24) He Knows our Kidneys! (Revelation 2:23)
Our Lord clearly states that the casting of Jezebel on a sickbed and the infliction of her children with great tribulation, to the point of physical death itself, will be an unmistakable sign to all that nothing escapes his gaze or slips in beneath the radar, so to speak. But how does Christ’s judgment against the unrepentant reveal to all Christians everywhere that he has exhaustive and altogether accurate knowledge of the hearts and minds of everyone?
Look again at Revelation 2:23. Following his declaration of impending discipline, he says, “and all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.”
Before we consider this issue I want to make clear how loudly this passage shouts: “Jesus Christ is God!” We see it in v. 23 in two ways. First, he is omniscient, a recurring theme throughout these letters to the churches. The statement here is an obvious allusion to v. 18 where he is described as the one who “has eyes like a flame of fire.” His gaze penetrates all human pretense. His searing vision yields to no barrier. Try as we may to obscure his sight or distract his focus, our Lord sees through and beyond every human façade, every evasive tactic, every clever cover-up.
But there is a second way in which our Lord’s deity is seen. Revelation 2:23 is an unmistakable allusion to Jeremiah 17:10, where we read, “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind [lit., “kidneys” in Hebrew], to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
The significance of this latter text is that it is Yahweh who is speaking of himself. Yet here in Revelation it is a description of Jesus! Jesus is Yahweh incarnate! He is not only omniscient Deity, he is also the Judge of all mankind. He sees and knows all and will call all to account for their deeds.
Let’s return now to the issue at hand. Jesus declares that his decisive action against unrepentant sinners in Thyatira is a warning to all. It should forever put to rest any lingering doubts about whether he knows what is going on in his churches and whether he is of the inclination to take whatever steps are necessary to rectify matters when they get out of hand.
By observing what befalls those in Thyatira, Christians in other congregations will immediately know that Jesus knew and that he will hold all accountable for their deeds. There’s no miscarriage of justice here. No legal slight of hand. No such thing as inadmissible evidence or testimony being stricken from the record. The judgment of Jesus is based on comprehensive knowledge of every idea in the mind and every impulse of the heart of all mankind.
The word translated “mind” (ESV) is literally the word for “kidneys” (nephros). It was often used to describe the inmost, secretive, solemn movements of the soul. Those deep inner impulses we so naively think are hidden from everyone but ourselves are seen with utmost clarity by the Lord Jesus. Every intent of the heart, every meditation of the mind, every fantasy, fear, emotion, doubt, deliberation, and decision are the focus of his penetrating gaze.
That is why we can rest assured that those who suffer, as did those in Thyatira, are not mistreated. The disciplinary hand of God is guided by the comprehensive scope of his understanding. No one can protest by saying, “But God, that’s not what I truly meant,” or “But God, I actually intended to do otherwise,” for God knows every purpose, plan, and premeditation.
Every affection is seen for what it is, no matter how hard we may strive to conceal it within. Every attitude is known for what it entails, notwithstanding our most diligent efforts to convince ourselves and others that we never entertained such thoughts or conceived such fantasies.
No one expressed it more clearly than the apostle Paul, whose language in 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 veritably echoes that of Jesus in Revelation 2. I’ll close with his words: “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.