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.

Repent

“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love Me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to Me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭2:4-5‬ ‭NLT‬‬

How disappointed the Ephesians must have been to hear Jesus’ next words, just after the encouragement they had just received. To be accused of not loving Him as they should must have hit their hearts like an arrow. A frantic rush of soul-searching must have tumbled through their minds and emotions. And the criticism extended to include their lack of love for each other. Jesus said to them, “Look how far you have fallen!”. Oh dear. As I have said before, mankind generally has a tendency to lapse into a state of comfort, where reduced effort and complacency rule the days. It takes effort, considerable at times, to keep loving God and loving each other, sad though that is. And it looks as though this is what happened to the Ephesians. Jesus went on to remind them of the consequences of continuing as they had been doing; their “lampstand” would be removed from the list of churches. But with Jesus there is always a way back. He encouraged these early Christians to repent. He told them to “Turn back to Me and do the works you did at first”. That is what repentance is all about – it is a turning back from the wrong and sinful ways of life and returning to those that are God-ordained. We don’t know the outcome of Jesus’ impassioned appeal because Ephesus as it was in those days doesn’t exist anymore. It just consists of a number of ruins, including a cathedral that was active up until at least the 5th Century. But perhaps the message from Jesus produced the fruit of repentance and led onto greater things, but of which we have no record.

This message to the Ephesians is a timely warning to us pilgrims. It reminds us, as do the messages to the other churches, of the importance of staying close to Jesus, as we did when we first encountered him. At the point when we were saved. It reminds us to repent when we stray. Because stray we will unless we work hard to keep the faith.

Near where I live there are some “lampstands” being removed. A number of churches in the Church of Scotland denomination are having to close because their congregations have dwindled to the point that it is no longer viable to keep them open. And in some cases, the upkeep of old buildings, monuments to our rich Christian heritage, is no longer affordable. So sad. But Jesus said He would build His church, and He was very graphic in His teaching to His disciples in John 15. We read, ““Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.” Jesus’s church will not be based on dwindling congregations in dusty old mausoleums, but instead will be a growing, vibrant, fruit-bearing, and dynamic group of His followers. Grafted into the Vine. Loving God and their fellow Christians. Doing the works of His service. Are we pilgrims such fruit-bearers? Or are we useless branches? Hmmm…

Dear Lord. We thank You for this timely message. We repent of the barren times when we have erred away from You and we ask for Your forgiveness. Please help us, Lord , we pray. Amen.