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Christians cannot be tolerant of all things because God is not tolerant of all things. We can respect differing opinions and try to understand them, but we cannot give our unqualified, unconditional affirmation to every belief and behavior. Because God doesn’t. We must love what God loves. That’s where Ephesus failed. But we must also hate what God hates. That’s where Thyatira failed.

Of the seven cities in Revelation, Thyatira is the least well known, the least impressive, and the least important. And yet, the letter is the longest of the seven. There was a lot going on at this church–some bad, some good.

Let’s start with the good. Verse 19, “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance.” Ephesus was praised for its good deeds and strong work ethic. Thyatira is even better.  Is has the deeds that Ephesus had and the love that Ephesus lacked. The church at Thyatira was not without genuine virtue. It was a tight-knit bunch who loved, served, believed, and endured.

Maybe Thyatira was the kind of church you walked into and immediately felt like you belonged: “Great to meet you. Come, let me introduce you to my friends.  Here, I’ll show you how you can get plugged in, use your gifts, do ministry. We’re so glad you’re here.” It was a caring church, a sacrificial church, a loving church.

That was the good part. And the bad part? Its love could be undiscerning and blindly affirming. The big problem at Thyatira was tolerance. The folks at Thyatira tolerated false teaching and immoral behavior, two things God is fiercely intolerant of. Jesus says, “You’re loving in many ways, but your tolerance is not love. It’s unfaithfulness.”

The specific sin in Thyatira was the tolerance of Jezebel. That wasn’t the woman’s real name. But this false prophetess was acting like a Jezebel-leading people into adultery and idolatry. We don’t know if her influence was formal–she got up in front of people and told them these deceptive things–or if it was informal–taking place in conversations and by word of mouth. However it was happening, this woman in Thyatira was a spiritual danger, like her Old Testament namesake.

Jezebel was the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians. She worshiped Baal and Asherah and led her husband, Ahab, in the same. Jezebel is the one who plotted to kill innocent Naboth for his vineyard. She was called “that cursed woman” (2 Kings 9:34). As a punishment for her wickedness, she was eventually pushed out a window, trampled by horses, and eaten up by dogs. She was a bad lady. And she lead many Israelites down a bad path.

Jesus says to Thyatira, “You are allowing a woman like that to have sway over your people. Why do you tolerate her? Don’t affirm her. Don’t dialogue with her. Don’t wait and see what happens. Get rid of her. . . .or I will.” Apparently, by some means, the Lord had already warned her to repent, but she refused. And so now the Lord Jesus promises to throw her onto the sick bed and make her followers suffer as well, unless they repent. “I will strike your spiritual children dead,” says the Lord. Jesus isn’t messing around here. This isn’t a secondary issue. This is a serious sin worthy of death.

It was also an entrenched sin. There were a number of trade guilds in Thyatira. Suppose you belonged to the local BAT, the Bricklayers Association of Thyatira, and one night the guild got together for a feast. You’d be sitting around the table, ready to partake of this great celebration with your friends and colleagues, and the host would say something like, “We’re glad you could make it. What a happy occasion for the BAT. We have quite a feast prepared for you. But before we partake, we want to recognize the great god Zeus who watches over the bricklayers and has made this dinner possible. Zeus, you see his statue in the corner, we eat to you, in your honor, for your worship. Let’s dig in.”

What would you do in that situation? Stay or go? What would your participation signify before your fellow Christians, before the watching world, before God? Christians in the ancient world didn’t have to go searching for idolatry. It was woven into the fabric of their whole culture. To not participate in these pagan rituals was to stick out like a Yankees fan at Fenway Park. These feasts, with their idolatry and the sexual revelry which would often follow, were a normal part of life in the Greco-Roman world. To remove yourself from them could be socially and economically disastrous.

Which is why false teachers like this Jezebel in Thyatira or the Nicolaitans in Pergamum gained such a hearing. They made being a Christian a lot easier, much less costly, must less counter-cultural. But it was a compromised Christianity, and Jesus could not tolerate it. He was going to make an example of Thyatira to show all the churches that Jesus has eyes like fire, too pure to look on evil, and feet like burnished bronze, too holy to walk among wickedness. He wanted all the churches to know that he was the searcher of hearts and minds and he would repay evil for unrepentant evil.

The error of Jezebel was a serious sin, an entrenched sin, and a subtle sin. The people had probably been told that the “deep secrets” wouldn’t harm them. We don’t know exactly what it meant for the church to learn Satan’s so-called deep secrets. We don’t know if that’s what the false teachers called them or if that’s what Jesus is calling them. But what was going on was probably some kind of false teaching that devalued the material world. This Jezebel may have been saying, “The physical world doesn’t matter. It’s the spiritual realm that counts. So go ahead and participate in idol feasts and do whatever you want sexually. Those are material things. God doesn’t care about that.” Or she may have been saying, “Look, if you are truly spiritual, then your relationship with God will be strong enough to withstand the deep things of Satan. So go ahead. Participate in evil practices. You can handle it and you’ll probably even learn more about the enemy in the process.” Whatever it was that she was saying, it was a lie and it was leading people into sin. The church was more tolerant than Jesus, which is never a good idea.


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15 thoughts on “The Tolerance Jesus Will Not Tolerate”

  1. Curt Day says:

    But our tolerance for certain practices and beliefs also depends on context. Much of what we tolerate in society cannot be tolerated in the Church. For example, we tolerate many different religions in society under the First Amendment, does that mean we should allow people who worship other gods into membership in the Church? Of course not.

    Of course, the overriding issue of tolerance and what we participate in today is the same-sex marriage issue. Is providing business services to same-sex weddings the same as participating in the wedding? Of course, we could ask the same about unbiblical heterosexual marriages too. Here, before we come to a decision, we must ask about the context. What does the context of rights in our legal system, what providing business services to a wedding in our economic system, and the history of discrimination such as what was practiced during Jim Crow tell us about the context of providing business services to a same-sex wedding?

  2. Annie says:

    This word from God is spot on and a great teaching for today’s church. It breaks my heart to see what is tolerated by the church in these days.

  3. Taylor says:

    Great points. To which cultural topic are you referring? Because the tolerance and willingness of americans christians to exhalt our state sanctioned violence, disregard our poor, and furthering the religion of money are major issues today.

  4. Russell says:

    The essence of what has happened in Churches today is that they have exchanged a truth for a lie. Somewhere along the way, tolerance has been made to equal love. However it’s quite the opposite. Yes, Biblical love covers a multitude of sin, but such love will address behavior that is contrary to being a Child of God.

  5. Neville Briggs says:

    The presence of false prophets in the church is a serious issue. I say that because almost every book in the New Testament addresses that issue., and as Mr De Young has pointed out, the reference in Revelation to Jezebel demonstrates the seriousness of the issue in the Lord’s eyes.
    I would venture to suggest that tolerance of false prophets has its foundation in the failure to identify falseness.
    That was Jesus warning ; the wolves in sheep’s clothing, not the wolves in wolves’ clothing.
    The scripture tells us to put things to a test, but in my experience church members resist testing things. Testing the spirits ( that the scripture urges us to do ) is characterized as a spirit of meanness.
    Peeking under the sheep’s clothing to see if there is a wolf lurking there is deemed to be so terribly rude.

    What does a genuine Christian teacher look like ?, well presented, kind, friendly, knowledgeable in the Bible and theology, well spoken, good communicator.
    What does the false teacher look like…..exactly the same.

  6. Great article! Thanks for writing it!

  7. Paul Reed says:

    “What would you do in that situation? Stay or go?”

    So then what’s the solution then if we’re to have contact with the outside world in work or recreation?
    You can either deal with people praying to other gods, or go to secular route, where the organization just goes about it’s day as if God doesn’t exist or isn’t relevant. I don’t see why the Zeus toleration isn’t acceptable, but a secular organization is.

  8. Jeremy says:

    All of that and one scripture is actually quoted directly. Don’t you think its dangerous to put things in quotes in a piece like this, where some may think those things you posit as conjecture are actual biblical fact and verbatim verses? Why would you even attempt to tell me what you think was said in a historical context? The Bible is the only source we should draw from, not your mental gymnastics of she maybe said this or god pretty much said that. Your articles pop up everyone once and a while and I’ve read many, I think you need to stop injecting so much of yourself into something that doesn’t need it. You don’t need to say maybe god said this or Jezebel said that. That’s not truth, its guesses, and I don’t think we should risk our souls on guessing.

  9. anaquaduck says:

    I like it when a writer/teacher is honest to say we dont know this or that for sure but it may have meant this or that…but of this we can be exactly sure, particularly when God has made it clear in His word.

    Humanism for all its apparent tolerance is bound up in conformity to man is the measure of all things. God’s wisdom is far more concerned for our well being, physically & spiritually for all eternity.

    Today we are only a click away from so much immorality& soul destroying stuff then there are the invites that may induce compromise in the name of money or a feel good time. We really have to learn to say no or no thanks, some things are just not worth coming between God or our family relationships.

    Good reminders for living in a world that is eager to compromise on the blessings of walking with God. The Greco Roman world/Hebrew Kingship experienced by Elijah is with us today in its many forms, private party’s, business relationships,sexuality out of control & un natural, TV, internet etc.

  10. Carolyn Putney says:

    It seems like I hear much about grace these days, and wonder if we substitute “showing grace” for “showing tolerance?” I think one of the “Jezebels” in today’s world is the tolerance for Islam. Christians, right here in the U.S. are being targeted by Muslims to succumb to their religion, but it seems when a Christian speaks out against it, they are accused of not showing grace. In this manner, grace becomes another word for tolerance, an excuse to not speak out against this cancer that seeks to destroy us as believers. I do not believe Jesus would be tolerant of Islam. Would He show grace and mercy to a Muslim seeking to leave their false beliefs and teaching behind? Absolutely. However, I think in this passage which has dire warnings applicable to this point in church prophesy, Jesus telling us to be very cautious in guarding against confusing the two issues.
    I often think that we also disguise tolerance with grace with other things Jesus is not tolerant of, such as the gay marriage issue. In the process, grace becomes nothing more than a thin veil used to cover sin we want to get away with rather than the deep well of forgiveness Jesus offers for confessed sin. Paul warns us by asking should we continue in sin so that grace may abound, then answers it with a resounding, “GOD FORBID,” (emphasis mine). As Jesus showed His love towards us while we were yet sinners, we ought to exhibit His love through us to those who do not believe in Jesus Christ, I think we must be vocal against a religion and sinful behavior that is in direct opposition to the Word of God. God is not tolerant of these things, and we should not be, either. As Kevin wrote, “Christians cannot be tolerant of all things because God is not tolerant of all things. Jesus says, ‘You’re loving in many ways, but your tolerance is not love. It is unfaithfulness.’ ”
    Excellent article to ponder.

  11. Kevin says:

    Tolerance and compromise are never called by what it is. Instead, it wrapped in words like “love”, “compassion” and “grace”. Then it is defended by out-of-context biblical passages like Matthew 7:1 (Do not judge…) and minimized/defended by statements like, “We are all sinners”. Tolerance is an important component in churches seeking numerical growth over spiritual growth. It is very effective to appeal to worldly people by using worldly methods.

    Compromise is one of Satan’s tools to help grow a church numerically; Satan uses it to make a church popular with those who do not want the true Jesus but a created idol that is then called Jesus. Compromise and tolerance eliminate church discipline. What is left is a social club/entertainment venue that massages the self esteem of its attendees rather than convicts them of their unrepentant sins.

    Those practicing compromise are deceived by Satan and will adamantly deny they are compromising. Attempts to reveal the truth will only be met with resistance and if a person persists, they will be accused of divisiveness for disrupting “church unity” and removed from the church membership.

  12. Ben M says:

    “What would you do in that situation? Stay or go? What would your participation signify before your fellow Christians, before the watching world, before God? Christians in the ancient world didn’t have to go searching for idolatry. It was woven into the fabric of their whole culture. To not participate in these pagan rituals was to stick out like a Yankees fan at Fenway Park. These feasts, with their idolatry and the sexual revelry which would often follow, were a normal part of life in the Greco-Roman world. To remove yourself from them could be socially and economically disastrous.”

    And they did stick out. Early Christians were called “atheists” because they worshiped no visible gods. We will stand out more and more and be called far worse things than “atheist”. I find Jesus’s exhortation to the faithful in Thyatira helpful for our current time as well.

    “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 what you have until I come.”

  13. Other than your claim to follow the One true God Kevin, “Do you yourself not stand before the people, posit yourself as an authority figure, continue to teach religious falsehoods and vain traditions year after year? Yes you do. Should God’s people be tolerant of you or should they throw you out and find someone else who really follows Jesus in the manner He has commanded?

    For starters Kevin, “Why not publicly tell your audience why you continue to promote “church” and all that has come to entail these days even though Jesus never taught such a thing? Why not explain to them that “ekklesia” does not mean “church” and that church is not a Bible word or in the original manuscripts? Why not explain to them why you plainly disobey God by having a spiritual title like Senior Pastor and exhibit a religious hierarchy in “your” church and continue to promote sectarianism in Christ’s body by affiliating yourself with a denomination? Why not Kevin? Are you afraid you might lose everything you have? Isn’t that exactly what Jesus says you must do?

    What would I do? I would leave immediately and warn every person I know to stop following those who refuse to die to all they have done (build earthly kingdoms, merchandize the people of God and attempt to control their lives).
    You may not be a modern Jezebel type or a huckster like the word faith adherents. But frankly those who follow them are only receiving what their evil hearts actually desire. You however are deceiving many of the real saints, leading them into compromise and error and all without any adequate Scriptural explanation. To me, that makes you more dangerous and more capable of bringing the true saints of God into bondage.

    Repent Kevin. Abandon your church and allow God’s people to go free. They don’t need you, they need leaders who have truly counted the cost and who have fully abandoned this world and the praise of men.

  14. Somerset Morkel says:

    “No one in the church should be seeking after titles among fellow believers, especially a title that says “first” of anything. Similarly, no one in the church should use titles or any other means of making an unbiblical distinction of superiority among believers.” (Gotquestions.org)

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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