Summary: In our society today, tolerance is considered a virtue. But our definition of it has changed - and accepting and even applauding any and every practice will weaken and pollute our lives. Learn how to safeguard your church and your life from compromise.
When I read verses 18-29 I picture a church in turmoil - a good church with good people that has been infiltrated with those who would exploit weakness and draw off believers into immorality. The good people stand by and watch - and mourn. The church in Thyatira was small - and sometimes in a small church, a powerful and wicked person can have a larger effect than in a big fellowship, where their influence is diluted.
The word to this church is "I see what they are doing - I will take care of them - it’s not your job to judge them - you hold on to what you know to be true. I will restore order to your disorder. I will take back the authority of My church."
18 "And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ’The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
The eyes of fire signify that Jesus sees all. In verse 23 He says "I am he who searches the mind and heart." The bronze feet symbolize God’s authority and strength to execute judgment. In verse 27 Jesus says "I have received authority from My Father."
19 "’I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.
It’s all here, really. This church was active, loving, faithful - had a servant’s heart and a faithful, patient endurance no matter what they faced. Unlike Ephesus - they hadn’t lost their love, and they were maturing and doing more and more for the Lord. But even in the midst of such goodness, evil can find a foothold.
Patience wasn’t this church’s problem - it was tolerance.
20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.
The idea of tolerance here is different that up in verse 2 to Ephesus "you cannot bear with those who are evil." There it means to "endure." Here tolerance means "to allow or permit." So it’s not just that bad things were going on and the people just put up with it hoping the Lord would speak to their hearts. No - it was more assenting than that - more actively supportive than that. Perhaps because they weren’t strong enough or something - but they were allowing a woman - John calls her "Jezebel" to not only teach but to draw people into immorality.
The story of Jezebel is found in 1 Kings. She was a non-Israelite (Sidonian - a Philistine) that brought Baal worship to Israel and dominated her weak husband Ahab. The woman here probably had unusual gifts and was a dynamic person - but she also openly taught that sexual immorality was not a sin - and drew people into it - much like Balaam’s influence on Balak.
Without going into detail - it’s possible that Jezebel (or whatever her name was) encouraged the working people of this church to continue in the guilds that existed in their city which had regular meetings which featured meat sacrificed to idols and sexual shows of some kind - in other words - don’t break from the culture around you even when you know it to be wrong.
Today there is much pressure especially on young people not to break with the culture around them - a culture that says sexual promiscuity is not only okay, it is acceptable and expected. But God’s Word never changes. The Bible is clear that any sex outside of marriage is sin. We need to take care that Christ, not culture, determines our behavior because He will call us to account.
21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.
God is merciful, even to this phony believer - but you cannot fool God - and you cannot sin and get away with it. But she will not repent. The results for those involved in the sin was sickness, tribulation, and death. Paul said much the same thing to the Corinthians (11:27-32).
The point is that Jesus sees what we do - and the churches need to pay attention - just because they are a church does not mean they can just allow in any kind of doctrine or practice. The goal is always to be like Jesus.