Christ’s Letter to the Church in Thyatira

Sermon for Midweek Lenten Service based on Revelation 2:18-29

Dear conquerors who will be given authority over the nations and the Morning Star: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

In Christ’s letters to His churches, He always commends them for what is good and rebukes them for what is evil.

In His letter to the church in Ephesus which we heard three weeks ago, Christ commended the good, saying, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.” (Rev. 2:2)

This is the opposite of what was happening in the church in Thyatira. Christ rebuked them saying, “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.”

Both churches were under attack by false teachers. The church in Ephesus was enduring patiently and bearing up for Christ’s name’s sake and had not grown weary. The church in Thyatira had given up the fight against false teaching and tolerated the false teacher symbolically called Jezebel.

It is not an easy thing to endure patiently and bear up when being assailed by false teachers, as the church in Ephesus did.

Consider this congregation. If you called a candidate from seminary or from the field and received a pastor who taught you things contrary to the Word of God, what would you do?

First of all, would you even recognize false teaching if you heard it? Are you familiar enough with the Word of God that when you hear something contrary to it, you immediately recognize it to be false? Could you test someone who claimed to be true, and find him to be false? The church in Ephesus did, and Jesus praised them for it.

Second, what would you do upon recognizing the false teaching? If the pastor will not be corrected and repent, it is easier to just tolerate him because he’s a nice and friendly guy and overlook his false teaching. It is easier to just stop going to church than to keep fighting for the truth. It is easier to just say that you will wait for the pastor to leave than have him removed for false teaching.

If the circuit counsellor won’t help, the district president won’t lift a finger, and you’re left on your own, it is hard not to have your spirits crushed and give up; to give up not just on the congregation, but to give up on the church in general; to give up on God. Then the pastor leaves, and in comes one who is twice the son of the devil. It is so easy to throw in the towel and give up.

The church in Ephesus endured and did not give up. They fought for the truth of God’s Word and did not tolerate the lies of the devil. This meant intent study of God’s Word to differentiate truth form error. It meant strife and hardship in the church. It meant heeding Jesus’ words, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Mt. 7:15) Outwardly, false prophets are nice and friendly, cheerful and funny, charismatic and personable. You cannot recognize a false teacher from their sheep’s clothing. You can only recognize them by what they teach – that is where the wolf is revealed.

The church in Thyatira gave up the fight. It doesn’t mean that they all believed the false teachings of Jezebel, but they tolerated them and they tolerated her. They stopped fighting against the devil’s lies introduced by the false teacher. They stopped fighting for the truth, and that is why Christ rebuked them.

We heard from Romans, “Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” (Rom. 16:17) Those who think that standing up for the truth of God’s Word causes divisions have it all wrong. False doctrine creates divisions. False teachings create obstacles.

Churches today are generally led by a spirit of unionism and syncretism. This means that they want to have services together and pray together and pretend like we are united even though we are not. It is a spirit that says what we believe doesn’t matter. It is a spirit that says what God’s Word says doesn’t matter, let’s just do whatever we want. It is a spirit that says there is salvation in all religions.

That is not what Christ says. He says, “Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” False teaching is deadly. False teaching leads to hell. False teaching cannot be tolerated.

The only unity that can exist in the church of Christ is unity in His truth. Apart from the truth we have only division, no matter how much we pretend to be united or in fellowship. Apart from the truth we have only lies, no matter how sugar-coated they are.

True doctrine saves. Thus, Christ exhorts the church in Thyatira, “hold fast what you have until I come.” Hold fast to the doctrine you have been taught. Hold fast to the standard of teaching to which you committed (Rom. 6:17).

Christ also tells them to keep His works. Hold fast to what the Lord of the Church has done for the her, namely, giving His life to redeem us, and rising from the dead to open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.

Those who hold fast and conquer do so by holding to the works of Christ, because only His works can save us. Our own works help and save us never, but Christ’s works of keeping the Law, dying and rising from the dead save us from hell.

Those who thus cling to Christ’s works will reign with Him. Christ promises that He will give them authority over the nations, and that they will rule with a rod of iron, as when breaking pots to pieces. This is how Christ’s rule is described in Psalm 2, where He crushes rebellious nations with a rod of iron and dashes the in pieces like a potter’s vessel (v.9). Those who belong to Christ will thus join in reigning with Him (cf. also II Tim. 2:12).

Those who hold fast to God’s truth and the works of Jesus are also promised that they will be given the Morning Star. Later in Revelation, Jesus identifies Himself as the Morning Star (Rev. 22:16).

Jesus is the light of the world; the light no darkness can overcome (John 1:4-5). He is the light that saves us from the darkness of our sins. He is the Morning Star that rises in the darkness to give us light through the forgiveness of our sins.

We have the promise that we will be given Jesus. We are given Jesus in Baptism, which the early church often called enlightenment, because the baptized have been called out of darkness into God’s glorious light (I Pet. 2:9). We are given Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, in which we receive the fruits of His cross.

Everyone who conquers by clinging to the doctrine of Jesus and to His works, will receive Jesus when He returns. We will then be like Him, because we will see Him as He is (I John 3:2). We will be glorified with Him and rule the nations with Him. We will dwell in His perfect light for eternity, and see Him face to face. Night will be no more, so we will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be our light, and we will reign forever and ever (Rev. 22:4-5). Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.