The Temptation to Tolerate
In the book of Revelation, we read of Jesus in all His glory, appearing to John in a vision and giving him seven messages to write down and give to seven of His churches. The year was approximately 95 A.D. and these early Christian churches were in the area of what is now modern Turkey. We can read in our Bibles in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, just what Jesus said to each of these seven churches. Jesus is the Head of His Church (His followers) and I believe these messages and warnings are for all of His Church, then and now.
How would we feel if our church received a letter or message sent directly from Jesus? We would probably be very excited, and feel good when He praised us, but maybe not so good when He rebuked us. And in His letters, Jesus rebuked two of the churches for being tolerant. And for tolerating false teachers and not throwing them out of the church. Are we, His modern Church sometimes too tolerant today when false teachings threaten our church?
Haven’t we learned that being tolerant is a good thing? We know we should be polite and take our turn and tolerate other people when we are in a crowd, or when we are driving on the road. We know we need to forgive others and try to understand other viewpoints. Be open minded, inclusive and flexible. As followers of Christ we are called to be patient, kind, loving and merciful even with those who differ with us. But our tolerance ends when we face evil. Jesus rebukes and judges these two churches for being tolerant of the false teachers among them and for allowing them to harm the faith of the believers in their churches.
Let’s read some of what Jesus said to the church in Pergamum in Revelation 2:12-17. Jesus introduces Himself this way: “These are the words of Him who has the sharp, two- edged sword.” His sword separates good from evil and separates those who are spiritually alive from those who are dead. Then, Jesus’ letter praises the Pergamum church for holding fast to His Name amidst persecution. But Jesus also rebukes the church for tolerating false teachings. (Revelation 2:14-15)
Terrible heresies had been allowed to come into the Pergamum church. False teachers had joined the church and had even been given leadership positions! These false teachers were teaching the church members that sexual immorality was good. And worshipping other gods in other religions was also good. The Pergamum church was allowing their church members to be taught to be tolerant of sexual immorality and idolatry. New believers in Christ were being led astray.
Jesus is very angry, and He calls for the Pergamum church to repent or He will war against them in righteous judgment. (Revelation 2:16) Jesus will reward the conquerors (those who resist) with hidden manna and a white stone with a new name. Jesus is telling the Pergamum church and all Christian churches that when we take a stand for truth, we will receive a conqueror’s reward from Jesus.
Now let’s read some of what Jesus said to the church in Thyatira in Revelation 2:18-29. Jesus introduces Himself this way: “These are the words of the Son of God whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” (Revelation 2:18) Jesus goes on to praise the church in Thyatira for their love, faith, service and patient endurance. But then Jesus harshly rebukes the church for tolerating a false teacher, Jezebel, in their church. Jezebel was promoting sexual sins right there at the altar!
Jesus calls for the church in Thyatira and for this woman to repent and stop spreading this sin and evil in their church. If they do not repent and stop this evil, great suffering, disease and death will come to all those who follow this woman’s teaching and indulge in her sexual immorality. This will cause many little children to die, Jesus’ letter says. Sadly, innocent little ones often suffer for their parents’ sins. But all who conquer and keep Jesus’ Word until the end, Jesus promises that they will be given authority over the nations. Holding fast to Jesus and not to false teachers leads to true ministry forever.
In these two letters from Jesus, along with many other Bible passages, we learn that God is a jealous God and He does not tolerate His children straying away from Him and worshipping other gods or other religions. (Exodus 20:3-6: the 1st and 2nd Commandment of the 10 Commandments) He is the only One we are to ever worship. We are to be His faithful witness.
And God does not allow unrepented sexual immorality to go unpunished. These sins, among others, are not to be tolerated in the church or there will be consequences. We are to resist temptation by standing firm in Christ against heresies. Tolerating false teachers in the church is often the first step toward disobedience. We must pray for wisdom and boldness and hate what our Savior hates.
Jesus tells both churches not to tolerate evil, even though the societies they live in will persecute them if they don’t tolerate it. But Jesus calls them - and us- to hang on and hold fast to the Truth. Jesus promises rewards to those who stay true to Him – the hidden manna and the white stone with a new name are His promised rewards. And He also promises those who refuse to tolerate false teaching that they will have authority over the nations.
Bible scholars suggest that Jesus is our hidden manna. Our reward. He is the Bread of Life. If we eat of Him, we live forever. And the new name written down in Glory for us may mean that in heaven we are given new faith and new powers and talents, new strengths and new work along with our new eternal body. And Jesus tells the church in Thyatira that those who stay true to Him will be given “authority over the nations.” If we are faithful over a few things here on earth, He will make us ruler over many things in Glory.
Jesus is telling His followers “You can do this. You can be My light in a dark world.” When we stay true to Him through persecution and sometimes even death, we become conquerors with Him. And then we reign with Him!
“…If we have died with Him (Jesus), we will also live with Him: if we endure, we will also reign with Him… (2 Timothy 2:11-12a) .