A. The epistles of Jesus
1. Written to a cluster of churches in Asia Minor, present-day Turkey
B. We have come to the fourth epistle of seven, this one to the church at Thyatira.
1. Lydia’s home town, perhaps she first brought the message of Christ there.
C. Revelation 2:18–29 “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.’
A. We have said that the middle three of the seven letters are each a mixed bag: commendation followed by rebuke. So Jesus begins with the positive: “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.” (In contrast to Ephesus).
B. However, this morning the theme I have chosen is sexual immorality. Last week our theme was false teaching, and we saw how the specific false teaching Jesus confronts at several places in these letters is a false teaching which gave permission to Christians to engage in idolatry and sexual immorality.
C. You see, in many of these cities, Christians were having the same problem.
1. Economic life was dominated by trade guilds in which pagan religious practices were the criteria for membership, Christians were faced with the temptation to compromise their faith enough to participate in official guild activities which included meals dedicated to the patron god of that guild, and sexual activity with temple prostitutes. To refuse to do these things meant social and economic rejection.
2. And Jesus addresses this in His epistle to Pergamum and in this epistle to Thyatira.
3. After commending them for some things in v.19, He goes on to rebuke them in v.20-23 “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.”
D. So who is this Jezebel?
1. Just as Jesus cited the story of Balaam and Balak to illustrate how the (probably male) false teachers of Pergamum were causing God’s people in Pergamum to eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality, so here in the letter to Thyatira He cites the story of Jezebel to illustrate how a certain (probably female) false teacher there were “seducing [God’s] servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.”
2. We’re only given a limited amount of information about Jezebel in the OT. But everything we are told is very bad. It paints the picture of a woman with no conscience and shameless.
a. She was the daughter of the pagan king Ethbaal of Sidon, who was a priest of the Canaanite god Ashtoreth. She became the wife of Ahab, the wicked king of Israel, influencing him to promote idolatry (1Kings 16:31).
b. Ahab was the worst king of Israel, but Jezebel is given a lot of the credit. “There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the LORD like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited.” – 1Kings 21:25
c. The story of Naboth’s vineyard (1Kings 21:1-16) illustrates her conniving and shamelessness.
d. After Ahab died, God sent Jehu to wipe out his whole family. When he confronted Ahab & Jezebel’s son Joram, Joram said, “Do you come in peace, Jehu?” Jehu answered, “What peace can there be, so long as the whorings & the sorceries of your mother Jezebel are so many?” 2Kgs.9:22
e. And after killing all the others, Jehu finally came to Jezreel, where Jezebel was. And when Jezebel heard he had come, it is amazing what she did. She painted her eyes and adorned her head and looked out of the window. And as Jehu entered the gate, she called down to him from the window (2Kings 9:30-33). She tried to seduce him! This is who she was. She seduced Israel into the adultery of idolatry. She was the one who taught Israel to worship idols like Baal & Ashtoreth.
3. And so it makes perfect sense that Jesus would choose the name Jezebel to describe this woman in the church at Thyatira who was seducing others into committing adultery and worshiping idols.
4. Just as Ahab was too weak and spineless to stand up to the first Jezebel, so the church at Thyatira (at least a part of it) was too weak and spineless to stand up to the second Jezebel.
E. Now there seems to be a contradiction in this passage. In v.20 He holds against the church the fact that they tolerate this woman Jezebel. And yet in v.24-25 He addressee the church again: “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.” Here it doesn’t sound like He’s holding anything at all against the people.
1. At least one person in the church was a false prophet leading people into idolatry and sexual immorality.
2. Some people in the church were going along with this person. They held to her teaching. They had learned the deep things of Satan. They are called the children of this Jezebel.
3. But it seems there were two other groups.
a. Those who were tolerating her
b. Those who were neither tolerating her nor buying into her teaching or influence.
4. The only explanation which makes sense to me is that the 1st group, those who were tolerating her, were the leaders of the church, or a subset of them who were resisting this woman’s expulsion.
a. The process of expelling this Jezebel and her followers from the church, which the Lord clearly wanted done, had been carried out up until the final step, where it is put into the hand of the church leaders. So the people of the congregation, those who had not followed this Jezebel, had done what they should have done and instead of saying, “I have this against you,” Jesus just says,
b. “I do not lay on you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come.”
III. Now in terms of what we need to take home from this epistle of Jesus, I think there are two things:
A. Sexual immorality
IV. Sexual immorality
A. In a day when sexuality of virtually every kind is condoned, we need to take note of the fact that in the eyes of Jesus, some sexual activities are immoral. Jesus is in no way a friend of many things the world approves of.
B. There are a number of specific sexual sins which are condemned in the Bible. E.g. adultery, prostitution, homosexuality, premarital sex, incest, rape, bestiality.
1. But there are also general terms and expressions which are used to refer to the whole category of sexual sins. Probably the main one is PORNEIA, the one used here.
2. So, how do we know what specific sins are included within the general terms? It’s a general term, it has to be understood by referring to all the specific sins condemned elsewhere.
C. Here’s an example. When Jesus came on the scene, He didn’t talk much about any specific sexual sin, but He often referred to sexual sin in general by using this word PORNEIA (e.g. Matt.5:32; 15:19; 19:9; Rev.2:14, 20).
1. So, what did Jesus mean? What specific sins were included in His usage of that term?
2. Well, what did the word mean to the people He was addressing?
3. They were Jews. To them, the word summarized all of the many specific sexual sins condemned in the OT:. Jesus rarely mentioned any of those sins specifically. But that doesn’t mean He said nothing about them. He used general, umbrella terms, which referred to all of them in general.
4. Jesus repeatedly drew attention to the fact that the rules which the Jews were following were an unholy combination of God’s laws and manmade traditions, condemning manmade tradition.
a. So, He was very careful to point out things which were not legitimately part of God’s law.
b. But when it came to sexual immorality, He never saw a need to correct their understanding of what was immoral. He just confirmed the common Jewish understanding of what was sexually wrong, which was based on the moral law of the OT.
D. Sadly, today, parts of the church are conforming to the world’s understanding of sexual immorality.
1. This is one of the reasons we try to make it clear we are a PCA church, not a PCUSA church.
a. Homosexuality compromise: Amendment B in 1997
b. All obstacles removed in 2008
2. Christ won’t have His church following the society. They must follow His word, not the culture.
E. The world thinks that your desires are who you are. But the Bible says that believers are not identified by their desires but by what Christ does in our lives.
1. Eph.2:3-7 “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
2. We were all like this, living in the lusts of our flesh, indulging desires of the flesh&mind. But God made us alive in Christ!
a. The reason Christians are different isn’t because of a physical change. It’s not because their drive is weaker. It’s because they know God. They know the One who created pleasure, who tells us in His word how to find real pleasure.
3. When Jesus was speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, his disciples were off getting food in town. And when they return and offer some to Jesus, He says, “I have food that you know not of. My food is to do the will of My Father.” He wasn’t controlled by physical hunger because He knew of a greater and more satisfying way of making oneself full. And it is the people who know that who can be sexually pure.
4. Sexual immorality is not a bodily problem, it’s not a genetic problem. It’s a heart problem.
a. It may look like a horizontal problem, but at the heart it’s a vertical problem.
b. Sexual immorality is a result of our rebellion against God.
5. And that’s why Jesus is not tolerant of churches which are tolerant of sexual immorality, because they’re lyiing about Him.
6. Sexual immorality in all its forms is a violation of who we are in Christ, and a violation of the eternal purpose God has for our bodies.
A. 21-23 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 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, 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.
1. Pretty strong words! And often in the Bible when sexual immorality is discussed, there is also a reference in one way or another to the wrath of God.
B. But here there’s also a reference to repentance.
C. Look at 1Corinthians 6:9 “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
D. Do you see how Christ is able to deliver the sinner from his sin? He’s the One who sets the prisoner free. This is what Christ does. He changes hearts.
E. You can’t escape sexual sin except by turning to the Lord through repentance.
1. Until then the ball and chain are just going to get heavier and heavier:
2. Psalm 32:3-5 – “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; And You forgave the guilt of my sin.”
F. I’m not trying to drive the sexually immoral out of this church. The church of Jesus Christ is a hospital for those who are sick. All of us struggle with these things.
1. I am trying to drive the sexually immoral to Christ.
2. Of course, if a person advocates or practices sexual immorality, without repentance, that person must be driven from the church, as Jesus says here and Paul says in 1Cor.5:1-5.