Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Revelation of Christ's Expectations (Holiness)

Part 7 of a series through the book of Revelation

Text: Revelation 2:18-29

STAYING PURE IN A DIRTY WORLD

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write….” (v. 18a).

In Thyatira, doctrinal compromise was leading to moral compromise. Wrong beliefs lead to wrong behavior.

In Thyatira, there were many trade guilds. Inscriptions mention the following: wool-workers, linen-workers, makers of outer garments, dyers, leather-workers, tanners, potters, bakers, and bronze-smiths (W. M. Ramsey, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia, pp. 324-35). Lydia, “a seller of purple goods,” was from Thyatira (Acts 16:14).

Christians in Thyatira were feeling economic pressure to join the trade guilds. These guilds led to participation in idolatry, and idolatry led to sexual immorality.

Compromise was a problem in both Pergamum and Thyatira, but apparently it was a greater problem in Thyatira. To the church in Pergamum, Jesus says, “You have false teaching in your church” (2:14). To the church in Thyatira, He says, “You tolerate false teaching in your church” (v. 20).

In the letters to the seven churches, Jesus declares His expectations for each church (and for us today). The expectation Jesus had for the church in Thyatira was holiness.

Jesus expects us to be holy, no matter the temptation.

Holiness is often viewed as old-fashioned. If you’re “holy,” you’re “weird.” But “different” doesn’t necessarily mean “weird.” When I was a teenager, if I would have worn a winter hat, gloves, and boots to school during winter, I would have been considered “weird.” But I actually would have been smart. Sadly, I usually wasn’t very smart.

“You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2; cf. 1 Peter 1:16).

Another word for “holiness” is “purity.” Purity is extremely important to Jesus. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, so that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27). Sin is spiritual adultery. When Israel turned to a false god named Baal, God said to the people through Hosea the prophet, “You have played the whore, forsaking your God” (Hosea 9:1).

We can look “pure” on Sundays, but what about the rest of the week?

We have our own idols (false gods) today: the god of materialism, the god of sex, the god of “me-first.”

When we think of “impurity,” we often think of sexual sins. But consider also the sins listed in Ephesians 4: falsehood (v. 25), anger (v. 26), stealing (v. 28), corrupting talk (v. 29), bitterness (v. 31).

CHRIST’S MESSAGE TO A SIN-TOLERATING CHURCH

Not only is being holy the right thing to do; it’s also the wise thing to do. Why is it unwise to tolerate sin in our lives? Two reasons:

1. I can’t get away with sin.

“The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze” (v. 18b; cf. 1:14-15).

Apollo was the divine guardian of Thyatira. In the message to Thyatira, Christ seems to make a contrast between Himself and Apollo. Apollo is the son of Zeus. Jesus is the “Son of God.” (This is the only time in Revelation that Jesus is called the “Son of God.”)

I can't get away with sin because, first, Jesus sees everything.

Apollo was considered a god of the sun. Jesus has “eyes like a flame of fire.”

“I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 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. I gave her time to repent, but she refused to repent of her sexual immorality. 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, 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 according to your works” (vv. 19-23).

I can't get away with sin because, second, Jesus will judge everyone.

Bronze-working was an important industry in Thyatira. Jesus has “feet…like burnished bronze.”
“Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).

“The Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:27).

Important: Good works do not make us right with God (law and grace/punishment and reward).
“I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (Jeremiah 17:10).

2. Sin promises more than it delivers.

Sin is like those commercials for "as seen on TV" products. They promise more than they deliver.

“The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star” (vv. 26-28; cf. Psalm 2:8-9).

What is the meaning of the “morning star”? It could be an allusion to Numbers 24:17 (Balaam’s prophecy) with its use of a star and scepter as messianic symbols: “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” Or it could be a reference to the planet Venus. Venus is called the “morning star” when it appears in the east before sunrise. Roman legions carried the symbol of Venus on their banners to depict Roman invincibility. Rome considered itself to be invincible, but Rome was nothing compared to Christ.

Jesus promises and delivers—more than we can imagine!