“WHAT THE SPIRIT SAITH UNTO THE CHURCHES
THYATIRA: THE CHURCH TOSSED TO AND FRO”
Scripture Reading: Ephesians 4
Psalter Numbers: 375, 337, 366, 276
Preached in Doon PRC on June 9, 2002
At first glance, Thyatira seemed to be in the same condition as Pergamos. There were positive things about both congregations so that the Lord commended both for their positive features. They both faced the threat of the false doctrine of the Nicolaitans. In warning both congregations about this error, the Lord alludes to Old Testament figures which were both evil and immoral in their lives. In light of threatening false doctrine, the Lord spoke sharp words of judgment, and He called them to repentance. He spoke His precious promises of victory to the faithful and to those that would overcome the threatening errors. Further, the Lord underscored the rich blessedness of hearing His Word and doing His Word in a life of daily repentance and godly fear.
Nevertheless, the Son of Man, Who walks in the midst of the seven candlesticks, noticed a significant difference about Thyatira in comparison to the other 6 churches. Thyatira failed to apply church discipline as Ephesus consistently did. She had not even an excuse really. Thyatira was not under persecution, nor the aftermath of some wearying tribulation so that she merely fell into and tolerated the error of the Nicolaitans because of spiritual fatigue. Rather, Thyatira had fallen into a very shameful condition. She was not merely passively tolerant, but she openly had embraced a false prophet and her error. For this congregation, the Lord has a sharp Word to speak.
The Word which the Lord speaks to Thyatira applies to the church of all ages. We are taught that the church institute at one time may be doctrinally sound. She may know the truth very well and understand the principles of God’s Word. She may even faithfully discipline on the basis of the truth for the welfare of God’s Church. She may be well-balanced spiritually so that doctrine and life are in beautiful harmony.
Yet, the church is also prone to behave as the angel (minister) and the congregation of Thyatira did. Their error was not the extreme error of dead orthodoxy in which one’s confession is impeccable, but the life of that confession is dead. Rather, Thyatira’s grievous weakness was of another opposite extreme. Though she was very fruitful in her communion of the saints, yet, she was tossed about, to and fro, by the false wind of doctrine from the safe and sure moorings of Holy Scripture.
THE CHURCH TOSSED TO AND FRO
I. The Lord’s Evaluation.
II. The Resulting Judgment.
III. The Promise to the Faithful
The Lord’s Evaluation
What had the Lord found in His examination of the minister and congregation of Thyatira?
First, the Lord found that the congregation enjoyed the blessing of a spiritually fruitful life. She was fruitful in her “charity, service, faith, patience, & works.”
By charity, the Lord means that they were filled many outward expressions of the love of Christ in their hearts, filled with a zeal in their labours for the Lord, and could freely speak of their salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. The motive of all their labours was this love in Christ.
The Lord commends them for this love which became evident in their service. They ministered to one another in this charity. What is meant here is not the ministering of the office of deacon, although that certainly would have flourished in this congregation. What the Lord has in mind applied to all the members of the congregation. The congregation served together in the consciousness that they were servants in the Kingdom of God and called to labour for its cause. Whether they served the needs of their fellow saints or laboured in their specific vocations from day to day, all consciously laboured in the spiritual posture of being faithful servants of Jehovah.
In that service, they demonstrated a living faith. The emphasis of this word “faith” is its living, spiritual aspect. The word “faith” here does not emphasize the doctrinal knowledge aspect of true faith. We understand the word “faith” here to refer to faith which is manifest in its fruits. The congregation knew very well that faith without works is dead. In resisting a dead faith and dead orthodoxy, the congregation not only heard the commandments of the Word of God, but did them. They visited the sick, the widows, and the widowers in their distress with the Word of God and prayer. They comforted those who mourned with the Word of mercy. They helped those in trials and afflictions. The fruits of their faith were very evident.
Besides that, the Lord noted that in all those labours they were patient. They did not grow weary in well-doing, nor did they become discouraged in their work. With sweat and tears they endured in their labour of love within the congregation. No matter the type of need and no matter how long the need lasted, they served patiently.
As a result of this, the congregation was full of good and outward works. The list of good features here in the text makes clear that the congregation did not perform their works to make a name for themselves or to earn the praise of men. They served patiently and selflessly in the desire for the spiritual welfare of their brethren.
Notice, beloved, that this condition was not diminishing, but rather increasing in strength. The Lord says that he knows “the last to be more than the first.” They were growing in the spiritual gifts and abilities they possessed by the grace of God.
Abundant they were. Spiritually attractive they were.
With this commendation from the Lord, the Lord reminds us, beloved, of that which is good also for us. Remember that Thyatira’s error was not her spiritual warmth and patient ministering of one to another. This was her unique strength and gift from the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, since the Lord commends the congregation for her labour of love, this gift is something which we ought to desire, covet, and nurture in our life together as fellow saints of our Lord.
Nevertheless, as spiritually attractive as the congregation at Thyatira was, there was another side to her that is spiritually ugly and chilling. The Lord points out that the congregation had openly permitted the error of the Nicolaitans to be taught in their midst. They failed to discipline and protect the congregation from this evil. The angel (the minister) of the church did not preach against the error, but, instead, even allowed, it seems, the woman, named Jezebel in the text, to teach her heresy openly.
What was her doctrine? Her name, Jezebel, at the very least indicates her spiritual orientation and gives some understanding of her evil doctrine.
Do you remember children in the Old Testament who the wife of Ahab was? Jezebel. She was the wife of Ahab, and she was the one who taught Israel to worship Baal and Asherah, the male and female idol gods of fertility, and to participate in the sexually immoral feasts of these idol gods. Similarly, the Jezebel in the congregation of Thyatira taught and persuaded many to participate in the pagan feasts in Thyatira and to engage in illicit sexual relationships as though that was spiritually good. She persuaded many to join company with the heathen and befriend the world in their fornication.
Jezebel justified her teaching with the argument: “let us sin that grace may abound.” She rejected the rule of gratitude for the redeemed the child of God. She denied that the redeemed and regenerated child of God must always and constantly strive to live in gratitude to God in daily conversion according to the Bible. Instead, she taught that one must sin greatly in order for the forgiving grace of God to be revealed even more in one’s life.
Jezebel promoted this heresy on the very basis of what is mentioned in verse 24. She taught that one could really know the depths of Satan in adultery, fornication, and in the worship of idols. In knowing the depths of sin and Satan, one then could really appreciate the greatness of the salvation which God has given us. She taught that one can only really appreciate that salvation until first one has plumbed the depths of iniquity and guilt in great sin.
The implication of Jezebel’s error is that the knowledge and assurance of our salvation can be gained outside and apart from Scripture. She rejected the authority of Scripture as the only rule of knowing not only salvation but also our sin and misery. She denied that the Bible says it all, and she promoted the idea that one can only really know sin by willfully living in sin to the fullest.
That is nothing less than a perverse attack upon the truth of God’s Word and a devilish denial of the all-sufficiency Scripture.
What did the congregation do to this Jezebel and her pernicious doctrine? They sinned by allowing this Jezebel to preach and teach her evil doctrine in their midst. Their first sin was allowing her, a woman, to usurp the authority of instruction in the church, which Christ has only ordained for men. Then, they added to that sin by giving her the place and opportunity to promote her evil doctrine and its life without putting her under Christian discipline.
By doing that, the congregation of Thyatira was cutting herself loose from Scripture as the only rule of her life and confession. Because the congregation was cutting herself loose from the moorings of the Word of God, she was being tossed to and fro by Jezebel’s wind of evil doctrine.
You may well wonder, how could it ever happen that the congregation of Thyatira, so spiritually vibrant, could at the time be tossed to and fro by Jezebel’s icy wind of heresy?
The answer is, in the first place, the congregation was being destroyed for lack of knowledge. Had they truly known the Scriptures, they would have tested the doctrine of Jezebel. According to the standard of the infallible Scriptures, they would have found her doctrine to be evil. Had they known the Scriptures, they would have rejected her teaching, put her under discipline, and warned the congregation to have no company with her in her sin. Had they known the Scriptures, they would not have fallen for a doctrine so contrary to work of the Spirit in conversion, justification, and sanctification.
But, beware, beloved, the church today is prone to do the same. The church world today suffers from an acute lack of the knowledge of Scripture. There is a terrible lack of knowledge, even in Reformed Churches, of the essentials of the Reformed doctrines of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sound doctrine is no longer a priority.
For that lack of knowledge, the church today is destroyed. Having no knowledge, the church is prey for all those lying wait to deceive. As a result, the church opens its doors to the false teachers either willingly or by deception, and the church soon follows in the same evils of false doctrine, and even in the sins of immorality which Jezebel taught the Thyatirans to enjoy. The spiritual Jezebels of today are teaching the church to worship not Jehovah, but the modern Baals; and, the church today is being tossed to and fro and being shipwrecked.
Secondly, the congregation was tossed to and fro not because that lack of knowledge simply just happens. It is the direct result of a rejection of Scripture as the sole authority, rule, and foundation of the life and confession of the church. Gone was the objective standard of the Truth of the Lord Jesus Christ. No longer was the apostolic doctrine the foundation of her life and confession.
Is that not true in the church world today? The doctrines of the Reformed Faith, the Three Forms of Unity, and the principles of the Word of God are rejected. Then, in the place of Scripture, as in Thyatira, experience is revered as the supreme authority.
For example, how the church worships, how the church lives, how the church works and is governed, is all now being determined by experience and emotion in place of God’s Word.
Worship is not determined as God has commanded, but worship is determined by experience. What makes up the liturgy, the songs, the music, and the content of worship is what appeals to man’s experience and emotions. Worship is not what God says it ought to be in His Word, but worship is now governed by how man feels when he is in God’s house and when he leaves. The standard and authority of true worship is not the Word, but how good the experience is.
Along with that, of course, is the fact that doctrine is determined by man’s experience, emotion, and wisdom. Predestination, God’s grace and goodness, and all doctrine is determined not by pouring over the Scriptures to learn what God says His truths are, but it is all defined by our daily experience and emotions with people whom we meet. What is taught is based on what feels good and seems most pleasing to man. Thus, to know sin, as Jezebel taught, one must not study Scripture, but revel in sin with the unbelievers to the fullest in order to understand completely what our misery and depravity are, as well as who our Saviour should be.
These serious departures happen in the church because discipline is determined also by experience. Whether the sinner is disciplined or not is determined by what is nice. The result of this is that even the sins of Sodom are embraced in the church and are not condemned in light of God’s Word.
In that light, one can understand then why Thyatira was falling into the error of “sinning that grace may abound.” Having cut herself loose from Scripture and being governed by her experience, what else could they say to this wicked Jezebel? What she said sounded so appealling and nice. What better way, many thought, to glorify God and have His grace magnified in their communion than to know the depths of Satan that forgiving grace may abound!
The Resulting Judgment
However, that was not at all Christ’s evaluation. In response to the congregation’s grievous weakness, Christ announces to this church, tossed to and fro, that He is coming in judgment personally.
The way that the Lord comes itself will be a great lesson for the congregation in the fundmentals of the truth, which they had forgotten. They were spiritually babes in the doctrines of the truth. Hence, the Lord must teach them by their own experience what is the truth in the clearest terms. They, of course, learn that they must return to the Scriptures. The effect of the Lord’s judgment is to call the congregation back to the Scriptures. Only on that foundation of Scripture would there be prosperity for them.
What was the judgment?
First, the Lord comes in righteous judgment against that wicked Jezebel. The Lord gave her occasion to repent. The Lord says that He had given her the time to repent of her fornciation. Many faithful of the Lord had rebuked her for her evil. She had apparently been called to repentance. Yet, she repented not in her unbelief and pride. But, now for that wicked Jezebel, there was no more word of repentance. The Lord had given her entirely over unto her sin and and guilt wherein to perish. The Lord openly judges her as unrighteous and worthy of death. Yes, unto this evil woman, the Lord’s eyes are full of consuming fire and His feet like fine brass.
By this judgment, the Lord prepares her for her eternal death by a severe judgment in this life. She will be cast into bed, not to continue her adultery, but she would be cast into her death bed. There she would toil in pain and suffering in those diseases which were the direct fruit of her fornication. In so doing, the righteous Lord declares His hatred for all her immorality and for the open rejection of the seventh and all the commandments of God. In that judgment, the Lord gave wicked Jezebel to know the depths of where Satan will “live.” She would learn by experience the depths of hell, the place of God’s everlasting wrath.
Secondly, the Lord pronounced judgment upon Jezebel’s children. By her children, the Lord means not her physical children, but Jezebel’s spiritual children. These are the children who followed her instruction. Those who followed her instruction may have included her own physical children, but the text is referring particularly to those who had learned the antinomianism of their spiritual mother, Jezebel.
The Lord commands those children to repent of the fornication which they had learned from their spiritual mother, Jezebel. They are called and warned to reject her evil way. They are warned to return to the old paths in full repentance. In fact, the Lord threatens them that if they refuse to repent of their rejection of the Scriptures and their immoral life, that He will kill them also by casting them into a death bed of great suffering both physclly and spiritually unto their eternal destruction.
By this judgment, the Lord warns the church today. The Lord sharply warns the church not to walk in the way of the Nicolaitans.
Yes! Let us not go the way of being careless with the way of gratitude. Let us not be willingly ungodly, abusing in unbelief the doctrine of free justification by faith alone in Christ Jesus. Nor, let us reject the absolute authority of Scripture and the rule of Christ in His Church.
To reject the all-sufficient Scriptures is to cut ourselves loose from the foundation of the apostolic doctrine of Christ crucified.
To reject that is to become a congregation which will be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.
To reject that is to go the way of letting experience and what feels good, become the standard and basis for our doctrine, worship, preaching, and daily life.
To the church that continues to do that impenitently, the Lord is coming in judgment personally.
What is the basis for His judgment? The basis for His judgment is found in what the Lord says about Himself in vs 18.
First, He says that He is the Son of God. That reminds us of what the book of John teaches. Throughout the book of John, Christ reveals Himself as the “I AM,” who is the only begotten Son of God. He is the Word. He is the Bread and Water of Life. He is the Sovereign One. He is the resurrection and the life. He is the truth, the way, and the life.
All of this together points out clearly who alone is the King and Chief Prophet of the Church: the Christ, the Son of the Living God. His rule is by His Word and Spirit, and that is the absolute and supreme authority in the Church. The life of the church is governed entirely by the Son of God.
What does all of this have to do with the congregation of Thyatira? When the Lord reveals Himself here as the Son of God, the Lord is declaring that He will not tolerate for a moment the congregation’s rejection of Christ as the King of the Church. The Lord makes plain that the rejection of His Word and His truth is the rejection of Him! The rejection of the Word of Christ is also in the end the rejection of His cross.
And, Jezebel’s teaching rejected the cross of Christ. The idea that we should sin that grace may abound rejected the truth of Christ crucified. The Lord did not die for us so that we might continue in sin. Christ died for you and me to free us from sin and to deliver us from the bondage of sin. Now, our life in Christ is to bear forth fruits of righteousness and repentance.
Further, the Lord by showing He is the Son of God sharply condemns the idea that there is truth to be learned apart from Him and His Word. Christ is the Truth, the Way and the Life! He is revealed fully in the Holy Scriptures. The Scriptures as infallibly inspired by the Spirit of Christ! His truth is summed in the Reformed confessions. Therein alone is the knowledge of our only comfort in life and death in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Upon those who refuse to bow to the yoke of Christ and his Word, the Son of God comes in judgment!
What ability does Christ have to judge when He comes? The Lord tells us that His eyes are like unto a flame of fire. This shows that indeed He is capable as judge. His eyes penetrate the heart and the mind. His eyes search like a fire which heats up a metal to reveal its purity or impurity. When the Lord searches, the Lord finds one either righteous or unrighteous in His sight.
The Lord proves His ability in the text. He penetrated past the appealing aspects of the congregation to expose its weakness. He penetrated past the smile, the attractive appearance, and the appealing teaching of the wicked Jezebel to expose her depravity and the evil of her doctrine. Many today think that they can get away with their sin, and the Lord will not see. Yet, the truth is that the Lord sees right into the heart. Indeed, He judges righteously.
When Christ announces His verdict, is He also capable to carry out His sentence? The Lord shows in the text that He can give the reward, too. The Lord reveals that He has feet like unto fine brass. This description reveals that Christ is not only judge, but the one who will reward the righteous and the unrighteous. The Lord does not merely proclaim hollow threats upon Jezebel and those who follow in her wicked ways. The Lord does not merely thunder from heaven in His Word, but there surely follow the thunderbolts of His wrath upon the unrighteous who refuse to repent and reject Him as the Christ. His judgment is sure. His reward is established and firm like the firmness and stability of fine brass.
Notice also that fine, polished brass glistens in the light. This means that the Lord’s judgment will shine forth publicly. This the Lord did with Jezebel. Her evil doctrine was exposed under the mighty judgments of Christ. What Christ did to her would not be done in a corner, but was seen by all in the congregation. By this the congregation knew by experience that the Lord is the one who searches the reigns and the heart. He will reward us according to our works.
Does that not make you to tremble? When you consider your works, do you tremble in terror before the judge whose eyes are like a flame of fire and whose feet are like fine brass? Does this make you fearful, beloved?
The Promise to the Faithful
To such, who know in faith their sin and unworthiness according to the Scriptures, the Lord exhorts such to hold fast till I come!
Hold fast to what? Hold fast to the Gospel! Hold fast to the truth of the righteousness of Christ! Hold fast to the truth of the blood of Golgotha which covers our sin and unbelief in the sight of God! Hold fast to the glorious wonder of grace in the cross and resurrection of Christ! Hold fast to the Word of God! Therein is your hope and assurance!
Take careful notice, beloved, that the Lord shows us the sole anti-dote to antinomianism and to those who teach that we should sin that grace may abound. The anti-dote to antinomianism is not the other extreme of legalism. Legalism was what the Pharisees and the Judaizers taught as the antidote to antinomianism. The Lord teaches that the antidote is not legalism. The Lord does not command the minister of the congregation in Thyatira to preach the law, which the people had broken, for salvation and righteousness before God. Christ does not command the church to work harder and harder in their good works in order to establish their forgiveness for their grievous error and to get it right again with the Lord. No. The Lord does not say that. He lays upon us no burden of legalism and no burden that denies or covers up to the slightest our justification by faith alone.
The Lord says, “I will put upon you none other burden!”
The only burden He lays upon the Church is the one that is easy and light! The Lord puts on the congregation the burden of that weight to preach and hold fast to the truths of sovereign grace. She has the solemn burden to preach the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and all the truths of the Reformed Faith. She must preach the cross as her only deliverance from sin and the power unto that life of necessary gratitude to God.
That truth is the rock-solid foundation of the Church! Upon that the church’s prosperity and peace is anchored and in that is the sole fountain of her riches and glory. To that safe mooring she must hold fast by a true and living faith, evident in her life of good works.
Notice, too, that the Lord does not tell her to stop her works of faith. Rather, the Lord commands the congregation to do them now in the growing knowledge of the cross of Christ! Walk in those good works in the understanding and knowledge of the truth! Do them in the growing understanding of Christ as the Son of God, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Righteous and Holy Judge, and the Redeemer of His Church. Do those things anchored firmly to the Holy Scriptures.
To such that overcome Jezebel’s heresy and heed His commands, the Lord gives two beautiful promises. In the first place, the Lord promises them that they shall rule. We read, “To him will I give power over the nations.” That “power” means that those who overcome will have the power to rule the nations with a rod of iron. The Lord promises the righteous that they will break the nations, the enemies of Christ, as a potter breaks a clay pot into shivers. The righteous are promised to have full victory over the unrighteous enemies of Jesus Christ.
The goal of the nations is to break the dominion of Christ. The goal of the enemies of Christ is to break His rule. That was the goal of the wicked Jezebel who by her heresy was leading the church to reject the rule of Christ in His Word. Over all those enemies in the world and also in the church world, the righteous have the full victory of kings with Christ. Though in this world the righteous are reproached and persecuted by the enemies of Christ, yet we are promised by Christ the blessed reward of sharing in His glory and victory. To those that stand for the truth and steadfastly fight for obedience to the Word of Christ and His truth, the Lord promises victory.
Secondly, in order to confirm that even more, the Lord promises: “I will give him the morning star.” What does Christ mean here? The morning star is the same as the day star, the sun. Here the Lord alludes to the truth that He is the Sun of Righteousness. To those that overcome and remain anchored by faith to the truth, the Lord promises to the righteous the day star. That means, they shall shine forth in all their life gloriously with the light of the Sun of Righteousness. They shine in the full righteousness of Christ. No more sin, no more distress, no more battles with the old man of sin. Only the perfection and life of our Lord Jesus Christ shall shine forth!
What a contrast to the evil doctrine of that wicked Jezebel! What a glorious incentive to the faithful who overcome by faith the winds of false doctrine and by faith cling to Christ as the only way, the truth, & the life, looking in confident expectation for the coming of Christ. Yes, He will certainly come again on the clouds of heaven with eyes like unto a flame of fire, and with feet like unto fine brass!
Will you be fearful of the coming day of the Son of God, the glorious Judge?
Beloved, stand firmly by faith upon the truth of Christ crucified!
Your Redeemer shall come! Because of Him, you shall shine gloriously and eternally in His perfect righteousness and holiness unto the glory of His Name! AMEN.
Rev. Richard J. Smit (Wife: Tricia)
Ordained: September 1996
Pastorates: Doon, IA - 1996; Immanuel, Lacombe, AB - 2004; Missionary to the Philippines (Doon PRC) - 2009; First PRC, Grand Rapids - April, 2015-2017; Missionary to the Philippines, Nov.2017-Website: smitnews2.blogspot.com/?zx=c898900422a2dad3
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State or ProvinceMI