Bed of Suffering

“But I have this complaint against you. You are permitting that woman—that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet—to lead my servants astray. She teaches them to commit sexual sin and to eat food offered to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to turn away from her immorality. “Therefore, I will throw her on a bed of suffering, and those who commit adultery with her will suffer greatly unless they repent and turn away from her evil deeds. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches out the thoughts and intentions of every person. And I will give to each of you whatever you deserve.”
Revelation‬ ‭2:20-23‬ ‭NLT

Jesus makes a complaint against the Thyatiraean church. And its reading is grim. After the accolades and commendations of the previous verse, all of a sudden they receive a hammer blow shaking them all to their very cores. They receive an accusation of sin, made all the more serious because they didn’t see it coming. John, in his writing, does not hold back with his message. It is direct and to the point. The Thyatiraeans have allowed sin to enter their fellowship. Strangely, it is the Thyatiraean “angel” who is getting the hard time, but in this context, it has to be the church leaders who were responsible. 

Jesus’ accusation was that a certain woman – John called her Jezebel – was leading the people astray. Sometimes a charismatic figure can emerge in any walk of life and present a story that seems so very plausible. In this case, once again we see that the message involves sexual sin and food offered to idols, both at odds with the Apostolic declaration from the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. Sadly, sexual immorality and idol worship was prevalent in the societies of those times.

So who was this “Jezebel”? John said she called herself a prophet and probably some of the people were taken in by her “prophetic” messages. The “Jezebel” in Old Testament times was the wife of a wicked Israelite king called Ahab. The account of this heathen queen can be found in 1 Kings – too much to include with this blog – but suffice to say that Jezebel was a wicked, controlling woman who promoted Baal worship over the true worship of God. So when John referred to this woman in the Thyatiraean church as a “Jezebel” he was associating her with the anti-God practices of her spiritual ancestor. A damning indictment. Worse, for this woman, the time for her to repent had run out, but she didn’t want to stop her immoral practices. So it was judgement time. We don’t explicitly know what a “bed of suffering” was, but there were occasions in Jewish history when God sent plagues, boils, snakes and even a sink-hole that swallowed up an entire family, in judgement for sinful practices. And John continues with a warning to those who follow this Jezebel’s ways. They too will suffer, he says, unless “they repent and turn away from her evil deeds”. The warning from Jesus didn’t end there, however. He said that her children would be struck dead. A grim situation indeed. I don’t think this just applied to her natural children, should she have had any, but to her spiritual children as well.

Verse 23 in today’s reading ended with the reminder that Jesus can see into every heart. He knew what the Thyatiraeans were thinking. He knew how their thoughts could develop over time, rationalising their actions, and, before they knew it, they could end up in sinful practices. One day, He said, they will be called to give an account for their deeds.

Today’s pilgrim needs to be on his or her guard. Jesus will not, and can not, allow sin to take root in His church. The Jezebel of the Thyatiraean church called herself a prophet. Now, prophecy was one of the gifts God gave to the church. But like many gifts, it can be misused or abused. Jesus warned about false prophets in Matthew 7:15-16, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles”? It would be easy for us, in the 21st Century, to take the moral high ground and say we would never allow a Jezebel to rise up and lead us astray in our own churches. Certainly not through sexual immorality or with food offered to idols. But there have been Christian movements and sects that have been led into sinful practices. Perhaps started by a seemingly innocuous thought (remember the devil’s suggestion to Eve in Genesis, “Surely God didn’t say…?) before moving into sin. Some sects have even made changes to the Bible, adding, removing, or re-interpreting texts, to justify their theological positions. And for all these deviations, as in the church at Thyatira, usually a charismatic leader emerged first. So today’s pilgrim must test all prophecies. Do they line up against God’s Word? Could they lead to sinful practices? And if we’re unsure, we must discard them.

One day we Christians will stand before Jesus to give an account of our lives. Thankfully, God has given us all the resources we need to live a righteous life honouring to Him with His Word. And if that wasn’t enough, He sent His Son, Jesus, to die for us as a sacrifice for all our sins, giving us a righteous standing before God. And just to make sure, He sent His Holy Spirit, to live in each one of those who accept Him. Good News in a world full of bad news. 

Dear God. Thank You for all You have done and still do in our lives. Where would we be without You? Please help us in our daily walks to remain close to You, heeding Your Words and following your ways. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Second Death

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death.”
Revelation‬ ‭2:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬

As we read earlier in this chapter, John reminds us of the importance of listening to the Holy Spirit. Not just listening but understanding. Sometimes we will hear what someone says to us, but the mental filters that we possess will process what we hear into something with a meaning totally different to what the speaker intended. Misunderstandings can result. A classical example was in 1799, when 1200 Turkish prisoners were shot through a misunderstanding. Napoleon was asked what they should do with the prisoners, but at the end of a coughing fit he uttered the words “Ma sacrée toux,” meaning “My cursed cough”. Unfortunately for the prisoners, Napoleon’s words were heard as “Massacrez tous” meaning “kill them all”. A historical situation that has nothing to do with what Jesus was saying to the churches, but it makes the point. A more humorous example was anecdotally circulating after one of the world wars, when the radio message “Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance” was heard “Send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance”. But more seriously, we have a duty to carefully listen to what God is saying to us and understanding the meaning behind what He says. And if we’re not sure about anything, we can check the message against God’s Word, the Bible, through prayer, and with other Christians who we trust. Sadly, there have been many who have heard the Word, interpreting it according to their “filters”, but not understanding what it meant spiritually, going off into error as a consequence.

John’s writings continue with the sentence, “Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death”. So what is this second death? I thought we could only die once. The phrase “the second death” only occurs in the Book of Revelation. The only explanation must refer to the possibility that after a physical death, there is another potential death awaiting us – the lake of fire. Later on in Revelation we read that all those whose names are not written in the Book of Life will end up there. A thought that should strike fear into anyone, I think we all agree. But Jesus made sure that His followers would not be frightened by such an event, because those who are overcomers, the victorious, will be safe. A quote from a book I read recently, “There is a vast difference between the final destination of those who know Christ and those who do not”.

To sum up this verse, the reality for us pilgrims is that as we keep close to our wonderful Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus, we have nothing to fear about what lies beyond the grave. In fact, as we read earlier, there is a crown of life awaiting us. Amazing! Surely worth discomfort today for wonder tomorrow. As is often said today, “No gain without pain”. That principle applies to the spiritual as well as the physical.

Dear Lord, we thank You for Your Word, and the encouragement You provide us for our journey towards Heaven. We need not fear the second death because You are with us. Amen.

Ears to Hear

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God.”
Revelation 2:7 NLT

In His message through John, Jesus reminded us that the Holy Spirit speaks to us, and we must listen. And not just hear what He says, but “understand“. Now this can be difficult for some, because many denominations minimise or even deny the active and necessary work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians everywhere. And to add to this we are not generally good at hearing that “still small voice” whispering in our souls. We would much prefer the Holy Spirit to audibly message our natural ears. Or, even better, write down what He wants us to receive. But if the Holy Spirit is talking to us, what does that look like, to us pilgrims in 21st Century planet earth? Once again, we can turn to the Bible, God’s Word, for inspiration and explanation. In John 14:26, Jesus stated clearly what the role of the Holy Spirit would be, “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you“. Though directed at His disciples, the Holy Spirit’s work has continued through the centuries, right up to the current day. In these verses, Jesus informed His disciples that “He will teach you everything and will remind you of everything”. “Everything” seems pretty comprehensive, I think. So, the Holy Spirit speaks to us, and our spiritual ears must discern His voice, from God’s Word, from the dreams and visions of Joel 2:28, from prophetic pictures and messages given to us or through another, perhaps through our consciences, and even directly from the pulpit or other Christians. 

But what is the Holy Spirit saying to the churches? We obviously have the message to the Ephesian church, and the messages to come for the other six churches mentioned in Revelations. These messages are generally relevant to Christians and churches today, I’m sure. But what about anything specific? What is the Holy Spirit saying to the church that I attend? Speaking of which, my church is part of the Elim Movement, a movement that has been established on twelve foundational truths, covering topics such as the Bible, the Trinity, Salvation, the Holy Spirit, the Church, and so on. All Bible-based principles that are non-negotiable. One Holy Spirit message to us will ask if we are being faithful to these God-given principles. The authority of the Bible is paramount and is over-arching in all we believe and do; we stray away at our peril.

Another consideration is that we mustn’t go through a box-ticking exercise, legalistically interpreting and implementing Biblical truths. If asked, I’m sure the Ephesian church would have said they both loved God and each other, but Jesus reminded them that, somehow, this was much less than when they first came to know Him. We have a responsibility, as Paul wrote in Philippians 4:1, to “stay true to the Lord“.  

Dear Lord, we are so sorry for the times when we have “erred and strayed like lost sheep” and neglected You and Your Words. We’re so grateful that You have sent the Holy Spirit to be with us, 24/7, helping us through our life-pilgrimage. Please help us to be sensitive to Your voice, each and every day. Amen.