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Thyatira - Facing Jezebel - Revelation chp 2 vs 18 to 29 - JS Gillespie  

 

Thyatira proves the adage that the most difficult problems we face are the ones we inherit. Prophetically Thyatira reflects that period of church history which develops after the wholesale sell out to paganism by the Emperor Constantine. From the practices of paganism amongst others comes the:

 

  1. Error of the Altar - inferring that the work of Jesus on cross is not yet finished nor sufficient
  2. Error of the Priesthood - inferring that the work of the Holy Spirit as our intercessor is not sufficient 
  3. Error of our view of God - confusing the identity and supremacy of the one true God of heaven with many false Gods.

It was the first of these errors which prevailed at Thyatira. Here was a church trying their level best to work their way to heaven (2:19) and still with a sympathy for the altar, any altar (2:20). 

For the first and only time in these 7 letters to the churches, the church is dominated by the feminine; by Jezebel. Reflecting back on church history, we see at this point in time the development of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy with the unbiblical elevation of Mary and the development of an ideology totally at odds with her biblical place as the earthly mother of Jesus. By 1954 and the papal bull of Pope Pius XII, in Ad Caeli Reginum, Mary is elevated to the "Queen of heaven"; an ancient pagan title for Astarte and she is assigned a form of Divinity seated "at the right hand of God" (point 16); a place reserved for Christ (cf. Psalm 110). It is asserted in the papal bull that "heaven and earth are filled with the sanctity of thy glory" a blasphemous theft of the Divine glory from Psa72:19 and Habbakuk. Borrowing from the pagan myths of Semiramis and Tammuz; Isis and Horus, the edict conflates Mary as not only the mother of Jesus but also the bride of her Son! The crowning absurdity to the apostate view of Mary comes with the assertion in point 37 that Mary, usurping the place of the Holy Spirit (Heb 9:14) "freely offered Him for us" and thus "assisted in our redemption". Here is the period of church history corresponding to the error of the false revelation of Jezebel.

 

Jezebel needs to be faced, not an easy task. For recovery to come they must:

 

  1. Take Christ Seriously as Lord and judge with his eyes as flames of fire and feet of brass
  2. See Christ uniquely as "The Son of God" - His Glory He will not share with another 
  3. Be satisfied with Christ completely - rest in His finished work 

 

 

Ephesus - It was really Boring without Him   

 

Within this 1st of the letters to the 7 churches of Asia we have what is arguably the most significant statement made throughout the entire 7 letters. 

‘In life the most important thing is that the most important thing remains the most important thing.’ 

At Ephesus it would appear that the most important thing, or better the most important person, becomes number 2, 3 or 4 in a list of revised priorities! 

If I managed to convince you last week that these 7 churches could be viewed in 5 ways; 4 you will find elsewhere, and the 5th known only to you and me: 

  • Historically 
  • Practically – ‘what kind of church am I in?’ 
  • Personally – ‘what am I in this church?’ – in each there is the ‘overcomer’ and the exception (2:24; 3:4) 
  • Prophetically: 

The significance of ‘7’ 
These stars and lampstands are ‘mysteries’ (1:20) 
This whole book is a book of prophecy 

Perfectly / Positionally / Eternally in Christ 

What is a lampstand on earth is also a star in heaven. 
The temporal has a link with the eternal. 
The earthy is a reflection of the heavenly; as was the tabernacle and temple of old. 
What is done of Christ on earth, before men and in time has an abiding worth and dignity in heaven, before God and eternally. 
That reward never passes away!  
All of the ministry to these 7 churches has as its goal the conformity of each church to the eternal and heavenly standard for it – its star in heaven! 
Every step of obedience to this ministry and conformity to it brings us closer to God’s glorious vision of His church in Christ. 
The star is what the church is in Christ – its perfect heavenly representative and the lampstand what that church is on earth. 


Cf Elizabeth Elliott who speaks of love as being God’s gift to allow us to see another person the way God originally intended them to be. 

 

If we appreciate that prophetic aspect to the 7 churches then we will see that in Ephesus that we have the PRIMITIVE church – the very first of the 7 churches, the church of the apostolic era and first century church. 

It will be appreciated that problems and errors affecting the foundation of a structure could potentially have lasting and catastrophic effects on the whole of the structure subsequently; like a bad foundation to a house or like the sin sown into humanity in Eden! So it is here. The fundamental problem identified in Ephesus resonates through the subsequent churches; an empty hunger seeking fulfilment throughout the 7 in different avenues. 

The church at Ephesus is unique in this list of 7 – it is the only one that we have any other NT letter addressed to: Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy. It is only Laodicea out of the others which is mentioned elsewhere in Colossians 4:16. 

That turns out to be particularly helpful in our understanding of what is actually going on here at Ephesus! 

Verse 2 – the deficit at Ephesus has often been noticed: 

“I know thy works, and thy labour and thy patience…” 

Cf 

“Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;” (1 Thessalonians 1:3) 

What has happened to: 

Faith 
Love 
Hope 

That is of course a very pertinent observation, however for me the more pressing question for me is not only: 

What happened to … 
How could anything happen without… 

It is absolutely astounding, that you could remove: 

Faith 
Love 
Hope 

Strip away the essence of Christian experience and yet everything seems to run on regardless!! 

That is a phenomenal observation! 

This is a church in a coma! 

Why? How? 

Habit 
Ritual 
Routine 
Sense of duty / expectation 

Many people find great reassurance in going through the same rituals and routines week after week month after month, never really critically examining what and why they are doing what they are doing, if anything is coming out of it. 

 

This church seems to have become focused upon / satisfied with: 

principles, precepts, dogma and teaching; “and hast found them liars” (v2) 
practices 
patterns of behaviour 

But not the PERSON of Christ! 

What would such a church look like? 

Boring Orthodoxy? – routine and ritual with no reality of the presence of Christ and the power of the Word of God?? 
Respectably backslidden? 

As opposed perhaps to Pergamos and Thyatira: 

Exciting Heresy 

Or Laodiceas 

Entertaining Vacuum 

Ephesus seems to be dogged with the problem of: 

                              ‘Fatal Distraction’ 

Ephesus has become focused on: 

Activity for Christ (v2) – Toil 
Standards of Christ (v2) – Testing 
Truth about Christ (v3) – Truth 
Persevering because of Christ (v3) – Testimony 

Ephesus strikes me as being like a bad marriage; in which one or both partners are so busy doing and working and earning that they are never present for one another! 

Ephesus is the NT church so dogged by distraction: 

1 & 2 Timothy: 

  • False Teachers – 1:20; 2 Tim 2:17ff 
  • False Teaching – 1:4ff; 4:14ff; 4:16; 4:2; Asceticism (4:3ff) 
  • False Gospel of works righteousness – 1 Tim1:7-9; 1:13ff 
  • Immorality – 1:5, 10; 1:19-20; 3:1ff; 3:9, 12; 4:2; 5:20-24; 6:5; 2 Tim 2:18-22; 26 
  • Materialism – 6:5-10; 6:17-19 
  • Lack of fervour in prayer – 2:1ff and evangelism 2:1ff; 2:8 

 

It is Ephesus which ultimately becomes canvas upon which is painted the fatal distraction and false desires of the other loves of the last days: 

 

  • Lovers of Self (2 Tim 3:2) 
  • Lovers of Money (2 Tim 3:2) 
  • Lovers of Pleasure (2 Tim 3:4) 

 

Intriguingly the Ephesians appear to have tackled many of these problems highlighted by Paul to Timothy: 

  • Deficit in activity – Rev 2:2 
  • False Teachers – Rev 2:2 
  • False Teaching and the Truth – Rev 2:2 
  • Immorality and evil – Rev 2:2 

They appear to have addressed: 

Moral Problems 
Doctrinal Problems 
False Teachers 
Inactivity 

But they haven’t really managed to tackle the underlying problem! 

“thou hast left thy first love” (v4) 

In many ways our understanding of this statement is critical not only for our understanding of Ephesus but also for our understanding of the other 6 churches, since this error lies at the foundation of all subsequent churches and their problems! 

So what was this problem? 

It is a problem which reflects the central concern of Paul for the Ephesians in 1 Timothy 3:16: 

  • 1 Timothy chp 1 – Law and Sin 
  • 1 Timothy chp 2 – Sacrifice and Saviour 
  • 1 Timothy 3:16 – The Sanctuary ark and the mercy seat 
  • 1 Timothy chp 4 – The lamp, the loaf and the altar of incense 
  • 1 Timothy chp 5 – The sacred 
  • 1 Timothy chp 6 – The secular 

The deficit lies in what ought to be at the centre of our Christian life – Christ! 

What does it mean to have ‘left your first love’? 

Often times this is interpreted to mean that the church at Ephesus has left the ‘intensity of the love it had at first’. 

That this was a problem of INTENSITY of PASSION 

The problem with that is that if it primarily means the INTENSITY of PASSION it really has little meaning at all. 

 

The problem with setting a fail or a standard based on ‘not enough’ you need a ‘bit more’ is that this will always be true! There is always more that we could love. 

How much is enough? 

How can I have enough? 

How can I know I have enough? 

An unrealistic expectation founded on an unjustified assumption leading to an unachievable standard! 

I would suggest that the primary issue here is more concrete, down to earth and practical. 

This is not so much leaving the intensity of love but rather leaving the object of love. 

Not primarily a matter of PASSION but rather a matter of the PERSON. 

Not WHAT but WHO 

That seems hinted at by the use of the word “left” : ἀφίημι  - used approximately 167 times in NT and almost always used of leaving a person or of leaving an object eg nets, a cloak, debts. 

The solution to the problem then is not: 

How do I work up a greater passion – which will never succeed – there will always be a greater passion 

But rather 

How do I get closer to the person? 

In 1 & 2 Timothy they had got caught up with all of the distractions, here in Revelation they had got caught up with dealing with the distractions and all the activity of being a Christian! 

What now seems to hinder is not the problem but rather the solution to the problem! 

Starting with the problems won’t necessarily bring you into communion with Christ. 

Starting with communion with Christ will tackle the problems however. 

Ephesus is unique amongst the 7 churches of Asia in that we have other NT letters written to this church: Ephesians, 1 + 2 Timothy 

We know relatively so much about it 

Only Laodicea is mentioned in Colossians 4:16 

That is useful for there are some fundamental issues here: 

Ephesus is the first of 7 churches 
Error at the foundation may well make its way through the whole of subsequent church history, if you do as I do take a church perspective on the pattern of the 7 churches. 

As you travel through Europe and see the impact of Christianity on city skyline can’t help but be impressed by the impact that Christianity has had. Yet as you take a closer look you are equally struck by the amount of other things and the tangents that people have gone off on. 

Probably out of the 7 churches of Revelation I have heard more ministry from Ephesus than any of the others, with Laodicea a close 2nd. It would be and has been very easy to take this verse and to do violence to the verse and use it to berate the believer. 

That is not only an unproductive approach but is also an erroneous one. 

Over the years I have heard this text used to chasten the Christian that they have left their original intensity of affection to Christ, that their current levels of devotion and love for Christ are insufficient and that that intensity, devotion and passion must be augmented to previous levels. 

This is very misleading. 

This is almost a salvation by works. 

This is not the quantity nor even the quality of a believers devotion to Christ this is the presence or absence of it as a fact! 

Its not the kind of love but the reality of that relationship that is absent! 

Instead of a relationship with Christ being number 1, that relationship became number 2. 

Like Adam in the garden (2:7) the tree of knowledge of good and evil, deceived by Satan, crept in and became the priority; displacing the tree of life (2:9) from it’s Divinely appointed centre place. 

The beginning of the Church seems to re-echoe the fundamental problem at the beginning of creation! 

History may not repeat itself but it certainly rhymes! 

1 + 2 Timothy are so important; these letters give us the background as to what had been making inroads at Ephesus: 

  • Hedonism (1:19ff; 3:1ff; 4:12) 
  • Antinominism (1:19ff) 
  • Jewish mysticism and the mystery religions (1:4ff; 4:7) 
  • Legalism (1:7ff) and asceticism (4:3ff) 
  • Materialism (6:10) 
  • Demonic deception (4:1ff) 

This is why at the centre of 1 Timothy in 3:16 we have THE GREAT MYSTERY, far surpassing anything you could be offered in any of the mystery religions! 

They have let their first love (2:4). 

How did that happen? 

Failed to grasp the obvious 

The all sufficiency of Christ 

As the foundation and cornerstone of the building, the head of the body and the bridegroom of the church. 

Christianity is all about Christ 

Neglected the essentials 

The centrality of Christ 

Distracted by their own attainments and spirituality 

False teachers 

False teaching 

The world 

Distracted by the utterly irrelevant 

and then inevitably: 

'thou hast left thy first love' (2:4) 

What is the content to this our first love? 

His Person 
His Presence 
His Peace 
His Personal ministry 
His Prayerful communion 

This is a relationship with a person 

First the person, not the religion, not the activity but the person 

That relationship with Christ is pre-eminent 

His Person 

in the scriptures 
in prophecy 
in picture 
in patterns 
in the gospel 

  

His Presence 

'Jesus Himself drew near' 
'Lo I am with you' 
'There am I in the midst of them' 
'I shall not leave you comfortless, I will come to you' 
'The joy of the Lord is thy strength' 

His Peace 

That surpasses understanding 
The peace of the upper room 
'my peace give I unto you' 

Prayer 

Communion with Him is two way 

Personal Communion 

'God is in you of a truth' 
'let him speak as the oracles of God' 

'Thou hast left thy first love' 

Here is the first church 

Here is the first condemnation 

The first condemnation of the first church 

This becomes the primary, the root condemnation for each of the failing churches, leading to all of the condemnations thereafter. 

Leaving our first love is a prelude to disaster 

It is easy to see how that could happen when the heart of Christian experience has been removed. 

It is like the distinction between Mary and Martha: 

Luk 10:40-43 “But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Pergamos and the Virus of Compromise - Revelation chp 2 vs 12 to 17 - JS Gillespie  

 

The 3rd of 7 churches in Revelation chps 2 + 3 

The tactics so far from Satan have been: 

Drive a wedge between the believer and Christ – Ephesus. 

Distance from a person rather than a passion 
Not really about quantity / quality but rather reality 
It’s the old error back again – substitution and distraction (v7) 
Distraction from the true centre – the tree of life rather than the attractive centre of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. 
‘left’ : ‘aphiemi’ – used 148 X in the NT almost always of leaving a person or an object rather than a principle or attribute 

 

Persecution and attack – Smyrna 

 

Compromise – probably the most successful tactic so far! 

 

Pergamos – can be translated as marriage, although some maintain that it ought not to be translated as marriage but rather as citadel. 

‘per’ – mixed 

‘gamos’ – marriage 

 

The fact that it could be translated as marriage is nonetheless interesting since that would fit very well with what appears to have been happening at this church; union between church and the pagan world around it! 

Pergamos would relate to that period of the church prophetically beginning with the professed conversion of Constantine and the Edict of Milan 313 AD 

With the conversion of Constantine, this created a massive problem. Constantine was himself regarded as a god and headed up the whole Roman cultic system! 

What do you do with paganism when the man at the top of the system gets converted? 

The old paganism was adopted into Christianity. 

Old pagan priests, places, practices were all Christianised. 

Christian buildings with altars and idols 
Altars 
Priests 
Holy water 
Rosary 
Mother and child cult 
The mysteries, sacramentum, sacraments – mystery of the mass and baptism 
Symbolism of saints 
Purgatory 

Pergamos is one of the 7 churches with serious problems, although not necessarily with a terminal prognosis. 

A serious illness but not a terminal prognosis. 

For the first time and the only time to these 7 churches Christ presents Himself as the one with the “sharp sword with two edges.” 

The sharp sword proceeding from His mouth (1:16) – the Word of God (Heb 4:12) 

Here is the sword of discernment 

Christ decides 

Christ discerns 

Christ divides 

He is able to discern and divide even when they are not. 

Here is the need of the moment met by Christ. 

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not…” (James 1:5ff) 

This is a sword that will not only bring judgment but will also bring salvation by separation! 

Vs 13 – The setting, circumstances and Satan 

Sometimes Christians struggle and fail where we haven’t but perhaps they have fallen and failed in circumstances and under pressures and trials through which we have never passed! 

 

Perhaps we have not fallen like them 

Perhaps we have not been tested like them! 

Their circumstances, intricately linked with Satan; ‘where Satan’s seat is’ (v13) 

‘seat’ : throne: ‘θρόνος’ 

Is it a specific place at Pergamos? 

There are certainly plenty of contenders for that title: 

Altar of Zeus and Athena – the great altar of Pergamon; massive altar on the hillside. 

Zeus – the head of the Greek Pantheon of gods; the ‘god of gods’ in paganism according to Plato; behind the idol are devils (1 Co 10:20); Clement made the conceptual leap that since Zeus is the head of the false gods, he must be Satan! 
The Pergamon altar excavated by a German archaeologist and transported to Berlin in the early 1900’s, opened in the Pergamon museum in 1930. This became the inspiration behind the design for Alberts Speir’s Nuremberg stadium from which Hitler made his first public declaration of the ‘final solution.’ 

Temple of Asclepius 

2nd largest temple in the Asian world to the cult of Asclepius 
Symbolised by the serpent on the pole; serpent = Satan? 
Treatment at the temple involved lying on the floor under the influence of hypnotics and allowing snakes from the temple to crawl over you. Not that hugely effective but a great way of keeping the waiting lists down. 

Temples to the Emperor cult – Augustus, Roma 

Very dangerous and ominous 
A pinch of incense was required to be offered on the altar to Caesar 
A dangerous place for Christians to be! 
Some later writers suggest that it was this that Antipas fell foul of. 

Plenty of options – which one? 

Impossible to say. 

Surely the atmosphere of the entire city is that of idolatry, demonism and satanic influence? 

Pergamon is the Asiatic stronghold of Satan; perhaps in a similar way to Jerusalem being the city of the Lord! 

Antipas: 

Little in the way of details given of his martyrdom, but interestingly referenced externally in other Christian literature. 

Simon Metaphrastes, a Byzantine writer in the 10th century makes reference to the tradition that Antipas refused to offer a sacrifice to false gods, and refused to recant, that he was put inside a hollow brass bull and roasted alive and that he died under the persecution of Domitian. 

Antipas is also referenced by Tertullian in the 2nd century and Andrea’s of Caeserea in the 6th century 

There is also a later tradition that Antipas was challenged by his persecutors with; ‘behold the whole world is against you.’ Unphased by this Antipas is reputed to have replied ‘well that must mean that I am against the whole world!’ 

V14 – great pressure to compromise. 

The doctrine of Balaam – a doctrine of corruption and compromise 

Notice the power to overcome compromise: 

Discern: 

Doctrine 
Diet 
Desires 

Of the world around you 

If it arises from a world foreign to God then its ideas, philosophies, appetite and entertainments are immediately suspect. 

Almost by definition if it is good in the eyes of the world, it is probably bad! 

The Nicolaitans appear to promote exactly this: 

Iranaeus of Lyon; ‘Against the Heresis’ : “they lead lives of unrestrained indulgence.” 

Nicolaitans could also be literally translated as ‘nico’ – over and ‘laitanes’ – people – probably a double meaning here in the name – both literal and symbolic in the context of the prophetic meaning of the church. 

The encouragement and consolation: 

Hidden manna: the manna of the Holy of Holies: 

Hidden in the sanctuary 
Hidden under the mercy seat 
Hidden in the golden pot 

Here is the Divine provision for those excluded and uncompromising – feeding on the bread of life, the bread of God, the bread that came down form heaven. 

A distant experience of the world equates with a deeper experience of Christ. 

A ‘white stone’ and a ‘new name’ 

Is this a white stone for: 

Voting – white for innocent / black for guilty? 
Invitation – to a social gathering 
Reward for running well and winning – an entitlement to be kept at the publics cost for the rest of your life? 

Such interpretations are very dependant upon the serendipitous bequests of ancient history; not too struck on that idea. 

Probably a reference to the stones on the breast plate of the high priest. 

Not only are we guaranteed an appreciation of Christ but we are brought into communion in the sanctuary. 

A new name in recognition of our faithfulness to Christ? 

Was that not the case too for Simon Peter? 

Or Cephas? (Syriac) 

Or Psephos : 5586 : stone 

He was the stone with a new name! 

This ministry from Pergamos has enormous practical implications for us: 

It is possible to live for Christ even when circumstances appear impossible! It is possible but costly. 
Contrast this with Laodicea – it is not always easy to live for Christ when circumstances are easy! 
The danger to the church in difficult circumstances when oppression and persecution is present comes primarily from compromise rather than conflict; compare verse 14. The great enemy of compromise” 

Cf Israel and idols 
Cf. Demas and the world 
Cf. Priesthood and foreign brides in the days of Ezra 
Cf. Israel and Baal Peor 

Here is proof if you need it, of the words of Jesus: “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” 

Living out Christ in intense adversity 

Christ is able to discern and distinguish His people, all is not lost! He has the sharp two edged sword! 
Beware of Compromise in a society which is antithetical to the Word of God; the template for the Christian is that of “Antipas” – ‘against all’ ! 
Compromise is more dangerous than conflict! We are responsible for preserving the truth not for preserving ourselves! 
We must identify, define and reject: 

Doctrine from society 
Diet of that world 
Desires of that world 

Be confident that the Saviours words can be trusted; “I will build my church....” 2000 years later at Bergama – Zeus has gone, Aesclepius is but a symbol, the cult of Caesar regarded as a bizarre historical curiosity but still today there is a small Christian community in that city!