Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
This is part of larger article dealing with Jesus’ letters to the seven churches as found in the Book of Revelations. If you haven’t read part one yet, I highly recommend doing so before starting to read here. You can find it by clicking on the following link: Something for Everyone (Part 1).
Alright, now then, where were we? Oh yes…
The Church in Thyatira
-The church in Thyatira was growing well in the faith.
To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first (Revelation 2:18-19).
-The big problem the Thyatira(n?) church was facing was that in their quest to continually become more active in their walk with Christ, they became increasingly willing to listen to every and any teaching, even if it was false, which could lead them into sin.
Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols (Revelation 2:20).
What This Means for us
-It is really easy for an enthusiastic Christian to be misled. This isn’t something to be ashamed of, but just something to watch out for. The people in the church at Thyatira were actually doing a good job as believers, they were trying as hard as they could to get close to God and keep his commands. The problem was that since they were so God-oriented, they were unable to catch when unholy spirits started sneaking in (since they were crediting God with everything). John wrote to believers, warning them, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). As believers we want to please God and do his will, and sometimes we’ll accept anything that sounds like it’s from God, but we have to be a little careful. John teaches us how to interpret messages we may receive from varied spirits,
This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the anti-christ, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world (1 John 4:2-3).
Obviously, if the devil is using a vision or a dream to turn you against God, he’s going to undermine what the Bible says about his Son, Christ Jesus. But be careful, it is a very common thing in churches for a member to receive some sort of special dream about others and believe this to be some sort of prophecy from God, which of course they want to eagerly report. However, this supposed prophecy can do more harm than good. This is not a new trick of the devil; he’s been using it for a long time. Even way back in Jeremiah’s time, false spirits were deceiving the people through their prophets. God was upset by this then too,
I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, “I had a dream! I had a dream!” How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? (Jeremiah 23:25-26)
We might read the stories in Genesis or Daniel in which dreams play a major role in the course of someone’s life and then get excited when we have some sort of meaningful (or at least complex) dream. But the Lord tells us to put the brakes on that sort of thought pattern before it gets out of hand,
“Let the prophet who had a dream tell his dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the Lord. “Is not my word like a fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:28-29)
There’s nothing wrong with sharing dreams with your friends (though not always appropriate), however, do not confuse a dream with something meaningful. God gives us the best tool to decide what is divine and what is not: the Word of God. If ever you think you are receiving a special dream from God, revelation, or prophetic voice; demand Scripture. And if that spirit gives you Bible verses, check the context to make sure it’s accurate according to God’s Word. And even then, be careful how you present it (this is why I make sure to note right at the top of the page that I am a layman and have no real training in this sort of thing).
Now the other problem that the church in Thyatira was facing was that they were following a false teacher- that is to say that they were listening to someone who was receiving false revelations. In their eagerness and naivety, they welcomed all teachings without testing it against their own knowledge of the Word of God. This, in turn, was causing the people to fall into sin. The Lord takes this thing pretty seriously, as it can lead people away from the glory of walking with Christ and can also make the overall church look bad. The Law states,
If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your god is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul (Deuteronomy 13:1-3).
As Christians, our foundation is Christ, and the only guaranteed true testimony of Christ is the Word of God, our Bible. Anything that is contradictory to that is not from God, for he is perfect and therefore contradiction is not in his nature. Keep in mind, even if some sort of fortune-teller or astrologer seems to be spot on, it’s a test that God has allowed, and we are to stay on track with the Word of God rather than the words of men. The passage goes on to say that upon identifying a false prophet you should stone them immediately, even if said person is your wife or other close relative. God takes this stuff pretty seriously. When I think of this sort of thing, I often think of the Christian-esq spin-offs and cults. I am sure that most Mormons, Jehovah’s witnesses, and cult members fully want to serve the Lord and worship him rightly; however, their leaders are false guides, adding to the Word of God (which is banned in Revelation 21:18-19) and sometimes not even allowing their members to read and interpret the Bible at home. The Catholic Church used to act in such a way long ago, but when the Bible finally got into the people’s hands, the leaders were exposed for going against the Word in some areas and the church had to go through some major overhauls to fix things.
It’s interesting to note though, despite having a pretty serious charge against them, Jesus goes very easy on this church in his letter. After talking about striking down the false prophet himself, Jesus continues,
Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold on to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold on to what you have until I come (Revelation 2:24-25).
Jesus tells the people of Thyatira just to keep doing their best. Why? Consider this: the people of Thyatira acted out of innocence and ignorance. They assumed that everything came from God, and therefore welcomed false doctrine without checking the fine print. Although they were in error, they did so with an open heart, desperately seeking the words of the Holy Spirit. This is a very admirably quality, especially for what sounds like an experienced church such as Thyatira. We need to keep our hearts open, and when we make a mistake or stumble to just keep going (but be more aware of what caused us to fall last time). The people were still soft and open to God, which makes them extremely useful to him. Don’t let trouble harden your hearts, but y’know…make sure you check Scripture whenever something religious gets thrown your way.
The Church in Sardis
-It’s a church, or at least they look like a church. And they have a good reputation.
To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead (Revelation 3:1).
-There are some very devout members.
Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy (Revelation 3:4).
-Jesus couldn’t even make it past the first verse without citing their problem: the church is dead inside.
Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sigh of my God. Remember therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you (Revelation 3:2-3).
What This Means for us
-A dead church is a sad sight to behold. You know what a dead church looks like, members who are just there because their parents went there, nobody wants to volunteer, no impact being made on the community, no lives being dedicated to Christ. It’s not good. And what makes it worse is that the church in Sardis used to be active. Jesus makes a special point to note that they have a good reputation behind them. A church can die any number of ways, but there are things that you should make sure of are happening in your church. First and foremost, the church is a place for the Word of God. If your pastor isn’t using the Bible to drive his or her sermons, and if the staff isn’t consulting God before making decisions, a church is going in the wrong direction. Along with that is the belief that the Word of God is true and accurate. I know that it’s hard these days with evolution always in the news and in the schools, but we can’t give up our doctrine just because it seems too archaic to fit with the modern world. Church leaders, if you’re wavering in your faith, take a break from whatever contribution you’re making to the church and get back into the Bible. A church also needs to make sure that they always keep Jesus in the foreground. When “God” becomes a faceless entity, then a church may as well be any other religion in the world. What separates the church and the world is Jesus, and his blood sacrifice for our sins. Never let that get out of the minds of the other members. Another thing that we need to remember is that church is a place of worship. So make sure that the worship of Christ never falls away.
Now the church in Sardis had a few members who really were true believers in Christ. If you find yourself sympathizing with them as you watch your church die around you, do something about it! Be overzealous for God; be silly if you have to. When he was trying to re-ignite belief in the Lord among the Israelites, King David actually danced in his underwear before the Ark of the Covenant (though I recommend you keep your clothes on). This lead to one of my favorite come-backs in the whole Bible,
When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”
David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel- I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor” (2 Samuel 6:20-22).
David didn’t care how he looked because he was reveling in his relationship to the Lord. He let his joy come out to be seen by the people, so that they too might bask in God’s presence. Even Paul tried to show his enthusiasm (though this was much more difficult since he was doing so through the pen). It’s to that aim we read in Galatians 6:11 “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” Paul couldn’t dance in his words, but he pulled a John Hancock and wrote big and bold in his excitement. I actually met a man who embodied this spirit. He was a 90-something year old retired pastor and he danced. This man sang and danced down the street, and didn’t take more than maybe a minute into the conversation before he had maybe three Bibles out in his hands (one in his native language, a Hebrew Old Testament, and a Greek New Testament). He couldn’t stop talking about how awesome God was, and he never stopped dancing. That man left an impact on me, and I’m sure that when he was preaching he left an impact on his church. We need people who are willing to come off a little silly for Christ; because if you’re too cool now, the next generation might not understand just how amazing walking with Christ can be.