Topical Scripture: Revelation 2:18-28
Jesus wrote the longest letter in Revelation to its smallest church, proof that the issue we are studying today is crucial. Thyatira was located 40 miles due east of Pergamum. Its major importance was as a textile manufacturing center. Purple dye, the most coveted in the ancient world, was made from the roots of the madder plant, a species which was abundant in the region. The book of Acts describes Lydia of Philippi as a dealer in purple from Thyatira (Acts 16:14).
If Pergamum was the Washington, D.C. of ancient Asia, Thyatira was their Chicago–a blue-collar workers’ town. And central to her economy and culture were the trade unions which dominated her life.
Every industry had one. Each trade union had its own patron god or goddess. Each week the union would meet together to worship its deity. An animal would be sacrificed on the altar of that god, then eaten in a feast. Drunken orgies would usually follow. If you did not attend the meetings of your trade union, you could not work. You could not support yourself or your family. You might starve to death.
Moral compromise was the greatest temptation in Thyatira. It is the greatest temptation in Dallas. Our options are two.
Refusing the call to compromise
“Jezebel” is the voice of compromise, then and today. The original woman by this name was the wife of King Ahab of Israel. She was responsible for bringing Baal worship into the nation and corrupting its soul (1 Kings 16:31).
This Jezebel has the same message: go along to get along. You have a God-given responsibility to support your family. Compromise for the sake of those you care about. These false gods are harmless. What difference does it make if you eat meat offered to them, or participate in the culture? You’re supposed to go into the world as Christians, not withdraw from it. Compromise is the way the real world works.
After all, we live in two worlds: the spiritual and the secular, Sunday and Monday. Why not go to church on Sunday and the trade union meeting on Monday? Why not go to prayer meeting and Bible study, then to a party with your trade guild?
Why not read your Bible and pray and worship, but also drink with your friends and get involved in private immorality and do what the popular kids do? Why not go to the movies and the clubs that the culture has made popular? Why not have your church friends and your worldly friends, your church life and your “real world” life? The arrangement seems to be working well enough.
In fact, Jesus commends “your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first” (v. 19). His description escalates: actions, to the love and faith which prompt them, to the ministry and perseverance which makes them effective, so that we are doing more than we’ve ever done.
We’ve built a new Community Life Center. We are doing ministry around the world. Our programs are healthy. Our giving is good. All seems well. Why be more committed than we already are? We may not have all of Jesus we need, but we have all we want. So long as we’re in Thyatira, we have to get along with the people who live in Thyatira. That’s just the way it is.
Such is the message of Jezebel. Now hear the message of Jesus.
Obeying the call to courage
He is “the Son of God,” the only time the phrase is used in Revelation. His eyes “are like blazing fire,” symbolic of judgment and omniscience. His feet are “like burnished bronze,” symbolic of glowing holiness and glory.
He will bring all who advocate compromise to repentance, employing any means that are necessary. He will use a “bed of suffering” until “they repent of their ways.” He will “strike her children dead,” probably a reference to his judgment on the spiritual results of her message.
Then “all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds,” that he is a God who sees our private compromise and brings it to judgment. He will “repay each of you according to your deeds,” as gently as he can or as harshly as he must. He will do whatever it takes to remove the cancer of compromise from the soul of his Church, the body of Christ.
When we stand with courage, we receive “authority over the nations” as reward for our commitment. Even better, we receive “the morning star,” Jesus himself. In Revelation 22:16, Jesus calls himself “the bright Morning Star.” We are given the most intimate, joyful, life-transforming personal relationship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He repays every sacrifice our courage requires.
To see life this way requires a worldview shift, a change in our way of understanding our world. If Thyatira is our home, our destination, we need to go along to get along in Thyatira. If Dallas is our home, our purpose, our definition of success and significance, then we need to do whatever it takes to be prosperous and happy in Dallas. But what if it’s not? What if we are going about life in the wrong way?
According to the word of God, life on earth is the journey, not the destination. Our lives are cars in which to travel, not homes in which to live. As with the children of Israel, we are in the wilderness, traveling to the Promised Land. If Christ is your Savior, you have been freed from slavery in spiritual Egypt. You are on your way to the Holy Land which none of us has ever seen. You are traveling in the wilderness now. It is the means, not the end; the road, not the reward. Seeing life that way changes everything.
We can settle down in the desert and make the best of things here, but we will miss all that is waiting for us when we get to the Holy Land. We can try to scrape together a life in the wilderness, or live for the “land of milk and honey.” We can follow our friends and culture here, or follow the pillar of cloud and fire which is leading us home. He alone knows the best way. He alone can give us manna and quail for the journey. He alone can give us protection and significance in the wilderness, until we follow him to the eternal joy of our eternal homes.
If this is just the wilderness on the way to the Holy Land, what people living in the desert think of us doesn’t really matter all that much, does it? Turning from the One who leads us to joy, compromising with the stragglers along the road so we can have a little bigger tent or a newer camel for the journey doesn’t make much sense. Straying into immorality and cultural compromise so we can get a larger caravan for the temporary journey isn’t very wise. By contrast, “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” (Jim Elliott).
You and I were made for the next world, not this one. Have you noticed that the best in this life is never good enough? In gazing at the most beautiful sunset over the ocean, there’s something empty, something missing–it’s not enough. The finest meal isn’t quite enough; the most delightful walk through the woods is somehow imperfect. In the best moments, it’s as though there’s something more, something missing, something beyond this. There is. Augustine was right: “God have made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in him” (Confessions 1.1).
But when we rest in him, when we live for the Holy Land and not the wilderness, when we pay the price of courage to refuse the peril of compromise, we find a joy in the journey that we will discover in no other way. We find a purpose to every day, a direction to every step, a fulfillment in every moment. Life makes sense. The problems and pains of this fallen world are less significant. We consider that the present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory to be revealed (Romans 8:18).
There is true joy waiting for us even in Thyatira, if we will trade Jezebel for Jesus. Why did God bring you to hear that invitation today?