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Thyatira

Seven Letters  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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18 “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. 19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.
20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 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. 23 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.
24 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, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.’
26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—27 that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’ z—just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give that one the morning star. 29 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Thyatira, the Corrupted Church ()
1. destination (2:18)
2:18. Thyatira, 40 miles southeast of Pergamum, was a much smaller city. Thyatira was situated in an area noted for its abundant crops and the manufacture of purple dye. Thyatira is a busy centre of commerce (2:18–29). Lydia, the purple-cloth dealer whom Paul met in Philippi, came from here (). There are many wealthy trade guilds, and a shrine where a famous female fortune-teller called Sanbathe gives advice.
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Thyatira, the Corrupted Church ()
Christ introduces himself to the Christians at Thyatira as ‘the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze’. He is a God of penetrating purity and unshakeable power.
The church was small, but it was singled out for this penetrating letter of rebuke.
The longest message was sent to the church in the smallest city! Thyatira was a military town as well as a commercial center with many trade guilds. Wherever guilds were found, idolatry and immorality—the two great enemies of the early church—were almost always present too.
The church at Thyatira is loving, faithful and growing in influence. But there is a serious problem with a self-styled prophetess called Jezebel. Jezebel is probably not her real name, but recalls King Ahab’s wicked queen from the days of Elijah. This woman, while claiming to speak from God, is leading Christians astray with idol food and forbidden sex. Her immorality is an image of spiritual unfaithfulness. Christ warns that there will be terrible consequences both for herself and for others. Her fascinating secrets are Satan’s dangerous lies.
The longest message was sent to the church in the smallest city! Thyatira was a military town as well as a commercial center with many trade guilds. Wherever guilds were found, idolatry and immorality—the two great enemies of the early church—were almost always present too.
Christ is infinitely more glorious and terrible than the sun god Apollo, whose famous temple stands in Thyatira. Christ will give his church ‘the morning star’—the pure point of light which promises the dawn of God’s eternal kingdom.
The city boasted a special temple to Apollo, the “sun god,” which explains why the Lord introduced Himself as “the Son of God” (the only time in Revelation this title is used). John had to deliver a message of severe warning and judgment to this congregation, which explains the description of the Lord’s eyes and feet.
2. commendation (2:19)
2:19. Though much was wrong in the church at Thyatira, believers there were commended for their love … faith … service, and perseverance (cf. 2:2). And the Thyatira Christians were doing more as time went on (in contrast to the Ephesus church which did less). The church was not guilty of mere “religious activity.” But despite these evidences of Christian life and testimony, the church at Thyatira had serious problems.
Knowles, A. (2001). The Bible guide (1st Augsburg books ed., p. 699). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg.
The sins in the church at Thyatira, like those at Pergamum, are immorality and compromise with idol worship. Here, as there, we may take them literally, though they also constitute the spiritual adultery of which God’s people have often been guilty. The biblical metaphor is that the true God is Israel’s husband; the false gods are her lovers (; ; , etc.). Jezebel, like Balaam, was in the Old Testament story an outsider who seduced God’s bride into this kind of unfaithfulness (; ).
There are however differences between the two situations. Against beleaguered Christians like those at Pergamum, Satan uses the pressures of the world to ‘squeeze’ them ‘into its own mould’ (, jbp); but where the church is noted for its growth and vigour (verse 19), he knows that he can do most damage not by pressure without but by poison within. So in Thyatira a particular woman takes on both the evil character of Jezebel and the prophetic role of Balaam, and begins to teach, as if from God, new ‘deep things’ which some members of this strong and lively church are only too willing to explore.
3. rebuke (2:20–23)
Accusation (vv. 20–23). Alas, the Lord found much to expose and condemn in the assembly at Thyatira. No amount of loving and sacrificial works can compensate for tolerance of evil. The church was permitting a false prophetess to influence the people and lead them into compromise. It is not likely that this woman was actually called “Jezebel,” since such an infamous name would not be given to a child. The name is symbolic: Jezebel was the idolatrous queen who enticed Israel to add Baal worship to their religious ceremonies (see ). The seductive teaching of Jezebel was similar to the “doctrine of Balaam” that the Lord condemned in the church of Pergamos (). She taught believers how to compromise with the Roman religion and the practices of the guilds, so that Christians would not lose their jobs or their lives.
Bishop Butler was unjust to accuse John Wesley of ‘pretending to extraordinary revelations and gifts of the Holy Ghost’. But many have so pretended, and their revelations, when divorced from what Scripture has already revealed, can be ‘a very horrid thing’ indeed. Their sinister voice is often heard in the midst of surging spiritual enthusiasms. As the Reformation gathers momentum, John of Leyden proclaims himself Messiah at Münster. As the idealism of the Children of God makes a bid for the loyalty of modern youth, Christian parents are dismayed to find their offspring being encouraged to abandon their home ties. ‘No other gods before me’, ‘Honour your father and mother’—mere dull traditionalism compared with the exciting voices of the new prophets.
It is interesting to contrast the churches at Ephesus and Thyatira. The Ephesian church was weakening in its love, yet faithful to judge false teachers; while the people in the assembly at Thyatira were growing in their love, but too tolerant of false doctrine. Both extremes must be avoided in the church. “Speaking the truth in love” is the biblical balance (). Unloving orthodoxy and loving compromise are both hateful to God.
The fact that such voices are to be expected in a lively church is no excuse for her allowing them to go unchecked. Rather the reverse. The more favoured she is, the more severely she will be judged. Christ of the piercing eyes and the trampling feet comes to her like the sun shining in full strength (1:16), infinitely more terrible than the pagan sun-god Apollo, whose temple at Thyatira was famous. His glory searches her mind and heart, and ‘there is nothing hid from its heat’ (verse 23; ). Those who will not repent he threatens with suffering and death, certainly in a spiritual sense and possibly also (with these punishments as with the sins of verses 20, 21) in a physical sense. To those who will repent, he promises that with this one major hindrance removed, they will become the splendid missionary church they have it in them to be. Verse 27 is a Greek adaptation of the Hebrew of ; the first half of the verse is ambiguous in both languages, but the curious wording which results here does express the double effect of the preaching of the gospel. For the ‘authority over the nations’ which is given to Christ in , and to the church here, is authority to proclaim the rule or kingdom of God. He who rejects that rule will perish; but he who accepts it will live (, ; ; ). What is more, to the church which is a faithful gospel-lamp in the dark night of this world Christ also promises himself as the morning star (22:16), the assurance of the coming dawn, when lamplight will be swallowed up in the light of eternal day.
Not only was the church at Thyatira tolerant of evil, but it was proud and unwilling to repent. The Lord gave the false prophetess time to repent, yet she refused. Now 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 fact, the Lord threatened to use this assembly as a solemn example to “all the churches” not to tolerate evil. Jezebel and her children (followers) would be sentenced to tribulation and death! Idolatry and compromise are, in the Bible, pictured as fornication and unfaithfulness to the marriage vows (; ). Jezebel’s bed of sin would become a bed of sickness! To kill with death means “to kill with pestilence” (see nasb). God would judge the false prophetess and her followers once and for all.
4. exhortation (2:24–25)
Admonition (vv. 24–29). Not everyone in the assembly was unfaithful to the Lord, and He had a special word for them. They had separated themselves from the false doctrine and compromising practices of Jezebel and her followers, which Christ denounces as “the depths of Satan” (note the contrast in ). The Lord had no special demands to make; 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 (see ; ; , , ). This is the first mention in Revelation of the Lord’s coming for the church, the event we commonly call the Rapture (see ). In contrast, the reference in is to Christ’s return to earth in judgment, to defeat His enemies and establish His kingdom (see ).
5. promise (2:26–29)
2:26–27. Christ promises believers who are faithful that they will join Him in His millennial rule (; ; ). The word in verse 27 translated “rule” (poimanei) means “to shepherd,” indicating 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. Though refers to Christ’s rule, John’s quotation of it here relates the ruling (shepherding) to the believer who overcomes. Believers will have authority just as Christ does (; ; ; , ). Christ received this authority from His Father (cf. ).
2:28. In addition, the faithful will receive the morning star, which appears just before the dawn. The Scriptures do not explain this expression, but it may refer to participation in the Rapture of the church before the dark hours preceding the dawn of the millennial kingdom.
2:29. The letter to Thyatira closes with the familiar exhortation to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Unlike the earlier letters, this exhortation follows rather than precedes the promise to overcomers, and this order is followed in the letters to the last three churches.
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. 938). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
As you review these first four messages to the churches, you can see the dangers that still exist for the people of God. Like Ephesus, we can be zealous and orthodox, but at the same time lose our devotion to Christ. Or, like Thyatira, our love can be increasing yet lacking in the kind of discernment that is necessary to keep the church pure (see ). Like Pergamos and Thyatira, we may be so tolerant of evil that we grieve the Lord and invite His judgment.
Jesus Christ is “the Bright and Morning Star” (). The promise in suggests that God’s people shall be so closely identified with Christ that He will “belong” to them! But perhaps there is also an allusion here to Satan, who wanted the kingdom for himself and who offered the world’s kingdoms to Christ if He would worship him but once (). In , Satan is named Lucifer, which in Hebrew means “brightness, bright star.” The compromising people in Thyatira were following “the depths of Satan,” which would lead to darkness and death. God’s overcomers, on the other hand, would share the Morning Star!
As you review these first four messages to the churches, you can see the dangers that still exist for the people of God. Like Ephesus, we can be zealous and orthodox, but at the same time lose our devotion to Christ. Or, like Thyatira, our love can be increasing yet lacking in the kind of discernment that is necessary to keep the church pure (see ). Like Pergamos and Thyatira, we may be so tolerant of evil that we grieve the Lord and invite His judgment.
Would we have selected Smyrna as the most spiritual church of the four? Probably not, yet the Lord did! We need to remind ourselves not to judge God’s people by wrong standards, because only the Lord can see the heart (see ).
God’s exhortation to these churches (except Smyrna) is, “Repent! Change your minds!” It is not only lost sinners who need to repent, but also disobedient Christians. If we do not repent and deal with sin in our lives and in our assemblies, the Lord may judge us and remove our lampstand (). How tragic it is when a local church gradually abandons the faith and loses its witness for Christ!
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches!”
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