One of the more ominous scriptures in the Bible can be found in John 15:18-25, which reads: ““If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’”
It cannot be ignored that we live in a world that is increasingly hostile to God’s laws and ways. There have always been aspects of God’s laws and ways that have rubbed people the wrong way. Racists have always rejected the fact that God has grafted people into Israel by virtue of their commitment to His ways without holding their backgrounds against them or relegating them to a second-class status. Those who sought to oppress others have always neglected to remember that while God affirms authority, it does so with limitations and does so for the benefit of those who are ruled rather than for the selfish benefit of the corrupt rulers themselves. Yet most societies have paid at least lip service to the scriptures, however they lacked in compliance to it, because they recognized that the authority they sought to wield would be benefited by people being godly and peaceable and law-abiding, even if they themselves did not govern their own conduct by biblical law and morality.
Those of us who are student of history, especially the melancholy history of believers in the last two thousand years or so are quite aware of the fact that for much of that history believers were either actively persecuted by the authorities of church and state or lived in isolation in remote places where they could live in peace for the most part because the places were too remote to be under the close supervision of powerful enemies. We have, for the past few hundred years, largely been free to worship God throughout most of the United States and even many of the colonies before independence, on account of the memory that many people had over their own persecution in Europe and their desire to make the colonies and later the United States a safe place from the religious oppression that made Europe so hazard. Unfortunately, we live in an age where many foolish and ignorant and wicked people desire to imitate the corrupt ways of European elites, and such a tendency is hostile to the freedom of those who seek to obey God and follow His ways. We have already seen that these tendencies have led to immense state-sponsored hostility against the preaching and proclamation of God’s ways as they relate to areas of personal morality in such countries as Canada and Australia.
The conditions by which people are free to worship God in spirit or truth are very limited. One must be in a realm that abjures the use of force and coercion to seek religious uniformity for what will inevitably be a mistaken religious worldview. The sort of religious uniformity that has been sought throughout history through coercion has been wide ranging, whether one looks at the contemporary state of the world or looks at the behavior of states throughout history. There are a variety of reasons why this is so. For one, believers in God’s way hold to a higher law and a higher authority above the church and state, and those human authorities who want to be the highest authority will often find themselves hostile to those who reject such claims. For another, the laws and ways of God have always presented a challenge to the sins of the larger society around them. Few societies in this world and throughout history have appreciated the moral poking and prodding done at favored and cosseted sins that is done by those who have a consistent and thorough biblical worldview. Such realities mean that those who sincerely believe and genuinely understand and seriously strive to follow God’s ways cannot help but be a target for the corrupt and ungodly leviathan state. Consider yourself warned.
These are exactly the thoughts I had when pondering the ramifications of our Bible study last night: the church at Thyatira. This city of guilds and trade unions made it very difficult for a Christian to live his beliefs while maintaining steady employment. This congregation and the one in Smyrna had the same basic faults, sexual immorality and eating things sacrificed to idols, but with a significant difference: Smyrna’s example was that of Balaam and Balak; a specific episode which caused Israel to sin. Thyatira’s referenced Jezebel, which was dynastic in nature. It represented a marriage between head of state and false religion; moral (or immoral) authority with the rule of law. They ruled the realm with the absolute say on all things pertaining to their subjects’ lives. The church used her power and influence to push legislation and then gave “righteous” justification to enforce them in the most horrific ways possible. It is fitting that the message to this church is the longest of the seven, because the time frame for its era is the longest; spanning from the post-Roman empire history of Justinian to Napoleon, who took the crown from the pope and placed it on his own head.
We will once again face this stranglehold on power and must make our decision beforehand as to where we stand. There will be a faceoff, and we will be judged on how we react or respond to it.
Yes, the church of Thyatria is a great one to mention in this context because of the unholy union between a corrupt church and state, precisely the sort of threat that can face genuine believers who run afoul of both.