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Jezebel Reference in Revelation|
Q. Can you explain to me what is meant by the passage in Revelation 2:20 about the prophetess Jezebel? I'd like to know what that means to us in the church today because many teachers say the "spirit of Jezebel" is infecting the modern church. Thank you.
Let's look at a contemporary translation of this passage:
"But I have this complaint against you. You are permitting that woman - that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet - to lead my servants astray. She teaches them to commit sexual sin and to eat food offered to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to turn away from her immorality.
Therefore, I will throw her on a bed of suffering, and those who commit adultery with her will suffer greatly unless they repent and turn away from her evil deeds.
I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches out the thoughts and intentions of every person. And I will give to each of you whatever you deserve" (Revelation 2:20-23, NLT).
Real Person or Not
No one knows if the name "Jezebel" used in this passage is an actual person in the Thyatira church who is similar to the Old Testament Jezebel, or if the name Jezebel is a "title" for an actual woman in Thyatira. Some theologians even suspect that "Jezebel" stands for a cultic faction within the church at Thyatira.
But, either way the example of the Old Testament Jezebel is one where an ethically challenged woman led Israel deeply into Baal worship and sorcery (1 Kings 16:31-34, 21:25-26, and 2 Kings 9:22). These sins were a capital offense punishable by death.
In the Old Testament Jezebel "is introduced as a Phoenician princess, the daughter of King Ethobaal of Tyre. Her father was the king of the Phoenician empire. Jezebel marries King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom (i.e. Israel during the time when ancient Israel was divided into Israel in the north and Judah in the south).
She turns Ahab away from Yahweh and toward the worship of the Phoenician god, Baal. Ahab and Jezebel permit temples of Baal to operate in Israel, and the pagan religion receives royal patronage. Furthermore, the queen uses her control over Ahab to lead the Hebrews into idolatry, sexual immorality and subjects them to tyranny"
(Wikipedia 2009, 1).
The final story about Jezebel's wickedness occurs when King Ahab, her husband, wants to own a vineyard right next to his palace. The problem is that the vineyard belongs to Naboth. Ahab sulks and pouts and refuses to eat because he can not convince Naboth to give up his inheritance.
In response Queen Jezebel arranges things so that a procedure used to kill Naboth for his vineyard technically fits a law in Deuteronomy 17:5-6 (Ryrie 1996, 569). Two other witnesses or "scoundrels" testify against Naboth showing that Naboth has "blasphemed God and the king" (1 Kings 21:9). So he is stoned to death outside the city. His sons, too, are killed so that no successor of Naboth can seek to undo the illegal land seizure (NKJV Study Bible 2007, 726).
Punishment of Ahab & Jezebel
For Ahab's persistent idolatry and demonstration of his lack of love for his neighbor, the prophet Elijah declares:
"Behold, I will bring calamity on you. I will take away your posterity, and will cut off from Ahab every male in Israel, both bond and free"... (1 Kings 21:21, NKJV).
Scripture declares that..."Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him" (1 Kings 16:33). "Of Jezebel also has the LORD spoken, saying, 'The dogs shall eat Jezebel in the district of Jezreel" (21:23).
In many ways the Jezebel of Revelation does the same kind of things to the church at Thyatira as the Old Testament Jezebel did to Israel. This church had fallen into a habit of tolerating sin, apostasy, idolatry, sexual immorality and participated in idolatrous communal feasts. In other words, the Thyatira church became married to the world. This was so disturbing that our Lord threatened to kill some of these Christians (Rev 2:23).
Lydia & her Family
The church at Thyatira may have been founded by Lydia, a business woman who made purple fabrics and had converted to Christ under Paul while she was engaged in business transactions in Philippi (Acts 16:14-15). We also learn from Luke that her entire family converted to Christianity. So it is possible that Lydia and her family became the first members of the Thyatira church.
No "Dating" a Church
Later, however, the church became influenced by the spirit of Jezebel. In Paul's day one could not simply change churches and attend another down the block or in another city - something we sometimes call "dating" churches, today. Travel was difficult. So the true believers at Thyatira had to coexist with the bad influences creeping into their church.
Guilds - Labor Unions
Several Bible commentators note that Thyatira had numerous guilds in the city. Guilds were similar to our labor unions today. People from differing trades would get together to decide "basic wage scales and other work-oriented issues, much as a union does today. If a Christian didn't want to belong to a guild, he would find it difficult to get a job" (MacArthur 1986, 4).
Monkey See/Monkey Do
MacArthur notes that these guilds were social groups. If you belonged to a guild the chances are good that you did everything they did. The problem is that this might include participating in their communal feasts, their sacrifices and their orgies. As a result Christians probably stayed away from the guilds.
"I imagine that Jezebel may have prompted the Christians on a commercial basis. She may have even suggested, 'How are we going to win the world unless we join the guilds?' Many people joined them. As a result, guilds probably brought sin, idol worship, and immorality into the church" (MacArthur 1986, 4).
Today's "Wimpy" Churches
Is this kind of influence present in today's churches? I think it is possible. For example, we see churches whose members congregate and value each other for their "business" contacts! They call it "networking" through church associations. They don't even try to deny it. Is this the spirit of Jezebel? I think so...
Today we note many emerging churches watering down the gospel message so that they can appeal to "seekers." They de-emphasize clear doctrine and the salvation message out of fear that unbelievers may reject the church and go elsewhere. Is this the spirit of Jezebel? I think so...
Today we see extremely wealthy pastors and their wives frequenting television shows such as Larry King or Oprah Wimphrey. Many publicly deny the Lord and His exclusive claim, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).
One pastor who preaches about having "your best life now" even recently denied the Lord on Larry King and then turned around to defend his reasons why he "should" deny the Lord on Christian television so as not to "offend" skeptics! Imagine! Is this the spirit of Jezebel? I would think so...
Pastor MacArthur calls these churches and their pastors, "Tolerant Sentimentalists." "These people constantly preach a meaningless, tolerant sentimentalism and call it love. But love never soothes sin.
True love says, 'With tears in my eyes I tell you that without Jesus Christ, you're on your way to hell. ...It doesn't say, 'We will take you into the fellowship like you are.' That's not love; that's sentimentalism. Without sound doctrine, love is a joke.
You can tell your child, 'I love you; do what you want,' but that isn't love. If you love your child, you will say, 'I love you, but now I have to spank you,' when you need to." ...The essence of love is a balance between love and sound doctrine. The church at Thyatira had love but no sound doctrine"(1986, 5).
The Thyatira church promoted sexual immorality and gross sin. We tend to think we are far removed from this today. But, many churches have involved themselves in things like promoting nudist camps, offensive dancing and worshipping a body-beautiful cult of diet and exercise - right in the churches and on Christian television. Other churches neglect to provide adequate supervision for teens and young adults and turn church affairs into party and drinking affairs! Could this be the spirit of Jezebel? I think so...
The Temple of the Holy Spirit
Because sexual sin is a direct sin against the body - which is the temple of the Holy Spirit - God always deals harshly with immorality. The apostle Paul warns, "Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?" (2 Cor 6:18-19, NASB).
In 1 Corinthians 5:5 Paul tells us to "deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." Plainly, God may kill Christians who indulge in gross sexual immorality. It is nothing to fool around with!
This doesn't mean that God may put to death unbelievers for gross immorality - they are not held to the same standards until after they die. But, judgment does begin in the church in the here and now:
"For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?" (1 Peter 4:17, NASB).
Casting onto a Sickbed
So it shouldn't surprise us that God warns the Thyatira church he will throw its immoral members onto a sickbed, into great tribulation, and that He may "strike her children dead" (Rev 2:20-23, ESV). In ancient Rome people didn't sit on chairs or the floor. They lay on beds. So in essence God is telling this church that since you like beds so much I'll throw you into a sick bed of illness and tribulation! (MacArthur 1986, 7)
The Old Testament Jezebel had set up temples to Baal everywhere. Theologian Donald Barnhouse notes that these wicked priests of Baal were horrid sex perverts! (MacArthur 1986, 6). Finally, in response the Lord had Jezebel shoved out of a window and eaten by dogs (2 Kings 9:30-37). There's probably nothing lower than that in Old Testament times. The "scum of the earth" was called a "dog" in ancient Hebrew. You couldn't get much worse.
Therefore, church members patterning themselves in ways that line up with the offenses of Jezebel of the Old Testament are the lowest scum of the earth! Those who live like her are the worst offenders.
In Jezebel's final, disgraceful act she twisted and used existing laws to swindle Naboth out of his lovely vineyard and to get him killed. Although it is hard to imagine a church engaging in such practices today, perhaps we might consider the moral dilemma facing the conservative wing of Episcopalian churches. Those factions who take a stand against gay priests and wish to break-off from denominational influences are threatened with losing their properties. Perhaps these and other situations like them might risk embracing a Jezebel spirit in their churches.
"I Know your Works"
Many times throughout the seven letters to the churches in the first three chapters of Revelation, God declares, "I know your works, I know your deeds"...He then follows by telling churches those things they are doing well and from what deeds they must repent. It's clear that deeds or works matter to the Lord.
Grace Cancels Accountability?
We may think that Christians get off "scott free" with "cheap grace." But, this is not true. Yes, those saved through faith by God's grace go to heaven (Eph 2:8). But, clearly we will not all be equal in heaven. Some will be rewarded with great responsibilities - others may suffer shame (1 Jn 2:28) and lose out on what might have been their rewards (2 Jn 1:8). Scripture is clear about this.
So let's not allow a modern Jezebel spirit to swindle us out of our own heavenly inheritance! Let's make a sincere effort to receive a full reward of the inheritance, to not suffer shame at the Lord's coming and to be scrupulous knowing that we will each be accountable for the good and the bad things we do.
As a worldwide body of Christians let's not forget the warnings about Jezebel and the other sins that the Lord speaks of throughout the Bible. If they are important to Him they should surely be of utmost importance to us, too.
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Cor 5:10, NKJV).
"Then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches out the thoughts and intentions of every person. And I will give to each of you whatever you deserve" (Revelation 2:23, NLT).
Jezebel (Bible). Wikipedia. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jezebel_(Bible)&printable=yes. (accessed 12/15/2009).
Jorge. Revelation 2 and the return of Jezebel: Who do you say she was? Theology Matters. 10/24/2009. Available from: http://theologymatters.blogspot.com/2009/10/revelation-2-and-return-of-jezebel-who.html. (accessed 12/15/2009).
MacArthur, John. 1986. The church in prophetic perspective: the disaster of the church that tolerates sin. (Transcribed from tape GC 1441, Revelation 2:18-29). Available from: http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/sg1441.htm. (accessed 12/15/2009).
Ryrie Study Bible, NASB. 1996. Chicago: Moody.
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