It used to have such a good meaning.
It used to mean that even if we disagreed with someone, we could still love them and at the very least have a civil relationship with them.
Now it means that you can’t ever say that they’re wrong. Particularly when it comes to sin.
And the problem with many churches today is that this is exactly what they do. When sin comes into the church, they tolerate it. Not in the sense of welcoming non-Christians and working to bring them to Christ that they may be saved.
But in the sense of looking at their sin, worse, looking at other Christians’ sins and saying that it is not sin at all.
And that’s what was happening in the churches of Pergamum and Thyatira.
These churches had their good points. Pergamum had remained faithful to Christ even in the face of persecution, and the death of one of their own, a man named Antipas. (2:13)
And Thyatira, unlike Ephesus, continued to show their passion for Christ, doing more than they had at first. (19)
But both had fallen into the trap of “tolerance.”
The church at Pergamum tolerated people who held false beliefs. Beliefs that led them into idolatry and sexual sin.
These were the very sins that Balaam had led the Israelites into back when they were traveling in the desert. Because God forbade Balaam from cursing Israel directly, Balaam took the back door by getting the Israelite men to marry Moabite women, knowing it would lead them into idolatry and the curse of God.
Now these people at Pergamum were falling into the same kind of sin, and the leaders were doing nothing about it.
The church at Thyatira did much the same, tolerating a prophetess that Jesus derisively named “Jezebel.” In Israel’s history, a woman named Jezebel had once led her husband King Ahab, and as a result all of Israel into idolatry.
And now this woman, in teaching the “deeper secrets of God,” was leading the Thyatirans into idolatry and sexual sin as well.
And Jesus warns, “Judgment is coming.”
In revealing himself to the Pergamum church, he emphasizes the double-edged sword coming out of his mouth. But this sword is not to heal, but to cut and judge. (12, 16)
To the church at Thyatira, he reveals himself as the one whose eyes are like fire, seeing the evil going on in the darkness and burning away all the veils that would hide their evil, and with feet like bronze to trample on all the evil that was going on. (18)
He in fact warns that because Jezebel refused to repent despite multiple warnings, he would make her and those who followed her suffer until they repented. And if they would not repent, they would die. (22-23)
Did Jesus mean this literally? I think he did. We see this in Acts 5:1-10, I Corinthians 5:5, and I Corinthians 11:27-30.
For while we may be “tolerant” of evil, Jesus is not when it is infecting his church.
But if we will fight and overcome this evil in the church, Jesus says that he will give us some of the hidden manna and a white stone. (2:17)
The Jews believed that when the Messiah came, the Ark of the Covenant would reappear and all would eat manna at his banquet. In that context, the white stone could refer to the stone given to victors at games for entrance at a celebration banquet.
More, Jesus told the Thyatirans that he would give them authority over the nations when he comes back to rule as king. And he would also give them the morning star. Jesus himself, is called the morning star (see Revelation 22:16), and so perhaps this is a reference to a close relationship with Jesus himself.
But for those who refuse to repent, only judgment remains.
As bad as “tolerance” is right now in the church, it will only get worse when antichrist and his false prophet appears. When that happens, the only thing that won’t be tolerated is the true faith that we preach.
And if we are tolerating evil now, what will happen when antichrist comes?
How about you and your church? Are you tolerating evil in your midst?