Everyone would get the occasional spam message now and then that they have won $1,000,000 in a giveaway and that they must redeem the prize before the deadline. Underhandedly, they would also ask for your account information, insisting that this is the only way to claim the sweepstake.
Most of these messages are filtered out and immediately shoved into the spam letterbox, never to be seen or read by the everyday user and eventually deleted after 30 days. Even if you did get the opportunity to read such a message, chances are if you’re not entirely gullible, you’d be able to call the scammer on its bluff.
But a couple thousand years ago, a church that resided in a rather small city received a message from someone they couldn’t afford to ignore. If the church didn’t respond to the demands of this message, their lives were at stake. They would stand to lose everything.
What was in the contents of the message?
Before we explore the contents of said message, it would be helpful to know a little about the recipient of the message.
Thyatira was a small city that was known to be a trade centre for business. It was the home for many guilds that manufactured metal and fabric (see Acts 16:14). But other than that, Scripture makes no further mention of this city. Thyatira was the smallest and most unimportant city the Lord Jesus spoke to. This may very well imply that it was a rather unimpressive and inconsequential city.
But Jesus, the sovereign Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze (Rev. 2:18), is able to discern the thoughts of their minds and the motivations of their hearts (Rev. 2:23). No matter how insignificant or small a church may be, the Lord knows and examines the internal affairs of his beloved church. So through his servant John, he sent them a letter; a letter of commendation but also one of criticism. And it is interesting to see that out of all the seven churches in Revelation, the Lord had the most to say to this church.
What does he say to them? Jesus firstly acknowledges the great works they have been doing in the Lord: “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” (Rev. 2:19). The Lord commends the church for the strong evidence of spiritual fruit manifested clearly in their life and conduct. They committed themselves to their own people in loving service, motivated by genuine faith, and strived to persevere in their walk with great endurance.
Unlike the church of Ephesus, this church was not guilty for a lack of love. It was clear as day that spiritual transformation was taking place in this humble church…
But they lacked one thing. And it was a disturbing problem the Lord Jesus couldn’t overlook.
The church, at one point or another, had begun to tolerate false doctrine in the church. A self-proclaimed prophetess, who resembles the queen Jezebel, had gained significant influence in the church and was deceiving many of God’s people into committing gross acts of licentiousness and pagan feasting. And not before long, heresy had infiltrated into the ranks of the church and had soiled their hands in sexual immorality and idolatry.
Jesus, the Son of God, will not tolerate wickedness in his beloved church. He loves his bride too dearly to leave her drenched in the filthiness of moral depravity. But he also must vindicate himself as the Supreme Judge “who searches hearts and minds… and will repay each of [them] according to [their] deeds” (Rev. 2:23). He calls the prophetess to repent of his false indoctrination and deception, but her remorselessness drove the Lord Jesus to inflict on her unparalleled suffering (Rev. 2:21). Those who continue to follow in her footsteps will inevitably meet the same fate of destruction as her.
But Jesus, in his divine forbearance, enables sinners to repent of their ways as to avoid great affliction and punishment. And he encourages the faithful and sincere believers that they have nothing to fear: “…hold on to what you have until I come” (Rev. 2:25). In times of great affliction and temptation, the faithful need to be reminded of the great inheritance they are entrusted to keep. It is an unspoiled, imperishable, unfading eternal treasure that is kept in heaven for the saints. The apostle Paul echoes this point when he exhorts the Colossian believers to “set their hearts on things above…” as the intrinsic source of motivation to crucify the old self and to live out their new identity as God’s chosen people (see Col. 3:1-14).
And when they persevere at the end of their lives, overcoming great times of testing and temptation, the Lord Jesus promises a hefty reward: “To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations…” (Rev. 2:26). The true followers will be given their own authority to rule the nations with everlasting communion with their King and Saviour, Jesus, the morning star.
The transgressive issues surrounding Thyatira are also prevailing in modern times. Despite openly adhering to the conservative view of confining sex within the boundaries of marriage, many self-identified evangelicals regularly engage in pre-marital sex. And what is tragic to see is that these trends have become more morally and socially acceptable today. Progressive views on sexual ethics and promiscuous behaviours are being embraced and tolerated in churches within both evangelical and liberal camps, which has introduced significant harm and degradation to the doctrinal and spiritual purity of Christ’s church.
Many so-called Christians engulf themselves in sexual sin and wonder how much of it they could get away with. But similarly to his dealings with the church of Thyatira, the Lord Jesus will not stand to tolerate sin in the body and he exhorts us to ponder on these points:
We must not assume we can hide our sin
The Lord Jesus sees it all. With eyes that “are like blazing fire” he can pierce through every thought and motive in our minds and hearts. There is no hiding our discreet sins before the Sovereign King who knows all the deeds we have done under the sun. This means we have every reason to come before him in genuine confession and repentance. The Lord Jesus deals justly and graciously—the apostle John says that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins…” (1 Jn. 1:9). We must heed his warning that if we follow the temptress to her grave, we too will be buried underneath the weight of divine wrath. Jesus cares tremendously about the spiritual purity of his bride.
We must not tolerate false teaching
There is every temptation to introduce speculative theories into the church under the guise of secret spiritual knowledge. There is every incentive to innovate and synthesise biblical doctrine with the cultural mantras of our time in an attempt for the modern church to “remain relevant” in our present age. But quite similarly to his exhortation to the church of Ephesus, the Lord calls upon the church today to safeguard her doctrinal purity from the infestation of erroneous and corrupt teaching. We must make every effort to war against spiritual deception with the Sword of the Spirit — the truth of God’s word — by correcting mistakes as they come and rebuking those who intentionally disrupt the fellowship with their conjectural fictions.
We must set our eyes on the prize
The reason why we don’t need to indulge in false pleasures and false conspiracies is because the Lord Jesus has crucified our old sinful natures and has given us newfound pleasures that quench the bottomless desires of our hearts. By our union with Christ, he has secured an everlasting treasure for us that is kept safe in heaven for us. The prospect of our reception of God’s heavenly gift to us should cause us to tremble with excitement. Let us feast our eyes on the prize by recalibrating our minds and hearts towards the things that are above. And we may then find divine strength to overcome the allurements of our world.
The Lord Jesus cares immensely for his people. He yearns for his people to turn back to him in repentance, to yearn for the truth of his word, and to yearn deeply for the inheritance that he secured for us by the work of the cross. His letter to the church of Thyatira is a message that has stood the test of time and still remains relevant for the people of God today who live in a world entangled in the affairs of the devil. If we disregard the words of Jesus as a mere bluff, we will stand to lose more than we can ever imagine.