In Part 5 of The letter to the church in Thyatira, we see the conclusion of this letter. It includes what I’ve called the “Hear” section, which is almost always identical in both words and placement in all seven letters. For the church in Thyatira, we’ll find out what can be the outcome for both those who appear to be in deep trouble and those who only need to hang on.
This church has clear lines drawn between two groups of people in it. One has been following Jesus and was told Only hold on to what you have until I come. But the other was reminded about the Old Testament Jezebel and was warned about the dire consequences of not changing their ways.
But, is it fair that both receive the same reward if they overcome? We’ll soon find out.
Before we resume with the letter to the church in Thyatira, here’s the breakdown for this particular letter.
|To||the angel of the church in Thyatira|
|From||the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.|
|Divine Knowledge||I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.|
|But -||Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.|
|So -||So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. |
Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you):
Only hold on to what you have until I come.
|To those who overcome||To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—|
just as I have received authority from my Father.
I will also give him the morning star
|Hear||He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."|
Confused? Or did you see the same thing?
This is, for all practical purposes, two churches in one location. The Church of Jesus. And the church of Jezebel.
The Church of Jesus is represented by the two markers at the Peak of Walking in Faith. Jesus put them there – and I believe from what we read that the people knew they were there.
The church of Jezebel is complicated. I think they probably thought they were doing great – and had even better things ahead. Going deeper into the things of Satan would, in their minds, lead them to ever greater heights.
However, Jesus knew that the reality for those people was that their “high” was totally false. That’s why I put the gray marker near the Peak of Inflated Expectation. On the other hand, Jesus knows where this part of the church really is. In big trouble. Jezebel is doomed. The only hope for her followers in Thyatira is a major trigger event. One that will bring them back to the very beginning, with some deep soul searching and a lot of relearning about what Christianity really is.
If we find ourselves in either of these situations, I still feel like some soul searching is called for. For the followers of the Thyatira Jezebel, they must decide whether to repent or go down in flames like their leader. And for those who have stayed true to Jesus, will they be able to help anyone from the Jezebel side of the church if they decide they want to repent.
To those who overcome:
To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—
just as I have received authority from my Father.
I will also give him the morning star
To those who overcome – I will give authority over the nations
The first question that comes to me here – what does Jesus mean by “the nations“? It would be really nice if the answer was obvious. Unfortunately, it’s not.
1484 ἔθνος [ethnos /eth·nos/] n n. Probably from 1486; TDNT 2:364; TDNTA 201; GK 1620; 164 occurrences; AV translates as “Gentiles” 93 times, “nation” 64 times, “heathen” five times, and “people” twice. 1 a multitude (whether of men or of beasts) associated or living together. 1A a company, troop, swarm. 2 a multitude of individuals of the same nature or genus. 2A the human race. 3 a race, nation, people group. 4 in the OT, foreign nations not worshipping the true God, pagans, Gentiles. 5 Paul uses the term for Gentile Christians. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
That’s kind of all over the map.
And the part about ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery’ is nothing short of scary if it has anything to do with Gentile Christians. Being one of them, the thought of even needed to still be ruled with an iron scepter or broken like a piece of bad pottery isn’t pleasant. I’d hope to be past that point in the next life.
Here are some other possibilities for what this might mean:
Here the overcomer is described as the one who keeps My works until the end, with whom Christ will share His own power over the nations (v. 26). The fulfillment of this promise has been variously applied: (a) to reigning with Christ over the unsaved nations during a future millennium (20:4), (b) to participating in the reign of the saints with Christ after death in heaven (another way of understanding 20:4), or (c) to reigning over Christians of lower rank in the new earth, assuming there will be varying degrees of authority awarded to various saints (see Matt. 25:21, 23; Luke 19:17, 19; 1 Cor. 15:41f). Gregg, S. (1997). Revelation, four views: a parallel commentary (p. 72). Nashville, TN: T. Nelson Publishers.
In any case, let’s look at the source from which this comes, Psalm 2.
Ps 2:1 Why do the nations conspire
and the peoples plot in vain?
Ps 2:2 The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together
against the LORD
and against his Anointed One.
This doesn’t sound like life in Heaven or on the New Earth. More like either the present time or maybe after the thousand year reign of Christ, when Satan is released.
Rev 20:7 When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. 9 They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. 10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
If that’s what He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery is about, then it makes some sense. However, it certainly conflicts with the thought by some scholars that this reign is permanent. Nothing in the passage says how long Satan will be allowed to be free. But there has to be a limit. in fact, the implication is that while Satan will prepare for this battle, it won’t actually happen. Jerusalem will be surrounded by the forces of evil – but God appears to intervene before anything happens.
This seems to be in line with what some call the Ezekiel Prophecy – from Ezekiel 38 and 39. We won’t go into it here, but Ezekiel 38 is the preparation for the battle. But Ezekiel 39 has God destroying the forces surrounding God’s people before anything happens to them. The end of the final battle and evil is gone from the earth forever.
To those who overcome: I will also give him the morning star
There’s no question about what this means. Jesus provides us with the answer Himself, in the very last chapter of Revelation – the last chapter of The Bible.
Rev 22:7 “Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book.”
As we saw at the beginning of Revelation, Jesus is going to identify Himself in many of the ways seen throughout the seven letters to the seven churches.
Rev 22:12 “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
Rev 22:14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
Rev 22:16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
And there the bright Morning Star. Jesus.
Apparently, the same reward for overcoming is available to everyone in this church. It doesn’t matter if they were in the “hang on” group or the “best better get your act together group”. Does that seem fair? If you think it’s not, hang on for just a moment more.
You may have noticed, there’s something “missing” from this letter. More accurately, something that’s out of order. Let’s see what, and possibly why.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
As with all the other churches, this means the letter can only be understood via the Holy Spirit. As we saw in the letter to the Ephesian church, it goes back to a prophecy in Isaiah. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s right here – Revelation – The letter to the loveless church in Ephesus.
Now – as to the issue of something being out of order. For whatever reason, Thyatira is the only church that receives this portion of the letter at the very end. I could find no discussions as to why this might be the case. Somehow, it feels significant. Nothing in the Bible is left to chance.
The only thing I can think of, but not confirm at all, is the importance of closing words. All of the other letters end with a message to those who overcome. Thyatira ends with He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Was that related to the earlier statement of Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds? A repetition of a sort, to really drive home the importance of paying attention to what was going on in Thyatira? This mix of very Godly and very ungodly, together in one church?
Or maybe something to point out, again, that the local Jezebel is doomed, and her followers are on the same path? This is a church with one person doomed, some number of her followers on the way to destruction, and the remainder that are told to just hang on. In some ways, it’s an extreme case of what we’ve seen in other churches. Actually – two extremes, on both ends of the spectrum. Was that the point?
We just don’t know. Regardless though, there is much to examine in this church. For the good of our local church. For our own good. And everything in between – small groups, friends within the church, ministries in the church, various service teams, Etc. And consider the new Christian entering this church. It must be so confusing with two sets of people teaching two very different doctrines and having two very different lifestyles.
Ultimately, if we listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to this church, we have two possible outcomes depending on who we follow in this church. One leads to destruction and the second death. The other leads to Jesus and eternal life with Him. So yes, it’s most important that He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
A final thought on overcomers and the importance of hearing the Holy Spirit
Previously, this was the end of what I wrote for the church in Thyatira. I used it in a small group, but didn’t publish it. Now, as I’m about to hit that publish button, something came to me.
There is one more thing to consider about the placement of the Hear section. It goes back to something Jesus said. Something that, according to tradition in His time, was a small but really significant change to the way something was normally told.
Without the Holy Spirit to prompt the people in the early church, they may not catch that difference, let alone understand the significance of it.
Nor would I likely have waited this long to reformat / publish this final installment of the letter to the church in Thyatira. In which case I would have published before reading about the story Jesus told. And probably forget about the Thyatira letter and therefore not make the connection we’re about to read. In fact, I didn’t even highlight the paragraph in the book I was reading – that’s how little it meant at the time. Clearly, I didn’t get it this morning. But now – the little light goes on and the connection is made.
So – let’s get into it. As you read it, try to catch the significance of everything I just wrote.
Mt 20:1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
Mt 20:3 “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6 About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
Mt 20:7 “ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
Mt 20:8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
Mt 20:9 “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
Mt 20:13 “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
Mt 20:16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
OK – that seems pretty obvious and straightforward, at least to most people, right?
But, there’s more to Parable of the workers in the field. Much more! When we read it today, we think it means the owner can pay whatever he wants. However, that’s not at all how the original version of this story went. The version before Jesus changed it. Here’s how it went in Jesus time:
In a rabbinic story of the time, the owner of a farm went into town to hire temporary workers for the harvest. The day wore on, and as late as the eleventh hour he recruited one last batch of workers, who had a mere hour remaining to prove their worth. In the familiar version of the story, the latecomers made up for lost time by working so hard that the foreman decided to reward them with a whole day’s pay. Jesus’ version, though, says nothing about the diligence of the workers. He accents instead the generosity of the employer — God — who lavishes his grace on veterans and newcomers alike. No one gets cheated and everyone gets rewarded, far beyond what they deserve. Yancey, Philip. The Jesus I Never Knew (p. 95). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
Do you see the difference? There’s always this question with Christianity – is salvation based on works or faith? Deeds or faith? And here we see it spelled out clearly. The Rabbinic version was about works / deeds. The men worked so hard the owner gave them the same pay as those who toiled all day.
But Jesus changes this all around. His parable says all who follow Him get the same pay. It’s about having the faith to follow – not about who works hardest. And so, Jesus is essentially telling us in this parable – you may have heard it’s all about works, but I’m telling you it’s all about faith.
Of course, before we go overboard and think we need to do nothing but say we have faith – that’s not what Jesus said either. In everything Jesus said, faith and belief were faith and belief so strong that we act on it. And so, it’s not just work, but faith and then following up on that faith.
Further, it’s not all the same work for everyone. It’s not one size fits all. It’s fulfilling the plan God has for each of us, whatever that may be. For some, maybe it’s a lifetime of service to God. For others, maybe it’s something that begins late in life. More most, it’s probably somewhere in between.
But regardless, the “pay” is the same – all who accept Jesus death on the cross as our salvation and Him as our Lord and Savior (including acting on what we believe) – all will be with Him in eternity. In other words, someone who began to follow Jesus as a child will be with Jesus in the next life just as surely as one of the two men on the cross with Jesus at His death.
So – maybe this is why He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches is at the very end? Because we need that reminder immediately after reading what happens to the overcome? Because what Jesus says to this church is so different than the others? And because our sense of what’s fair may object to this?
However, without the knowledge of the Rabbinic story, as told in Jesus’ time, we don’t really get the impact of what Jesus said. That’s a reason to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us with everything we read.