That woman Jezebel is at it again. No, I’m not speaking in code about Hillary Clinton nor did I mean to remind you of her husband saying, “That woman, Miss Lewinski.” But since I brought up Hillary’s campaign I better start by defending Jesus from charges of sexism. Of course, no one who knows Jesus believes that He is sexist. But Jesus clearly does not like “that woman Jezebel.” Then again, Jesus has already said that He hates the works of the Nicolaitans and he held against the church at Pergamum that they have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, an allusion to the false prophet in the Old Testament book of Numbers. There is no discernible difference between the teachings of the Nicolaitans and Balaam in Pergamum and that woman Jezebel in Thyatira. They all encouraged the people to compromise with idolatry. So it isn’t her gender that Jesus detested. But like the male prophet Balaam who led Israel to eat food sacrificed to idols and to practice sexual immorality, Jezebel is a similar Old Testament allusion. Jezebel was a false prophetess in the book of Kings who led Israel to worship false gods and who killed many of the true prophets. Her teaching was deadly for the faithful people of God. We might think that Jesus was speaking about an influential and powerful woman in the church at Thyatira but for the contrasting parallel with the epistle of 2 John. In 2 John the elect lady represented a church and her children represented the members of that church. Here again John writes about a woman and her children, but it is that woman Jezebel and her children are those who have bought into the lies of her deadly teaching. And here is the kicker – Jezebel in the book of Kings was the wife of the King of Israel. In Greek “woman” and “wife” are the same word. Thus when Jesus calls her “that woman Jezebel” He is talking about His bride the church at Thyatira and unfortunately much of the church today for that woman Jezebel is at it again. He can say this for her, her latter works of witness exceeded the first unlike the church at Ephesus. He also had praised the church at Pergamum for her witness, but things have gotten much worse in Thyatira than they were in Pergamum. The church in Pergamum could do something about Balaam and the Nicolaitans, but the church at Thyatira was much further gone. Jesus said,
- Jesus calls His servants who have been seduced by false teaching to repent.
- The church at Thyatira spiritually cheated on Jesus by eating food sacrificed to idols for financial gain. Instead of trusting Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to provide for their needs they relied upon false gods like Apollo Tyrimnaeus, a local trade guild deity, and the cult of the emperor, both of whom claimed to be sons of Zeus. Thyatira was a major economic hub for a large number of prosperous trade guilds. There was a guild in that city for almost every trade there was. And every guild had a patron god and expected that all their members would honor the patron god at official guild meetings. If you refused to participate in the guild’s activities then they would shut you out of that trade’s economy. Any “good businessman,” whether you believed in Jesus or not, would think it better to go through the motions of eating food sacrificed to idols you didn’t really believe in than to try to practice a trade without belonging to its guild. And along comes Jezebel who calls herself a prophetess and she tells the Christians in Thyatira that she has a prophetic revelation from God saying that it is ok for them to do it. You can see why this false teaching is enticing. It is also a deadly teaching. Jesus says that He gave “Jezebel” time to repent but she refused so now He will throw her onto a sickbed and that those who followed her teaching He will throw into a time of great trouble and unless they repent of her works He will strike them dead. Thus Jesus gave the members who had compromised with idolatry a little more time to repent and live.
- Insofar as churches in our denomination and our nation have been seduced by false teachings, Jesus wants us to repent. False prophets today promote the health and wealth “gospel” which teaches that God’s will is for us all to be healthy and wealthy now and that if we have enough faith then we can overcome illness and poverty and become healthy and wealthy in this life. It is a highly seductive message but it is not good news. But to the extent that we buy into it we will think that successful churches will be wealthy in cash blessings in the offering plates and healthy people in the pews. The real gospel, on the other hand, teaches that successful churches may be poor and suffering due to persecution because success is faithful perseverance in following Jesus. Another false gospel (moral therapeutic deism, MTD), which sounds similar, holds that the chief end of humanity is to feel good and be happy, that God welcomes those who are good into heaven when they die, and that unless you are facing something serious—like a major medical issue—you do not need God in everyday life. This too is highly seductive for who doesn’t want to feel good and be happy? However, it is not good news either. To the extent that we buy into it we will think that success is not needing therapy in this life and having good morals in order to go to heaven. The real gospel, on the other hand, teaches us to faithfully persevere in following Jesus even if it gets in the way of our feeling good and being happy. According to the real gospel it is not good people who go to heaven, but those who trust in Jesus. The real gospel doesn’t offer the false hope of a troubleless life. But the number of variations on this theme of false teaching in the church today doesn’t end with these two examples. The mainline church, to pile on more examples, has committed spiritual adultery with Sophia worship and with same-sex marriage. All of these false teachings aim to seduce Christ’s servants to do the modern equivalent of eating food sacrificed to idols. Like the false teachings at the end of the first century, these false teachings encourage compromise with the world rather than preaching the pure gospel. (But even though the situation might look bleak, just as only two out of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 were faithful and the rest were compromised or silent to one degree or another, Jesus has faithful servants in every true church as well as other servants who will hear and repent and thus become faithful. And…)
- Jesus encourages His faithful servants to persevere in witnessing to the world.
- Not only did Jesus praise the church at Thyatira because their works of persevering witness to Him out in the world were greater than they had been at first, but He also encouraged the faithful in that church to persevere in such witness to the end. Internally, things had deteriorated so much in the church at Thyatira that the faithful were not in a position to do anything about that woman Jezebel. Thus Jesus refused to lay any other burden on those who do not hold her teaching and who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan. All Jesus asked was that His faithful servants hold fast to what they have until He comes. The faithful in the church were to persevere in their witness to the outside world even if the church as a whole refused to repent. Just because they rightly didn’t like what was happening in their church didn’t mean they should stop telling others about Jesus and inviting those who heard and believed that good news to worship in that church on the Lord’s Day. To the contrary, the faithful were to continue to proclaim the gospel out in the world and invite those who then believed into the church. It also didn’t mean that they should leave their dying church to go find one elsewhere and invite others to come with them rather than to persevere where God wanted them to be. Unfortunately, that is often what passes for witnessing today – rather than telling the lost about Jesus we invite people who are part of other churches. But notice that the faithful in Thyatira are not asked to leave for a more faithful church in another city. Moreover, the faithful were to persevere in their witness to the outside world even if the church did repent and persecution came to that church. Whether the church repented or not, Jesus promised to give the morning star to the one who overcomes such opposition and who keeps His works of witness to the end. The morning star in Scripture is always associated with the reign of the Messiah King. Thus Jesus promised the powerless but faithful that those who overcome such opposition by a persevering witness will reign with Him. (The bottom line is this: when you cannot get rid of false teaching, persevere in your witnessing to the world .)
- We are in a denomination that has been seduced by false teaching and in a nation where much of the church has been seduced by false teaching, but we are called to faithfully persevere in witnessing to the world. Inasmuch as parts of the visible church have actually become the world, we are to let our lights shine in that darkness. We are called right now to continue to witness to the many churches in our denomination and our nation that believe in one false gospel or another even though we are powerless to do anything about that woman Jezebel. At the same time, we are invited to go let our light shine into the darkest of settings in our community and around the world. We all know that the world is dark out there and that the world needs Jesus as much as we do. Thankfully, we have what the world needs and God has made us a lampstand so that each of us might take that light out into the world as we keep on faithfully testifying to Jesus Christ. Jesus wants us to let our lights shine more as the Day draws near than we did when we first believed. So let me testify to you now that Jesus died for you for the forgiveness of your sins, that Jesus overcame death on the cross on the third day so that you might live, that Jesus is Lord reigning over all things in heaven and on earth to work all things together for your salvation, that Jesus has sent His Spirit into the world to bring about this death and resurrection in your life, and that Jesus is coming again to give you the morning star. Resting assured of that good news, let’s boldly go yet again into the darkness and testify to Jesus Christ . Indeed, let’s let our light shine more brightly than ever before . And may God get the glory! Amen.