John continues Jesus’s addresses to the seven local churches in Asia, modern day Turkey. In each of the addresses so far, John has had sound doctrine in view. This fourth address is no different. It is easy for us to feel like we have disappointed God. Sometimes, others treat us like we are a disappointment to God. This afternoon, I want to encourage the saints in Christ. If God is working all things together, He cannot be disappointed. For, to be disappointed is to have unmet expectations; God has all knowledge, predestines His people, and ordains the movement of history. By His nature as creator and sustainer, He cannot be disappointed; So, we cannot disappoint Him. Disappointment is logically inconsistent with God’s nature. In his address to the church at Thyatira, Jesus tells the church, once again, that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this: “I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late 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 leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her 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.
But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you. Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.
He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Commendation (v. 18-19)
And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this:
John addresses the messenger, or teaching pastor, of the church in Thyatira using the symbolic, Messianic language of Revelation 1:14-15 and Daniel 10:6, presenting Christ as Daniel’s judge over the nations.
“I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first.”
Once again, we see that Jesus knows the intimate details of the church’s life. Jesus, through John, praises the church in Thyatira for her deeds, love, faith, service, and perseverance through the current tribulation (Cf. 1:9; 2:9, 13). He praises Thyatira because the local church is growing in her deeds. It is a praiseworthy thing for the Christian to grow in his or her deeds while persevering the current tribulation of this world. What does it mean that the Christian’s deeds become greater as he or she perseveres this world?
Before John wrote Revelation, he wrote 1 John—a letter to Christians meant to assure them about their salvation in Christ. There, John explained what he meant by Christian works or deeds:
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked (1 John 2:1-6).
John began with Christ’s forgiveness. Jesus Christ alone is righteous and paid for the sins of His people among the whole world. His forgiveness and our coming to know Him precede our obedience to His commandments. Those who truly know Christ come to keep the commandments. In the first verse, John writes in the aorist tense (a tense denoting a past or present action that is continuing to be accomplished)—so that his audience may not sin. In verse 5, John indicates that the one in whom God’s love is perfected keeps God’s word perfectly. If God’s love is being perfected in His people, His people will keep His word more and more closely the more they know Christ. John described deeds as keeping God’s perfect word. Obedience is the fruit; knowing Christ is the root. Our focus, then, isn’t on some works-based system of becoming righteous. Instead, it is on Christ and sound doctrine as He presented it. Sound doctrine, truly and really knowing Christ more, results in greater obedience because Jesus is working that out in His people—the love of God is being perfected in those who belong to Jesus Christ. If the deeds of the church in Thyatira are greater than they were at first, then the church body is coming to know Christ more through their tribulations.
Since the root of knowing Christ produces the fruit of obedience to Christ, we do not, as Christians, condemn others because we perceive that their deeds or obedience might not be as great as we want them to be. First, some of the things we condemn others for are not actually sins. Second, people cannot simply modify their behavior. We will give them Christ and Christ crucified; He will transform hearts as He brings His people to know Him more. As we pursue knowing Christ more, He is also sanctifying us. I pray you are plugged in to a healthy church, whose goal is to know Christ more through the proper teaching of His word. I pray you reject any worldly system (many churches included) that uses the Bible as a source of or generally promotes any sort of works-righteousness. You don’t have to change you because you can’t. I simply ask that you seek to know Christ more.
Indictment (v. 20-25)
“But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her 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.”
Unlike the church at Ephesus, believers in Thyatira are doing good deeds, but, like the church in Pergamum, their focus on deeds has caused them to neglect some sound doctrine in the sense that they tolerate those who practice false religion. Jezebel is probably a symbolic name used to refer to people who lead the church body into unsound doctrine and idol worship (Cf. 1 Kings 16:31; 21:25, 26; 2 Kings 9:7, 22, 30-37). In the Old Testament, Jezebel led Israel’s king into idol worship, here represented by the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. Some believers in Thyatira are so misled by the new Jezebel that they are actually worshipping idols, not merely practicing their Christian liberty (Cf. 1 Corinthians 8). Jesus, through John, chastises the regenerate believers in the church for tolerating the new Jezebel’s deception. Christ promises great tribulation filled with sickness and death for this new Jezebel. He feels very strongly about those who do good deeds but tolerate deceivers who do not know Him. Good deeds are praiseworthy but cannot replace sound doctrine and rightly placed worship. Those who do replace knowing God with the works and religious systems of people experientially know the deep things of Satan—for that is Satan’s philosophy. While this message is similar to John’s address to Pergamum, it is slightly different. This indictment concerns the toleration of false teachers and not specifically the rejection of sound doctrine by the core body of believers. Unsound doctrine seems to be, throughout Scripture, the primary thing that is not to be tolerated because it misrepresents God and causes others to believe in a god who essentially does not exist.
“But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you. Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.”
Those who know God and worship Him, not being given to idol worship, do not experientially know the deep things of Satan. Christ places no other burden on His true people. Even if they sin, God does not place any extra burdens on them. He is delivering His people by grace alone. God desires that we know Him for who He is instead of focussing on ourselves or our works. This passage captures God’s heart perfectly. We tolerate sin and insufficiency because of God’s grace and who God is. We do not tolerate deception concerning the person and work of Christ. We are okay with messiness. The worst of sinners is welcome in our midst. We simply ask that you seek to know Christ more and hold fast to the knowledge we have of Him until He comes in His perpetual judgment (Cf. 1:7).
Promise (v. 26-29)
“He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
John quotes a Messianic psalm, Psalm 2, to claim that those who overcome (Cf. 1 John 5:1-5) will inherit the same kind of authority the Father has given the Son. He sees true Christians as coheirs with Christ. To have the morning star, then, is to have authority to reign as Adam and Eve were instructed to rule in the Garden (Cf. Genesis 2). Christ is restoring His people as representative rulers over God’s earth as is His design. He is doing this by bringing His people into relationship with Him and sanctifying them by His word.
John admits that only those who have been given ears to hear will hear and instructs them to so hear, identifies the Spirit as the one speaking (recognizing the Spirit as one with Christ and the Father), and reveals that this admonition is meant for every local church.
The great applicable truth of this passage is: God places no other burdens on His local churches except that they not tolerate false teaching. Why? Because to know God, the teaching in Christ’s church must be accurate to what Christ has provided. If we teach what is not accurate, or have teaching in the church that is not accurate, we are coming to know a god who does not exist—and we do not benefit from that. The more God brings us to know Him, the more He is sanctifying us. God is not disappointed in us because of our sins or because of what others point out to be our flaws. He expects nothing of us other than His working together all things for the good of His people—including their sanctification. Let this be an encouragement for us. God is doing the work. Our goal is not to fix people but to seek Jesus. May we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, not our own. Parents, may we follow God’s example. When our children mess up, may we take those teaching opportunities rather than condemn them. Just as God is not disappointed in me because of my mistakes and missteps, I will not be disappointed in my son. I know he will fall. Just as God is there to sanctify me, so I will work to raise my son through his sin. Grandparents, teachers, employers, pastors, and everyone else: May we seek truth, be encouraged by Christ’s light burden, and refuse to place heavy burdens of expectation on others.