In many ways the church at Thyatira was a model church. They had 5 great essential qualities that Jesus, felt were worthy of mention: 1- works; 2- agape love (for both the Lord & each other); 3- service (toward other believers); 4- faith & 5-patience
“thy works…the last are more than the first”: another compliment to them. The Greek means that their last works were greater in both number & quality than their first works. Their good traits were increasing measure – growing in love, service, faith & patience.
So Jesus commends this church. Unlike Ephesus which had left its first love & had ceased its first works, the later works of Thyatira were more impressive than those at its beginning. This church had some really good things.
“Notwithstanding I have a few things against you…”
In Thyatira, we see a downward progression. What began in Pergamos simply as fellowship with those who held to false doctrine had degenerated into permitting a woman the freedom to teach heresy to the congregation in Thyatira.
This wasn’t simply ‘open mic night’ where people got to share what they believe in small groups. Nor was it a discussion with the pastor where unbiblical beliefs could be corrected. The problem was permitting her to teach heresy to the believers, allowing the blood-bought saints of God to fall for & embrace that heresy. They were being seduced.
We see by Jesus’ rebuke that good works are no substitute for sound doctrine.
Jesus is saying, “I know that you are doing good works. I know that you have set up charities for the poor, have taken care of lepers, have taken in prostitutes who are pregnant. I know…and the last works are greater than the first. But despite all of those good things you are permitting My Bride to be seduced by false doctrine.”
The church in Ephesus had not been fooled by those who falsely called themselves apostles. But Thyatira had entrusted a position of leadership & teaching to an immoral woman who was a self-proclaimed prophetess.
Being a prophetess is OK. Phillip the Evangelist had 4 daughters who were all prophetesses. But this gal, this Jezebel, was a fake. She taught things that were in direct opposition to the clear teaching of the God’s Word.
Her name gives us a clue about her heresy. Jezebel of the Old Testament led people into fornication & spiritual adultery – idolatry.
To teach people to love someone as equal with Jesus, is to teach & encourage spiritual adultery – idolatry. Everywhere the Church exists, regardless of culture, customs or language, is supposed to be the Bride of Christ & in love with the Son of God, not with any other being. Jesus is saying, “You have allowed my Bride to be seduced. Repent.”
Though Jezebel had been given permission by church leadership to teach heresy, there is also a responsibility for individual believers to know the truth of Christ & to reject heresy. Why were the believers of Thyatira choosing to accept the heresy of Jezebel?
Due to the importance of Thyatira in commerce in that part of the world, many trade unions had settled there making use of the natural resources of the area. These unions constituted the entire business of the city. In order to work in Thyatira, everyone had to join a trade union or guild, including Christians. The meetings of those unions were devoted to the sinful practices which were connected with the worship of erotic idols of the Greek world. They held periodic feasts at which the members ate meat offered to idols & participated in sexual orgies.
This was the problem faced by Christians in Thyatira. In order to make a living they had to belong to a union. But to attend the union meeting meant to become involved in, or to be sorely pressured to get involved in sexual immorality & idol worship. So believers had to make a choice. Sadly, many believers in Thyatira compromised in order to make a living.
In this letter, Jesus, promises judgment for those who choose not to repent. We must remember that the purpose of God’s judgment & discipline is to purify His church. A pure church is a strong church, and the Lord will make sure that His bride is a chaste virgin when she finally meets Him.
Time for our self-evaluation
Do you attend a fellowship that does not faithfully adhere to God’s Word in all matters of doctrine? Maybe you should find a new fellowship.
Have you been felt pressure from the pressures of life to compromise your faith? Have you given in & compromised? Have you permitted your love for some earthly treasure to supplant ‘first place’ in your heart, which should be for Jesus’ alone?
Once again we see that the Lord’s prescription for our circumstance.
If you have compromised, “repent” – turn away from your compromise & back to the Lord.
If you have not compromised, “hold fast” until Jesus returns – no matter how difficult it might be to do so.
If you have ears & they are meant for hearing, hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
In His Hands, Pastor Fran
The Christians in Pergamos were being pushed to conform to the norms of the culture around them. It was a big struggle – something you might also feel.
Pergamos was ‘sin-city.’ The Greek religions were widely practiced. The rituals of these cults were usually associated with immorality – prostitution, sodomy, orgies & lewd entertainment.
Jesus said to this congregation, “I know your works and that you live in the midst of great spiritual darkness. And I know that you have held fast to My Name & have not denied the faith, even when you witnessed the martyrdom of Antipas. But I do have a few things against you.”
Wow! This group of believers was bold in holding onto Christ, even when they saw one of their number martyred. But is it easier to die for Christ than to live for Him?
Though they were strong in the face of religious opposition, they had allowed some bad influences to enter into their fellowship: those who held to the doctrine of Balaam & those who held to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.
You remember Balaam. He’s the guy who had a conversation with his donkey. You can read his story in Numbers 22-24.
Jesus, tells it straight about Balaam: Balaam, caused the children of Israel to break God’s law regarding eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. He also caused them to “commit fornication” – sexual sin. Yes, Jesus calls sex outside of marriage something a bad thing.
Balaam knew that if some cute, shapely & morally loose Moabite girls would go into the Israelite camp, they could seduce the Israelite men & then introduce idol worship, thereby bringing God’s judgment down on the Israelites. It worked.
In Pergamos, someone had seductively introduced idolatry to the congregation, & the Church was allowing it. Sin is subtle. Often you don’t realize that you are in sin until you’ve been there for a while.
Because historical records from the 1st century are scarce, the Nicolaitans are more difficult to nail down. Some say they were a sect of Gnostics. But this is debatable.
Irenaeus, an early Church Father, said this of the Nicolaitans: “John, the disciple of the Lord…seeks by the proclamation of the Gospel, to remove that error which by Cerinthus had been disseminated among men, and a long time previously by those termed Nicolaitans…” who alleged that the triune God-head isn’t one, but completely different beings; that creation was not the work of God, but of a lesser being; that created beings were “shut off” from communion with God and spiritual things.”
Irenaeus, also wrote that John wanted to put an end to this and all heresies; that he wanted to establish the truth in the Church – that there is one Almighty God Who created all things by His Word; that He bestowed salvation on men, and that God began His teaching with the Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made” [John 1:1].
Whoever they were, the reference to the Nicolaitans is important or Jesus wouldn’t include it twice. It is important for this reason: it is the first thing in the NT that Jesus says He hates. This hate is from the One Who tells us to love our enemies. But notice it is the doctrine that Jesus hates, not the doers. What was this doctrine?
The Nicolaitans believed that only those with a deeper understanding of God knew spiritual things. Their attitude of religious superiority effectively created a gap between clergy – who allegedly knew these deeper spiritual things- & the laity who did not.
Typically a religious group has more than one doctrine in which it believes. Yet here we are told that Jesus hates their doctrine, singular. There may be a clue in the name itself.
Nicolaitan is made from 2 Greek words: nikao = meaning to conquer; overcome (‘Nike’) & laos = people; the laity.
Ruling over the laity – one of the very things Jesus’ death removed.
When Jesus died, the veil of the Temple was torn from top to bottom opening the way for sinners everywhere to approach God because of Jesus’ sacrifice. There is no more need for a priest to stand between sinful man & a holy God. We now have a High Priest in Heaven interceding for us in the very presence of God. That High Priest is Jesus.
What had begun as “deeds” in Ephesus [v.6] had become doctrine. As a result of the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, a church hierarchy came into existence telling the people what they could & could not do. They did not charge the people to be accountable directly to God, but charged the people to be accountable to themselves.
They ignored the priesthood of all believers, teaching instead that the people could not go directly to God, but must go through them, the new priesthood. The doctrine of the Nicolaitans – something Jesus hates.
But as in all communications with His Bride, the Church, our loving Jesus, gives m the cure for this problem: “Repent.”
They simply “had” in their fellowship those who believed & shared these false doctrines. So in this case “repent” would mean to put them out of fellowship. Excommunication.
It would look like church discipline to those being put out. Yet it would actually be church leadership acting like shepherds & purging the local flock of impurities (false doctrines) that would lead the sheep to sin.
If the leadership wouldn’t do this then the Lord Himself would fight against “them” – those who held & taught the false doctrines. Notice that He would do so with the “sword of His mouth” – His words.
Do you know how Balaam, died? By the sword! – Joshua 13:22
John 12:48 “He that rejects me, and does not receive my words, has one that judges him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.”
If we had traveled to Pergamos & attended a church service we would have seen a church that was unashamed of their Christianity. We would have joined in their songs of praise & worship. We would have heard genuine prayer that sprung from the heart. They worshiped Jesus, but were in need of repentance because they had compromised with the world.
Their sin was tolerating the Balaamites & Nicolaitans – fellowshiping with those who stumbled spiritual Israel, just as Balaam had stumbled physical Israel.
The believers at Pergamos, were guilty of broad churchism” or trying to accommodate all allegedly Christian beliefs. Our modern word for this is ecumenism. The problem is not so much the sin practiced in these pagan religions. Although it was grossly immoral, sin can be forgiven. The problem is the false doctrines that excuse or seek to justify sin.
It’s interesting that our present world screams for tolerance, but Jesus says it’s wrong to tolerate false doctrine within the Church.
Time for our self-evaluation
God’s people – Christian’s – are to be separate from the world-system. Friendship with the world-system is not an option.
We are not to worship at its altars.
We are not to learn its ways.
We must not be pressed into its mold.
Yet, that is what was happening in the church at Pergamos, and sadly continues to happen in churches today. Compromise – the doctrine of Balaam – is still finding its way into modern congregations opening the way for idolatry to destroy the people of God.
The doctrine of Balaam attempts to wed the people of God to the ways of the world. God calls it whoredom, and He calls fornication an unholy alliance. Just as Moab tried to corrupt Israel, the people of God, so the world is trying to corrupt Christians.
Worldliness is what any particular culture does to make sin look normal, & righteousness look strange. Beware. The smiles of the world are more dangerous than its frowns.
In His Hands, Pastor Fran
Are you struggling with major things in life? Finances? Family relationships? Health?
The believers in Smyrna, also suffered.
During the 1st century AD, people who refused to bow down and say “Caesar is Lord” were excluded from the labor unions which ran that city. This meant unemployment and potential poverty. They could also be subject to execution.
Considered to be atheists for their unbelief in Caesar as lord, Christians were hated by everyone in Smyrna. Christian shop owners were boycotted, thus they went bankrupt & lived in poverty.
My, oh, my…how things haven’t changed much in 2,000 years.
In all 7 letters, Jesus says, “I know your works…” This is both comforting & scary.
Heb 4:13 “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”
But Jesus, said that He also knew of their poverty. The Greek word used for poverty means ‘abject poverty.’
Although Smyrna was a prosperous city the Christians there were poor. The church in Smyrna, was made up of runaway slaves, freed slaves, poor people & those who had been stripped of their possessions because of their faith. Their homes were ransacked & looted; they lost their city (government) jobs &positions. During times of persecution, non-Christians often refused to do business with them out of fear.
Those who are in the midst of suffering are emotionally drained & often in great spiritual distress because their sense of the world has been turned upside down.
What do I mean? Most people believe — or at least hope — that bad people will one day be held accountable, & that good people will be accepted & rewarded by God/karma/the universe/whatever.
So when they experience suffering, one of the things that rocks their hearts is the perceived injustice that they — the good people — are going through something they don’t deserve by their own reckoning.
Today’s spiritual self evaluation is for those of us who are in a position to help those who suffer.
Helping people in the midst of suffering takes patience. Most of those who step in to help have limited time to give. At some point the helpers must leave those who are suffering & get back to the responsibilities of their own lives. But those who are suffering continue in their now forever-changed lives.
Religious organizations – primarily Christian organizations – have been at the forefront of helping in almost every major disaster in our nation, & have been similarly helpful in disasters in other nations.
Christians want to help. When they realize that their help can only be short-term they tend to share what gives them as believers help for the long-haul of life – theological truths from God’s Word.
Compassionate believers usually share things like “all things work together for the good” & “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” & other Bible verses.
Without getting into partial citations that lead to misapplied scriptures, saying these things isn’t usually helpful in the midst of crisis because it doesn’t matter in the moment. Especially in the earliest stages of suffering people don’t need theological truth. Whatever the cause of their suffering, PEOPLE NEED HOPE.
Jesus told the believers in Smyrna, that He “knew.” Then He told them that they would face some other hard things along the road of suffering on their way to Heaven. This meant martyrdom for some. He assured them of something all believers know: faithful servants receive rewards. “Well done my good & faithful servant.” In this He gave them hope.
We are not Jesus. But very often we are His hands & feet. So, what can we say?
When people are suffering they appreciate knowing that others feel compassion for them. How they know is when people help. But that help doesn’t always include words. Sometimes the best thing to do is simply sit in silence by their side.
If words are appropriate, saying things like, “I see your trouble. I can’t imagine what you feel. I am here for you. If you need anything just let me know,” are always welcome.
What do you say to people who are suffering? You don’t say: “I understand exactly how you feel,” because you DON’T understand how they feel – even if you have experienced the same things in the past.
Whether suffering is caused by poverty & all it brings, the grief borne from the death of loved ones, the heartache of a broken marriage, a prodigal child or any other thing, you don’t understand exactly how anyone feels because the experiences of their lives up to the point of their suffering are different than your own. Plus,they are different persons.
You might have a good idea of what they are suffering because of your own experiences. But in the midst of their suffering — especially early into it — they are emotionally & spiritually raw. They don’t care to know that any o/er person has ever felt what they are experiencing. They only want their suffering to stop.
They want their dead loved ones back – but know in the deepest part of their hearts that in spite of the fierceness of their love, this is not possible.
They want their homes & all of the memories destroyed by that hurricane or tornado to be put back. Yet they know it isn’t going to happen.
They want to go back in time & behave differently so that their loved one won’t divorce them in the here & now. But they understand that it’s too late.
Whatever the source of their suffering, they want things to be as they once were. Better. That is their overriding emotion. Though they might one day seek consolation from those who have gone through similar sufferings, when their suffering is new they aren’t interested that any o/er person on the face of the earth has experienced the same thing in the past. They are suffering now.
Even though we as Christians know the scriptures teach that God…”comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted” by Him [2Cor 1:4], we must be wise & sensitive as to how & when best we can share that comfort.
Notice what Jesus says here: “I know what the world around you doesn’t see. I know all of the good you’ve done. I see that in the midst of this materially wealthy society you are indigent…beggarly. But I also know that you are spiritually rich.”
Jesus, was speaking directly to their hearts. Of all beings, Jesus could have said, “I understand exactly how you feel.” And because of Who He is, what He sacrificed & suffered, no one in Smyrna could have rebuked Him as being wrong.
Instead, Jesus simply said, “I know…” And because of Who He is those 2 small words carried great meaning. In midst of great suffering it’s easy to think God has forgotten. But here God Himself says, “I know…I know.”
What can we do for those who suffer? Be human. Offer tissues if they are crying, or a hot shower if they need it. Gently remind them that they should eat a little something & stay hydrated for the sake of whoever in their families will need them to be mentally alert – even though they have no appetite at all.
“Love thy neighbor as thyself.” – Biblical love is practical & active.
The Christians in Smyrna lived constantly between 2 extremes: the love found within the local congregation & the hatred found outside in the culture.
When Jesus revealed Himself to them as “the first and the last…which was dead and is alive” – He presented Himself as the Lord of the extremes.
first & least…life & death
Jesus’ self-description at the start of this letter was relevant & comforting to those who were suffering persecution, poverty & death. Why? Because as believers they knew that in God’s kingdom the first shall be last & the last shall be first.
But more importantly, as believers in Jesus, they also knew that they would one day be raised from the dead.
Rom 8:11 “But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwells in you.”
Our blessed hope.
Hope. What all people need.
I Will Rise
In His Hands, Pastor Fran
Would you read a letter if Jesus, was the author? I’m sure you would.
Well, He has – 7 of them.
All with the admonition: “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
His letter to the congregation in the ancient city of Ephesus is the first of the seven.
Ephesus, was commended for many things: good works, that they labored to the point of exhaustion in their ministries, patience, their stance against evil & their doctrinal purity.
Yet Jesus did chastise them for one thing.
He didn’t say:
“You don’t have enough ministries in your church.”
“You don’t have a single’s ministry/senior’s ministry.”
“You don’t do enough to feed the hungry or clothe the poor.”
The Lord revealed that they had “left” their first love.
“Left” not “lost.”
Jesus says, “There’s something wrong with your spiritual condition. I’m concerned about your heart, not your works. You have left your first (of primary importance) love. You’ve gotten so busy with the work of the church that your passion for Me has gone.”
For a church this means that you can have all the outward signs of success in ministry: doctrinal purity, Sunday School, Youth Group, Single’s Ministry, Senior’s Ministry, evangelism, church choir, etc. But if you don’t have a passionate love for Christ, you have nothing.
As individual believers it’s good for us to remember when we first began dating our spouses/boyfriends/girlfriends. Every time we were going to see him/her we made sure to shower, brush our hair, freshen up our breath, that we were clean shaven; that we put on perfume/cologne/after-shave, deodorant, that our hair was done just right; that we dressed up a bit more; etc.
We couldn’t wait to see this person we love. We couldn’t wait to spend time talking, walking & holding hands, sharing a meal, etc.
But now that our relationship has been going on for some time many of those things have disappeared. You go through the drive-thru & eat while driving. You don’t shave just for him/her anymore. Your breath smells like lunch. You haven’t held hands or opened the door for her in you can’t remember how long.
What’s happened? You’ve changed. You have left off doing the things that you once did.
It’s the same in your relationship with the Lord. There was a time when you put tracts everywhere. You would talk to anybody about Jesus, anyplace, anytime. You smiled so much that it bothered people!
You prayed before you took a step – sometimes literally.
When we first began walking with Christ, we were excited about everything: Bible studies, going to church, singing the worship songs, praying with our hands raised, etc. But now we have “matured.” We’ve become so “sensitive” that we don’t want to offend anyone by sharing the Gospel.
What’s happened? At one time we served the Lord out of love. But now that love has waned. It’s not as sharp as it once was. .
Jesus is saying, “I love the servant more than the service. I want a home, not a house.”
Yet He is also loving. So He told the Ephesian believers how to correct the issue of their hearts: “remember” “repent” “repeat”
Isn’t that just like Him? The Lord always offers us forgiveness & a way to return to how things should be.
“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” – Heb 13:8
Substitute your name for Ephesus, in this letter as you do a spiritual self-evaluation.
“I Miss My Time With You”
Blessings, Pastor Fran
Are we living near the end of the last days spoken of in the Bible?
For students of God’s Word it seems clear that the world stage is being set for the fulfillment of some very large biblical prophecies concerning middle eastern nations.
These things – along with the glut of information available to us on almost any topic 24/7 – are overwhelming. “News-junkies” can’t hide from the “substance” to which they are addicted.
As disciples of Christ, what can we do? I don’t mean about any particular subject. I mean what can we do with regards to living for Christ in the maelstrom of world events that sometimes make us feel that we are drowning in a sea of news?
The Apostle Peter, wrote this for us: 2Peter 3:1-18
I’d copy the verses here, but I believe it’s better that you look them up & read them for yourself. Here I will only post some of the highlights.
Knowing that the earth will one day be judged by God, it’s clear what type of people we ought to be in our manner of living.
Holy in conduct.
- Earnestly looking for the coming of the day of God. Waiting in excited anticipation for His return.
- Being diligent to live in such a way that when He comes, we are at peace with Him.
- Without spot or blemish.
- Blameless. Not perfect, but repentant & forgiven.
- Always keeping in mind that our salvation is a result of Jesus’ suffering, as Paul wrote.
- Therefore, being made aware of these things ahead of time, be on your guard against being led away with the same error of the wicked & falling from being steadfastly faithful in your commitment to live for the Lord.
- To that end, grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord & Savior, Jesus Christ.
According to the Bible, the “last days” have been since at least the time when the book of Hebrews was written in the 1st century AD. See Hebrews 1:1-2
Even though we don’t know when the “last days” will end, we do know that we are about 2,000 years closer to that unknowable end.
With that in mind, and knowing that Peter exhorted the Christians of the 1st century to live as if the Lord would return in their lifetimes, should we not live in that same manner?
In His Hands, Pastor Fran