Revelation 2:18-29 ESV
20 ‘But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. 21 ‘I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. 22 ‘Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds.
Spoiler alert. This is not something to send your never-been-saved friends or family. This is not meant for seekers conversation. The following is for the Church. Jesus spoke these words to the church. OK- You’ve been warned.
Whose bondservants are getting led astray? God’s. Who will be thrown into great tribulation if they do not repent? God’s.
Pause. Think about that. Keep reading.
What we believe is an interesting mix of the Gospel and how we interpret these sacred words within our unique experience. While God’s Word definitely never changes (Ps 119:89, Nu 23:19, He 13:8, Jam 1:17), how we understand today what He said yesterday is a matter of interpretation. Church history proves this oft-ignored reality. We stand by a doctrine until it evolves within the next generation. What changed? Not the Gospel. For this reason, it is hugely important for us to attempt a return to the blank slate to understand Jesus’ words to this church at Thyatira.
When I was growing up, certain denominations claimed once a person prayed the prayer of salvation they were sealed for eternity (2 Cor 1:22). There was no way for them to not enter heaven- they were eternally secure. Initially, it makes sense… until we know someone who prayed that prayer but months or years later lives as if that prayer was never prayed (Mt 13:20-22). The initial response was that these loosely saved people would absolutely reach heaven, but would not experience God’s blessing on earth. Except, some were rich, popular deacons and wholly following immorality. So, a doctrinal revision was necessary.
Lately, denominations say the person who prayed this prayer but doesn’t live for Jesus was never saved. After all, you cannot lose what you never had. The cliché is familiar but is this what Jesus is suggesting to the church at Thyatira?
Even more recently, the downside is beginning to pick up traction. Think about it- when a friend finally crosses that line of faith and confesses the Lordship of Jesus, now we can’t tell them they are saved. Instead, we must say, “that was a great prayer and I’m sure you think you meant it but we won’t know until later whether or not you are a child of God.” Really? Actually, I once heard a Presbyterian minister (Tullian Tchividjian) say they didn’t call members brother or sister in their churches because you don’t really know.
St. John the beloved (who received this end-times revelation) boldly proves we can know who is God’s, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1Jn 3:10).
Seems straight forward enough and also echoes what Jesus was saying to Thyatira. Not the city- but the church there (I thought you needed a reminder).
People do say a prayer only to later renege on their promise. They do respond to the call of the Gospel and later reject it.
So, if we believe one can never lose salvation, experience forces us to say they were never saved. If we really believe this, we are then forced to deal with every convert as if maybe they aren’t saved. Our friends, our church family, even our children. Maybe I’m not really saved- or maybe my sons and daughters aren’t really saved?
Insane. In. Sane.
John’s vision of Jesus forces us to reconcile this reality independent of our own experience (by the way, this is always a good idea). God’s bondservants who are led astray and commit immoral acts without repentance will be thrown into tribulation. The rest of God’s bondservants who keep His deeds until the end will receive authority and will rule forever (Rev 2:24-28). The distinction is clear. Crystal.
I don’t pretend to think a simple blog can refute decades of church debate- I just want you to try and read the text without the baggage of any previous persuasion. There are brilliant minds on both sides of this conversation. There are also localized texts within the Gospel that seem to support both sides of this conversation. However, when our academia is positioned within the events of Revelation’s end-of-days church, only then can an applies to this day doctrine emerge. Only then can we frame a better faith.
I remember a little Pentecostal lady named Karen Wheaton singing in church when I was a young adult. She led blindly into the words I’ve got so much to thank God for… no music, no established key. Just her voice. Her perfect pitch was verified when the piano later came in and she filled the sanctuary with her booming version of For Every Mountain. At some point in that song, I remember standing up with no regard for those still seated. Nothing mattered. Just Jesus. I wanted longer arms- to reach heaven. I wanted a more perfect voice- to sing His praise. I wanted to be better. Yet, in that moment, it was enough. I didn’t need anything more than a desire to exalt my Lord. Jesus. Master. Savior.
We get so hung up on straw man arguments.
I’ve never heard anyone actually say- pray this prayer and then go on living any way you want to. Nothing matters. I also have never heard anyone say we must be perfect. I don’t think anyone is suggesting our works are enough or are unnecessary. But somewhere in the conversation, the battle lines were drawn and we calcified doctrinal ideas that offend more than teach. Here’s the deal- Jesus is Lord must mean something daily. Our doctrine should teach us to live for Jesus. To sacrifice for Jesus. To stand for Jesus. Because, apparently, it is possible to experience salvation and yet not endure to the end.
Anything less is to exchange the glory of being a child of God for the fleeting glory of being a child of Jezebel.