell. It is very serious.
It does not matter how pure the motive is, biblical love does not tolerate sin. And yet, how we deal with this sin should be done in a spirit of kindness and patience as we wait for repentance.
The Patient Son of God
God hates sin. He hates false teaching. And although he hates it, he is patient with his people. He has extended patience but there is coming a day when that patience will end. Revelation 2:21-23,
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.
The world often portrays God as vengeful and harsh when judgment is discussed. How could a loving God punish people? But how could a good God not hate sin? Notice how patient God is here. He has given the church time to repent. Even after this letter is written God offers grace. He pronounces what he will do, but says, “unless they repent of her works.” Let me pause and say to those here living in sin or tolerating sin, there is still time to repent. Turn from your sin. Trust in Christ. I plead with you: continue in your sin no more.
Before I was a pastor, I ran a group home for teenage mothers. We were the last stop for many of the girls. They had made poor choices and could no longer be placed in foster homes so they were brought to our home. The choices of the girls would not only affect themselves but their children and all the residents in the home. I spent many days pleading with those girls to change and live for the Lord. By God’s grace, some did, but others didn’t. The saddest days were when I had to make the decision to put someone out of the home. Caseworkers would come in two cars. The mother would be taken in one and the child in the other. It is a good picture of what happens to those who do not repent. The repentant one is taken to the Father and welcomed into his kingdom while the one who refused to repent is sent away into outer darkness.
The false teaching that was tolerated gave birth to others who followed that teaching. Jesus said I will throw her into a sickbed and those who commit adultery with her and will strike her children dead. False teaching always will affect others. It is like gangrene that spreads to the entire body. If the diseased part is not cut off, it will corrupt the entire body. God is very patient, but his patient will one day come to an end. Do not presume on God’s patience tomorrow; repent today.
God is not only concerned with the church of Thyatira but all his churches. Revelation 2:23b, “And all the churches will know that I am he who searched mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.” God is the one with the blazing eyes of fire and feet burnished with bronze. He will give you all what you deserve according to your own works or he will give you mercy due to the work of Christ. Why would you not repent? Accept his mercy. Trust in the work of Christ crucified and risen again.
The Steadfast People of God
By God’s grace, there were some that did not participate in the false teaching but held fast to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. Revelation 2:24-25, “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 deep things of Satan were probably referring to the practices involved in the cult worship of the guilds and the temple of Apollo. Some remained innocent of these things but holding true to the word of Christ. Parents, I pray that you would be diligent to protect your children of the deep things of Satan in our culture. I pray that as our children come to Christ and give their testimonies that it would not those who left the faith for the world, but who were raised in godly homes and were taught the faith from an early age. Let us protect our kids from the deep things of Satan in our culture.
The church that was faithful was not given any additional burdens but simply to hold on to what they had; to hold onto Christ.
Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow Your commands
Could never come from me
Oh Father, use my ransomed life
In any way You choose
And let my song forever be
My only boast is You
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life
Friends, let this be our prayer. Let us hold fast to Christ until he comes. We know he will come. Great Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson once said, “The motto of every missionary, whether preacher, printer or school master, ought to be ‘Steadfast for life.” Friends, there are coming definitive crossroads for the American church. We will face many choices on whether to bow to economic prosperity and participate with the cultural idols or to hold to Christ. Friends, the decision may appear hard, but it is simple. Remain steadfast for life.
The Reigning Son of God
Jesus makes our decision easy. Considering the grand reality of his sovereign reigning over history, what other choice is there? Hear the word of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
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.’
Jesus ends his letter to the church at Thyatira reminding them that he has been given all authority in heaven and earth and he will the nation with the strength of his power. Jesus is drawing on Psalm 2 (and Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream). Their true king will rule over all nations.
And the utterly amazing thing is that God allows his people to reign with him. He shares his authority with his people. How utterly astonishing is the kindness of God towards his people? The morning star is probably another way of stating the initial promise of authority as the one who is over the stars is the one shown as the ruler. Apollo may be view as the god of the sun, but the saints of God will receive the morning star as they reign with Christ. Romans 8:15-17,
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
We have been adopted as sons and daughters of God. We will reign with Christ but provided we are willing to suffer with him now. Our suffering for Christ is but short night that will turn into an everlasting day.
Life is full of choices. We will always be confronted with options, but the choice will always be simple. Choose Christ. Choose the King of kings and Lord of lords. Choose the bright and morning Star. Choose Him who bled and died and rose again. Choose Him who will hold us fast. Choose Jesus for there is truly no other choice.