Friday, January 11, 2013

Her Name Rings A Jezebel

"...you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols."    Revelation 2:20 NASB 

Jezebel called herself a prophetess and unrepentantly led Christians in Thyatira into license. Exactly who was she? I doubt there was a person in Thyatira actually named "Jezebel" at the time of the writing of the Apocalypse, but I do think there was an actual person in Thyatira around that time who was symbolically designated by the reference but was otherwise unnamed. What I feel quite certain about is that whoever was referred to by the name was not a "spirit" or a demon. It's not that I don't think that a demonic spirit could have been behind the activity mentioned, it's just that it's not at all discernible from the text if it is. It's better not to make such a claim.

The name itself hearkens back to some of the dark days of the northern kingdom of Israel during the era of the divided kingdom. In a politically expedient marriage, Ahab, an Israelite king, married the heathen daughter of Ethbaal, King of the Sidonians. Her name was Jezebel. She was willful, a dedicated pagan, and in utter opposition to God and his prophets. Elijah, the one prophesied to reappear in the end of the age, was driven to despair and into hiding by her focused effort to undermine what he said and to kill him.

Whoever the actual person referred to by Christ may have been, the qualities which make her a symbol for all who followed are that she was: 1) a woman, 2) who wanted those in the believing community around her to embrace practices foreign to true religion, and 3) who resisted all correction from legitimate spiritual leadership. Furthermore, this self-appointed authority was associated with teaching the "deep things of Satan." Christians never need delve deeper into the things of Satan than realizing he's on the prowl seeking someone to devour. Learning his secrets is not the means of overcoming him, rather getting deeper into the things clearly, openly revealed in Christ is.

My experience over the last 30 years leads me to doubt any claim to "deep things" from contemporary prophetic figures, so when I hear the phrase used by teachers today, my mind translates it into: "reading into the text something completely alien to it". I do not doubt the Jezebel referenced by John the Revelator would have foisted her teaching in a similar vein. In fact, since I see these letters as prophetically representative and therefore in force for types of the local church as it exists in various places at various times, I would expect that at any given time some local church would be dealing with such a figure in their midst. If and when that happens, even though the false prophetess' name may not, her way most certainly should ring a Jezebel.

6 comments:

  1. SLW,

    I've been thinking a lot about this passage lately, say, over the last six to eight months.

    I wonder if "Jezebel" could also, in principle, represent a local church -- a falsely-named Christian church. Some scholars think that the "elect lady" of 2 John 1:1 was a local church; so, I wonder to what degree one could also apply that notion to the "Jezebel" of Rev. 2:20. Ἰεζάβελ, ἡ: the presence of the article could be an indication of such. But we know that Greek articles precede common names as well.

    Anyway, I was thinking how some Western Christian denominations fit the "Jezebel" bill: those who 1) claim to be prophetically Christian in nature; 2) teach and beguile followers of Christ to the effect that sexuality is merely part and parcel of being human and thus nothing of which to be ashamed if shared outside the covenant of marriage -- that being the union of one man and one woman; 3) and permit the eating of food "sacrificed to idols," or, pluralistically including the service, worship, or tolerance for other gods/religions, etc.

    We know that God's desire is for her repentance (Rev. 2:21); but if she is not willing, His desire is that she not grow in converts: i.e., "I will strike her children dead" (Rev. 2:23); concluding: "And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve" (Rev. 2:23).

    I can think of a few American denominations declining in numbers who share the "Jezebel" tolerance -- my heart breaks to say The Episcopal Church is chief among them.

    There is probably so much more information we could glean from this one passage that would benefit our own day.

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    1. WWB,
      I don't think Jezebel could refer to an entire congregation because her and her followers only represent a portion of the entire church in Thyatira. To see her as a congregation would be difficult in context, apart from any considerations about the presence and absence of direct articles.

      I have similar difficulties with interpreting 2 John as addressing a congregation rather than an unnamed woman. I do think the objections I've seen raised to an individual actually named either Electa or Kyria are very convincing, but I think the case for the letter addressing an entire congregation is not very convincing at all. Again, it's the entire context that makes it difficult for me to see it that way.

      All that aside, that is a very interesting application of the Jezebel principle to western denominations. Usually, they are a mixed bag as was the case at Thyatira and they do have a congregational quality about them. A "Jezebel" (except for the gender implications) claiming to speak authoritatively concerning what God's word "really" says does threaten to take the whole lot into error and license. Do you think that the deep secrets of Satan might play into such an application?

      I would say, however, that she does make converts--just converts to that which leads to death rather than life. The godly get out like those fleeing the Whore (Rev 18:4). Entire congregations have left the UCC in the area I live because of some of the Jezebel qualities you enumerated.

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    2. SLW,

      Good insights on the congregational aspect, and you're probably right, even about the 2 John 1:1 passage.

      I do think that the deep things of Satan plays into that application. You wrote: "my mind translates it into: 'reading into the text something completely alien to it.'" I agree! I've even seen it done with respect to the history of one's own denomination.

      For example, one Episcopal banner, promoting women's ordination (which I'm not necessarily against), gay marriage, and some young college student drinking it up in a bar read: "The Episcopal Church: Resisting Fundamentalism Since 1784." That is simply not true. The Episcopalians of 1784 would have been horrified by the image portrayed on that banner. They 1784 Episcopal church looks nothing like the modern version.

      I think Scripture has given us plenty of warning and examples of what the last days would look like, and I think we're in the last days.

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    3. WWB,
      Jesus once asked, "when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” These last days make me wonder sometimes exactly how great the falling may be.

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  2. I shared this post with my young adult SS class just now. We are studying the spiritual gifts and they have a lot of questions about the gift of prophecy mainly because of people claiming special status because they are prophets. I hope they read what you say and are helped.

    Grace and peace

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    1. Pumice,
      That is awesome. I aim to write these posts with accessibility and practicality in mind (even when dealing with more esoteric subject matter) so it cranks my engine to hear that they might assist a SS class.

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