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Churches of Revelation: Part 5 – Thyatira

The last few weeks we have looked at 3 of the 7 churches in the book of Revelation. The first 3 churches that we examined were on the coast. As we move into the next 4 cities, we’ll start looking at those cities that are inland. The first of these inland cities is Thyatira.

Until around 300 BC, Thyatira was a small and insignificant town. It wasn’t on any major trade routes at the time. It was on one of the lesser roads between Sardis and Pergamum. It eventually became a commercial center, but never a really large city like the previous 3 we looked at.

In this city were two major temples to pagan gods. The first was Tyrimnos. They held games in his honor and his likeness was upon their money. The other deity worshiped there was Sambethe, who some regard as the idol of the Jezebel in Revelation 2:20.

This city was well known for their trade guilds. If you have ever played one of those fantasy RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons then you know about trade guilds. As a matter of fact, I believe that the guilds of Thyatira are what many of these games base their view of guilds. And Thyatira did guilds right! They were more organized than in any other ancient city. Every artisan belonged to a guild and every guild owned its own property and wrote its own contracts. The guilds in Thyatira had more influence than all other guilds in the ancient world.

The two guilds that were the most powerful in this city were the coppersmiths and the dyers. The dyers created a new type of dye that was known only to this city and was highly sought after.  The dyers created a new of that dye is called Turkish Red. In Acts 16:14 we hear of Lydia of Thyatira who sold her dyes in Philippi.

Many of the guilds were associated with Asiatic pagan religions, and therefore, opposed to Christianity. That didn’t stop people like Paul from preaching in Thyatira. Acts 19:10 tells us that inhabitants all over Asia heard the Gospel message associated with Paul. It was taught very early in Christianity that guilds were off limits to Christians because of the pagan practices. Remember this as we analyze the verses around this tiny church in a pagan city.

Revelation 2:18-19 – “Write to the angel of the church in Thyatira: “The Son of God, the One whose eyes are like a fiery flame and whose feet are like fine bronze, says:  I know your works—your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first.

To begin, Jesus immediately calls Himself the Son of God. Many claim Jesus never said He was the Son of God, but here is just one of many places where this is clear. He makes it very clear that His eyes are like “blazing fire.” These are eyes that can burn the false appearance of people. His feet are like “burnished bronze” which can trample evil. Both of these qualities are going to be needed here as this is the most corrupt of the 7 churches in Revelation.

But, Fred, if you read the first few verses about this church, they are doing a lot of great things! How can you tell me they are the most corrupt?

You would be right in saying that there is a lot in this church that is good. Love, faith, service, and perseverance are all good deeds that they are doing. And God even says they are doing more than they first were! Love produces service. Faith produces perseverance. And they are growing in all of it. This church had faith in God and they helped people significantly.

If we were there at Thyatira we would have seen a church that is busy about doing God’s business. They were helping people in the community. They were loving each other. They were persevering in a pagan society. And they had a strong faith.

But there is something below the surface; something that many people aren’t seeing. So God needs to point this out to them. This church, on the outside, looks like the most Christian church of the ones we have studied. But deep down they are the most corrupt of the churches!

Revelation 2:20-23 –  But I have this against you: You tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and deceives My slaves to commit sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols.  I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to repent of her sexual immorality. Look! I will throw her into a sickbed and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her practices.  I will kill her children with the plague.  Then all the churches will know that I am the One who examines minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works.

It is about “Jezebel.”

Now Jezebel is most likely not her real name. Jesus is calling this person Jezebel because she was the most evil woman in the Old Testament. The Revelation Jezebel is a leader in the church in Thyatira. She is someone the people are listening to.

In the Old Testament, Jezebel was the wife of King Ahab of Israel and daughter of the king of Sidon, a town in modern day Lebanon. Jezebel was the reason Israel worshiped Baal. As the fertility god, worship of Baal involved many immoral sexual practices. She spread the worship of Baal among the 10 tribes of Israel with her 800 prophets. She is responsible for trying to kill Elijah after his Mt. Carmel encounter with over half of the Baal prophets. Elijah faced over 400 prophets of Baal with strong courage, but when Jezebel got involved, he ran away. Jezebel in the Old Testament had a neighbor murdered because of coveting his vineyard.

She was immoral.

She was ruthless.

Her life ended when she was thrown from the palace window. After she landed, the dogs came and ate her body and licked up the blood.

The Jezebel in Thyatira was known as a prophetess. She was a leader in the church. Many women were Christian prophetesses. In the book of Acts, for example, Philip’s 4 daughters were all prophetesses. Unfortunately, Jezebel was not spirit-filled. She was a false prophet. She was teaching that it was ok to engage in sexual immorality.

Looking back at the guilds for a moment, these guilds ran almost all of the business throughout the city. In order for Christians to find jobs, they had to join a union, which was forbidden because of their sexual orgies, immorality, and pagan worship.

The Christians had to make a choice.

Jezebel was teaching that it was ok to indulge in the same practices that these guilds were engaging in. She was telling Christians that they should go along with what the world was teaching, God would understand.

This is something Christians today deal with a lot. Many businesses, and I have been affected by this myself, require people to conform to their practices in order to stay employed. I can imagine this same argument happening in Thyatira.

I can just hear Jezebel now, “You need to work. God will understand. You should just do what you need to do in order to join the guilds.”

What about today’s churches?

Many tell us to just accept what the world is teaching in order for us to live at peace with the world. Have you heard the arguments? “The church should change its views on homosexuality.” “The church should be more open to people who have different sexual views.”

If the church begins to compromise biblical standards, then that church’s testimony goes away. There is nothing to set it apart from the rest of the world. So when someone realizes that their life needs a change and they go to a church that has compromised, the only thing that church can provide is more of the same which that person is coming from. That person will not find healing or the truth or the love of God. They will find the same “love” the world has provided. They will find a “truth” not found in the gospel, which is a lie. They will find only death of the spirit, not life.

How does God respond?

He holds the CHURCH accountable.

Yes, it was Jezebel that was leading them astray, but it was the CHURCH that allowed it!

In the previous church, Pergamum, and Thyatira, there is a definite link between both sexual immorality and idolatry. Sexual immorality is clearly spoken against in the Bible. When we engage in it, we go against the authority of God. This leads to God not being the God of their life. This means that the person needs to find another god to fill the void, something else to live for. That is what a god is. It is something that we live for. In this case, it is the god of sexual immorality. But it could very easily be the god of wealth or the god of power or ambition. These gods don’t come in immediately and make themselves known. They take over as time goes on.

Dr. Earl Palmer says it best, “the most subtle challenge to faith does not usually originate in the public amphitheaters but in the daily places where we earn the money we need to live.”

This is what was happening in Thyatira.

And look at the punishment Jesus will give. It happens to three different groups. The first is to Jezebel. Jesus, in some ways sarcastically says, “I will cast her on a bed of suffering.” If Jezebel likes her beds, God is going to give her that. But this bed will be filled with suffering. The next group affected is those who commit adultery with her. He says that they will suffer with great affliction. With sexual immorality there are plenty of ways to suffer with great affliction. Sexually transmitted diseases are just one way, but even beyond that, sexual immorality leads to broken hearts, and those are even a greater affliction than a mere disease. The final group that is affected is those are Jezebel’s children. Those are the ones who not only practice Jezebel’s teaching, but teach it as well. The verse says “I will strike her children dead.” The death that Jesus is talking about spiritual death, the death listed in chapters 20-21 in Revelation. This is the commitment to evil that makes it difficult to repent of sin.

But there is good news. Jesus gives them the opportunity to repent! But if they don’t repent, then those groups will be affected and Jesus says the churches will “know that I am the One who examines hearts and minds….”

Revelation 2:24 –  I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who haven’t known the deep things of Satan—as they say—I do not put any other burden on you.

Jesus says some pretty awesome things in Revelation 2:24. For the first time in the letters to the churches, Jesus mentions his coming. But also in this, we see that he mentions that there are those who are seeking the “Satan’s so-called deep secrets.” When a church begins to move away from Scripture, we find that pagan ritual begins to enter in. People love to feel that they know some deep seeded secret that others do not.

And there are many churches today that have interwoven new age practices or even worldly movements into the church. These are movements that say if you don’t understand their version of the gospel, even when it doesn’t fully line up to Scripture, then you cannot be a member of the Christian community.

Revelation 2:26-27 – The one who is victorious and keeps My works to the end: I will give him authority over the nations— and he will shepherd them with an iron scepter; he will shatter them like pottery—just as I have received this from My Father.

But God knows there are those who have not listened to Jezebel and to them He tells them to simply hold on until He comes. To add to this, He quotes Psalm 2. This reference is to the millennial kingdom. This quote of Psalm 2 talks about Jesus ruling with an iron scepter and dashing them to pieces like pottery. It cannot be the new heavens and new earth because nothing evil can get in there. The millennial kingdom is the time when the saints share reign with Christ. Righteousness will reign. But in the new heaven and new earth, righteousness will dwell. Evil cannot be present with righteousness.

Revelation 2:28 – I will also give him the morning star.

Ending this section about Thyatira, Jesus tells us those who persevere without compromising will be given the morning star. In the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi says that the “Sun of Righteousness will arise.” He will be like the sun rising. Then in Revelation 22:16 Jesus calls Himself “I am the bright and morning star.”

So what this is telling us is that Jesus is going to present Himself to those who love Him before He comes in power and glory. This is a promise of the rapture of the church. He will appear for the true Christ-followers. Now don’t get me wrong, these Christ-followers still fall from time to time. But they repent and get back up. Those who have a true faith will repent.

In closing, Jesus tells us to hear what He has to say about the all the churches. So far we have the following:

  • Ephesus – Don’t lose your first love
  • Smyrna – Don’t fear persecution
  • Pergamum – Trust the Word and stay faithful
  • Thyatira – Avoid sexual immorality and idolatry

All of these messages are just as important today as they were in the first century.

And…

This is a message that the church drastically needs.

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