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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Called to Intolerance
Text:Revelation 2:18-29 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 145:1,3                                                                                          

Ps 139:1,2,13                                                                                                 

Reading – Psalm 2; Revelation 1:9-20

Ps 2:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Revelation 2:18-29

Hy 41:1,2,3

Hy 44:1,2,3,4,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved, it used to be a common thing to get a letter in the mail. Now the days of old-fashioned letters with stamps and addresses are mostly gone. But if you remember… When a letter arrived, the first thing you’d do is check who it’s from. Whose name is written there, in the top left-hand corner? Is it from Gramma, or an old friend overseas? Some government office? Or is it just another bill? Knowing who a letter is from changes expectations, doesn’t it? Because even as you open the envelope, you’re already thinking: Will there be good news? Or will this require me to do something? Or can I just ignore it?

The letters in Revelation 2 and 3 are all from the same person. They’re from the ascended Lord Jesus. He writes them though his Spirit in the apostle John, and He addresses the local leader of each of the seven churches. And it’s very much the case that knowing who wrote these letters changes our expectations for them—and it must change our response. This isn’t just advice, or information. These letters are from King Jesus! In each one, Jesus introduces himself in a way that mirrors the exalted portrait in chapter 1: Jesus, clothed in a long robe, a golden band about his chest, head and hair as white as snow, eyes like flames of fire, and a sharp sword in his mouth.

Our letter today too, comes from him, “These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and his feet like fine brass” (v 18). We first notice that title, “Son of God.” That title speaks of the great glory of Jesus, not just as a righteous and holy man, but one who is God himself, and a great King.

The features of the Son of God are glorious too. His eyes like flames of fire: burning bright, burning clear enough to see right into the hearts of men. And those feet like fine brass, a hard alloy often used for weapons of war, able to be polished to a brilliant gleam. It means He’s got strength and power—One to trample his enemies and give the victory to his people. Such a person writes to Thyatira: the Son of God himself, the King, a knowing judge and a mighty warrior! And wouldn’t that change how they read what He’s going to say to them? Shouldn’t that change how we read his words? This is our theme,

The Son of God knows his believers in Thyatira. They are:

  1. rightly active in holy service
  2. wrongly tolerant of the corrupting Jezebel
  3. certainly bound for a glorious reign


1. rightly active in holy service: What lives in a church? What’s its culture and spirit? Elders and deacons and a minister want to know this, to put their finger on it too: What’s the pulse of a congregation? It can take a while for us to figure out. But not for Christ. Remember again from chapter 1, how the glorified Jesus stands right in the midst of the lampstands. The lampstands are the churches, and the Lord is among them, to know them.

And like He says to each of the churches, He says to those in Thyatira, “I know your works” (v 19). He understands what’s going on here, some of it good, some of it bad. But He begins with the good, with praise for this congregation. Some say that Jesus is being a bit sneaky here. Like He’s buttering them up with compliments: getting their attention with things that they like to hear, so He can hit them hard with criticism. We might do that, but I don’t think Jesus operates that way! We’ve got no reason to doubt the good things that He says to the Thyatirans: they were rightly active in service, and Jesus wants to acknowledge this.

That’s a lesson for us, in itself. In the church we can be afraid of promoting pride, so we don’t tell someone when they’ve done a good job. Wouldn’t want them to get conceited, so we hold back our compliments! But it actually gives God the glory, if we say to a person how we see the LORD working in their life. It honours God, if we tell them that we appreciate their Spirit-filled kindness, or devotion, or wisdom. If they’re true, we should say these things!

Like Jesus knows his believers, and encourages them: “I know your… love, service, faith, and your patience” (v 19). The church in Thyatira has been doing what every church must do: live out their devotion to Christ in daily and practical ways. They were loving, says Jesus, showing kindness to one another. They were serving, finding ways to help the cause of Christ. They were believing, putting their trust in God. And they were being patient, enduring trouble and waiting for glory. Some of these things were lacking in the other churches—like the Ephesians, who had left their first love—but in Thyatira, love and service were alive.

Actually, this church had made some progress in bearing fruit: “As for your works, the last are more than the first” (v 19). They’d been growing. Which is also good! Because for every individual Christian, there should be a process of maturing. We need to learn the ways of holiness, and learn how to pray more truly, and learn to serve more effectively.

It’s true for a local church as well, like this one—that there ought to be progress. Instead of merely holding steady, simply keeping status quo, there should be an advancing, an increasing. That is to say: What new opportunities can we find, to glorify Christ through our life and testimony? For this church too, “our last works should be more than our first.” Never mind what’s been accomplished so far, we should be pressing on to what’s still ahead.

In a way it’s striking how much Jesus praises this church, when we think about the kind of town Thyatira was. Next to the three cities that we’ve visited already, Thyatira was embarrassing, not even in the same league. We’d call it a “one-stoplight” sort of place. It wasn’t a leading city, or much of a centre of business. Nor did it have any natural advantage, like being built on a hill, or near a body of water. In fact, Thyatira was basically dependent on the bigger cities around it. It was one of those places that’s just “on the road to somewhere else”—on the way between Pergamos to Sardis.

But it didn’t matter that Thyatira wasn’t much of a metropolis. As one commentator says, “The longest of the seven letters is addressed to least known, the least important, and the least remarkable of the cities!” And this is because Christ was pleased to gather there a church for himself. It’s a reminder that Jesus doesn’t scorn the little and the humble. He doesn’t count success and importance the way that we so often do. Christ can make his mark through people of any background and any ability! In fact, the Lord delights to show glory through people who know they’re weak in themselves, and lowly. But to be used at all by Christ, we need to answer his call to repent.


2. wrongly tolerant of the corrupting Jezebel: Like so often in the church, in Thyatira there’s also a reason for rebuke. And this was serious: they were harbouring an enemy of the gospel! “You allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce my servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols” (v 20). In Thyatira,  one named “Jezebel” is doing the misleading. This is a symbolic name she gets, just like the “Balaam” who is mentioned in the previous letter.

And what’s the symbolism or meaning of being called Jezebel? Think back to when Israel and Judah had their own kings, and when the north especially had weak and sinful leaders. One such king, Ahab, had chosen to marry Jezebel, who was daughter of the king of Sidon. Together they were a deadly duo, for Ahab and Jezebel promoted worship of Baal. They supported false prophets, and even persecuted Elijah and other true servants of the LORD. Not that it was all Jezebel’s fault, but the book of 1 Kings shows how big a role she had in corrupting the land with idolatry, and opposing the Lord’s work.

So who was the “Jezebel” of Thyatira? Maybe a local pagan priestess. Maybe a fortune teller. At any rate, she’s a woman who is causing many to forsake loyalty to Christ. And the danger’s more severe because this woman isn’t an outsider. She’s actually someone from the church! How do we know that? She’d been given opportunity to amend her ways; Jesus says, “I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not…” (v 21). In his grace, Jesus always grants people the chance to change—yes, even the most wicked are given that chance!

But for Jezebel, the time for mercy had passed. For too long, she’d been pushing God’s people toward vile deeds, to become more worldly and less holy. Many have fallen for her deceit. Jesus addresses the church’s leadership, and so the entire congregation, when He says, “You allow that woman Jezebel…” She’d been given a chance to speak, and no one had shut her down. They had tolerated her views.

Now, we live in a time that celebrates tolerance. It’s one of the hallmarks of our society, that everyone needs to be permissive, and open to other views. No one likes to say that someone else is wrong. But Jesus rebukes his church for being far too tolerant, for allowing Jezebel to teach. True believers won’t accept evil deeds, nor allow false doctrine. Because God’s honour is at stake, the church has to speak boldly, even take action.

Jesus mentions Jezebel’s “teaching,” and prophesying. But was it actually a false doctrine that she was spreading around? A set of fourteen points you could jot down? Certainly it’s true that Christians can be led astray by those who write books full of heresy, or confused by the false prophets who sometimes appear on daytime talk-shows. But more easily we can be fooled by the spirit of our time. Deceived by temptation. And this was Jezebel’s kind of “teaching.”

Notice how Jesus keeps describing her activity in sexual terms. In verse 20, verse 21, and again in verse 22, He refers to it, and to those who “commit adultery with her.” Is that really surprising? Sexual sin has always been a favourite snare for the devil. He’s destroyed so many lives through the promise of this bodily pleasure—one that has a great power, even captivating. The devil has made great use of prostitution, of extra-marital affairs, and of internet pornography. And the devil knows how all this adultery begins so close to home, in a person’s heart, what Jesus simply calls “looking at someone lustfully.”

There’s much to say about the sex-crazed world we live in, and the dangers for us, and the ways to fight this. But Jezebel’s adultery is especially of another kind; she’s leading them into a spiritual adultery. What do we mean by that? Spiritual adultery is rooted in how God’s entered into covenant with us. He has formed a relationship of love and obligation. And in this covenant, God demands our exclusive loyalty—just like a husband and wife are allowed to demand that from each other. They have every right to expect faithfulness.

So spiritual adultery is when the LORD’s people stray from him, their husband and head. When we look at other gods, and when we run to them for our security and our delight, go to them for our warmest pleasures. This is exactly what the first Jezebel did in Israel, when she promoted the love of Baal. Or think of the book of Hosea, where Israel kept breaking faith with God, and running after many lovers.

Later on in Revelation as well, in chapters 17 and 19, John will describe the Great Harlot of Babylon. He’ll say how this friend and ally of Satan “corrupted the earth with her fornication.” For in every age there’s that pull, that we embrace something besides the true God. It afflicts us all, young and old, male and female. When we’re unfaithful to our Saviour. When we love Jesus a little, but we love lots of other things too. When we so deeply love our money, our toys, our sex, our status, our drinks, our job—whatever it is, it’s when our satisfaction and comfort don’t come from God, but from something else, something temporary and cheap. Then we too, have used the services of the Great Harlot.

A couple verses later, Jesus talks about those “who have not known the depths of Satan” (v 24). That’s putting it very bluntly. It puts our spiritual struggles in the right frame of view. What’s going on is the kingdom of light versus the kingdom of darkness. It’s not flesh and blood that we’re fighting. It’s not the TV or computer or credit card that’s evil. These are only the kind of things that give access to the “depths of Satan.” If we’re not careful, and if we’re not armoured with Christ’s armour, they open us up to what Paul calls “the spiritual forces of evil,” the very depths of Satan.

Yes, by leading the church into adultery, “Jezebel” had done terrible damage in Thyatira. The time for her repentance had passed; now was time for judgment. The Lord Jesus will take measures to protect his people. Says He, “I will cast her into a sickbed” (v 22). Just like the Jezebel of 1 Kings, this woman will feel God’s wrath. The bed of pleasure that she’d offered to many will become a bed of pain.

He continues, “I will kill her children with death” (v 23). By “her children” Jesus means those who keep following Jezebel, those committed to the gods of this age. These will meet a definite end—tribulation and death. For that’s always the cost of tolerating evil. Evil never stays just where it is, not in our personal lives, and not in the church. Like a cancer spreading in a body—if we don’t fight it, that evil will only grow and kill. We have to know that unfaithfulness and sin will never lead to good things. But while Jezebel’s chance to change had passed, there was still opportunity for others. Jesus says He’ll throw “those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds” (v 22). This is a warning, given in loving concern. He doesn’t delight in the death of any sinner, but desires our life. 

And then listen to what Jesus says next, “And all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts” (2:23). Remember those eyes of Jesus in the letter’s introduction, “eyes like a flame of fire” (2:18). His eyes are so sharp, with a penetrating power. He searches minds and hearts—which means He’s able to see right through the seductive arguments of Jezebel. He’s able to see who’s being led astray. He’s got a perfect knowledge of all, and can’t be deceived.

That can be troubling for us, can’t it? A person can fool almost everyone, almost all the time, but he can’t fool Christ. Thyatira shows how even an entire church can think it’s doing very well, while in reality in some important way, it hasn’t obeyed his Word, and needs to repent. The Christ with eyes like flames of fire searches us, and He knows us.

That’s unsettling, we said. It should make us pause in self-examination. But the same truth can be reassuring. Because sometimes we wonder about our faith. A person can get this notion that he’s not doing enough for God, and he despairs: “Do I really belong to him? Am I saved?” Someone else wonders, “Aren’t I too much of mess for God to fix? Doesn’t He want people who’ve got it all figured out?” But we can rest in the one who sent us this letter: Jesus, who searches minds and hearts. He knows what lives in a person, and what lives in a church. He knows exactly who’s alive in him by faith. And if we are alive, we also know his promise not to abandon his works. He’s not done with us, but He has promised a glorious hope.


3. certainly bound for a glorious reign: Remember what we said about who this letter’s from? It’s from the “Son of God.” There’s a divine flavour to that name. But also a royal flavour. If you go back to the Old Testament, a person like King David was called a “son of God.” That showed how the king was the LORD’s own representative on earth, just like a father appoints his son to take care of things when he’s gone.

So when God promises a Saviour, one to be a great king, He says that He’ll also be the LORD’s own son. We read that in Psalm 2, that song of the Messiah, where Christ says, “The LORD has said to me, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’” (v 7). In Jesus the great Son of God has come. And now listen to what this King says to his believers, “He who overcomes, and keeps my works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations” (v 26). What a marvelous promise! One day we’ll get the privilege of ruling with Christ, in great power and authority. Sin won’t rule over us. The devil and all his allies won’t have us in submission. We won’t be prisoners of illness or circumstance. But freely we will reign with King Jesus!

To every child of God, that’s a beautiful promise. Think also of its beauty for the Thyatirans. Remember again their weak position, how in comparison to every other place, she was insignificant and lowly. Remember how the church there had severe struggles under the world’s pressures and Jezebel’s deceit. Believers like that—and believers like us—might doubt if we have the strength to ever win. But in Christ, and in Christ alone, his lowly people triumph!

It’s the promise of Psalm 2, fulfilled in Christ, and applied in the church, “He shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the potter’s vessels shall be broken to pieces” (v 27). The rod of iron started as the shepherd’s club—good for whacking intruders. But it became a symbol of authority, held in hands of kings. If you carried a rod of iron, you could smash your opponents, and pulverize their forces. This is the power given to the Thyatirans. If they overcome this evil, if they armoured with Christ’s armour, they’re assured of a part in his kingdom!

When there’s bad news for the church every week, and we wonder if unbelievers will prevail, that’s also our rich hope. When we fear those in our time who despise God’s Word, or those who mock his believers, that’s our sure strength. Christ already rules all of them with his rod of iron. And Christ is ready to trample them with his feet of fine brass.

That’s the power of the Son of God, our King. And like every great leader, He inspires those around him to be stronger. Even if nothing has changed outwardly, with someone mighty in the lead, people are willing to follow. Valiant in battle, brave facing the enemy, even sure of victory. That’s Christ’s power. By what He did, and who He is, the Son of God makes us men and women of courage.

So in him, be bold against temptation that you’re fighting every day. In Christ, be courageous, whether that’s taking leadership in your family or in the church, or beginning something new for God’s glory, or simply doing his good will. Have courage that He’s with you, to protect and help you. Be valiant in him, because his power is great!

By this kind of faith we’re given a place with Christ, and we’re seated with him in the heavenly realms. And if the picture of our promised glory wasn’t bright enough, Jesus says, “I will give him the morning star” (v 28). A star is a heavenly light, an amazing creation that shows God’s power. We hear Jesus himself declare in Revelation 22:16, “I am the bright morning star.” That’s the star we get! Jesus gives us himself. He gives us the blessing of perfect fellowship through him, the splendour of life everlasting, joined to the Triune God.

It’s a wondrous message, a most hopeful word—and now remember again where it comes from. It comes to us from our great king, the Son of God. If this letter’s from him, how should we answer? How do we reply? This text isn’t just advice or information. It’s not wishful thinking. It’s a sure promise, and it’s a call to action! 

In fact, Jesus tells us the response He’s looking for: “I will put on you no other burden (v 24). But this is what you have to do: “Hold fast what you have till I come” (v 25). That’s his call: Hold fast what you have, till He comes. Hold fast, for the King has spoken. And the King is coming soon.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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