Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: It’s not very popular to talk about God’s judgment, but when we have a balanced biblical view of God as judge, it will change our behavior. Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I think one of the reasons that people today can sin so nonchalantly is because we’re not seeing more evidence of the judgment of God.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for Friday, Septmeber 22, 2017.

We all know God is full of love and mercy, so how do you reconcile these qualities of God with biblical passages about His judgment? Our study on the letters to the churches in Revelation leads us to that question. Nancy’s in a series focused on the letter to the church in Thyatira called "The Sin of Tolerance."

Nancy: As we continue in our series on the letter to the church in Thyatira in Revelation chapter 2, we come to a very difficult part of that passage. As I read that text in just a moment, some of you are going to be thinking, That seems a little strong. In fact, it may even seem harsh. Then you realize this is Jesus speaking.

The view of God we get in this text is one that a lot of people today, even a lot of Christians, are not comfortable with. So before read that passage, and before you have those thoughts about God, let me just remind you that as we read those kinds of texts in Scripture where we have this difficult, seemingly harsh view of God, we need to see those passages in the context of the heart of God.

Even in this passage, and certainly throughout all of Scripture, we see the mercy of God even as we see His severe judgment that is threatened as it is in this text. So don’t miss the mercy of God, the heart of God, the love of God even as we’re reading about His judgment.

There’s a verse that comes to mind about that in Ezekiel chapter 33, where God says, “As I live, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (v. 11).

Now, God will bring about the death, the eternal spiritual death and damnation of the wicked, but God says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked. I don’t rejoice to do this. I don’t take joy in this.” But God says, “What I really want is—Ezekiel 33:11—“What I really want is that the wicked will turn from his way and live” (paraphrased).

That’s why God sends these threats of judgment, so that those who are wicked will turn; they will repent, and they can live.

Then He pleads with His people, “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, Oh house of Israel?”

That’s the heart of God, a God who pleads with His people, “Repent. Repent. I don’t want to judge you. I don’t want to damn you to hell. I don’t want you to come under My chastening hand of discipline as believers. Turn. Turn.” You see a pleading, father heart who says, “I don’t want to have to destroy you. I don’t want to have to deal harshly with you.” That’s the merciful, gracious, longing heart of God.

I want you to keep that in mind as we pick up in Revelation chapter 2 in verse 20, where Jesus says to the church in Thyatira,

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.

We looked at that verse in the last session, and we said: Here was a woman in the church; she was like that Old Testament Jezebel. Jezebel was probably not this woman’s real name, but she had the characteristics of Jezebel in the Old Testament who seduced Israel to sin.

She led them in the worship of false gods. This woman in the church in Thyatira was prominent. She had a position of responsibility. She had a platform. She was teaching people that the Scripture gives you freedom to sin, to do things that God’s Word forbids. She was rationalizing in different ways, and people were believing her. They were being led into this.

In the last couple of sessions we gave a lot of illustrations how this kind of thing is happening in even many of our evangelical churches today.

In verse 21, Jesus says,

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 (vv 21–23).

We’ll continue in the next session in the rest of that letter to the church in Thyatira, but, whoa. What about that part we just read? Let’s take a look at it phrase by phrase.

Jesus says first, “I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.”

I see in that phrase a great picture of the mercy and the grace of God. “I gave her time to repent.”

Does God owe us any time to repent? Does God owe any of us the opportunity to repent? No. The Scripture says, “The soul that sins, it will die.” God said to Adam and Eve, “If you eat the fruit of that tree, you will die” (Gen. 2:17). God doesn’t owe us a chance to repent, but He gave to this woman time and opportunity to repent.

Remember that the judgment of God is never unjust. His judgment is always the result of mercy that was offered and refused, mercy that was offered and spurned.

Second Peter 3 tells us, “The Lord is patient towards you. He is not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (v. 9).

That’s God’s heart. He wants us to repent. That’s why He gives us time to repent. That’s why He pleads with us to repent. That’s why He sends people, ministers, preachers, friends, family members who beg us, radio programs who say, “Please, please, please repent.”

God says, “I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent.”

Here’s a woman who continues to resist the patience of God. She continues to resist the repeated warnings from God.

Proverbs 29, verse 1 says, “He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”

There can come a place and a time in the life of an individual where you sin away your opportunity to repent. When is that? Well, for sure if you have refused to believe in Christ, refused to repent of your sins, and you die in your sins, then you have sinned away your day of grace. But I believe that even for believers in Christ, if we persist in sinning, God may take our physical life from us.

There may be consequences of sin for which there is no remedy. God says, “If you’re often rebuked and you stiffen your neck, you harden your neck, the time will come when you will suddenly be destroyed and that without remedy.”

That raises the question in many people’s minds, “How can a good, loving God condemn people to hell? How could He condemn them to be eternally damned, or how could He inflict them in this life with painful consequences?”

I think there are at least two answers to that: First of all, we underestimate the mercy and the patience of a holy God. God makes His ways known to us. He reveals the truth. He sends warnings to those who disobey. He gives us time to acknowledge our wrong doing and to turn from our wicked ways. God is a merciful, patient, holy God. That is an amazing thing, the fact that a holy God would have mercy and patience is awesome, and we underestimate how holy He is and how merciful and patient He is.

But we also underestimate the stubbornness of sinful men. They are not ignorant or innocent. Jezebel, so-called, in this church, was not ignorant of her sin. She’d been given opportunity to repent, and she was not innocent. She knew what she was doing, and she refused to repent.

Throughout the book of Revelation we see that God sends remedial judgments, that is judgments that are intended to bring people to repentance. Each one is an opportunity to repent, but how do people respond as those judgments come throughout the book of Revelation? Well, let me read you a few verses:

Revelation 9, beginning in verse 20:

The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the work of their hands, nor give up worshiping demons and idols . . . nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immoralities or their thefts” (vv. 20–21).

Revelation chapter 16:

The fourth angel poured out his bowl in the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give Him glory.

The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish [and repented? No way!] and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores (vv. 8–11).

They sinned; they reaped the consequences of their sins in these remedial judgments that were intended to bring them to repentance. But rather than repenting, they shook their fists in the face of God and cursed God for the consequences of their own willful choices. “They did not repent of their deeds,” Revelation 16:11 says.

So what did these people do? The same thing a lot of people do today—they dig in their heels. What happens when God sends these remedial judgments and people get more stubborn, more persistent in their refusal to repent? What happens is that ultimately God sends final, cataclysmic judgment from which there is no escape and for which there is no hope of being delivered.

The judgment of God, the wrath of God are seen to be against those who have hardened their hearts against God. They refuse to respond to the light that they have, and they persist in rejecting His law.

So how can God be just in sending people to hell? First, remember that God is holy. He is patient. He is merciful—unbelievably so. Then remember that man is sinful and stubborn and stuck in his ways and in many cases refusing to repent and accept God’s mercy.

So in the letter to the church in Thyatira, God says, “This woman and her followers are going to experience the consequences of their persistent rebellion against God, their refusal to repent.”

Verse 22 of Revelation 2:

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.

You remember that the Jezebel in the Old Testament died a gruesome death—you can read about that in 2 Kings chapter 9. She was thrown from her palace window into the courtyard below, and dogs came and ate her body and licked up her blood. It was a horrible death, and those who would have known the Old Testament, receiving this letter about so-called Jezebel, probably that image would have come to mind.

God says, “I will throw this woman onto a sickbed.”

This bed, or sickbed as most of the English translations have it, is used metaphorically here. It could refer to the couch on which Jezebel and her followers had reclined at pagan feasts where they were given over to idol worship, and it could talk about God inflicting this woman with disease.

Most commentators agree that this sickbed here is a metaphor for death or hell, and that this woman is going to be judged. She is not a true believer in Christ, and divine judgment is going to fall on her, disaster is going to come upon her. It’s as if God is saying to her, “You’ve made your bed, now you’re going to lie on it.”

Then it says, “Those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works.”

Now, “Those who commit adultery with her,” this may have been literal adultery and sexual immorality that was being committed in connection with the pagan guild feasts that we’ve talked about earlier in this series, or this may be a figurative term here speaking of spiritual adultery. Remember, we said that idolatry, worshiping of these pagan gods is spiritual adultery. It’s breaking the covenant with God, broken spiritual vows.

God says to these who commit adultery, whether it’s literal or figurative, along with this Jezebel, those who follow her will fall into severe distress and trouble. There will be severe chastening. If they are true believers who have just deluded, they’ve been seduced, they have fallen for this, if they are true believers, they will not be sent to hell as apparently Jezebel is going to be, but according to Hebrews 12, God’s children can be severely chastened, severely disciplined, and will be if they refuse to repent.

God says, “I will throw them into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works.”

It’s too late for Jezebel to repent—not because God wouldn’t pardon her, but because she has hardened her heart—but it’s not too late for those who are following her. Jezebel has been confronted, she’s resisted, she’s refused to repent, but the others, there’s still time for them to repent. The door of repentance is still open. But if they don’t repent, He’s saying the judgment is certain to come. There’s still hope, but not forever. The opportunity to repent will pass.

Can I say that as a word of warning to anyone listening to my voice today who may be persisting in rebellion against God—refusing to repent of some little or big matter that God has been speaking to you about? If you refuse to repent, there will come a time when the door of opportunity will be closed.

That’s why we must repent now. That’s why God commends all men everywhere to repent. That’s Jesus’ message to the Church today. You see it over and over and over again in these letters—repent, repent, repent.

Who’s supposed to repent? Those promoting false doctrine that leads to unholy living, there in Thyatira and here today. Those who have embraced and followed the teaching, they are to repent, and those who are tolerant of these false teachers and their teachings, those who have this kind of “live and let live” attitude, they are also to repent.

Then God says in verse 23, “And I will strike her children dead.”

Literally it says there, “I will kill her children with death.”

I don’t believe that’s talking about physical children there. I think it’s talking about her spiritual children, those who have followed her and are now second-generation promoters of her teaching. They’ve been seduced and led astray in the false teaching, but they are responsible for their own choices. God is saying, “They are going to have severe consequences that may even involve the literal losing of their lives.”

I believe that even in this day God sometimes takes people’s lives because of their refusal to repent. If you are a child of God, you will still have eternal life, you will be saved, but as by the skin of your teeth, so to speak. Your eternal life will not be taken from you, but your physical life may be taken if there is a refusal to repent.

What will be the result?

“All the churches will know,” verse 23, “that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.”

God, the heart-knower; He searches and knows our hearts.

Proverbs 15, verse 3—a verse that ought to strike fear and terror into our hearts if we are resisting God—it says, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”

You cannot go so far or be so secretive in your sinning, your thoughts, your words, your actions, as to be beyond the gaze of Christ. He sees, He knows. You think you’re sinning alone. You think no one knows what you’re watching on the Internet. You think no one knows about that emotional affair you’re carrying on with that man at work.

The eyes of Jesus are eyes like a flame of fire, and He sees, and He knows, and He begs you to repent. The innermost thoughts and feelings are all laid bare to His scrutiny. We can hide our motives or our behavior from other church members, but not from God. He searches the hearts and minds of men.

When sin in the church is dealt with, either through church discipline, as we’ve talked about the need for that, or through God’s judgment if we will not discipline ourselves—two things happen when we deal with sin in the church: First of all, the sinning person is either disciplined and restored back to obedience, or they’re removed so they won’t influence others to sin. So there’s an impact on the sinning person when we deal with sin God’s way, but there’s an impact on other believers.

Other believers will know that they cannot hide from God. They will see the seriousness of their sin. They will be warned. They will fear the Lord, and they will be kept from falling into the same sin.

Remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter 5? God took their lives for lying to the Holy Spirit. Judgment fell on them. Then the Scripture says, “Great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things” (v. 11).

I think one of the reasons that people today can sin so cavalierly (is that a word? It is now), just so casually, is because we’re not seeing more evidence of the judgment of God, or when it’s happening, we’re not connecting the dots. God, in His mercy and grace, is holding back His judgment. Although in this country we’re certainly experiencing glimpses of the judgment of God, but when we see the judgment of God displayed on those who refuse to repent, there will be great fear, holy dread of a holy God that comes upon the whole church.

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 (Rev. 2:23).

There’s individual accountability here, individual responsibility. We see that our works, this is going to upset some of you to hear me say this, but listen carefully. Our works are the basis for divine judgment because they reveal our true spiritual condition. We’re not saved by our works, but godly works are the necessary evidence that we have true faith.

So, as we look at this letter to the church in Thyatira, we see that the teaching, the thinking that justifies sinful and worldly behavior is no small thing. It is very, very serious.

But here is the word of hope: Christ is giving us time to repent.

Repent, and then be warned, if we refuse to repent, there will be chastening, there will be divine, holy, righteous judgment.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth will be right back to pray as each of us responds to today’s message. It’s based on the letter to the church of Thyatira in the book of Revelation.

We’ve gotten a picture today of God’s love and mercy balanced with His justice and wrath. We need to understand difficult passages like the one Nancy tackled today.

One of our listeners showed how much she appreciates this kind of teaching. She’s always shied away from Revelation but has gotten a lot out of Nancy’s teaching. She writes:

I am without a doubt one of those who chooses not to go into the book of Revelation. To me, it reads like a science-fiction movie, a genre I don’t care for much. However, I now cannot wait to get into this series with you, Nancy. Thank you for the awesome ministry. God bless you.

This kind of teaching, making tough passages applicable for women today, is possible thanks to listeners who donate to Revive Our Hearts. Would you help us connect more women with God’s Word? When you donate any amount, we’ll say "thanks" by sending you a study booklet that complements Nancy’s teaching. It’s called Ears to Hear: Learning from the Churches in Revelation. Make this booklet part of your daily Bible study. Understand these letters, and grow in godliness and repentance.

Ask for Ears to Hear when you call 1–800–569–5959, or you can donate at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Do you ever feel alone, making biblical decisions while most people around you go with the flow of culture? Gain encouragement Monday when we’re back for Revive Our Hearts.

Nancy’s back now to pray.

Nancy: God, I pray that You would bring sinners to repentance this day. Those who’ve been within the sound of my voice, those sitting in this room, those listening in their van or their car or their home or their workplace or their iPod or on their treadmill or reading this transcript, Oh, God, I pray that You will, by Your Holy Spirit, bring sinners to repentance.

May we see, may we fear, and may we reverence You as we see Your work in those lives who refuse to repent, and may our hearts be softened, not hardened, but turned toward You.

Thank You this day that You are giving us time to repent, and may there be many, many of Your children who hear and who head that call.

I pray in Jesus’ holy name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you balance truth and love. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

 

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