Breaking Open the Word: Revelation 2:19-29
September 16th, 2018: Letter to the Church in Thyatira (Rev. 2:18-29)
We began our sharing today by noting the interesting connection between Christ’s praise of the Thyatiran church and His criticism of it. These Christians are clearly fervent, and their faith is alive and growing: “your last works are greater than the first” (Rev. 3:19). However, this personal holiness is not enough; Jesus holds the Thyatirans accountable for “tolerat[ing] a Jezebel – that self-styled prophetess who seduces My servants” (Rev. 3:20). In other words, they (and we) are not just called to hold the faith themselves, but to proclaim it to the world and to seek to bring those in error back to the truth. We are our brother’s keeper!
Of course, the problem of making religion a purely personal matter is not unique to the first century; in our own day many are hesitant to speak out against sin, even sin within the Church. But the “Jezebels” of history are not necessarily blatant, nor are they always intentionally malicious. Even well-meaning scholars, theologians, or other teachers can fall into error, and if we as individuals are not solidly grounded in the truth, it is very easy to be led astray.
Furthermore, false teaching is more than just an intellectual matter – when it becomes widespread, the damage to individuals and to society can be immense. For instance, one Sister who is reading the life of Dietrich von Hildebrand (one of the most outspoken critics of Adolf Hitler in his own day) noted how his opposition to Nazism was based on this very understanding of the connection between false teaching and destructive trends in society. Von Hildebrand saw the horrific suffering of World War II coming because so many people compromised with or even outright accepted Nazism and other false ideologies. Closer to our own day, it is possible to see how much of the present abuse crisis can be traced to weak or even false moral teaching in seminaries during past decades.
But in the face of such evil, we can take strength in Christ as He is presented in verse 18. His “eyes like fiery flame” not only see truth and error with piercing clarity, but they also give us light to do the same. And His “feet like polished brass” mean that He will remain steadfast in the midst of all trials, a pillar of strength to which we can cling in the difficulties we face.
Towards the end of our discussion, someone brought up the fact that Christ in the Letters seems to be using many different names for the same thing. In Ephesus, He refers to the Nicolaitans; in Smyrna, to the Nicolaitans and to Baalam; here in Thyatira, to Jezebel. Why so many different terms for what seems to be basically the same heresy of compromise? Perhaps this is done for greater emphasis; after all, it was a similar sort of hypocrisy that He so harshly criticized in the Scribes and Pharisees. At the end of the day, though, all of these heresies embody the core element of the very first sin: a desire to choose for ourselves what is good and evil, rather than listening to God. But Christ loves us too much to leave us in our sins, and His repeated calls for repentance can help break down that wall of self-will we have built between Him and us!
We’re happy to have you with us in this study of the Book of Revelation! Next week, we’re picking up the pace a bit and discussing all of Rev. Chapter 3 – that includes the Letters to Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. We look forward to having you there with us!