March 26, 2002
In every local church, some members are loyal to Christ and growing in grace while others mix their faith with nonbiblical teachings. The first-century churches at Pergamum and Thyatira were no exception, and when Jesus wrote to these believers in Revelation 2, His words “I know you” contained both praise and warning. In this message, Alistair Begg explains how we can apply these principles in our lives today, avoiding moral compromise and affirming the authority of God’s Word.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Good morning. It’s nice to see you. I invite you to take your Bibles and turn with me to Revelation chapter 2. The portion that has been set for us begins with verse 12 and goes through to the end of the chapter. And as I read it and you see the extent of the material involved, then you realize just how dependent we are upon the prayers that have been offered that we would be able to speak and hear in a way that would be honoring to Christ.
“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
“‘These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.
“‘Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have [a] people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
“‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.’
“To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
“‘These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you[’re] now doing more than you did at first.
“‘Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold on to what you have until I come.
“‘To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—“He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery”—
just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
May God bless to us the reading of his Word.
“Well, what will you say if he asks you, Dad? Do you have to tell him straight out that you love the Lord Jesus?”
Ever since the summons from the proconsul of the province had arrived at the home of Antipas, he, his wife, and his family had spoken about little else. He knew the day would come when they would arrive at his house and escort him to the proconsular establishment, and he understood exactly what the context would be: he would be confronted by a plinth and on that a bust of the emperor, with a sacred fire burning before it. And he would be invited quite simply to offer a sacrifice to the genius of Rome, to the wonder of the emperor, and to do so simply by taking some incense and casting it into the flame and, in doing so, declaring, “Caesar is Lord”—just as simple and as straightforward as that. And then doubtless someone would have said to him, “And then we need retain you no longer, Antipas. You will be perfectly free at that point just to slip off and go home to your family.”
But there was to be no family reunion, at least not in this life. For Antipas refused to compromise. After all, at his baptism, he had stood to declare that “Jesus is Lord.” He’d become convinced of the fact that one day everyone would declare the lordship of Christ; one day, at the name of this Jesus, every knee would bow and every tongue confess. Was he then simply to overturn all of that in a moment of dreadful compromise?
He wasn’t an insurrectionist. He’d paid his taxes. He knew that you were to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” to render “to God the things that are God’s,” but he couldn’t render to Caesar a title that belonged to Jesus Christ alone. And so the silent voice and the empty chair would have left his wife with the responsibility of answering the children’s questions: “What is a martyr, Mommy? Is Daddy with Jesus now?”
You say, “Where did you get all that?” I made it up. I’m simply trying to imagine and to help you to bring it into the reality of real people and real time that when you read a phrase as you find it here—that “you did not compromise even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness”—the only thing we know about him is that. That is his whole record in sacred Scripture. He appears in one line: “Antipas”—and what a fantastic epitaph: “my faithful witness.” He endured to the end, and he was saved. He sits within the framework of all of the record of the Bible as a reminder to all who will follow in his wake, as many have done and even do today, that they must be faithful, even unto death.
Now, the reason that he is mentioned is because he epitomizes, if you like, the loyalty of some in the church at Pergamum. That’s my first heading: the loyalty of some. And the loyalty is set within the context of a city that was a strong center of paganism. Pergamum, if you look it up in books, you will discover, was built on a cone-shaped hill that rose to a height of some thousand feet. And a variety of temples and shrines were built in the ascendant pinnacle of this peak: the altar to Zeus carved into a niche that dominated the skyline; the temple to Athena, elegant in its architecture; Dionysus also represented there; Asclepius, who was referred to as the savior god or the god of healing, thus making people think of his shrine as the kind of first-century Lourdes of Asia.
All that was represented on this conical hill is the kind of thing that you can find in the average city-center bookstore today. If you go into the realm of philosophy or religion, if you go into social studies at all, oh, you won’t find it identified as Zeus and Dionysus. You won’t find it as Asclepius, necessarily. But you will find that many of your friends and neighbors are ferreting around in those sections, looking for answers in all the wrong places, hoping that perhaps there is a book that will teach them the real existence, enable them to extend their earthly pilgrimage by some time: “If there is a god of healing, I’d like to meet him. If there is a way to progress, then I’d like to find it.”
And at the same time and along with this, Pergamum had become the official center of the then-known world, of Asia, of the imperial cult. Twenty-nine BC, Augustus gave permission to Pergamum to be the first city to establish a shrine to a living ruler. And there he made it possible for the proletariat—that “common cry of curs” to whom Coriolanus refers—that the proletariat may come and worship at the shrine of the divine Augustus. And alongside him, the goddess Roma is revered.
And meanwhile, in and out they come and go—the members of the redeemed company, those whom Christ has laid hold upon with an outstretched hand. This is where they live. When they get up in the morning, they look up, and their skyline is dominated by Zeus. When they move amongst the bazaars, they’re encountering their friends, who are telling them that having just come from one of these shrines, they believe that their future is now settled and that their dreams will be fulfilled. And they have the challenge of somehow or another living for Christ and speaking for Christ in a way that would be compassionate and tender and yet clear and convicting—the kind of thing that happens to us on the train, flying in the plane, walking in the park, whatever it may be. Our friends and our neighbors are dominated by the shrines of a godless culture, and we have been planted in the midst of it all. And the question is, will we match the loyalty of some who were present in Pergamum?
It was a dark place—so dark that you will notice in the text that it is referred to as the place “where Satan has his throne,” “where Satan lives.” This is surely simply emblematic of the depth of the depravity and the darkness of the place. And Jesus says, “I want you to know that I know where you live. Although the powers of evil are rampant among you,” he’s saying, “although they apparently hold sway, although you live, as it were, underneath the domination of the throne of Satan, I want you to know, I want you to remember that actually, there is another throne under which “[my] saints have dwelt secure,” and “sufficient is [my] arm alone, and [your] defense is sure.”
The knowledge of their circumstances is meant to encourage them with the awareness that although it all seems so pressurized and so potentially devastating, in the words of street parlance in America, Jesus is saying to them, “I’ve got your back. You can go forward as I’ve bid you, marching onward.” The declension of Satan’s kingdom is directly related to the advance of Christ’s kingdom. All of the armor provided for the front. Why? For we need none for the back, because he’s got our back. He has our back. He knows where we live. He’s protecting us as we go forward.
Well, that’s the setting in which their loyalty is expressed. What of the substance of their loyalty? It’s there just in a couple of phrases. He says, “I know where you live—where Satan has his throne.” Here you go: “Yet you remain true to my name.” “True to my name.” His “mighty name salvation is.” We in Western culture use names simply as designations to make sure that when we say “Mary,” Alice doesn’t come forward, or when we say “Bill,” that we don’t get George. I know that there are things—I’ve seen them around—that will tell you that if your name is Matilda, that it means you are, you know, a wonderful catalog of fantastic things, which your parents will never believe. But anyway… You can take it home for them if you choose.
In the African context and in the Asian context, still today, names have significance. They will often be descriptive of what parents would desire for their children to be—that they may become the embodiment of their names. And so, when we think in terms of being true to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, what he is saying is this: that “you are true to all that I am, all that I have revealed of myself. You have remained true to the fact that I am the incarnate Lord of glory, that I am the resurrected King, that I am none other than God himself.” And they had remained true to this. No small thing!
If you turn for a moment, since you have your Bibles there, to Acts chapter 4, let’s just notice how this began to work itself out immediately following Pentecost. Perhaps we’ll just draw your attention to these verses and then allow you to follow them up at your leisure.
But you remember the wonderful story recorded by Luke in Acts chapter 3 of the healing of the man at the Gate Beautiful. As a result of that, Peter and John are imprisoned, and they are also interrogated. The inquiry is very straightforward: the authorities want to know just on what basis they have been doing these things. In 4:7, “they had Peter and John brought before them and [they] began to question them: ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’ [And] then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people! … It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you [completely] healed. He is’”—the fulfillment of the prophecy— “‘“the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.”’” And then, notice: “‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.’” In other words, Peter establishes the absolute exclusivity of the Lord Jesus Christ when it comes to the matter of salvation. And here in Pergamum, the risen Christ looks upon them, and he says, “I know that you are those who are remaining true to my name.”
You see, the proconsul at Pergamum would have been quite happy, no doubt, to include Jesus in the pantheon of gods—just another religious figure in the midst of many, along with Zeus and a variety of others. In the same way today, pluralism, which essentially marks our country here, Great Britain… I noted that in all of the millennium celebrations, great emphasis was given to the fact that there we gathered all the representatives of the varieties of religion which are part and parcel of the society in which we live. Of course, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with recognizing that there is religious diversity which is present in our country and the importance of tolerance, which is the social tolerance that recognizes that people are different and have the right to worship as they choose; the legal tolerance which affords them the same freedoms which we enjoy within the structure of democracy. But where the problem comes is when social and legal tolerance give way to the kind of intellectual tolerance which grants credence—the same kind of credence—to every religious claim, allowing it to sit side by side with the claims of Christ.
That pluralism is happy if we choose to have Jesus added to the group. They will be happy, if we may think of it in these terms, to put him within the pantheon of contemporary British religious opportunities, on the smorgasbord from which men and women in the UK may choose their fancy. They may even allow us the opportunity to put some little statement by our God on the plinth along with the others, and we’d be perfectly happy if we were to put alongside our statue the statement by Jesus, “Jesus [said], ‘I am the way … the truth and the life.’” However, that is all that they would be happy to have by way of a statement. What is absolutely intolerable to the pluralist is that the statement made by Christ would be finished—namely, “No one comes to the Father [but by] me.”
Now, don’t let’s kid ourselves that we are making a great gain by being able to proclaim the first part of the verse and finding that our Muslim friends and our Jewish neighbors and our Hindu compatriots are perfectly happy. Of course they are! I remember at Bradford University having a great conversation with a young engineering student who was a Hindu, and he was explaining to me that religion was like the banyan tree that was interwoven with all of these kind of things. “And,” he said, “I have a perfect place for your Jesus. I don’t understand why you are so strong-minded in relation to his exclusive claims.” That was probably twenty years ago. And look at the high streets now. Pluralism will ultimately only make way for other pluralists. And eventually, those who are prepared to remain true to his name will at some point, in some way, feel the vicelike grip of syncretism seek to squeeze the very life out of us.
I have lots of Jewish friends. I went to school with them in Glasgow. A third of my class was probably Jewish. I’m living at the moment in a community that is probably 90 percent Jewish. So I go around saying the Shema, meeting elderly men and saying, “Hey, how are you, Arnold? ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord [thy] God, the Lord is one.’” And his eyes go like this. “And you shall ‘love the Lord your God,’ Arnold, ‘with all your heart and … all your soul [and all your mind] and … all your strength. [And] these commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.’ And you’re to teach them to your children ‘when you walk along the road’ and ‘when you lie down and when you get up.’” And he says, “Well, why are you saying all that?” I say, “Because I like it, and I believe it, and I want to live it.” And my heart goes out to Arnold, whose face I see as I speak to you now.
I as a Christian believe that Jesus is the Messiah. He, in his present Jewish convictions, believes that Jesus is not the Messiah. We are not both right. Our Hindu friends believe that God has been incarnated many times and in many ways. We believe that the incarnation is unique in its manifestation of the Godhead. We are not both right. Islam is symbolized by scales, testifying to the endeavors of the faithful somehow outweighing the bad with the good. We are symbolized by a cross, which says we cannot outweigh the bad with the good, but we need one who would take all of our bad and transfer to our account all of his good. These things, despite the attempts of men and women to suggest to us that they are all the same…
Listen: religions differ at the most fundamental nature of things. And to be true to the name of Christ is not to be bombastic in relationship to this, but it is to become convinced of these things—the things that you have learned and the things you have committed to—so that you may be able to identify with the loyalty of those who were present in Pergamum who “remain[ed] true to my name” and who did not, as a correlative, “renounce your faith in me.” “You remain true to my name, and so much so that you didn’t turn your back on it.” They were convinced that he was the Lord and Savior. They had come to trust in him, despite the darkness of their pagan environment. And they were holding fast.
The loyalty epitomized by Antipas—who, incidentally, had about him something of the spirit of Athanasius, who, when they came to Athanasius and said, “Athanasius, the whole world is against you,” he said, “Then I am against the whole world.” Any dead fish can go with the stream. It takes a live fish to swim against the current. If we’re going to be a living, loving community, it will manifest itself in loyalty—a loyalty to Christ.
So, there was the loyalty of some. But as you read on, you will notice this, the second heading: we have to pay attention to the heresy of others. Verse 14: “Nevertheless…” Here it comes again. You see the pattern of these messages. Whenever he can say something commendatory, he does, but he also wants to identify the problem areas—in verses 14 and 15, if you allow your eyes just to look at it. This group of people had been successful in resisting the external threats, but they had failed to take care of their own internal problems. They were culpable when it came to the charge of tolerating some who were clearly off the tracks.
And the reference here is to the teaching of Balaam. We ought not to think that this was some book or some particular body of doctrine, but rather, it is descriptive of the activity of Balaam in advising, in the Old Testament—and you need to do this for homework—in advising the Midianite women how to seduce the Israelites and thereby infiltrate and cause destruction amongst God’s people. Professor Blaiklock notes that Balaam’s clever idea was to break down Israel’s power by an indirect attack on their morale: “Pagan food and pagan women were his powerful tools against the rigidity of the Mosaic Law.” What is it, they say, that the way to a man’s heart? No? I think that… No, I was going to say something unkind there, so I’ll leave that alone—and check that up as a great gain, thereby losing the credit for doing it by drawing attention to it. But anyway, we’ll leave that aside.
There is no question that men are particularly vulnerable when it comes to the issue of a tasty meal in front of them, whether that tasty meal involves fish and chips or whether it involves the lady up the street. Balaam, understanding this, says, “I think that these people at Pergamum seem to be standing foursquare to the challenges of the external threat.” And, of course, he is simply the tool of Satan. The devices of Satan are so skillful. If he cannot bring havoc as a result of the external challenges, he may do so by the insidious work that is internal warfare—this kind of fifth column, as we’ve seen.
And so Balaam, as he is referred to here—and you can read, again, of it at your leisure—but he serves as a kind of prototype of all the corrupt teachers who follow his example, promulgating an antinomian approach to life. Antinomian is simply from the Greek anti, “against,” and nomos, “law”: against the law—the libertine, licentious way of thinking which says, “You know, you don’t really need to pay attention to all these things that the Bible has to say about holiness or purity or the fear of the Lord being the beginning of wisdom. Don’t believe all of that Old Testament nonsense. Rather, you come with me, and I’ll show you that it is perfectly possible for you to combine all of this with a little of this.”
And the appeal is still out there, and it is a dreadfully enticing thing: idolatry mixed with immorality. We can please ourselves and indulge ourselves and be told by people whom we respect as spiritual guides that it’s okay to combine the two. And, of course, if you begin to believe that, then you will live it. And once you begin to live it, your life will be so tied up by it that you will lose any kind of spiritual influence and witness at all.
Now, the fact is that some had embraced this teaching, but others within the fellowship had simply tolerated it. They were the kind of people who said, “Well, I don’t actually do it”—the kind of thing that I used to say as a teenage boy when, on the way back from our football matches in Glasgow, suburban Glasgow, to my shame and to the shame of my friends, we used to get off the bus simply so that they could go into newsagent shops and steal anything they could. I was too scared and too affected by the influences of home and Bible to actually engage in the theft, but I never stayed on the bus. I got off with them. Oh, I never reached forward and grabbed the Bic pens. I never got the big Cadbury’s Fruit & Nuts. But I tolerated it. And if they’d rounded us up, I was as culpable as the rest.
Some of us have the spirit of the Pharisee within us dreadfully. We look across at people, we condemn them for activities in which they’re engaging, while at the same time secretly wishing that we had the courage to do the very things they’ve done. The only thing that differentiates us from them is the fact that they’ve gone ahead and done it. But we’ve tolerated it. And there were a great company among them who were tolerating these things. And the concern of Jesus, says Stott, is with the “waywardness of the majority and … the nonchalance of the minority.” The indifference of the church to these things is seen as a considerable problem.
Pergamum had a problem in that their zeal to be rid of all of the weeds of heresy meant that they were in danger of uprooting everything that was there as a fledging plant. Actually, I don’t mean Pergamum; I mean the church that we dealt with yesterday. Their zeal was such, in Ephesus, they wouldn’t tolerate it. And so, in seeking to deal with that, they dealt with the danger of uprooting that which was real. Here, in Pergamum, the fault is the opposite. And in failing to take action against the error that is among them, they make it possible for the obnoxious weeds to spread, to the great harm of God’s people. So we find that they are commended for holding fast to their right belief, and they are understandably rebuked for failing to deal seriously with those who were guilty of wrong behavior.
True Christianity not only believes correctly but behaves properly. True Christianity exalts Christ and promotes holiness. And Pergamum was prepared, despite the loyalty of some, to tolerate the heresy of others.
The third thing and the last thing in this section that I want you to notice is that in the midst of all of this, we are confronted once again by the supremacy of Christ—the supremacy that is seen as he issues a call; a call to the believers to repent. Verse : “Repent …! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and [I] will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” He alone is the one who in his authority and supremacy can issue such a call. He alone is the one who speaks the authoritative word.
It’s a dramatic picture, isn’t it? The sword of his mouth. Now, if you’ve seen pictures of a short Roman sword, you will understand the metaphor. Because those short Roman swords were a bit like fruit knives in a canteen of cutlery—the little y ones. And so they looked tongue-like. And Jesus says, “My Word is sharp like that.” Of course, we know that. The writer to the Hebrews says that “the word of God is … sharper than any [two]-edged sword.” Paul says that the Word of God, which we should take into our hands in order to deal with the issues around us, is nothing other than the “sword of the Spirit.” It is this sword which pricks the consciences of men and women. It is this sword which wounds the sinner’s pride. It is this sword which cuts away all of our camouflages and pierces all of our defenses. It is, as Stott says, that which “bare[s] our sin and need, and kills all false doctrine by its deft, sharp thrusts.”
Now, there is a word of vital importance here concerning the authority and the sufficiency of Scripture for the people there in Pergamum as they lived their lives and for us this morning as we live in the framework of an environment in which reading and history and convictions that have been long-held convictions have been shuddering and crumbling under the reconstructionist thinking of the intellectual elite and feeding its way down into the community in magazines and in different things, so that out of that environment we find ourselves coming into the listening of the Word of God, and we need to ask the Spirit of God to remind us again of the absolute supremacy of Jesus and the absolute authority and sufficiency of the Bible.
Jesus, in the face of temptation, you will remember, turned to the Bible to answer the Evil One. In revitalizing the despondent duo on the road to Emmaus in Luke chapter 24, it struck me again in preparing for this this week that he turned them to the Scriptures, remember? They were disconsolate. They thought the whole matter of redemptive history had been buried in a Palestinian grave. They said to this stranger, “We thought that he was the one who was going to be the redeemer of our people, Israel. But it’s all come to a dreadful, grinding halt.” Why did Jesus not at that moment simply say, “Guys, hang on a minute! Let me show you a couple of things. I’ve had my hands in my robe up until now, but look!”—and show them his nail-pierced hands? Or why didn’t he just pull back something of his garments and show them his side? Why did he give them a Bible talk? Why did he give them a Bible exposition? Why did he begin with Moses and the Prophets and show them everything in the Scriptures concerning himself?
Because he knew that the opportunity to see the wounds would be limited to a moment and to a few, but the necessity to convey from generation to generation the unerring truth of the sufficient Word of God would be the constant need in all times and in all places. And that’s why when finally, in the breaking of bread, he makes himself known to them and then departs, they say to one another, “[Did] not our hearts [burn] within us while he talked with us on the [way] and opened the Scriptures to us?”
I hope you’re not worshipping in a congregation that spends so much time creating the atmosphere by singing that there’s no time left for listening to the Word of God in its preaching. The way that we apportion and proportion our time is a direct indication of the priorities that we give to certain aspects of our lives. And the place of the Bible is absolutely vital.
Let me give you one other indication of this. You remember the story that Jesus tells of the rich man who dies and he goes to hell? The beggar Lazarus, who worked at his gate, is now found in heaven. Looking across—and this is simply a metaphor in order to make points, surely—looking across, he sees father Abraham, and he says, “Father Abraham, could you send Lazarus over here to give me basically just a sip of water? ’Cause I am parched of thirst.”
“No chance,” says Abraham.
“Well then,” says the rich man, “could you please send Lazarus to my brothers to warn them? Because I don’t want them to come to this place.”
What does Abraham say? He says, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” In other words, “Let them read their Bibles.”
“Oh, no,” says the rich man, by recounter, “if somebody will come from the dead and speak to them”—in other words, if something really dramatic takes place—“then I’m fairly convinced that they will then believe and they’ll not end up in hell.”
And Abraham replies, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
Now, do you understand this, dear people? The confidence of heaven is in the Scriptures. And the erosion of confidence, by whatever mechanism, amongst the people of God in the authority and ultimately the sufficiency of the Scriptures to be able to accomplish the purposes for which God has ordained it is a significant erosion. It will not become apparent in one generation, but in subsequent generations, the declension, the rot, the misgivings, the disinterest, the wrongful preoccupations will, in generations yet unborn, if Christ tarries, yield their bitter fruit. So I say to you: beware of everyone and everything that would ever make us waver on our convictions concerning the singular authority and the absolute sufficiency of Scripture.
The supremacy of Christ is revealed in his call to repent. It is revealed in his authority, by his Word. And it is revealed, as you will see, in the gifts that he is able to promise to the ones who overcome: “I[’ll] give [him] some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it.”
Now, at this point, Mr. Smith and his wife, Ethel, are getting edgy, you know. They’re about to jump into the discussion with a comment on hidden manna and the white stones with a new name. Just encourage them to sit there for moment: “We’ll be okay. Don’t worry. Don’t get too upset. You may want to go, Ethel, and just put the kettle on. We’re getting ready now. We’re drawing this to a close.” Get her out in the kitchen. That’s the safest place for her just now.
You say, “Well, I can feel your agnosticism about to kick in again.” Yes, you’re becoming very perceptive in such a short time. But that’s no surprise. You’re a very bright group of people. So what am I going to say to you? Well, I’m going to tell you. Go home and do your homework. Go home and read all the books I’ve read on the hidden manna and the white stone. Go home and fall asleep listening to all these funny ideas. But as any good teacher would say, let me give you a start. I was always glad when they gave me a start. I tried to keep the teacher there for as long as she possibly could, giving me start after start after start until she finished the whole thing for me. But they always caught on to me very quickly. But let me give you a start.
What about this idea of hidden manna? Well, it’ll take you back, some of you, in your minds, who know your Bible well, back into Exodus, to the ark of the covenant, to the golden urn, and to the manna that was hidden away inside it—that manna, of course, which was pointing out, as it were, through time to Jesus Christ, who is the true bread from heaven; a Jesus who is presently hidden from us, the true manna hidden from us, in the reality of heaven, enabling us, then, at our Communion services to sing,
We taste thee, O thou living Bread,
And long to feast upon thee still;
We drink of thee, the Fountainhead,
And thirst our souls [on] thee to fill.
Now, I think this is somewhere in the direction of how you get a handle on this: that in heaven, we will enjoy all the reality of having eaten of the bread that comes down from heaven, which is his life for the world.
As for the stone, I’m not so sure that the stone itself is significant other than it exists as an entity upon which can be carved or written this name. In other words, it’s a vehicle for the giving of a name. But what of the name? Well, it would seem that you’re going to get a new name in the new heaven and the new earth. So, for example, if your name’s Agnes and you never liked it, hold on. You know, you’ll be okay. Not that Agnes is a bad name. I just chose that. It was the first one that came to mind, A being the first letter in the alphabet.
I wish I had said this, but I didn’t. And I’ll just give you the quote, and then we have to go to Thyatira, very quickly. Some little boy’s nudging his mother, saying, “Oh, do we have to go to Thyatira, Mom? Can’t we just go to the café?”
God does not view the multitude of the redeemed as a great, undifferentiated mass of humanity. You ever thought about getting up to heaven? You think it’s just going to be one big glob of something? You’ll all be lost in the crowd? We’ll all be strange, newly fashioned features and creatures? No, we will recognize one another. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that, even in our newness. But Jesus, who “calls his … sheep by name,” apparently has a promise for us. And that is that he’s going to come to us, he’s going to come to us individually, and he’s going to slip a little stone into our hands, as it were, literally or metaphorically, and on that is our new name, identifying the uniqueness and the distinctiveness of the personal relationship that we will enjoy for all of eternity with he who is the Lord of Glory. “Write thy new name upon my heart, thy new, best name of Love.”
Now, that’s the best I can do with it.
Are you okay for Thyatira? This is a daunting challenge this morning, isn’t it? When you fill out these sheets about how it was, you know, make sure you mention this. Too much material. There’s enough in Pergamum to do us for the day. But we must get on to Thyatira, briefly.
Forty miles southeast of Pergamum. The longest letter, funnily enough, is written to the least politically influential city of the group. If we had walked into Thyatira on a lovely morning like this, we would have discovered it was a thriving, bustling commercial community, a great place to go shopping. If you had a business in the outlying regions, you would go there and buy wholesale and take the stuff back and resell it. Something along those lines, presumably, had been part and parcel of the business established by Lydia, who, of course, you will remember came from Thyatira and was herself a seller of purple. Part of the opportunistic, entrepreneurial environment of Thyatira was seen in its manufacturing base, which it then matched with a marketing ability, so much so that it drew people from all around. And folks would be going there for a good day’s shopping. You could buy wool. You could buy wonderful linen. You could buy leather goods. If you needed to add to some of your cooking utensils, they had a wonderful pottery place. And there were apparently excellent bakeries, which were in full swing, allowing the average husband to sit down and eat himself to death while his wife continued to run around buying linen, wool, and leather goods. (I do apologize for that dreadful stereotype. But anyway…)
And it was here in the midst of all of this activity that Jesus had set his church, in an environment that was peculiarly challenging, as we’re about to see. Jesus had prayed to his Father that they would not be removed from the world but that they would be kept from the Evil One. These believers were, as we this morning, both in Christ and in Thyatira. We are placed in Christ, but we also live in Cleethorpes. Or we’re in Christ, and we also live in Bolton. And one day, our in-Christness will be caught up as we are in heaven with Christ, but for the time being, our experience of being in Christ is also mitigated and impinged upon by the fact that we’re living in this very real world, with all of the challenges and changes that it represents.
Jesus identifies himself, as in every other message; here, interestingly, as “the Son of God”—the only place in the whole book that I’ve been able to find the phrase. You can check for your homework, if you’re that kind of person. Jesus says, “I am the Son of God. My eyes are like the blazing fire. Nobody can escape my gaze. My feet are burnished bronze. I am powerful. I am able to come and crush to powder all who stand against me.”
“Now,” he says, “let me give you your report card.” Verse 19: “I know your deeds, the courses that you’ve taken: love, faith, service, perseverance. I want you to know that I’m giving you an A in every course. Not only that, I want to add to your report card this PS, this added commendation, so that others may know, when you take this home for others to see, that you’re now working harder than when you began the course.” Unlike some of the others to whom he addresses messages—they’d begun very well, and they were drifting away—apparently, the folks in Thyatira had got off to a great start and had followed it up with a wonderful follow-through. And so there were signs among them of definite, clear, and wonderful progress.
But verse 20. We’ve grown used to coming to this, and sadly, here we are again. But why would we be surprised? Because if you think about Jesus taking the lid off our local churches and finding things that he can say that are commendatory, no matter how long the list might be or how long we may imagine it to be, it would only be a relatively short period of time before he introduced the word nevertheless, however, but, or yet. And he would have to lay his finger on the things that we are confronting here—I trust in none of our circumstances the particular issues that we see here in Thyatira.
All of the qualities, all of the areas in which they have received an A have now been marred by one thing: by moral compromise. Among all these lovely flowers of love and faith and service and perseverance, a poisonous weed has been allowed to establish a base, and it has begun to wrap itself around absolutely everything. Unlike Ephesus, where, you will recall, they had no toleration at all for wicked men—2:2—Thyatira apparently was prepared to pussyfoot around with idolatry and with immorality. And the leader of this clan was none other than a woman designated Jezebel, who had strong ties back to a thousand years before her existence in her model for activity, if you like: the Jezebel of King Ahab, who was involved in disastrous activities, of which you can read in 1 and 2 Kings, again, for your homework.
Let me get you started. When you get back there, you will discover that she contaminated Israel with a system of thought that divorced religion from morality; that divorced belief from behavior; that divorced, if you like, doctrine from discipleship; that divorced intellectual grasp of the truth with the ethical expressions of that same truth. And she suggested to the people of her time that it was okay to live with that dichotomy; indeed, that was really the way ahead. They could still maintain spiritual progress, despite the fact that they were embracing this dreadful immorality. Ahab, you will find when you do your homework, had neither the moral backbone nor the stamina to stand against her.
And here in Thyatira, nothing much was different. This woman claimed to speak with inspired authority. They always do. American Christian television is full of this nonsense: everyone claiming directly to be speaking a word from God. They may hold their Bible up. They may lay it down. But it gushes from the television screens twenty-four hours a day. Most of it is absolutely lamentable. In contrast, you have something like the simplicity of Songs of Praise, which I know is not exactly a bastion of evangelicalism, but I’ll tell you what: God honors his Word. And in the songs that were sung on Sunday night on that [Songs of Praise], there was enough there for the seeking soul to be drawn again, at least to ask questions of someone who might know about why they would sing,
All glory, laud and honor,
To thee, Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children
[Their great] hosannas [bring].
And somebody sitting with the Spirit of God at work within their heart may be drawn to say, “You know, I think I’ll get an old hymnbook. We have one around here. I’ll look that up.” And they get into the section about the magnificence of Christ’s passion, and they read on. And they find the words of Newton: “When I survey the wondrous cross”—Watts, I should say—“on which the Prince of glory died,” and so on. I’d rather take that than the hogwash of the so-called prophetesses with direct words from God that are full of spurious nonsense and lead many to destruction, to the damage of their souls.
What this woman in Thyatira was saying is this: that you can indulge in immorality while still maintaining your spiritual life, and it won’t damage your souls—which obviously was a welcome message to those who wanted somehow or another to live a compromised life.
It’s just the same issues that confront men and women today. It’s the exact same issues that involve men in the golf club. I participate as a relatively normal man and listen to the conversation across the other side of the lockers as they come to an end: some of the most influential and financially well-heeled businessmen in the greater Cleveland area, and talking about some of the worst rubbish you ever heard in your life, and preparing to spend the evening apart from all that represents moral fortitude and rectitude and that which would be pleasing to their children. And here comes the young Christian businessman into the middle of this, wanting to get on and wanting to make progress and finding himself sucked into this vortex. Are you prepared to stand?
See how important it is that we pray for one another in our fellowships, and that we have prayer partners, and we have comrades in the faith, and we have those who are standing with us and undergirding us and calling us and saying, “How did it go? And how will it go? And how can I help you?” Because the downward pull of this kind of thing is real. “Sin,” says Poythress of Westminster Seminary, “can always come up with excuses to do what it wants, to do what is convenient[, to do what is] comfortable.” And the Christians of Thyatira either had a very poor conscience, or they had a very feeble courage. But they were as weak and spineless towards the new Jezebel as Ahab had been to the old, as you’ll find when you do your homework.
Now, one doesn’t have to search hard to recognize that already in these days—three days now—we are confronted again and again and again by the fact that spiritual maturity and effectiveness and the idolatry which worships self and gods that are no gods and the immorality that accompanies it do not go hand in hand. The devil, when you think about it, two thousand years on, really has no more bullets in his gun. He is still plying the same message. He is still sowing the same poisonous weeds in the hearts and minds of people, suggesting to us that we don’t have to take seriously all these things that the Bible says about moral purity. “That’s the kind of stuff that you get from legalists,” we hear people say. “You don’t have to do that.”
Listen, my dear friends: “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men”—Titus 2:11. “It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our … God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” The grace of God that has appeared to us in Jesus is a teaching grace. It is an empowering grace. It is a law-abiding, law-framed grace. Don’t fall foul of the nonsense that tells you that once you come to Christ, he sets you free to do whatever you feel. No, he doesn’t! He sets you free to do exactly what he demands.
Make me a captive, Lord,
And then I shall be free;
Force me to render up my sword,
And I shall conqu’ror be.
[For] I sink in life’s alarms
When by myself I stand;
Imprison me within [your] arms,
And strong [will] be my hand.
Now, in verses 21–23—and I’ll give you the outline of this and we’re done—he provides a word of encouragement. A word of encouragement. “I[’ve] given her time…” I beg your pardon; he provides a word of judgment. He does provide a word of encouragement, but I’m trying to get finished faster. And maybe it’s because that was a Freudian slip, and I like words of encouragement more than I like words of judgment. But
With mercy and with judgment
My web of time he wove,
And aye, the dews of sorrow
Were lustered by his love.
The word of judgment. Despite the fact that Jezebel has been given time and opportunity to repent—we don’t know exactly how that has happened, but we take it as absolutely clear that she had the opportunity to repent—the word is, at the end of verse 21, she doesn’t want to repent. She shows contempt for the kindness and tolerance of God. And so verse 22 is a staggering, dreadful, awesome verse. The punishment is made to fit the crime. He says, “You have profaned the bed of love, so you will be pinned to a bed of sickness. Apparently, Jezebel, you and your followers like to spend a lot of time in bed. Good, because you’re going to. And it won’t be any fun at all.”
You say, “Well, that is dramatic.” It is. It’s concurrent with what we find Paul saying to the Corinthians concerning the immorality that impacted the Corinthian believers. “Some of you,” he said, “are weak, and some are ill, and some of you have died.” What a staggering thing to say, that “your children I will strike dead.” We would recoil from that. Is this expressive of her actual, physical children? I think probably not. I think that “your children” is synonymous with those who commit adultery with her—in other words, “your team, the product of your own spiritual adultery, the children of your evil practices; those who share your defiant commitment to go on your own way and resist every evidence of God’s kindness and goodness to you; those who have so unreservedly embraced this antinomian doctrine which has been given to them by their spiritual mother.”
Now, this is right in accord with the impact that took place on the church. It says, “Then the churches will wake up.” He says, “If they won’t listen to my Word as I bring it to them, then I’m sure they will be awakened by the drama of this judgment.” You remember Ananias and Sapphira and how that made a staggering impact on the church there in Acts chapter 5.
A word of judgment, and then a word of encouragement. Look at verse 24: “Now I say to the rest of you…” Not everyone in Thyatira had gone down Jezebel’s road. They had resisted the temptation to get sucked into the vortex of “Satan’s so-called deep secrets.” Let me tell you: every time somebody wants to take you aside—especially if you’re a young person with a zeal for God—they want to take you aside and tell you, “You know, I can take you into the deep things; this is a nice place, and I know you’ve been enjoying coming here and so on, but if you would just listen to me, I can take you into the deep places,” be careful, lest the deep place they’re taking you is the cavern of Satan’s evil domain.
And the encouragement is that when they came to them and they said, “Come on, we can take you into the deep secrets,” they decided that they weren’t going to “dance with the devil in the pale moonlight.” And he encourages them. He says, “I’m not going to ask you to do anything else other than simply to hold on to what you have.” Verse 25: “Only hold on to what you have until I come.” That’s a cue for a song with the refrain “Hold on to what you’ve got.” We’ll leave that aside. But what do we have? What did they have? They had the life that was truly life.
You see, the great danger in resisting immorality is that we introduce into our thinking and perhaps into our practices, and then offer it to those who come behind us, some form of weird asceticism. So the extreme of immorality is met by the extreme of asceticism. That’s not where we’re supposed to go. There’s no new burden that is being placed on us, no new rules and regulations, no preparedness to listen to those who come to us suggesting that they would forbid marriage and so on. Because the marriage bed is a wonderful place, and it is undefiled. And the gift of sex, along with the gifts that God has given us in life, are given as all things richly to enjoy when we take them at the right time and in the right proportion. You remember in Screwtape Letters, Screwtape sends one of them, and he says, “What we need to do is to get our enemy to take the good gifts that our Enemy has given to them at the wrong time and in the wrong quantity.”
Now, the answer to that is not to take the gifts at all, but it is to take them and to use them as God has provided them. Therefore, we ought to be able to lead the world when it comes to the issue of enjoyment. We ought to lead the world when it comes to the matter of contentment. We ought to be able to speak with great clarity and power when it comes to the issues of sexual purity before marriage and fidelity within marriage. But to the degree that we are prepared to tolerate this Jezebel within our minds or within our actions or within our fellowships, our voice of commanding power is totally silenced. And that’s the issue.
So be encouraged, even though you feel you’re the last voice, even though you feel you’re the last virgin in your university, even though you feel you’re the last guy that’s going to stay true to his wife when everybody finds some secretary whose body has not yet been ravaged by fifty years of gravity. When you feel yourself tempted, then get on your bike and get up the street like Joseph. Run out of the house. Leave your kilt behind. Leave whatever you have got on behind. Get up and out the road. Deal with it immediately. Deal with it ruthlessly. Deal with it consistently. Deal with it unequivocally. For we are marginalized and neutralized by the impurity of our own sordid, sullied Christian testimony.
And that is what makes this message so powerful—that Christ who comes in judgment comes also in encouragement: “I know where you live. I know the pressures that you have. I know the temptations that you feel.” You may feel that no one understands you. But standing somewhere in the shadows, you’ll find Jesus, ’cause he’s the only one who cares and understands. And standing somewhere in the shadows you will find him, and you’ll know him by the nail prints in his hands. Don’t let anybody lay upon you the burdens that the Pharisees gave. Just go with the royal law of God.
Those of you who are going to Keswick may go up Helvellyn, if you’re brave. And if you’re braver still, you may take Striding Edge to the top. When you get there, you will discover there are all kinds of memorials to people who thought they were smart and thought they could just go up Striding Edge. Well, no, they couldn’t, and they ended up in one of the two corries on either side, down to their own destruction. It’s not an original thought, but Striding Edge you may think of as the Royal Law of Liberty. The corrie on the one side represents legalism. The corrie on the other side represents license or antinomianism. Beware of both extremes. Keep your eyes on the top. And walk the Striding Edge.
A word of judgment. A word of encouragement. Finally, a word of promise. Look there, just in a phrase: to those who overcome, who do so by doing his “will to the end,” you will notice… The ground of our salvation is the atoning work of Christ. The evidence of our salvation is our continuance. The perseverance of the saints is really the perseverance of God, who perseveres with us, thereby enabling us to continue to the end, he bringing to completion the work which he has begun. “To him who overcomes … I will give authority over the nations.”
Can you imagine that being read out in the congregation in Thyatira? These little people are sitting there, woolen merchants and leather workers, and their fingers all full of needles and big lumps and stuff, and sitting holding his wife’s hand and rapping his son over the back of the head, trying to keep control over the operation—the normal kind of Sunday experience—wondering if he’s going to have enough to make ends meet, wondering if he can continue to function despite all of the challenges of the guilds that are represented by all of this immorality and idolatry, thinking to himself, “You know, I am beleaguered and hopeless and helpless.” And the Word is read out: “And if you continue and you are an overcomer, you will rule the nations.” It’s Psalm 2: “Ask of me, and I will give the nations for your inheritance.” Those who have died with Christ will also reign with him.
And “I will also give him the morning star.” What is that? Well, it’s not a newspaper; I can tell you that for sure. And you can get a PhD finding out what it is. I don’t think we need to go further than staying in the book of Revelation. Jesus describes himself as “the bright [and] Morning Star” in Revelation 22:16. After all, what more could he save for us in heaven than himself? I mean, the older you get, what do you want for your birthday?
I’m going to be fifty in a few weeks. My wife is bugging me all the time: “What do you want for your birthday?” “Well,” I said, “nothing.” I said, “Nothing. I don’t know. A book!” She said, “A book? Are you crazy?” I said, “No, I like books.” And so we had this big dialogue going on. And eventually, I hit on it. I said, “Give me a picture of you and each of my children.” She said, “That’s it?” I said, “That’s it. Really, on earth, there’s nothing I desire more than you, after Christ.” And in heaven, he’ll be all our gaze.
When Cousins, the wife of a Presbyterian minister who was a colleague of Samuel Rutherford, took Rutherford’s memoirs and wrote a big long poem which became a five-stanza hymn, she made this point with clarity—a little bit Victoriana and a wee bit archaic, slightly sentimental, but good. And this is the end. You remember she wrote, thinking of the idea of being given the Morning Star, being given Christ himself, she says,
The bride eyes not her garment
But her dear bridegroom’s face;
[And] I will not gaze [on] glory
But on [the] King of grace;
Not [on] the crown he giveth
But on his [nail-pierced] hand;
[For] the Lamb is all the glory
[In] Immanuel’s land.
And our journey along the way, under the vision of the exalted Christ, is to get us ready for the park, when he comes over, and slips us a wee white stone, and whispers our new name in our ears, and takes our hand, and walks off down one of those big, golden avenues with us.
Do not “be weary in well doing.” Let’s keep on. Let’s keep clean. Let’s keep watching. Let’s keep helping each other.
Father, in a multitude of words, we’re fearful. Even as I hear my own voice, it unsettles in so many ways. I pray that because you love to honor above all things your name and your Word, that you will bring your Word home to our hearts and minds with clarity, with conviction, with judgment, warning, encouragement—everything that is necessary—in order that we might become the people that you desire for us to be. For we pray in the strong and powerful name of Jesus. Amen.
Thanks for your patience. Have a great day.
 See Philippians 2:10–11.
 Mark 12:17 (KJV).
 William Shakespeare, Coriolanus, 3.3.
 Isaac Watts, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” (1719).
 Charles Wesley, “Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose” (1749).
 John 14:6 (NIV 1984).
 Deuteronomy 6:4 (NIV 1984).
 Deuteronomy 6:5–7 (NIV 1984).
 E. M. Blaiklock, The Seven Churches: An Exposition of Revelation, Chapters Two and Three (Auckland: The Institute Printing and Publishing Society, n.d.), 35.
 See Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10.
 John Stott, What Christ Thinks of the Church (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, 1990), 44.
 Hebrews 4:12 (NIV 1984).
 Ephesians 6:17 (NIV 1984).
 Stott, What Christ Thinks, 54.
 Luke 24:21 (paraphrased).
 See Luke 24:27.
 Luke 24:32 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 16:24–28 (paraphrased).
 Luke 16:29 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 16:30 (paraphrased).
 Luke 16:31 (NIV 1984).
 Bernard of Clairvaux, trans. Ray Palmer, “Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts” (12th cent., 1858).
 See John 6:51.
 John 10:3 (NIV 1984).
 Charles Wesley, “O for a Heart to Praise My God” (1742).
 See Acts 16:14.
 See John 17:15.
 Theodulph of Orléans, trans. John M. Neale, “All Glory, Laud and Honor” (c. 820, 1851).
 Isaac Watts, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” (1707).
 Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000), 89.
 George Matheson, “Make Me a Captive, Lord” (1890).
 Anne R. Cousin, “The Sands of Time Are Sinking” (1857).
 1 Corinthians 11:30 (paraphrased).
 See Acts 5:1–11.
 Joe Tex, “Hold What You’ve Got” (1964).
 See 1 Timothy 6:17.
 C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942), chap. 9. Paraphrased.
 E. J. Rollings, “Standing Somewhere in the Shadows” (1943).
 Psalm 2:8 (paraphrased).
 Cousins, “Sands of Time.”
 Galatians 6:9 (KJV).
 See Psalm 138:2.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.