The Wrong Spirit

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.
Revelation 2:20 NLT

A few more thoughts about this Jezebel. Firstly, how can anyone lead another person astray? It can only be by presenting a series of ideas and suggestions that connect with what another person is already doing or thinking, confirming their thoughts and leading them into situations that are wrong. Or introducing into their thinking an alternative or totally different way or course of action. But however the process is completed, there is a synergistic connection, and thoughts are translated into deeds. What might be festering in the back of someone’s mind can be brought into the light of day by the right catalysts. Now, every society has issues with sexual sin. What God designed sex to be can become distorted and abused because our enemy, the devil, knows humanity’s weaknesses and he knows that he can quite easily bring about sexual sin. So if this Jezebel plays to generic weaknesses, perhaps by packaging her prophecies into plausible arguments for immorality, then people with such tendencies will be led astray. Easily and willingly.

But who or what is a Jezebel? The Jezebel of the Old Testament was a controlling, evil, idol-worshiping woman who was determined to get her own way, regardless of the consequences. She even set herself up against a man of God, Elijah, who fled from her in fear (1 Kings 19:3), in spite of the fact that he had just performed an amazing miracle at Mount Carmel. She was a formidable woman.

There are some Christians who speak about a Jezebel spirit. They refer to someone who wants to be in control of their local church or fellowship and cause disruption and problems to try and get their own way. They make things difficult for everyone else in the church, particularly the leadership. They use all sorts of techniques to try and get other people on their side, perhaps by a whispering campaign, or spreading lies about others, or by playing a persecuted role, inviting sympathy, encouraging people to take sides. But they can be very clever in the way they go about their nefarious business, packaging what they say innocuously, chipping away with a steady drip, drip, drip, until their objectives are realised.  Some may not even fully realise what they are doing. But it needs a strong leader to discern and call out such a person and deal with their evil ways. 

As pilgrims, we need to be aware of other people’s agendas, particularly when they are different to ours. And if we are uncomfortable about what someone is saying about another person or leader in the church, we should gently and graciously close down the conversation. We must never let our thinking or talking become corrupted by another person, no matter how plausible it may seem. The Apostle Paul gave some good advice in Ephesians 4:29, “… Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them“. And in Colossians 4:6, “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone”. But how do we deal with the Jezebel figure trying to lead others astray in the church? The temptation would be to make an appointment with the church leaders to warn them, or start telling other people to beware of such a person. But this would be a wrong course of action. The church in Thyatira was guilty of permitting the sinful woman to spread her falsehoods unchecked. Jesus gave us guidance about how to deal with people who seem to be walking a sinful path, particularly one that is at variance with the purity of the Word. He said, “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17). But having said that, I have only rarely seen an issue resolved by the Matthew 18 process. Prayer is the most effective way of dealing with a wrong spirit. It may take time and patience, love and grace, but in 1 John 4:4 we read, “But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world“. And as we read in the rest of the message to the angel of the church at Thyatira, Jesus will ultimately bring about a solution for a failure to repent.

One last thought. If in our local fellowships we find that our vision is at variance with that of the leaders. Or if the denomination of which we are a part is considering or allowing sinful or worldly practices into our churches. Or if we cannot agree or endorse the direction the leaders are taking us, then we must prayerfully consider our membership of that body of believers. And if, after a serious and prayerful period of reflection, we are still having problems, then we should move on to somewhere more in line with what we believe. What we mustn’t do is to become a root of bitterness, becoming a Jezebel. We won’t of course find a perfect church but we must find one that upholds the purity of God’s Word.

Dear Lord. Please help us to maintain the purity of Your Word and Your Spirit in our churches. Please give us discernment and wisdom in our daily walk with You and our fellow pilgrims. Amen.

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.

Constant Improvements

“I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. And I can see your constant improvement in all these things.”
Revelation‬ ‭2:19‬ ‭NLT

Wow! What an endorsement from the Master Himself. Jesus said that He had observed the lives of the Thyatiraeans and, in particular, He singled out their love, faith, service and patient endurance. He also noted that they weren’t satisfied in staying at a certain level. He said they were improving. I cannot think of a better accolade for Christians in any generation, let alone those in the hostile environment in which the Thyatiraeans lived. As the letter was read out to them I can imagine the smiles on their faces; an endorsement for their diligent approach to their lives in Christ.

Was there any significance in Jesus just selecting these four attributes? Why not their prowess in praying for the sick? Or their attendance records for Bible Studies? Or their diligence in missionary work, knocking on the doors of the people in the next town? No. Jesus selected four examples of a Godly character. Internal attitudes and examples of a deep relational experience with their loving Heavenly Father. That sweet spot where their Christian lives were nurtured and developed to become more like Jesus.

The four attributes selected by Jesus were particularly important and significant in the society and culture prevalent in First Century Greece. They would not just have involved the way the people in the church related to each other but would also have included how they related to those in the society around them. This would not have been easy for them but their counter-cultural witness would have made significant gains for God’s Kingdom, swelling their numbers as the devil’s frontiers were pushed back.

Society and culture today is different in many ways to the Ancient Greek ways of life. Gone are the extravagant temples erected in the honour of the pantheon of Greek gods. Gone is the devilish practices that pervaded the society in those days. Today, the same issues prevail but in a more subtle way. So we pilgrims must ask ourselves if Jesus would commend us too for our love, faith, service and patient endurance. And are these character attributes growing within us day by day? Sometimes it is good to undertake a personal spiritual check up just to make sure. And how about the churches of which we are a part? Can we tick the “constant improvement” box? Or is there a “could do better” note on our report cards? But whatever the personal or corporate outcome, we know that God is helping us. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:12-13, “…Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him”. If God is working within us we cannot fail. And in Ephesians 2:10 we read that we are His workmanship, created to be like Jesus. So as we remain close to God, being obedient to what He says, we cannot fail to win the accolade received by the Thyatiraean church. 

Dear Lord Jesus. We are so grateful for Your encouragement. You are always there for us on our daily walk through life, helping us to grow more like You. Please help us to be open to the work of Your Spirit in our lives. Amen.

Eyes and Feet

“‘To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.”
Revelation‬ ‭2:18‬ ‭NIVUK

It is fascinating to watch a fire. There seems to be something within it that is alive. The flickering. The feel of heat. As a child, I remember sitting on the hearth rug looking at burning coals. Seeing the tar melting and bubbling out, sometimes making a hissing noise. The crackles and pops adding to the experience. And occasionally, there was a sharp crack as a piece of slate or something else incombustible shot out, burning a hole in the carpet or making the family pet dog suddenly move away. The coal fire provided heat to the room, often heated the water through a back boiler, and acted as a place where the odd piece of rubbish was consumed. But in these enlightened days, open coal fires are rare and discouraged. 

Jesus told the Thyatiraean church that His “eyes are like blazing fire”. So we can see eyes that are alive, with a constantly-changing depth, full of images that vary from a roaring inferno to dull redness. A perpetual fire that is never extinguished. A fire that exposes and consumes. A fire that spits out all that is unwanted. A fire that warms and gives life. The eyes of Jesus perceive all that is within His followers, seeing into their hearts with a penetration that knows no limits. A fire with the promise that one day those who have rejected Him will see through His eyes of fire directly into another fire, that never goes out.

Jesus also told the “angel of the church in Thyatira” that His “feet are like burnished bronze”. Burnished is another word for polished or refined. Bronze that had been purified in the fire, bringing a perfection befitting to the Son of God. A purity that is able to tread on all that is impure, bringing light into darkness. A metal alloy denoting strength and permanence, never to wear out. Never to disappear. 

To today’s pilgrim, the eyes of blazing fire and the feet of burnished bronze remind us that Jesus is real. That Jesus is eternal with an authority that has been with Him since before the creation of the world and will still be with Him when this world is replaced by the new Heaven and earth. That Jesus has a depth and presence not far from each one of us – we only have to reach out and touch Him. That there is a side to Jesus that will one day bring justice to this sinful world.

Dear Lord Jesus. We thank You that we see in Your blazing eyes a love and compassion beyond measure. We are so blessed by your presence in our lives. Amen.