Title : A Letter from Christ to the Church in Thyatira
With this letter from Christ to the church in Thyatira (today Akhisar in modern Turkey) we now come to the fourth in a series of seven letters addressed by Jesus Christ to the churches of Asia Minor. Remember that these 7 letters are all part of the first vision, which began in Revelation 1:12 with a description of the resurrected Lord who is said to walk among the seven golden lampstands . The number 7 is symbolic of perfection and the walking of Christ among the 7 golden lampstands is symbolic of Christ’s presence with His church in all the ages. To this church , Jesus sends the longest of His seven letters.
We have noted some recurring themes in these letters: Jesus addresses the angels (messengers) of these congregations. He specifically addresses the circumstances facing each of these congregations, saying “I (intimately) know . . .” your situation. He commends them for faithfulness wherever they are obedient to Him. He rebukes them and calls them to repentance wherever He find them disobedient. Each letter concludes with the promise of Christ’s blessing as well as the familiar exhortation, “he who has an ear , let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
We find that the issues confronting these churches , confront the modern church , and they provide a mirror for us to examine ourselves.
As with all the letters it is essential for us to understand the historical context of this particular church in order to understand the situation. Thyatira was located approximately 60 km SE of Pergamum on a busy trade route – but unlike Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamum it was not a large or influential city. It is here that the Lydia of Acts 16:14 , a seller of purple was converted. One of the more prominent industries in Thyatira was the production and dyeing of fabric.
V. 18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze." The description of Jesus here refers back to what we first saw in Ch. 1:14 . The image points us to the unveiled glory of the transcendent Christ. He has all seeing eyes-nothing escapes Him, and He has sturdy feet that are ever moving towards to goal of history – the conquest of evil and the establishment of the kingdom of God.
V. 19 COMMENDATION: “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first." This Christ deeply knows (Gr. oida) and understands where His and this church is at. He sees with infallible eyes. This church was not short on love (like Ephesus). She had faith ; she showed works of service (diakonia); she demonstrated patient endurance. It is said of her that her latter works exceeded the first – this means that this church (unlike Ephesus which had stood still) was growing in grace. Unlike the Ephesians who needed to do those things they did at the beginning, the Christians in Thyatira were actually doing more now than they did at first . What a great recommendation!
v. 20 REBUKE : “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." As in the case of Pergamum, Jesus makes reference to an OT similitude ( see 1 Kings 16:29-33; 2 Kings 9) where we find a woman called Jezebel (a Sidonian princess and a committed Baal worshipper) who was married to the Jewish king Ahab (reigned 874-853 BC). This woman was credited as having seduced the people of Israel into the worship of Baal. Now here in Thyatira there is a woman, who in that spirit of Jezebel, was having an undermining influence upon the congregation. This woman (who claimed prophetic powers) by her teaching was leading many into sexual sin and into pagan worship rituals. She was leading people in the church away from the pure gospel of Jesus Christ.
I remind you once again of Satan’s strategy. If he cannot conquer the church through direct persecution, he will attempt to corrupt it through planting people ( powerful , manipulative personalities) in her midst who subtly through gradual and seductive teaching draw people away from the truth as it is in Jesus. This woman Jezebel appealed to the base instincts of man – sex and food.
Now pause and understand this. This church was loving and faithful; she exhibited works of service and patient endurance , BUT she tolerated false teaching ! Thyatira is the opposite of the church of Ephesus. Ephesus was strong in doctrine and the knowledge of the truth, faithful in works and strict in discipline. But she had lost her first love. She had become poor in her devotional, spiritual life.
Thyatira was as A.H. Hoeksema says …”a church of mystic inclination… which is exactly the reverse (of Ephesus). She…claims a direct intercourse with the Spirit. But she most frequently manifests an accompanying tendency to separate herself from the objective standard of the Word. She is usually poor in knowledge and, in general, in regard to things which can be grasped and analysed by the intellect…. Being cut loose from the Word of God, she becomes a fit object of Satan's seductive influence, exposed to any and every error of the kingdom of darkness.
Let us try to put this scenario into a fictional story. It is a Sunday evening. One of our elders, our angel (messenger) of the church opens with heartfelt prayer and leads us in singing. By and by we come to the time of testimonies. Eric Tordiffe gets up and testifies of the time when he became a Christian and he emphasizes that this gospel has been sweet to his soul; it has changed him forever. Then Ronelle Laue gets up and gives her testimony, speaking about the power and the grace of Christ in her and she speaks of her love and appreciation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then a strange woman speaks up. She has been visiting our church for a few weeks now . She has a ‘lived and worn look’ about her. She bears the marks of hard living even though she must have once been a pretty woman. Her voice is raspy from all the years of smoking . The lines on her face point to regular alcohol consumption. She gets up tells the congregation of a vision which she had during the past week, and how the Lord had appeared to her in a dream. She claims to have prophetic powers. She says that in her dream the Lord showed her the horrible depths of sin and Satan. And then she says: “the Lord said to me: ‘If anyone would truly experience my grace and infinite mercy, that person must actually experience the depths of sin, and learn to know this by experience. The more a person is able to experience the depths of Satan by actual experience, the more they will appreciate my salvation." She then testifies how she had descended into those depths of sin and Satan. She became an adulteress. She ate and drank with the worst and most depraved of human company. She used her body for unspeakable sin. And she concludes by testifying that this descent into the abyss of sin made her understand the awful depths from which the grace of Christ redeemed and delivered her. She now more fully appreciates the wonders of His mercy. And so this instrument of the devil speaks in the midst of the congregation. Now what is she really saying to a young man and woman in the pew listening spell bound? And what does the congregation do? What do the elders do?
I tell you what a doctrinally naïve congregation and elders like Thyatira will do: They will say: ”This is wonderful! Here is a new way to learn the grace of God. Let us therefore sin that grace may increase! “(compare this with Paul’s thoughts in Romans 6:1). People are so enraptured by her charisma, and they marvel at her, but they do not question the fact that her speech directly contradicts the objective revelation of the Word of God. And so many even follow her, and in keeping with her teaching they descend into the depths of Satan. Many servants of the Lord are seduced by her teaching.
How is it possible that this little congregation of Thyatira listens spell bound to the dark testimony of this instrument of hell? This happens when you have got loving hearts that are not tied to the truth of God’s word. In such a church personal experience is the chief criterion of the truth! In this matter I am absolutely amazed how many Christian people are enamored with the book called “the Shack” – a deceptive undermining of the character of the Tri-une God.
Now clearly the church must guard against two extremes. She must watch against the danger of cold intellectualism, but at the same time she must also refuse to enthrone subjective experience as supreme lord. Our personal experience must be subjected constantly to the test of the Word of God. And if on the basis of his or her experience any member would spread a doctrine not in harmony with the Scriptures, they should be corrected; and, if they will not repent, they should be excommunicated without delay.
V. 21 "I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality." God is gracious. He warns this woman – how we are not told- but probably through the ministry of the Word through His faithful at Thyatira. Here is the tragedy. Not only will she not repent, but the church ( under the leadership of her elders) will not put her out of the church. Therefore, Christ warns this congregation in no uncertain terms that he will come to them in judgment.
Vv. 22, 23a 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. Jesus says that He will bring sickness upon this woman, and He also says that He will also punish all those who commit spiritual adultery with her as well. And just as the original Jezebel was thrown from her own window and killed (2 Kings 9) so too, Jesus threatens to bring death upon this woman and upon all those who continue to follow her (see other NT cases in Acts 5 - Ananias and Saphira . In 1 Corinthians 11, judgment upon all those who do not recognize the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.) Here too we see the threat of punishment for disobedient Christians who commit spiritual adultery. God does not do this because he is cruel. He does it to protect the purity and sanctity of his church.
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 according to your works." God will do what it takes to prepare a spotless and radiant bride for His Son. He will protect the church by whatever means he deems appropriate.
Vv. 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." Here those who have not allowed themselves to be seduced by Jezebel. They are exhorted and encouraged to hold on to Christ. Incidentally, the root of Jezebel’s system of teaching is laid bare here: it is of Satanic origin. Jezebel claimed to be revealing the deep things of God. But in reality she was revealing the deep things of Satan. But to those who have not been taken in by this woman’s deception, Jesus says: “I will not impose any other burden on you. Only hold on to what you have until I come.” He asks His faithful people to hold on to the gospel until He comes.
Vv. 26&27. 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. Those who persevere are promised that Christ Himself will share with them His messianic authority. Just as Jesus rules over the nations, so too, all those who are His will reign with Him.
V. 28 And I will give him the morning star. – a reference to Numbers24:17, where Balaam saw a star emerging from Jacob, one who would come from Israel and crush the Moabites. This star pointed ahead to a warrior-king, who will identify himself later in the book of Revelation. In Revelation 22:16, Jesus says: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright Morning Star.” Therefore, Jesus not only promises this struggling church that they will reign with Him, but that they will receive Himself, as a bridegroom gives himself to his bride .
Jesus warns us not to tolerate people in our midst who claim to reveal secret things, who then attempt to lead us into making unholy compromises with the paganism around us. We fear that the modern church has imbibed much of this spirit. We need to be aware of false teachers and false emphases. Pastors and elders have a sacred duty to guard the pulpit and the various teaching forums and the home fellowships without killing warmth and love for Jesus in the church .
The Holy Spirit warns us not to drift away on subjective experience, ignoring the objective teachings of the Word of God. Cling to the Word. For only that Word is our safe guide in the midst of strong currents of human theories. And remember that this false doctrine may sometimes appear under a very beautiful mask. In Thyatira given to mystic tendencies the church was easily influenced through powerful testimonies . But learn to listen carefully . Practise discernment. Speak with your elders who are called to watch over you. Cling to that Word. Keep yourselves pure from the wicked Jezebel. Amen !