The longest letter to the seven churches is addressed to the least important of them in size and political importance. But, regardless, the letter is one of the most instructive and interesting of all seven.
“To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.
20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.’
26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— 27 that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give that one the morning star. 29 Whoever has ears let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Though the city was no political or cultural hub it was, nevertheless, a very successful commercial center. Lydia had come from this city and she may well have been the catalyst for starting the church in the area upon her return from Philippi.
In verse 19 Jesus says, “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” The church was known for its works, its love and faith, service and perseverance. Jesus commended the church at Ephesus for its service, the church at Smyrna for staying strong in the face of suffering, and the church at Pergamum for its love of truth. But, it seems that in the Thyatira all these amazing traits flow together into the life of the church. It was a church where faith, love and hope all came together, but there was a problem that plagued the church, and as a result destroyed so much of the churches good name.
The church was progressing, “I know your works, and that your latter works exceed the first,” (v. 19) People were growing spiritually, but there were some who were on the exact opposite tract even though they called themselves members of the congregation.
Jesus states, “But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” (v. 20)
The church at Ephesus couldn’t stand false teachings and false prophets, but they had no love. Thyatira was a church filled with love but tolerated the false and pervasive teachings of the prophetess Jezebel. We can conclude from this that righteousness of character is another mark of a Christian and a true church.
John Stott has a beautiful passage from his little book What Christ Thinks of the Church regarding Satan’s attacks upon the church. “If the devil cannot conquer the church by the applications of political pressure or the propagation of intellectual heresy, he will try the insinuation of moral evil.” p. 72
It seems that constantly, well known and not so well known pastors have to be removed from their parish or church for immorality. How does it come to a place where a pastor or church leader surrenders his/her calling in order to have a quick fling with a parishioner or end up dating hookers?
No one is perfect, in fact we are all far from it, but there is something sad about surrendering our calling for something as fleeting as a love affair or one night fling. And this is what happened to the church of Thyatira. The leadership may have prided themselves that they were not involved in anything illicit but they turned their backs to those who were.
Jezebel was probably a real prophetess but her name is symbolic of the Old Testament Jezebel so the people could have a better understanding of what He was saying to them. In the Old Testament we meet up with her as the wife of the morally and spiritually weak Ahab, King of Israel.
Jezebel’s father Ethbaal was a priest of Astarte, a Phoenician goddess that was somewhat equivalent to the Roman Venus and the Greek Aphrodite. The religion of Astarte, though conducted under the guise of piety, had long divorced itself from anything spiritual and was known for its orgy’s and total sexual depravity in the name of religion. As Ahab’s wife, she spread this counterfeit religion through Israel and the people flocked to it with glee.
Among Jezebel’s rebellions against the God of Israel, she had her husband build a temple to Astarte and provide support for eight hundred and fifty prophets of the cult. While she was at it she had every prophet of God that she could find slaughtered. (See 1 Kings 16:30-32; 18:4,19; 21:25,26; 2 Kings 9:22)
Though the Jezebel of the time of Ahab had been dead for a thousand years her spirit lived on in the 1st Century Jezebel. It seems that she was busy enticing the young Christians to go to parties and celebrations put on by one or another of the trade guilds in the city. Many of these parties turned into licentious wild evenings of drinking and immorality.
How was it that she could have church members so confused and muddled that they believed that it was alright to include immorality as part of their Christian experience? Though no one knows for sure, but it probably centered around the fact that she was playing upon idea that Christians were free in Christ. She understood that to mean you could do anything you wanted and would still be saved.
Probably like the Gnostics that came after her was the idea that only the very spiritual could conduct themselves in such a way and not be tainted by sin. She saw herself and her followers as elite Christians who could maneuver the world between spirituality and licentiousness without blemish.
We will end this post by reminding ourselves of Jesus’ letter to Pergamum, (see 2:14 where God rebukes them for eating food sacrificed to idols and practicing immorality). These are the identical problems mentioned as the works of Jezebel in verse 20. It would seem that the Balaam and Nicolaitian teachings were not very different from the teachings of Jezebel, and while the church of Pergamum held to the teachings as doctrines, the church of Thyatira “tolerated,” them.
The church at Thyatira was as weak and spineless in their dealing with immorality in their midst as was Ahab in dealing with Jezebel. How God responds to this mess is the subject of the next post.
* Please remember to pray for the Christians who are suffering at the hands of evil for their faith in many countries around the world. Some of their stories can be found at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/