“Think fast!” What does that command conjure? Perhaps someone tosses you a ball or a cold canned beverage. You must think fast to respond, catching the object before it falls.
“Hold fast!” What do you think now? Maybe you quickly grab onto a railing before a sudden wave tosses you from a boat. That’s close. But it doesn’t quite capture the meaning of the phrase.
An older meaning of the word “fast” is “tightly, firmly.” From this meaning we have the word “fastener,” an object that binds to another object to keep it firmly in place.
The Apostle John wrote to one of his beloved churches, “Hold fast!” What did he mean? Hold fast to what?
In the previous post about Chapter 1 we looked at the first two of Thomas Brooks‘ “proofs.” These are his introductory thoughts that will drive the content of the rest of this book, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices.
Now we come to the third proof, which features the shortest explanation of the three. Brooks’s instructs us through his quotation of Revelation 2:24. We must explore this entire passage to understand his reasons for borrowing the words Christ gave to the apostle John.
Take one proof more, and then I will proceed to the opening of the point, and that is in Rev. 2:24, “But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and who have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak, I will put upon you no other burden but to hold fast until I come.”
Mining the depths of Revelation
Thyatira was one of the seven churches to whom the Lord Jesus sent letters through the John’s writing hand. These letters then circulated among the churches of Asia Minor along a postal route, eventually joining John’s complete Revelation.
Scholars have written much about the historical facts of the seven letters, about how they bring spiritual implications to light. The more archaeological discoveries unearth facts about these ancient Asian cities, the more deeply we can mine this part of Revelation.
For instance, we know ancient Sardis was a center of high-quality textile manufacturing. This helps make sense of the Lord’s mention of the white garments with which he will clothe the faithful in Rev. 3:9. The well-known verse where Jesus says he wishes the Laodiceans were either hot or cold (3:15) only makes sense when you learn this city sat near sources of both cool and hot spring waters. Residents of the region used one for drinking, the other for medicinal purposes.
For as much has been said about the difficulty of interpreting Revelation, Jesus does not speak in code here. He uses the cultural and sociological terminology of his audience to reach them with the truth.
The return of Jezebel
So, this is how we must interpret Jesus’ words to the saints at Thyatira. We owe these verses the same care toward the historical and cultural markers present as the other letters.
The Lord opens his letter reminding his readers that he is the same glorified Christ who appeared first to John. The apostle had difficulty describing the Lord, resorting to similes to overcome the lack of appropriate words for such an experience. “Eyes like fire” and ”feet like burnished bronze” aren’t literal, but approximations of the glory John beheld.
Jesus then moves forward with encouraging words, that he knows of these believers’ “love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.” In the midst of early signs of persecution, these Christians largely held to the faith that had been “once for all” delivered to them.
It is then that Jesus delivers his stern warning. Certain believers in Thyatira tolerated in their midst a woman whom the Lord likened to Jezebel. This pagan queen and usurper married King Ahab of the wicked northern kingdom of Israel (see 1 Kings 16). She led Ahab and the rest of her subjects to worship the false gods Asherah and Baal. Sexual immorality was a normal part of her religious practices, as was worshiping idols.
God found this behavior intolerable and worthy of punishment. He warned his people Israel about the same temptations before they entered the promised land. That is why he repeatedly instructed Israel to completely rid Canaan of its false worshipers before completing their journey. God knew if there were any traces of Asherah and Baal remaining, Israel would be tempted to give their lives over to these false gods.
Holding fast in Thyatira
Moving back to the passage in Revelation, we come upon the verse Thomas Brooks quotes. Jesus, in his mercy, has allowed the church in Thyatira time to repent of their sins. And yet, his judgment is not far off. This warning would have reassured those who remained faithful. They knew their time of tolerating this new “Jezebel” would end soon.
It’s hard to say just what this judgment looked like. The Lord may have dealt swiftly with this church in some way. He may have fulfilled his promise in the 20th century, when the last Christian community in this part of Turkey vanished. Or, Jesus may have spoken of the final judgment to come, when he will return as promised to establish his kingdom and judge all sin.
Regardless, we must remember his encouragement to the faithful believers, to “hold fast” until he came. For these are the words Thomas Brooks borrows to speak to his faithful readers.
In Jesus’ words, those who held fast were the ones who refused to give in to the sexual and idolizing temptations of this new Jezebel. To Brooks, they were the readers who refused to view their own opinions about sin as the wisdom of God.
In every generation of the church, there are those who think they know better than God about what should be called sin. Cultural pressure, political lawmaking, or even theological skepticism constantly tempt us to redefine sin. We congratulate ourselves on the enlightenment of our opinions and the rational manner by which we have arrived at our new conclusions.
But all the while the Lord Jesus is calling us to “Hold fast!” The apostle Paul, in nearly every one of his letters, urges the church to remain faithful to Christ’s teachings, to his gospel, to the truth. And Brooks, in the opening of his book on overcoming the temptations of Satan, echoes the words of both Jesus and Paul.