I've studied the book of Revelation very closely. That doesn't mean I understand it — it just means I've studied it closely!
But I haven't read it for awhile, so in my latest read-through in Greek there is a freshness that is at the same time refreshing and disconcerting, if you know what I mean.
Yesterday's reading was in chapter two, amid the letters to seven churches that fill chapters two and three. When I was preparing for a very detailed test on Revelation at Talbot, I used the acronym ESP TSP L for the order of the letters: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea.
This was the letter to Thyatira (2:18-29). After the introductory identification of Jesus to them (v. 18), the Lord dictates this:
"'I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first" (Revelation 2:19)Jesus says "I know" a great deal about this church. He says "I know" seven times in these letters (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15), and fully "I know your works" six times in these letters (2:2, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). Sometimes these words introduce some encouragement, even if measured (as here); sometimes a very sharp rebuke (cf. 3:1).
Οἶδά σου τὰ ἔργα, καὶ τὴν ἀγάπην καὶ τὴν πίστιν καὶ τὴν διακονίαν καὶ τὴν ὑπομονήν σου, καὶ τὰ ἔργα σου, τὰ ἔσχατα πλείονα τῶν πρώτων.
But here, see what the Lord knows: works, faith, service, endurance. Each of those is a rich NT word bespeaking a vital spirituality. The dimensions reach upward and outward, horizontally and vertically. They aren't just about trying to live Christianly without thinking God's thoughts after Him, nor are they given to the opposite error.
This is a well-balanced church, in this way.
Then add to it all that "your latter works exceed the first" (contrast 2:4-5). This is as should be (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:12; 2 Peter 1:8). They are growing, thriving, moving on. What could be better? Could you hope to hear better from the Lord?
Yet the next word is "But." It is the stronger Greek adversative ἀλλὰ (alla), setting up a direct contrast.
But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.Every spiritual blessing in them and abounding—yet Jesus has something against them: they tolerate false teaching. It isn't enough that they are personally holy, alive, growing. These are good things, they are signs of personal health. But there is a vital, crucial, missing element. A body that does not fight off infection, whatever its other strengths, is not a healthy body.
ἀλλὰ ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ ὅτι ἀφεῖς τὴν γυναῖκα Ἰεζάβελ, ἡ λέγουσα ἑαυτὴν προφῆτιν καὶ διδάσκει καὶ πλανᾷ τοὺς ἐμοὺς δούλους πορνεῦσαι καὶ φαγεῖν εἰδωλόθυτα.
This is their failing. They are not actively fighting off infection. They are not contending earnestly for the faith (Jude 3). The aggelos , "messenger" of the church (2:18) — which I take to be its pastor — is not sharply rebuking, resisting, and shutting the mouth of a virulent false teacher here called "Jezebel." This is the neglect of an important duty (Titus 1:9-11; 2 John 10-11).
To shift the metaphor a bit, he allowed cancer in their midst, a doctrinal cancer, an aggressive, if you will an "evangelistic" cancer. Maybe it won't claim them. But it will claim others.
All the other great works don't cancel out tolerating false teaching. It isn't that the pastor himself did it; but he suffered it to be done. And what he allowed, the church allowed. These church members were not themselves false teachers; but they permitted a false teacher, they tolerated her.
The job of a shepherd is not merely to guide and feed the sheep, though it is that. It is also to protect the sheep, by fighting off the wolves, even if it costs him personally. It is this commitment that sets him apart from a mere hireling (John 10:12-13).
In this relativistic, tepid days, perhaps it is much that we believe the truth, that we embrace the truth, that we act on the truth, that we live the truth.
But in such an embrace, if it is real, there is the necessary corollary of a rejection of, and in fact an active opposition to error (cf. Proverbs 28:4; Hebrews 1:9).
Wonderful church, Thyatira. Good pastor. But -- he wouldn't draw the line, and so they didn't. They wouldn't enforce the edges.
And Jesus has that against them.