MESSAGE TO THYATIRA
There is a lot said about the Christians in Thyatira, more than the Christians in any of the other six churches that were addressed by Jesus. However, there is no exciting history given about the city of Thyatira, as with the other cities. There is little mention of the city among the ancient scribes of history. Anatolian was the god of the city. He is pictured as a god mounted upon a valiant horse and armed for battle with a battle-ax.
The location of the city was strategic in reference to the movement of military forces along the road that passed from Pergamum to Laodicea, connecting the Hermus and Caicus valleys. Because of its location on a main road, Thyatira was a city of trade. In fact, ancient records suggest that the city had more trading businesses than any of the other cities that were addressed by Jesus. In the city there was manufacturing in dyes for clothing, garment factories, with pottery and brass businesses. In order to trade in the manufactured goods of the city one possibly had to be a member of one of the many guilds (unions) that were associated with a particular manufacturer. Some have suggested that the festivities of these guilds were social gatherings of drunken behavior. Jezebel, which is possibly used metaphorically after the name of King Ahab’s wife, is probably used to reveal the temptation that drew the Christians into participating in these drunken parties (1 Kg 16:30,3; see Js 1:12-15).
Because the city was a center of manufacturing, it is not surprising, therefore, that Lydia, a seller of purple dye made from the madder root, was from this city. This woman was on a business trip when she encountered Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke during a prayer meeting on a river bank outside Philippi (At 16:14).
What we would assume about the socioeconomic environment of the city would be that many of the citizens were employed. As employees of a particular factory in a small city, we would assume that there was a great deal of intimidation that workers conform to the social structure of a particular industry. At least this may explain why some of the Christians had given in to the immoral teachings and behavior of Jezebel in a small city where everyone knew everyone.
A. Description of the Christ:
In this metaphorical picture of the Jesus who walked in friendship with the disciples on the Galilean pathways, there is piercing judgment coming forth from the eyes of a Judge. He has “eyes like a flame of fire” (Rv 2:18). His eyes can pierce through our strongest defense to conceal our true self. Nothing can be hid from the One who will eventually judge all men.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that everyone may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Co 5:10).
“His feet are like fine brass” of judgment against all those who would claim His name, but live contrary to their calling. The symbolism is of a judgment scene that will be revealed later in the book where …
… books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged from the things that were written in the books, according to their works (Rv 20:12).
B. Commendation for good:
The Judge was not unaware of their works, love, service, faith and patience. Their love may have been that compelling love about which Paul wrote, “For the love of Christ compels us …” (2 Co 5:14). And indeed, they seem to have emulated in their lives that which was characteristic in the actions of God toward man: “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19).
1. Impending judgment on national Israel: The Christians had also been made aware of the coming judgment upon national Israel. We must not forget that as the early evangelists went forth, they informed all the Jewish disciples of the impending judgment that would come upon national Israel in their lifetime. It would be an event from which everyone, who knew the Old Testament prophecies, would conclude that Jesus was reigning from heaven (See Mk 9:1). Such would be the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jesus in Matthew 24, thus again reconfirming the fact that He not only came for the salvation of the true Israel by faith, but also to consummate national Israel, the final consummation of which took place in A.D. 70.
Through faith, therefore, the disciples in Thyatira, as well as all Christians of the early church, waited patiently for the coming of Jesus “in time” (See Js 5:7,8). Jewish persecution would vanish away after the judgment, but state persecution was looming on the horizon. It is concerning this persecution that the book of Revelation prepares the minds of the disciples to endure.
2. Commendation for their works: In reference to their works, “the last are greater than the first” (Rv 2:19). The Ephesian Christians were called on to restore their first love, and thus, “do the first works” (Rv 2:4,5). The disciples in Thyatira grew in their works, and thus, there was no call for a restoration of the “first works.” They had not given up their identity as disciples, for they continued to grow in good works.
We would assume that the disciples in Thyatira manifested their appreciation for the grace of God more than those in Ephesus. At least Paul may have been able to write of the Thyatira Christians as he did of himself: “And His grace toward me was not in vain, but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me (1 Co 15:10).
It seems that the works of the Ephesians became simply legal exercises in habitual churchianity. But with the Christians in Thyatira, there must have been something significant that energized them to grow in their works for the Lord. Because of the commendation for their growth in their works, we would assume that Jesus expects growth in our works. The key to growth in works is growth in our appreciation for the grace of God. If there are no works, then there is no appreciation.
We suppose that the Christians in any city had “a few things” about which Jesus would pronounce judgment. If growing in good works could erase sin, then surely such meritorious atonement failed in the case of these Christians. Though the Christians in Thyatira grew in works, they still had to take ownership of the few sinful things about which Jesus here identifies. Their good deeds did not atone for these sins.
1. Toleration of sinful beliefs and behavior: “You tolerate that woman Jezebel” (Rv 2:20). Jezebel was probably the most notorious woman of Old Testament history. Her name became a symbol of idolatry, immorality and shame (See 1 Kg 16:31; 18:4,13,19; 19:1,2). Jesus here uses her name metaphorically to pronounce judgment against some of the disciples in Thyatira who were tolerating such an evil way of life. Their toleration of the evil she taught and behaved had great influence among the disciples. Jezebel’s influence for evil was producing the reputation that the church of our Lord was no different than the local pagan groups.
In order to be a participant in one of the trades or businesses of the city of Thyatira, one probably had to be a member of one of the guilds (unions) of a particular manufacturer. Those of a particular guild would meet for feasts of gluttony and immorality. The problem was that if one were not a member of one of the guilds, then he could not trade the merchandise of a particular manufacturer. This may explain why the woman Jezebel had such influence over those Christians who participated in the immoral parties. It may have been that her participation in such feasts convinced other Christians that such indulgence was acceptable for a Christian. She possibly represented a sect among the disciples, for in verse 24 there were those who did not “have this teaching.” Some in the church in Thyatira remained faithful to their moral standards by not participating in the immoral pagan feasts that were sanctioned by Jezebel.
There was a similar case among the Christians in Corinth, though not a sect that was influencing the body of Christ. The Corinthian Christians tolerated an individual who was living in fornication with his stepmother (1 Co 5:1-5). Paul said of that case that such was not even practiced among the unbelievers (1 Co 5:1). In the case of the fornicator in Corinth, whom the Corinthians tolerated, there seems to have been no influence in teaching that came from the immoral individual. However, his influence for evil was in his life-style. Paul reminded the Corinthians that a little leaven leavens the whole lump (1 Co 5:6,7). But in the case of the fornicator who was being tolerated by the Christians in Thyatira, this woman was a self-proclaimed prophetess who was teaching others, and deceiving the servants of the Lord. The immoral person in Corinth may have been passive in promoting his sin, but Jezebel was proactive in spreading her teaching among the disciples. The disciples who had accepted the immoral life-style of Jezebel were encouraging others to participate in her sin.
It may have been that Jezebel was as Simon in Samaria (At 8:9-11). He amazed the people of the city with his practice of magic to the point that they proclaimed, “This man is the great power of God” (At 8:10). When Simon believed the gospel message that Philip was preaching, he too was baptized (At 8:13). But there was still wickedness in his heart. This was brought out when he offered to buy from Peter and John the power to impart the miraculous gifts (At 8:18,19). So Peter said to him, “… repent of this your wickedness and pray the Lord that, if possible, the thought of your heart may be forgiven you” (At 8:22). In baptism one’s soul is cleansed of sin (At 22:16), but one’s character is not miraculously transformed. This may have been the case with Jezebel among the disciples of Thyatira. She came into the fellowship of the disciples with a sinful behavior of which she had not repented.
2. Punishment of sinful beliefs and behavior: The case of Thyatira was similar to that of Simon. Jezebel possibly came into the fellowship of the flock of God, but brought with her the wickedness of her former religious and immoral life that was associated with pagan idolatry. Jesus had “given her time to repent of her fornication,” but the fact was that she did “not want to repent” (Rv 2:21). And now, her time had run out. We do not know exactly what the Christ-sent Peter said to Simon, but one thing is true, whatever he said it scared Simon stiff. He immediately and repentantly pleaded with Peter, “Pray to the Lord for me so that none of these things that you have spoken come upon me” (At 8:24).
In order to purify the church in her early beginnings, God would strike people blind through a Christ-sent apostle (At 13:10,11). Some were delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Co 5:5). Some were “delivered to Satan so that they might learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tm 1:20). And then some just dropped dead when they lied to the Holy Spirit (At 5:1-11). It was not a good thing to fall into the hands of a Christ-sent apostle who could unleash the power of physical punishment upon one who was causing injury to the body of Christ. And in the case of the body in Thyatira, Jesus would work directly from heaven upon Jezebel.
I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her ways (Rv 2:22).
This is not all. “And I will kill her children with death” (Rv 2:23). Would God bring death upon the children of one whose children were possibly the result of her sin of adultery? This would not be the first time that He did. Ask David and Bathsheba (See 2 Sm 11,12).
“And all the churches” to whom Jesus was addressing this letter of Revelation would know that no one can hide sin. If one is harboring sinful ways in his heart, then he must remember that Jesus “will give to each one of you according to your works” (Rv 2:23). Simply stated in words that we can understand, when one is a disciple of Jesus, “he can run, but he cannot hide.” One can run on a trip across the country, but he must remember that if he involves himself in sin, Jesus will know. Those who feel that they are further away from Jesus when they are on a trip far away from fellow Christians, need to remember that Jesus “searches the minds and hearts” of every disciple wherever he is in this world (Rv 2:23; see Ps 44:21; Lk 16:15).
The Greek word for “minds” comes from the word that refers to kidneys. In the thinking of those of ancient times, reference was to the inner most feelings of the individual. The word “heart” referred to the intellect. Thus God searches the inner most feelings and intellect of every person of His creation. It is certainly important for every disciple to know this, for this realization helps us to take ownership of our faults. Confession flows from the one who realizes that the One to whom he confesses already knows what is to be confessed. When we confess our sins to God, He knows that we are taking ownership for our most inner self. And if there is sin in there, He knows that we are owning up to and trying to deal with our sin.
(It is sometimes as the man who presented to the preacher his intelligent horse. The man carried on bragging about how intelligent the horse was. So he challenged the preacher, “Ask my horse a question.” So the preached asked, “Horse, how many commandments did God give Moses on Mount Sinai?” The horse immediately stomped ten times on the ground. So the preacher asked, “Well, how many apostles did Jesus have?” The horse stomped twelve times on the ground. So the horse’s owner asked his horse, “Horse, how many hypocrites are there in this church for which the preacher preachers?” The horse then went into a dance.)
D. The promise:
Beginning with the “morning star,” we are encouraged by what Jesus here promised those who would overcome the teaching of Jezebel and her intimidation of the disciples to sin after her life-style (Rv 2:28). Jezebel was now meeting the One who had authority over all things for the sake of His faithful people (Ep 1:22).
The morning star “ruled the morning” horizon. The symbol is of royal splendor and dominion. The significance of the message here is in the simile “just as” in verse 27. The promise is that those who overcome will be given “power over the nations” to “rule them with a rod of iron” (Rv 2:26,27). The phrase “just as I received from My Father” clearly explains that at the time of writing, Jesus had already received power over the nations in order to rule them with a rod of iron. This ruling is not something that will begin in the future. “Received” is past tense. Jesus is not coming again in order to rule over the nations. He is already reigning as King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tm 6:15). When He does come again, He will return kingdom reign to the Father (1 Co 15:26-28).
When Jesus ascended to the right hand of God, He was given power over all things (See Dn 2:44; 7:13,14). He now reigns with all authority over all things (Mt 28:18). He is reigning over all things for the sake of the church. Paul wrote, “And He [the Father] put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church” (Ep 1:22). All means all. There is no more power in kingdom reign left for Jesus when He comes again. If He were to come and reign on this earth, then He would be dethroning Himself from His reign over all things that He now has in order to reign on a speck of blue dust among the galaxies. What sense would be in this?
Sometimes earthly thinking theologians have earthly and carnal interpretations of the Scriptures. For some to fulfill their carnal desires to reign over their fellow man, they seek a time wherein they can be kings on earth. Within the pages of the Qur’an, there is the world view that the entire world should be made to submit to Allah, and thus, become Islam. But submission to Allah means submission to religious leaders who are to enforce the submission. The purpose of the submission is worldwide domination by certain men who would rule through the power of Sharia law and those who proclaim it. Some Christians repel at such a theology, but at the same time, they simply delay their own desires to reign as authorities to a supposed one thousand-year reign of Jesus on earth where He will supposedly and forcefully conquer all powers on earth and when He reigns, then it is assumed that He will set up Christians as authorities to reign on earth with Him. But such theologians need to read again the statement of Jesus that He made before to a Roman authority:
My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would fight so that I should not be delivered to the Jews. But as it is, My kingdom is not from here (Jn 18:36).
We have always wondered what part of the phrase “not of this world” is so difficult for some to understand? Jesus said that His disciples would not take up arms and fight against the Jews, neither the Roman Empire. Neither will there be some time in the future when they will engage in carnal warfare in order to establish some earthly kingdom. They will not, “for the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rm 14:17).
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in high places (Ep 6:12).
Since Jesus is now reigning over all things, then those who have given their allegiance to Him in obedience to the gospel, also reign with him.
For if by one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more they who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ (Rm 5:17).
Christians now reign in the splendor of the Morning Star. They now reign over the nations with the power of the gospel, for there is no power on earth greater than the message of the cross. And as if we might question this power, Paul reminded the Corinthians,
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but powerful through God for the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Co 10:4,5).
This is one powerful statement. If our spiritual weapons are this powerful, why would we ever think that we need an AK 47 to advance the supposed reign of Christ on earth?
The faithful Christians in Thyatira would be greatly encouraged by the words that will follow in the book of Revelation. They just need to remember that the forces of evil “will make war with the Lamb and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings” (Rv 17:14). Jesus is at this time Lord and King over all things. Therefore, if it seems that everything is getting out of control, the faithful in Thyatira needed to remember that King Jesus had everything under control. We too trust that He is “upholding all things by the word of His power” (Hb 1:3).
Those in Thyatira who were trying to survive against the boycott of the trade unions and the influence of Jezebel, needed to take courage that they would overcome. They were not destined to spiritual ruin. They had a choice. If they made the right choice, the promise of Jesus was that they would be given the royalty of the Morning Star. If they listened to what Jesus had to say to the churches, then they would survive. If they did not listen, then puff.
[Schedule for next lecture: March 20]