The Churches of Revelation The Church that Compromised

Sermon Tone Analysis
View more →
The Churches of Revelation
The Church That Compromised
Revelation 2:18–29 (ESV)
18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 “ ‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. 24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come. 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
This is the longest of the seven letters and the most difficult.
As Hemer writes, it is also “addressed to the least known, least important, and least remarkable of the cities”[1]
This letter shows the depth of sin
that compromise ultimately leads to … full-scale idolatry, full-scale immorality, and worst of all, tolerance of both.
This is the church that has been infiltrated by the world.
This is the church that tolerated sin,
the church that absorbed sin, absorbed error and lived happily ever after with it.
This is the kind of church that is common today, as it has been through all of the centuries, but completely inconsistent with the demands of the Lord Jesus Christ who is the head of the church.[2] This was mission drift.
A Church That Tolerates
By all worldly appearances the city was unimportant and its church rather insignificant.
This is not the judgment of Jesus.
Big or small, well-known or hardly known at all, every church is important to Jesus.
Whether you have 10 thousand, one thousand, one hundred, or 10 members makes no difference to Him. He wants you to be pure where you are planted. He wants you to honor Him wherever your home is[3]
The church allowed the woman who was teaching that to have reached a point of prominence where she was articulating it and leading Christians astray,
as well as collecting around her some false believers.
The Lord promises that He’s going to judge and He’s going to judge that church severely,
sparing only those, according to verse 24, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them.[4]
He’s going to judge a church that has done nothing about it. It then deals primarily with the church that tolerates sin. It takes us back to a very basic understanding that we have to have in regard to the church and that is that the Lord wants His church holy. He wants His church in every sense intolerant of sin. [6]
A progressive worsening of the character
Here not merely a small minority was indifferent but large numbers had actually yielded to the demoralizing influence of false teaching.
There is a progressive worsening of the character of these churches as they become more and more influenced by evil until finally it takes over. Into this church the evils of idolatry and immorality had pressed and penetrated deeply.
There is a woman who here is called by the name of Jezebel, which probably wasn’t her real name, no one names their child Jezebel, not if they’re thinking.
But this woman had influenced the church in a way that was not unlike Jezebel having influenced the people of God in the Old Testament, and so she is branded with the symbolic name Jezebel because it was Jezebel, who led Israel into idolatry and immorality, and so here is a woman doing the same in Thyatira and she deserves the same name, Jezebel.
She had succeeded in corrupting the church.
You remember Smyrna? The church at Smyrna was being assaulted by a synagogue of Satan. But it was coming from the outside against them.
Pergamos was being confronted by the throne of Satan, the very … the very capital city as it were of satanic religion.
Smyrna was being assaulted by a synagogue of Satan.
The Words
Revelation 2:18 (ESV)
18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
The author is identified there as the Son of God, first of all
… secondly, as the one who has the eyes like a flame of fire
… and thirdly, the one who has feet like burnished bronze.
Jesus Christ is the author. He is introduced as the author and that part of His character, that part of His nature which best describes His relationship to this church is emphasized. [7]
And there are a number of things that describe Christ there.
And when these seven letters are written,
He picks out of that description that part of the description which best fits His approach to the given church.
Here He chooses to describe Himself with the imagery of the Son of God with the eyes like a flame of fire and feet like burnished bronze.
Those last two indications, eyes like flaming fire and feet like burnished bronze, speak of penetrating judgment.
1. Who has “eyes like a flame of fire”
He has piercing vision, like a laser.
Everything yields to His vision, everything melts before His gaze.
Nothing is hidden to Him. He penetrates it all. You cannot disguise it, you cannot cover it.
This is the penetrating vision, penetrating all things. And after having penetrating, consuming all opposition, sweeping down all obstructions,
pressing its way with invincible power.
This must have reminded John of Daniel 10 where it says of God that He eyes like torches of fire. And it’s speaking of God in the fierceness of His judgment. Such are the eyes of the Son of God.
They look through everything.
They pierce all masks.
They pierce all coverings.
They search the remotest recesses.
They behold the hidden things of the soul and of the church.
The church may have had a good reputation. It may have had a community reputation. It may even have had something of notoriety among other churches. They may not have known everything that was going on there, though it is sure, as we’ll note later, that they knew some of the things going on, but certainly whatever the people around them or the other churches knew or didn’t know, the Lord’s penetrating eyes uncovered everything.[8]
2. His feet are like burnished bronze.
His feet are described as like burnished bronze, polished with light flashing off of them … the picture of pure metal reflecting brilliance trampling out impurity.
It reminds us again of Revelation 19 the vision of Christ, verse 15,
“He treads the winepress of the fierceness and the wrath of Almighty God.”
He comes in trampling judgment. It’s a frightening thing to see Jesus Christ coming toward His church in this way.
This is how He’s introduced.
He’s introduced with His judgment character.
It’s a threatening picture. It’s frankly a terrifying picture.
Can you imagine what happened in the church at Thyatira when the letter was delivered and read on the next Sunday?
This is a real city. This is a real church and a real letter that was read to real people.
Hebrews says that God comes in judgment with the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. This is the church that the Lord comes to judge
And God is no petty tyrant. God is no sentimental ruler.
He has the power to do devastating judgment and He has the holiness to not tolerate sin.
And if something doesn’t change in Thyatira, they’re going to be caught in severe judgment.
That verse alone having been read in the congregation on a Sunday morning must have brought shock before the rest of the letter was even penned.[9]
3. The Son of God.
Son of Man is the name of His humiliation.
Son of Man is the name that emphasizes His sympathetic identification with believers as He walks among the churches.
The vision of chapter 1 He moves among the churches trimming the lamps, holding the pastors or the leaders in His hand,
ministering, serving the people.
And when He introduces Himself as a Son of Man, it introduces Him in His humiliation, in His sympathy as the merciful faithful high priest,
it emphasizes His comfort, His encouragement to the persecuted Christians,
He’s there tending to them, lovingly, sensitively, sympathetically because He too was a man and understands.
Whenever He is designated Son of Man it is emphasizing His humanness and that makes Him so able to be the sympathizer, to know the trials of His church, the needs of His church, the temptations of His church.
But very specifically here John identifies Him as He wants to be identified, not as the Son of Man but as the Son of God because He’s not emphasizing Him in His humility, He’s emphasizing Him in His divine power.
He’s emphasizing Him in deity.
His sympathy here in this church is over. Not for everyone in the church but for those who continue to persist in compromise and tolerance.
When it comes to this particular church and what is going on, He is not coming as the sympathizer, He is coming as the judge.
He is not coming as the man who understands,
He is coming as the God who does not tolerate. He is coming in severe judgment.
By the way, just for your own reference, it is the only place “Son of God” is used in the book of Revelation. He is coming as Son of God, He is coming in angry deity, if we might say so.
To see His anger look at verse 23, “I will kill her children with pestilence.”
In Verse 27 He speaks about ruling with a rod of iron and the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces with a crushing kind of authority.
He comes as Son of God and it speaks to us of the severity of His action against this church.
The City of Thyatira
Today Thyatira is a little city, has about 25,000 people living in it. And you’d be interested to know that the main means of life today as weaving oriental rugs. So they’re still in the textile business.
The city was especially well known for its purple dye (Acts 16:14 refers to Lydia, a seller of purple cloth from Thyatira).
In the city were guilds that served as the social and economic center of the city
and also exercised a powerful religious influence.
The guilds had feasts which were often religious in nature,
as the guilds worshiped their patron god(s).
To go a little further each guild had a god. Each guild had come to define a guardian god that particularly gave himself to taking care of them. And they worshiped that god.
If you were associated with a guild, you were in a religious group. And there was a god over that group that you had to worship.
If Christians joined a guild, they would have been pressured to participate in the idolatrous feasts;
if they refused to join, they would have suffered socially and financially.
Emperor worship was not as prominent as in Pergamum, but the city offered other opportunities to worship pagan gods, especially Apollo, the sun god and son of Zeus. Syncretism was the order of the day in Thyatira.[12]
Associated with that worship was immorality, as in almost all the pagan systems. And so there would be idols, idol feasts and celebrations, immoral orgies.
And that could be very difficult for a Christian because now if you were in a guild, let’s say you were a weaver of cloth, or you were involved in the wool industry and you were working with sheep, or you were someone who processed purple dye, you would belong to a guild.
In order to have good standing in the guild you would need to engage yourself in the guild activities. If you did not engage yourself in the guild activities, you could easily be dispossessed.
Here is a Christian. The guild has a god. The guild has routine activities which involve sacrifices to that god, feasts to that god, along with immoral orgies. You’re a Christian, you say, “I can’t do any of that,” you could lose your job.[13]
The problem that faced this little church was not persecution. That isn’t the thing He talks about. The problem as tough as it might have been with the guilds all wrapped up with false religion to maintain your job as a Christian, that wasn’t the big issue.
It wasn’t what was on the outside pressuring the church, it was what was on the inside.
The real problem here was not that they were being attacked. The real problem here was that they had fallen on the inside.
They weren’t grievous wolves from the outside, they were perverse people from the inside.
There were perverse people on the Inside.
Revelation 2:20 (ESV)
20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.
Our Lord is talking about an actual person. This woman was a powerful personality who had built her own following and kingdom in our Lord’s church.
She was smart, influential in personality, and powerful in speech.
It was easy to join her because she made so much sense. However, like Jezebel of old, she was evil and deceptive, domineering and scheming, idolatrous and sexually immoral.
The liberty she promised would actually lead them into slavery and away from God and the lordship of Jesus.
She clearly was a leader because people were following her.
But leadership can be good or bad, a blessing or a curse.
Someone should have stepped up and confronted her, but no one did.
Fear paralyzed the good people in the church from dealing with this false teacher.
There is such a valuable lesson here, one we must never forget.
Anything or anyone that gets your eyes off of Jesus is not of God.
Anything or anyone that minimizes or adds to the gospel is not of God.
Anything or anyone that compromises on biblical truth is not of God.
This woman had come along and successfully gotten Christians to compromise with the world totally.
The scene may have run like this.
You people are in the guilds. If you don’t participate in what they do, you’re going to lose your job. She may have said to them,
“Now listen to me, you need your job because you need to live and you need to support the work of the church and the work of evangelism.
So when they have an idol feast, go to it. And when they have one of those immoral things, it’s okay, you can do that.” She may have reasoned like this,
“After all, we’re not under law, we’re under grace.”
It’s possible she could have reasoned like that.
But I think perhaps it was this way.
She probably said something like, “After all, it’s the spirit that concerns God, not the flesh,”
the path of sort of historic philosophical dualism.
It doesn’t matter what you do with the material body because the material body is wicked anyway, it only matters what you do with the spiritual.
So she may have said, “Fine, go do whatever you want. You can engage yourself in that, you can even plunge in to the deep things of Satan, that’s only physical, that cannot effect your spiritual dimension.”
Why not join?
You can go to the communal meals.
You can go and sacrifice the things that are offered to idols.
You can go and enjoy the sexual activity, the drunkenness, the immorality.
That’s just your flesh. Your spirit is what God is concerned about.
She must have reasoned something like that because there would have to have been some justification to get people to buy it.
You can’t just walk in a church and say, “All right, everybody, you’re all free to worship idols and commit sexual sin.”
You’ve got to give them some theological rational for that and the old, age-old philosophical dual is it may have been it.
And that kind of seduction worked. And she led them astray.
In verse 20 she led bondservants astray.
“If you are going to survive in this dog-eat-dog world, you will have to make some allowances.
On occasions you will have to compromise your convictions. It won’t hurt anything. Jesus understands.
He never expected that following Him could be bad for business. And remember, you are free in Christ!” Of course, she was wrong. These compromises in belief and behavior set the Lord Jesus against His own church.
Sexual immorality and acts of idolatry, in any culture, are a big deal to God. God calls us to holiness, not harlotry.
He calls us to purity, not spiritual prostitution.
God calls us to spiritual fidelity, not spiritual adultery. God calls us to follow Him, not follow the world.
(see 1 John 2:15–17).
When the church looks like the world, you have a sick church. When the church acts like the world, you have an impotent church. When the church plays with the world, you have an unfaithful church.[15]
“I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world, is because the world has so much influence over the church.” Charles Spurgeon
And why do they buy it, why do they allow false teaching in the church?
And why do they allow it? And why do the leaders tolerate it? Because they probably were caught in the same thing and they’re all in to the compromise. And so they show up on the Lord’s day and they do their whole worship thing and then during the week, whatever their job requires, they do it. And so we meet the church and something of the pressure it was facing[16]
There is no calling higher than our faithfulness to Christ.
… When Paul argued that it was permissible to eat meat that had been offered to idols, he did not say that it was right to do it in a pagan temple as part of a pagan worship service. When Jesus told us to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, he limited that requirement by adding, ‘and to God what is God’s.’ ”10[17]
We should play to the only audience that really matters.
The pressure on believers in Thyatira came primarily from the business environment.
There are many parallels with our contemporary culture, where Christians are tempted to compromise in order to fit in with a materialistic culture.
At the heart of this temptation often lies the desire to be socially accepted by pleasing the right people.
This presents a choice about which audience matters most: powerful people who claim to guarantee our financial security or Jesus Christ?
Little wonder that this message also stresses the uniqueness of Jesus as the Son of God and Judge. He is the only one who knows us completely and is able to give us lasting rewards.[18]
Rather than taking a stand for the truth, the church at Thyatira was permitting a false prophetess and her disciples to live in a way clearly contrary to the will of God.
The Lord links sexual immorality with idolatry.
We may find that strange, but actually one inevitably leads to the other.
The reason is this: Fornication and adultery are both clear-cut violations of specific and explicit statements in the Word of God.
Anyone who reads the Bible can see very clearly that God forbids these activities.
It is wrong for believers to indulge in sexual immorality of any sort for any reason. There isn’t anything that justifies it.
When one does, he or she has deliberately violated the authority of God, therefore, in practice, if not in profession, God is no longer their God.
It is impossible to miss the condemnation of the Bible in these respects. If people deliberately reject the Lord's authority, he is no longer their God.
The result is, they must find another god, for it is impossible for the human spirit to live without something to live for.
That is what a god is. Whatever you are living for, whatever makes life worthwhile to you, becomes your god.
It may be the god of pleasure, even sexual pleasure. It may be the god of wealth. It may be the god of power, a lust for power and ambition. It may be the search for fame.
The point that is being made here is that wherever you work is the place of greatest temptation in this regard.
Right here this morning there are businessmen and businesswomen, stockbrokers, professional people, clerks, secretaries, various laborers in the marketplace, and in shops, etc.
It is right where you work that you will be under pressure to compromise, and to go along with the standards of the world around.
Revelation 2:29 (ESV)
29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
[1]Akin, D. L. (2016). Exalting jesus in revelation (D. L. Akin, D. Platt, & T. Merida, Eds.; Re 2:18). Holman Reference. [2]MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Grace to You. [3]Akin, D. L. (2016). Exalting jesus in revelation (D. L. Akin, D. Platt, & T. Merida, Eds.; Re 2:18). Holman Reference. [4]MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Grace to You. [5]MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Grace to You. [6]MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Grace to You. [7]MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Grace to You. [8]MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Grace to You. [9]MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Grace to You. [10]Akin, D. L. (2016). Exalting jesus in revelation (D. L. Akin, D. Platt, & T. Merida, Eds.; Re 2:18). Holman Reference. [11]MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Grace to You. [12]Duvall, J. S. (2014). Revelation (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.; p. 58). Baker Books. [13]MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Grace to You. [14]Akin, D. L. (2016). Exalting jesus in revelation (D. L. Akin, D. Platt, & T. Merida, Eds.; Re 2:20). Holman Reference. [15]Akin, D. L. (2016). Exalting jesus in revelation (D. L. Akin, D. Platt, & T. Merida, Eds.; Re 2:20). Holman Reference. [16]MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Grace to You. 8 William Barclay, The Revelation of John, 3rd ed., 2 vols., New Daily Study Bible (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004), 1:118. 9 Quoted in James Montgomery Boice, Revelation, unpublished manuscript, n.d., chap. 9, p. 9. 10 Ibid. [17]Phillips, R. D. (2017). Revelation (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.; pp. 126–127). P&R Publishing. [18]Duvall, J. S. (2014). Revelation (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.; p. 61). Baker Books.
Related Media
See more
Related Sermons
See more