Advent Theme: Fidelity
Even though it may not seem like it at first glance, the churches at Pergamum and Thyatira are struggling with the same issue. Like Ephesus, there are false teachers in their midst. The false prophets here represent an even greater danger to those who are following the Way of Christ because they (the lying leaders) are attempting to equate Christian discipleship with the worship of the emperor or being in league with Roman power.
How can you tell? The metaphor of fornication and/or adultery, when used in scripture, is often used to depict unfaithfulness in the relationship of people to God. And, let’s be clear, God is never the party that adulterates the relationship. Yes, there are many times in the Bible when adultery is meant to indicate unfaithfulness in human marital relationships and fornication is used to refer to illicit or inappropriate sexual activity. That being said, the mention of Balaam is meant to remind those who hear this letter of the prophet in Numbers 25 who did cause some in Israel to go astray from proper worship of the one true God.
Additionally, the use of the name Jezebel here is meant to prod a recollection that fear of a power and persuasive leader (2 Kings) caused apostasy, or abandonment of the faith, among some who had been faithful. The terms “fornication” and “adultery” in these verses underscore the reality that spiritual unfaithfulness has consequences. While Paul wrote to the Corinthians regarding eating meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 8) and the relative safety of such a practice, the situation in Pergamum and Thyatira is at least half a century later, a totally different emperor, and a Christianity that is under attack in a new way.
In western English, we sometimes use the phrase “in bed with” as a business or civic term. “Well, if we can get a good interest rate, I don’t mind getting in bed with XYZ firm for this project.” So, while we might not use the term adultery or fornication in the business or civic world, we are familiar with sexual metaphors to indicate a partnership go well or going poorly. The false teachers among these churches may have been telling Christians that it was okay “to get in bed with” Roman power for whatever reason.
Potential takeaway: We can only truly worship one God. Relationships with our money, our stuff, our homeland, other people, even our church life can adulterate what is meant to be our primary allegiance- our relationship with our Creator. Is the voice you hear most often coming out of your television, from across the dinner table, through a radio or a telephone? What can you change in your life, if you need or want, to be sure that the voice you are listening to and for most often is the One that truly has your best interests at heart and is always faithful?
Holy God, You have kept your promises from generation to generation. Throughout time and across lands, You have sent true prophets who revealed Your will and Your word. Then You sent the Son to make clear what people could not understand from the prophets. Guide us into true faithfulness to You, forsaking all others, for as long as we shall live and then beyond. In Christ’s name, amen.