The church in Thyatira is a good example of how “one bad apple spoils the bunch.” I don’t know about you, but when I’m sorting through my fruit and vegetables, particularly fresh cilantro, I remove the rotting pieces so that the others can stay fresher longer. But what happens when we overlook the bad apple in our midst?
Jesus commended this church on their love, faith, service, and endurance. Those are qualities that build a strong church community to be sure. Jesus’ words also speak truth when it comes to recognizing the false prophets among us. Sometimes we can’t see and are blinded to the truth. After all, they call themselves prophets. But who is leading them? Whose message are they bringing? They may even be disillusioned themselves to believe they are holy, when instead they are being controlled by the evil one.
We’re starting to see a pattern in Jesus’ messages to the churches. Today we learn what he wants to tell the church in Pergamum. He comes to them as a sharp two-edged sword. You may recall a similar reference to the Word of God in Hebrews 4:12 and Ephesians 6:17. The Word is Jesus, as John opens his gospel. Jesus is truth. Therefore, the Word is truth. We’ll see a focus on standing strong on the Word of God in today’s message.
Jesus commends these people for standing strong despite the evil surrounding them, tempting them. That can be hard. We can probably identify with what it feels like to see messages in the world that are contrary to our Christian values and beliefs. We see how what we hold dear can be trampled on and made ugly by people’s own misunderstandings. It can be difficult to stand strong for God in the face of hostility or fear. Usually, we encounter the fear of not being accepted. Do we ever avoid tough conversations so that we can be “politically correct?”
Have you ever suffered because of your faith? Maybe you were ridiculed or teased. Maybe you were excluded from certain activities. I’m willing to wager you haven’t spent time in jail because of your faith. Jesus knew the people of the church in Smyrna were truly suffering. It wasn’t going unnoticed. Likewise, we can be confident our own suffering is not unknown to Jesus.
Jesus’ message to the church in Smyrna was to hang on – don’t let your persecution and suffering turn you from God. Sometimes we can feel like that, like we’re hanging on by a thread. We’re feeling uncertainty, disillusionment, loneliness, sadness, etc. It’s the perfect time to lean in to God’s love instead of pushing away. Jesus words of encouragement to the church in Smyrna resonate with us, too.
You are never going to find the perfect church. Why? Because they are made up of people. Not all people enjoy the same things. What makes good preaching, good music, good outreach, good stewardship? The answers will be different depending on who you ask.
The messages Jesus is sending to the seven churches will dig deeper and look at the heart. Each of these messages will have a similar pattern. In fact, you might even want to make a table and take notes so you have a dandy reference tool after we’ve read all seven messages. Your headings would be “Church” “Description of Jesus,” “Praise,” “Rebuke,” “Challenge,” and “Promise.”
Can you imagine if during your quiet time Jesus appeared to you in all his dazzling splendor like he did for John? What a beautiful vision this was for John, for the seven churches, and for us. We see John, suffering in exile to the Island of Patmos, and then he receives this glorious opportunity to share more of what has fueled his life. To share the revelations of Jesus Christ himself.
As we read through the book of Revelation, we are going to encounter a lot of imagery. My goal, and I hope yours is, too, will be look to for the meaning for us. I’ll do my best to lead us through together. What did John see? Jesus. But not how he had last seen him.