Thyatira: A Tolerant Church (Part 1), Revelation 2:18-29

 

What are your New Year’s Resolutions?  In our passage today Jesus has some resolutions for the church in Thyatira.  One of those resolutions was to be less tolerant.  The Church there had tolerated the teachings of a woman who was leading the Christians into idolatry and immorality.  Time was running out for them to repent and turn back to the Lord.

The next city Jesus had His eyes on was Thyatira.  Thirty-five miles southeast of Pergamum, Thyatira was not really an important city either politically or religiously. However, it was important militarily and economically. Militarily, Thyatira was the “buffer” between an enemy army and the more important city of Pergamum. Thyatira was kind of like the expendable character in a movie whose life was forfeited in saving the hero. The little city was expected to get clobbered by an enemy army but it was also expected to put up enough resistance in order to buy time for Pergamum – the more important city.

 

Economically the city’s main industry was the production of wool and dyed goods – especially purple. In Acts 16 Paul arrives in Philippi and the first convert is a woman named Lydia, a woman from Thyatira who sold purple cloth. The city was also filled with trade guilds. Guilds were like associations of various trade laborers, kind of like unions today. There were guilds for workers in wool, dyes, tanning, leather, linens, potters, bronze smiths, slave traders, and bakers. Most of the people in Thyatira were skilled laborers who were hard-working, had calloused hands and blue collars. When not punched in most folks socialized with others from their guild.  A deep social bond happened within these guilds as people shared so much of their life together – on the clock and off.

 

This is important to understand because it is from these trade guilds that the Christians in Thyatira received the most pressure. To hold a job or run a business you had to be a member of a guild. Each guild had its own deity and worship of that deity was a regular part of membership in the guild. Worship involved feasts held in that god’s honor – which involved meat sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality as components of the worship. Christians had to decide whether they were going to compromise their loyalty to Christ for economic safety and social inclusion, or, stay faithful to Him by refusing to participate in worshipping the guild gods and face economic and social persecution.  The cost for following Christ was clear and present.

 

Resolution #1:  See Jesus More Clearly (v18)

This is why Jesus begins the way He does in verse 18.  Our First Point:  Resolve to See Jesus Clearly.  Look at how Jesus projects Himself to Thyatira: “The Son of God”.  The Son of God is God the Son, the 2nd Person of the Trinity.  The Son of God is the Word of God made flesh, who appeared in the likeness of man to reveal God to man.  He is God.  That is the thrust of the title, “Son of God”.  In many Roman cities you had to worship Caesar and call him the son of God. Jesus reminds them Who the real Son of God is.  He is asserting His divine authority – an authority that surpasses that of any governor or guild.  

 

He also says He is the One with “Blazing eyes”.  His eyes – His all seeing, omniscient eyes perceive the secrets of men’s hearts, the thoughts of every mind, the conduct of everyone.  In verse 23 He says, “Then all the churches will know that I am the One who searches hearts and minds.”  But those all-seeing eyes are burning, blazing – aflame with holy fire.  Every time you see fire associated with God it is conveying His divine holiness.  Think of that moment when Moses came upon the burning bush.  It was engulfed in a fire, but, it was not burning up.  When God spoke to Moses out of the fiery bush He specifically told Him, “Take off your sandals because you are on holy ground.”  Fire.  Holiness.  Then we have here the fiery eyes of Jesus and His holiness burning out from Him.  Don’t walk on this holy ground with those Sandals on Moses.  Don’t walk without holiness before Me Jesus conveys.  

 

Did they get the picture?  Do we get it?  His eyes are aflame with holy indignation towards sin.  He is what the OT says:  an all-consuming fire, judging sin and wickedness.  He sees it all – there are no secrets with Him.  We pretend there isn’t sin in our lives, or the lives of others.  But Jesus doesn’t.  His holy character bursts out in righteous wrath towards all unholiness.  If you think Jesus spent His time hugging kids and telling sinners they’re okay just how they are then listen to Him speak for Himself in verse 22, “So I will cast her on a bed of suffering and cause all those who commit adultery with her to suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.  I will strike her children dead.”  He is showing them that everything in Thyatira is seen by the light of His all-knowing eyes and that He is fiercely indignant over the sin He sees in Thyatira.

 

Then notice He mentions His feet, “like burnished bronze”.  Have you ever noticed the feet of Jesus?  They’re the feet John the Baptist said he was unworthy to untie the sandals from.  They’re the feet the sinning woman washed with her tears and wiped with her hair in worship.  Another woman, Mary, worshipped at His feet by pouring expensive perfume on them and wiping them with her hair.  These are the feet that were pierced by nails as He was crucified.  Their the feet that He used to walk out of His grave when He came back to life.  God the Father decreed that every one of Jesus’ enemies would be put under His feet.  These are the feet that when He comes back to this earth are going to touch down on the Mount of Olives and split it in half (Zechariah 14), and according to Revelation 19:14 with His feet He will “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.”  It is these bronze, scarred, resurrected and glorious feet that everyone will bow down to and worship.  

 

Resolution #2: Keep Getting Better at What You Are Doing Well (v19)

Next Jesus wants them to resolve to keep improving at what they’re already doing well.  Notice verse 19, “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” It reminds me of 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10 which saysThat is a list of virtues that every Christian and every Church should aim for. We get the picture here that this church was active and busy doing good things to help each other. And that is what we should be doing: Ephesians 2:10 says God has prepared in advance good deeds for us to walk in” and Titus 3:14 says we are to “devote ourselves to doing what is good”. But notice the particular way this church stands out: they were doing more today for the Lord than they were yesterday. Unlike the Ephesian Church that had quit doing some of the good deeds it did at first, the believers in Thyatira were doing more than when they first started.  This is what progressive truly is:  advancing in holiness.  

 

Are we doing more than we were before? The Scriptures present that the expected healthy Christian life is one that is progressing in good deeds. When kids have growth problems we are concerned. Difficulty in speech leads to speech therapy. Underweight leads to special diets. Cognitive abilities and physical coordination are expected to progress at a generally normal pace. An 18 year old in 5th grade means there is a problem. A 12 year old who isn’t potty trained indicates proper development has not occurred. Progress should mark our lives.

 

But do we have the same expectations for spiritual growth in the Christian life? Don’t be content with standing still and don’t allow yourself to regress. More fruit of the Spirit, more glory to God, more obedience to His commands, more submitted to His will, more knowledgeable of His Word, more apt to help when a need is seen, more time on our knees, more gracious in our speech and attitudes. Philippians 3:12-14 speaks of “pressing on” and “straining toward what is ahead”. This admonishes anyone who would settle in and grow idle or stagnant or worse yet, backslide. The Christian life should be marked by ongoing progress. The last thing we want to say is that we have come no farther in our spiritual walk in the last several years – and, something we never want to say is that we are now actually further behind than where we were a while ago.
Now, however, it must be said: No amount of good deeds will make Jesus Christ overlook serious sins we allow in other areas of our lives. Let us not think that if we are very active that all is automatically right before the Lord. So often a person’s spirituality is measured by how active they are in the church. While devotion to the ministry of the church is good and commendable it is not the sum total of whether a person is spiritually well. It very well could be a cover for other areas where repentance is desperately needed. Good deeds, while commendable, do not prevent the Lord’s discipline in other areas where we let sin reign.

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