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Thyatira:  The Counterfeit Church

Rev. 2:18-29


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In the 1700’s there lived a mighty evangelist that was greatly used of God to shake this country…his name was George Whitfield.


Years before, at the age of 16, he came under deep conviction for his sin.  He recognized he was a sinner, and that someday his sin would drag him to hell.  He knew that something had to be done about his sin, and so he began a process of trying to appease God / gain God’s favor.


He thought, perhaps if I go to church more often, God will overlook my sin, so he began attending mass often, up to 3 times a day!  He still had no peace.  He said, maybe if I fast, deny my body food, and did so up to 4 days a week.  But he still had no peace, and sensed no forgiveness.


Then one day, Whitfield met a couple of brothers named John and Charles Wesley.  They explained to Whitfield that salvation is totally by grace, thru faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ…that it’s not man by works trying to reach up to God, but that it’s God in mercy reaching down to man.  For the first time in his life, he learned the truth that salvation cannot be “earned” by attending mass, taking the sacraments, fasting, catechism, confession, offerings, or hail Mary’s.


George Whitfield that day received the free gift of salvation and became a true Christian.  “True Christian” I say, because the world today considers you a Christian at the drop of a hat, w/ hardly any requirements.  You’re a Christian to society today if only you believe God exists…and the media considers you a Christian if you’re not a Jew or Muslim!

George Whitfield went for years to a church that believed in Jesus Christ, but he wasn’t saved until he believed on Jesus Christ!

(Js. 2:19)

19Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.


Question: Where did G. Whitfield get the idea in the first place--that he could earn salvation by ritual or by works? / that he could appease God, or earn God’s favor?


He got that idea from an organization called:  The Roman Catholic Church.  Now, we are not Catholic bashers.  There are many wonderful people there.  I know many saved people of that genre. 


This sermon has a lot of potential…potential to be misunderstood.  Please understand the heart this comes from.  If you’ll hear God’s heart in this message, then the potential of this message is to bless, and to work powerfully.


Joke—don’t be like the guy who went to Alaska to be a pioneer.  He went to the game warden for advice / “to be a real pioneer, you’ve got to skin a polar bear, and then kiss an Eskimo woman right on the lips” / he came back the next day bleeding and bruised, one arm hanging by a thread / said, “where’s that Eskimo woman I’ve got to skin?”


Please hear out the content of this sermon, before you are quick to judge.  Please listen on purpose, and listen for God’s voice and heart in it.


Remember, these are real churches that existed in John’s day, and which speak of real churches today, and also symbolize entire periods of church history.  Thyatira represents church history from 500-1500 A.D.  And certainly the church at Thyatira exists today in the form of the modern Roman Catholic Church, as well as other churches which teach salvation by works.


When we looked at Ephesus a couple of weeks ago, we saw one of the Lord’s churches that was losing its devotion.  They had correct Biblical doctrine, and they did all the right things, but began to lose their first love, they began to work for God out of the motive of duty, and not devotion.  Still, they were one of the Lord’s churches, and they had a weakness, as even the best of churches do.  But their weakness was the exception, not the rule.


We looked last week at Pergamos, another of the Lord’s churches, a good church, w/ good doctrine and a good reputation for the most part, but some of their number were being won over by compromise.  And our God loved them enough to correct them and call them to repentance. Still, they were one of the Lord’s churches, and they had a weakness, as even the best of churches do.  But their weakness was the exception, not the rule.


But as we look at Christ’s letter to Thyatira, we see weakness was not the exception at all.  Jesus doesn’t speak to them as sons.  This is not one of His churches, although certainly there were SOME true believers there.  The true believers in Thyatira WERE the exception!


Thyatira represents church history from 500-1500 A.D.  This was a time in church history when the Roman Catholic Church nearly strangled the life out of Christ’s true church…the dark ages...the traditions of men took the place of the truth of God…the Pope’s decrees replaced the doctrine of God…sacraments were substituted for salvation…rituals were replacing redemption.


The outline is simple:


The Lord’s appreciation for this church / accusation against this church / admonition to this church


1.     Appreciation

v. 18-19   6 positives recognized

Works / Charity / service


While works won’t save a person, they are important.  Right after Eph. 2:8, 9 tells us salvation is by grace and not of works, v. 10 says, “Ye are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus UNTO good works!


James said, show me your faith w/out works, and I’ll show you my faith, BY my works!

And while works are not the root of our salvation, they’re supposed to be the fruit of our salvation.  Jesus said, A fig tree WILL bear figs…and if you’re truly saved, there will be some works as a result!


Who does more good works than the Catholics?  Not us!  That’s for sure.  The entire belief system is founded on works, and good works of charity they surely do, and put us to shame in the process as they minister to the hurting, the hospitalized, the starving, the widows and orphans, and historically, even the unborn!  The monasteries of the dark ages were the forerunners to what modern-day hospitals have become!  During the plague called black death of the 1300’s, over 124,000 catholic monks died while ministering to the sick.  And to say the Catholic Church does community service is a gross understatement.



There were some people of faith who stood out in the Catholic Church of the Dark Ages…men like Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, John Huss, and Savonarola.  These were true men of faith, some of which lost their lives for standing against their church for the sake of the truth.


Peter Waldo was persecuted because he stood against heresy.  Driven from his home in France, he was forced to live in hiding, which he did in northern Italy. 

John Wycliffe spoke out against the Pope that he was not infallible.  After his death, the church actually dug up his bones and burned them, and most of his followers were extinguished by the church.


John Huss was branded as a heretic and burned at the stake.  He said, on one occasion, “I will obey the Pope so far as his commands agree w/ the doctrine of Jesus Christ, but when I see otherwise, I will not obey the Pope, even though you burn my body.”  The Catholic Church said, good idea, and did so!


Savonarola, in the 1400’s, preached against the evils of the Catholic Church in cathedrals that were full to overflowing, and for his stand he was imprisoned, he was hanged, and his body was burned in the city square of Florence as a warning and deterrent to others.


Jesus said, speaking of those exceptions, “I know thy faith…”



This is endurance during tough times, difficult trials.  These weren’t just fair weather church attendees.  They were devout, and wouldn’t you be, if you were depending upon your faithfulness to get you to heaven?!


Again, works


Their works evidently increased as time went by, they grew in this area thru the years.  Jesus put so much emphasis on their works, as He recognized them, because THEY put so much emphasis on works.  Jesus acknowledges their works, and doesn’t speak against them.


So Jesus shows His appreciation, now look at His…


Accusations against them:

v. 20        A woman preacher came into this church, calling herself a prophetess.  The Lord calls her Jezebel, although I doubt it was her real name, given its OT connotation to a very wicked queen w/ a bad reputation.  I doubt if any 1st century parents flipped thru their baby book and said, “Oh, Jezebel, that has a nice ring to it!” 


v. 20 says she taught the people to commit fornication

Look at v. 22

Here it uses the word “adultery”.


I don’t believe the Lord is using these terms in their usual sexual context.  Sometimes scripture uses such terms to talk about idolatry, the worshipping of idols.

Like in the OT when Israel became involved in idolatry…the Lord said, you’ve gone a whoring after other gods.


Now look at the end of v. 20… “Eat things sacrificed unto idols.”


She was teaching idolatry.  And as the flames of persecution fired up around this time toward the end of the 1st century, Jezebel didn’t just suggest a compromise of convictions as was offered to Pergamos in this morning’s message, she offered a compromise of doctrine…Rome was coming for this church, and Jezebel was saying, you can save your neck if you’ll just add these pagan gods to your usual worship.  That’s spiritual adultery!  It was a spiritual seduction…and the word seduce means, “a fundamental departure from the truth.”


Here’s some historical facts that should astound you:


In A.D. 590, the pope was formally recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, as Jesus Christ’s co-ruler on earth.  The pope said, “I am the judge of all, I am judged by none.”


Why was this done?  Remember, the Romans were caught up in emperor worship.  The Catholic Church said, you want to worship a man, we’ll give you one!  It was a carryover from Roman emperor worship.


In A.D. 709, the practice of kissing the pope’s feet was officially accepted…a custom of the Romans, who were used to kissing the feet of their emperor.  It is ironic to me that Catholics claim that the Apostle Peter was the first pope.  Only on one occasion in the Bible did anyone even attempt to bow at Peter’s feet, it was Cornelius in Acts 10…and Peter would have nothing to do w/ it, saying, “Get up off your knees and stand to your feet…I myself also am a man.”


In A.D. 1074, marriage was forbidden for priests, even though the Bible says that the church’s overseer should be a husband and should marry rather than burn.  In blatant disregard to what the word of God teaches, it was declared that the priest should be celibate, and should wear long, flowing robes…again, continuations of the practices of the pagan Roman priests, as well as the occult.  And priests in those days were known for their sexual promiscuity, although single…and if you’ve watched the news lately, you can see that has not changed.


In 1090, rosary beads were invented, reducing prayer to an empty ritual.


In 1190 began the sale of “indulgences”.  Now you could pay the priest to pray your loved one out of “purgatory”, after they died.  And the saying went, “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs”.  A tremendous fundraiser, I’m told.


In 1215 the doctrine of transubstantiation came into belief in the Catholic Church…that is the belief that the bread and the wine become the actual, literal blood of Christ, not just a symbol…that’s a blasphemous belief that stands in direct contrast to Hebrews teaching of Christ’s sacrifice: once for all!  When you crucify the son of God afresh again and again, Sunday after Sunday at the communion table, that’s not just error…that’s blasphemy!  Interestingly, the very name Thyatira means “a continual sacrifice”.


In 1215, the confession of sins to a human priest was established.  What does the Bible say about that?  My Bible says the veil of the temple was torn in half when Jesus died on that cross…signifying the priesthood of the believer…we could now go directly into the holy of holies, unto the throne of grace.  My Bible says there is ONE MEDIATOR between God and man, the man Christ Jesus!


In 1229, the Bible was placed on the index of forbidden books.  It was declared to be illegal for Catholics to read it.  They were told, “The priest will share all you need to know.”


And just as Jezebel in the OT persecuted and killed the true prophets of God, the Roman Church in the 13th century instituted the Inquisition…as men were hired by the Catholic church to hunt down and kill heretics (anyone who did not hold to Catholic dogma) Those who refused to worship the pope, to declare him infallible, to kiss his feet, to worship Mary, to confess to the priest, were hunted down and murdered by the thousands, and the tens of thousands.


In 1438, the doctrine of purgatory was made “official” by the pope.  Though they had believed in its existence for hundreds of years, now it was official! 


It was in the early 1500’s that the doctrine of the worship of Mary was propagated…a revival of the female god worship of Rome.  They pronounced Mary absolutely sinless, and crowned her the queen of heaven. 


In 1545, church tradition was officially placed on an equal plane w/ the Holy Scriptures, establishing what is known as Catholic dogma.  They said, “Thus saith the pope”, rather than thus saith the Lord.


I could go on and on w/ other details, but let’s just sum it up with the words of H. A. Ironside, pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago of last century.  He said, “Roman Catholicism is Christianity, Judaism, and heathenism all joined together.”


The dark ages went on for a long period of time…over 1,000 years…look at v. 21


In an eerie sense, those who follow the unbiblical, works salvation teachings, and the damnable doctrines of the Thyatira church are reserved unto judgment…


v. 22-23   They’ll be judged according to their works, and found wanting!  Notice the beginning of v. 23 “Kill with death”, a reference to the 2nd death, when death and hell are cast alive in the lake of fire.


In chapter 17 we learn more about this harlot, which is the one-world church.  That chapter tells the location of the one-world church…

9And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.


You tell me, what is the only city in the world well known for being built upon seven hills?  (Rome)


If you can hear the voice of this preacher right now, whether here in this auditorium, or on recording, and you are a part of this man-made, devil inspired monstrosity…I implore you to get out of it, because judgment is coming! 


So we’ve seen the Lord’s accusations against Thyatira, look finally at His admonition:

v. 24        This letter was an eye-opener to some good people who were caught up in this movement…as I’m sure it’s an eye opener to many of you, and will be to some who hear this message online.  A great majority of modern day Catholics don’t really know what their church believes.  Most Catholics are Catholics because mom and dad were…tradition…a family religion going back many years.  For this reason there’s a name for Catholics who pick up their Bible and study it for themselves…Protestants!  Confronted w/ the truth of God’s Word, their religion is refuted in full, and with a vengeance!  Let’s read on…


v. 25-29   Basically, this false doctrine can be overcome.  A Catholic can get saved!  How?  The only way any of us can, by trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. 


The Catholics have their books of prayers…allow me to give you one I wish was included, it’s a prayer of salvation that anyone, any Catholic can pray right now and be saved…there’s no exact words in this prayer, but there’s a Biblical theme to it:  Just pray something like this:


Dear God, I’ve known for a long time that I am a sinner, and for years I’ve believed that You died on the cross and rose again.  But today, I realize for the first time that salvation is dependant completely on Your sacrifice, and not mine.  I’ve done good works, but I know now that they cannot save.  I ask You to save my soul.  In faith I turn to You as my only hope.  I receive Your free gift of salvation by Your grace.  There’s nothing I can do to deserve salvation.  I believe your Word, the Bible, and I now receive you as my Savior.”


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