Tell me three things God does. You might say God loves, God creates, God forgives, God saves, God provides, God heals. It might take you a few moments to think of something else which God does – something mentioned 500 times in the Bible. But something which few Christians would think of first as the thing God does. But here it is in the Letter to the Church at Thyatira. God judges. This letter is a solemn warning of the judgment of the holy and righteous God who is judge of all. After some words of encouragement we will come back to later, this letter is mostly about
WARNINGS OF JUDGMENT
20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
The Book of Revelation is what is called Apocalyptic language. Warnings of the apocalypse, written necessarily in language which is often symbolic rather than literal. So we need to be careful that we do not read too literally warnings like, “I will strike her children dead.” But there are other places too in the New Testament with solemn warnings of the dreadful judgment of God.
Hebrews 10 26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
That is just one passage among many which talks about the judgment God will bring on those who persist in sin and refuse to repent. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. Judgment will fall on those who stubbornly refuse to repent.
It seems to me that many Christians have lost sight of this Bible truth in recent years. Many emphasise the love of God so strongly that they completely lose any sense of the holiness or the judgment of God. The popularity of Rob Bell’s misleading book, “Love Wins”, demonstrates just how many Christians prefer to think that everybody will be saved in the end. They forget or deliberately ignore all the passages in the Bible which are warnings of the reality of God’s judgment.
THE REALITY OF JUDGMENT
God’s judgment comes from the nature and character of God Himself. This is abundantly clear throughout the Old Testament. This is how God revealed Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai after He gave him the Ten Commandments for the second time.
Exodus 34 5 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”
Love and faithfulness, and at the same time holiness and justice. This is the God of the Bible. In the Old Testament the judgment of God was revealed in the ten plagues which fell on Egyptians, as judgment on the Egyptians for all the false gods they worshipped. Then we see the judgment of God falling on his chosen people the Israelites many times when they rebelled against God as they wandered for 40 years in the wilderness, like the plague of snakes which came as they complained against God for bringing them into the desert. And we have thought before about the judgment which came on the nation of Israel as the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem and took all the people away into exile in Babylon. And the dominant theme of most of the prophets is the judgment of God on the sins of human beings.
In the New Testament we also read about instances of judgment. Usually judgment is deferred until the Last Judgment when Christ will return, But the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 reminds us of the holiness of God. Both were struck dead for lying to the apostles and the Holy Spirit. In both Testaments, it is clearly revealed that certain events are indeed the judgment of God. We cannot and should not look at events in today’s world and say, “That is God’s judgment.” Accidents and diseases and natural disasters are not examples of God’s judgment. But the Bible is completely clear in so many places that God is judge and that one day every human being will have to stand before the Judgment Seat of God. But why was judgment coming on Thyatira?
THE SINS OF JEZEBEL
I don’t think it is likely that the woman’s name was actually Jezebel. But it is clear that there was a woman in Thyatira who was leading the church astray and she referred to here by the name which had been used symbolically of evil women for more than nine hundred years since Jezebel the wife of Ahab, the King of the Northern Kingdom of Israel we read about in 1 Kings 16.
29 In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel for twenty-two years. 30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. 31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. 32 He s,et up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to arouse the anger of the LORD, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him.
Ahab was an appalling king – but the Bible is clear that it was Jezebel who led him so far astray. Jezebel was such a wicked woman that her name has been applied to many controlling and deceitful women since. She was from the pagan nation of Sidon and by manipulating her husband the King of Israel Jezebel led the Israelites to worship the pagan gods the Baals. We also read how Jezabel arranged the slaughter of hundreds of the prophets of God in Israel. She opposed and persecuted Elijah the prophet and had Naboth killed off so that Ahab could get his vineyard. In the Old Testament Jezebel was a very nasty piece of work and she met a suitably grizzly end trampled underfoot by horses and then eaten by dogs. But she had a worthy successor in a false prophet who was leading the church astray at Thyatira.
20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.
We see many of the same sins here as we did last week in the church at Pergamum. Compromise. Idolatry. Dabbling in the occult. The references to sexual immorality may be metaphorical, spiritual unfaithfulness betraying Christ as the true husband of his Bride, the church. Or they could equally be physical acts of adultery. Or quite probably both, because the two so often go together. God’s judgment on Jezebel is very clear.
21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
This is grim stuff. Suffering as a consequence of sin. Some people nowadays are saying that God would never punish people for sin in such ways. They are mistaken. Through Jesus and the cross, God saves Christians from the guilt and the penalty and the power of sin in our lives. But He does not always save Christians from the consequences of our sins. Christians who persevere in compromising their faith, who persevere in immoral behaviour, who persevere in occult practices, may be forgiven. But unless they completely repent they will always carry the consequences of their sin and disobedience in their bodies and in their minds. There will always be scars.
Who is it who speaks these solemn words of Judgment? Again, some Christians like to make a distinction between the Old Testament God of Judgment and the New Testament God of Love as revealed in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. But notice who it is who speaks these warnings of judgment.
V 18 These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
V 23 Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
It is Jesus Christ who is appointed Judge of All who declares that He will repay everyone according to their deeds. Jesus the holy Son of God who searches hearts and minds and Those who try to deny the reality of judgment by saying, “Jesus just loves everybody,” can only do so by missing out huge chunks of what Jesus Himself taught. Too many Christians are being lulled into a false sense of security by popular but cosmically mistaken books from authors such as Rob Bell and Brian McLaren. Let me move from the words of Christ revealed in a vision in the Book of Revelation on to the words Jesus spoke in the Gospels for a minute to make this point completely clear.
The Bible speaks in so many places about the reality of God’s judgment. If there were no other sayings, there is one phrase Jesus uses on no less than six separate occasions in Matthew’s Gospel which warns of the terrifying consequences of God’s judgment. Six times Jesus talks about judgment using the same striking couplet, “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Speaking about the example of the centurion’s faith, Jesus warns that some people who do not have faith,
will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 8:12)
The parable of the Weeds in the Field warns about the last judgment.
41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:42)
The parable of the net gives the same warning.
The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:50)
The parable of the Wedding Banquet talks about the generosity of the King who welcomes everybody, even the outcasts. But it comes with a sting in the tail with the idea that some people might try to sneak into the banquet who do not belong there.
13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Mathhew 22:13)
The parable of the two servants talks about the reward prepared for the wise servant who is ready when his master returns, but it also talks about the punishment which falls on the wicked servant who is not ready, but mistreats his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards.
50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:51)
In the parable of the talents, the servant who is judged to be worthless does not just suffer by having his one talent taken away from him.
30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25:30)
In each of those six parables, Jesus talks about the blessings of those who are saved. But then he goes on to emphasis the judgment which will come on those who are not faithful. If the gospel message was all about love, there would be no need to talk about judgment or punishment. But still Jesus specifically adds warnings of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This may be symbolic language, but whatever form it may take the judgment and the punishment will be real. The warnings are abundantly clear – in the Gospels and not just in the Book of Revelation – from the mouth of Jesus Himself!
The Letter to the church at Thyatira does start with praise. 19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.
Love, faith, service, perseverance, signs of growth. All good things. And there is some more good news. Not all the Church in Thyatira have been led astray by Jezebel. For them there are words of encouragement. Hang on in there.
24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, “I will not impose any other burden on you, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.”
And as in all the Seven Letters to the Seven Churches, there are wonderful promises of blessings for those who stand firm. It is not obvious what those blessings actually are – as in so much of Revelation, they are in symbolic language.
26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—27 that one “will rule them with an iron sceptre and will dash them to pieces like pottery”—just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give that one the morning star.
As ever, the blessings are promised to those who are victorious – to those who stand up against the lies of Jezebel and who hold fast to Christ. But for everybody else, Christians and not Christians, the warnings of this Letter to Thyatira is clear and deadly serious. Wherever there is compromise. Wherever there is idolatry Wherever there is immorality. Judgment is coming!
29 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.