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Thyatira: The Allure of False Intimacy

Jim Thompson - 9/24/2023


The enemy is seeking to entice people away from God’s good design. He’s done this since Eden. And in the first-century world of the New Testament, as well as in our own day, the bait on the devil’s hook is often sexual in nature. But we can’t forget, sexuality in the Bible is not just the reality of intimacy shared between a husband and a wife. It’s also meant to be a metaphor for the intimacy and connection between God and his people. After all, the Bible begins and concludes with marriage bookends. So, it should come as no surprise that Satan seeks to allure us away from the power and purity of these things – whether or not we’re married in this life.

Because these things are true, we are faced with an array of questions. Chiefly, we should ask, What is it about the allure of false intimacy that makes us keep fishing in a poisoned pond? If we know this is Satan’s scheme, why do we keep taking the bait? And yes, these things matter on an actual and individual level. But if our Bibles are open before us, they’re also a flagrant metaphor. “Why do we keep taking the bait?” is the same question as “What makes us turn away from faithfulness to and intimacy with God?” Why are we so easily lured away to sex, substances, sports, politics, social media, gossip, mindless entertainment, popularity, and materialism? Why do we so freely give these things power to define our lives? Why do we metaphorically cheat on God with stuff so dumb and bland and temporal? And most importantly, what’s God’s perspective on these things:

  • How does God want us to think about the enemy’s invitations to false intimacy?

This is exactly what Jesus is addressing in his words to the church at Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29). There are people in that church and in the church today that are being lured away into spiritual and actual infidelity. Specifically, in Thyatira, there was a growing number of their congregation that was being ensnared by cultural idolatry and gratuitous sexuality, and together these things amount to spiritual adultery. And here’s what makes this even worse: A lot of these people, if you talked with them and hung out with them, you’d think they were really great people. You’d want to be their neighbors. They did good works – works of service, works of love, works of witness (2:19). But strangely, there was something else in their lives, something menacing. They were being so enticed that they were slowly becoming more defined by their idolatry than by Jesus whom they professed to be Lord. 

Specifically, there was an outspoken individual in the church (that Jesus calls “Jezebel” in 2:20) that would tell people that it was fine to be involved with pagan rituals, but just to avoid the sexual immorality it often included. And over time, this self-proclaimed prophet (2:20) changed their position a little bit, and seemed to encourage more full attendance to the Roman pagan rituals. These things are so flagrant that Jesus calls all of it “the deep things of Satan” in 2:24. And he tells this church that if you keep doing things the Jezebel-way, trying to swear allegiance to me and Rome at the same time, then “I will throw you into great tribulation” (2:22). Just like when we’re led astray, Thyatira slowly got more and more okay with little things until those things added up and became the new normal. Their church wasn’t founded with fornication as an option for their sexuality. But over time, even perhaps with good motives, some of them justified baby step after baby step until it became a standard practice that they thought God would just shrug off. And because we still feel this tug, this allure, what should we think about all this?


Theologian David Wells writes: 

  • “Worldliness is whatever makes sin look normal and righteousness look strange.”

And here, worldliness isn’t about going to a specific movie, or whether you have a beer when you’re watching the game. It’s about patterns, habits, and ruts of idolatry that you have completely justified over time. It’s about what makes sin look routine and average. And in the Bible, this worldliness is metaphorically called spiritual adultery. And in Thyatira and in our day, metaphoric adultery included actual adultery. And Jesus is telling us very clearly that if we’re letting ourselves or our cultural moment define intimacy, then we could end up shipwrecking our lives. He’s saying, “If you do the world’s standards of intimacy over God’s, you could end up eroding your faith down to nothing, or perhaps even proving that you never really had faith to begin with.” And the mechanism for these things is “worldliness” – when sin looks normal and righteousness looks strange. And that’s how God wants us to think about the enemy’s invitations to false intimacy – that they are defined with us at the center of intimacy and not God.

But it’s not good enough to just say what is wrong. The true and right intimacy must prevail. What is beautiful must be rejoiced in. Revelation’s picture of Jesus as the Faithful Groom and Lamb of God should be enough for us. And this is why the picture of Jesus to Thyatira is so stirring. He’s called “the son of God” (2:18), which is what Caesar went by and what the local deities went by. He has fiery eyes and bronze feet (2:18), meaning he sees rightly and judges faithfully. But, right at the end, in 2:28, Jesus says, “If you stay true stay true in trusting me, I will give you the morning star.” And guess what the last few verses of all of Revelation say? That Jesus himself is the morning star that his bride longs for. Meaning, he gives us himself! He alone is our true Intimacy and Satisfaction.

Jesus wants us to know that we were made for intimacy with him and that anything short of that will leave us unsatisfied and empty.

The enemy’s invitations to false intimacy are short-lived and unsustainable. Jezebel might offer a life of pleasure now, but Jesus offers us a life of pleasures evermore, as the Psalmist says. Jezebel and all her children have death coming as their inheritance (2:22-23), but not even death can stop our shared inheritance of justice and peace with Jesus. He is our Intimacy. He is our greatest treasure. He is the Worthy One. Only he can break the allure. We belong to him. He is the Great Judge judged in our place. And even if our hearts are wayward, even if we’re lured by the world’s standards, even if sexuality is our great idol, his forgiving fidelity woos us back home. He beckons us out of that which offers life but can deliver, and he beckons us into belonging and relationship and intimacy with him and his people, world without end.

*We are a church located in Greenville, South Carolina. Our vision is to see God transform us into a community of grace passionately pursuing life and mission with Jesus.