Revelation 2:18-29, “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write, ‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass: I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first. Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.
And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.
Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have till I come. And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations - ‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’ - as I also have received 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.”’
Profile of Thyatira: The city was located 35 miles southeast of Pergamos. Though mostly obscure Thyatira was known for its dyeing and indigo trade. Beyond this… “Among the ancient ruins of the city, inscriptions have been found relating to the guild of dyers in the city. Indeed, more guilds are known in Thyatira than any other contemporary city in the Roman province of Asia (inscriptions mention wool-workers, linen-workers, dyers, leather-workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave-dealers, and bronze-smiths).”
Unlike the other cities Jesus writes to it should be noted that there is no record of any type of religious persecution taking place in Thyatira. We can imagine the lack of an overtly pagan influence aside from those associated with the guilds probably contributed to the church being insulated from the persecution taking place throughout the rest of the region.
The only other mention of this city in Scripture is found in Acts 16 when we’re told Lydia (an early convert of Paul’s ministry in Philippi) was originally from Thyatira. While we can’t say with any certainty how this church started, some Bible commentators believe Lydia may have played an influential role in the establishment of this church located in her hometown.
Two Disclosures: (1) The period of church history this letter intends to address is still in existence today. Not only will Jesus speak in a present tense, but His warning will mention two still future events: The Rapture of the Church and the Great Tribulation.
(2) Though this letter is addressed to the Roman Catholic Church, not every individual Catholic is guilty of the things Jesus is addressing. Truth be told there are many wonderful Christian saints in the Catholic Church (my grandfather being one of them).
It should be mentioned that the letter itself seems to substantiate this reality. Jesus will not only accuse this woman “Jezebel” of seducing “His servants” within this church, but He also promises to lay on the faithful who “do not have this doctrine… no other burden” except that they “hold fast what they have till He comes.”
Last Sunday we noted how under Constantine (and through the “Edict of Milan”) the persecuted church became a church of privilege! And while the church (represented by Pergamos) enjoyed the protection and financial support of the State, the influence of the Christian Roman Emperor slowly transitioned into more power and control over the church.
By 380 AD this growing flirtation between the Church and State would ultimately lead to an unholy union when Theodosius issued the “Edict of Thessalonica” ordering “all subjects of the Roman Empire to poses the faith of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria.”
In this singular act whereby the Church and State formally merged together and everyone was required to be a Christian, the “Catholic Church” (universal church) immediately became the “Roman Catholic Church” led by the Emperor and in whose power ultimately resided with the bishop of the church in Rome (this man would later be known as the Pope).
Last Sunday we noted how leading into this period of history the favor of the State had made the church susceptible to institutional corruption as well as moral and theological compromise. In this letter, because these trends continued unabated, we now see how far the church would fall from her original purpose. Sadly, since this State Church was no longer a light unto the world, the world itself would plunge into what’s known as the Dark Ages.
“I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience…” By in large the Catholic Church has used their immense power and privilege to do good work throughout the world! The church has been faithful to love people, demonstrate charity, and serve the community.
Jesus also mention something interesting. He says, “As for your works, the last are more than the first.” It’s simply a fact of history that beginning in 380 and continuing all the way up to the present time the Roman Catholic Church has grown in her influence and good works.
Today, the Roman Catholic Church invests incredible amounts of money and resources into schools, orphanages, education, and hospitals. As a matter of fact, the Catholic Church is far and a way the largest global charity. (The Protestant Church could learn a few things.)
In just the U.S. alone the Catholic Church provides…
Though it’s incredibly difficult to say with any type of certainty, according to recent estimates by the Economist the Catholic Church spends roughly $170 B annually across the world.
“Nevertheless (in spite of all that… Jesus still says) I have a few things against you… You allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.”
Though it’s likely in mentioning “that woman Jezebel” Jesus was addressing an actual woman within the local church in Thyatira, in order to fully understand what He’s communicating by invoking this name we need to keep this letter in its historical context.
For starters, this name “Jezebel” was a reference to an Old Testament villain who’s story we find in 1 Kings 16-21 and 2 Kings 9. By invoking the name of this evil woman Jesus is clearly seeking to illustrate the nature and consequence of this type of corruption.
1. Jezebel represented an unholy alliance that God forbid. The marriage between Jezebel the daughter of the King of Sidon and the Israeli King Ahab was one of political expediency, but strictly forbidden by God. God had been clear as to the dangers of His chosen people intermarrying with the pagan, wicked people around them.
It’s true moral standards fall much easier than they rise! (Example: It’s much easier to entice a person to have sex than remain chaste.) This is why in 2 Corinthians 6:14 the Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”
2. Jezebel promoted idolatry over the worship of God. Because of her influence over King Ahab, Jezebel led the people of God into the worship of Baal. 1 Kings 16:31-33, “And it came to pass, that King Ahab took as wife Jezebel… And he went and served Baal and worshiped him. Then he set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. And Ahab made a wooden image. Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.”
In many ways Jezebel was a self-proclaimed prophetess and apologist of the worship of Baal. In addition to building high places for pagan worship throughout Israel, according to 1 Kings 18:4 she actively sought to purge the Kingdom of the true prophets of God.
In everything Jezebel did she stood in direct tension with and opposition to the Word of God (and Elijah God’s true prophet). In a sense her great sin was placing this false god Baal into a position that should have been reserved only for the true God.
It should be pointed out that Baal was the god of weather with the word “Baal” literally meaning “lord or husband” in the original language. As we’ll soon see Jezebel was guilty of seducing God’s wife (Israel) into an adulterous affair. Sadly, because of several theological perversions the Catholic Church would be guilty of the same!
3. Jezebel led God’s people into immorality. Jezebel exerted tremendous control over King Ahab which allowed her to influence the moral direction of the entire nation. 1 Kings 21:25 tells us “there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife stirred him up.”
Note: This immorality propagated throughout the nation came as a direct result of Baal worship and their idolatry. “Baal worship was completely indulgent with regard to sexual mysticism on the one hand, but overly strict, harsh, and severe on the other hand with regard to ascetic practices, with occasional bouts of human sacrifice along the way.”
Summary: The problem with this church was that through her unholy marriage with the State and the corruption of the theology that followed she had become guilty of an adulterous affair (idolatry - worship of saints and the improper authority of the Pope)… That had yielded sexually immoral behavior (license for sin and the celibacy of the priesthood)… And also emphasized human sacrifice as a way to appease God (abstaining from human pleasures which existed in many of the monastic movements of the day).
Jesus then drops the hammer… “I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.”
While the substance of what Jesus is saying to this church is a tough pill to swallow, notice how He started… “I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality.” Don’t overlook the power of those words coming from a husband addressing an adulterous wife. Even knowing she isn’t going to “repent” Jesus is still patient and longsuffering with this church.
Consequences of Spiritual Adultery:
“I will cast her into a sickbed…” Literally a “sickbed” was a “couch on which the sick were carried.” In this reference Jesus is not speaking of His judgment, but rather pointing out the natural byproduct of their sinful choices. The phrase “will cast” is passive not active meaning “to let go of a thing without caring where it falls.” Jesus is saying there will come a point where He’ll simply let go.
“I will cast her into great tribulation…” The result of their adultery is that they will no longer be considered His bride, will not be raptured with the rest of the church, and will be left behind to experience “great tribulation… unless they repent of their deeds.” Note: “Megas Thlipsis” implies the greatest of all tribulation in regards to rank.
“I will kill her children with death…” Jesus clearly says “her children” taking on no parental responsibility. He does not consider the offspring of this church to be part of His family. They are instead the bastard children of spiritual adultery who will no doubt experience death as a result of this “great tribulation.” In the Greek this phrase “I will kill” possess a dual meaning that carries with it equally terrifying results… It means “to allow to perish” or “to deprive of spiritual life.”
“I will give to each one according to your works.” Understand… The judgment of God is always measured “according to your works.” In a sense it’s proportional. While hell is still the destiny for it’s impossible for a sinful person to provide permanent atonement for sin, the depths of ones depravity will be factored in by a just God. Religious works only enable a person to climb the moral ladder of hell that never reaches its way into heaven!
Byproduct of this Judgment: “All the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts.” As a result of God’s judgment, this wicked church will be revealed to all the other churches for what she is… An adulterer!
Notice not everyone in this church receives the same criticism or warning… “Now to the rest, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have till I come.”
Jesus affirms that while the Roman Catholic Church may be institutionally corrupt and guilty of spiritual adultery, there will be a faithful remnant. And it’s to these people within this church that Jesus specifically exhorts to “hold fast what they have till He comes.”
Beyond this… Jesus promises to “he who overcomes (this culture of spiritual idolatry and immorality), and keeps My works until the end” He would “give power over the nations” and “the morning star” (In Revelation 22:16 Jesus says He is the “Morning Star”).
First… Not everyone who thinks they’re a Christian is actually a Christian. The stark reality is that Thyatira presents a church filled with people who (while doing all kinds of wonderful things in the name of Christ) were in actuality self-deceivers!
In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
While going to church and doing Christian works fosters the perception of being a Christian, these things don’t in and of themselves make a person a Christian!
Example: Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than living in a garage makes you a car! Dressing like a police officer and walking around town issuing citations doesn’t make you real police (honestly it probably means you’re a creep)!
Secondly… While one might thing the problem with this church was her spiritual adultery and sexual immorality, in actuality the central problem was their relationship with Jesus!
Contrary to what most pastors say… Sin does not separate a believer from God. I know that sounds controversial, but even Paul would attest in Romans 8:39 that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
You see what makes sinful behavior or spiritual compromise in the life of a believer so alarming is not that it somehow separates that person from God (the wages of sin have been satisfied by the blood of Christ permanently reconciling us with God providing us free access to the throne of grace); instead, what makes sin and spiritual compromise alarming in the life of a believer is that it reveals a separation from God has presently taking place. This is why Jesus brings up their idolatry!
Human behavior is always the effect of an inner cause. We see this in the real world… Adultery always steams from either a problematic marital relationship or a spouse whose interest in the relationship has waned. It’s why very few honeymooners commit adultery.
Think of it this way… Sinful behavior does not separate a believer from God any more than righteous works draws the believer closer to Him; instead, sin in the life of a believer reveals that a dangerous separation from God is currently underway.
For example… Contrary to the conventional opinion looking at pornography or living in sexual sin doesn’t create distance in your relationship with God. Instead, these behaviors are evidence that a distance in your relationship with God already exists.
The flip-side is true… Purity and holy living do not draw a person closer to God. Instead, they are evidence of the existence of an intimate relationship you have with Jesus.
Understand… Seeing sin as a symptom and not the problem is of vital importance for it has incredible implications for how you then seek to remedy the problem.
It’s simply a truth that when sin is seen as my problem, it’s only natural that religion (works) becomes my solution. However, when sin is seen a symptom of a separation from God, the solution is simple… Return to Jesus and dive back into that relationship (grace)!
The reason a relationship with Jesus (and not the religion of works) is the solution to every human problem is that what humanity needs more than anything else is a Savior!
As He’s done with each of these letters, the way in which Jesus introduces Himself to each church is significant because no matter what issue or problem He brings to light He presents an attribute of Himself as the ultimate solution. In the case of Thyatira He says, “These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass…”
It’s interesting that this in the only time in Revelation that Jesus is called the “Son of God.” While the His title in chapter 1 is the “Son of Man” stressing His relatability, the phrase “Son of God” emphasizes His divinity. “Son of” implies something being the “same nature as.”
Not only is Jesus reminding this church mired in idolatry that He’s God, but I believe He’s emphasizing His divinity to remind them that He’s more than able to be an effective Savior!
We’re also told He has “eyes like a flame of fire and feet like fine brass.” Though it’s true both of these things can be applied to His righteous judgment, I can’t help but see the “flame of fire” in His eyes as a reference to His fervent and passionate love for His church.
Beyond this the strength of his “feet like fine brass” speaks to His firm and immovable stance. This morning take heart knowing that even when we act the fool, run from Him, and play the harlot… Jesus’ passionate love for us remains steadfast!
Finally, I can’t help but point out an interesting contrast within this letter… Though Jesus initially commends this church for their “works” (of which there were many), at the end of the letter He exhorts them to instead “keep His works until the end.”
In the Greek “keep” or “têreô” doesn’t mean “to obey” but rather “to guard.” What Jesus is encouraging the faithful believers in this idolatrous church to do was protect “His works.” Never forget… Jesus’ work for me matters way more than any work I do for Him. As a matter of fact it’s the constant knowledge of His work that draws and keeps me connected to Him! “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
No Additional Links for this Study.