Revelation: The Culmination of Scripture – 06 (“The Letters to the Seven Churches – Thyatira”)
1. SCRIPTURE READING:
Rev.2:18-29 (ESV) ~ “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. 24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come. 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
2. THE CHURCH IN THYATIRA (2:18-29):
The longest and most difficult of the seven letters is addressed to the least known, least important, and least remarkable of the cities. Not only is the letter to Thyatira the longest, but it is also the centrepiece of the seven. The city was insignificant, but Jesus’s words and actions in the church there had something of central importance to teach all His churches.
Thyatira had been a military outpost and its identity was moulded by commerce and manufacturing industries, each dominated by a trade guild (an association of craftsmen or merchants formed for mutual aid and protection and for the furtherance of their professional interests) dedicated to a patron god or goddess. Among the trades were metalworking and the dying of fabrics. Lydia, who became a believer at Philippi in Macedonia, was an exporter of purple cloth from Thyatira (Acts 16:14). The influence of the economic sphere of life, exemplified in the trade guilds, challenges the church’s fidelity (Afrikaans = “getrouheid”), because wherever guilds were present, idolatry and immorality – the two great enemies of the early church – were almost always present there too.
The city boasted a special temple to Apollo, the “sun god,” which explains why the Lord introduced Himself as “the Son of God.”
We also see that John had to deliver a message of severe warning and judgement to this congregation, which explains the description of the Lord’s eyes and feet.
The Receiver of the Letter (vs.18a): “…to the angel of the church in Thyatira write…” Again, we see that this letter was addressed to the pastor of the church who on his turn had to read the letter to the rest of the church.
Christ’s Image (vs.18b): “The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” Jesus identifies Himself to this church as “the Son of God.” Christ rarely introduces Himself as God’s Son. His preferred description is the Son of man. But here He opts for that unusual name. In so doing, He is in a sense momentarily lifting the veil of His humanity, to be beheld more vividly as the second person of the Godhead. Thyatira needed to know that Christ was the very God Himself. This divine aspect of His being carried with it particular attributes pertinent (Afrikaans: “tersaaklike”) to the conditions and experience of the church under consideration.
First are the attributes of those of omniscience and righteousness. There is a sharp scrutiny (Afrikaans: “deursoekende”) in His eyes, which penetrate to the very roots of motives (vs.23) and they condemn the guilty in such a way that they can be best illustrated as flaming fires.
The other attribute He projects, is the illustration of “feet of burnished bronze,” and it is a description of Christ’s omnipotence (all-powerful) and omnipresence (all-present). With steady swift feet Christ is in every place with unassailable (Afrikaans: “onaantasbaar”) might. To the well doing, this is a source of inspiration. But to the wrong doer, here is reason for trembling.
Christ’s Praise (vs.19): “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.” Jesus’ knowledge of the church in Thyatira is twofold: He knows their love and their faithfulness. Their love manifests itself in “service” and their “faithfulness” in “perseverance” during trials.
The believers in Thyatira were a busy lot! They were involved in sacrificial ministry for the sake of others. What’s more, their works were increasing and characterised by faith, love, and patience. The church was therefore, not guilty of mere “religious activity.” Thyatira is strong not only where other churches are strong (persevering faith – 2:2-3, 13) but also where the Ephesian church is week, i.e. in love demonstrated in service (2:5). Whereas Ephesus needed to return to its “first deeds,” Thyatira had so grown in faith and love that its recent deeds excelled those done at first.
The church was also thrift (Afrikaans: “spaarsamig”) in the exercise of spiritual gifts (ministry), here referred to as service. Talents and skills among members were scarcely used for personal use. It is very improbable that this is a church in which only a handful of believers were doing nearly everything. More likely the church programs and departments of this dynamic church were well participated in.
Faith was another mark this church was renowned for. Her trust in God for the attainment of goals must have been remarkable. Even when beset with the usual setbacks, every church encounter, she had unusual resilience (Afrikaans: “standvastigheid”) because of her unwavering trust in God.
Thyatira was also an enduring church. In denials and trials, she patiently sought the wisdom of God and waited on His faithfulness. Considering the social and economic isolation the church was subjected to, this body of believers truly must have been exceptionally blessed with patience. Here is a church that knew her God. Rarely do we come across a church who has the qualities of love, faith, service and patience as the church in Thyatira.
The present state of the church in Thyatira reflects outstanding progress, but there is a perilous flaw in this church.
Christ’s Rebuke (vss.20-23): “But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.” The flaw in the Thyatirans’ growing faith and love was a lack of discernment that took people at face value rather than putting them to the test of truth. Jesus says to the church at Thyatira, “I love your love, but I hate your tolerance (Afrikaans: “verdraagsaamheid”).”
The target of their tolerance and Jesus’ disapproval is a woman whom Jesus calls Jezebel. This is not her real name, but she is working the same mischief in the church of Thyatira, that Jezebel, princess of Sidon and wife of Ahab, had worked in Israel centuries earlier. Jezebel had not only led Ahab to worship Baal but through Ahab had promulgated (promoted) her teachings of idolatry throughout Israel (1 Kings 16:31-33; 2 Kings 9:22).
The problem that Jesus had with this church was that they allowed a “prophetess” (a false one, according to Christ’s assessment) to remain in the church and to continue to teach the saints to indulge in “sexual immorality” and to “eat food sacrificed to idols” (vs.20). The genuine gift of prophecy was highly respected in the early Church – prophets were often elevated to leadership (1 Cor.12:28; Eph.4:11). Women also received the genuine gift of prophecy (Luke 2:36; Acts 21:9; 1 Cor.11:5). Prophets generally brought a direct revelation from God in the form of teaching as well as occasional predictions of the future (Acts 11:27).
This supposedly Christian woman at Thyatira (Jezebel) claims to have been a “prophetess,” gifted as such by the Holy Spirit. She must have been elevated to prominence in the church because of her unusual gifts. But only a small minority saw through her pious deception (vs.24) (Afrikaans: “vroom misleiding”); the rest either followed her or ignored her views without objecting to her presence in the church. In order to expose her true character, she is labelled “Jezebel” – the name of the Canaanite wife of Israel’s king Ahab. Her teaching is no doubt similar to that of the Nicolaitans and Balaamites at Ephesus and Pergamum.
We see in vss.21-22 that Christ’s strongest accusation is not directed against Jezebel’s perversion, serious as that is, nor even against her successful deception of fellow Christians, but against her refusal to repent. The Lord even gave this “prophetess” time to repent. Again, we see God’s undeserved grace in action. He is still responsive to sincere repentance. In His wrath He does not forget mercy (vs.22b). Even “a Jezebel” can be forgiven and renewed by simple repentance and faith in Christ! What marvellous grace!
This “prophetess” however, does not make use of the opportunity to repent and therefore receives three forms of judgement:
• First is her own confinement to her bed of adultery with suffering
• Second is the intense suffering of her adultery-mates, similar to her own (vs.22). It is as if Jesus says, “Beware! When you see the judgement of your partner in the wrongdoing, be sure that yours is on the way.”
• And third, her children, probably born out of adultery, must die as did David’s illegitimate son (2 Sam.12:14-31). All partakers of sin and their illegal fruit must be judged by God. We must always remember that our single acts of disobedience can endanger many others.
The warning is not only to keep us from sinning, but the Lord is walking among His churches. He judges evil, but He also offers deliverance to those who have fallen, if they repent and stop doing Jezebel’s deeds. To those who follow Jezebel (“her children”) and refuse to repent, a fatal judgement will be meted out by the Lord Christ ~ “I will strike her children dead” (vs.23).
One reason for these multiple judgements is the vindication (Afrikaans: “verdediging/verheerliking”) of Christ’s name through His entire church. He must be acclaimed as the all-knowing righteous judge who rewards each according to his deeds (vs.23b).
Christ’s Counsel (vss.24-25): “But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come.” Not everyone in the church was unfaithful to the Lord, and he had a special word for them. They had separated themselves from the false doctrine and compromising practices of Jezebel and her followers. The Lord had no special demands to make; He simply wanted them to hold fast in their resistance to evil ~ “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (Rev.22:7).
Christ’s Promise (vs.26-29): “The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” This is the first mention in Revelation of the Lord’s second coming for the church. In contrast, the reference in Rev.1:7 is to Christ’s return to earth in judgment, to defeat His enemies and establish His Kingdom.
The believers in Thyatira are promised authority over the nations (first promise), which probably refers to the fact that God’s people will live and reign with Christ, as we read in Rev.20:4 ~ “Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also, I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” This of course, is a fulfilment of Ps.2.
When the Lord sets up His Kingdom on earth, it will be a righteous Kingdom with perfect justice. He will rule with a rod of iron ~ “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Ps.2:8-9). Rebellious men will be like clay pots, easily broken to pieces!
Jesus Christ is “the Bright and Morning Star” (Rev.22:16). The second promise in Rev.2:28 suggests that God’s people shall be so closely identified with Christ that He will “belong” to them! The compromising people in Thyatira were following “the depths of Satan,” which would lead to darkness and death. God’s overcomers, on the other hand, would share the Morning Star!
3. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:
If we review the first four messages to the churches in Asia Minor, we can see the dangers that still exist for the people of God. Like Ephesus, we can be zealous and orthodox, but at the same time lose our devotion to Christ. Or, like Thyatira, our love can be increasing yet lacking in the kind of discernment that is necessary to keep the church pure. Like Pergamum and Thyatira, we may be so tolerant of evil that we grieve the Lord and invite His judgement.
Would we have selected Smyrna as the most spiritual Church of the four? Probably not, yet the Lord did! We need to remind ourselves not to judge God’s people by wrong standards, because only the Lord can see the heart ~ “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” (1 Cor.4:5).
God’s exhortation to these churches (except Smyrna) is, “Repent! Change your minds!” It is not only lost sinners who need to repent, but also disobedient Christians. If we do not repent and deal with sin in our lives and in our churches, the Lord may judge us and remove our lampstand (Rev.2:5). How tragic it is when the local church gradually abandons the faith and loses its witness for Christ! “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”