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18 And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things says the Son of God, who has his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine bronze;

19 I know your works, and love, and service, and faith, and your patience, and your works; and the last to be more than the first.

20 Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.

21 And I gave her time to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.

22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.

23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he who searches the minds and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.

24 But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say; I will put upon you no other burden.

25 But that which you have already hold fast till I come.

26 And he that overcomes, and keeps my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:

27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to pieces: even as I received of my Father.

28 And I will give him the morning star.

29 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches.

 

PART 2

As we saw in lesson #13, Jezebel was a Phoenician princess who married Ahab, King of Israel. She was the daughter of the king of Sidom-Tyre, Ethbaal. They worshiped the god Baal, who was a god believed to have power over lightening, wind, rain, and fertility. Jezebel had great influence over Ahab and the Israelites. She led them to apostasy, idolatry, and immoral conduct. As the Leader of the people, Ahab further encouraged the people to abandon the worship to the true God (1 kings 21:25). The Bible says that Ahab "did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him” (1 Kings 16:32-33). We probably cannot even imagine how bad that is! One of Ahab's first mistakes was to actually marry a pagan woman. God had already commanded that the Israelites should not marry people from the surrounding pagan nations (Deuteronomy 7:3-4).

God sent the prophet Elijah to Ahab and Jezebel. Due to their disobedience, there would be drought on the land (1 Kings 17:1). And just as he said, there was a severe drought for 3.5 years (Luke 4:25; James 5:17). After giving the news to the king, Elijah fled to the wilderness, where God miraculously fed him daily (1 Kings 17:2-7). He stayed away for the 3.5 years of drought.

At the end of that time, God ordered Elijah to return to Ahab. The drought was severe. Famine had spread throughout the land. All through that time, Jezebel had been killing out the prophets of God. Obadiah, who worked for the king, but who was a follower of the true God, had been hiding 100 of God’s prophets in a couple of caves, and supplying them with food and water (1 Kings 18:4). Elijah went back to meet with Ahab. The king had stopped following God’s commands, and was following Baal’s instead (1 Kings 18:18). Elijah requested that Ahab gather the people and meet with him at Mount Carmel. He also asked that Ahab bring 850 pagan prophets "who eat at Jezebel’s table" (1 Kings 18:19). Four hundred and fifty of those prophets were Baal's. This meeting was not a secret. All the Israelites were gathered there. The people had been caught in the middle, between the worship to the God of Israel and the pagan practices promoted by their royal leaders. They had not totally abandoned one or fully joined the other. Elijah pleaded with the people, calling them to make a decision, and stop wavering between God and Baal (1 Kings 18:20-21). They did not respond.

At Mount Carmel, Elijah stood alone on one side, and the 850 pagan prophets on the other. A pivot point in the history of God's people was about to happen. Both Elijah and the prophets of Baal prepared a sacrifice. Whichever sacrifice burned with fire sent from heaven would indicate which one was God (1 Kings 18:22-24). The prophets of Baal prayed and chanted all day long, from morning to evening, and received no response. Then it was Elijah's turn at the end of the day. All eyes were on this one man by the altar he had built for the Lord. Elijah prayed one time and God sent fire from Heaven, which consumed even the ground where the altar was on (1 Kings 18:38). God had answered Elijah's prayer: "Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again." (1 Kings 18:36-37).

God had given Ahab, Jezebel, and the Israelites time to repent. Three and a half years to be exact. But they did not. After God consumed the altar with fire, Elijah prayed for rain seven times, until he saw a small dark cloud on the horizon. And a strong rain came pouring down. Ahab returned home and told Jezebel about all that had happened (1 Kings 19:1). He told her how God had sent fire from Heaven, and how all the prophets were also killed by the sword after that. God had made Himself very clear. Still, Jezebel did not repent. She actually called for Elijah’s death after hearing what Ahab had to say about the episode at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 19:2). But God continued to protect Elijah, and he did not die. He remained faithful, and some time later God took Elijah to Heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11).

Jezebel continued to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. One event sealed her fate. It was the Naboth incident. Naboth had a vineyard near Ahab’s palace, and Ahab wished to buy it. Naboth replied he could not sell it. When Jezebel heard this, she devised a plan, and told her husband she would get the vineyard for him (1 Kings 21:7). She wrote an official letter posing as the king, even used the king's official seal. She had a fake celebratory party organized in honor of Naboth. She had him sit at a prominent place, but she also had two of her man sit next to him. They were instructed to kill Naboth at a certain time during the party. After Jezebel’s men raised false accusations against Naboth, they took him outside, and stoned him to death (1 Kings 21:10). When Ahab learned of Naboth’s death, Jezebel encouraged her husband to go up and take possession of that land. And so he did. Because of this incident, Jezebel’s death was prophesied, along with Ahab’s and his children (1 Kings 21:20-25;  1 Kings 22:34-38;  2 Kings 9:6-10). They died just as God had revealed it to the prophets. Jezebel was devoured by dogs, and no one could recognize her body (2 Kings 9:30-37).

Jezebel had a daughter, named Athaliah. Her daughter was just as evil as the mother. Athaliah ordered the death of all her own relatives, including her grandchildren, just so she could be the queen of Israel (2 Kings 11:1). All but one of Athaliah’s descendants died. A little boy survived, and he was later crowned king at the age of 7 (2 Kings 11:2-3;  2 Kings 11:12;  2 Reis 11:21). He re-established the worship to the true God during his reign. Queen Athaliah was put to death for all the abominations she had committed (2 Kings 11:15-20).

God had said, through the prophet, that a king named Jehu would kill all Ahab’s male descendants. Ahab had failed to keep the Commands of God (1 Kings 18:18). Jehu did kill all Ahab’s male children, as well as all Baal’s prophets (2 Kings 10). But Jehu himself did not do all that God had requested either. Jehu did not follow God’s Law with all his heart, and God allowed the Israel territory to be reduced (2 Kings 10:31-32).

During the 3.5 years of drought during Jezebel’s time, the word of God was scarce. Jezebel was killing the Lord's prophets. Spiritual drought, or famine of the Word, is always more serious than the physical devastation caused by the lack of rain. But because God is so merciful and loving, He gives people time to see His truth. In the Bible, this time is often a period marked by the number 3.5 (half of the number 7):

- Abraham and Isaac went on a 3.5 day journey to Mount Moriah, where Abraham was supposed to offer Isaac in sacrifice. The Bible tells us they walked 3 days, left the 2 servants waiting at that location, and then continued on to the place God had determined * Genesis 22:1-6

- In the third year of his reign, King Ahasuerus hosted a party lasting 6 months. At the end of that time, the search for a new queen started, and Esther, a Jewish young woman was chosen. She ultimately was able to save the Jewish people from destruction * Esther 1:1-22;

- Prophecy of Daniel: the people of God would be under the rule of the fourth kingdom (Roman Empire) for a time, times and half of time (“time” is 1 prophetic year, “times” is 2 prophetic years, “half a time” is 0.5 prophetic years; for a total of 3.5 prophetic years * Daniel 7:25; Daniel 12:7);

- Jesus’s ministry lasted for 3.5 years before He was crucified (about 6 months into His ministry, He used prophetic language of 1 day = 1 year [Ezekiel 4:6/7; Numbers 14:34; Leviticus 25:8], when He prophesied about the length of His work * Luke 13:32);

- Stephen was stoned for his faith in Jesus 3.5 years after Christ’s death, marking the prophecy in Daniel 9:24-27 (the stoning of Stephen: Acts 7:54-59);

- The gentiles would trample the Holy City for 42 months (42 months = 3.5 years, which is the prophetic time Christians would be oppressed and persecuted * Revelation 11:2);

- Jesus’ two witnesses will prophesy clothed in sackcloth for a period of 1260 days (1260 days = 3.5 years, which is a prophetic time when God’s people suffer persecution for bearing witness for Christ’s truth * Revelation 11:3);

- The woman who had given birth to a male child fled into the wilderness for 1260 days (Revelation 12:6); where she would be taken care of for the prophetic period of a time, times, and half of time (1260 days = 3.5 years) * Revelation 12:14;
- The beast was allotted 42 prophetic months to exercise his authority over the inhabitants of the earth (42 months = 3.5 years) * Revelation 13:5.

God also gave the Jezebel in Thyatira time to repent, but, like her counterpart in the Old Testament, she refused to do so (Revelation 2:21). She was set on her ways. This caused a definite tear in the church. Just like it happened at Mount Carmel, Thyatira was divided. On one side, the few faithful people, who had rejected the "deep things of Satan" (Revelation 2:24); and on the other, Jezebel and her children.

In Bible prophecy, women, wether faithful or unfaithful, represent the church (Jeremiah 6:2; Isaiah 51:16; Ephesians 5:25-32). This is a fundamental concept when studying the book of Revelation. Throughout the Old Testament, God compared His chosen people to a woman. His forgiving and transforming love would call this woman pure and perfect when Israel repented and followed God’s instructions (Isaiah 54:5-6; Ezekiel 16:8-14; Hosea 2:14-23; Amos 5:2) And at other times, God would call this same people an unfaithful woman, or a prostitute, when Israel turned into idolatry and immorality (Jeremiah 3:20; Hosea 1:2; Hosea 2:2-13; Ezekiel 16:15-19; Ezekiel 16:32) . This same concept of the church as Christ’s bride is carried into the New Testament (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-32; Revelation 12:1-6; Revelation 19:7-8). Later in Revelation 12 and 17, we will study more about two women. One represents the pure church, and the other an unfaithful church.

 

*** Overview ***: Jezebel represents the unfaithful church. Her children are her followers. In essence, her children are any church that does not teach the truth according to the Scripture. They are all considered to be an unfaithful church. And the members who had remained faithful to the original message of the Gospel were the remnant church of Christ - Jesus’ faithful bride. Jezebel from the Old Testament faked the authenticity of her rights over Naboth’s vineyard, falsely accused him, and became guilty of this innocent man’s death. Jezebel from Thyatira faked the authenticity of her rights to change God’s truth, seduced the church with false doctrines, and became guilty of the death of her followers. Just because the side of the church following Jezebel’s theology had a larger number of members, it didn’t make it the original church. Even if the world thought that the group with the most followers was the original church, that would not change Jesus’ assessment of the situation. Size is not a defining factor of character. It is usually the other way around. In the battle at the Mount Carmel, Elijah was standing alone against 850 false teachers. And yet, Elijah was the one representing God’s truth. He was the remnant of God, and His faithful witness. God made Himself known at the right time, showing everyone He is ready to defend His chosen people from anyone who stand to oppose His truth.

18 And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things says the Son of God, who has his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine bronze;

19 I know your works, and love, and service, and faith, and your patience, and your works; and the last to be more than the first.

20 Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.

21 And I gave her time to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.

22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.

23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he who searches the minds and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.

24 But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say; I will put upon you no other burden.

25 But that which you have already hold fast till I come.

26 And he that overcomes, and keeps my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:

27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to pieces: even as I received of my Father.

28 And I will give him the morning star.

29 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches.

 

PART 1

 

*** Historical Setting ***: The city of Thyatira was about 40 miles southwest of Pergamum. Unlike the previous 3 cities, Thyatira was not an intellectual center, or a prominent metropolis of the elite. It was in essence, a city of workers. Its significance came from its commercial strength. More guilds of commerce were found in the city of Thyatira than in any other city of the Roman Province of Asia. Much of the power came from different industries: wool, linen, garment, dyes, leather, pottery, bakery, slave-dealer, and bronze-smith. In fact, one of the strongest industries there was the purple dye trade. The Bible mentions a woman from Thyatira named Lydia, who was a dealer of purple fabric (Acts 16:14). This was a very rare color, because it was very hard to produce. This dye was made from the plant Rubia tinctorum.

In order for people to become part of the trade guild, they had to participate in the trade’s pagan festivals, and eat from foods offered to their gods. These events would often end in drunkenness and immoral behaviors. Even though those refusing to participate would not necessarily be persecuted, they would suffer social isolation and hardship. To be able to find work, a person had to be part of a trade.

Archeology tells us that Thyatira dates back at least to 3000 BC, and that it was one of the first cities to use money. In 290 BC, Seleucus I Nicanor changed the name of the city from Pelopia to Thyatira. There are many opinions as to the exact meaning of the name Thyatira. Today, it is the modern city of Akhisar, which means “white castle”. Some writers suggest that Thyatira means “sweet savor of labor”, others suggest that it means “daughter”, since Seleucus’s daughter was born around the time he renamed the city. Seleucus was actually one of the generals of Alexander the Great, and after Alexander’s death, Seleucus dominated a large portion of what Alexander had conquered. Seleucus gained power over some interesting areas: Babylon, central Anatolia, Persia, Mesopotamia, and several others. After Alexander’s death in 323 BC, Seleucus took over the region of Phoenicia, including the cities Tyre and Sidon. These were sister cities that were consolidated into one kingdom by king mentioned in the Bible, king  Ethbaal. Some people speculate if the renaming of the city to Thyatira had something to do with the old Phoenician city of Tyre. When we compare the two cities we find much in common. One fact stands out when we look at the History of Tyre and the letter to Thyatira. King Ethbaal was the father of a woman who had the same name as the one mentioned in this letter to Thyatira. He was Jezebel’s father (1 Kings 16:31). This makes us think that there is a prophetic connection between the cities of Tyre and Thyatira.

The city of Tyre was a divided city. One part of it was on the mainland, and one on an island about 0.5 miles from the shore. Tyre was a daughter city of Sidon, but it surpassed Sidon at some point. Tyre, like Thyatira, was a commercial city (Ezekiel 27), and was also famous for the manufacturing and trade of purple dye (Ezekiel 27:16). Actually, the word Phoenician means “purple people”, from the Greek Phoinikes. They extracted their color purple from the Murex shellfish. This was a very rare dye, and was very valuable. That is why it became the color used by royalty.

Nebuchadnezzar II (the same one from the vision in Daniel chapter 2) seized Tyre from 586 to 573 BC, and when he finally captured it, he discovered that the majority of the people had moved to the island portion of the city. Tyre was a fortress, and had very tall walls. The name Tyre meant “the rock”. In 332 BC Alexander the Great conquered the island of Tyre, and in 323, after his death, Seleucus took control of Phoenicia. In 315, Tyre was destroyed once again by another of Alexander’s generals, Antigonus.

*** Biblical View ***: The city of Thyatira is mentioned only twice in the Bible. First, in the book of Acts, with the mention of Lydia, the seller of purple. And second, with the seven churches in Revelation. The city of Tyre, on the other hand, is mentioned several times. It was referred to as a fortified or fortress city (Joshua 19:29;  2 Samuel 24:7; Isaiah 23:4). We read several prophecies against Tyre, mostly about its destruction (Isaiah 23; Amos 1:9-10; Zechariah 9:3-4; Ezekiel 26:3-4; Ezekiel 26:7-9; Ezekiel 26:12; Ezekiel 27). The Bible also mentions Tyre and Sidon as a group (Matthew 11:21-22; Matthew 15:21; Joel 3:4). At one time, Jesus visited the region of Tyre and Sidon, and performed miracles there (Matthew 15:2; Mark 7:31). We also read a passage when Paul, Luke, and their companions stayed with the Christians in Tyre for seven days on their way to Jerusalem (Acts 21:2-6).

Many things connect Tyre and Thyatira. Both were commercial cities, main seller of the purple dye, and at some point they were both ruled by the same person. But, the strongest thing that connects Tyre and Thyatira is Jezebel. We read in the Bible how Jezebel divided the Old Testament church, and in Revelation we see how the Jezebel from Thyatira divided that church. In lesson #13, we learned about the different groups of false teachers that were spreading non-Christian philosophies from within the congregation. The Nicolaitans were present in the first and third churches, and the Balaamites were present in the third. In Thyatira, Jezebel is the one splitting the church, and she seems to have many followers. She is influencing the Christians to participate in the pagan customs, but most importantly, she is seducing the people with “foods” other than the Bread of Life, and with immoral worship that replaced the worship to the true God.

In order for us to even begin to understand the depth of the message Jesus is saying to the church in Thyatira, we need to understand the conflict that happened centuries earlier in the Old Testament. A conflict between the Truth of God, and the false doctrines of this pagan queen named Jezebel. The main theme back in Jezebel’s time and here in the letter to Thyatira is the same: truth and worship. We will discuss this more in detail in the study #20.

The truth was substituted with teachings belonging to the pagan culture. The false doctrines were being practiced and preached openly. As the majority of the congregation followed Jezebel from Thyatira, the church started to move in a different direction. The identity of the church changed as a consequence. It was no longer the original church founded on the principles established by Christ.

*** Overview ***: It is to the most politically, intellectually and culturally insignificant city that Jesus writes the longest of the seven letters. The church in Thyatira has a situation that makes them very different from the previous three churches. The majority of the church now follows the teachings of a false prophetess. Jezebel has become the face of the church. The new theology Jezebel and her children preach is a mix of some good works with the knowledge of "the deep things of Satan". This is such a dangerous and deadly combination that Jesus has to spell it out plainly: He will strike the counterfeit church so all the churches may know that He is the all-knowing God who brings on judgement upon everyone. Once again, Jesus reassures His faithful people, the minority on His side, that they will be victorious by keeping God's works and His truth. A crowd following Jesus one time asked Him: "[...] What must we do to do the works God requires? Jesus answered, 'The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.'" (John 6:28-29).

1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things says he that holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands;

2 I know your works, and your labor, and your patience, and how you can not bear them who are evil: and you have tried them who say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them liars:

3 And have endured, and have patience, and for my name's sake have labored, and have not fainted.

4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love.

5 Remember therefore from where you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto you quickly, and will remove your lampstand out of its place, except you repent.

6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

7 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches; To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

 

We will divide the letter to Ephesus in two. Part 1 will be dealing with a historic overview of Ephesus, and also with what the Bible tells us about this church. On Part 2, we will be looking at every aspect of the formatted letter.

 

PART 1

 

*** Historical setting ***: Ephesus was about 60 miles from Patmos, and was the most important city of the Roman Empire besides Rome. It was the capital of Asia Minor. The name of the city means “Desirable”. Ephesus was a very modern metropolis, and had one of the best harbors of the region. It also had a very large library (Library of Celsus), and an impressive theater that could sit 25,000 people (the Odeum). Historians estimate a population of up to 225,000 residents. Some of the amenities available were: water system throughout the city (advanced aqueduct system), indoor plumbing, heated pools in bath houses with heated floors, public restrooms with a type of flushing mechanism, cooling system (a form of air conditioner) for the most expensive homes, and more. The city was a powerful commercial and intellectual center. Perhaps the most important hallmark of the city was the temple of the pagan goddess of fertility Artemis of Ephesus (or Diana), who was worshiped throughout Asia (Acts 19:27). It is said that the temple of Artemis offered the right of asylum. That meant that any criminal reaching its perimeter of the temple before being arrested would be safe. Therefore, not only was the temple a deposit of extremely valuable artifacts, it was also the place of choice for outlaws. The temple of Artemis was not the only pagan temple. They also had a temple of Julius Caesar, a temple of Augustus, and a temple of Domitian. Pagan worship was very prominent in Ephesian culture. A number of citizens were involved in sorcery (Acts 19:19), and local businesses took advantage of such pagan beliefs and turned them into a strong source of income (Acts 19:23-27). Any threats to the trade associated with pagan worship would affect the overall economy of the city.

*** Biblical view ***: It is in the middle of this extremely pagan society that we find the church in Ephesus. On his brief first visit to Ephesus, when he was traveling from Corinth to Antioch, Paul went directly to the synagogue and preached to the Jews there. This first encounter was very positive, and they asked Paul to stay longer. Paul was unable to stay, but promised to return (Acts 18:21). He left his friends Aquila and Priscilla in charge of continuing the ministry. They were the starting point of the church in Ephesus, and the church met at their home (1 Corinthians 16:19). Aquila and Priscilla were also the ones who taught a Jesus-believing Jewish preacher named Apollos the complete picture of Christ’s gospel (Acts 18:24-28). Eventually, Paul did return to Ephesus. He spent over two years there, preaching to Jews and Greeks (Acts 19:10) and strengthening the church. When the Jews in the synagogue would not listen anymore, Paul moved his lessons to a lecture hall where he discussed the Word of God daily (Acts 19:9). Paul’s ministry was flourishing and soon the city had a bonfire of sorcery books that were worth a fortune (Acts 19:19). The growth of Christianity started to affect the local economy, and a silversmith named Demetrius brought together other trade members to discuss the decrease and impending crisis on the sale of Artemis souvenirs and shrines, and potential discrediting of their goddess (Acts 19:23-27). This debate grew to the point where they had to move it to the Odeum, and even then it almost reached a level where they could be accused of rioting. The confusion of the assembly had to be controlled by the city clerk (Acts 19:32-41).

Some time later, while in prison, Paul wrote a letter to the church in Ephesus, which today is the book of Ephesians in the Bible. In this letter, he tells them about the joy of unity and of relationships. This makes sense since the congregation in Ephesus was a mix of “Jews and Greeks”. Paul also commended their "faith in the Lord Jesus and [their] love for all God’s people” (Ephesians 1:15). In that letter, Paul wrote an important prayer, which was also a message to the Ephesians. Part of this prayer was very specific, and addressed the issue later described by John. We read in Ephesians 3:17-19: "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Then, in Ephesians 5:6-7, Paul warns the church: "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.” Paul ends the letter to the Ephesians by saying: "Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” (Ephesians 6:23-24).

In his later letter to Timothy, Paul feels the need to advise the church on a pressing issue. 1 Timothy 1:3-7 has a key message from Paul regarding the state of the church in Ephesus, and Paul is calling Timothy to help the Ephesian church: "As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm." Paul was concerned with the false teachers now coming from within the church. False ideas and behaviors began to permeate the congregation. He could be talking about the Nicolaitans, the group mentioned in Revelation 1:6.

*** The Nicolaitans ***: We see mention of a group called Nicolaitans in the writings of early Christian authors, such as Irenaeus and Hippolytus. According to them, the Nicolaitans were the followers of Nicolas of Antioch. He was a convert to judaism, and was chosen to be one of the seven deacons of the early church (Acts 6:5). Somehow, Nicolas, who was viewed as being "full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3), moved away from the truth and became the founder of heretic teachings. The church in Ephesus seemed to have, in general, rejected the teachings of the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:6), but the church in Pergamum seemed to have some members who supported the teachings of this group (Revelation 2:15). As we further read the message to Pergamum, we can see that the Nicolaitans are connected to the group of those “who hold the teachings of Balaam” (Revelation 2:14-15). Both groups were teaching in like manner things directly opposed to the true message of God. So let’s check the etymology of both names. Nicolas, from the Greek Nicolaos (nikaō + laos) means “conqueror of people”. And Balaam, from the Hebrew baal + am, means “to destroy” or “to swallow” people. In the church of Thyatira, we see yet another teacher who is leading God’s servants into false doctrines: Jezebel (Revelation 2:20). It is unlikely that there was a member in that church named Balaam or Jezebel. But we see Balaam and Jezebel in the Old Testament. So let’s look in the Old Testament and see what we can learn from their story, in order for us to understand the symbolism of this reference.

Balaam: Balaam was a non-Israelite unfaithful prophet of God. He was from Pethor in Aram Naharaim, Mesopotamia (Deuteronomy 23:4). Balak, king of Moab, hired Balaam to curse the Israelites while they were camping near Moab. Through divine intervention, Balaam was not able to curse them, and for 3 times blessed the Israelites instead (Numbers 23 and Numbers 24). Balak was furious. Since he could not curse them verbally, Balaam found another way to bring a curse to Israel. 2 Peter 2:15-16 tells us that Balaam “loved the wages of wickedness”. He "enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident”, and so "a plague struck the Lord’s people” (Numbers 31:16). The Peor incident is reported in Numbers 25:1-9, when the Moabite women seduced the Israelite men. They "began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods.” (Numbers 25:1-2). Now we can better understand Revelation 2:14-15, where it talks about those “who hold the teachings of Balaam”. His teachings were about enticing God’s people to break God’s law by worshiping idols and committing adultery. In Micah 6:5 we read that God is calling His people to never forget this episode with Balaam, so we "may know the righteous acts of the Lord”.

Jezebel: She was a Phoenician princess who married Ahab, king of northern Israel (1 Kings 16:29-33) around the time of the prophet Elijah. She worshiped Baal, and influenced her husband to abandon the true God. Ahab also started worshiping Baal (1 Kings 16:31), further promoting idolatry among the Israelites. Ahab’s actions after he turned to idolatry "did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him” (1 Kings 16:32-33;  1 Kings 21:25). At some point, Jezebel began killing the prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 18:4), and also threatened to kill the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 19:2). By deceiving, lying, and cheating, she worked to manipulate the ones around her, including her husband; and because of that, God brought disaster upon them (1 Kings 21:1-23). Now we can understand Revelation 2:20. Just as Balaam was the reason the Israelites involved themselves with idolatry and fornication, Jezebel was the reason why the Israelite king “sold himself to do evil” (1 Kings 21:25) and turned to idolatry. Ahab consequently became involved with all the rituals associated with pagan worship, and as king, led God’s people to behave the same way.

Throughout Asia Minor, the Roman Empire required that the people would pledge allegiance to the Emperor, recognizing his divinity. Also, the different trades were required to pay homage to their specific gods as part of their good business practices. It was hard being a Christian citizen or a Cristian business person and still remain separate from social pagan practices. They were faced with a choice: to remain faithful to the truth, or to pretend that social paganism doesn't affect one's spiritual life. The Nicolaitans were likely teaching the churches in Asia a modern version of Balaam and Jezebel’s pagan philosophies: compromising and adjusting the true doctrines of God in order to make dealing with their civic pagan duties more convenient and give the impression that such philosophies are not really conflicting with Gospel teachings. That in itself is an illusion, because no matter how much you twist and adapt the truth to justify wrong behavior, wrong behavior is still a sin, even when people lie to themselves in order to try and feel better about their choices.

*** Overview ***: We can see that Ephesus had its share of true prophets, incomplete preachers, and false teachers. From the establishment of the church, the members had to assess and react to what was being presented in the social and religious circles of their city. Aquila and Priscilla did this with Apollos, whose message even though true, was missing some key points. The church members also had to assess the teachings of sorcery books, and once they understood they were false, they didn’t think twice and burned them all. Timothy had to address the false teachers coming from within the church in order to restore love. This church was in serious danger of becoming just a group of people, like Paul said, who were confidently discussing things they actually didn’t know, and promoting a “meaningless talk”. By the time John started writing the letters, the Church in Ephesus had already grasped the concept of true doctrine and of how to recognize false teachers (Revelation 2:2). But it seems that Paul’s goal to restore love had not been reached (Revelation 2:4). They were not showing the "undying love” that Paul had mentioned to them before. As we can see, the love issue was not a new topic to them. They already knew that having a complete doctrine without love is the same as not having anything at all.

   
   
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