The Church at Thyatira
The church at Thyatira DIG: What are the strengths of this body of believers? How is it adulterous? What does the symbolic name Jezebel indicate about the woman in this church? How does Yeshua describe Himself? How do you interpret this description? What is He saying about Himself? Why is this appropriate for the body in Thyatira? How is the nature and source of the temptation in Thyatira like, and unlike, that in Pergamum? What do you think Jesus’ promises in 2:26-27 mean?
REFLECT: Which of the qualities in 2:19 apply to you this week? Why? Who or what has played a role similar to Jezebel in you life? How? How did Yeshua free you from that influence? What do you appreciate about the promise to overcomers in this section? Why?
Jesus Christ has called His Church to be holy and maintain purity by dealing with sin in its midst (Matthew 18:15-17). After the birth of the Church, initially made up of only Jewish believers on the Feast Shavu’ot, the Lord demonstrated His commitment to a pure church by executing Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). Rabbi Sha’ul was also passionate about the purity of the church at Corinth (Second Corinthians 5:1-5; Second Corinthians 11:2).
Despite the clear biblical teaching to the contrary, churches throughout history have tolerated sin following a pattern like the Thyatiran congregation, whose members were engaging in both spiritual and physical adultery. Through the insidious efforts of a false teacher, those sins had become pervasive in the body in Thyatira. This letter was a sobering and marked a new phase in the letters to seven churches. There is a general deterioration in the character, with the exception of the church in Philadelphia, as they became more and more worldly. That decline continued to spiral downward to the apostasy at Laodicea.
The phrase, Satan’s so-called deep secrets, indicates how far the believers in Thyatira had fallen in relation to those of Smyrna and Pergamum. The believers at Smyrna faced persecution from the synagogue of Satan, or unbelieving Gentiles (2:9). The Pergamum church existed where Satan had his throne (2:13), the greatest center of pagan and emperor worship in the world at that time. But the church in Thyatira had plunged headlong into the very depths of satanic deception.
This is the longest letter of the seven, even though addressed to the church in the smallest of the seven cities. It has an important message for us today. False doctrine and sin are not to be allowed into the local body – even under the banner of love, toleration, coexistence or unity. There may be much that is commendable in a body of believers. It may appear to have an effective ministry on the surface, and it may be growing numerically. Yet false doctrine and immorality, if not confronted, will bring judgment upon it.82
Over the last several decades, tolerance has become one of the greatest “virtues” of our increasingly secular society. This is not the tolerance that our grandparents practiced. Their kind of tolerance meant that even though you disagreed and disapproved of someone’s beliefs, values and lifestyle, you stuck to your own point of view while accepting the views of others to believe and live as they chose. In other words, you didn’t relive the Dark Ages by grabbing your pitchfork and rioting against people with different opinions. As long as they operated with the law, their opinions were tolerated. But today, instead of tolerating beliefs or practices with which we strongly disagree, our secular society expects us to agree with everybody’s beliefs, values and lifestyles. Every deviant behavior wants to be affirmed as being “normal.” As a result, the belief in absolute truth becomes weaker and weaker. How can there be absolute truth if everybody’s beliefs are equal?
Dear Holy Heavenly Father, Praise you for your holiness and your love. Praise you that You are so pure and powerful that You never compromise. Thank You for defeating evil and not tolerating any sin. May our love for You and our desire to follow Your example of No tolerance for evil-be more important to us than our desire to be tolerant of others so they will like us. We fix our eyes on heaven, on pleasing You and on our home of eternal peace and great joy in heaven forever. Please give us the strength to fight the battle against the wrong idea that “All things are right if it is right to you.” Remind us that the final battle of the ages is done, over with a victorious battle by the sword coming out of Your mouth (Revelation 19:11-16, 19-21). The enemy totally defeated, thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur-and you will reign! Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The One riding on it is called Faithful and True, and He judges and makes war in righteousness. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and many royal crowns are on His head. He has a name written that no one knows except Himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which He is called is “the Word of God.” I worship You and choose to love You by not tolerating other’s wrong beliefs. In the holy name of Your Son and the power of His resurrection. Amen
Today, as long as you are syncretistic, or believe that everything goes, people are tolerant; however, as soon as you believe in absolutes, they become extremely intolerant. A culture that tolerates evil calls disagreement phobia. Taking a stand is considered hate. Conviction is seen as bigoted fanaticism. Sound biblical doctrine is regarded as discrimination. As in many churches that compromise their values today, this was a picture of the ancient church at Thyatira. In His letter to that church, Messiah addressed the issue of big sins in a small church – and the even bigger issue of tolerating them.
1. The description of Christ: The title Son of God and the two other phrases are taken from the vision of the risen Messiah in 1:12-17. This title emphasizes His deity, stressing the point that He was one with ADONAI (John 5:18). The change of wording from 1:13 should not escape us. There, John describes Him as someone like a son of man; here, however, He is identified as the Son of God. Indeed, this is the only time in the book of Revelation that this title is given to Him because He comes to the church in Thyatira, not as a sympathetic High Priest, but as Judge. Nothing can be hidden from Him because His eyes are like blazing fire (Dani’el 10:6). As Hebrews 4:13 says: Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account. His feet are like burnished bronze because He comes to this church in judgment (1:14-15 and here in 2:18). Everything in the courtyard of the Tabernacle was made of bronze because it pointed to judgment (see the commentary on Exodus, to see link click Fa – Build an Altar of Acacia Wood Overlaid with Bronze). This frightening description of Messiah should have been terrifying to them, but few repented.
2. The church: As is the case with the churches at Smyrna and Pergamum, the Bible does not record the founding of the church in Thyatira. The book of Acts tells us that a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, was converted and baptized, along with the members of her household, under Rabbi Sha’ul’s ministry at Philippi (Acts 16:14-15). So it seems that Lydia and her household participated in starting the church in Thyaria, probably as an outreach of the apostle Paul’s ministry at Ephesus (Acts 19:10). It was evidently the smallest church from the smallest city of the seven. But big problems can occur in small places.
3. The city: From Pergamum, the northernmost of the seven cities, the Roman road curved east and then southeast to Thyatira, about forty miles away. The name of the city means continual sacrifice. The longest of the seven letters is addressed to the least known, least important and least remarkable of the cities. All the other cities were visually remarkable. Thyatira, however, was built on flat land and lacked an acropolis. Its lack of natural fortifications played a major role in its history.
Thyatira was founded by one of Alexander the Great’s successors, Seleucus, as a military outpost guarding the north-south road. Because Thyatira had no natural defenses, the city was continually destroyed and rebuilt. It was the gateway to Pergamum, and would only be useful militarily to buy time for that city to ready for attack. Finally, around 190 BC, Thyatira was conquered by the Romans and thus enjoyed peace under Roman rule. At that time it became a thriving commercial center. Is location on the main north-south road, formally a liability, and then became an asset. It connected Pergamum with Laodicea, Smyrna and the inner regions of Asia. At the time that John wrote Revelation, it was just entering its greatest period of prosperity.
Unlike Pergamum or Smyrna, it was not an important religious center. It did possess a few temples, but it had no strong devotion to the worship of the emperor. The primary god worshiped there was the Greek sun god, Apollo. There were a few Torah observant Jews in Thyatira, but not enough to cause trouble for the church there. The problem there was not external persecution, but internal compromise.
Thyatira gained a reputation as a blue-collar town, where the trade guilds stood at the center of the social and religious life. To hold a job or run a business, it was necessary to be a member of a guild. These guilds enjoyed feasts that were dedicated to their patron deities, in whose honor they were held – complete with meat sacrificed to idols. Some believers would argue that the alleged gods were not real so participation in the meals did not compromise their witness for the Lord. The real problem was the fact that the feasts usually ended in an orgy. This was the same problem that the other churches in Asia faced. Ephesus had opposed all such compromise with pagan practices; in Pergamum, a small number of believers fully gave themselves over to pagan social life. The problem in Thyatira, as we shall see, assumed a new and dangerous form.83
4. The commendation: I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first (2:19). In some ways Thyatira was strong where Ephesus was weak. Unlike Ephesus, which had lost its first love and stopped doing the things they had done at earlier, the latter works of Thyatira were more impressive than in its beginnings. In fact it was the first church of the seven to be commended for its love. They believed the right message; they had the right motivation. But all their fine attributes, as crucial as they were, could not substitute for godly living, and their pagan life style was dragging them down.
5. The concern: So outwardly they seemed to be doing well. It’s members demonstrated love, faith, service and perseverance. They were committed – in fact increasing – in their work for God and His Kingdom. So what did Yeshua have against them? The problem was two fold. First, they violated the biblical teaching that a woman is not to be the authoritative teacher of her local church (see my commentary on Genesis Lv – Women in Ministry). But a woman who called herself a prophetess was courting them. False teaching can come from gifted people and Jezebel was clearly gifted. She claimed to have special revelations from the Lord, which qualified her to be the authoritative teacher in the body of believers at Thyatira. A little compromise here, a little compromise there, and before long she had won their hearts. She was obviously subversive to the church leadership and won over followers among the Thyatiran believers . . . all to their detriment.
Secondly, they compounded their error by tolerating her teaching and being led into idolatry. Undoubtedly, Jezebel was not the false prophetess’s real name, but like the infamous wife of King Ahab, she was Satan’s agent to corrupt God’s people and was dangerously close to eliminating true worship of ADONAI. She was deceptive, idolatrous, domineering, scheming and vicious. Thus, Yeshua branded her with the symbolic name of Jezebel.84 Here is the opposite situation from that in Ephesus. The Ephesians had tested those who called themselves apostles and had rejected them, but in doing so they had become harsh and critical. In Thyatira, however, a church that was abounding and increasing in love and faith tolerated a false prophetess to their own spiritual undoing.85
When a woman is used symbolically in Scripture, she represents a religious entity either positively or negatively. On the positive side, there is Yisra’el as the Wife of ADONAI and the Church as the Bride of Christ; on the negative side, there is the Great Prostitute of Chapter 17, and here, the woman Jezebel. This name would remind these believers of the pagan wife of king Ahab in the TaNaKh, who introduced pagan worship into Isra’el that surpassed all the previous sins of idolatry in the northern Kingdom.
Idolatry in the northern Kingdom of Isra’el began with the first king, Jeroboam. But there was a difference between the sin of Jeroboam and the sin of Ba’al worship introduced by Jezebel. The sin of Jeroboam was a corruption of the true religion. Jeroboam set up a golden calf in the cities of Dan and Bethel, but they represented the God that brought them out of the land of Egypt. This was idolatry, but it was a corruption of the true worship of the Lord (First Kings 12:25-33). With Jezebel, however, a whole new god and system of worship were introduced in Isra’el (First Kings 16:29-33). Through Jezebel, Ba’al worship came into the northern Kingdom, resulting in more idolatry than ever before. The worship of Ba’al involved sexuality immorality. In the corruption of the true religion, morality was still present; however, in the worship of Ba’al there was total immorality.
Therefore, Jezebel became a very real picture of what the Roman church evolved into during the period of the Dark Ages. It introduced a paganism that resulted in idolatry and spiritual adultery. It became a new religious system bearing little resemblance to the New Covenant body of believers.86 So like the Jezebel of old, this woman misled the body at Thyatira by her teaching, and led them into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols (2:20). The error of the prophetess Jezebel was the same as that of the Nicolatians in Pergamum, full acceptance of the world’s value system. The reason the problem was so much worse in Thyatira was that membership in the trade guilds involved participation in the feats that led them into sexual immorality.
Obviously, despite the virtues of some the people of Thyatira, most of the people in the church there were getting sidetracked and going along with teachings that were contrary to the gospel. It was not enough for them to rest on their accomplishments. Yeshua was challenging the sin in their midst.
It is not hard to understand the dilemma. At times, we can be so concerned with our personal lives, trying to grow in holiness or working for the Lord, that we overlook what would otherwise be obvious sin. We may be trying to advance in one area of our faith, while at the same time we ignore problems in another area.
When you see a family member getting involved in something that is harmful, do you turn away, or do you storm heaven in intercession, or for opportunities to win that person to Christ? Do you allow gossip or cheating to take place at work, as long as you don’t participate in it? Or do you try to say something or look for peaceful ways to offer alternatives? In your own life, do you focus on having a good prayer time, and yet tolerate “little white lies?” Let’s not put blinders on when it comes to living out our faith. Let’s hold on to what Yeshua has done, and not tolerate anything or anyone that distorts the gospel.87
Graciously, Jesus gave the false prophetess time to repent of her immorality, but she was unwilling (2:21) because she loved the darkness rather than the light (John 3:19). But she refused to repent, and therefore the Lord declared that He would cast her on a bed of sickness, and would also make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repented of her ways (2:22). The Greek text simply reads bed, but translators have correctly rendered the idea of the TaNaKh that means to fall sick (Exodus 21:18). Probably a contrast between a bed of sickness and a bed of adultery is intended. Messiah promised to punish Jezebel with some sort of sickness.88 In addition, any of the believers in the body who did not repent of their sin of physical and spiritual adultery would also suffer with her.
Then the Lord named a third group that would face judgment, declaring: I will strike her children dead. Here John distinguishes between those who joined in the adultery with her and those who are called her children. Death was the judgment for the latter, while sickness was the punishment for the former. Evidently the Holy Spirit intends to differentiate between those who were still struggling with the problem of how to be loyal to Messiah and at the same time keep their jobs, and those who had given themselves over wholeheartedly to the teaching of the false prophetess.89 The result of this would be that all the other six churches would know that Yeshua was the One who searched their hearts and minds, and He would repay each of them according to their deeds (2:23). As the Psalmist said: O righteous God, who searches minds and hearts, bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure (Psalm 7:9).
In the larger context, verses 22–23 contain some of the harshest words of judgment in these seven letters. They describe the judgment of those with the spirit of Jezebel, who think like Jezebel, or those who believe what the original Jezebel believed. Therefore, they will go through the Great Tribulation, but the faithful believers, like those in the church of Philadelphia will not.
6. The command: Having warned the followers of the false prophetess to repent, Christ gave words of comfort to the rest of the true believers in Thyatira who did not hold to her teaching, even through they tolerated her. Even though in the minority, the true believers were those who had not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets. Various Gnostic philosophies appealed to people’s pride by promising spiritual knowledge deeper than available to ordinary mortals. Many modern cults make the same empty promises. Jezebel and her followers had claimed to understand the very depths of Satan’s realm and yet remain spiritually untouched. In other words, they believed they could swim in a spiritual toilet and come up smelling like a rose. In that pre-Gnostic teaching, they taught they were free to participate in sins of the body without it affecting their spiritual life. In their twisted thinking, because the spirit belongs to ADONAI it didn’t matter if they attended idolatrous feasts or engaged in orgies. They wanted to live like the devil and then brazenly come to worship God (2:24). Her false teaching is alive and well today under a variety of names; and just when faithful believers put these modern heresies in the grave, they seem to jump right back out again! That’s because it’s so enticing to justify immorality in the name of grace.
We need to take a stand against false doctrine in the Church. We are in no position to condemn others (Like 6:37; Romans 2:1); however, Paul instructed the Corinthians to judge those within the local church by rebuking sin and correcting false teaching. This often meant removing the wicked person from the church through proper church discipline (1 Cor 5:9-13). The purpose is not merely to purify the local church, but also the restoration of the open, habitual sinning believer. In other words, the biblical approach to toleration is, “Don’t judge the world (First John 2:15-17) for God will judge them. Instead, hold your local church or messianic synagogue to its own standards of doctrinal and moral purity.”
To the true believers, Jesus said: I will not impose any other burden on you. However, to prevent overconfidence, Christ commanded: Only hold on to what you have until I come (2:25). The English phrase hold fast, comes from the Greek word krateo, which points to the fact that their holding on would not be an easy thing to do. Bearing the burden of false teaching and immoral living in their own church, they were also under constant spiritual attack and ridicule from Jezebel and her followers. Continuing in their faithfulness would be task enough. This is true for us also today. We need to hate what is evil and cling to what is good until Messiah returns (Romans 12:9).
7. The counsel: The promise is two-fold. First, the victorious believer who overcomes Satan’s counterfeit system and does Christ’s will to the end will have a part in the Messianic Kingdom, where Jesus will give him authority over the nations. Those who remain faithful to Messiah in this life will rule with Him in His earthly Messianic Kingdom. As the psalmist said: He will rule them with an iron scepter; He will dash them into pieces like pottery (Psalm 2:7-9; Isaiah 30:14). Those who rebel against Christ’s rule during the Millennium will be destroyed (20:7-15). The believers who rule with Him will receive His authority, just as He received authority from His Father (2:26-27). Secondly, they will also have the Morning Star or Jesus Himself (2:28). In 22:16, the Lord said: I, Jesus, have sent My angel to give you this testimony for the church. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright and Morning Star (also see Numbers 24:17; Second Peter 1:19). The possession of the true faith presumes the possession of the true God.
Finally, Jesus says: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the messianic communities (2:29). This is a warning to the church at Thyatira to listen to what He has said. The letter reveals the seriousness of practicing, or tolerating, sin. But those who are faithful, even though there are struggles in this life, they will experience the fullness of the Lord as they reign with Him in His thousand-year Millennial Kingdom.
Jesus, gaze on me with your eyes like blazing fire. Pierce through my individualism and through any hollow reliance I have on my own abilities or actions. Help me not to tolerate sin, but hold on to what you have given me.90 In the name of the Son of God, whose feet are like burnished bronze, amen.
The compromising body of believers at Thyatira picture the Church during the Dark Ages from AD 607 to 1517. It was called the Dark Ages because spiritual darkness grew as a result of the marriage of the Church to the world. The light, which Jesus Christ entrusted to His Church all but flickered out during that dark time.
Thyatira means continual sacrifice, which is the central heresy of the Roman Catholic church. That is, the church of Rome denies the finished work of Messiah on the cross. Jesus said: It is finished (John 19:30), but the Roman church believes in a continual sacrifice that produces such things as sacraments and praying for the dead, burning candles and so on. The following changes and doctrines that have their source in paganism were added to the church during the Dark Ages:
AD 607 Boniface III made the first universally recognized pope
AD 709 Kissing the Pope’s feet started
AD 786 Worshiping of images and relics
AD 850 The use of “holy water”
AD 995 Canonization of dead saints
AD 998 Fasting on Fridays during Lent
AD 1079 Celibacy of the priesthood
AD 1090 Prayer beads introduced
AD 1184 The Inquisition
AD 1190 Sale of Indulgences started
AD 1215 The doctrine of transubstantiation started
AD 1220 Worship of the wafer or host
AD 1229 The Bible was forbidden to the common people
AD 1414 The communion cup was forbidden to the common people
AD 1439 The doctrine of purgatory was decreed
AD 1439 The doctrine of the seven sacraments was affirmed
AD 1508 The Ave Maria was approved
AD 1534 The Jesuit order was founded
AD 1545 Tradition was granted equal authority with the Bible
AD 1546 The Apocryphal books were put into the Roman Bible
All heresy falls into one of two basic categories: a false concept of the deity of Christ or mixing works with faith. The church of Rome can hardly be accused of teaching a false concept of the deity of Messiah; however, their emphasis on the continual sacrifice and rejection of Messiah’s finished work breeds a concept that caused mankind to try to earn his or her own salvation by works, penance, indulgences and many other satanically conceived ideas labeled by the Lord as Satan’s so-called deep secrets.91 Once the church at Thyatira started to compromise and fall in love with the world, it started a downward slide to spiritual death. About thirty miles southeast of Thyatira, the believers at Sardis had compromised to the point that they were on spiritual life support.