Thyatira: Increased Works But Tolerates Evil

THE LETTER – “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. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 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. 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. 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): Only hold on to what you have until I come. To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations – ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery’ – just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 2:18-29)

Background – Thyatira, now called Akhissar, was situated some forty miles south-east of Pergamum. A Lydian city, it had been under Roman rule since 190 BC, housing a large military garrison. Thyatira was a trade center, and was especially known for its dye for royal purple. It was the home of Lydia of Philippi named in Acts 16:14. Various inscriptions indicate that it was full of trade guilds. Apollo was the chief pagan deity of the city. The emperor was linked with Apollo and may have been worshiped in Thyatira as his earthly manifestation. It was another center of influence for the Nicolaitans, known for their idolatry and licentiousness. Locally, it was influenced by a “prophetess” who stood in opposition to and defiance of the church there. This was the longest of the seven messages to the churches, although Thyatira was the smallest city of the seven.

Greeting: What’s in A Name – The name of the city, Thyatira, apparently means continual, ritualistic, sacrifice. Jesus identifies Himself as the “Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” This is the only instance in the book of Revelation that the title “Son of God” is used. Apparently, the church needed reaffirmation of Christ’s deity. The city boasted a special temple to Apollo, the “sun god,” which may also help explain why Jesus introduces Himself as “the Son of God.”

With eyes “like blazing fire” there is an emphasis on His purity, power and righteousness. They penetrate the facade and see into the interior motives (“I am He who searches hearts and minds”), ready to carry out any sentence He deems appropriate (Revelation 19:15). With feet like “burnished bronze” He “treads our sins underfoot” (Micah 7:19). The Greek term translated burnished bronze, appears to refer to an alloy of a number of metals that were characterized by their brilliance when polished. This description of Christ seems appropriate for a city that was also renowned for its brass-works.

Praise: What’s Pretty Good – The believers in Thyatira were a busy congregation. They were involved in sacrificial ministry for the benefit of others. Their works were also characterized by faith, love, and perseverance. The church was not guilty of mere religious activity. Instead of falling from “the first works” and “first love,” like the church at Ephesus, Thyatira was “doing more than [they] did at first,” a “formula” encouraged by Peter when he said, “add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

Criticism: What’s Not So Good – The church at Thyatira was criticized for being open-minded towards and tolerant of sinful behavior and teaching. Some of the specifics related to a so-called false prophetess “Jezebel” who was characterized by false teaching, sexual immorality and eating foods sacrificed to idols. While tolerance can in certain situations be a virtue, it will always be a vice when God’s standards of right and wrong and good versus evil are compromised within the Church. While we must put up with such things in the world, when they occur within a church they require a sharp rebuke in order to bring correction and restore sound doctrine. Paul put it this way, “for there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers…. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach…. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:10-13).

So, while the church in Thyatira had works, service, and patience characterized by love and faith, there were some who were also filled with sin, holding to the teaching of Jezebel and learning “Satan’s so-called deep secrets.” The false prophetess is referred to as Jezebel, and is the only woman mentioned in the seven letters. The name is likely a figurative reference to Queen Jezebel of the Old Testament, rather than her actual name. Queen Jezebel, was the wicked wife of King Ahab (1 Kings 16–2 Kings 10), a pagan, and the daughter of a priest of Baal. She promoted Baal worship in Israel. She was guilty of whoredom and witchcraft (2 Kings 9:22) as well as idolatry, murder and deceit. As inconceivable as it might sound, many in the church at Thyatira were following or tolerating the example and leadership of a woman with similar qualities. This false prophetess had slipped into the church at Thyatira using false teaching to seduce (deceive) God’s people, “perverting the grace of our God into a license for immorality” and “depraved conduct” (see Jude and 2 Peter 2). She refused to repent, even though God gave her the opportunity to do so.

Although sexual perversion often accompanied pagan ceremonies, this may also be a figurative description of religious infidelity. It is interesting to contrast the churches at Ephesus and Thyatira (Figure 7.1).

Screenshot (88)Both extremes must be avoided in the church. “Speaking the truth in love” is the Biblical balance (Ephesian 4:15). Both a legalistic adherence to truth devoid of or lacking in love (Ephesus) and spiritual compromise or tolerance in the name of love (Thyatira) is abhorrent to God.

Exhortation – Of course, not everyone in the assembly was unfaithful to the Lord. They had separated themselves from and were not tolerant of the false doctrine and compromising practices of Jezebel and her followers. The Lord had no special demands to make on these. He simply wanted them to hold fast in their resistance to evil. “Till I come” refers to Christ’s return for His people, at which time He will reward them for their faithfulness.

Warning – The Lord had given the false prophetess time to repent, yet she refused. With poetic justice, the place of her sin would become the place of her punishment. The bed of her sin would be her bed of sickness and anguish – a bed of sickness in contrast with the bed of adultery. But He was giving her followers opportunity to repent. His eyes of fire had searched out their thoughts and motives, and He would make no mistake in His discipline. There were apparently two types of followers.

Participated with Her – There were those who had committed spiritual adultery “with her,” including eating meat sacrificed to idols and fornication. These would also suffer greatly. “With her,” in the Greek, implies they had actively participated in her sins by passively tolerating her. In so doing, they had in effect encouraged her.

Her Children –The second group was called her “children,” a metaphor for those who went beyond tolerating to actually following her teaching. These would receive a harsher punishment. They would be killed. God is jealous of His bride and will do whatever is necessary to purify her and preserve the faithful remnant.

Promise to Overcomers – Christ promises believers who are faithful that they will be given “authority over the nations,” thus joining Him in His millennial rule (Psalm 2:8–9; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:4–6). The Greek word translated rule means to shepherd. This is an indication that they will not simply be administering justice but will also, like a shepherd using his rod, be dealing with his sheep and protecting them as well. Believers will have authority just as Christ does (1 Corinthians 6:2–3; Revelation 3:21).

Jesus promises to give the overcomers “the morning star.” This reference is obvious, as Jesus identifies Himself as “the Bright and Morning Star” in Revelation 22:16. But there is also a touch of irony in the reference as well. Satan, who wanted the eternal Kingdom for himself and who offered the world’s kingdoms to Christ if He would worship him, is called Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12). In Hebrew Lucifer means brightness or bright star. The compromiser’s in Thyatira were following “the depths of Satan,” which would lead to darkness and death. The overcomers in Thyatira, on the other hand, would share in the heights of the true Morning Star!

Reflection – Tolerance is often viewed as a virtue, while intolerance is viewed as a vice. In the Spiritual realm, this is not the case, where passive tolerance is considered the equivalent of active participation. Note this relates to tolerating evil from those within the church. Christians often must, to a degree, tolerate the actions of those in the world. We cannot expect the unredeemed to behave as if there were redeemed. But even here tolerating evil behavior by the world should not mean that Christians are condoning their evil.

Screenshot (87)Up Next: Sardis.

Cited sources for Thyatira:

  1. Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Moore, E., Craven, E. R., & Woods, J. H. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Revelation (p. 121). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
  2. Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Re 2:18). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.
  3. Elwell, W. A. (1995). Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Vol. 3, Re 2:18). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
  4. Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Re 2:18). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  5. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 574). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  6. Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Re 2:18). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
  7. Walvoord, J. F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 937). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  8. Knowles, A. (2001). The Bible guide (1st Augsburg books ed., p. 699). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg.
  9. Rudwick, M. J. S., & Hemer, C. J. (1996). Thyatira. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, & D. J. Wiseman (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (3rd ed., p. 1185). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  10. Vacendak, R. (2010). The Revelation of Jesus Christ. In R. N. Wilkin (Ed.), The Grace New Testament Commentary (p. 1264). Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.
  11. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Re 2:8). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  12. Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 2, p. 442). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

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