Editor’s Note: This is the ninth installment in our blog series “Lessons for the Church” from the Book of Revelation. This time Dr. John MacArthur focuses on Christ’s words to the church at Thyatira.
And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: This is what the Son of God, the One who has eyes like a flame of fire and His feet are like burnished bronze, says: ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your last deeds are greater than at first.
But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and deceives My slaves so that they commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent, and she does not wish to repent of her sexual immorality.
Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. (Revelation 2:18-29)
If the church is anything in the world, it is God’s holy people. Churches should be known by how they exalt righteousness and how they condemn unrighteousness. Churches should be known for confronting sin and pursuing holiness. But in our time, as in every other time, that is not necessarily the case; and it wasn’t the case in the church in Thyatira that our Lord wrote this letter to.
There are countless churches like Thyatira, churches that tolerate sin. And tolerating sin to any degree is a serious issue with our Holy Lord.
This letter shows what compromise with the world leads to. It leads to full-scale idolatry and immorality. This is not just a church infiltrated by the world, such as Pergamum was. This is a church that has absorbed sin and error and lived happily with it.
This letter needs to be read again and again in every time period, and especially today, as tolerating sin is common. Tolerating false teaching is common.
But first, they do receive a wonderful commendation in verse 19: “I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your last deeds are greater than at first.”
Love wasn’t their problem; they had love. Faith wasn’t their problem. Ministry wasn’t their problem. Endurance wasn’t their problem. Their problem was that they were tolerating sin.
They were an active, flourishing, busy, growing church, but they were in severe danger, and that danger came from sin.
Churches must be intolerant of false teaching and of immorality. The church tolerated this woman — an idolatrous one, one into the deep things of Satan.
Jezebel is the name of an Old Testament character, the notorious wife of Ahab who set up Baal worship in Israel.
Was this actually the name of the woman in the church of Thyatira? Probably not. But she was an idol worshiper. She was Jezebel-like. She introduced immorality and idolatry in the church. She is symbolically called Jezebel in the way that Jerusalem would be symbolically called Sodom and Egypt in its time of iniquity. She was a Jezebel to the church in Thyatira in the way that Jezebel brought iniquity and wickedness to Israel.
How can someone come into a church in the first century and convince people to live an immoral life and carry on worshiping idols? It is possible. It continues to be possible even today.
Somehow she convinced the church that paganism and its expressions, even to the point of immorality, were okay. “We’re all sinners. We can’t do any better. This is who we are. We’re in the flesh, it’s going to be that way.”
The next statement is pretty shocking: “Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence” (Revelation 2:22-23).
Christ wants His church pure, and He may kill people to bring it about. The message of the antinomians, that it doesn’t matter what you do in the flesh, is an inaccurate message. And it may bring about death.
Why would the Lord do this? Verse 23: “And all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.”
There were a whole lot of other churches like Thyatira, and there were a lot of churches moving in that direction. Killing the people in this church would be a warning to other churches of what might happen. The Lord says, “Repent, you’re in danger of being executed. Repent.”
I don’t understand how churches can be so indifferent to sin. The Lord says, “I’m going to put on a public display of warning about tolerating false teaching and its accompanying immorality. I’m going to kill people in Thyatira as an example to other churches who think they need to go that way. And I am the one who searches the minds and the hearts.”
We talk about the need for revival in the church. What would it look like? What would change?
The church would get very serious about holiness and very serious about dealing with sin. That’s the reformation our Lord calls for. The reformation would include a new love for Christ. It would include the exclusion of compromise and a confrontation of sin.
If the church is going to have a new reformation — and it desperately needs it — it’s going to have to refresh its first love for Christ, stop the compromises with the world, and confront sin.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 2015, titled “The Lord’s Word to His Church: Thyatira.” In addition to serving as the pastor of Grace Community Church and the voice of Grace to You, Dr. MacArthur is the chancellor of The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, Calif. You can learn more about TMU at www.masters.edu.
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