E W Rogers, Oxford
It is little wonder that when the world patronizes the church, the state of the professing system becomes worse. Whenever there is departure from the simple ways that be in Christ, there is bound to be an ever speedy decline into abysmal corruption. So it was in this church.
We do not forget that these letters represent states that existed concurrently when they were first addressed to the churches. Nor do we forget that the seven conditions are to be found at any time on earth. But the remarkable progressive corruption which set in consequent upon Constantine having patronized and adopted Christianity (though he himself was not baptized till near the end of his life) is clearly set out in the letter now before us.
Lydia, a seller of purple, belonged to Thyatira, Acts 16. 14-15. It was a place noted for its contributions to the glamour of this world, and that atmosphere had crept into the professing church. But there was One walking in the midst of the lamp-stands named the Son of God whose feet were like unto burnished brass, and whose eyes were "like unto a flame of fire", Rev. 2. 18. Nothing escaped His notice; His eyes detect everything, try everything, and He consumes all that is evil. He searches the reins and the hearts. He will most surely come and judge. He who had Himself trodden the paths of judgment, whose own feet had been burned as in a furnace, could do none other than judge sin wherever He found it. Being the Son of God He possesses every divine attribute. He knows all, is everywhere and can do everything. With such an One the Thyatiran church had to do. And so do we all.
There was much to their credit: works, love, service, faith, patience; indeed there was more activity than hitherto, "the last works are more than the first", 2. 19 r.v. But there was cause for stern censure. If in the case of Pergamos there was evil within (Nicolaitanism) and evil without (Balaamism), here matters were worse. It was a woman that was inside, tolerated, and out of her proper sphere. Although Paul had written "I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man", 1 Tim. 2. 12, Jezebel was suffered to teach, and in so doing to seduce the Lord's servants into religious and moral corruption, flouting the apostolic decree of Acts 15. Of course, the reference is not to the historic Jezebel, but to her then modern counterpart. She may, at the time of writing, have been an actual person but she stands for a tolerated corrupt principle. She called herself a prophetess, claiming the right to speak for God, but unlike Anna and Philip's four daughters she was a false prophetess. The Old Testament history of Jezebel is full of instruction. She was the wicked power behind the apostate throne of Ahab. She had no scruples and cared nothing whatsoever for the divine decalogue. What did it matter to her if she bowed down to idols? or if she falsely accused? or murdered? or what did she care if she stole Naboth's vineyard? She may paint her face but it did not improve her heart. The doom of her counterpart is certain, foreshadowed by God, and will, as was the case of the original woman, be implemented by men. She "sat as queen"; she rode the beast; but she will be turned off, cast down, and burned with fire. Her end will be bitter indeed, Rev. 17. 16.
No doubt something of this in principle happened in the days immediately consequent upon Luther's protests. The power of Rome and her children suffered much when she was cast into a bed of sickness, and into great tribulation. History has a way of repeating itself because the same causes produce the same effects. And each recurrence seems to grow more intense so that the "great tribulation" here alluded to will ultimately be experienced by apostate Christendom on a more severe scale, 2. 22. The reader should study the history of Jezebel's daughter Athaliah, and grandson Ahaziah; it is prophetic of what is yet to be enacted on a far wider plane.
This "great tribulation" is to be distinguished from "the tribulation, the great one" yet to be and which will have Israel for its centre, though the whole world will be involved in its effects, 7. 14. But in each case, both the religious system and that which is in any way immorally associated with it will be involved in the conflagration.
God is longsuffering, for judgment is His strange work. He has no delight in it, however inevitable His righteousness may make it. "I gave her space to repent of her fornication", 2. 21. Spiritual fornication is the illicit alliance of the church with the world. The true church having been espoused to Christ does not give her affections to the world, but that Christendom has done. The nominal church and the world are inseparably united so that to distinguish one from the other is no easy matter.
The warning could not be plainer; sickness, tribulation and death, in which her posterity (her children) would be involved as well as herself, would surely come upon them. It would be a lesson to all observers-all the churches will know that the Lord whose eyes are as a flame of fire "searcheth the reins and hearts"-both motives and thoughts will be discovered and exposed, 2. 23. She did not will to repent, v. 21 R.V., of her fornication. She had no sense of shame nor of her disloyalty to Christ. Therefore judgment was inevitable, a judgment which would be proportionate to personal and individual guilt, "everyone of you according to your works", 2. 23.
The longsuffering of God explains the mysterious continuance of persecution of the truly godly by the religious world; see Luke 18. 1-7. The long history of the dark middle ages, when Christendom was in the depths of corruption, is a story often told. The sufferings of the Lord's real people at the hands of the nominal professors are an irremovable stain on so-called church history.
Yet there were a faithful few in Thyatira who did not hold this teaching and did not know "the depths of Satan" as it is called, 2. 24. Their hearts and interests lay in "the deep things of God", 1 Cor. 2.10. The evil schemes and thoughts of Satan were foreign to them.
Though "the rest in Thyatira" were but a small remnant, yet those all searching eyes had not failed to notice them, Rev. 2. 24. He knew how hard pressed they were and that they could scarce bear any further burden. They had not been ensnared by Satan's imitative wiles, but how long would this last? The Lord would not allow their burden to be further increased, but enjoined them to "hold fast" what they had till He should come, 2. 25. They were persecuted by Jezebel and her kind, as were the Lord's prophets and Naboth of old, 1 Kings 18. 13; ch. 21. They were victims of men like Dio-trephes, Hymenaeus and Philetus, and Jannes and Jambres. The godly poor and faithful believers were hounded to death by men bearing pompous ecclesiastical titles and wearing deceptive robes. The reader should peruse Broadbent's book The Pilgrim Church or other like works to enlighten himself of the co-existence of apostate Christendom with the true godly Christian. He willthen see the benefit of reading this correspondence not only in the light of the times when it was first written, and not only in the light of times later than these which have now passed into history, but in the light of our present times. Signs are not wanting now-a-days that the organized World Council of Churches is hostile to the truly faithful.
That mistakes were made in the middle ages, when the faithful took the sword and besmirched their record with atrocities, is all too true. The Lord does not want that kind of thing. Forcibly pulling up the tares will damage the wheat. He requires "the rest" (that is, the small remnant) to be relentless in holding on to their possessions. They were given the hope of His coming; "till I come". For "he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end" shall be saved, 2. 26. A firm refusal to jettison the faith once for all delivered to the saints, a stubborn refusal to give it up, is what He requires of His faithful few. His coming will relieve the pressure, justify the course taken and put an end to their persecution.
The overcomer is promised that he will be given authority over the nations. This is the very thing that apostate Christendom had claimed, still claims though under restraint now, and will yet claim and obtain in days before the end. But the One to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given promises that that authority shall be wrenched from them and He will take it and share it with His own (compare Psa. 2. 9; Psa. no, Rev. 19. 14; these passages shed mutual light on each other).
The "morning star" shines in the darkness before the dawn of day. This is the peculiar portion of the church to enjoy, 2 Pet. 1. 19; Rev. 22. 16. It will be at the dawn of day that we shall come forth with Him "to reign over the earth". But we shall have first gone to the Father's house, John 14. 3, in order to come forth in regal array. This is our "morning star" hope. This star shines in the darkness, in the heavens, from whence we expect a Saviour who will take us away before the world's darkest hour.
The word "rule", Rev. 2. 27, is actually "shepherd", for the Lord will, when He reigns, have both a shepherd heart and an iron rod. History records the lamentable failure of man in this union of two apparently opposite roles, for either the ruler has been despotic without mercy or merciful and thereby degenerating into weakness. The two principles will be happily blended in the Perfect Ruler of men.
In view of all this, let us "hold fast the traditions, even as they were delivered to us", 1 Cor. n. 2 r.v. Let us "hold the traditions" which we have been taught whether by word or by apostolic Epistles, 2 Thess. 2. 15, the tradition of "the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints", Jude 3 R.v.