Today we’re looking into Jesus’ 4th letter to the churches in Revelation 2-3, where the church of Thyatira comes into view. The city of Thyatira was the smallest of all the cities mentioned in Revelation 2-3, yet it receives the longest letter from Jesus out of all 7 letters, we’ll find out why soon. Thyatira wasn’t the center for anything. It was a blue-collar town full of various craftsmen such as wool-workers, linen-workers, clothing makers, dyers, leather-workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave-dealers, bronze-smiths, and merchants. If the town was known for anything it was known for making purple dye from a few plant roots and small shellfish. Therefore, many within the city were involved in the making of purple and selling purple clothing.
Does this bring any Biblical character to mind? Luke speaking in behalf of the Apostle Paul in Acts 16:14 says this, “One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” Throughout the whole of the book of Acts Lydia is the first person we read of being from Thyatira and we don’t hear much else after that. It seems that between the time the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to believe the gospel in Acts 16:14 and Acts 19:10 (where it says “all of Asia had heard the gospel”), that Lydia returned home to Thyatira, becoming the first Christian in the city, and out of her witness to the gospel grew a small church.
Thyatira served as a shield city for Pergamum. Because Pergamum was a prominent, wealthy, and large urban city, the empire’s enemies targeted it many times for attack. But in order to get to Pergamum you had to destroy Thyatira first, and so any enemy would be delayed in Thyatira on their way to Pergamum. This means Thyatira had a rough history of being built, destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed, and rebuilt again. Other than these facts not much is known about the city of Thyatira, except that a temple to Apollo operated there, as well as a prominent female fortuneteller named Sambathe. Into this relatively unimpressive and insignificant city, comes the longest, and probably the 2nd fiercest letter of Jesus. Sardis received the most severe letter.
As we’ve seen Jesus do in all these letters thus far, He begins this letter by addressing this Church in a manner suitable for their situation. The image of Christ in v18 as the “Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze” is drawn from the overwhelming vision John sees of Jesus in chapter 1. This imagery isn’t one of favor, but one of judgment. Eyes like fire indicates that Jesus has a piercing, penetrating, and perfect knowledge of all men. Nothing gets by Him, nothing catches Him off guard, nothing surprises Him. He even repeats this in v23 when He says, “I am He who searches mind and heart, giving to men according to their works.” Feet like burnished bronze indicate that just as Jesus is holy, righteous, and just…so too are all His actions. When He acts in the world, His ‘works’ are as steady, sure, and holy as His heart is. Seeing Christ’s all encompassing eye and seeing His steady and sure footing would have reminded these believers (and reminds us today) that God always treads down His enemies. This is not a good way to begin a letter. This would have terrified them.
Though the letter begins in a terrifying many, in v19 Christ commends this church for their works of love, faith, service, and endurance. Jesus even says their latter works exceed their first. This is a direct contrast to the church in Ephesus whose latter works are worse than their first, b/c they lost the love they had at first. So, the church in Ephesus seems to be on the decline while the church in Thyatira though much smaller is growing. Love is increasing, faith is increasing, service to one another is increasing, and they are more patient in their endurance. This is a church on the rise. Yet sadly, v19 is the only commendation they receive – there is a lot of letter left because their sin was horrendous.
We see their sin and Christ’s confrontation of them because of this sin in v20-23, which says this, “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. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 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, 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 sin of Thyatira is Satanic. To see this look back at where we’ve been. In the church of Smyrna we heard in 2:9 that a synagogue of Satan was persecuting them. In the church of Pergamum we read twice in 2:13 that they dwell where Satan’s throne was. Here in the church within Thyatira we read in 2:24 that they have become intimate with the deep things of Satan. The progression here is a downward one into sin, darkness, and wickedness. John MacArthur says it like this: “If the church in Pergamum married Satan through their sexual sin, the church in Thyatira has already begun celebrating anniversaries.” You see Satan troubled the Smyrna Christians, Satan was allowed into the life of the Pergamum Christians, and here in Thyatira they’ve moved where no church thus far has moved – they’re allowing, tolerating, and even teaching the deep things of Satan.
Now, as we look into this congregation remember one thing. Every local church is going to be a mixed bag, with both believers and unbelievers in it’s midst. In a healthy church there will be more believers than unbelievers, but unbelievers will still be present. The thing that puts Thyatira on a whole new scale of sinfulness is that the group led by this woman Jezebel was the majority of the church, while those who remained faithful to Christ were the minority.
In v20 we learn it was the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, was not only in the church of Thyatira, but was teaching within the church. This was the beginning of their sin, because according to the qualifications for teachers and elders in 1 Timothy 2-3 women aren’t allowed to preach. This isn’t to say men are better than women, by no means, but it is to say that God has given both male and female different roles to play within the Church, roles that complement one another, roles that are not interchangeable. Thyatira ignored this and allowed Jezebel to preach. And in her teaching she was seducing, deceiving, and inciting the true servants of Christ to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. We see here that the sin of Pergamum and the sin of Thyatira are almost identical. I say ‘almost’ because they’re not exactly the same. Pergamum had only just begun to go down this road of sin, while Thyatira paved the road. That this woman is called Jezebel gives us a window into the sin of this church. I don’t think the woman was actually named Jezebel, for reasons we’ll see shortly, Jesus calls her Jezebel symbolically to show the wicked things she was doing in this church.
Recall the history of Israel. In 1 Kings 16, in the 38th year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri began to reign as king over Israel. In his 22-year reign Ahab did much evil in the sight of the Lord, most of which originated from the influence of his wife named Jezebel. Jezebel was the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and through her influence Ahab worshiped and served the false god Baal. Through her continued influence all of Israel followed suit. The things Jezebel incited Ahab and the rest of the people of Israel to do were so wicked 1 Kings 21:25 says, “There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited.” Jezebel met her sticky end in 2 Kings 9:30-37 where Jehu had her thrown out of a building onto the street. He then went inside, ate a meal, and afterward said, “Now as for this cursed woman, bury her, for she is a king’s daughter.” (2 Kings 9:34) His servants went out in the street to get her body but they could only find her skull, her feet, and the palms of her hands. When Jehu heard of this he remembered what God had told Elijah saying, “This is the Word of the Lord, which He spoke by His servant Elijah the Tishbite: ‘In the territory of Jerzreel the dogs shall eat the flesh of Jezebel, and the corpse of Jezebel shall be as dung on the face of the earth…” The woman Jezebel, her life, and her death are a dramatic display of how God thinks about those false teachers who are leading His people astray.
The connection between the actual Jezebel in 1 Kings and the symbolic Jezebel within the church of Thyatira is this: as Jezebel was to Israel, so too the false prophetess is to Thyatira. Just as Jezebel incited king Ahab and the people to sin against the Lord, so too the false prophetess incited the church in Thyatira to sin against the Lord as well. And you can be sure of this, that just as Jezebel met her sticky end so too Jesus’ promises as much in v22-23 for the symbolic, false, Jezebel of Thyatira. Jesus has given her time to repent, and as a true Jezebel didn’t, this one hasn’t either. Because of this Jesus says He will judge her and those who follow her by troubling them as they’ve troubled the Church, troubling them so much that in the end He will kill her and her followers. v23 reveals that from the judgment Jesus will bring on her and her followers, all the churches will know that He is the one with eyes like flame, who searches minds and hearts.
What this church should have done is followed the outline of Church discipline Jesus gave in Matthew 18 regarding sin within the church. The first step of Church discipline given in that passage is to go to the offending party alone and plead with them to repent and return. If they do repent Jesus says you’ve won your brother. If they continue in their sin, you’re to take one or two others and plead with them again to repent and return. If they do repent this time Jesus says you’ve won your brother. If they still continue to sin and are unrepentant, you bring the sin before the church and excommunicate the offending party, having nothing to do with them, for the purpose of restoring them back into membership one day in the future. By not doing this when Jezebel began leading people astray the church in Thyatira was soon corrupted by her influence. This stands as a great example to all churches throughout all time of what to do, and how to lead those within the church who are in blatant, public, unrepentant sin.
If we do not follow Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18 sin will corrupt SonRise and any other church just as easily. This is one of the ways that we can tell if someone is truly committed to Christ and His Church or not. If they do repent, great! If not, it is a bleak case indeed. Sadly, when discipline begins in a given scenario, too often the offending party leaves the church and begins attending another one to avoid dealing with their sin, and what you often see happening is that the same sins are repeated in different contexts, so what could’ve been dealt with quickly and graciously is now spread around to a group of churches and the end result is worse than if the offending party had just repented and returned in the first place. Every time we have a SonRise New Members class I am honest about this process of church discipline, that we are a church that does it. I make sure to outline how it works so that no is one surprised to find an elder pursuing you when you sin. The conclusion of this matter is simple, but not easy: since a healthy church is one that practices church discipline, a healthy church member is one that pursues church discipline when in sin.
Do not mishear me: I am not calling you to live a perfect life. God does not call you to live a perfect life. No one who walks in these doors lives a perfect life, including myself and the other elders. What I am calling you to do is to live the Christian life, b/c when you live the Christian life, you repent when you sin, you don’t hide it and pretend it doesn’t exist or think it doesn’t matter. “The whole of the Christian life is one of continual repentance.” (Martin Luther)
In v24-29 Jesus addresses the rest of the congregation of Thyatira saying, “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. Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps My works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 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. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Jesus promises 3 things to those who have not embraced the deep things of Satan. First He says He won’t lay any other burdens on them and that they ought to hold fast to what they already know to be true. This is a call to persevere in faith until the end. Second, He promises that those who conquer and hold fast till the end will be allowed to share in His Messianic rule over the nations. Here in v26 Jesus quotes Psalm 2:8-9 and by doing so Jesus promises that all true believers will one day receive authority over the nations just as He has received authority over the nations. This does not mean that we will reign on our own throne like Jesus does, but rather means that we’ll share and join in with the rule and reign of Christ over the world.
Third, Jesus promises to give the morning star to those who endure and hold fast. Revelation 22:16 says, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the Root and the Descendant of David, the Bright Morning Star.” That Jesus is the Bright Morning Star means three things for us:
a) Jesus will appear and bring a swift end to all evil and sin at His 2nd As a morning star comes when it seems to be the darkest part of the night, so too Jesus will come when it seems to be the darkest part of the night as well. But when He, as the Bright Morning Star, comes you know what comes with Him? DAWN! Dawn in the world, dawn in the soul, casting back the darkness and filling us with the light of grace and of glory forever and ever!
b) For those tempted to sin in Thyatira and for those tempted to sin now we must remember what we’ll receive one day. Jesus, as the Morning Star, promises to give what to those who hold fast? The Morning Star! This means Jesus promises to give Himself to those who hold fast until the end! Isn’t this just what we need to remember when we’re tempted with sin? That Jesus is better?
c) There’s also a local meaning here for Thyatira. For the Romans the star of Venus was a symbol of victory and power. Roman generals built temples in honor of Venus, and Caesar’s armies had the sign of Venus adorned on their shields and flags. In view of this, Jesus’ promise is strengthened in v26-27; where the overcomer is doubly assured of his sharing with Christ in His triumph and rule.
For the believer, for those who hold fast till the end – the best is yet to come.