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Revelation 2:12-29: The Trouble with False Teaching Print E-mail
Sunday, 26 February 2012

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The main theme of the letters to the churches in Revelation is patient endurance.  In a book that deals with the end, we are told over and over again to in fact persevere until the end.  And one of the lessons that we learn about perseverance is that it requires regular repentance.  Five of the seven churches are called to repent over some failure or sin.  They are commended for what they are doing well and they are encouraged to persevere, but they are also told to repent.  Faithful perseverance to the end requires that they turn from their sins as well as continue in their good works.  I have been reading recently about Charles Simeon, a man who lived from 1759 to 1836, and pastored one Church (Trinity Church in Cambridge) for fifty-four years. 

Simeon faced severe persecution throughout his ministry.  In fact, for the first ten years (or more) of his patorate, many in the congregation not only refused to come to his services, they actually locked the pews so that others could not sit in them.  Even though he eventually won many over to his ministry, he continued to face hard times at the Church and at the university where he taught.  So how did Simeon do it?  How did he persevere for so long?  One answer is found in his humility.  He wrote: “There are but two objects that I have ever desired for these forty years to behold; the one, is my own vileness; and the other is, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ: and I have always thought that they should be viewed together.” 1  Commenting on repentance he wrote: “Repentance is in every view so desirable, so necessary, so suited to honor God, that I seek that above all.  The tender heart, the broken and contrite spirit, are to me far above all the joys that I could ever hope for in this vale of tears.  I long to be in my proper place, my hand on my mouth, and my mouth in the dust…I feel this to be safe ground.  Here I cannot err…I am sure that whatever God may despise…he will not despise the broken and contrite heart.” 2  Simeon understood the connection between humility and perseverance.  If we ever find ourselves unwilling to be humble and repent, then we will not be able to endure to the end.

The two churches that we are considering today, Pergamum and Thyatira, were both called to repent for their tolerance and acceptance of false teaching.  Apparently, both churches were tempted to participate in idolatry by attending feasts that were held in honor of gods and that were accompanied with sexual promiscuity.  The reasons for this temptation are perhaps a little different for each city, but the result and God’s call for them to repent is the same.  We stated last week that the letters can be broken into four sections: introduction/description, positive/negative statements, commands/results, and conclusion.  Let’s look at each letter following this outline.

The Letter to Pergamum (v. 12-17)

The introduction of this letter and Jesus’ description of himself is found in verse 12.  Look at that with me.  Pergamum was known as the center for emperor worship in Asia.  They had multiple temples built to emperors and encouraged its citizens to participate in the activities there.  As we will see in the letter, this situation led to difficulties for the Christians in that city.  Yet, Jesus wants them to know that true authority and power rested in Him.  The reference to the sharp two-edged sword reminds the readers that He is in control (not Rome) and that He will judge.

The positive and negative statements are found in verses 13-15.  Let’s consider the positive statements first.  Look at verse 13.  Jesus commends this Church for holding fast and not denying the faith.  He knows where they live and He knows that the Enemy has a stronghold there.  At some point in their history, the persecution was so bad that one of them, Antipas, was killed for his faith (martyred).  Yet, even during this time, they remained faithful.  Thus, in this sense they had dealt with the external pressures to deny the faith and worship the emperor.  But they were not getting everything right.  We read of the negative statements in verses 14-15.  Look at those with me.  Even though they were dealing with the external temptations, it appears that they were not dealing with the internal ones.  False teaching had gone unchecked among them.  Apparently there were those in the Church teaching that it was alright for believers to attend and participate in idolatrous feasts.  This is called the teaching of Balaam because in the Old Testament Balaam was guilty of leading the Israelites into idolatry (see Numbers 25).  Again, the errors of the Nicolaitans are mentioned as well, which possibly means that they agreed with such idolatrous practices.  It seems that some were merely trying to accommodate Christianity with other religious ideas (emperor worship, Roman gods).  Perhaps this was the path of least resistance for them in their current situation.  They could avoid persecution by the government and others while also remaining a part of the Church.

Yet, this is not what the Lord wanted for them.  We see His command to them in verse 16.  Look at that with me.  The command is simple: repent.  Stop holding to this teaching and allowing others to do so.  Turn from it and call for others to do the same.  What will happen if they refuse to repent?  The Lord tells us: If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.  The Lord wants the Church to deal with those who are embracing this false teaching and to correct them.  If that does not happen, then He will come and judge them.  This probably refers to some temporal judgment of the people as well as final judgment.  The trouble with false teaching is that it only ever leads to judgment and destruction.  It is not to be toyed around with and it is not to be tolerated.  As we noted last week, when the Lord tells us to love people He does not mean allowing them to hold to heresy.  That is unloving.  The loving thing to do is to pray for them and call them to repentance and faith.

What happens for those who do repent and remain faithful to the end?  Look at verse 17.  Those who conquer are promised hidden manna and a white stone.  The manna points back to the heavenly food that Israel received and the spiritual food that the faithful now receive.  The stone and the new name refers to the new identity that we have through faith in Christ.  These gifts of sustenance and belonging are given to those who conquer, those who repent and endure.

The Letter to Thyatira (v. 18-29)

The introduction of this letter and the description of Jesus are found in verse 18.  Look at that me.  Thyatira was home to a temple for the son of Zeus, so many see Jesus’ title as Son of God to be a contrast to the false god.  Again, Jesus is the One who has flaming eyes burnished bronze feet, symbolizing His knowledge of all and His judgment as well as His strength and stability.  The Church in Thyatira needed to be reminded of these realities because of the temptations that they were presently facing, which we see identified in the body of the letter.

The Lord begins by commending the Church for its ongoing progress.  Look at verse 19.  The Lord knows of their love and faith and service and patient endurance.  Unlike the Ephesian Church (see 2:1-7), the Lord commends their love for each other and their continued faith and service.  They were apparently growing in these qualities since their latter works exceed the first.  This is true spiritual growth.  Not necessarily numbers or buildings or budgets, but growth in love and faith and service.  We want to be a Church that grows and endures in these areas.  But not all was well in the Church in Thyatira.  Look at verse 20.  Again we see that the Church was tolerating false teaching. 

Thyatira was known for its numerous ‘guilds.’  These were groups of workers in a particular field that joined together to support each other.  Seemingly each guild had its own token ‘god’ that was worshipped during their feasts.  Of course, belonging to the guilds and participating in their practices was an important business practice of the day.  To refuse to do so could lead to financial ruin and worse.  The problem for believers was that participation involved idolatry and sexual immorality.  However, apparently there was a prominent woman (called Jezebel after Ahab’s wife who lead many in Israel into idolatry) who was teaching that believers did not need to abstain from these practices.  And of course, such teaching would produce a following.  Yet, the Lord makes it clear what will happen to her and those who agree with her teaching.  Look at verses 21-23.  She is going to be judged and all who with her refuse to repent of the false teaching.  This judgment will make it clear to all churches that trifling with false teaching is no small matter. 

What commands does the Lord have for the Church?  Look at verses 24-25.  The command to repent is given to all who have accepted the false teaching.  To the others, they are called to hold fast what you have until I come.  They are not to be lured in by ‘deeper’ learning.  Rather, they are to hold fast what they have already been taught: namely to turn from the sins of the world and to trust in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.  The gospel will be enough.  They are to guard it and believe it and endure in it with everything that they are.

And what is promised to those who conquer?  Look at verses 26-29.  Quoting here from Psalm 2, Jesus states that those who conquer will rule over the nations with Him.  The guilds may have power for a season, but it will not last.  Jesus, with His eyes of fire and feet of burnished bronze, is the final authority.  All who remain faithful to Him until the end will reign with Him as well.  They will be given the morning star, which is possibly another reference to His authority or simply the fact that He will be with His people, since He is later called the Morning Star (22:16).  The conqueror will be given eternal life with Christ and all that that entails.

In both of these letters we see the importance of avoiding false teaching.  A Church can be doing a lot of things well, but if false teaching goes unchecked, then lives will be ruined.  So then, how do we make certain that we fight against false teaching?  As simple as it may sound, I think the key is found in verse 25.  Look at that again.  We must hold fast to the true gospel.  We must never lose sight or get tired of or think we need more than the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for our sins.  We must be a gospel-centered Church, which means we must be gospel-centered Christians.  We must remain teachable and humble.  If ever we start moving away from the gospel, we must be quick to recognize our error, quick to repent, and quick to return to true faith.  As long as we have breath, we must continually be believing the gospel, living the gospel, and proclaiming the gospel.  The world will try to get us compromise through persecution.  Even some who consider themselves believers will try to get us to compromise through promises of ease and comfort.  But we must succumb.  We must hold fast.  We must hold fast until He comes.  Amen, come Lord Jesus!

1 Quoted in John Piper, The Roots of Endurance (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002), p. 108.
2 Ibid., p. 110.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 08 March 2012 )

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