We are once again back to our series on the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. Today we look at what Jesus has to say by the Spirit to the church in Thyatira – and also to us. This is the fourth and longest of the seven letters.
Thyatira was 35 miles inland from the Aegean sea. Its modern name is Akhisar. It was the least important of all the cities written to by John. It was not a religious or political center. It was situated at the intersection of several trade routes and was known as a trading town. It had a number of trade guilds or associations – e.g. tanners, potters, workers of wool, linen workers and dyers. In particular it was known for its purple dye. Lydia, converted by Paul in Philippi, was a dealer in purple cloth from Thyatira – Acts 16:14.
The situation in Thyatira
First of all, Jesus commends them for their faithfulness. v. 19 – “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.” So they’re doing well. If Ephesus had abandoned the love they had at first, The church in Thyatira is growing in its Christian walk. Their “latter works exceed the first.” The phrase, “patient endurance” may well refer to enduring persecution for their faith.
But then we also have something bad - their tolerance of false teaching, which becomes the focus of the letter. v. 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.”
Jesus is referring to an actual woman in the church in Thyatira – a prophetess or teacher. But he uses ‘Jezebel’ as a code name to make a point. The real Jezebel was a wicked woman and a famous promoter of idolatry. She was the wife of Ahab, king of Israel. She supported 450 false prophets and tried to kill the true prophets of God. She led the people into spiritual harlotry – 2 Kings 9:22. So like this ancient woman, this Thyatiran teacher is leading these believers to practice idolatry and unfaithfulness.
It is likely that all of the false teachers in these letters are a part of the same group – Balaam, Jezebel, the Nicolaitans. Under the pressure of the demands to worship the emperor, as we have talked about, they taught that you can offer up emperor worship. They said that you can eat the meat of the festivities. And most importantly, you don’t have to suffer for not doing these things!
In Thyatira this most likely took place in the context of their trade associations. These would meet together and offer up sacrifices to various gods and most likely the emperor at this time, and then feast together. This was how it worked, and if you didn’t do all this it would have been quite hard to earn a living in your trade. So there was real pressure to give in and compromise. And Jezebel is encouraging this.
v. 24 refers to “the deep things of Satan.” The prophetess was probably saying, I teach the deep things of God. Something more profound than what John teaches. In Jesus’ language she is only teaching the deep things of Satan because her teaching leads believers to worship the emperor.
Once again, it is wrong to worship the emperor. If you do -
- You are following Jezebel, a false prophet and an idolater.
- You are practicing sexual immorality. Again this is almost certainly a figurative use. You are being unfaithful, or adulterous in your relationship with Jesus as Lord, acting like a prostitute.
- You are eating food sacrificed to idols which is idolatry and thus a breaking of the first and second of the 10 commandments.
There is a Psalm 2 theme in this letter. This is a Messianic Psalm, speaking of God’s coming ruler:
- v. 18 which speaks of the Son of God, echoes Psalm 2:7.
- v. 26 which talks about authority over the nations comes from Psalm 2:8.
- v. 27 which refers to ruling with a rod of iron comes from Psalm 2:9.
This presents a contrast between Jesus, the promised Messiah, and the Roman emperor, who called himself the Son of God, and claimed to rule the world. The message is clear. Jesus is the only true Lord.
Jesus also warns of judgment on Jezebel. vs. 21-23 – “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.” Again the sexual language is used figuratively.
Jesus has spoken to her already, probably through John or another prophet, but she refuses to repent.
Note the seriousness of Jesus’ judgment:
- She will be stricken with sickness—unto death?
- Those who commit adultery with her (her followers?) will have great tribulation, which is exactly what they are trying to avoid by worshipping the emperor.
- Her children (other false teachers?) will be killed.
v. 23 – “And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.” (See – Jeremiah 17:10). This broadens things out to all the seven churches. Jesus knows what is in their minds and hearts and each person will be judged “as their works deserve.”
Finally Jesus speaks a word to the rest. vs. 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. Only hold fast what you have until I come.” This is a addressed to those who have not gone along with Jezebel. Jesus lays no other burden on them, except to stop tolerating Jezebel (v. 20) and her associates. They are to hold fast to their commitment to him, to be faithful in their good works noted in v. 19, until Jesus returns.
Jesus speaks to us
v. 29 says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Notice again the plural. Jesus’ words to the church in Thyatira go beyond just that church. They are also words for us. And we need to have ears that hear his words.
1. Don’t tolerate false teaching. In v. 20 Jesus held it against them that they tolerated Jezebel, who was actively leading people astray. These are not those who agreed with her, but who simply tolerated her.
Jesus commended Ephesus in this regard. In Revelation 2:2 he said, “I know . . . how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.” They tested the various teachers that came through and we should also test the teachers that we listen to. Whether on the radio or on TV or in our congregation. We should test them and not put up with false teaching.
2. Commitment to Jesus can cost us economically. This is what these believers were facing. If they didn’t go along with the others in offering up wrong worship, they could be excluded from the networks and resources of their trade guild.
Would we be faithful if it cost us economically in this way? Or in our own situation – do we compromise our Christian integrity in order to make more money?
3. Jesus will judge us. In the case of Jezebel, Jesus gave her time to repent, but she refused and so he warned her of the consequences. Jesus gives us time to repent too, but if we don’t there will be serious consequences as well. Jezebel is stricken, others were to have great tribulation or be killed.
Do we think of Jesus as just a warm and fuzzy nice guy? Do we think he will just always love and accept us no matter what, because I like him and he likes me? Well, Jesus also judges, and the judgment can be severe. He tells us himself that he is a stern master and that he expects a lot of us. As he says in v. 23, “I will give to each of you as your works deserve.” He will judge each one of us impartially based on what we have done.
4. You can’t fool Jesus. He says in v. 23 – “I am he who searches the heart and mind.” Do you think you can hide from Jesus? That he doesn’t see what you do? That he doesn’t know what is in your thoughts and the intents of your heart?
You can fool others, you can even fool yourself, but you can never fool Jesus. He sees right through us. So lets be honest with him and others and stop trying to hide things.
As we end lets remember Jesus’ words of encouragement for faithfulness: v. 26-28 – “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.”
May we be among those who are so blessed.