seven letters  thyatira part II

When we last got together, we read about Jesus' disapproval of someone within the church at Thyatira who claimed to be a spokesperson for God but taught that it was OK to get involved in sexual sin and things that were associated with false gods. Here's some of what Jesus had to say about that...

"Yet I have this against you: You are permitting that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach my servants that sex sin is not a serious matter; she urges them to practice immorality and to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols" (Revelation 2:20).

Notice that Jesus refers to this woman as someone who calls herself a prophetess, indicating that she really wasn't a true prophet but that's what she called herself anyway. Now a "prophet" is someone with the ability to give God's direction regarding a particular situation or future event but this woman was clearly not what she claimed to be. We can tell that this woman wasn't a true prophet of God because her teachings totally conflicted with what God had already said in His Word.

Unfortunately, the situation today is not much different from what it was when Jesus first sent this message to the church at Thyatira. And while there may be many people who also claim to have "messages from God" today, the way to identify those who aren't what they claim to be hasn't changed either. Here's the game plan for verifying the message of anyone who claims to speak for God...

  "Dearly loved friends, don't always believe everything you hear just because someone says it is a message from God: test it first to see if it really is" (1 John 4:1).  

The real test of any authentic "God-approved" message is that it must agree with the teachings that God has already given to us in His Word. Unlike the false teaching that was being pushed in Thyatira, a genuine message from God will never lead people away from the truth as found within the Scriptures. To illustrate this, let's take the teachings of this "prophetess" from Thyatira and test them to see if they really measure up against the Scriptures. 

First, we're told that this person taught that it was OK to practice immorality. Now the word for "immorality" as used in the Bible is translated from the Greek word porneia. If this word looks familiar then you may have guessed that "porneia" is the word from which we also draw our modern-day word "pornography" and it refers to any kind of sexual activity that occurs outside of a marriage relationship. For example, the word "immorality" would cover things like unmarried couples who are having sex, homosexual relationships or involvement with pornography. Since the Scriptures tell us* that these things are wrong in God's sight, we can know right away that anyone who teaches that such things are OK can't be speaking for God. 

Jesus then refers to eating things that had been sacrificed to idols. You may recall that an "idol" can be anything that someone loves, fears or depends on more than God. It can also refer to anything that takes the place of God in someone's life. Once something becomes more important than God in someone's life, then that thing (whatever it is) becomes their "idol." Since the Scriptures tell us that idolatry** is wrong and that nothing should take the place of God in your life, we can say that anyone who teaches that such things aren't important isn't really telling the truth.

So we can see that this person's teaching was wrong because it totally went against some things that God had spoken about in His Word. Just as it was in the first century, it's important to remember that anyone who claims to speak for God must speak or teach in a way that totally and completely agrees with the Bible. If a so-called "prophet" provides a message or prediction or teaching that is out of line with what the Bible says, then it is definitely not from God. God would never give someone a message that conflicts with His Word or His Holy character. So instead of simply accepting other people's opinions about spiritual things, be sure to check them out for yourself in the Scriptures! 

"I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling" (Revelation 2:21 NIV).

When God shows patience towards people who are doing wrong (as we see here), there may be a tendency for such people to think, "It's not a big deal, God must not care because I'm getting away with it." Others may also believe that just because God hasn't acted in a situation, He either can't or won't do anything. Then there are some who feel free to disrespect God because they just assume that God doesn't really exist. In fact, the Bible itself talks about these attitudes when it says, "Because God does not punish sinners instantly, people feel it is safe to do wrong" (Ecclesiastes 8:11).

But just as we see in Revelation 2:21 as quoted above, God may actually be giving such people some space to repent or "turn back" from the wrong things that they've been doing. Romans 2:4-5a talks a little more about this when it says...

 "Don't you realize how patient he is being with you? Or don't you care? Can't you see that he has been waiting all this time without punishing you, to give you time to turn from your sin? His kindness is meant to lead you to repentance. But no, you won't listen; and so you are saving up terrible punishment for yourselves because of your stubbornness in refusing to turn from your sin..."

You see, no one ever completely "gets away" with doing something wrong. In this case, Jesus gave this lady a chance to straighten out but she chose not to take it. Unfortunately, this bad decision lead to some very serious consequences…

"Pay attention now to what I am saying: I will lay her upon a sickbed of intense affliction, along with all her immoral followers, unless they turn again to me, repenting of their sin with her;  and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches shall know that I am he who searches deep within men's hearts, and minds; I will give to each of you whatever you deserve" (Revelation 2:22-23).

The idea is that this person is going to spend plenty of time in bed but there won't be any sex going on there- it's now going to be a bed of sickness and suffering. And notice that this consequence will affect everyone involved with this person too. This provides another illustration of why it's so important for Christians to stay clear of false teachers today. Nevertheless, we should notice that Jesus also left the door open for reconciliation if they were willing to change their attitude and behavior- that's what it means to repent.

Jesus then makes a really shocking statement: "I will strike her children dead." Here, Jesus is clearly speaking of those people who went to church and appeared to be Christians but were really following someone who was an immoral substitute. When people choose to follow someone with an immoral, anti-God attitude, they also choose to separate themselves from God's family and eventually bring God's death penalty upon themselves for that choice. So this woman and her followers (or "children" to use Jesus' term) will serve as an example to those who think that they can bring false teachings into Jesus' church and get away with it: "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" (NIV).


* See Leviticus 18:20,22-23, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, Ephesians 5:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, Hebrews 13:4 and Revelation 21:8

** See Exodus 20:3, Deuteronomy 4:15-19, Ephesians 5:5 and Revelation 21:8

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Except as indicated, all Scriptural references taken from The Living Bible, 1971, Tyndale House Publishers

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