Revelation Chapters 2 and 3, Part 2
by Karl Kemp
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We will continue this verse-by-verse study of Revelation chapters 2, 3 here in Part 2, starting with Rev. 2:18.
(18) And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire [cf. Rev. 1:14; 19:12; and Dan. 10:6], and His feet are like burnished bronze [cf. Rev. 1:15; Dan. 10:6], says this: (19) "I know your deeds [works; cf. Rev. 2:2; 3:1, 8, and 15], and your love and faith and service and perseverance [or, steadfastness], and that your deeds [works] of late are greater than at first [contrast Rev. 2:4, 5]. (20) But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel [[I assume that the name "Jezebel" was being used of this woman in a derogatory, insulting sense. On the evil Jezebel of the Old Testament, see, e.g., 1 Kings 16:31-33; 18:4, 19; 19:1, 2; 21:5-26; and 2 Kings 9:7-10, 22, 30-37. The church at Thyatira's tolerating Jezebel was, at least to some extent, similar to the church at Pergamum's tolerating those who "[held] the teaching of the Nicolaitans." And it is to be contrasted with the church at Ephesus's rejecting the false apostles and the works of the Nicolaitans.
I'll quote a sentence from F. F. Bruce here ("New Layman's Bible Commentary in One Volume" [Zondervan, 1979], page 1685.). "Her name was not really Jezebel, but she is described here as 'that Jezebel of a woman' because her relaxation of the terms of the apostolic decree [Acts 15:1-35] or further compromises with paganism (cf. verse 14) placed her in the succession of the OT Jezebel, whose Baal-cult was marked by idolatry and ritual prostitution." I'll also quote from Robert H. Mounce ("Book of Revelation," NIC [Eerdmans, 1977], page 103). "The Thyatiran Jezebel is probably some prominent woman within the church who, like her OT counterpart, was influencing the people of God to forsake loyalty to God by promoting a tolerance toward and involvement in pagan practices. This extended to fornication and participation in the religious feasts connected with membership in trade guilds."]], who calls herself a prophetess [Christ obviously didn't consider her to be a true prophetess, but some Christians at Thyatira did submit to her "ministry" and were led into serious sin.], and she teaches and leads My bond-servants [speaking of Christians] astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. [[The sins that Jezebel's teaching led to were essentially the same, if not exactly the same, as the sins at Pergamum (Rev. 2:14, 15). It's quite possible that there was a link between Jezebel and her followers at Thyatira, those who held the teaching of Balaam and the teaching of the Nicolaitans at Pergamum, and those of like mind at Ephesus (who had been rejected by the church there [Rev. 2:6]) and at other cities.
I'll quote from Frederick A. Tatford on the trade guilds at Thyatira; this excerpt will help us understand some of the problems the Christians had to face there, and at other places in the ancient world ("Revelation" [Klock and Klock, 1985 reprint, originally published by Christian Outreach Book Service in 1983], pages 153-156). "As Thyatira grew in commercial importance and prosperity, it became a well-known center for the numerous trade guilds of the day. Although these were to be found in other cities also, they were more in evidence at Thyatira than anywhere else. Potters, dyers, tanners, bakers, metal-workers, textile-makers, bronze-smiths, slave-dealers, leather-workers and others all had their own guilds there. [Based on other lists I have seen, we could add woolworkers, linen-workers, and makers of outer garments.] Membership of the guild was compulsory and refusal to join made it impossible for the worker to secure employment or to continue in his own (or any other) trade. ... The guilds were well-organized bodies, providing specific benefits for their members, taking action to protect their interests, raising revenues and often owning considerable property.
Each guild was under the patronage of some pagan deity and all proceedings and feasts commenced with the payment of homage and the pouring out of a libation [the ritual of pouring out wine or oil upon the ground as a sacrifice to a god] to the patron god or goddess. This was inescapable: indeed the meeting-place of the guild was often dedicated to the deity and was regarded as a sacred place. It was obligatory on members to attend guild meetings and to engage in the idolatrous ritual which seemed an essential preliminary to the business discussions. Part of the food later consumed had been offered to the presiding deity. The guild banquets which followed business meetings were attended by considerable sexual freedom, and Christian craftsmen were accordingly faced with the common temptation to license and immorality. ...
Among its many trades, Thyatira was renowned for its dyes and particularly for its purple dye - which was scarlet rather than purple.... ... When Paul and his companions first visited Philippi they found, among the women piously praying by the river, one named Lydia, a Thyatiran seller of purple...[cf. Acts 16:14]."
I'll also quote from Alan F. Johnson ("Expositor's Bible Commentary," Vol. 12 [Zondervan, 1981], page 443"). "Associated with its [Thyatira's] commerce was an extensive trade guild or labor union network, which must have played a prominent role in the social, political, economic, and religious life of the city. Each guild had its own patron deity, feasts, and seasonal festivities that included sexual revelries. Religiously, the city was unimportant, though worship of Apollo and Artemis (Diana) was prominent."]] (21) I gave her time to repent [cf. Rom. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9], and she does not want to repent of her immorality. [The Lord Jesus knows the hearts of all people. Jezebel's time to repent was running out. Revelation 2:22 shows that there still was some room for repentance on the part of her followers, but they were living in a very dangerous place.] (22) Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness and those who commit adultery with her [[The point here seems to be that they have followed Jezebel and her teaching and have thereby committed spiritual adultery against God, not literal adultery with Jezebel (cf., e.g., Rev. 17:2; 18:9). There were, however, literal acts of immorality being committed by these Christians at Pergamum. It seems that they had truly become Christians and still were considered to be Christians, even by Christ, but they were very close to losing this status if they didn't quickly repent.]] into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds [the deeds/works being done by her and being advocated by her]. (23) And I will kill her children [[I assume "her children" refers to those who followed Jezebel and her teaching into these sins - they were her spiritual offspring. Once allowance is made for figurative language, we need not understand the fate of the "children" spelled out here to be different than, or more severe than, the fate spelled out in 2:22. The "bed of sickness" and the "great tribulation" of Rev. 2:22 apparently also culminate in death.
It's quite possible that the concept of Jezebel's children being killed builds on what literally happened when God (through Elisha the prophet and Jehu) judged Jezebel and the literal offspring (including grandchildren, etc.) of Jezebel and King Ahab (her husband), as recorded in the Old Testament (2 Kings 9:1-10:17). (King Joram [Jehoram], who is mentioned in that passage, was a son of Jezebel and Ahab).]] with pestilence [In the margin the NASB has, "or, death." The NIV has "I will strike her children dead." The KJV and NKJV have "I will kill her children with death."], and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts [cf. Acts 1:24; Rom. 8:27]; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds [works; cf. Jer. 17:10]. [[Those who didn't quickly repent were headed for intense judgment at the hand of Christ Jesus, judgment unto physical death, for one thing. He wanted all the churches to know (to be warned) that He wouldn't tolerate such blatant sin, not that He really tolerates any sin. Such temporal judgments were nothing compared to the eternal judgments that many, if not all, of those people were yet to face. Although Christ didn't specifically mention their eternal condemnation here, it must be assumed. In one sense it was mentioned, in that in their final/eternal judgments they will be recompensed "according to [their] deeds/works" (cf., e.g., Matt.16:27; Rom. 2:6-16; and Rev. 20:12, 13; 22:12). If the Christians at Ephesus, Sardis, and Laodicea were on the verge of ceasing to be the people of God (which includes forfeiting eternal life and the kingdom of God), it seems clear that these Christians were also in that in that category, assuming they didn't repent.]] (24) But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them [[They undoubtedly were quite proud of their knowledge of "the deep things of Satan," which wasn't shared by the rest of the Christians at Thyatira (thank God!), even as the early Gnostics John dealt with in his first epistle were proud of their special "knowledge." (The Gnostic's "knowledge" was "special" all right; it was full of heresy, even denying the basic truths of the Christian gospel, like the all-important atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ.) The "deep things of Satan," whatever they were (we don't really need to know the details), apparently enabled them to justify their participation in pagan, idolatrous, demonic feasts and sexual immorality.
I assume they thought that they understood the things of Christ and the things of Satan on such a deep level that they could avoid being contaminated by these pagan practices. They probably boasted of their authority over Satan, of their deep knowledge (which included plenty of foolishness, but also contained some truth, like the knowledge that the pagan gods didn't really exist; nevertheless, as Paul pointed out in 1 Cor. 10:19-22, by participating in pagan sacrificial idol-feasts, they were having fellowship with demon spirits), and of their faith and boldness (they weren't afraid of Satan or of going on his turf). They undoubtedly denied that the things they were doing were sinful, and they probably claimed that there were positive spiritual benefits derived from what they were doing.]] - I place no other burden on you. (25) Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come. [We must always continue to press on in faith. We cannot allow ourselves to stop, or to start coasting. If we start coasting, before long we'll be going backwards because of the forces arrayed against us.] (26) He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds [works. Jesus is speaking of the works required to be faithful to Him.] until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS [cf., e.g., Luke 19:17, 19; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 3:21; 20:4-6; and 22:5]; (27) AND HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES [These words are quoted from, or at least build on, Psalm 2:8, 9. Psalm 2 is a very important end-time prophetic passage. It is discussed verse-by-verse in chapter 18 of my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture."], as I also have received authority from My Father [cf., e.g., Rev. 3:21]; [[It is important to see that this promised blessing to the overcomers, as with the promised blessings mentioned in the letters to the other six churches, apply to all overcomers of all churches of all generations; they apply to all the members of God's true Israel. The words of Rev. 2:26, 27 are extremely important. For one thing, these verses (which build on Psalm 2:8, 9) help us understand Rev. 12:5, which I understand to be the most important verse in the Bible on the timing of the rapture, enabling us to see that the rapture will take place right in the middle of Daniel's 70th week. Revelation 2:26, 27 help us see that the "male child who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron" of Rev. 12:5 speaks of those members of God's true Israel who will be glorified and raptured when Christ returns with the clouds in the middle of Daniel's 70th week. Some of the members of God's true Israel, centering in the end-time remnant of the nation Israel, will not be converted until after the rapture.
It is also significant that Psalm 2:7 is one of the most important cross-references to help us to understand the birth of the male child of Rev. 12:5. The birth spoken of in both of these verses (and in Isa. 66:7; Mic. 5:3; cf. Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5; and Rom. 8:29) is the birth into the fullness of eternal life and glory. For those members of true Israel who will have died before the rapture, it will mean resurrection to eternal glory; for those members still alive when the Lord Jesus returns, it will mean transformation to eternal glory. Revelation 12:5 is discussed on pages 314-316 of my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture."]] (28) and I will give him the morning star. [See under Rev. 22:16 in my verse-by-verse study of Revelation chapters 20-22 on my internet site. Revelation 22:16 shows that Christ is "the bright morning star." He will give Himself to us; He will share with us all that He is - we are His people; we are His bride; we will be glorified with Him; we will reign with Him; He is the "firstborn from the dead" (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5); He is the "firstborn among many brethren" (Rom. 8:29); He is the "firstfruits of those who are asleep" (1 Cor. 15:20). Compare 2 Pet. 1:19.] (29) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." ' "
REVELATION CHAPTER 3
" 'To the angel of the church in Sardis [Sardis had been the capital city of the ancient kingdom of Lydia.] write: He who has the seven Spirits of God [referring to the Holy Spirit; cf. Rev. 1:4; 4:5; and 5:6] and the seven stars [cf. Rev. 1:16, 20; 2:1], says this: "I know your deeds [works; cf. Rev. 2:2, 19; 3:8, 15], that you have a name [The NIV has "reputation."] that you are alive, but you are dead. [[From the point of view of men, this church appeared to be doing well enough, but from the point of view of God (the only opinion that really mattered), there wasn't much true Christian reality with most of the Christians at Sardis, including the fact that they didn't have the necessary works, the works that necessarily result when Christians walk by faith and by the Holy Spirit. Most of them were on the verge of ceasing to have any life by the Spirit; Jesus said that they would cease to be His people if they didn't repent.]] (2) Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds [works] completed in the sight of My God. [In other words, their Christian works/lives were not acceptable in the sight of God.] (3) So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it and repent [cf. Rev. 2:5, 16, 22; 3:19]. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. [[These words, along with the words of Rev. 3:1, 2, were addressed to those (the majority) who needed to repent. Christ doesn't come like a thief in judgment (whether at some time during this present age or at the end of this age) against those who are believing what He requires them to believe and living as He requires them to live. On Christ's coming in judgment as a thief in the night, see on 1 Thess. 5:2-11 on pages 37-40 of my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture" and on Matt. 24:42-51 on pages 43-45 of the same book. Also see 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 16:15.]] (4) But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments [[Most of the Christians at Sardis had soiled their garments by the contamination of sin, and they had not repented and been restored. False doctrine contaminates too. The blood of Christ, backed up by the Holy Spirit, is the only agent powerful enough to sanctify garments and lives (cf. Rev. 7:14), but it doesn't just work automatically: Christians must cooperate with God's sanctifying grace through faith, based on the truth of God's Word, walking by/in/after the Spirit of God, and doing the works that are required (e.g., Rev. 2:5; 19:8).]]; and they will walk with Me in white [[See Rev. 3:5, 18; 6:11; 7:9, 13, 14; and 19:8, 14. Christ was speaking here of walking with Him in white in the yet-future glory that will become available to the saints when He returns. White symbolizes purity, righteousness, and victory. The "few people in Sardis who [had] not soiled their garments" would be joined by the other Christians at Sardis who took these words of Jesus seriously and repented. The blood of Jesus is powerful to restore Christians who have fallen into sin, if they will repent and appropriate it (cf., e.g., 1 John 2:2). The sincere call for repentance was motivated by His love, as Rev. 3:19, for example, demonstrates. The call for repentance is a dominant theme throughout the messages to the seven churches; it could be considered the dominant theme.]], for they are worthy [The few that were worthy were worthy by God's grace, as they would be quick to testify. Their boast was in God and His saving grace, not in their works (which are works of grace/the Holy Spirit), as if they merited salvation.] (5) He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life [[These last words include the awesome warning that those who don't overcome will not have a place in God's eternal kingdom; they will not partake of eternal life. (On the need for all Christians to be overcomers, see under Rev. 2:7.) These words should put the fear of God in the hearts of all Christians not ready for the return of Christ, a healthy fear that leads to repentance. Hopefully many (if not all) of those at Sardis who weren't overcomers repented when they heard these words addressed directly to them by Christ Himself. I wouldn't be surprised if they did (and I wouldn't be too surprised to learn that some of them didn't repent); so too at Ephesus (especially at Ephesus where they had so much right) and the other cities where repentance was required.
All Christians of all generations must understand these words (as with all the Bible) to be addressed directly to them where the words fit their situation. On the book of life, cf., e.g., Luke 10:20; Phil. 4:3; Rev. 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; and 21:27. On names/persons being blotted out of the book of life, cf. Ex. 32:30-33; Psalm 69:28.
We certainly can't argue that the Christians at Sardis who were called to repent hadn't become born-again Christians: Jesus spoke of their need to strengthen the things that remained, which were about to die (Rev. 3:2); He spoke of them as those who had soiled their (proper Christian) garments; and He warned that their names (which were in the Lamb's book of life) would be erased from the book of life. ((From the point of view of the book of Revelation, some names (not all names), the names of the elect, had been in the book of life from the foundation of the world. (See Rev. 13:8; 17:8 [Revelation 17:8 speaks of the people who will be living on the earth during the super-evil reign of Antichrist that will take place throughout the second half of Daniel's 70th week whose names have not been written in the book of life since the foundation of the world. It informs us that they will all be amazed when they see that Antichrist has come back from the dead (along with other factors that we learn about from the book of Revelation) and they will follow him. We are indirectly also being informed that the elect will not follow Antichrist. This verse is discussed in context in my paper on Rev. 14:6-19:21.]; cf. Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4; and 2 Thess. 2:13.)) The fact that Jesus was speaking (at least for the most part) to born-again Christians at Sardis and warning them that they were on the verge of losing their salvation is strongly confirmed by the fact that the Christians at Ephesus (and Laodicea), who clearly had become born-again Christians, were also warned that they were on the verge of ceasing to be Christ's people.
In my paper "Once Saved, Always Saved?" I tried to discuss this topic in a balanced way, aiming for the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. This is a topic that needs to be discussed; for one thing, the teaching that Christians can't lose their salvation no matter what they believe or what they do, or don't do, has often been taken to ridiculous extremes that are clearly unbiblical, abusing the doctrine in ways that would have offended Augustine and John Calvin.
Augustine, AD 354-430, in his latter viewpoint, who was followed by Calvin and the Calvinists (and others), was the primary source for the doctrine that it's impossible for the elect to lose their salvation. See pages 20-24 of "Once Saved, Always Saved?" on my internet site. The paper is also available on this Christian article site. I recommend reading the entire paper. For one thing, I included an excerpt from L. Berkhof, a respected Calvinistic scholar, under his heading "The Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints in History," that includes the statement that "This doctrine was first explicitly taught by Augustine."
It is clear that this doctrine was just part of the package that Augustine came up with, a package that includes the ideas that mankind is so fallen that we have no capacity to cooperate with God's grace or to have faith, so God must give faith to those He chooses. And the package includes the idea that if we had to cooperate with God's grace or submit to the gospel with faith, then salvation would no longer be of grace, but we would be earning/meriting salvation to some extent (which according to him would be unbiblical).
The apostle Paul, for example, didn't see this problem. He said in Rom. 4:16, for example, "For this reason [since we cannot be saved by the Law] it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace...." Saving faith is something we do in response to God's grace, not something God just gives us (see my "A Paper on Faith"). God doesn't give us saving faith, and (though His grace enables us to continue in faith) He doesn't make us continue in faith to the end.
An example of abusing the doctrine, which is a very serious, widespread problem in our day, is to understand once saved, always saved in such a way that we explain away the powerful warnings (the warnings aren't taken seriously) like those contained in the messages to the seven churches. This undercuts the urgent call for repentance (and the call for Christians to live in the righteousness and holiness of God, with the victory over sin), where repentance is required, and it tends to explain away the need for Christians to have a proper fear of God, a fear required by the Bible, including the New Testament. We should be afraid to sin against God! God hates sin! It's very dangerous to explain away what the Bible clearly teaches based on doctrines supposedly derived from the Bible.
I need to mention what Charles Stanley teaches on this topic in his book "Eternal Security" (Thomas Nelson, 1990); the book is still being sold at amazon.com in July, 2012. I have a lot of respect for the ministry of Charles Stanley, but I was rather shocked when I read some of the things he says in this book. He says that those who have been saved cannot lose their salvation even if they stop having faith in Christ and no matter what sins they are living in (see, for example, pages x, 5, 28, 29, 72, 77, 78).
I don't believe the doctrine once saved, always saved is true, and a widespread abuse of the doctrine has led to gigantic problems, but I'm thankful that there are many Christians who hold the doctrine but aren't abusing it - they make it a high priority item to walk in the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God by His grace, and they take His warnings seriously. We should have a strong assurance of salvation, but not while we are not making God and His righteousness a top priority.
If some Christians are guilty of overstating God's role in our salvation and of minimizing, or even denying, our role, many other Christians are guilty of overstating our role, and minimizing God's role. (It's all too easy to live more by the flesh than by the Holy Spirit, but we are called to walk by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis [cf. Gal. 5:16]. What a privilege!) Also, some Christians make salvation a very unstable affair, with salvation being so easily, and so quickly, lost. The messages to the seven churches, for example, don't substantiate the idea that Christians immediately lose their salvation if they sin.
At the same time we must treat all sin as a very serious matter. God hates sin, and He paid an infinite price in the sacrifice of His Son to save us from sin. We must put the emphasis on God's role in our salvation, learn to rest in His sufficient grace, and make sure we give Him all the glory (as Augustine and Calvinists rightly say), but we must also make sure we understand, and then do, our part, our part as defined and assigned by God. (To the extent we don't do our part, our lives won't glorify God.)
Our part includes making it top priority to learn what the Bible (especially the gospel of new-covenant salvation) teaches, to learn what God has done for us in Christ, and to learn what He requires of us; and it includes doing (by His grace/Spirit through faith) what is required of us, including making it top priority to live for God in His righteousness and holiness, very much including repenting, where repenting is required. These things are not optional (Augustine and many Calvinists would agree with this), but this isn't bad news, it's good news - we're called to divine order - everything out of divine order is chaos, and is destined for eternal chaos.]], and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels [cf. Matt. 10:32, 33; Luke 12:8, 9]. (6) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
We will continue this verse-by-verse study of Revelation chapters 2, 3 in Part 3, starting with Rev. 3:7.
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