Thyatira: “Anything goes!” (Fourth of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor)

(tenth of our articles on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.  Revelation 1-3)

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:  ‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass: ‘I know your works….'” (Revelation 2:18ff)

David Jeremiah calls Thyatira “The Suburban Church.”  J. Vernon McGee called it “Paganism unlimited.”  Other commentators call it “The Corrupt Church.”  I call it “The Easy-going, Overly Tolerant Church.”  Apparently it stood for little and fell for a great deal.

This was the home church for Jezebel, a morally corrupt woman who was not to be trifled with.  No one dared cross her, so she was allowed to spread her poison within the church and beyond.

The City–

In 190 BC Thyatira became a Roman city.  It was famous for its production of wool and purple dye.  Lydia, leader of the church at Philippi, was born here (Acts 16:14).  When the city was destroyed it was never rebuilt.  Ruins today cover only a city block.  In the first century, it was the headquarters for many guilds: potters, tanners, weavers, robe makers, and dyers.  It was the center of the dyeing industry.  (The color purpose spoken of in the New Testament is today called “turkey red,” according to J. Vernon McGee.  He said, “And I mean that color is red!“)

How the Ascended Lord spoke of Himself

“These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and feet like fine brass.”  This must be one of the few times where the Lord Jesus refers to Himself as “The Son of God.”  In most cases throughout the New Testament, it was “Son of Man.”  But here He calls Himself by that distinguished title.

What must those eyes have been like?  I have a personal feeling that the eyes of Jesus in their natural human state were something special, and have two scriptures that suggest it.  Both are in Luke 22. “Now the men who held Jesus mocked Him and beat Him.  And having blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face….” (vs. 64) They could not stand to look into the eyes of the One they were beating.  Earlier, we read of Peter’s denials.  “Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord….and Peter went out and wept bitterly” (vs. 60-62).  Those eyes!

Eyes afire!  This speaks to us of judgement.  And He does have stern words for this church, but they’re not all bad.

“I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first” (Revelation 2:19).  The report was mixed.  There was nothing wrong with the heart of these people.  They were working, they loved, they had faith, and they were growing, getting better.  But they had one big problem.  A huge one: They were allowing a cancer to rage uncontrollably in their midst.  And instead of dealing with it, many were feeding it!

Jezebel was calling the shots around there!

“You allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce my servants….”

She calls herself a prophetess.  But she’s a Jezebel.  Remember the story of the original Jezebel, back in I Kings 21. She is an evil woman manipulating a weak and wicked king named Ahab.  Ahab is said to have been the worst king in the history of Israel, the northern kingdom.  And she was the witch behind the throne.  So, now, in the Thyatira church, she has an imitator, a Jezebel type holding forth from the Thyatira church and doing a retail business in wickedness.   

Remember who’s talking.  The Lord Jesus Christ knew the original Jezebel!  He had watched her first hand and up close from the balcony of Heaven.  He needed no lessons in the evil power of that woman.  And He grows alarmed at the way the current Jezebel is ruing the roost in this congregation.

John R. Stott: “If the devil cannot conquer the church by the application of political pressure or the propagation of intellectual heresy, he will try the insinuation of moral evil.  This was the dragons’ strategy in Thyatira.”

David Jeremiah: “Thyatira tolerated a satanic woman in its midst and refused to censor her.  The Christians in Thyatira had either a poor conscience or very weak courage; their refusal to rebuke their Jezebel was like Ahab’s refusal to deal with the original Jezebel.”

Anne Graham Lotz: “This Jezebel was a leader in the church.  I imagine she was gifted, articulate, attractive, with a very charismatic personality.”  With her powerful influence, she led the entire church into sin.

My wife Bertha tells me that when she and Gary were pastoring in Florida, they had a Jezebel in their church– a woman married to a deacon, always at the church, always trying to run things.  At some point, she began to spread discontent over Gary’s preaching, saying, “We’re not being fed” and “All he did was read a Psalm and talk about it.”  After their family moved to another church, in time the congregation there saw this woman for what she was and actually voted to remove her from the congregation.  In other churches she stirred up dissent before moving on.  In time, she and her family were allowed to return to the home church.   (I imagine we’ve all seen her kind in our churches.  Of course, none of the ones we have known could hold a candle to this evil prophetess of Thyatira.)

The Lord has plans for this wicked woman and those who work with her. “I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.  I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.”  You would not want to be in these people’s shoes.

“I will kill her children with death.”  And the churches round about who are looking at you will learn a lesson, that I am on the job!

“I will give to each of you according to your works.”  Uh oh. I don’t know about you, friend, but I don’t want that.  Personally, I’m claiming Psalm 103:10, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities!”  Praise God for His mercy.

The problem is–my strong opinion–is that Jezebel and her people are atheists.  They  talk a good game and can sound like believers, even to the point of insisting that Mrs. Jezebel is actually an anointed servant of God.  But they honestly do not believe they are going to stand before a holy God and give account.  And they are in for the shock of their lives.

“The depths of Satan, as they say.” (2:24)  Here’s what that means…

John MacArthur says, “This unbelievable libertinism and license was the fruit  of pre-Gnostic teaching that one was free to engage and explore the sphere of Satan and participate in evil with the (physical) body without harming the spirit.”

In his exposition on Revelation, Herman Hoeksema imagines a scene in the Thyatira church where various ones rise to worship.  There are some good Christians in that congregation, and they stand to share testimonies of God’s grace and faithfulness.  And then Hoeksema sees someone else taking the podium…

Finally a strange figure attracts our attention. It is a woman of a weird and repulsive appearance. Her large protruding eyes, sensuous lips, and morbid complexion witness of a life of sin and dissipation.  She also speaks.  And with a voice which sounds as if it comes from the nether world, she tells the congregation of a vision she had in a by-gone night, and how the Lord appeared to her to reveal His truth in a dream.  For she claims to be a prophetess.  In her dream, so she continues, the Lord showed unto her the horrible depths of Satan, the abyss of sin and iniquity.  And as they both stood on the brink of that dark and horrible abyss, the Lord said unto her: ‘If anyone would truly taste my grace and infinite mercy, he must actually descend into those depths, and learn to know them by experience. For the more he is able to realize the depths of Satan by actual experience, the more he will be in a condition to appreciate my salvation.’  

She still continues to explain that she has personally obeyed, that she did descend into those depths of Satan.  She committed fornication.  She feasted with the heathen in their sacrificial meals.  She subjected her body to the vilest service of sin.  And she concludes by testifying that to her there was a great blessing in this descent into the abyss of sin.  For the more clearly she realized the awful depths from which the grace of Christ redeemed and delivered her, the more fully could she gratefully appreciate the wonders of His mercy.  Thus this instrument of the devil speaks in the midst of the congregation.

And what now does the congregation do?  Does (the church) cast this vile woman out, admonishing her to repent of her horrible sin?  On the contrary, the church listens.  It is silent.  It admits the possibility that this woman is actually a prophetess, though her speech directly contradicts thee objective revelation of the Word of God.  And many even follow her, and in harmony with her teaching they descend into the depths of Satan.  Many servants of the Lord are seduced by her teaching.  (page 102. “Behold He Cometh: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation” by Harold Hoeksema.)

What should the church do? 

Interestingly, the Lord did not call for them to take drastic steps to dethrone this evil woman and cleanse the place of worship.  “Hold fast until I come,” Jesus says.  He is coming in judgment.  I suspect the Lord is acknowledging that the Jezebel problem is beyond the ability of the local deacons or pastors to deal with.  He will deal with it Himself.  See I Peter 4:17 where we read: “The time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God!”  Then the Apostle continues, “If it begin with us, what will be the fate of unbelievers???”  What indeed

Hold fast and “He who overcomes, who keeps my deeds until the end” (2:25,26) mean basically the same.  The promise:  “I will give authority over the nations,” and He continues to quote from the Second Psalm.  That amazing little Psalm has a history elsewhere in the New Testament.  See Acts 4:25-26 where the early church applied its teachings very well.

“I will give him the Morning Star.” This is a name for Jesus, in both 2 Peter 1:19 and Revelation 22:16.  What exactly is Jesus promising to the victors here?  I wish I knew.  His presence? His blessing? Something else?







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