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heresies in the church, revelation 2-3

In the seven letters of Revelation, the churches had been invaded by the teachings of “the Nicolaitans” and “Balaam” (Rev 2:6, 14-15); they were harassed by the “synagogue of Satan” (2:9; 3:9); and “Jezebel” was prophesying “the deep things of Satan” from the pulpit (2:24). What in the world was going on?

Let’s play Jeopardy. The category is “heresy.” In Revelation 2-3, we not only need to ask the questions; we must also try to reconstruct the answers!

First, who were the Nicolaitans? Not much known about the group. However, Jesus seems to link the practices of the Nicolaitans with the practices of those who listened to Balaam’s teachings (Rev 2:14). These groups may have professed their faith in Christ, but their idea of “freedom” meant freedom to sin. Heresy is easy to spot. It always negates Scripture.

Secondly, who was Jezebel? Sometimes heresy takes a cheekier, more in-your-face approach through sassy, self-proclaimed “prophets” (Rev 2:20). Like queen Jezebel who openly fed false prophets at her table (1 Kings 18), church “Jezebels” feed others with their “revelations.” The problem with modern day Jezebels—whether they are male or female—is that their “prophetic words” do not line up with Scripture. The New Testament gift of prophecy is NOT like Old Testament prophecy. In fact, “Thus says the Lord” is never a preface when people prophesy in the New Testament. That alone should speak volumes to us. Heresy is easy to identify. It always adds to Scripture.

True prophesying occurs when the Holy Spirit impresses a word on someone’s heart—a word that is “good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29). The gift of prophecy strengthens, encourages, builds up, and exhorts the church to take action (1 Cor 14:31; e.g., Acts 13:1-3). Paul tells us not to despise prophecies, but to test and evaluate them, to embrace “what is good” and reject “every form of evil” (1 Thess 5:20-21).

Third, who formed “a synagogue of Satan” and taught “the deep things Satan” (Rev 2:9, 24; 3:9)? Wow, this is serious! Something insidious had invaded the early church! What was it? Gnosticism (Greek gnosis means “knowledge”). Gnosticism refers to a particular kind of knowledge—a secret knowledge into the divine mysteries. Apparently, Christians have gotten everything wrong. “Christ” is the revealer of gnosis, the secret knowledge of people’s divinity. “Salvation” occurs when one realizes that their higher self is part of the Cosmic Christ. “The deep things of Satan” center on Christ Consciousness—not on Jesus Christ himself. Again, heresy is not hard to detect. It always distorts Scripture.

Throughout church history, heresy always diminishes the sufficiency of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross by tampering with Scripture. Thankfully, Jesus continues to stand in the midst of his Church to expose whatever endangers his Bride.