Lessons from Thyatira
Let’s unpack this message to Thyatira so we can understand the promise to overcomers in its context. As the pattern seems to indicate, when something good can be said about a church, Christ starts there.
Thyatira would have need to repent along with some of the other churches. Nevertheless, there were several commendable traits found in her. Some of the note-worthy actions mentioned concerning this church were deserving of a commendation.
Specifically, the Head of the Church takes note of their works of charity, their service rooted in faith, and their endurance and patience.
Typically, this structure from John indicates that he has in mind their public witness to the outside world. The “works” should not be understood as though they were helping older people cross the street! Rather, John is recording Christ’s commendation for their gospel light shining in the dark city and encouraging them to keep it burning brightly. This church had an impact and they were to be commended.
Yet, the Head of the Church will not allow a few good things to minimize the importance of sin that has not been dealt with. The piercing eyes of Christ also see the areas that need immediate attention, improvement, and repentance. For those who think “love” indulges sin, they do not understand the holiness of God. His love for His church causes Him to call these believers out.
The text indicates that this church was tolerating a false prophetess – a Jezebel – and her children. The false teaching being delivered was a form of antinomianism.
Due to the abundance of trade guilds already mentioned, it is understandable the temptations faced by the Christians in the city. If they belonged to one of these guilds, it was the expected norm to pay homage to the “guild god,” to partake of the meal offered in the god’s honor, and to indulge in the immorality that followed. As noted by Beale, “Nonparticipation would lead to economic ostracism.”
The teaching that was being promoted was a “free grace” message. The concept was simple: Believers are not under the law; thus, you are free to participate in any activity you desire. It was this false doctrine – a misunderstanding of a holy life – that was being tolerated. Further, the consequences of this tolerance were leading believers into the rampant fornication and idolatry found within the city.
The Judge of all the earth will always do right! Therefore, as expected, we see Jesus providing His sentence, His judgment, over the false teacher(s) in verses 21-24. Yet, that’s not the focus of His word for the church.
In an attempt to encourage the faithful, there is a strong admonition to continue being consistent until He returns again. Within this setting, He promises a few different blessings for these believers:
- They would have power over the nations.
- They would rule with a rod of iron.
- They would receive the morning star.
Needless to say, the original hearers would have been excited about these rewards. What do they mean?
Jesus mentions that the one who overcomes will have power over the nations, that he will rule with a rod of iron, and that he will crush clay jars to pieces.
In previous promises to the churches, Jesus has stressed the reward of eternal life. To this church, He stresses what we will be doing in that eternal life. For the first time, the promise to the overcomer anticipates the future millennial kingdom where believers rule and reign with Christ.
This isn’t just New Testament teaching, either. In Psalm 2, David had already anticipated this future “Son” who would rule over the nations. Christ allows these believers from Thyatira in on a great truth: Not only will Christ reign, but overcomers will reign with Him.
The final promise to this church is the reference to the morning star. This promise has typically been understood in one of two ways. First, it alludes to the fact that Jesus is the bright and morning Star – He gives Himself to us as a gift for all eternity. Secondly, some have noted an allusion back to Daniel 12.3 where the wise shine as the bright stars of the heavens. This future hope of shining in Christ’s glory was embedded into much of the Jewish literature of the day.
While there may still be some cryptic messages left to decipher, the gist of this promise to Thyatira is simple. Jesus is going to return, put down His enemies, and invite believers to rule and reign with Him for eternity. This future promise – this hope – enables us to endure whatever difficulty life may bring our way in the present.
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