Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Sometimes following Jesus involves economic risk. But you can always trust the One who is leading you, according to Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: This is the Son of God who’s speaking to you. He is the one who is going to care for you and meet your needs if being in the place of obedience requires that you lose your job.

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for Monday, September 18, 2017.

Imagine traveling to a conference for business, and once you arrive your co-workers use this trip as an opportunity for drunkenness and immorality. Well, that’s similar to a situation faced by members of the first century church. Nancy will explain in a series called "Letters to the Churches in Revelation, Part 5: The Sin of Tolerance."

Nancy: Earlier in this series we pointed out that the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 describe seven kinds of churches. They were actual churches, but also descriptive of seven kinds of churches that were in the first century and in every period of history since. As I’ve been studying these churches, it’s just amazing to me how they picture different strengths and weaknesses of churches in the twenty-first century.

These letters provide for us an overview or a synopsis of the different kinds of issues that churches face. Not only do churches fit into these categories; I believe that every believer fits into one or more of these categories. So this an opportunity as we study these letters to not only say, “Lord, what are the issues in my church? What are the issues in churches in evangelicalism today?” But, “What are the issues in my own heart? Search my heart, O Lord, and show me what You see as you look down as the Lord of the Church.”

We come today to the longest of the seven letters. It’s the fourth letter, the letter to the church in Thyatira. It’s, I think, the most complex of the seven letters and also the most difficult to understand. It has the most severe message of any of the seven.

Now, if you listened to the last series on Pergamum, you may have been thinking, I thought that was the hardest letter to understand and the most severe. Well, this one even more so.

So let me read the letter beginning in Revelation 2, verse 18. Then we’re going to take these next several days just to walk through what is Jesus saying to this church and what is He saying to the churches in our day.

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.”

You’ll recognize some of those characteristics from the church in Pergamum who we studied over the last several sessions.

“I gave her time to repent [that is this Jezebel], 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 [we have this in each of the seven letters] and who keeps my works until the end [and here’s the reward], 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 will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:18–29).

O Father, how I pray that You would give us ears to hear and hearts to receive and to respond to what You are saying by Your Spirit to the churches in our day and to our hearts. I pray it in Jesus’ name, amen.

Now the letter to the church in Thyatira has an important message for us. It has an important message for the churches in the twenty-first century, as we’ve said. But also as I mentioned, it deals with some complex issues. I have to tell you that between this letter and the previous one, the letter to the church in Pergamum, I have spent weeks wrestling over these texts and at points have found myself wondering, Tell me again why I got into this, why I decided to teach these, because as you reach the different commentaries and study some of the background on these churches, some of this is just very hard to understand.

There’s a temptation to want to skip over those parts or to study something in the Psalms. It would be a whole lot easier to understand. The message is hard, and it’s sobering talking about striking children dead and some things that really don’t meet well with modern ears.

But we can’t let the difficulty, the complexity, or the severity of the message keep us from it. We naturally love passages that are easy to understand, passages that are soothing and comforting. It takes discipline, time, effort, and hard work to dig into some of these tough passages.

So over these weeks leading up to teaching this series, I have prayed for wisdom. I have prayed for understanding. I have said, “Lord, would You help me get this, and would You help me be able to communicate it?” Because all Scripture is inspired by God. We need it all. It’s all profitable, and we can’t just take the parts that are easy to digest.

You say, “Why do you think this is so important to teach a passage like this?” Well, one thing that has kept me motivated is that verse in the first chapter of Revelation that says, speaking of the whole book, “Blessed is one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy” (1:3). I want to get a blessing, so I’m reading these words aloud to you. I take that Scripture seriously.

And then it says, “Blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it” (1:3). I want a blessing for you. I know that if I read this to you and if you hear it, and then you not only hear it physically but you do what it says, that you will be blessed.

Now it’s interesting that the letter to the church in Pergamum and the letter to the church in Thyatira come back to back and they deal with a lot of the same issues. So some of this is going to feel a bit repetitive. But the Scripture repeats it. God inspired the repetition, which apparently means this is not an isolated problem. This was a problem in multiple churches in the first century, and it’s a problem in multiple churches in our generation.

I would encourage you if you want to get the most out of this letter to not just listen to me teach it but to take time over these next several days as I’m walking through this passage to read it for yourself. Don’t just read it once, but read it again and again and again and again. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom as I’ve been asking Him to give me wisdom. You will find there are great treasures here.

What you will find is not just some more head knowledge or now you can tell people, “I get the letter to the church in Thyatira.” But what you will get is Christ who is the wisdom of God. That’s who I want you to see in all of this.

Now as with the church in Pergamum, the greatest threat to this church in Thyatira was not from outside. The greatest threat was not atheists or Caesar or those who were persecuting the church. The greatest threat was not the government, the Roman government, or the pagan gods or the pagan temples or idolaters. The greatest threat to these churches was internal compromise. The threat came from within.

The message to the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira and the message to the churches now is that the Church of Jesus Christ must deal with unbiblical teaching and unholy behavior—belief and behavior—of those who call themselves Christians, that these things must not be allowed to just go on unchecked in the church. If these issues are not confronted and even if they are confronted, if the people who are guilty don’t repent, then Jesus says there will be judgment.

Now this kind of thinking flies in the face of an era that prizes tolerance as the supreme virtue, an era that exalts unity above purity, which is why we need to get off our worldly glasses and put on biblical Spirit-led glasses to understand what God’s Word says and what His perspective is on all of this.

Let’s talk for a minute about Thyatira and the church in Thyatira. Of the seven cities in Revelation, Thyatira was the smallest. It was about forty miles southeast of Pergamum as the carrier would have been taking these letters in a circular route to deliver them to the churches. Thyatira was about halfway between Pergamum, the pervious church, and Sardis, which is the church we’ll be studying next.

Thyatira was the least important, the least known, and the least significant of all these cities. Remember, Pergamum was the capital city of Asia. It was a big city; it had a massive library. It was wealthy. Thyatira didn’t have any of that.

It was simply the gateway to Pergamum, which was as we said the capital city of Asia. Thyatira was on a flat plain, and there were no natural defenses or fortifications, so it was a vulnerable city. In fact, history shows us that many times Thyatira was attacked by foreign invaders and run over and destroyed and built up again, just again and again over the centuries.

In the first century when this letter was written, Thyatira was more or less just a military outpost for Pergamum. The people in Pergamum counted on Thyatira to resist and delay any invaders. So if the invaders would come, they would come to Thyatira first and they were just supposed to hold off the invaders so they couldn’t get to the capital city of Pergamum.

Now unlike Ephesus and Smyrna and Pergamum, the three churches we’ve already looked at, Thyatira was not a great religious center. It wasn’t a center for emperor worship. It wasn’t known for famous pagan temples. It was, however, an important commercial center. There were trade routes that passed through Thyatira, and as a result many small businesses sprang up.

Now there’s not a lot known about the background of the church in Thyatira. We don’t know how the church got started. There are two possibilities that have been suggested, and I think either one of these could be the case.

In Acts chapter 16 we read about a woman named Lydia who was from Thyatira. She was converted in Philippi, which was a long ways away from Thyatira. But she was a seller of—do you remember what she sold?—purple, purple goods (see v. 14).

Thyatira, her home town, was famous for this purple dye that was extremely expensive because it was rare. What you had to do to get the dye was very difficult and a complex procedure. She was a seller of goods that were dyed with this purple dye. So she was likely a prosperous, wealthy business woman who for some reason was living in Philippi at the time that Paul came to that city.

She may have been tied to the founding of the church in Thyatira. She may have gone back to Thyatira and been involved in helping to found that church; we don’t know.

Here’s another possible clue: In Acts chapter 19 we read that Paul spent two years ministering in Ephesus and during that time Christianity spread rapidly throughout the entire area of Asia (see v. 10). So it’s very possible that during that time the church in Thyatira, which was not too far from Ephesus, was founded.

Thyatira was best known for—and you read this in a lot of different books, commentaries, references (they all agree on this)—an unusual number of trade guilds. The trade guilds were something like our labor unions except they were religious. They would have been a little bit more like a Masonic Lodge, but trade guilds were related to the different trades.

So every one of these small types of businesses had a guild associated with it. If you were in pottery then you were a part of the pottery guild. If you were in leather working, you were a part of the leather working guild. Carpenters, tent makers, dyers, etc.; most anyone who worked at any kind of job belonged to a guild.

It was almost impossible to succeed in business unless you were a member of your trade guild. As a member of the trade guild, you were expected to participate in guild meetings, in their social activities.

Now you say, “What’s so wrong with that?” Well here was the challenge for the Christians in Thyatira: Each of those guilds had a patron god, lowercase “g,” a pagan deity. And the social events of those guilds, their banquets, their feasts, their festivals, were always tied into the worship of pagan gods.

So their business meetings, their social events, those events were often held in the temple that was associated with that particular patron god. When they went to the meetings, it wasn’t just like a business meeting. The guild members were expected to pay respect to the patron god and to offer sacrifices to that god.

Those activities tied into that would not only be the sacrifices to these gods but often a lot of drunkenness, a lot of carousing, immoral behavior including sexual activity with temple prostitutes.

And you have to understand this was not unusual. It’s like the whole city was a red light district. All these temples they were places where there was just debauchery and wickedness and ungodliness and perversion.

You could hardly do business without going to these pagan temples where these guild meetings were held and participating in these activities. Everyone did it! And it would seem really strange if you didn’t.

This became a big issue in the church. The question was, “Could Christians participate in these activities?” Well, you say, “No, of course not!”

But wait a minute; not so quick. If you refused you are committing social and financial suicide. You might not be able to have a job anymore. You might end up in poverty or bankrupt. It was very hard to survive, to earn a living if you didn’t participate in this.

Now I answer the question. Can Christians go to these meetings? Can Christians participate in these events? To what extent can they participate in these events? We’re going to see those issues come to play as Jesus talks about the issues that are taking place in the church in Thyatira.

Now as we move through this letter written to the church in Thyatira, you’re going to see that there were four individuals or groups of people involved in this church. And we’re going to see the characteristics and the actions of each. I want you to look for these.

The first one, which we’ll look at today, the first prominent individual is Jesus Himself. He’s engaged in this church. Remember, He walks among the seven golden lamp stands. He holds these leaders in His hands. He is the Savior and the Lord of the Church. And we’re going to see His characteristics and His actions.

Then secondly there’s a prominent woman in this church who was symbolically called Jezebel. She’s an influential teacher in the church, and we’re going to learn about her.

The third group as we will see are those who have been seduced by this woman’s teaching, and they are her followers. They’re called her children.

The fourth group are faithful believers who do not hold to her teaching. They are the ones who conquer or the ones who overcome. So look for the differences and the actions of each of these.

Now, today I want us to look at Jesus Himself, and we see this in verse 18. “The words of the Son of God who has eyes like a flame of fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.”

Now as you read that description, that’s a far cry from the gentle Jesus, meek and mild. That is the image many people have of Jesus. And certainly, Jesus is meek and lowly in spirit. But here’s an image of Christ as the divine judge, the Son of God who has eyes like a flame of fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

He’s called the Son of God. You say, “Well, that’s not so unusual.” Well, actually it is unusual in the book of Revelation. This is the only time in the book of Revelation that Jesus is referred to as the Son of God.

In Revelation 1 where we have the whole portrait of Christ from which these descriptions are mostly taken in the letters, in that Revelation 1 description He’s not called the Son of God; He’s called the Son of man. The Son of man—a picture of the humility, the compassion, the tenderness, the sympathy of Jesus for persecuted believers. But here’s He’s called the Son of God, which I think emphasizes His deity. He is God, the one to whom both the pagan world and the Church must give account.

Apollos was one of the local guild deities in Thyatira, and the emperor was worshiped as god. Both Apollos and the emperor were referred to in that culture as sons of the god Zeus. Caesar called himself the son of god, the son of Zeus, and Apollos was considered to be a son of Zeus, one of the Greek gods.

And to the church in Thyatira that knew about Apollos and Caesar being called the son of a god and Jesus addressed Himself to this congregation as the Son of God, it was a reminder that He is the only true Son of God and that God’s people should worship Him alone and that they could trust Him in their circumstances for their economic well-being and security.

This is the Son of God who’s speaking to you. He is the one who is going to care for you and meet your needs if in the place of obedience requires that you lose your job.

It says that He has eyes like a flame of fire. Jesus’ eyes like a laser light penetrating, piercing, probing vision, His searing, searching, all-knowing eyes. This is the Jesus who sees and knows everything. The deepest, darkest secrets of what was going on in the church.

He’s saying, “You can’t hide. You can’t pretend. You can’t cover. You can’t fake it. I know what’s going on.”

Jesus says, “You can’t hide. You can’t pretend. You can’t cover. You can’t fake it. I know what’s going on.”

Hebrews 4 tells us, “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (v. 13).

This is a picture of Christ that we don’t think of a lot in our era. Christ the Son of God who has eyes like a flame of fire, the one before whom we are undressed. We are exposed. We must give account to Him.

And then His feet like burnished bronze or as some translations say, as fine brass. That’s a compound word that speaks of copper or bronze being polished until it’s brilliantly shining.

Revelation 1 in that vision of Christ says, “His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace [or made to glow in a furnace, NKJV]” (v. 15). In the Scripture bronze is a picture of judgment. The Old Testament sacrifices were offered on a brazen or a bronze altar. We learn that the feet of Jesus are feet that are coming in judgment one day.

Revelation 19:15: “He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” This is a Christ who sees and who knows as the Son of God. He knows what is going on, and He is coming in judgment. These are red hot, glowing feet that are coming to trample evil not only in the world but in the Church.

He’s not coming this time to bring comfort but to bring judgment. For some in this church there is going to be destruction. I mean there is some very severe cataclysmic language in this passage. We’re going to look at what that all means and why Jesus has the right to say this. For some in this church, they are past the point of repenting, and there is no remedy.

But for others there is still time to repent. That’s why Jesus comes with this letter, this word of warning. Some have sent away their day of grace. They have hardened their hearts so much that they never will repent. And in their refusal to repent, they prove that they never were children of God. They are not true believers.

But He says, “In this church there are true believers who’ve been led astray. And the evidence that you’re a child of God is that you will take this warning, and you will repent before it is too late."

And so Jesus says to this church, “I am the Son of God. I have eyes like a flame of fire. I have feet like burnished bronze, and I know your works.” We’ll talk about what those works are in the next session.

Lord, how I thank You for this picture of Your great, holy, consuming justice. It’s not a pleasant thing to consider that You would come in judgment, in discipline, in chastening, in final judgment of those who claim to be Christians but are not and evidence that by a refusal to repent.

Lord we don’t like hearing; we don’t hear a lot of that kind of message today in the church. But You apparently know that we need to hear it. So give us ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches and to repent before You come and say it is too late. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been passing along a very serious message. The first century church of Thyatira was called to repent, and many in our day need to hear the same message. We’ll continue exploring this in the series "Letters to the Churches in Revelation, Part 5: The Sin of Tolerance."

The early chapters of Revelation introduce us to seven churches, and we’ve been devoting one radio series to each church this fall. Like these churches, you’re probably doing well in some areas and struggling in others. And like these churches, you need to hear the truth and act on it.

As part of that process, I hope you’ll get a copy of the Bible study Ears To Hear. This booklet will provide important follow up to each of these radio series. You’ll discover new elements of these letters for yourself. You’ll be called to repent, and you’ll be encouraged.

When you make a donation of any amount, we’ll send the study booklet Ears to Hear. Ask for it when you call with your gift. The number is 1–800–569–5959. you can donate online as well at ReviveOurHearts.com.

What’s more important in a church: truth or love? Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says most churches emphasize one or the other, but we need to balance both. Find out why tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you stand firm in the truth. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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

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