What does tolerate mean in Revelation 2:20? – They tolerated Jezebel
In Revelation 2:20 God tells the Christians at the city of Thyatira that they had tolerated a false teacher called Jezebel. The woman had impressive credentials. She called herself a prophetess and she was a teacher. She had followers who indulged in sexual immorality and idol worship. The key word in the condemnation is that they tolerated this false woman teacher. But what does tolerate mean in Revelation 2:20?
But I have this against you, that 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)
What Does Tolerate Mean in Revelation 2:20?
The Greek word that is translated as “tolerate” is aphiemi. It has a wide range of meaning. The word is a compound word of apo and hiemi. The Greek word apo means “from” and hiemi means “to put in motion or send.” When combined together, the words literally mean “to send from,” “to put in motion from” or “to leave.” That is, aphiemi has the sense of sending someone or something away or releasing someone or something. It can mean “to not hinder.” The noun form of the word was used to refer to the “release of slaves or prisoners.” The word was used by Homer to refer to the voluntary release of someone from prison or to release control over. That is, someone was sent away and control was no longer exercised.
Consequently in Revelation 2:20, aphiemi has the sense of sending away or releasing control. This means that the leaders refused to control or stop the false teacher and just “let go” or allowed her to teach error. When God forgives us, He also “lets go” or releases our sin from us. We could also say He sends our sins away from us.
On the Day of Atonement, two goats were taken by the high priest of Israel and presented to the Lord (Leviticus 16:7-10). Lots are thrown and one goat was selected and was then sacrificed to the Lord. It was sacrificed in the Holy of Holies for the impurities, transgressions, and sins of the people (Leviticus 16:16). After the sacrifice was completed, the high priest laid both hands on the second goat and confessed all the sins of the people over the goat. When he finished, the scapegoat was released into the wilderness carrying their sins away.
Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. Leviticus 16:21-22 (NASB)
This is a beautiful example of God’s forgiveness. It is also a perfect illustration of aphiemi.
Meaning of Revelation 2:20
Therefore, the church leaders in Thyatira sinned by releasing the teacher, Jezebel, to teach error. They let go. They allowed her to continue. They failed to exercise control over the doctrine taught by their teachers. The church tolerated Jezebel.
The Christian church has always struggled with controlling the doctrine taught by their teachers. In Acts 20:29-30, the apostle Paul warned the Ephesian elders that false teachers would come up from within the church and teach error. They would seek followers.
I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Acts 20:29-30 (NASB)
Jezebel is an example of such a false teacher; but sadly, the church leaders did not remove her. Yes, some individuals in the congregation would have been upset if she had been removed because Revelation 2:20-23 states that she had followers, but purity of doctrine is far more important. To remove her would have been a loving act toward Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord since distortion of the Bible is contrary His will. The most serious condemning word in Revelation 2:20 is that the church leaders tolerated the false teaching of Jezebel.
1. Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Christian Copyrights. 1983, p. 88.
2. Ibid. p. 89.
3. Spicq, C., & Ernest, J. D. Theological lexicon of the New Testament. Hendrickson Publishers. vol. 1, p. 238.
4. Colin Brown. Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Regency Publishers. 1975. vol. 1., p. 697.
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