The Orthodox Pages
TALK ON THE BOOK OF REVELATION
17th January 2013
Welcome back to our Thursday evening talks. I like to wish everyone a happy and blessed New Year 2013.
Before we broke up for the Christmas and New Year holidays we had began a series of talks on the Book of Revelation. At the last talk we finished with the third of the letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor, thus we covered the letters to the bishops of Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamos. Today we begin again from the fourth letter to the bishop of Thyatira. I will read each letter in full but to save time I will try to give an explanation only on the main points of each letter. Also some things are issues we saw in the previous letters and hopefully your memories are better than mine and will not need to be reminded of their meanings. So without any further introductions let's hear the forth letter.
Christ instructs John to write to the bishop of Thyatira and say: "These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass; I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first. Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."
As with the previous letters Christ begins by praising the bishop for his good works, but unlike the bishop of Ephesus who had lost his first love, to the bishop of Thyatira he says that his last works are more than his first, so in other words he has progressed spiritually. But in spite of this, Christ still has something against him, because as he says, he has allowed that woman Jezebel to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed to idols. Historically Jezebel was a princess of the Phoenicians who married Ahab, the king of the Northern tribes of Israel. She was a wicked and evil woman with a controlling nature and managed to control and rule her husband and ran the country rather than him. She introduced the worship of idols and persecuted with a frenzy the worship of the true God of Israel. She put to death many prophets of the class known as the sons of the prophets and persecuted the Prophet Elias with demonic praise to kill him also. She introduced the worship of the idol god Baal and was naturally instrumental in getting the Israelites to commit sexual immorality and eating foods offered to idols.
The name Jezebel is used by Christ allegorically in the letter to identify a certain woman in the church of Thyatira who was a member of the local church and as a member was a participant in the sacraments of the church. She portrayed herself as a Christian but more than this she portrayed herself as a prophetess. However she was a false prophetess and the Lord himself characterizes her as such. Christ likens her to the old Jezebel who led the Israelites to commit fornication and eat foods offered to idols, but Christ is probably using this image metaphorically. This is evident from what Christ says further down, that he will kill the children born from this fornication. Christ is speaking of a spiritual death, so here we do not have natural or physical fornication, but spiritual or metaphorical, in essence it refers to rebellion from the true God. But this rebellion is not easily recognized, because it has to do with a spirit of delusion. This is significant because this woman was a member of the church and as a member she was pulling the wool over the people's eyes exercising her maliciousness. It seems she was involved in a Gnostic heresy, who accept fornication and foods offered to idols in the literal sense.
The Lord tells the bishop of Thyatira, you have this woman Jezebel who leads my people astray which means that she was come to destroy the people of God, the people of the church of Thyatira. Now what was displeasing to the Lord was that the bishop of Thyatira was not distancing this woman from the church. He was not revealing her true identity but was addressing her as a true Christian and by this name she was leading the people astray and making them subject to her delusion, to spiritually commit sexual immorality and eat foods sacrificed to idols. In other words the mistake of the bishop was that he did not cut her off from the flock: he failed to warn the flock, to announce to them that this woman is not Christian and as long as she remained in the church she would continue to delude the people. This woman must have stayed within the church because she is considered as the forerunner of the heresy Montanism.
A few years later, in this same city, arose someone called Montana, who also considered himself a Christian, but taught that as Christ is the incarnation of the Word of God, he was the incarnation of the Holy Spirit. He had two women with him who were called prophetesses and they prophesied and prophesied supposedly by the Holy Spirit. But they also like this woman were false prophetesses. This woman, who the Lord calls Jezebel is considered as the spiritual predecessor of Montanas, but also the forerunner of all those who to this day claim they can invoke the Holy Spirit, perform miracles on television, speak in tongues and perform many other theatrics. These are those who are known as the Illumined, Pentecostal, the Charismatics who all claim they are Christian. With the name Jezebel the Lord wants to include movements of marginal Christianity which by the way continue to hold a place of honour in the Church and worse yet, they are not denied their Christian name.
The bishop of Thyatira was at fault because he continued to call this woman Jezebel a Christian, this woman who taught strange and unchristian doctrines which the Lord found intolerable. Her teachings, symbolized as fornication and food offered to idols were teachings outside of the true teachings of the Gospel and the church with the purpose to distance the faithful from the true teachings of God. Within our ecclesiastical history existed many waves such as this which caused great pain to the church. Many were condemned by the Ecumenical and local councils, but a great many more were ignored and allowed to infest the faithful with superstitious and demonic teachings. The Lord reprimanded the bishop of Thyatira for allowing the unchristian teachings of the woman to continue as he does all bishops who fail to discern any foreign elements and impure teachings in the church and have then expelled immediately.
We need to look closer at this woman because she was a follower of a Gnostic heresy, however she was a Christian inside the church. She was acting inside the church, she was not outside the church like for example the Jehovah Witnesses are today. She was free to act within the church. The litmus test that singles out the Gnostics is the area of ethics. The ethics of Gnostics revolve around two extremes; One was that of the Nicolaitans which we discussed in the previous talk. They believed in the destruction of the body by indulging in all pleasures, their model was: it is necessary to abuse the flesh, I must destroy the body by exhausting it in the areas of pleasure, to eat and drink excessively, to do drugs, and to seek sexual relations with no restrictions, and all this to destroy the flesh. The other extreme was the Montanist who taught extreme self control, the condemnation of marriage, the abstention from many different foods, not only meat, but many foods from the plant kingdom such as fruit as long as the fruit was still on the tree. Such was the heresy of the Manicheans. They taught that if you ate a fruit, for example a fig that was still on the tree, you were guilty of murder, because the fig they said has a soul and by plucking it off the tree you are killing it and therefore guilty of murder. So when is someone supposed to eat the fig? Only when it falls naturally from the tree. Such great stupidity yet these were the teachings not only of the Manicheans, but also the Montanist who were very active in the city of Thyatira.
These two extremes of the Nicolaitans and the Montanist would coincide in one central point which was a basic point of the teachings of the Gnostics called Dualism. The flesh is the cause or the source of evil and is the creation of an evil god while the soul is the creation of the good god. So in order to free the soul from the bondage of the flesh which was created by the evil god, we must destroy the flesh, and this is to be accomplished through licentiousness and extreme depravity, sexual fifth, or through the method of extreme abstinence, I will not eat, I will not marry, I will starve myself, I will not go to a doctor if I become sick and all this to destroy the evil creation - the flesh which is the source of evil. St Paul has warned us of these Gnostic tendencies even in those early years especially the abstentions ones. He says in the first Epistle to Timothy: "some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils... Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving". (1 Tim. 4:1-3)
What stupid and demonic teachings! How can anyone believe that picking a fruit from the tree is an act of murder or that marriage is filthy and polluted? Paul, who chose to remain celibate said that if someone can remain celibate it is a good thing yet he never condemned marriage as something unclean, but rather said that marriage is honourable and the marriage bed undefiled. You would be surprised to know these perceptions exist even today in many of our Christian members. There are many who believe that they will not be saved because they are married. They consider the sexual act as something filthy and should only be done for the sake of procreation. As for picking a fruit of a tree, they may not consider it murder, but many believe that meat and animal products are unclean. We see this during the fasts when we abstain from animal products, not because the products are unclean, but as a spiritual exercise to help us keep in check our freewill and our tendency towards gluttony. Yet many people don't understand what fasting is and consider that we give up these foods solely because they are unclean and sinful and pollute the body.
There are still a lot of things we can say on the rest of the letter to the bishop of Thyatira, but as I mentioned last time, we are progressing very slowly so we should press on and see the main points of the remaining letters. A small piece of information: If you remember I said in one of the earlier talks that the seven Churches mentioned in revelation where real and historical churches in Asia Minor which today is called Turkey. None of these historical churches exist today as they were permanently removed in 1922, during the infamous Asia Minor destruction and expulsion of the Greek people. But the titles of the bishops were given to bishops that didn't have a see of their own or who served under the Ecumenical Patriarch. The name Thyatira was given to the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Great Britain so that his title is the Archbishop of Thyatira and Great Britain.
Let's continue with the letter to the bishop of the church of Sardis. "These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."
The meaning of the Seven Spirits of God and the seven stars were given during the introduction to these talks. The number seven is used in scripture symbolically to represent fullness, thus the seven Spirits refer to the multitude and fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The seven stars are the seven churches of Asia Minor to whom the letters are sent, but again they represent the fullness of the church. With all the other letters that we have seen, Christ always began by praising the good works of the bishops and then reprimanding them for some errors they might have made, but here, with the very opening words Christ is indirectly reprimanding the bishop of Sardis. What he is saying is that I am the one who gives the Holy Spirit so why then are you staying spiritually dead, why aren't you benefiting from the presence of the Holy Spirit, so you and your church can exercise a spiritual life.
He continues saying: I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. The bishop has a name that he is spiritually pious and therefore believes that he is spiritually alive, but in fact he is spiritually dead. His piety is only on the surface. This is something that happens to many of us especially when we don't have the weight of heavy sins on our shoulders. We are encouraged by the fact that we do not have heavy sins and we take on the form of godliness and a relative modesty thus giving the impression to those around us that we live a spiritual life. St. Paul says that this is one of the signs of the last times; people he says will have the form of godliness but will deny its power. The outward form will be godly and pious: they will make the sign of the Cross, they will attend church and dress modestly, but the power of godliness they will have denied. They will be Christians only on the surface but they will not have the power of true faith. When a person lives the Gospel only externally and becomes a surface Christian, in reality he has denied the power of the Holy Spirit and is spiritually dead, but when a person lives a pious life he has the Spirit of God and he has much spiritual power.
Christ reproves the bishop and warns him to repent and change from this spiritual paralysis and help and strengthen the things which remain, that is, those who have not yet been affected by this spiritual paralysis, but are on their way to a spiritual death if the necessary measures are not taken to protect them. In general the letter is warning bishops that they are responsible for the spiritual wellbeing of their flock. If a bishop is only Christian in appearance and his inner life is indifferent to spiritual matters, if he only goes through the motions and doesn't have spiritual works that will help lift the spiritual state of his flock then his indifference will begin to infest the flock and both he and his flock will be spiritually dead.
But Christ says that a few names even in Sardis have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. The few who have not defiled their garments can refer to those who have not been affected by the bishop's spiritual paralysis, but continued living spiritual and fruitful lives. The garment is the pure and unstained spiritual garment that we receive at baptism. Throughout our lives we must keep this garment unstained and undefiled, because this very same garment will, at the end of time, be our wedding garment mentioned in the Parables and if it is stained beyond recognition we will be cast out of the wedding banquet because our garment was unsuitable. Being humans weak with passions, we will sin and stain this garment but the stains can be washed clean through the sacraments of Holy Confession and Holy Communion, but we must take care because some stains are very difficult to wash out.
Of those few who have not defiled their garments Christ says that they will walk with him in white. Here the white garments refer to the divine glory: they will be bathed in and share in the divine glory. The next line is of special interest "and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life". This reveals the possibility of the disqualification of the athlete of Christ who starts well but he does not finish the race. The possibility of having one's name blotted out from the book of life shows that you can lose your salvation and these words of the Lord destroy the Protestant heresies of predestination and Sola Fide – "in faith alone", the notions that once saved always saved, you cannot lose salvation after having found it, and that all one must do for guaranteed salvation is to just simply believe in Jesus. But here Christ tells us that you can be saved but you can also be blotted out just as in the case of the five foolish virgins who found the door of the kingdom closed and didn't enter in.
The next letter is to the bishop of the church in Philadelphia. John writes: "These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."
As with the letter to the bishop of Smyrna, Christ has only good things to say of the bishop of Philadelphia. The introductory lines to the Epistle have much to tell us: "These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth". He that is holy, he that is true. Holy is a divine attribute that is now used for the person of Christ. Holy was a name that was only attributed to God in the Old Testament, so the holy one is only Yahweh and consequently Jesus Christ who is called the holy one in the New Testament is Yahweh, he is the Lord; Jesus Christ is the God of the Old Testament. This is a clear testimony to the Jehovah Witnesses that Jesus is Yahweh or Jehovah as they call the God of the Old Testament and not a creation as they heretically teach. Likewise the title the true one is a divine title referring to God. Here the True one does not mean he who speaks the truth, but refers to the true God, the genuine and real God. Jehovah Witnesses will say: Where does it say that Jesus is God, where is it written? It is written all over the Scriptures, but you need spiritual eyes to interpret the verses. If you are blind you cannot interpret. He that is holy, he that is true refers to Christ's divine nature and the following words "he that hath the key of David refers to Christ's human nature. Christ is "Theanthropos" God-man.
How do we interpret the key of David? The key is a symbol of authority; therefore the key of David is the Messianic authority. The Prophet Isaiah writes: "And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open."(Isaiah 22:22) The introduction to the letter is a direct quote from Isaiah. The prophecy refers to the human nature of Christ which will have the key of David because he will be a direct descendant of the house of David. If you remember the Annunciation story, the archangel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she will bring forth a Son and shall call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. (Luke 1:31-32)
Christ refers to the Key of David because the main theme of the epistle has to do with an open door. He says to the bishop of Philadelphia "I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it". So what is this door that is set before the Bishop that no one can shut? It refers to the ceaseless missionary efforts of the bishop. The church is like an enclosed establishment in an environment totally strange to it. In other words the church is fenced in just like a sheep fold. Suddenly a door opens and the purpose of this open door is to make the faith known to all those outside of this door. They will receive information of what exists inside of this door. The people outside of this fenced in sheep pen will see what takes place inside the church and consequently, when they learn what the church is all about, then the place outside will also want to be part of the church.
The bishop of Philadelphia had this open door before him, he went through this door and evangelized the people about God, even through he was of little strength. Little strength can be referring to many things. It could be referring to the small number of the faithful of Philadelphia, it could be referring to a small parish because the church was insignificant regarding its external appearance, or it could be referring to the modest financial means of the church of Philadelphia. Another possibility could be the outward qualities of the bishop, he could have been limited in the area of physical stamina, the ability to speak well, or something along these lines, but all these did not stop this bishop even though he had little strength. He worked and spread the Gospel incessantly. He evangelized to the idolaters, the gentiles and to the unbelieving Jews.
This missionary work put forth by the bishop had proved to be very fruitful. If you remember from the letter to the bishop of Smyrna, Christ called the unbelieving Jews the Synagogue of Satan and again in this epistle he repeats this rather strong language against them. Christ calls them the Synagogue of Satan because they became very vindictive and full of hate towards the Christians, but here we see that the bishop of Philadelphia had managed to bring many of them to the Christian faith. Christ says "I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee." The bishop evangelizes, but it is Christ that brings them to the church. That is why he says he will make them come and worship before thy feet. Every missionary effort to be successful needs our own effort and the blessing of God otherwise it will not bear fruit. "I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee." They will understand that God no longer loves the synagogue, his grace has left them desolate and his love is now in the church. When he says that they will know that I have loved thee, he is not referring to the bishop, but to the church.
Let's now look at the last of the seven letters; the letter to the bishop of the church of Laodicea. "These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."
Again with the introduction Christ declares that he is God: I the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God. The Amen is a title belonging to God only and once again testifies that Jesus Christ is the God Yahweh of the Old Testament. The title faithful and true witness also testifies that Christ is Yahweh. We saw this title in our second talk on Revelations. Christ is the faithful witness because everything he says is the truth, but also it is a title attributed to God in the Old Testament. In the 88th Psalm of the Septuagint we read; "His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me, and as the moon that is established for ever, and as a faithful witness in heaven." The faithful witness is God and here in the book of Revelation Jesus Christ is verifying that he is Yahweh or Jehovah. The beginning of the creation of God does not mean that Christ is the first creation as interpreted by Arius and his distant descendants the Jehovah Witnesses who use this line to support their heretical teaching that Jesus is a creation of God. What Christ is saying is that he is the beginning, the cause of everything that has been created; everything that has been created was created by him. In the beginning of the Gospel of St. John we read: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." (John 1:1-3)
Christ says to the bishop: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot: I would prefer that you were cold or hot. So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue you, I will vomit you out of my mouth. Why would Christ prefer that the bishop was either the one or the other, either cold or hot, but not lukewarm. Cold signifies someone that does not know Christ, whose faith and love is frozen, he who is devoid of the energy of the Holy Spirit. And hot is someone who is fervent in spirit, who has a hot and boiling faith. But why would Christ prefer someone cold rather than lukewarm when lukewarm is closer to hot than cold. Most contemporary Christians are lukewarm including us. We are all lukewarm so this message applies to all of us as it does the bishop of Laodicea. We may be faithful Christians, but we live our lives coexisting with the spirit of the world, we live our lives with the spirit of God and the spirit of Satan: we live a compromise.
Most Christians are comfortable with their way of life, with their social standing, with their wealth and spiritual standing and this makes it difficult for the church to minister to them. If you suggest to them to study the scriptures they will tell you that they already know them. If you tell them to go to church, they will tell you that they are better off that all the hypocrites who go regularly, in fact in all things they don't see anything in their lives that needs to be changed. Lukewarm characters are unable and incapable of increasing their spiritual temperature by one degree, yet they are under the impression that they are the best that humanity can offer and the best of Christians. Thus lukewarm refers to someone difficult to change, difficult to repent.
On the other hand someone cold can suddenly become very hot: he has the ability to repent, his heart has the possibility to change and can become a very hot person spiritually. At some moment in his life the spirit of God touches him and he turns around and changes his life. And we can see this change, yesterday he was unethical, immoral, today he is pure, yesterday he was mocking and ridiculing the faith, today he is full of piety, yesterday he was as filthy as swine, today he is washed and cleaned from sin. What happened? He repented. The thief on the Cross was cold at first. One of the Evangelists tells us that both thieves were mocking Christ. This is not a mistake when Luke tells us that one of the thieves called out "remember me O Lord when thou comest into thy kingdom". Both were mocking the Lord in the beginning, however at a certain point a revelation took place in the soul of one of the thieves when he saw that the Lord was forgiving those who crucified him, when he saw that the Lord does not curse, when he saw his softness and leniency on the Cross, he transformed and changed instantaneously, his soul started to boil, and he turned to Christ and said remember me O Lord when thou comest into thy kingdom. From cold as ice he became blazing hot like the sun and was the first to enter with Christ into paradise.
So Christ prefers someone cold because he can repent and become fervent, but lukewarm remains lukewarm because of spiritual indifference and slothfulness. Thus we need to examine ourselves constantly and ask am I hot, do I feel the burning of the Holy Spirit inside of me, do I have spiritual impulses and inclinations and do I get excited and feel God's presence in different areas of my life? Do I love the Lord deeply or is it possible that I am cold, is it possible that I am altogether cut off from the energy of the Holy Spirit? Or is it possible that I have taken elements of hot and element of cold and mixed them together and become lukewarm? And if I am lukewarm then that means that I am nothing.
Five adjectives are used by the Lord to describe this state of lukewarm: Don't you know that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked? It is better for us to acknowledge that we are these things now and repent, rather than wait to hear them directly from the Lord's mouth. If we are lukewarm Christ says that he will vomit us out of his mouth. Christ is using an illustration of how drinking water can affect our stomachs. If we drink very cold water we find it refreshing and hot water is warming and comforting, but drinking lukewarm water can have a sickly affect on our stomachs making us want to vomit. And here we will end our interpretation of the letters to the seven churches. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."
From next week we enter John's vision in heaven and see the four living creatures, the slain lamb and many other strange things that John saw.