March 20, 2008

Revelation - week 3 (cont'd again)

18 "To the angel of the church in Thyatira write the following:

"This is the solemn pronouncement of the Son of God, the one who has eyes like a fiery flame and whose feet are like polished bronze:

19 'I know your deeds: your love, faith, service, and steadfast endurance. In fact, your more recent deeds are greater than your earlier ones.
20 But I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and by her teaching deceives my servants to commit sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent, but she is not willing to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Look! I am throwing her onto a bed of violent illness, and those who commit adultery with her into terrible suffering, unless they repent of her deeds.
23 Furthermore, I will strike her followers with a deadly disease, and then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts. I will repay each one of you what your deeds deserve.
24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, all who do not hold to this teaching (who have not learned the so-called "deep secrets of Satan"), to you I say: I do not put any additional burden on you. 25 However, hold on to what you have until I come.
26 And to the one who conquers and who continues in my deeds until the end, I will give him authority over the nations– 27 he will
rule them with an iron rod
and like clay jars he will break them to pieces (cf. Psalm 2:8-9)
28 just as I have received the right to rule from my Father– and I will give him the morning star.
29 Let the ones having ears hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'
The next church Jesus addresses is the church of Thyatira. And once again, as in His message to the church at Pergamum, Jesus uses a well-known character in the Hebrew Bible to illustrate their sinful compromise with surrounding pagan culture. Jezabel, like Balaam and Balak, was a powerful gentile who was against God's people and sought to infiltrate Israel with idolatry and sexual immorality (two terms which were often synonymous, they were so closely related). Both Jezabel and Balak were successful in corrupting Israel and leading them further into idolatry and wickedness. At Thyatira, however, "Jezabel" is not as obviously idolatrous as she was in Ancient Israel. This "Jezabel" was apparently emphasizing some type of hidden or esoteric knowledge in order for one to be truly spiritual. This was common among mystery religions of the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. However, instead of being divine secrets, these "deep secrets" were not from God, but rather from the Accuser, Satan.

Those at Thyatira who rightly rejected this infiltration of idolatrous compromise with the surrounding paganism, however, are commended by Jesus and told to remain faithful in order that they might share in Jesus' ultimate Messianic reign over all the earth (the original context of Psalm 2, which is quoted in part here).

3:1 "To the angel of the church in Sardis write the following:

"This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars:
'I know your deeds, that you have a reputation that you are alive, but in reality you are dead. 2 Wake up then, and strengthen what remains that was about to die, because I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.
3 Therefore, remember what you received and heard, and obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will never know at what hour I will come against you.
4 But you have a few individuals in Sardis who have not stained their clothes, and they will walk with me dressed in white, because they are worthy.
5 The one who conquers will be dressed like them in white clothing, and I will never erase his name from the book of life, but will declare his name before my Father and before his angels.
6 Let the ones having ears hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'

Jesus now turns His attention to the church at Sardis. Unlike Thyatira or Pergamum, the Sardis church does not seem to be struggling with rampat idolatry or sexual immorality. They are a church with a good reputation among 1st century Christians. They seem like a thriving community. However, the fiery eyes of Jesus are able to burn throuh this facade and expose the Sardis church for what it is--a community on the verge of spiritual death.

Not every member of the Sardis church is guilty of this however. There are some who have remained faithful, their spiritual garments clean. These are who Jesus promises will share in His victory at His return. What's especially interesting, from a theological point of view, is Jesus' reassurance to His faithful that if they remain faithful their names will never be erased from the book of life. This would be an odd promise for Jesus to make to His followers if it were, as later theologians supposed, impossible for believers to experience such loss of eternal life (the presumed meaning of having one's name written in the Book of Life).

Those who find themselves within this theological tradition must allow this passage to have its full effect rather than dismissing it as either hypothetical but not possible or referring to a loss of "rewards" of some kind rather than a loss of eternal life. Though this verse alone is not a "proof-text" for the idea that actual Christians can, if they choose to turn away from God, throw away their salvation (the technical term for this is "Apostasy"), it does count heavily in favor of the reality of such a danger.

5 down, only 2 to go...

Be blessed,

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