Corruption within the Church
What is with the church of today?
We have been examining various aspects that Jesus expounded upon in His last words to the Churches as recorded in the Revelation. In His words to the first three churches (Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum), Jesus commends:
- Performing good deeds, hard work, and perseverance.
- Maintaining intolerance of wicked men.
- Enduring hardships—especially suffering brought about because of persecution and poverty.
- Standing against certain forms of authoritarianism within the ranks of the church.
- Remaining true to Christ and not renouncing faith.
But Jesus also speaks against other practices common in the Church (and even found in the Church of today). These include:
- Forsaking our first love.
- Allowing the rise of authoritarianism within the ranks of the church, i.e. setting up a clergy that was above the church laity.
- Allowing false doctrine to infiltrate the Church—these false doctrines included compromising in the areas of true marriage and various forms of idolatry.
The Corrupt Church: Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29)
This week, we move on in our study to look at the church in Thyatira.
“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write, ‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass: “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first. Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works. “Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have till I come. And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations— ‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’— as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ’ (Revelation 2:18–29)
The church in Thyatira could be described as the “continual or perpetual sacrifice” church. This church would be dominant during the Dark Ages, but as with all the church descriptions is present in every age. The church of the Dark Ages was embodied in the Roman Catholic doctrine of continual sacrifice in the Mass. In Roman Catholic theology, when the priest consecrates the wafer and the cup, they are said to become the real body and the real blood of the Messiah through Transubstantiation, and so the Messiah is re-sacrificed every time the Lord’s Supper is presented.
The laity were given only the wafer and were refused the cup because of the belief that the real blood might be accidentally spilled. The cup was for the clergy only. Thus, the distinction between the clergy and the laity, begun by the Nicolaitans and the church of Pergamum, was brought into full fruition.
The Description of the Messiah
The Messiah is described in verse 18 (which is taken from Revelation 1:14-15): …the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass… Here, the Son of God—the Messiah—is presented with symbols representing judgment. Jesus alone is to be worshipped.
The church in Thyatira was commended for their works, love, service, faith, and patience. Interestingly, these works were increasing over time. They were characterized by good works and so their appearance to the world was very positive. So, they looked good…but of course, looks can be deceiving.
This very short commendation is followed by a very lengthy condemnation in verses 20-23.
- Ill-placed tolerance (verses 20-21)
The church in Thyatira was condemned by Jesus for tolerating that woman Jezebel. This could have been a woman within the church, but probably not. The name seems to be used in a more symbolic way (the name is Phoenician and they Phoenicians had been absorbed into the Greek speaking world by this time). Generally, when a woman is used symbolically in Scripture, she represents a religious entity—either in a positive or negative way.
On the positive side, Israel is referred to as the Wife of Jehovah and the Church is referred to as the Bride of Christ. On the negative side, there is the woman with the leaven (Matt 13:33), the Great Harlot (Revelation 17), and as here, the woman Jezebel. This is most likely a reference to Jezebel of the Old Testament.
Jezebel was a Sidonian princess who became the wife of Ahab, the king of Israel (1 Kings 16:29-33). She was responsible for introducing paganism into the religious practices of Israel. Through her efforts, the new paganism of Israel surpassed all of the previous sins of idolatry practiced in the North Kingdom (see 1 Kings 12:25-33).
But with Jezebel, it was not just a corruption of the true religion, but also the installation of an entirely new god and the incorporation of a new system of worship (1 Kings 16:29-33). Through Jezebel, Baal worship came into Israel, which resulted in more idolatry than ever had been experienced before. This new worship involved, in particular, sexual immorality.
Jezebel therefore became a real picture of what the Roman Catholic Church evolved into during the period of the Dark Ages. Paganism was introduce and resulted in idolatry and spiritual fornication…it morphed into a new religious system bearing little resemblance to the New Testament church.
During this period, ten false doctrines were introduced into the church:
- Justification by works…not simply faith alone in Christ alone.
- Baptismal regeneration…a person is saved by baptism.
- The worship of images…iconoclasm.
- Celibacy…the forbidding of priests to marry (a further distinction between clergy and laity).
- Confessionalism…sins are confessed to a priest who then declares absolution of those sins.
- Purgatory…a place of confinement which is neither Heaven nor Hell, but a place where one has to be “refined” before going to Heaven (this belief falsely proclaims that sanctification is not complete at death).
- Transubstantiation…the concept of the continual and perpetual sacrifice of the Messiah.
- Indulgences…through the giving of money, a person’s time in purgatory could be reduced.
- Penance…the practice of tormenting the body to reduce one’s time spent in purgatory.
- Mariolatry…the worship of the Virgin Mary, here elevation as the “mother of God,” and the declaration of her deity.
These ten false doctrines led to idolatry and spiritual fornication within the church.
- The coming judgement on Jezebel (verses 22-23)
The woman Jezebel is to be thrust into great tribulation. This means that, unlike the true church, the Roman Catholic Church will go into the Great Tribulation and will play a role during that time. This does not mean there are no “true Christians” within the RCC who will be raptured before the Tribulation. There are true believers in the RCC, but the majority of those in the Church blindly follow the doctrines of the church rather than placing their full trust in Christ alone for salvation.
The exhortation to the RCC involves those who are not part of the “Jezebel system” and do not know the depths of Satan. The Roman Catholic Church must be viewed as Satan’s counterfeit. The exhortation is to those who are not involved in this counterfeit system, but instead “hold fast” to what is true and pure. They must hold to the New Testament truth and reject the false doctrines perpetuated by the RCC.
Those who overcome the false doctrines within the church are given a twofold promise. First, they will have a part in the Messianic Kingdom. Those who remain in under the false authority of the RCC have no place in the Millennial Kingdom. Those who overcome will have power over the nations.
Secondly, they will have the morning star. Revelation 22:16 says, ““I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”” Jesus declares that He is the morning star. Thus, the overcomers will possess the Messiah. Our faith in Christ will lead us to share in the Person of the Messiah—during the Millennial Kingdom and forever.
The false doctrines that infiltrated the church of the Dark Ages have not gone away. If nothing else, false doctrines have proliferated in the Church of today. Paul warned us in his letters to maintain sound doctrine. We have become lax in this pursuit. We openly allow false doctrines to enter our churches. We fail to test our doctrines against the true measure of God’s Word.
We need to hold fast to the Word of God. We need to use it as a test to make certain we are remaining true to God. There is nothing wrong with questioning what happens in your church. You should not blindly accept what is taught. We should all be like the Bereans— “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11).
Are you like a Berean? Are you willing to search the Scriptures daily to find out that the truth is being taught in your church?