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The Problem with Jezebel

• Jeremy Duncan

In this sermon, Jeremy Duncan, author of the book on Revelation entitled Upside Down Apocalypse, introduces Jesus’ words to the church at Thyatira. He unpacks the meaning of the violent and troubling imagery that we read, and he shows us how these words are meant to wake us up to the ways of the culture that undermine real life that only Christ can give us.

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Today’s sermon is given by Jeremy Duncan, a pastor and author from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has written a book that deals with the nature of apocalyptic literature and explains how the violent language found in Revelation actually aligns with the way of peace that Jesus teaches. In this sermon, he applies this directly to Jesus’ words to the church at Thyatira, which are full of violent imagery.

Thyatira was an average city, and the major industry was the smelting of copper and bronze. The local deity was Apollo Trimeneus, who was a combination of the Greek god Apollo and a local military hero named Trimnos. He was called “son of God” as he was viewed as the “son of Zeus” just as Apollo was. The declaration of Jesus as the “Son of God” is a substitution for Zeus. The references to the blazing “smelting” fires, and his feet being like the burnished “bronze” are incorporating the local experience of the people from the city. It is a contrast of Jesus against the image of a local hero. This speaks to the local nature of the gospel. It is cosmic on the one hand, but it starts with how we live with our neighbors, with our local industries and with our local mythology. Before we can worry about the defeat of evil, we have to think about how to love our neighbor well.

The first words to Thyatira are encouraging. He opens with “Well done guys. Keep up the good work.” But the tone quickly shifts. The letter launches into a confrontational challenge that presents us with some problems because of the violent imagery. To understand this, we must start with the fundamental presupposition that John has encountered the same Jesus that we have in the gospels. In apocalyptic literature, there is a predisposition to use a lot of disturbing imagery to get people to wake up to what they didn’t want to confront. John is using this stylized form of writing to get us to see things in a new light.

It’s also helpful to link Jezebel to other letters. Jezebel is connected to two practices: sexual immorality, and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. These are also found in the letter to Pergamum where the Nicolaitans and Balaam are involved in the same things. John is not just naming names but using symbolic titles that represent forces that pull us away from God. These forces eat up our imagination for life. People believed they had access to some deep secret knowledge of God that would justify their actions and elevate them above others and excuse their sin. But their actions were rooted in Satan. They are “deep secrets of Satan.”

This is a warning about how easy it is to allow greed to drag us back into destructive patterns that we thought we had left behind. We struggle with this today. Our appetites for power, sex, food and status can eat away at the life we can find only in Christ. If we are not careful they will devour us. Evil is more than a villain to point our finger at while we elevate ourselves in judgment. Rather, evil is a way in the world that takes us away from the way of Jesus. And we don’t notice this because these ways are part of the air we breathe.

There are three important ideas that tie this all together. First, there is a cathartic release in Revelation. Revelation is non-violent in its message, but it provides a way for its readers to let go of their frustration through the violent imagery. By depersonalizing our enemies, it actually helps us engage with them in grace.

Second, there are hints that there is more to the story than punishment of sin, and that those who are under the influence of Satan still have the opportunity to receive the gift of God’s grace.

Third, God is not bringing death to actual individuals but to the lies that stand against God and God’s creation. The violent imagery is not the objective. The imagery is pointing us to lies and the way that God wars against those lies because they slowly pull us from the way and life of Jesus.

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Topics: Love, Non-Violence, Power

Sermon Series: Dear Church


Downloads & Resources

Audio File
Study guide
Group Study Guide
The MuseCast: March 12

Focus Scripture:

  • Revelation 2:18

    “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze: “I know your works: your love, faith, service, and endurance. I know that your latest works are greater than the first. But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to engage in sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call ‘the deep things of Satan,’ to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden; only hold fast to what you have until I come. To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end, I will give authority over the nations, to rule them with an iron scepter, as when clay pots are shattered— even as I also received authority from my Father. To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

For Further Reading:

Upside-Down Apocalypse by Jeremy Duncan

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One thought on “The Problem with Jezebel

  1. Jerry says:

    Thank you, Jeremy, deep ideas I loved it.
    In what, I believe, might be some related thinking there is a new book coming out on {March 26} by N. T. Wright and Micheal Bird
    “Jesus and the Powers: Christian Political Witness in an Age of Totalitarian Terror and Dysfunctional Democracies”
    https://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Powers-Totalitarian-Dysfunctional-Democracies/dp/0310162246/
    Dan check it out. You may want to add it to your stack!

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