THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST

Previous: Revelation 2:19

Complaint

20 Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. - Revelation 2:20

Considering the Lord's encouraging words to the Church at Thyatira in the previous verse, a visitor in those days might have thought that this was a great church. With all their good works, it probably was a beehive of activity; a place where people cared about each other; maybe even a good place to enlarge one's network of helpful and influential people.

However, Jesus told them, "Nevertheless I have a few things against you." In the original Greek text the word for "few" or "a small amount," which was used in the message to the previous Church, is not found. It is a similar complaint, but is more serious here. The smaller problem that was brewing in Pergamum had actually become a big problem at Thyatira.

Their weakness was one of toleration: "because you allow" someone to teach falsehood and lead others into the practice of immorality. Remember that part of the commendation to the Ephesian Church was that they did not tolerate false teachers masquerading as apostles. You might want to review the commentary on chapter 2, verse 2. We took note of the fact that Jesus, of all people, was willing to associate with sinners and was criticized for doing so. But He only spent time with them to show them His love, help them find the truth, and teach them how to leave their sinful ways behind.

The meaning of "toleration" changed during our lifetime. It originally meant acceptance of a person in spite of his or her beliefs and practices. Now, in the age of political correctness, it means accepting that each person's beliefs and practices are of equal validity.

During the "Jesus People" revival in the 1970's, Calvary Chapel was tolerant about hippies' appearance and mannerisms, but not about their addictions and false ideas. They sincerely welcomed them into their services, and gave them the much-needed truth of the Gospel.

Satan always urges people to doubt the truth about Christ. Every church, and every Christian can expect to be tempted, often by false teachers or immoral friends, to not be "so narrow" in their thinking. Godly young people are often bullied by their peers for being "too holy," and are not included among the popular crowd. Christian businesspeople may be driven out of the competition in their field by others who don't have the same high view of ethics.

When false teachers appear and tell Believers that it is acceptable to mix worldly values with their Christian beliefs, there are always some folks who are glad to have the excuse to concoct their own religion. We can relate to this in our generation because of the moral issues we face. Many Christians have decided that abortion and homosexuality are compatible with Christianity. They may know that the Bible says otherwise, but to them that is no longer the deciding factor.

Our young people are being told that all belief systems are equal, and it doesn't matter what they believe as long as they are sincere. Each person who adopts this ridiculous philosophy has to reject Jesus' bold statement that He is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one can come to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).

Once they have bought into this false teaching they think they can design their own belief system and no one can say it is right or wrong. Then, if they believe in a god at all, he conforms to what they want to believe. They will say things like, "My god would never allow anyone to go to hell." "My god would want a gay couple to be married if they want, because love is from God."

God has given us His Word and the help of the Holy Spirit to discern what is true. We need to be like the Bereans, about whom Paul said,

These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. - Acts 17: 11

Jesus identified the source of false teaching. He called her "that woman." He also names her, but the expression "that woman" indicates that she was very well known by the entire congregation in Thyatira.

Jesus called her "Jezebel." This was the name of an Old Testament queen who was an incredibly wicked person. She was the wife of King Ahab, who was also exceptionally evil.

30 Now Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him. 31 And it came to pass, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians; and he went and served Baal and worshiped him. - 1 Kings 16:30-31

Jezebel was responsible for introducing Israel to the worship of Baal. During her reign the prophet Elijah was directed by God to call for a show-down between Baal and Jehovah. This fascinating story is found in 1 Kings 18. The 450 prophets of Baal were not able to get a response from their false god, but when Elijah called on the Lord, He sent a fire from heaven to consume the offering on Mt. Carmel. After this event Elijah killed all the false prophets.

Enraged, the evil Jezebel sought to capture and kill Elijah, but God protected him. It was prophesied that Jezebel would die a horrible death and be eaten by dogs. This prophecy was fulfilled exactly as given (1 Kings chapters 19 through 21 and 2 Kings 9).

According to the 1990 U.S. Census, women are almost never named Jezebel and it is an equally uncommon last name. It seems unlikely that Jezebel was the actual name of the false prophetess in Thyatira. This name is symbolic of immorality and idolatry. But Jesus gave her the hateful name because of what she was doing to His Church! Just as Jesus had renamed Simon, calling him "Peter" or "rock" to symbolize the strong character he would develop, Jesus gave this woman the most derogatory name possible to symbolize her evil role and perhaps her destiny.

It is significant that the antagonist in this story is a woman because of the prominence of goddesses in all of the pagan systems of mythology, all the way from Semiramis in the Babylonian system to Venus in the Roman panoply of gods. Semiramis was mentioned above as one of the earlier names of the city of Thyatira. Her story gave rise to the Sumerian goddess Asherah and Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of fertility. In Egypt she was known as Isis, In Greece she inspired the creation of Aphrodite and Artemis, and in Rome, she became Venus and Diana.

In our culture goddess worship is a growing concept, especially in Wicca and the occult, New Age teaching, and environmentalism.

We will also encounter the ultimate expression of this goddess imagery in the 17th chapter of Revelation where an adulterous woman is sitting on the scarlet beast, which is symbolic of the final evil empire during the Tribulation period (Revelation chapters 13 to 18).

Jesus depicted the Jezebel of Thyatira as she "who calls herself a prophetess."

Some commentators think that she was the local pagan seer who served at the shrine of the Sybil Sambethe, just outside the city walls. Sybil was Greek for "prophetess." There were numerous shrines of this sort all over the Roman Empire, and The Greek Empire that preceded it. A PBS documentary described the most famous of these, the Oracle of Delphi in Greece.

People came from all over Greece and beyond to have their questions about the future answered by the Pythia, the priestess of Apollo. And her answers, usually cryptic, could determine the course of everything from when a farmer planted his seedlings, to when an empire declared war. (http://www.pbs.org/empires/thegreeks/background/7_p1.html)

It is more likely that this woman was a professing Christian and a part of the local Church at Thyatira. There were legitimate prophetesses in the New Testament. Phillip's four daughters served the church in that way (Acts 21:8-9). The fact that she "called herself" a prophetess is an indication that she did not deserve the title, but just appropriated it to herself, and by her forceful personality gained the attention of many in the Church.

Maybe we should add a side note here about prophecy. Bible prophecy is the only category that has a perfect record of fulfillment. These prophecies are from God, who knows everything about the future. This Book of Revelation is a perfect example of this most-trustworthy type of prophecy.

There is a "gift of prophecy" according to the Bible. It is described in 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 14. It is the God-given ability to know certain things supernaturally, but it is to be used according to strict rules, including the approval of other people who have the same gift. Such prophecies are produced by the power of the Holy Spirit, but they are not considered "the Word of God" in the same way the Scriptures are. One example of this was a prophecy about the Apostle Paul, not to go to Jerusalem or he would end up a prisoner in Rome (Acts 21:11-12). It was fulfilled, but not in the exact way they had pictured it (Acts 21:30-33).

Some Christian prognosticators (like Nostradamus and St. Malachy) may or may not have had the gift of prophecy.

Other religions sometimes have prophecies too, but they don't have a good record of fulfillment, except in the case they were borrowed from the Bible (like many Islamic prophecies).

There are also many other kinds of prophecies: palm-reading, astrology (horoscopes), psychics (like Benjamin Creme, and occultic and New Age channelers (like Alice Baily and Edgar Casey). These are either the result of careful analysis and future projections, or they are messages from evil spirits. Demons cannot actually predict the future, but they have knowledge that a normal human would not have.

The Lord Jesus described what this prophetess did this way: "to teach and seduce My servants." Teaching is the primary way that biblical knowledge is passed on (2 Timothy 2:2). The Greek word for "teach" is used 220 times in the New Testament, mostly for instruction about the Scriptures: God's written Word. Teaching the truth is a wonderful thing. But teaching what is false is the worst kind of evil.

"But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. - Mark 9:42

False teaching is often a mixture of the truth with wrong application. In the case of this Jezebel, the fruit of her teaching led to immorality and spiritual unfaithfulness.

There is a prohibition in the New Testament against women teaching men (1 Timothy 2:12), but in many cases they taught other women and children more effectively than the men would have.

Jesus also accused this prophetess of seducing His servants. The Greek word translated seduce here is plano, which has the meaning "to lead astray." It can be seen that any effort to mislead people is a type of seduction. But in this situation Jesus' followers were not only led into spiritual unfaithfulness, but they were enticed "to commit sexual immorality."

The word for sexual immorality is the Greek porneuo, which means "to commit fornication." It is derived from the word pernao - "to sell off," meaning, in this context, the surrendering of sexual purity.

Most people in Thyatira belonged to one of the trade guilds. They were like our labor unions, but in their pagan meetings, members were expected to engage in immoral revelry to their patron god or goddess.

The prophetess may have been teaching that it is acceptable for a Christian to compromise with the world system, in order to keep their status in their profession. In the process they would have to lead a double life.

Moral leniency had been an issue in the Corinthian Church decades before this time. In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 the Apostle Paul wrote very pointedly about this problem and how true Christians should avoid immorality and consider their bodies to be temples of the Holy Spirit.

In addition, these weak Christians of Thyatira were guilty of eating "things sacrificed to idols."

This did not necessarily mean eating food that had been offered to idols and then sold in the marketplace. The Apostle Paul discussed this matter in 1 Corinthians 8. In pagan religions more animals were sacrificed than could be used in their ceremonies and support of their priesthood, so the extra meat was sold at a discount in public markets. Paul said that it was not intrinsically sinful to eat meat that was offered to an idol since a grounded Christian would know that there was no real god behind the idol. However, he said that if eating it would cause a weaker Christian to stumble - because he didn't yet understand that there is only one true God - he would not eat it either.

In the case of the Christians at Thyatira there was a different reason not to eat this sacrificial meat. In the context of this story about Jezebel, to do so would be to participate in the immoral rituals of their false worship. Earlier we noticed that the Church at Pergamum had the same problem (see chapter 2, verse 14).

At this point we should consider how these issues are actually prophetic about the fourth period of Church History - from about 476, the fall of the Western Roman Empire - to 1517, the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

...to be continued.


Next: Revelation 2:20 cont.


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