What Is the Mark of the Beast?

Revelation is a weird book.

Filled with plagues, dragons, angels, beasts, and a lot of numbers, it is a difficult book to understand.

But Revelation is also necessary. In the final chapter, we find this reminder: “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” (22:7) This means that Revelation is not a book that can be ignored or can be treated as unimportant until Christ returns. We need its message to the Church, and we must obey it.

Though there is much we could discuss, I want to focus specifically on the mark of the beast and what it might be.

Here is how the Bible describes it in Revelation 13:11-18:

Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.

Probably the most common interpretation of this passage asserts that this beast (who is later called the False Prophet) is a literal person who will enforce worship of the first beast (called the Beast later and who many believe to be the Antichrist). The False Prophet will, therefore, institute a worldwide religion around the Antichrist, and those who refuse to worship by receiving its mark will be slain.

Proponents of this view typically believe that the mark of the beast will also be a literal branding of some sort. The rise of microchip technology has led many to wonder if the mark will be an implanted chip that is used in much the same way as credit cards.

While such an interpretation may very well come to pass, I would like to make a brief argument for another view.

Instead of viewing Revelation as wholly futuristic, it seems best to view it through the lens of symbolism. After all, Revelation is explicitly a book of prophecy, and God repeatedly called the Old Testament prophets to use symbolism in their prophecies.

In a symbolic view, many interpret the False Prophet to be a representation of all false prophets, who ultimately turn the hearts’ of people away from Christ and toward antichrists. Revelation’s visions of the Antichrist and False Prophet are viewed, therefore, as warnings of the plethora of antichrists and false prophets who will deceive people throughout history.

1 John 4:1-3 seems to complement this view (especially since it is probably the same John who authored Revelation):

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

The spirit of the antichrist was already in the world in John’s day, and false prophets were already directing worship to it. The spirit of the antichrist is anything that opposes Jesus. We either worship Christ, or we worship the antichrist. We worship God, or we worship ourselves. The spirit of the antichrist is worldliness and lawlessness (aka sin). When we sin, we place ourselves against Christ.

But if the False Prophet is symbolic, then what is the mark of the beast?

Notice that the mark of the beast is placed upon the right hand or forehead. This is probably best understood as a reference to the Shema in Deuteronomy. Jews have traditionally prayed the Shema twice a day because they view it as a sort of summary statement for their theology.

But you should read it for yourself:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

In the Shema, God was calling Israel to know Him through His Scriptures. He begins with a statement of who He is, and then commands them to love Him with all their heart, soul, and strength (which Jesus said was the greatest commandment, by the way).

But He didn’t stop there.

He then told them to take His Words with them.

Teach them to your children.

Talk about them in your house, while you travel, when you go to sleep, and when you wake up.

He told them to bind His commands on their hand and place them on their forehead between their eyes.

Write them on every doorpost of every house and gate.

What’s the point?

God wanted His people to be saturated in His Word. Even in the Old Testament, God’s people were to be known by their love for God’s Scriptures because God revealed Himself in them. We should be so steeped in God’s Word that it might as well be marked or branded on our hands and forehead.

So, if the mark of Christ’s followers is their love for one another and the Scriptures, couldn’t the mark of the beast be a sign of us devoting ourselves to anything other than God through His Word?

As we saw John say already, the antichrist is any spirit that does not proclaim Jesus as sent from God, but he continues in his letter to tie the antichrist to worldly thinking:

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:4-6)

God’s people are commanded to speak the Scriptures to one another, but those who follow after the antichrist “speak from the world, and the world listens to them.”

Could it be, therefore, that the mark of the beast is saturating our lives with the things of this world, instead of with God, His Scriptures, and His people?

This interpretation resonates with me because while many Christians watch vigilantly for the latest news of microchips, few saturate themselves in God’s Word, teaching others to obey all that Christ commanded us.

Few watchfully persevere in prayer, praying for boldness to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into marvelous light.

Few fill their lives with the community of their brothers and sisters in Christ, showing the world our love for Christ through our love for His people.

Martyrdom can quickly become a fantasy.

It is easy to look forward to a day when we are called to stand for Christ in the face of martyrdom, but the reality is that our Lord already called us to die to self. Each day is an act of martyrdom as we take up the cross of Christ so that He might live and reign in us. We must not romanticize dying for Jesus if we are not willing to live with Him everyday, saturated in His Word.

Many read the Bible, but few are saturated in it. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 describes Scripture saturation well.

As people who have been saved by God, do we long to hear from God in His Word?

Do we excitedly speak about it to each other while at home or traveling?

Is God’s Word such a component of our lives that we might as well have it tattooed on our forehead or hand?

Or are we marked by the wisdom of this world, which James calls unspiritual and demonic?

I would argue that if the beast’s mark is a lack of God’s Word, it is far more insidious and deadly than any microchip.

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Evangelism (Making Disciples: part five)

To be honest, I never thought of evangelism and witnessing as two separate actions until recently. In his short (and free!) ebook, What Is the Great Commission?, R. C. Sproul writes:

Evangelism, on the other hand, is the actual proclamation—either oral or written, but certainly verbal—of the gospel. It is declaring the message of the person and work of Christ, who His is and what He has done on behalf of sinners like you and me.

That means there are several reasons that evangelism is not. It is not living your life as an example. It is not building relationships with people. It is not giving one’s personal testimony. And it is not inviting someone to church. These things may be good and helpful, but they are not evangelism. They may lay the groundwork for evangelism. They may allow others to relate to us, or they may cause someone to be curious about why we live the way we do. But they are not evangelism, because they don’t proclaim the gospel. They may say something about Jesus, but they do not proclaim the person and work of Christ.

Witnessing does not necessitate words, but evangelism must use words, either written or spoken. We see this thought from the word evangelism itself. It comes from the Greek word for gospel, which means good news or good message. Therefore, evangelism is gospelism. It is making known the gospel, and because the gospel is a message and messages must be expressed, evangelism is a verbal act.

Many Christians become incredibly fearful at the thought of doing evangelism, while others write it off as a special gifting for some Christians. While there are some Christians with the passion and gifting of evangelism, all followers are called to the task.

We see this principle in the book of Acts. Following the death of the Stephen, the first martyr within the church, the Christians of Jerusalem fled across the Roman Empire. Here is how Luke describes the act: “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4)

As they fled from Jerusalem, they continued to preach the word wherever they went. They continued to tell the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord. They kept proclaiming the truth that God saves sinners from the consequences of their sins.

This powerful statement is only made more powerful by who Luke is describing. He is not merely writing about the original disciples of Jesus, like Peter or John. He is not talking about the newly formed church leaders, like Stephen’s fellow deacons. No, Luke is describing the Christians in general. Normal, everyday followers of Christ preached the word of God wherever they went, and the world was irrevocably changed.

Evangelism is the work of every believer, but please realize that this does not mean you need to have a PHD in theology. John writes that Christians overcome satanic forces “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” (Revelation 12:11)

You do not need to know the ins and outs of systematic theology in order to share the gospel; you only need to have experienced the power of Christ’s saving blood and be able to express how He saved you in words. If Christ’s blood and our proclamation of how He saved us is enough to conquer Satan, it is also entirely sufficient for delivering the gospel message to a heart that is dead in sin.

One more thought on evangelism before I move on. Your salvation was the work of God, not yourself. You were dead in sin, an object of God’s wrath, but Christ made you alive because of God’s great grace and love. Therefore, lay aside the weight of thinking that you will save people with evangelism. We can save no one. Even if we argue someone into Christianity, someone else can always argue them out.

We are simply called to share the gospel, proclaim the good news.

God does everything else.

As a farmer sows seed but God produces the growth, may we also be faithful to share His truth, knowing that God alone can bring the dead to life.

To Laodicea: Be Zealous & Repent | Revelation 3:14-22

Seven Letters Week 8

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

I know your works: you are night cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16)

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. (Revelation 3:17)

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

OPENING THOUGHT

Jesus’ letters to the seven churches of Revelation were essentially report cards on the health of each church. Ephesus had great works and doctrine but had forgotten their first love. Pergamum was conforming to the society around them, while Thyatira allowed false doctrine into the church. Sardis was a church that appeared to be healthy but was actually dead. Smyrna and Philadelphia were beacons of good news in the midst of the rebukes. Jesus urged Smyrna to remain faithful until death and Philadelphia to patiently endure by holding fast to Him.

We conclude the series this week with the final church: Laodicea. Similar to the church of Sardis, Jesus has only rebukes for the Laodicea church. Located near the Colossians, Laodicea was a prosperous city with little need for aid from the Roman Empire or its neighboring cities. Apparently, the church developed a similar mentality.

Laodicea did not suffer from the kind of poverty or persecution that other churches were facing; instead, they were wealthy and prosperous. Yet because they only considered themselves to be materially rich, Jesus concludes that they are actually poor. Due to their prosperity, they thought they were in need of nothing, yet they were lacking Jesus. Therefore, Christ urges Laodicea to buy gold from Him in order to be truly rich and to open the door at which He is knocking. As Laodicea was essentially a church without Jesus, we must strive to not follow in their footsteps.

Read verses 14-16 and discuss the following.

  1. Jesus opens His letter to Laodicea by stating that they are neither cold nor hot, and because they are lukewarm, He will spit them out of His mouth. What does Jesus mean by calling them lukewarm?
  2. Why does He threaten such a negative reaction as spitting them out of His mouth?

Read verses 17-18 and discuss the following.

  1. Here Christ lists how the church of Laodicea saw itself (rich, prosperous, and in need of nothing), but then He offers His view of them (wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked). What problem caused the church to see itself differently than how Jesus saw them?

Read verses 19-22 and discuss the following.

  1. What actions does Jesus command the church to take in response to the rebukes given?
  2. What promises does Christ give to those who repent?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Living in a prosperous society always leads to the possibility of developing the same sinful independence as the church in Laodicea. After all, it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God precisely because materially wealth often masks spiritual need. Therefore, consider whether you are rich with gold that comes from Christ.
  • Prayerfully reflect upon the message to Laodicea, considering any areas of your life where repentance is needed.

To Philadelphia: Patiently Endure | Revelation 3:7-13

Seven Letters Week 7

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have kept my word and have not denied my name. (Revelation 3:8)

Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. (Revelation 3:10)

I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. (Revelation 3:11)

OPENING THOUGHT

With the exception of the faithful sufferers in Smyrna, each church appears to be the downward progression from the previous one. Ephesus had good doctrine but not love. Pergamum had good works, but they were conforming to the world around them. Thyatira had love and good works, but they allowed false teaching to enter the church. Sardis received no encouraging commendation; they looked alive but were dead.

Like Smyrna, the church of Philadelphia disrupts this pattern, as both are the only churches to not be rebuked at all by Jesus. Philadelphia was apparently a fairly small church in an environment that was hostile to Christianity. This persecution seems to have come from the Jewish population of the city attempting to stir up conflict between the Roman government and the Christians.

But even though Philadelphia was constantly threatened and had little power, Jesus gives them a flurry of encouragements. First, after being dispelled from the Jewish synagogue, Jesus promises that He has opened a door to His Kingdom for them, and no one can shut it. Second, He promises to one day reveal before all that the church of Philadelphia is loved by Him. Third, because of their patient endurance, Jesus promises to keep them from the hour of trial yet to come. Finally, Christ promises to establish those who finish their race faithfully within the New Jerusalem, which is an assurance that He will love them for all eternity.

Read verses 7-8 and discuss the following.

  1. Jesus introduces Himself as having “the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” He then states to have placed an open door before them that no one is able to shut. What is the open door to which Jesus refers?
  2. Jesus knows that the Philadelphians have little power, but they faithfully keep His word and do not deny His name. What encouragement can smaller churches gain from these words?

Read verses 9-11 and discuss the following.

  1. As in Smyrna, we see that the Philadelphians were coming under persecution from the Jews of the city. Why did the hostility exist? Why does Jesus claim that the Jews are not really Jews?
  2. Because the Philadelphians were faithful to keep Jesus’ word, He promises to keep them from the hour of trial that is coming. What does Jesus mean by this promise?

Read verses 12-13 and discuss the following.

  1. To the one who conquers, Jesus lists a staggering series of promises. What is New Jerusalem, and what is the significance of these promises?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Though the world might have considered the church of Philadelphia to be weak, Jesus knows that in Him they are strong. Consider your areas of weakness and how God might be glorified by working through them.
  • Philadelphia was built around a major trading road, meaning that traffic between Rome and Asia constantly poured through the city. This placed in Philadelphia a uniquely opened door for sending the gospel to places further to the east, like India and China. As in Colossian 4:3-4, pray also for open doors to declare the mystery of Christ in your own life.

To Sardis: Wake Up! | Revelation 3:1-6

Seven Letters Week 6

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

I know your works. You have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead. (Revelation 3:1)

Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. (Revelation 3:2)

Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. (Revelation 3:3)

OPENING THOUGHT

Our study of the Seven Letters of Revelation now officially begins to wind down as we approach the fifth church: Sardis. Though Jesus gave these letters for the particular churches in Asia Minor, their messages are applicable to all churches throughout history, including us today. Jesus’ warnings to Ephesus and Thyatira remind us that we must have both love and sound doctrine. Pergamum emphasized the importance of conforming to Christ rather than culture. The church of Smyrna was a model of how to suffer well for Jesus’ sake.

If Thyatira’s inward false teaching was a downward progression from Pergamum’s outward conformity, then Sardis continues the spiraling trend. Unlike the previous churches, Christ does not have much good to applaud in Sardis; He primarily has stern rebukes for them instead. Sardis was a church with a good reputation. From most noticeable outward signs, they appeared to successfully doing the work that Jesus commanded them to do. But Jesus’ gaze goes past the skin into the heart.

Despite their reputation, Christ knew that the Sardis was a dead church. Jesus found their works to be lacking, so He urged them to wake up and strengthen what little bit was still alive. It is a terrifying thing to hear Jesus say that a church can appear to be alive while really being dead. Fortunately, Jesus alone is able to bring dead hearts back to life, and as with the other churches, Jesus calls the church of Sardis to repent and keep His commandments.

Read verse 1 and discuss the following.

  1. Jesus states that the church in Sardis had a reputation for being alive, but, in reality, they were dead. What are some marks or signs of a dead church that might seem alive?
  2. How might Sardis’ problem relate to Matthew 7:21-23?

Read verses 2-3 and discuss the following.

  1. Christ urges those in Sardis to wake up and strengthen what remains and is about to die. In what ways might a dead church wake up and strengthen itself?
  2. What specific actions does Jesus desire the church of Sardis to take?

Read verses 4-6 and discuss the following.

  1. The only good news given to Sardis is that there are still some in the church with unstained garments. Who is Jesus referring to, and what is the significance of saying that their garments are unsoiled?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Consider if Jesus’ message to Sardis applies to you. Do you have a reputation for being alive while actually being dead? Are you like the people in Matthew 7:21-23? If so, wake up, remember the gospel, and repent.
  • Pray specifically for your church and other churches in the community that we would never be dead like the church of Sardis.

As we steadily approach the finish line of our present sermon series through the seven letters of Revelation, the third to the last message has hit me full force. Jesus gives to the Apostle John a letter for the church of Sardis, and His words for it are terrifying. We’ve already heard Jesus rebuke the Ephesian church for having solid doctrine but no love and the Thyatiran church for having love but poor doctrine. We’ve already read Jesus threaten to war against the church of Pergamum if they did not repent of their conformity to society rather than the Scriptures.

But His message to Sardis takes everything to a new level.

To Sardis, Jesus claims that they have a reputation for being alive, but they are, in fact, dead. This means that by human standards Sardis appeared to be in decent shape. They were probably growing numerically as a church. The Scriptures were likely taught with a great degree of orthodoxy. They may have even been known for their love of the community around them. We simply don’t know what things they were doing well, but we do know that Jesus calls their bluff. Where men might have considered the church of Sardis to be growing and faithful, Jesus knew that they were flat lining.

The notion of a church appearing to be alive while, in reality, being dead ought to send shivers down our spine. This is the sort of church and the kind of members that we never want to be. So let’s take a moment to consider ways that a church might be dead with the appearance of life.

1. Prayerlessness

I don’t believe it’s possible to overemphasize the value and necessity of prayer. Because of Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection, we are able to approach God’s “throne of grace” with confidence, knowing “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” from our Father (Heb. 4:16). What a privilege that we are able to speak to the Almighty God as His children with Him as our Father!

Yet it is not only a privilege but also a joy, an expression of having finally found a treasure that it worth losing everything else to possess (Matt. 13:44). Our hearts ought to be constantly (1 Thess. 5:17) in prayerful communion with God because all else is rubbish (Phil. 3:7) by comparison to His value.

In short, we pray because our hearts will be with our treasure (Matt. 6:21).

A prayerless Christian is no Christian, and a prayerless church is no church.

The lack of prayer indicates that God is not treasured. If God is not treasured, then He is not truly worshiped as God.

In fact, God opposes the prayerless. Both Peter and James tell us that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5; James 4:6).” There is no greater expression of pride than prayerlessness. The act of prayer is humbling. It approaches God in His sovereignty, understanding our desperate need for His intervention, guidance, and love. A lack of prayer speaks that we do need God’s grace or aid. Prayer asserts our dependence, while prayerlessness proclaims our independence.

A church that is independent of God is a dead church. Jesus explicitly states that He will build His church (Matt. 16:18). Christ’s church is entirely reliant upon Him as the builder. With an utter independence from Jesus, the church is dead, even while it seems to live.

Jesus urges Sardis to wake up, to be watchful. This idea of wakefulness, watchfulness, and sobriety is at times used in relation to prayer.

“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Mark 14:38

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” – Colossians 4:2

Isaiah 62:6-7 also describes those in prayer as watchmen on a city’s walls. We ought to pray with all the wakefulness and sobriety of watchmen who were able to glimpse an enemy in the distance and prepare the city accordingly. We must keep alert, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication (Eph. 6:18).”

A church can do any number of things and have any measure of growth, but without prayer, it is dead with only the semblance of life.

2. Lack of Discipleship

The primary mission that Jesus gave to His disciples was to make more disciples (Matt. 28:19). A church is composed of Christians (disciples of Jesus), and if those Christians do not seek to fulfill Jesus’ great objective, they are outside of His will.

Each of us are called to disciple others and be disciple by others. The church is a perpetual factory of passing on knowledge, skills, and ministries. The goal of every believer ought to be toward making the road a little easier for the next workers to expand the kingdom of God.

A lack of discipleship is evident in a number of ways.

First, the youth are neglected by the older men and women. The primary fashion that Paul seems to envision discipleship within a regular church congregation is older men and women training younger men and women. He tells Timothy to take what he learned from Paul and entrust it “to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2).” And he urges Titus to have older women train “young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled (Titus 2:4-5).” Negligence to raise up the next generation is a failure to disciple.

Second, resisting to train others in ministry is a failure to disciple. Each ministry of the church must be for the benefit of the church and the service of Jesus; therefore, a resistance toward training others in a particular ministry is a sign of selfishness. It is selfish because it places our desire to be needed above the betterment of the body of Christ. Our identity becomes entangled in our ministry rather than to Christ, so we refuse to let others into our work. The impact is only felt fully by the congregation whenever the person either leaves or dies without warning. The church is left trying to pick up the fragmented pieces because no one else was ever discipled on how to accomplish the work.

A lack of discipleship often results from an unhealthy fixation on the past. When in a perpetual state of remembrance of the good ol’ days, the congregation is not able to sufficiently invest in the future.

A mental resolution that the better days are behind us will ensure that they are.

Jesus made disciples so that they would expand the work of the kingdom of God beyond His ascension into heaven. The disciples made disciples so that the work would continue beyond their lives. Discipleship is about living for something bigger than ourselves. It is about living for Someone bigger than ourselves. It is about aiming to ensure that the message of the gospel goes on long after we have passed from this world. If we fail to do so, our church will die with us.

3. Lack of Evangelism

When Jesus looked upon the crowds of people that came to hear Him teach and be healed, “He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:36).” Jesus did not gaze at the world going to hell in a handbasket with distain; He saw them with tender love and compassion. Being God, Jesus does not wish “that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9).”

The Great Commission’s call to make disciples is Jesus’ answer to this love of the lost. Christ commands us to go into all nations, making disciples by baptizing them and teaching them everything that He commanded us. In many ways, evangelism is the first stage of discipleship. Both are two sides of the same coin. Evangelism is bringing the gospel to non-Christians, and discipleship is applying the gospel to Christians. Discipleship begins with evangelism, and evangelism goes into discipleship.

A church without a love for evangelism is a church without a love for people and the gospel.

If we truly love people, we will desire to bring them the true of the gospel, regardless of the awkwardness of it. A doctor who refuses to inform his patient of cancer because it’s uncomfortable is a failed doctor. Likewise, we cannot claim to love others while letting them go uninformed and without Christ to hell. Or else, we cannot claim to truly believe the gospel as truth, while failing to proclaim it to others.

In this way, without evangelism, the church is either unloving or heretical. It either lacks love along with the church of Ephesus or lacks the understanding of truth like the church of Thyatira. Without a love to share the gospel with others, a church finds itself in clear danger of having its lampstand removed (Rev. 2:5) or being made into an example of Christ’s judgment for all churches to see (Rev. 2:22-23).

4. Toleration of Sin

In many ways, a toleration of sin is the only way to kill a church. Prayerlessness and lack of discipleship and evangelism are sinful behaviors. They are sins of omission rather than commission. James 4:17 puts it plainly:

“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

Repeatedly the Bible associates sin with death—after all, sin brought death into creation to begin with.

“But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” – Romans 8:10

“But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” – Ephesians 2:4-5

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.” – Colossians 2:13

Sin kills. And tolerated sin kills fully. We, naturally, do not enjoy being rebuked for sin. It is never pleasant to be told that we are in the wrong; however, it is necessary. A kind admonishment is one of the most loving acts of kindness. Look at the Bible’s alternative to tolerating sin:

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” – Galatians 6:1

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” – Colossians 3:16

“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” – James 5:19-20

“This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.” – Titus 1:13

“Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” – Titus 2:15

Pointing out sin is never easy. In the Old Testament, the prophets were primarily used of God to rebuke the sins of Israel, and their lives were marked by suffering because of their message. When the sin that we love is attacked, the typical response is to retaliate against the messenger.

Yet we must understand that rebuking sin is the most loving action we can take toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Regardless of what sin (omission or commission) that Sardis found itself in, it died as a church because it did not “put to death” sin (Rom. 8:13).

And like Sardis, there are only two options for every church and its members: either let sin kill us by tolerating it, or put to death sin through repentance.

To Thyatira: Repent of False Teaching | Revelation 2:18-29

Seven Letters Week 5

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. (Revelation 2:19)

Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. (Revelation 2:16)

Only hold fast to what you have until I come. (Revelation 2:25)

OPENING THOUGHT

Having discussed the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum, we now come to the center of the seven letters of Revelation. To the Ephesians, Christ applauded their works and theology, but He condemned their lack of love. For the church in Smyrna, Jesus had nothing to say against them; with the world attacking them, He encouraged them to persevere throughout hardship. The church in Pergamum was a mixed bag: some were holding firm during persecution, but others were conforming themselves to the society around them.

The church in Thyatira is essentially the foil of the Ephesians. Jesus begins by commending the works and love of the Christians there. They were succeeding where the Christians in Ephesus were failing. However, Jesus then rebukes them for tolerating false teachings in their midst. So the success of the Ephesians was Thyatira’s failure. Thyatira and Ephesus were in this way mirror opposites of one another.

It could also be said that Thyatira was the unfortunate progression of Pergamum. Both churches were guilty of the sin of comprising with the society around them and tolerating the false teaching within the church. The letter to Pergamum focused more on former, while Thyatira exemplifies the latter. It is too true that compromise with the world is a stepping stone toward the blatant accepting of false teaching within the church.

Read verses 18-19 and discuss the following.

  1. Christ begins His message to the church of Thyatira by commending their love, faith, service, and works. They were triumphing in the areas that the Christians in Ephesus were failing. Could Jesus’ say of you His words in verse 19?
  2. Like those in Thyatira, are you continuing to grow in good works?

Read verses 20-23 and discuss the following.

  1. In the Old Testament, Jezebel was a wife to the king of Israel, who incited Israel to worship the false god, Baal. Jesus is likely using this as a symbolic name for one or more false teachers within the church of Thyatira who were leading the believers away from the truth. What sorts of heresies might have been taught to Thyatira?
  2. What are some false teachings that are prevalent within our culture?

Read verses 24-29 and discuss the following.

  1. Like the church of Pergamum, Jesus urges the Christians within Thyatira to hold fast until He comes. In what ways can we hold fast and guard ourselves against false teaching?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Take time this week to pray specifically for people being deceived by false teachings and for those who are holding fast to Christ in the midst of false teaching.
  • Prayerfully reflect upon your works, love, faith, service, and patient endurance for Christ, and consider how you might continue to grow in weaker areas.