Church at Thyatira

SYNOPSIS:  The prophetess, “Jezebel,” deceived many saints at Thyatira into accommodating idolatrous practices – Revelation 2:18-29

two person standing near white church

The city of Thyatira was situated fifty-five kilometers southeast of Pergamos and eighty kilometers inland from the west coast of Asia Minor. Its proximity to Pergamos explains why the doctrines of the Nicolaitans also infiltrated this congregation. Christianity reached Thyatira at an early stage, but the details of its establishment there are unknown.

The city produced a dye used in the production of a purple fabric highly prized around the Mediterranean. The woman Lydia converted by the Apostle Paul at Philippi was a dye merchant from Thyatira. The economy of the city was dominated by trade guilds for the bronze, linen, leather, pottery, and dye industries.

Trade guilds promoted the interests of their members, and it would be difficult for a tradesman unassociated with any guild to conduct business in Thyatira. Each guild featured rituals and patron deities; membership demanded participation in religious rites.

The letter to Thyatira is the longest of the seven letters and is positioned at the center of the literary unit. Beginning with this message, the exhortation to hear the Spirit is repositioned to the end of each letter.

(Revelation 2:18-29) – “And unto the messenger of the assembly in Thyatira, write:—These things saith the Son of God who hath his eyes like a flame of fire, and his feet like unto glowing copper: I know thy works and thy love and faith and ministry and endurance,—and that thy last works are more than the first. Nevertheless, I have against thee, that thou sufferest the woman Jezebel, she who calleth herself a prophetess and is teaching and leading astray my own servants to commit lewdness and to eat idol-sacrifices; and I gave her time, that she might repent, and she willeth not to repent out of her lewdness. Lo! I cast her into a bed, and them who are committing adultery with her, into great tribulation,—except they repent out of her works; and her children will I slay with death;—and all the assemblies shall get to know that I am he that searcheth reins and hearts, and will give unto you, each one, according to your works. But unto you, I say,—the rest who are in Thyatira, as many as have not this teaching, such as have not come to know the deep things of Satan, as they say, I do not cast upon you any other burden; nevertheless, what ye have, hold fast till I shall have come. And he that overcometh and keepeth throughout my works, I will give unto him authority over the nations; and he shall shepherd them with a sceptre of iron,—as vessels of earthenware are dashed in pieces:—as I also have received from my Father. And I will give unto him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what, the Spirit, is saying unto the assemblies.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

Jesus is the “Son of God” with flaming eyes and feet “like burnished bronze.” The title “Son of God” occurs only here in the book of Revelation and alludes to Psalm 2:7-9, a key passage behind the promise to faithful believers who overcome that is found at the conclusion of the seven letters:

(Psalm 2:7-9) – “Let me tell of a decree,—Yahweh hath said unto me, My son, thou art, I, to-day, have begotten thee: Ask of me and let me give nations as thine inheritance, and, as thy possession, the ends of the earth: Thou shalt shepherd them with a sceptre of iron,—as a potter’s vessel, shalt thou dash them in pieces” – (The Emphasized Bible).

(Revelation 3:21) – “He that overcometh, I will give unto him to take his seat with me in my throne, as I also overcame, and took my seat with my Father in his throne.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The reference to a “furnace” invokes the story of the “fiery furnace” into which the three compatriots of Daniel were cast when they refused to render homage to the great image “set-up” by King Nebuchadnezzar. The three were delivered from death by “one like a Son of God.” The same fiery furnace becomes the model for the “lake of fire burning with brimstone” into which the Beast and False Prophet are cast (Daniel 3:24-25Revelation 19:20).

The FIery Furnace
The Fiery Furnace

Jesus knows this church’s “works, love, faith, ministry, and perseverance,” and that “your last works are more than the first.” This description contrasts Thyatira with Ephesus, where the earlier works of testimony were greater than the later ones.

Despite its previous faithfulness, Jesus rebukes the church for tolerating a false prophetess he names “Jezebel.” Her teachings parallel those of the ‘Nicolaitans’ (“to eat idol-sacrifices and to commit fornication”). She promotes accommodation with the idolatrous and dominant culture of Thyatira.

Jezebel” was probably not the real name of this woman. She modeled after the Old Testament pagan queen and wife of Ahab, Jezebel, who was known for promoting the worship of Ba’al in northern Israel and persecuting the prophets of Yahweh and Elijah (1 Kings 16:31, 18:4-19, 19:1-2).

Allusions to the ministry of Elijah appear later when saints, symbolized by two lampstands, exercise the combined prophetic authority of Moses and Elijah. The two figures are overcome by the Beast from the Abyss, which confirms their identities as churches (Revelation 11:3-7, 12:17, 13:7, 20:8-9).

Fornication” is metaphorical for idolatry. Note the explanatory, “Eating meat offered to idols.” The “lovers” and “children” of Jezebel are adherents of her doctrine. The influence of the trade guilds in Thyatira has raised questions about eating meat offered to idols. Most likely, conflicts have developed at local guild meetings over questions about Christians participating in the idolatrous rites of the guilds. Nonparticipation means economic loss.

This Jezebel is a “prophetess,” a verbal link to the False Prophet from the earth first described in Chapter 13 of Revelation. Like ancient Jezebel, the False Prophet causes others to engage in idolatry. Refusal to do so means exclusion from economic activity (Revelation 13:11-18, 16:13, 19:20, Daniel 3:1-7).

Jezebel” is a harlot-like figure because of her seductive powers, which also links her to the Great Harlot, Babylon, who causes the earth’s inhabitants to drink the “wine of her fornication” (Revelation 17:1-6, 18:3, 18:8-9).

Jezebel” is a version of Babylon, who is already at work in the church. The threatened judgment on her and her “children” anticipates God’s judgment on end-time Babylon. Anyone who partakes of her sins will also receive “her plagues” (Revelation 18:1-6).

The prophetess “deceives” Christ’s servants, another link to the later visions about Mystery Babylon. Note the parallels:

    1. Satan deceives the whole world – (12:9, 20:3, 20:8-10).
    2. False Prophet deceives those who dwell on the earth – (13:14).
    3. Mystery Babylondeceives all the nations by her sorceries – (18:23).
    4. False Prophet deceives those who receive the mark of the Beast – (19:20).

Jesus gave “Jezebel” time to repent but she refused, therefore, he is poised to punish her. However, all hope is not lost. He allows a little more time for her and her followers to repent. If they refuse, he will “cast her into a couch along with them who fornicate with her.” The “couch” is a sickbed, indicated by her punishment with “great tribulation” and plagues. Christ will “kill her children with death” (apoktenō en thanatō), a verbal link to the first four seals when the four horsemen are authorized “to kill…with death” (apokteinai en thanatō – Revelation 6:1-8).

The clause, “he who searches reins and hearts,” interprets the “eyes like a flaming fire.” The allusion is to a passage from the book of Jeremiah. God pronounced judgment on the Israelites who participated in idolatry for economic gain. The flaming eyes of Jesus pierce through to the innermost being, nothing is hidden from his gaze (Jeremiah 17:10-11).

The rest” are those not corrupted by Jezebel. She argues it is permissible to “know the deep things of Satan.” Possibly, this is a slogan being propagated by her supporters (“as they say”). More likely, in her mind, she taught the “deep things of God” – Presumably, deeper spiritual insight and experiences to protect initiates from harm during their participation in idolatrous rites. “There is only one God and an idol is nothing! What harm could there be?” Jesus reveals this doctrine for what it is – the “deep things of Satan.” As Paul wrote, idolatry is communion with demons (1 Corinthians 10:20).

The “deep things of Satan” is a link to the “Abyss” of later chapters, the deep pit from which the Beast, demons, and Satan ascend to deceive men and women into idolatrous worship. “Depth” symbolizes the satanic source of deception. Faithful saints must hold fast and not compromise (Revelation 9:1-2, 11:7, 13:1, 17:8, 20:1-3).

Jesus received the authority to rule the nations through his Death and Resurrection. He shares this authority with his faithful disciples, now and in the future. The text alludes to Psalm 2:8-9, “I will give him authority over the nations, and he shall shepherd them with a scepter of iron, as vessels of earthenware are smashed in pieces” (Revelation 1:5, 12:1-5).

In his allusion, John changes the original “smite them” in the Hebrew text to “shepherd them.” The change reflects the Greek Septuagint translation of the psalm, which replaces “smite” with the verb for “shepherd.” This is not to deny Jesus reigns with full authority but, instead, suggests he does so in a paradoxical way. Just as he “overcame” by dying for others, so believers overcome Satan and participate in the kingdom by laying down their lives for the Lamb (Revelation 12:10-11).

The “morning star” symbolizes his reign, an image from a prophecy by Balaam. Jezebel’s deceptions parallel the false doctrines of the Nicolaitans/Balaam. The prophecy of Balaam referred to a “star from Jacob and a scepter from Israel that shall crush” (Numbers 24:17, Psalm 2:8-9, 2 Peter 1:17-19).

He that has an ear, Hear, what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” Once more the pronoun switches to the singular and the noun to the plural. The message is applicable to a larger audience. The Greek verb for “saying” is a progressive present – Continuous action. The Spirit continues to declare this to all who have an “ear to hear.”

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