Revelation 2:18-29 // The Church that Tolerates Terrible Teaching

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TEXT: Revelation 2:18-29, NRSV

  • This ends the reading of God’s Word.
  • The Word of God for the People of God.

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of His salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [1]

 

INTRODUCTION:

Between 1933 and 1936, the Spanish Civil War raged on and toward the end of that three year conflict, the fascist general Emilio Mola addressed a buttoned down Madrid, warning of the Republican government’s impending fall. He told of four army columns moving on Madrid, and then coined a term that has become synonymous with clandestine, subversive activities. He said that as the four regular columns marched on Madrid, within the capital his militant supporters whom he dubbed his “fifth column” would undermine the government from within the city. His prediction came true.

Since that time, others have used the term fifth column to refer to a group or organization within a country or political organization where their loyalty was expected, but instead, undermining and subverting from within. By the perception of loyalty, they carry out their plans of political anarchy or destruction.

Such a fifth column in the followers of the prophetess Jezebel was found in Thyatira, and exposed by Jesus Himself. This church so far, had done well in the face of opposition. But, unless the church took action, they would collapse from within.

Jezebel’s fifth column militants regularly infiltrate churches with an aim to destroy. It’s not that all realize what they are doing. They may lack any external structure for what they do. There may be no conspiracies or organized threats to the church. It’s just that they find the gospel too narrow, the Bible too outdated, and the sufficiency of Scripture too limiting; so that they eat away at the biblical foundation of the church like a horde of termites consuming wood. [2]

 

Of the seven cities of Revelation 2-3, Thyatira was the least important. And that’s where we need to begin.

To help us understand this, perhaps we should find some modern-day counterparts.

  • For Ephesus, we might think of a city like Dallas, Texas. Lots of commerce and religion.

  • For Smyrna, think of a city like Cairo where the Coptic Christians are regularly under persecution from the Islamic community around them.

  • For Pergamum the closest equivalent might be Washington, D.C. with its worldly power and marble monuments.

 

What, then, would correspond to Thyatira? Perhaps we might think of Russellville.

  • Population of both is around 20-25,000 [3]

  • Both are fairly ethnically diverse

  • Both are industry cities. Most of the people in the River Valley (not all, but most) that have been at the same job for a long time are either factory workers or they have a trade.

    • Although they didn’t have factories in Thyatira, they had a lot of trade guilds, and these guilds basically functioned as worker unions, and these guilds had members who practiced their trade and that contributed to their economy.

 

This morning, there’s a few ideas I want us to see here, hopefully we’ll see more than a few, but we’ll cover at least a few.

 

Jesus Sees His Church (v. 18)

First of all, notice the picture of Jesus that we see here. His eyes are a flame of fire, and his feet are burnished with Bronze.

If you didn’t know this already. Each of the images in the Seven Churches are connected to the description of Jesus that John gives back in Revelation 1.

 

“I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”

12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.” – Revelation 1:10-16, NRSV

 

Each of these images are significant and they say something about Jesus.

  • When I think of eyes flaming like fire and feet with burnished bronze, I think that Jesus knows what’s going on. I don’t see Him sitting and gazing at the earth like some psychic might try to gaze into a crystal ball, He really knows what’s going on.

  • One of God’s qualities is omniscience – His all-knowing ability. This means He doesn’t learn anything new because He already knows everything. He doesn’t change His plans on the fly because we do something with our free will that He didn’t expect, and I don’t we can comprehend that, and honestly, I don’t think we’re supposed to.

    • That’s a lot of things we just don’t about what it’s like to be God, and that’s because it’s none of our business.

So, Jesus sees what’s going on, and because Jesus sees what’s going on, His feet are burnished with bronze. He’s ready for action.

  • As I was reading the text, I thought of Romans 10:15 where Paul quotes Isaiah 52 by saying, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” And then in Ephesians 6:15 when Paul is listing of the different pieces of the armor of God, he says we should have our feed shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.

Now, in both of those passages, Paul is talking about how we should be ready to carry the Gospel, but think about the picture of Jesus’ feet here in Revelation 2. He’s getting to bring the Gospel of peace.

  • You might ask, “Well, how is that?” Jesus creates peace by getting rid of those who are against the peace that He seeks to establish. Now, you can get rid of those people in two ways:

    • You can convince them that what they’re doing and how they’re thinking is wrong, and they should repent, and fall in line with God’s Word.

    • Or, you can directly remove them, and that’s what Jesus is threatening to do in verses 22-23 when He says things like, “I am throwing her on a sick… I will strike her children dead…”

 

I said a couple of weeks ago that we like the idea of Jesus being able to see us in our weakness because He can identify with us and help us as Hebrews says, and that’s true, but we often don’t like the idea of Jesus seeing us in a state of unrepentant sin because then we can’t get away with it anymore.

 

  • Jesus sees us, and there’s mercy for us to repent, but there awaits judgement for us if we do not.

  • Notice, I didn’t say, “mercy for us when we repent.” God’s mercy meets us where we are even in our sin, that’s why Jesus says about Jezebel, “I gave her time to repent.” You have mercy all the way up until it’s time for judgement, but when judgement comes it’s too late. When judgement comes every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11). You can repent of your sins and bow the knee to Him now while you have mercy because if He has to make you (and He will if you refuse now), then the time for mercy is over.

If you live your entire life never knowing Jesus, and never repenting of your sin, then your entire life is lived as what Jonathan Edwards would describe as “a walk over the pit of Hell with a rotten covering.”

But back to the main idea here: when we talk about Jesus seeing His church what we’re describing is Jesus’ to see not only the bad and the ugly, but also the good.

  • Jesus is taking everything into account.

 

Jesus Sees the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (v. 19-23)

“I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first.”
– Revelation 2:19, NRSV

 

Jesus acknowledges that they are a disciplined people, and here’s what I mean by that: faith, love, service, and endurance are things that our Christian life should be known by.

 

  • It’s weird living in an area of the country called the “Bible belt” because I don’t think we’ve earned it. I’d be more comfortable calling this area the “church belt” maybe, but we’re certainly not a Bible belt.

    • You all know what happened in New York this last week. The south is just as secular as they are, they’re just more honest and open about it up there. We can’t think that just because we’re a red state, and all our friends on social media are talking about being pro-life that we’re not living in a secular region. The only difference between Arkansas and New York is that many of us below the Mason-Dixon line are just using Christian language and sub-culture as a facade.

    • There’s a church on every corner here, and if we really lived up to the name ‘Bible belt’ then, homelessness and healthcare wouldn’t be issues.

 

Well, I think I’ll meddle just a little bit. Read Matthew 5-7; Acts 2:42-47; 1 Timothy 5-6; and the entire book of James. After you’ve read all of that, be honest with yourself, “Does modern-day Christianity really look like this?”

A recent survey said that there are 2.19 Billion Christians in the world. The World population is about 7.5 Billion. If you do the math, that puts ⅓ of the population as professing Christians.

 

  • If I took 1 pound of hamburger meat and seasoned it with ⅓ pound of salt, then that stuff would be so salty that you couldn’t eat it. So, don’t tell me that the body of Christ can’t do more to alleviate some of the suffering in our world.

If you don’t believe me, then find someone with a problem this week and help them find a solution. It doesn’t matter who it is, and it doesn’t matter what the problem is, big or small. Help someone find a solution to problem this week, and then watch what happens.

  • Then magnify that effect by billions and tell me we can’t do more.

So, again back to the text, Jesus sees their faith, their love, their service, and their endurance. And not only does He see these things in them, but He sees them improving because He says, “I know your last works are greater than your first.”

  • Jesus recognizes and affirms that there’s progress happening, and this is good news because sometimes growing up, we didn’t always get the affirmation that we needed from our fathers, but God is a perfect father, and He recognizes when we’ve done well.

Now, even though Jesus sees the good, he also sees the bad and the ugly.

“But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her fornication. 22 Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings; 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.” – Revelation 2:20-23, NRSV

I mentioned earlier that Thyatira had guilds, and these guilds were basically workers unions. Now, if these guilds had simply been worker unions of their time, then there would have been nothing wrong with that. After all, we have work unions now.

But these weren’t simply labor unions, according to Leon Morris, “membership involved attendance at guild banquets, and this in turn meant eating meat which had first been sacrificed to an idol. . . . That these meals all too readily degenerated into sexual looseness made matters worse.”

There were people in the church who were leaders, Jesus identifies them as Jezebel, and they were telling people that it was perfectly acceptable to participate in these festivals and ceremonies where guild members would act out in fornication and idolatry because after all, “these are times we’re living in, you gotta make a living somehow.” At least, that’s how I imagine they justified it.

And if you worked in a trade in Thyatira and you weren’t a member of a guild, then it was very hard to make a living, and if you did somehow manage to generate a lot of business, the guild members would either pressure you into joining the guild or run you out of town.

And even if you did join the guild, it was considered a major insult to abstain from engaging in all the drunkenness and debauchery.

I want you think about this: last week Jesus’ problem with the church at Pergamum was that they tolerated people who held to the teaching of “Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication.” (Revelation 2:14)

This week, Jesus is talking to the church at Thyatira, and what’s the problem? They tolerate Jezebel, another negative Old Testament figure, who is leading people to do what? She is “teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols.”

So, what’s going on here? What’s the big deal about eating meat sacrificed to idols? According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:4-9, there’s nothing wrong with eating meat sacrificed to idols in and of itself, listen to what he says:

“So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God. 5 There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many lords. 6 But for us,

There is one God, the Father,
   by whom all things were created,
   and for whom we live.
And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ,
   through whom all things were created,
   and through whom we live.

7 However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated. 8 It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do.

9 But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.” – 1 Corinthians 8:4-9, NLT

Eating meat sacrificed to idols holds no real power over you because the idols aren’t real gods. They don’t exist.

  • The real question isn’t “Will this sacrificed meat harm me spiritually?” The obvious answer is ‘No.’ The real question is, “Will this offend my brother who is from a pagan background?”

Now, let’s bring this back to our passage in Revelation 2. In Corinth, you might have been able to get away with having a Diana burger and some Zeus fries without bowing down at their altars, but this wasn’t an option in Thyatira or any of the other surrounding areas like Pergamum and Ephesus.

  • If you were eating their food then you were worshiping their god, and if you weren’t eating their food this was an insult.

On top of all of this, you have a figure who is in leadership in the church, and she’s encouraging people to participate in paganism.

  • It’s awfully hard to read this letter and not think of our current state of affairs.

You have people going to divinity school who are training to become pastors and priests who aren’t even saved, and they want Christians to have some commonalities with the world.

  • I’ve been binge-watching Stanley Haurwas lectures for the last two days (some of you have probably seen some of his quotes that I’ve posted), and he was talking about giving a lecture at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas some years ago, and after his lecture, there was an extremely liberal theology professor who approached him (obviously angered by something he had said), and said, “Dr. Haurwas, may I ask why you failed to provide us with a theory of Christ that would allow Christians to have an open dialogue with Buddhists?”

  • Stanley Haurwas said, “Exactly how many Buddhists do you have in Conway, Arkansas? And even if you had a theory, what good would a theory do you?”

People need the real deal. People need the real Jesus, they don’t need a theory.

The question we need to ask ourselves is are we giving people the real Jesus? Or are we just giving them a Jesus who looks and sounds like us and always agrees with us?

  • If God always agrees with you, then maybe there’s something wrong.

Or maybe I should say it the same way Anne Lamott did, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

  • Now, our problem when we hear something like that is to say, “Well, I don’t hate anybody” because we’ve been taught rightly how bad of a sin hate is, so instead we just mask our hate with a thing we’ve called ‘dislike’ and Ta-Da! Jesus doesn’t see it anymore because now it’s a socially acceptable prejudice.

Here’s the thing: if the Jesus we’re offering is one created in our own image then we’re no better than the Jezebel in Thyatira. It’s something we ought to give some serious thought to.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there.

 

Jesus Offers Encouragement and a Promise to Conquerors (v. 24-29)

“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;” – Revelation 2:24, NRSV

  • Remember Jesus is doing the same thing here that we saw last week, he’s making a distinction between the wheat and the tares. He knows which ones are the sheep and which ones are the goats.

“only hold fast to what you have until I come. 26 To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end,

I will give authority over the nations;
27 to rule them with an iron rod,
   as when clay pots are shattered—

28 even as I also received authority from my Father. To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star. 29 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” – Revelation 2:25-29, NRSV

If you’re not falling for the nonsense, then the best thing you can do is keep on keeping on because it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” – Revelation 22:16, NRSV

In the end: we get what we started with: Jesus!

“Our Lord promises us Himself with all of His fullness and glory. What more could we dream or hope for? Listen, those of you who have ears to hear. The Spirit is talking to all the churches. We all need this reminder. We all need to hold on to this hope.[4]” – Danny Akin

Let’s pray.

CLOSING PRAYER

Heavenly Father, grant us life and peace as we pursue You and the life You have for us in Yourself. Remove all of the sin in our lives that builds barriers between us and You and us and one another. Give us a genuine love and appreciation for one another as we seek glorify You. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

__________

  1. Book of Common Prayer, pg. 215, Third Sunday after Epiphany
  2. “South Woods Baptist Church.” Sermons from the Book of Revelation, archive.southwoodsbc.org/sermons/revelation_02.18-29.php.
  3. “The Church at Thyatira.” Faithlife Sermons, sermons.faithlife.com/sermons/46100-the-church-at-thyatira.
  4. Akin, Daniel L., et al. Exalting Jesus in Revelation. Holman Reference, 2016.

Revelation 2:12-17 // The Church that Compromises

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TEXT: Revelation 2:12-17, NRSV

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:

God of all Wisdom, we have gathered before You to read your holy Word and to be guided by it. Send your Spirit to this place that we might feast upon Your word and digest its meaning to fill our souls with Your wisdom and truth.  In name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. [1]

 

INTRODUCTION:

If you were to travel to the West African country of Liberia 25 years ago, the danger was clear and present. Civil unrest. Armed insurgencies. Political instability. In the 1990’s, the country had become a killing field. But if you would have traveled to Liberia just five years ago, the danger would not have been so obvious. Most likely, you would not find yourself looking down the barrel of a machine gun. But 5 years ago, a simple sneeze could have killed you. As we now know, the Ebola outbreak was just beginning. As of October 2014, almost 2500 Liberians had died from the disease.

This morning, as we once again explore the book of the Revelation together, we will also discover that sometimes, we can become blind to what is truly dangerous. [2]

Some of the most dangerous poisons are the ones that go undetected until it’s too late. Nothing will poison the body of Christ like the poison of compromise. [3]

 

Just listen to what some of those who have gone before have us about this.

 

    • “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…” – C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

    • “A new Decalogue has been adopted by the neo-Christians of our day, ‘Thou shalt not disagree,’ and a new set of Beatitudes too, ‘Blessed are they that tolerate everything for they shall not be made accountable.’” – A.W. Tozer

    • “Truth always carries confrontation. Truth demands confrontation; loving confrontation nevertheless. If our reflex action is always accommodation of the centrality of the truth involved, there is something wrong.” – Francis Schaeffer

 

 

 

 

THE SWORD OF HIS MOUTH

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword” – Revelation 2:12, NRSV

We know from the context clues of the rest of Scripture (Revelation 1:16; Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 19:11-16), that this sword is God’s authoritative word.

  • Whatever God speaks, happens. His word doesn’t go forth void.

What the Sword Means

  • According to Paul in Romans 13:4, governments bear a sword.

    • Swords are symbols of authority, and unless someone isn’t using their authority correctly or their being immoral (etc.) then you typically shouldn’t argue with someone that God has given authority to.
    • Just like guns are typically (not always) symbols of authority. A police officer pulled me over on Friday and he said I was going too fast. I didn’t believe him, but I don’t think it would have behooved me to argue with someone who wields a firearm.

  • Jesus is telling them to fear the sword of God rather than the sword of the government.  

 

“As the earliest Christians found in Acts, the church always has to be able to say ‘We must obey God rather than human authorities’, even if the ‘authorities’ in question are not the official magistrates (though the magistrates, too, may pose a threat if the Christians refuse to join in with state religion) but simply the insidious pressures of people saying ‘but this is what everybody does’.

Jesus’ response is clear. The Roman governor may wield the sword, but Jesus has the sharp two-edged sword coming out of his mouth (verses 12, 16, as in 1.16). His word will cut through the half-hearted spirituality that is happy to face both ways at once.“[4] – N.T. Wright, Revelation for Everyone

What the Sword Does

This sword that’s coming out of Jesus’ mouth is the word of God.

 

God’s word is His is message to us, but it’s not just His message, it’s His authority, and listen to what it does.

“Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” – Hebrews 4:12-13, NRSV

  • The word of God reveals everything when it gets inside of us, and it has to. When you go into a room in your house to clean it out, you’ve got to turn on the light to see what’s in there so you know what to throw away, and that’s what God’s word does with us.

  • According to James 1, the word of God is like a mirror and when look at it, and don’t do what it says it’s as if you look at yourself in the mirror and then walk away forgetting what you look like.

 

But our passage in Revelation 2 describes the word of God as a two edged sword. The two edges of the sword are God’s ability to kill and make alive by His word. Look at Deuteronomy 32 just a minute and listen to part of the song of Moses.

 

“See now that I, even I, am he; there is no god besides me. I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and no one can deliver from my hand. 40 For I lift up my hand to heaven, and swear: As I live forever, 41 when I whet my flashing sword, and my hand takes hold on judgment; I will take vengeance on my adversaries, and will repay those who hate me.”
– Deuteronomy 32:39-41, NRSV

 

Now, the question is which edge of the sword are you going to get?

Some might say, “Well, that’s just Old Testament stuff. We’re under the new covenant now. God was mean and nasty then, but since Jesus came along He’s really chilled out.”

 

  • A lot of people really interpret Scripture that way, but God hasn’t changed.

 

This is what’s going to happen, according to Revelation 19, in the New Testament.

 

“Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war…  13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God… 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” – Revelation 19:11, 13, 15-16, NRSV

 

This is what Jesus means in verse 16 of our text when He says, “Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth.”

A TESTIMONY OF FAITHFULNESS

“I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives.” – Revelation 2:13, NRSV

 

The commendation here is simple: considering, you live where Satan lives, you’ve been faithful.

 

“Pergamos was the first city in Asia to build a temple dedicated to the worship of a living emperor. Hence, Satan’s throne, where he holds court, can also indicate the altar where Caesar was worshiped as lord, and/or where the Roman governor sat in his judgment seat, dealing out capital punishment by the “law of the sword.”
– Orthodox Study Bible

 

  • As I said last week, in that time and in that part of the world, there was no separation of church and state. In that time and place, the state was the church, and caesar was their god. The motto of the state was “Caesar is Lord.”

  • The phrase “Jesus is Lord” is not simply a religious message, it’s a political message. It’s political message that says we will have no king, but Christ.

 

“According to tradition, the early martyr Antipas was bishop of Pergamos and was martyred in AD 92 by being burned to death in a heated bronze bull, having witnessed before the Roman governor that Jesus is Lord.” – Orthodox Study Bible

 

We need pastors and church leaders like Antipas with a backbone who will stand up and say, “Hello, World! Jesus bought this place with His blood. Deal with it.” (Tony Sumpter, Blood-Bought World)

So, so far we see that they have a Testimony of Faithfulness, but unfortunately, they also have a Tolerance for Corruption.

 

A TOLERANCE FOR CORRUPTION

“But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication. 15 So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” – Revelation 2:14-15, NRSV

 

The first problem Jesus addresses is that there’s people who hold to the teaching of Balaam.

 

  • In order to really understand that you have to go back and read chapters 25-31 of Numbers. Basically, Balak is a king of Moab and he’s afraid that the people of Israel are going to come in and take up his land. What he doesn’t know is that God commanded Israel earlier not to touch anything that belonged to Moab.

  • So, he acts out of fear and contacts a man named Balaam. Balaam is a Moabite, he’s not an Israelite, he’s a pagan Gentile. Brandon Hanson actually describes Balaam like this: “He was a thief and a trickster who meddled with powers beyond his comprehension… He was one who regularly dealt with demons disguised as various deities, making deals and inquiring of them for the knowledge he needed to perform spells and incantations, blessings and curses. Like Prometheus who stole fire from Zeus, Balaam sought to steal “fire” of his own—divine knowledge for his personal gain.” [5]

 

  • Balaam was the kind of guy you would contact if you wanted a voodoo doll made. He was a Hocus Pocus Hitman.

  • Balak contacts Balaam to put a curse on Israel, and Balaam soon realizes that he can’t. God speaks to him several times and actually causes him to bless Israel instead of curse them. Balak finally parted company with Balaam who could do nothing but bless Israel. But as Balaam is leaving, he offers one last piece of advice: Moab might defeat Israel if he told the Moabite women to prostitute themselves amongst Israel and invite them to worship their gods, eat their food offered to their idols, and sacrifice.

  • What Balak is really saying is “If you can’t put a curse on them, then maybe you can get them to do things that are conducive to a curse. All you have to do is get them to do things that will invite chaos and destruction into their life, and they will take care of themselves.”

Satan doesn’t have to come into your house and knock stuff around for you to be under a curse. All he has to do is get you to do things that invite chaos into your life, and I’m not talking about something stupid like yoga or whatever.

  • Pride, Envy, Lust, Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Gluttony – There’s a reason the Catholic Church called these the seven deadly sins. Every time you sin, it’s because you give in to one of these seven things.

    • The cycle of sin is usually the same: we think we’re entitled to something, or we think we deserve better than what we have (pride), so we want something we can’t have (envy, greed, lust), so we lash out at those around us (wrath), and then we’re depressed and we overindulge in the things that we can have (sloth and gluttony.)

 

So, what then is the teaching of Balaam? The teaching of Balaam is that if you don’t like God’s Word, then just change it. Believe a different word. Balaam basically told Balak that if he didn’t like God’s word of blessing, then maybe he could get Israel to go whoring after other gods and get them to believe a different, a word other than the one God has spoken.

  • This is what people do when they don’t like God’s word, they try to change it. This is what society does when they say, “Well, I identify as…. Whatever.” God has established reality, and whenever people think they do something like change their gender, what they’re saying is, “I don’t like what is true so I’m going to change it.” What else do you expect from a society that believes truth is all relative?

    • The cry of much of the LGBT community is “Live your truth.” No, live THE truth. There’s only one truth, and you can’t change it.

 

One more thing that I thought was so profound about this passage is the way that Jesus addresses the church.

  • He doesn’t say, “You people are a bunch of heretics and Nicolaitans and heretics.”

  • Instead He says, “You have heretics and Nicolaitans among you.”

And what this reminded me of was Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares. That kept coming to my mind all week while I was reading this passage. I want us to think about the parable and see if there’s some comparisons that can be drawn here.

We remember the parable of the wheat and tares, right?

  • You’ve got a wheatfield. And then while everyone is asleep an enemy comes in and plants tares or weeds among the wheat.

  • One of the slaves notices it and said to the owner of field, “I know you have sown good seed, but an enemy came in and planted these weeds.” And the slave asks, “Do you want us to pull up the weeds?”

“But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” – Matthew 13:29-30, NRSV

 

So, what you have here is a congregation that has wheat and tares.

  • Jesus is addressing the wheat, and He’s saying, “I have this against you that you have some here who are tares.”

And what is Jesus’ solution to all of this? He doesn’t say, “Kick these people out.” He doesn’t tell them to go on an inquisition in an effort to “cleanse” the church – He simply tells them to repent.

 

THE INVITATION TO REPENT AND LISTEN

“Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth.” – Revelation 2:16, NRSV

What Jesus says is very simple – repent. He doesn’t lay out a 5 step church growth program or anything like that, just repent.

  • Repentance means turning to Christ, and turning away from your sin. When the church as a whole begins the process of repenting together, then you won’t have to weed out the tares, they’ll weed themselves out.

People who don’t want the uncensored, unfiltered Gospel of Jesus Christ won’t stay in a place where it’s preached for very long. 

Here’s the invitation.

“Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.” – Revelation 2:17, NRSV

Why hidden manna? Why a white stone with a new name?

It’s simple. They’re living in a secular, pagan wilderness where they are in danger of being killed for their faith, and while everyone else is out in the open, running to the temple of Caesar, and worshipping at the altar of Zeus in search of some blessing, they don’t need a temple. Their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Their sacrifice is one of praise and reasonable service. (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 13:15)

 

CONCLUSION

It’s the same for us. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, we have been bought with a price, and our sacrifice is one of worship and reasonable service.

 

  • And part of our reasonable service to proclaim to the world that Jesus bought this place with His blood, and He sits on His throne.

 

Think about it, Jesus tells the church, “You live where Satan’s throne is.” Their job was declare that is Jesus is on His throne even though Satan was on his throne. That’s bold, and that’s possible because Jesus already defeated Satan 2,000 years on an old rugged cross, and Jesus got up three days later to affirm that victory. Jesus lives and because He lives, so do we. Let’s pray.

 

CLOSING PRAYER

Heavenly Father, Your Word is life and light. Give us the power to declare Your name even in the darkest of places, even where Satan’s throne is. Give us strength to share Your victory with those feel as those they’re defeated. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

___________________________________

  1. Based on the Prayer for Illumination found here: “Prayer for Illumination | Epiphany 3C | January 24th, 2016.” Liturgy & Hymns By Stephen M. Fearing, http://www.stephenmfearing.com/liturgy//prayer-for-illumination-epiphany-3c-january-24th-2016.
  2. Church Plant Media. “Pergamum: Constant, But Compromised (Revelation 2:12-17).” Way of Grace Church: Buckeye, AZ, http://www.wayofgracechurch.com/sermons/sermon/2014-10-19/pergamum:-constant-but-compromised-revelation-2:12-17.
  3. Akin, Daniel L., et al. Exalting Jesus in Revelation. Holman Reference, 2016.
  4. Wright, N. T. Revelation for Everyone. Westminster John Knox, 2015.
  5. Hanson, Brandon. “Revelation 2:12-17 | To the Church in Pergamum: Part 2 | 016.” Christ Hold Fast, 16 Jan. 2019, http://www.christholdfast.org/blog/revelation-212-17-to-the-church-in-pergamum-part-2-016.
  6. ” “

Revelation 2:8-11 // The Church that is Suffering and Afflicted

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TEXT: Revelation 2:8-11, NRSV

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever. Amen. [1]

INTRODUCTION:

Smyrna was founded in 1200 B.C. That is two hundred years before King David, and back in the days of the judges of Israel. In the sixth century B.C., Alyattes, king of Lydia, conquered Smyrna and dispersed the inhabitants into tiny villages throughout the area, where they could be no threat to his rule. For almost four hundred years, Smyrna was in eclipse. Alexander the Great wanted to rebuild it, but the task fell to his successor, who rebuilt the city around 300 B.C. on the slopes of Mount Pagus, about two miles south of its former site. It had wide and spacious streets. Its major street (called “the street of gold”) began at the harbor, curved around Mount Pagus, and ran on to the foothills away
from the sea.

Smyrna had been destroyed, yet she had come back to life. It was remarkable, and Smyrna ended up with the nickname “the city that was dead, yet lived.”

  • Jesus reminds them, “You may be a resurrected city, but I am a resurrected savior.”

Smyrna was not only beautiful and prosperous, she was extremely nationalistic. Three hundred years earlier (265-146 B.C.), when Rome was fighting for its life against the Carthaginian empire, Smyrna had sided with Rome. She was the first city in Asia to declare allegiance to Rome, and she built a temple to Roma, the goddess of Rome. That was in 195 B.C., almost one hundred years before Julius Caesar.

In 26 A.D., when the whole world wanted to be friends with Rome, eleven cities competed for the privilege of erecting a temple in honor of Tiberius Caesar. Smyrna won the honors. Rome considered Smyrna the most noble and worthy of the cities of Asia. Cicero called Smyrna “the most faithful of our allies.” Roman nobility came to visit and vacation there. After 70 A.D., when Jerusalem was destroyed, Smyrna was a favorite place for Jewish settlement, and the Jewish community there was large and influential.

So the scene is set. Smyrna is beautiful, prosperous, highly patriotic, and of esteemed reputation. Its citizens are proud of their city, and they feel fortunate to live there. [2] Sound familiar?

No one really knows the origin of the church at Smyrna, but the facts are clear. They are guaranteed suffering, and this is completely antithetical to North American Evangelicalism.

Jared C. Wilson, who is a Christian, wrote an article this week about how Christian movies are sending the wrong message, and he said:

“There is a kind of prosperity gospel that pervades contemporary Christian art. It’s there in Christian Music radio, of course, and it’s all over Christian movies, including the ones based on true stories. The team has to win. The sick person has to defy the odds. (If you can get a sick person and a sports team in the same story, you’ve hit Christian movie gold.) The atheist professor must get owned. The unbelieving spouse must be converted. On and on it goes. Why? Because “if you just believe,” you can win.

Christian movies have embraced a theology of glory rather than a theology of the cross. This is why, apart from inauthentic dialogue and stilted acting, Christian movies ring so untrue to ears tuned to reality. We know real life doesn’t work this way — even for believers. The world of Christian movies is uncomfortable sitting in the ambiguity of suffering, confusion, or chaos for too long. But if we must have Christian movies, they above all others, should be brave enough to tell us the truth, which is messier than what the market usually wants to hear.[3]

There is an implicit lie within Christian media that if you believe hard enough you’ll always win in life. Try selling that to starving Christians in Venezuela.

In John 16:33, Jesus said in no uncertain terms, “In this world you will have many trials and sorrows.” That’s the bad news and it’s important that we remember because it makes the good news so much sweeter.

  • The good news is the rest of John 16:33, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

So, as we look at the text this morning, I want us to see three things: A Picture of the Savior, A Promise of Suffering, and A Promise for Faithful Conquerors.

 

A PICTURE OF THE SAVIOR

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life: 9 “I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” – Revelation 2:8-9, NRSV

What we’re mostly dealing with in these two verses is who Jesus is and what Jesus knows. And, if you’re suffering, both of those things should be comforting.

  • Jesus told us I would have trouble. He knows we’re in trouble, and He is the Son of God who conquers the world that is giving us trouble.

The first thing Jesus says is that these words are the words of the first and the last.

In the Revelation 1:17, the first thing that Jesus says to the Apostle John is, “I am the first and the last.”

  • This is Jesus affirming Himself to John. This title of the first and the last is something that God says about Himself three times in the book of Isaiah, and by telling John, “I am the first and the last” his mind immediately goes back to Isaiah 44:6 where God says, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.”

 

The second thing is, “These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life”

  • Resurrection is authentication. This proves that Jesus is who He says He is. So, Christ’s resurrection is central to the life of the Church.

    • His resurrection means our resurrection.

  • How much do we really believe this though? Here’s the test: Imagine if Jesus’ had never risen from the dead. If Jesus had never risen from the dead, and you [as a church, not an individual] can go on living how you’re living now, and function as you are now if Jesus had never risen from the dead, then you are not living in the power of His resurrection.

“and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20, NRSV

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” – Philippians 3:10-11, NRSV

Let me say this again: Christ’s resurrection is central to the life of the Church. If the life of the church wouldn’t be any different if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead, then we are not living by the power of His resurrection.

The next thing that we learn about Jesus is in verse 9, “I know your affliction and your poverty…”

Jesus knows our affliction and our suffering. He identifies Himself with the poor, the afflicted, the suffering. He identifies Himself with the marginalized.

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” – Isaiah 53:3, KJV

A man like this isn’t coming for the righteous, but the unrighteous. He’s not coming for people who don’t suffer. He’s coming for the oppressed. He’s coming for the victims.

  • He’s coming for people who mourn, people who are hungry and thirsty, people who are meek. Because, according to Matthew 5, they’re the ones who receive the blessing.

The fourth idea here is that He knows our hearts.

“I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” – Revelation 2:9, NRSV

So, who are the Jews in question? Are they actual Jews by lineage and race or is Jesus using the word “Jew” to mean something else?

“For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. 29 Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.”
– Romans 2:28-29, NRSV

  • Just as a side note: Romans 2 is the key to understanding Romans 11, when Paul says, “All Israel will be saved.” He’s not talking about the nation of Israel or all ethnic Jews. He’s talking about all those who trust Jesus as their Savior and Messiah.

In Revelation 2, Jesus is saying “I know those who say they are Jews and are not, they are not they are of the synagogue of Satan.”

  • In Smyrna there was a Jewish synagogue not too far from where the church would meet, and the Jews would do all kinds of awful things to get this church in trouble with political authorities.

  • They would even come into the church and pose as converts and try to tear the church apart.

Jesus knows who they are. Jesus knows who is a genuine believer and who isn’t. Jesus knows who really loves Him and serves Him and who doesn’t.

In this passage, not only do we see A Picture of the Savior, but we also see A Picture of the Suffering.

 

A PICTURE OF THE SUFFERING

“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” – Revelation 2:10, NRSV

When we talk about suffering in terms of persecution, I always want to make sure that if we’re suffering, then we should be suffering for the right reasons.

“Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed… Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.” – 1 Peter 3:13-14a, 16b-17, NRSV

Now, listen to what Peter says in the next chapter.

“If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. 16 Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name.” – 1 Peter 4:14-16, NRSV

Let’s put this in perspective: Revelation, 1st and 2nd Peter, and Jude, and John’s Letters are all written to Christians who are suffering under persecution, and Peter is saying: If you’re going to suffer (and you will because Jesus said you would) then do so for the right reasons.

This important information for us because here in America we think we’re being persecuted when someone says, “Happy Holidays!”

Meanwhile there are Christians in China who are actually suffering for their faith.

  • If we’re suffering we need to evaluate why we’re suffering. Are we really suffering for our faith or are we suffering because we are “mischief makers” as Peter says.

Jesus knows the suffering of the Church of Smyrna, and it appears that they’re suffering for the right reasons, and so He tells them, “the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction.”

This is not the message of the prosperity Gospel. You’ve got people in the charismatic movement who will walk saying, “God told me to tell you x.”

  • There are really people with prophetic gifts and I don’t want to disparage that, but when you claim to have that gift and all of your “prophetic words” are encouraging and positive, then I’ve got to wonder what’s real and what isn’t because in the Bible, not even all the messages from the men and women who spoke for God were positive and encouraging.

The prosperity Gospel will not tell you that you are going to suffer, but Jesus does. Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush, but there’s good news here.

  • He says, “for ten days you will have affliction.” Here’s the thing: you can interpret this a million different ways, but ultimately it all means the same thing. Jesus named a specific amount of time that their affliction would last and that tells me that it’s temporary.

Your suffering, your affliction, your trouble is temporary. If you’re a believer, if you’re a Christian, then Jesus personally sees to it that your suffering is only temporary.

  • Satan is at work to make sure you have pain and trouble, but Jesus is has come to make sure your suffering isn’t forever.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10, NRSV

Not only do we see A Picture of Jesus, A Picture of Suffering, but we also see A Promise to Faithful Conquerors.

 

A PROMISE TO FAITHFUL CONQUERORS

“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.” – Revelation 2:10b-11, NRSV

Listen to what’s being promised:

  • Be faithful until death and you’ll receive a crown of life.

  • Conquer and you will not be harmed by the Second Death.

Here’s the thing: because we haven’t faced the real threat of death for our faith yet, I don’t think we appreciate this as much as Smyrna did.

According to John MacArthur, this place was the hotbed of emperor worship. You must treat the caesar as a god.

  • In America, what little emperor worship we see is voluntary; in Rome it was mandatory, and it was all over the place.

  • The promise of a crown of life is more valuable to you when you live in a state that tries to suppress any kind of hope that you have simply because you’re giving your worship to Whom the worship is due, namely Jesus.

    • Jesus is always a threat to secular authorities because He has what they want and they’ll never have – absolute power and authority.

 

Jesus’ promise of a crown of life means that we can look at those earthly kings and rulers in face and say with boldness, “Do your worst.”

Do you know Jesus this morning? Do you understand that this promise to the Church of Smyrna is for you?

“Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” Let’s pray.

CLOSING PRAYER

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word and we are Your people. When suffering comes, give us the strength to endure. Send Your Holy Spirit to give us power and strength when we need it most in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

_______________________________________________

  1. Book of Common Prayer, pg. 215, Second Sunday After Epiphany
  2. Revelation Sermon Series – Bruce Van Blair
  3. “Why Christian Movies Are So Terrible.” For The Church, 7 Jan. 2019, ftc.co/blog/posts/why-christian-movies-are-so-terrible.