Thyatira (The church that condoned sin)
Thyatira exists today as the Turkish city of Akhisar, meaning “white castle”. It lies in the far west of Turkey, south of Istanbul and almost due east of Athens. Although it is about 50 miles from the Mediterranean, it would have been closer in ancient times, as the sea has retreated some. In the Roman Empire, Thyatira stood on the border between Lydia and Mysia. It was famous for its dyeing and was a center of the indigo trade. Among the ancient ruins of the city, inscriptions have been found relating to the guild of dyers in the city. More guilds were present in Thyatira than any other contemporary city in the Roman province of Asia. Inscriptions mention the following: wool-workers, linen-workers, makers of outer garments, dyers, leather-workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave-dealers and bronze-smiths.
Thyatira was never an important political city. It was located on a trade route between Pergamum and Sardis and never reached the prominence that some of the other cities in Asia achieved. Today Thyatira has a population of about 50,000 people. The name “Thyatira” means “the castle of Thya.” Other names which it was known by are Pelopia and Semiramis. Before the time of Nicator the place was regarded as a holy city because of the temple of the ancient Lydian sun-god, Tyrimnos who was identified with the Greek God Apollo. Near this temple games were held in his honor. Upon the early coins of Thyatira this Asiatic god is represented as a horseman, bearing a double-headed battle-ax. A pagan goddess associated with him was Boreatene. Other pagan gods were worshipped here as well such as Asklepios, Baachus, Artemis.
There was another temple at Thyatira which was dedicated to the worship of the Chaldean Goddess, Sambethe. At this temple was a prophetess who was well known in the city and who claimed to receive knowledge directly from the pagan god. She then imparted this information to the worshippers who came to the temple. It is quite possible this well known prophetess was represented as the Jezebel Jesus mentioned in his message to the church here.
Lydia the seller of purple was from this city, “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple , of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us” (Acts 16:14-15). Lydia’s conversion happened when Paul was in Philippi. It is possible the Lydia and her household started the church in Thyatira upon her return. However if this is not the case, Paul spent 2 years in Ephesus preaching the gospel, “And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10). It is obvious that Paul was instrumental in starting this congregation of the Lord’s church in Thyatira.
“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like a flame of fire, and his feet are like unto burnished brass:“
There’s no doubt here who is doing the talking. He identifies Himself as the Son of God. Any Christian on earth would know who this is referring to instantly. His eyes are described as being like a flame of fire, piercing, illuminating and consuming. The illuminating piercing eyes of the Son of God see everything; the good and the bad, the just and the unjust. Nothing escapes his notice. His feet are like burnished brass, which is a repeat of the imagery of Jesus in Revelation 1:15. Daniel used this imagery as well in Daniel 10:6, “his body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as flaming torches, and his arms and his feet like unto burnished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude.” Burnished brass was purified in a heated furnace. The imagery here is of feet, firm, strong and pure, that can stamp one’s enemies out in fiery judgment, which is exactly what is going to happen in the end to all the enemies of God (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
“I know thy works, and thy love and faith and ministry and patience, and that thy last works are more than the first.”
As with the other churches, Jesus is well aware of their good qualities and they are commended for them. Their good qualities are very similar to the Thessalonians whom Paul praised as well; “remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father” (1 Thessalonians 1:3).
The Christians in Thyatira had “agape” love which is translated as “charity” in the KJV. Agape love is the one that will compel others to give of themselves to others. It is a self sacrificing love that expresses itself in the interest of the well being of others.
The Christians in Thyatira were commended for their faith, that by which we are to walk and work. Hebrews 11 lists a whole roll of Biblical people who lived and walked by faith. There are two faiths spoken of in the Bible. There is the faith that saves which is characterized as faith in action. Faith is absolutely necessary for our salvation, (Hebrews 11:6). But, it is a comprehensive term which includes many things. Belief is faith assenting; repentance is faith turning; Confession is faith speaking; baptism is faith submitting; the Christian life is faith serving and rejoicing.
The other faith spoken of in scripture is a dead faith which is devoid of works. James wrote of this faith; “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” (James 2:14). It is certain that the faith Jesus was commending the Christians at Thyatira for was not a workless, lifeless, dead faith.
The Christians at Thyatira were commended for their “ministry“, or “service” in the KJV. Our service to God includes our worship. However this is not where it ends. Christians are commanded to “serve one another” (Galatians 5:13), “from the heart” (Ephesians 6:6). Jesus taught in Matthew 25:31-46 that when we serve one another, we are in fact serving God. And in contrast, Jesus also taught that when we do not serve one another, we are withholding our service to God. So we know from the praise of Jesus that the Christians in Thyatira were serving God and serving one another faithfully and acceptably in the eyes of God.
The Christians at Thyatira were commended for their patience. They were being steadfast under all circumstances. While they did not live in the religious and political centers of Asia, there were still plenty of pagan worship all about them. There was persecution, there was need, there was hunger. Faithful Christians were required to abstain from the worldly pagan practices in all forms. The riotous public feasts where the meat from the animals sacrificed to pagan gods were present here as well as in Pergamos and Ephesus and we will see later on that Jesus addresses this specifically.
The Christians in Thyatira were commended for all their works. Their works were increasing as they matured and grew. They were doing more and more as opportunities presented themselves. The application we can make from this for today is that God is pleased when we serve Him faithfully and grow in works which is commanded in scripture elsewhere (2 Peter 1:5-7). We will see in the next letter to Sardis what Jesus’ evaluation is for a church who’s works are not acceptable. The Christian today must add the good qualities that the Christians in Thyatira were exhibiting and grow in our works in order to be assured of living the faith of God faithfully. Our works and faith are the totality of our Christian walk.
“Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.“
Once again as evidenced in previous letters to other congregations, good works do not justify disobedience. While the Christians in Thyatira were rich in good works and diligently serving God and growing, they had something wrong that threatened their standing with God. There was the presence of a woman who called herself a prophetess. She was guilty of teaching and or seducing God’s faithful servants to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed to idols. This is the second time eating things sacrificed to idols has been directly mentioned by Jesus and it was referred to as the deeds of the Nicolaitans in letter to Ephesus. Jesus made a direct connection between the doctrine of the Nicolaitans and eating things sacrificed to idols in his letter to Pergamos. While the Nicolaitans were not specifically mentioned, there is no doubting the presence of their doctrine which suggests that the eating of things sacrificed to idols was something not confined just to the Nicolaitans.
Pagan worship was prevalent everywhere in the Roman Empire. There were all kinds of Gods one could worship and then there were the Emperors everyone was forced to worship. Many of these pagan worships included animal sacrifices. With the sheer volume of pagan gods, it is easy to see that there is going to be an abundance of meat which unless consumed would otherwise be thrown away. So the question then arises, what to do with all this meat? The Roman citizens held public feasts where it was available to the general population. This seemed like a logical and efficient way to dispose of the slain animals and help to feed the poor citizenry. The problem here is that God forbad the Christians to partake in these feasts. Here was food aplenty for anyone who wished to eat their fill and the Christians could not eat of it. The Christian population of these cities were not the rich and powerful. They were poor, they were persecuted, distrusted and rejected. It was difficult for Christians to find paying jobs in order to feed their families. Hunger is a powerful temptation and it would be very difficult for the parents of anybody to watch their children go hungry while the rest of the population ate their fill at these feasts.
The Christians of the first century were living under some extremely difficult circumstances. One of the applications we can make for ourselves today is that our circumstances have nothing whatsoever to do with whether we must obey God or not. If the first century Christians had to remain faithful no matter what their circumstances were, then we can be assured today that we can be no less if we are to be faithful as well.
The Christians in Thyatira permitted this prophetess to teach error. She seduced them to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed to idols. We should keep in mind that idol worship is spiritual fornication. This woman either taught or enticed people to worship her god, or to directly participate in physical fornication, both of which is condemned by God. We don’t know which specifically is in view here. It is likely that this is inclusive of both. It’s certain she was not seducing the Christians to worship the one true and living God, else Jesus would have not condemned her.
Jesus chastised the church at Thyatira for allowing this woman to do this. They either did not speak out against her, or they allowed her to directly influence those within the church in some fashion without any kind of restraint. The application for us today is that when one tolerates error, he endorses it. Even silence can be an endorsement of error. The church at Thyatira was doing everything right except they were not speaking out against error when it came to their doorstep.
Jesus called her Jezebel. In old testament history Jezebel was the wife of Ahab, the 7th king over the northern kingdom of Israel. she was the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians. Of particular interest to us is the similarity between Jezebel and the prophetess Jesus mentioned who was teaching the people in the church at Thyatira it was ok to eat meat sacrificed to idols. The story of Elijah challenging the prophets of Baal to a confrontation is a well known story from the Old Testament. Four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal sacrificed a bullock on an alter and called on their god to answer them. When Baal failed to answer, Elijah sacrificed a bullock to God and his sacrifice was answered by fire from heaven. Of interest to us in this study is that these four hundred and fifty false prophets of Baal ate at Jezebel’s table (1 Kings 18:19). The original Jezebel worshipped a false god and ate with his prophets. The false prophetess in Thyatira, represented as Jezebel, worshipped a false god and taught the Christians it was ok to eat meat sacrificed to idols with the people who were doing so.
“And I gave her time that she should repent; and she willeth not to repent of her fornication.“
Later in the Revelation chapter 9 and chapter 16 we read of God sending plagues and pouring bowls of wrath out on the Roman Empire. The purpose for this was to try and get the persecutors to repent and turn to God (Revelation 9:20-21; 16:9-11). God did not want to destroy the Roman Empire, rather He wanted them to repent and even though they were killing His people, He gave them warning after warning and chance after chance to turn from their wickedness and be spared.
Have we ever wondered about the Canaanites that Israel displaced when they took the promised land? Why were the Canaanites removed from their homeland? Was it fair that they lost the land and Israel received it? God’s longsuffering is the answer to those questions.
“And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Genesis 15:12-16).
The iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full. The Amorites are, in this context, the Canaanites. Historically, the Amorites inhabited a larger region, but at this time they dominated the land of Canaan. A few chapters later, we learn that God would have spared Sodom if there had been as few as 10 righteous people in it. God does not immediately and swiftly destroy entire cities or nations, because of the evil of the majority. He is longsuffering and gives everybody a chance to repent and be saved. Thus it was with the Roman Empire. They, just like the prophetess represented figuratively as Jezebel, were given time and incentive to repent. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
“Behold, I cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of her works.”
God’s patience is running out with this woman. She obviously likes to spend time in a bed, so God is going to put her in one, but the bed He is going to throw her into is one of eternal punishment. There are only two options, repent or be punished. The penalty for sin is tribulation and it carries eternal consequences as we will see in verse 23. But even now, with God’s patience nearly gone, He still gives the exception that can save her soul and the souls of those who company with her. They must repent. What a message of hope, not only for the church of Thyatira, but for those not within the church. It is never too late to repent as long as one is alive in the flesh.
“And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he that searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto each one of you according to your works.”
“The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). God wasn’t going to allow the churches in Ephesus and Pergamos to get away with sin, He sure isn’t going to allow Jezebel and her consorts off either. Jesus referred to those who company with her as her “children“. Followers of Christ are called the “children of God” (Galatians 3:26). Those who follow after people like Jezebel and do not pursue righteousness are the “children of the devil” (1 John 3:10).
“and all the churches shall know”
Jezebel and her children are going to be made an example of to the other churches if they do not repent.
Jesus says here that He searches the reins and the hearts of men. Elsewhere in the New Testament we read, “Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men” (Acts 1:24). “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” (Hebrews 4:13). There is no mistaking in the eyes of the first century Christians who this is referring to.
“and I will give unto each one of you according to your works“
Jesus says that He will give unto each one of them according to their works. Jesus is speaking here to each individual in the church at Thyatira. The application for us here today is that we cannot take refuge in the collective works of a congregation. We are each going to be rewarded according to our works. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap“ (2 Corinthians 5:10). “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
“But to you I say, to the rest that are in Thyatira, as many as have not this teaching, who know not the deep things of Satan, as they are wont to say; I cast upon you none other burden.”
Not everybody in the church at Thyatira endorsed the teachings of this false prophetess. To those who did not, Jesus said he would not burden them any further. In other words, there were some in the church at Thyatira that Jesus found acceptable. The application for us today is that the membership of a congregation is not finally judged collectively, but individually. Just being in association with a congregation of the Lord’s people is not enough to please Jesus. The world had penetrated the church at Thyatira. They were guilty of allowing it. Not all of the membership were guilty and to them no other burden but rejecting false teaching was given to them.
“Nevertheless that which ye have, hold fast till I come.”
Jesus is speaking to the faithful in the church at Thyatira. Don’t give up what you do have. Don’t let the world come into the church any further. Don’t give in; hold fast; hold solid; be steadfast and don’t give up.
“And he that overcometh, and he that keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give authority over the nations“
Notice here that we have a definition of what it means to overcome and how to do it. Those who overcome are the ones who keep the works of Jesus Christ unto the end. That means following and obeying His commandments to the end. This means every end; the end of difficulties; the end of life and the end of the ages. Victory comes to those individuals who overcome all opposition no matter whether it comes from without, or from within the body of Christ.
The power over the nations means they will prevail as the Lord’s church over the nations. Rome is going to fall, but Christianity will prevail and history has shown this to be true. Many many nations have come and gone since the first century, but Christianity has emerged victorious no matter what has happened. Isaiah prophesied in chapter 9 verse 7 that of His kingdom there shall “be no end“. Daniel prophesied that the kingdom of Christ would “never be destroyed” (Daniel 2:44). As long as the earth stands, there will be Christians somewhere.
The application for us today is that the world gains a foothold in the church and it widens and eventually becomes a breach. Slowly, insidiously, the desires of men work their way in and corrupt the purity of the church. God is warning us against the world creeping into His church. God has left the responsibility of the preservation of His kingdom in the hands of mankind. We are the watchmen and the soldiers. He is counting on us to carry the torch. The church was purchased by the blood of Jesus and since then has been upheld by the blood of the martyrs of centuries of persecution. Were it not for their staunch faithfulness and loyalty, the true New Testament church would not be what it is today. There would not be any hope for us or for the world.
In order for the church to be victorious over the nations in the future, we need to keep the church strong and pure for our children and their children. If they are to have the hope tomorrow that we have today, we must make sure the church is today what it was in the first century. We are told in scripture to watch and live as if Jesus’ return is upon us now, but we must plan for the existence of the Lord’s church beyond. If the church is to be tomorrow what it was in the first century, then it must be the church of tomorrow, today.
“and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to shivers; as I also have received of my Father”
Here is another example of old testament language helping to shed light on the meaning of something in Revelation: “Ask of me, and I will give (thee) the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psalms 2:8-9). Jesus is drawing on the imagery of familiar language in the minds of the Christians to paint the picture of what he means while leaving those outside Christianity in the dark. This is a continuation of the thought introduced in verse 26. Just as Christ received victory over the enemy by the Father, even so, shall Christians who overcome have victory over their enemies through Jesus Christ. They will destroy their enemies with rods of iron and dash them to pieces like a shattered piece of pottery. And this is accomplished with the only weapons available to the Christian. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds),” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).
“And I will give him the morning star.”
This is the reward for those who overcome and persevere to the end. To those who have seen the last star shining at daybreak, this is what signifies the coming of light on the earth and the end of darkness. The literal morning star in the skies precedes the coming of the sun just like the morning star of Revelation precedes the coming of the brightest of all the stars. This is the light after dark affliction. This is the light shining on a world lost in the darkness of sin.
In Revelation 22:16, Jesus describes Himself as the bright and morning star. How glorious it will be for those who overcame in Thyatira and remained faithful till the end to be given the morning star. The application for us today is no different. We can receive the morning star just like they did by living like they lived.
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.”
The Spirit was speaking to the church at Thyatira through the written words of the inspired apostle John. They were told to “hear” what the Spirit said through this medium. The word “hear” comes from the Greek word “akouo (ak-oo’-o)”; which carries the meaning of to “give audience to” or to “listen“. They were to heed what was being written by inspiration. The Holy Spirit did not go to the individual churches or their members and reveal God’s message to them directly. God speaks to us today through His Son (Hebrews 1:2) and this is accomplished through inspiration of the Holy Spirit by the hands of inspired men. The Holy Spirit does not operate in conversion separate and apart from the word of God.
Today, we “hear” or “listen” to what the Spirit said in the same way they did at Thyatira. Through the inspired word of God, recorded for us in the holy scriptures. We are commanded to be led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14). This is accomplished today when let the word of God, revealed by inspiration through scripture, be our authority and lead us in all things.