Be Careful of Corruption

Posted: November 7, 2010 in Revelation

Revelation 2:18-29, “Be Careful of Corruption”

 

Have you ever bit into bread & only realized it was moldy after the fact?  It looked good at 1st glace, but it was already starting to corrupt.  That’s the way it seemed to be at Thyatira.  There were some good things at 1st glance about this church – some things worth commending.  Yet there was corruption there that could not be overlooked.

As we mentioned in the last letter, we see a bit of a progression in the series of Pergamos, Thyatira, and Sardis.  A little compromise leads to corruption – a little corruption leads to a corpse.  In Thyatira, we see the corruption taking place.  Some compromise with a false teacher led to corrupting doctrine, and Jesus is calling the church to repentance before things get any worse.

Where was Thyatira?  With Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos, we were looking at larger cities in Asia – huge population centers with much commerce & influential idolatrous cults.  Thyatira was different in that it was a smaller city…yet just because it was smaller doesn’t mean it was ignored.  This is actually the longest letter by Jesus to any of the churches.  (Every local congregation matters to Jesus, because every congregation is part of His body!)  Thyatira was known for its trade guilds including metalworking, and textile dye.  Remember that Lydia was a seller of purple dye from Thyatira who was travelling in Philippi when she met Paul (Acts 16:14).  It’s quite possible she was the one who 1st took the gospel back to the city.

The letter to the church at Thyatira is not a happy letter.  This is a church that is corrupted from the inside out.  This is a congregation filled with unrepentant people, who will face the judgment of God.  Yet there is a remnant that has remained faithful to Christ.  To those who are corrupt, Jesus calls them to repentance.  To those who are faithful, Jesus calls them to persevere.  To all, Jesus calls them to purity.  The Lord Jesus desires a pure church.  Why?  Because we are HIS Church: His bride & His body.  Thus we are to be pure for His glory.

Revelation 2:18-29 (New King James Version)

18 “And to the angel [messenger/pastor] of the church in Thyatira write, ‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass:

  1. Follows the pattern: Jesus introduces Himself by using at least one of the descriptions from Rev 1, and demonstrates something about His character.  What is demonstrated about Jesus here?  His authority.  To a church that is being called to repentance, Jesus shows Himself as the Judge…  Shown in three ways:
  2. Jesus is “the Son of God”: It would be tough for Jesus to bring a more authoritative description of Himself than by stating straight out that He is the Son of God.  The Lord Jesus is not approaching Thyatira as a teacher or counselor – He’s not approaching them to have a simple conversation or discussion; He’s approaching them as Almighty God, with all the authority that comes along with that.
    1. BTW – for all the cults that state that Jesus never directly claims to be God, it’s tough to get past this statement (among others).  Without a doubt, Jesus says clearly that He is God in the flesh because He is the Son of God.
  3. Jesus has “eyes like a flame of fire”: The Bible makes it plain that God is a consuming fire (Deut 4:24, Heb 12:29).  In His holiness, God comes forth like a consuming fire & sin & unrighteousness is burned up in His presence. (Which is likely one reason that the wood/hay/stubble of our lives is going to be burned away at the Bema Seat – 1 Cor 3:12-13.)  Can you imagine what it will be like to look into those eyes of fire?
  4. Jesus has “feet like fine brass”: Calls to mind the bronze altar of sacrifice, where judgment on sin was carried out in Israel.  Yet the emphasis here isn’t so much on the “brass” (or “bronze”) as it is the character of it: “fine brass.”  The phrase is actually one word in Greek & its only mention in the Bible is in Revelation.  It seems to be a mixture of various metals, and its primary quality is that it shines forth.  It’s fine/burnished/reflective.  In Ch 1:15, it was described as if the metal was “refined in a furnace” – it was pure & almost glowing hot.  Speaks of the refining pure glory of Christ.  When gold is refined in a fire, the impurities are burned out – likewise for those who are refined in Christ.  He’ll remove the impurities out of those who belong to Him.

 

19 “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.

  1. Also following the pattern, Jesus tells them that He knows their works.  This was a church that did a lot of things wrong, but some things were good & Jesus commends them.  On the surface, their works were good…
    1. Love: What exactly their love was for, we’re not told – though considering their spiritual corruption & idolatry, this is likely a reference to loving one another (rather than loving God).  Yet it’s interesting to note that they DID demonstrate true love.  This wasn’t superficial love, this was “agape” love – selfless, sacrificial love for one another.
    2. Service: This was an active church.  Whatever their particular acts of service were, Jesus knew of them & commended them for it.  True agape love always leads to acts of service – they simply go hand-in-hand.  To say we love our neighbor, but to deny service to him in his time of need is a complete contradiction.  Agape love IS ‘serving’ love…it’s demonstrated through our service.
    3. Faith: This is especially interesting.  For all the good characteristics that could be listed about an otherwise corrupt church, “faith” is the last thing we would expect to see. …  Yet that’s one of the things Jesus specifically commends them for.  At a time when anyone standing firm for the confession that “Jesus is Lord” (as opposed to Caesar) would suffer persecution, even the church at Thyatira stood firm in their faith.

                                                                          i.      Just because someone claims to be a Christian doesn’t mean that he/she is one.  People can recite creeds & confessions & memorize Scripture & give the right doctrinal answers without actually knowing Jesus in truth. Likewise, someone can externally claim to be a mature believer in Christ, but inwardly be vastly immature & carnal.  Someone’s faith isn’t shown to be mature by his/her vocabulary & knowledge, but by their fruit.

  1. Patience: Staying power in the midst of opposition.  We’re not told the exact circumstances of how the church at Thyatira demonstrated their patience, but obviously they had it.  Patience is a good thing!  To be able to withstand under pressure is a necessary quality – and despite the jokes to the contrary, it’s something we should pray for.
  2. By external standards, this was a good church.  From what people could see at first glance on the outside, this was an active congregation & a good place to be.  They did the “right” things – they said the “right” things – they had the “right” answers, etc.  But there’s a big problem: whereas external things are necessary & good, a church is not judged solely by the external.  God sees the internal…He knows our hearts.  Jesus saw past what was visible & on the outside to what was going on behind the scenes.  Internally, this was a church that was corrupt & poisoned.  Jesus accused the Pharisees of something similar: Matthew 23:27-28  (27) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. (28) Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. []

 

– The crime…

20 Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.

  1. Jezebel was in their midst. Jezebel was not likely this person’s real name, but rather a description of who she acted like.  [Ahab & Jezebel: the worst king in Israel’s history married to most evil queen]  Jezebel corrupted Ahab to follow Baal (1 Kings 16:31-33).  She had the prophets of God massacred & only 150 survived due to them being hidden away (1 Kings 18:4).  She attempted to have Elijah killed after the events on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 19:2).  She had a man (Naboth) murdered simply so Ahab could steal his land (1 Kings 21).  This was a BAD lady! She brought a ton of corruption to Israel.
  2. This same type of corrupting influence was in the church of Jesus Christ!  A self-proclaimed prophetess corrupted the people called by God’s name.  She taught: (1) Sexual immorality… Perversion… (2) To eat things sacrificed to idols…  Idolatry & hypocrisy…
    1. Keep in mind that neither of these practices had ever been tolerated by the Church.  These are things that had been condemned as far back as the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, not as a matter of legalism, but simply as a matter of purity before the Lord.  When Christians claim to use their freedom in Christ to engage in perversion & hypocrisy, it’s simply destructive.  It destroys their relationship with Christ – it destroys their relationship with others – it destroys a local congregation from the inside-out – it destroys their witness to the world.  The fact that Jesus desires purity for His church does not speak of His heavy-handedness; it speaks of His great love!  He wants to spare us from those consequences of destruction!
  3. Not only did Jezebel exist within the church of Thyatira; Jezebel was tolerated.  “You allow that woman Jezebel…to teach.”  To ignore perverted doctrine in a church is ultimately to endorse it.

 

21 And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent.

  1. Jezebel was unrepentant.  Jesus gave her the opportunity to repent; she simply refused to take it.  [Like Pharaoh with Moses… Ahab with Elijah…]  Jesus always gives people the opportunity to repent.  To those who have not surrendered their lives to Christ Jesus as Lord, every day God gives us to breathe is another opportunity to repent!  To those who claim the name of Christ in faith, every time our conscience is convicted by the Holy Spirit is another opportunity to repent.  Jesus gives us the opportunity to repent & Jesus’ desire is that we would repent.  When we don’t, that’s our fault; not His.
    1. If you know that Jesus’ desire for you is to repent – if you know that Jesus has given you the opportunity to repent – if you know that Jesus has already made provision for you to repent (through the cross & resurrection), what are you waiting for?  One day it will be too late.  Don’t harden your heart to the Lord – if you hear His voice, if you know His calling, respond!  Isaiah 55:6-7  (6) Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. (7) Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. []
  2. Jezebel needed to repent as a leader taking people astray.  The people also needed to repent (vs 22) of actually going astray. Someone else might have been the one responsible for leading us into error, or deceiving us into sinning, or by showing a hypocritical image of a Christian (or whatever), but ultimately we are the ones responsible for our actions.

 

– The consequence for those who do not repent?  Judgment.

22 Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. 23 I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.

  1. Jesus will cast (throw/hurl) Jezebel into a “sickbed.”  She committed her sexual immorality on a bed; her judgment would come on a bed as well.
    1. What does it mean to commit “adultery” with her?  It could certainly be a reference to the sexual immorality she engaged in & taught.  It could also refer to idolatry in general.  We are the Bride of Christ.  To go after other gods is to commit adultery against our Bridegroom.
  2. Jesus will cast those who follow her into “great tribulation.”  Not THE Great Tribulation (no definite article in Greek), rather just great trials in order to shake them & bring them to repentance.  (BTW, this is affirmed through history that Jesus could not be referring to THE Great Tribulation here.  The actual people this was written to at Thyatira obviously did not suffer the Great Tributation, nor have any of the corrupted church through the centuries – the event simply hasn’t yet taken place & will not occur until the Church is raptured.)
    1. What kind of great tribulation would Jesus allow hypocritical Christians (or even false converts) to go through?  Whatever it takes.
  3. There’s more.  To those who do not repent, there’s not just tribulation; there’s death.  There is a sin that leads unto death (1 Jn 5:16), and if necessary Jesus will judge those who do not repent to that extent. Jesus will do what it takes to purify the church.  Don’t believe it?  Just ask Ananias & Sapphira… (Acts 5:1-11)
    1. If this sounds harsh, keep in mind this is the same Jesus of whom it is written, “He shall not break a bruised reed,” (Isa 42:3) & “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved,” (John 3:17).  None of that changes.  Jesus is incredibly meek & humble – Jesus continues to invite people to be saved – Jesus loves His Church passionately.  But it is because He loves us so passionately that He desires our purity!  His love does not cancel out His holiness.  His 1st coming was to suffer & call us to repentance & make provision for our salvation.  His 2nd coming is to judge.
  4. How is it that Jesus can judge so righteously?  Because He knows.  He “searches the minds and the hearts…”  His omniscience does not cease to exist after we’re saved; He is still the all-knowing God.  (Praise God for His forgiveness through Christ!  He knows of our sin, but through the blood of Jesus on the cross, the provision has been made, & our sins are no longer remembered! Heb 10:17) 
    1. But note that this is something the Church needs to know.  We need to know that Jesus knows. “All the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts.”  Jesus’ judgment of this one church congregation would be a testimony to all of the church congregations.  We need to remember whom we serve!
  5. Jesus’ judgment will be righteous.  He will give to each one according to his works.  We see this both for non-believers at the Great White Throne (Rev 20:12) & for believers at the Bema Seat (2 Cor 5:10)  We know we are not saved according to our works (Eph 2:8-9); we are saved according to Jesus’ work.  Yet after we come to Christ, our works DO matter.  Our works show the evidence of our salvation – and the Lord will not be fooled on the matter.  God knows those who are His & those who are hypocrites, and we will be judged accordingly.

 

– The charge…

24 “Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. 25 But hold fast what you have till I come.

  1. Many had fallen into corruption.  Some had gone past a point of repentance.  But not everyone.  There was a remnant; there were some who had not followed the doctrine of Jezebel into destruction.  To these, Jesus charged them to “hold fast” – to persevere & stay strong in the faith.  Jesus wasn’t going to put any other burden on them because they had enough to deal with already!  Keep in mind that for the church at the time, it’s not like they could simply pick up & leave a congregation that was corrupted & go to the church down the street…there WAS no other church down the street!  Instead, they needed to stand fast where they were & stay faithful to Christ, hopefully being a witness to others that they would repent & change.  Thus Jesus called them to hold fast to their purity.
  2. It can be difficult to hold fast to purity in the middle of a culture that has watered down the gospel!
  3. BTW – notice how bad the doctrine of Jezebel is in the sight of the Lord Jesus.  It was “the depths of Satan.

 

26 And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations— 27 ‘ He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’—  as I also have received from My Father;

  1. To the overcomer/conqueror – to those who stand fast in their purity to Christ, Jesus gives a marvelous promise: the privilege of reigning with Him in the Kingdom.  Part of what happens simply by being made the children of God is that we are graced with being co-heirs with Jesus Christ in His inheritance (Gal 4:7) & that includes reigning with Jesus when He is crowned as King.  As Psalm 2:8-9 (quoted) declares, one day Jesus will reign over the earth as King (every knee will bow & every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father – Phil 2:10-11), and every believer in Christ Jesus will share in that inheritance.
  2. Keep in mind that is solely an act of grace.  We don’t deserve to even be IN the kingdom, much less share in the rule over it.  Yet that’s exactly Jesus promises with His own words.  What privilege!  What grace!  What promise!

 

28 and I will give him the morning star. 29 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”’

  1. Not only do we share in the reign of Christ, we partake of the glory of Christ.  He IS the morning star (Rev 22:16).  Although the exact interpretation here is somewhat unclear, the general thought is obvious: the overcomer will be with Jesus forever.  Now THAT’s a promise in which we can rejoice!  So hear Him!  If you’ve got an ear, hear the Spirit…

 

Conclusion:

To the unrepentant corrupt, Jesus promises judgment.  To the steadfast overcomers, Jesus promises inheritance.  It should be an easy choice.  Unfortunately for many, it’s not.  When we lose the perspective of the Lord Jesus ruling & reigning over the Church – when we lose sight of who it is that we serve & what He desires for us, it’s easy for people to start listening to corrupting teachers, rather than holding fast to what Jesus has clearly revealed through His word.

We know what was facing Thyatira – but what about us?  Corruption starts a little at a time & grows from there.  A little leaven leavens the whole lump.  Have you noticed corruption in your walk with Christ?  Maybe there’s something from which you need to repent.  Don’t wait.  While you know the conviction of the Lord Jesus, act upon it!

May we be the ones that stay faithful!  May we be the ones that hold fast!  Despite the pressure – despite the corrupting influences around us – may we stay focused upon our Lord Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit to be purified as His Bride…

Maybe you’re here today & you don’t yet know Jesus as Lord.  Perhaps a hypocritical Christian misrepresented God to you in the past – perhaps you were deceived by a corrupt teacher – perhaps any number of cases has caused you to turn your eyes from God.  Know this: Jesus wants you to repent & grant you salvation, but you must respond to Him as the Son of God.  He offers you forgiveness today – but one day we will all see Him with eyes of flame & feet of burnished brass…we will see Him in His glory.  Receive His forgiveness today so that you may rejoice in that day!

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