THYATIRA (Rev 2.18-29)
Thyatira is the centrally located church, both geographically as well as in this group in Scripture. It is the longest letter of the seven and many see significance in this as it may represent the longest period of church history. For this study we are not concerned with this aspect, but with the practical application to our present day. The church has no other mention in Scripture but the town does. In Acts 16.14-15 we are told it was the hometown of Lydia the first recorded convert at Philippi. Lydias occupation, as a seller of purple dye, and her evident prosperity with a household and house able to accommodate the preachers, are typical of the place. Thyatira was prosperous with many commercial enterprises and their associations. While there seems little evidence of persecution of Christians, despite the presence of many Jews like Lydia, the affluence of Thyatira seems to present other threats to Gods people and their faithfulness to Christ.
The Lord once again draws on the description in ch.1 to describe Himself in v.18. The emphasis seems to be particularly on His deity. He is the "Son of God" with all-seeing fiery eyes and brass feet. His gaze and swift presence cannot be avoided, and the mention of both fire and brass indicate His readiness to administer judgment quickly if required. His eyes have observed them and taken note of their works. The AV seems to list six commendations in v.19, but perhaps they are better regarded as four evidences of their works, which are increasing over time. Their love is not in doubt as at Ephesus, or their service as in the next church at Sardis. Likewise, their faith is solid and has continued patiently. Unlike many churches, the saints at Thyatira were making progress. Their activities were increasing and not fading away.
However, these outward manifestations of progress and success cannot excuse the "few" serious matters the Lord has against them in v.20. There seem to be three specific issues. The first is the toleration of teaching by a woman calling herself a prophetess, and identified as "Jezebel". Whether this is her real name or is being used to compare her to the wicked woman of the same name in the Old Testament is uncertain, but the result of her teaching is undoubtedly in character with her namesake. Apart from the content of her "prophesying", a woman teaching publicly is contrary to Scripture (1 Tim 2.11-12). However, the possibility of a prophetess knowing and revealing Gods word is found elsewhere in the Bible in the cases of Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Anna, and Philips four daughters. The latter two cases are New Testament examples, but presumably they did not prophesy publicly as not a single utterance that they gave is recorded in the Word of God. This woman is clearly a false prophetess like Noadiah in Nehemiahs time (Neh 6.4). It is a sad situation today that many companies of Christians are moving away from Biblical principles regarding the role of women. Many such gatherings are marked by the same positive characteristics as Thyatira but this clearly does not justify their departure on this matter.
The Lord adds to this two more matters, direct results of this womans false teaching: fornication, and eating food offered to idols. Such sins were a very real issue for Gentile Christians in particular as they were customary in their cultures and often formed part of the temple worship in their society which would be practised by the trade associations in a place like Thyatira. In Acts 15.29 and 21.25 these sins were expressly prohibited to all Christians. No doubt this supposedly enlightened "prophetess" had offered further teaching to contradict this, but the Lord now makes clear the seriousness of the error. In Pergamos they tolerated those who taught such things, but here they had gone further and responded to the teaching by committing these sins, evidence of a further decline and demonstrating that bad doctrine leads to bad practice. In our day of loose morals and enormous pressure on believers to compromise in the area of association with the world, it is important to stress how seriously the Lord Jesus views these things and His severe censure is found in vv.21-23. However, perhaps apart from this literal interpretation of the issue at Thyatira there is a particular application of this situation.
Another "woman" in Revelation
This Jezebel is not the only "woman" facing Christs judgment in the book of Revelation. Three chapters (17-19), are taken up with the sins, downfall and judgment of a "woman" on a "scarlet horse" and a city, both identified in different ways as "Babylon". Once again literal Babylon may well be involved, but clearly there is also a "Mystery Babylon " (Rev 17.5). This is a man-made system seen throughout Scripture from the days of Babel, through the Babylonian Empire and its successors, right up to the present day and beyond as referred to above. This system has always involved mans attempts to reach up to God by his own imaginations and efforts. It stands in total contrast to true Christianity which is about God seeking man by His "one Way, one Truth, and one Life". Rather than acknowledging that God made man in His image, this system defines God in mans own image. The warnings to this church, and later in this book, stress to all true believers the vital truth that we must not be associated with this awful system. Over the centuries it has murdered true believers. Men like Wycliffe and Tyndale, who sought to bring the Scriptures to all men, were persecuted or martyred along with countless other believers and non-believers in such godless excesses as the inquisition, crusades, and burning of so called heretics. This system is utterly repulsive to God; it cannot be reformed or modified and will be judged. Gods clear instruction regarding this system is, "Come out of her, my people " (Rev 18.4).
It is the conviction of the present writer that we must not suggest that all believers outside our fellowship of assemblies are part of this system. This would be inaccurate, arrogant, and insulting to the many groups of believers whose principles and practices may differ from our own, but who are none the less preaching a faithful and full gospel, sound on many of the fundamentals of the faith. They do not encourage the unequal yoke of true believers and mere nominal so-called Christianity. However, there are clearly mass organised national churches and denominations which are part of this system. They have men in high places denying great truths regarding the person of Christ, and they recognise things that God utterly condemns such as same-sex "unions". They are forging links and compromising with so called "other faiths" which are clearly anti-Christ, and while there are sadly some true believers among them, these believers are knowingly unequally yoked with unbelievers and should separate themselves from these associations.
It is tragic that many active and in some ways successful companies of Gods people, just like Thyatira, are flirting with this system and moving backwards towards it. At Thyatira this is viewed by Christ as "fornication", "adultery" and producing false "children", all of which are subject to Christs judgment in vv.21-23. This judgment is seen in different ways on the woman, her partners, the children and " every one of you according to your works" (v.23). Fellow believers involved in such things must be warned, in love, to repent of this unfaithfulness.
To "the rest"
In the remainder of the letter, the Lord Jesus most graciously addresses "the rest" in Thyatira who are not marked by these "depths of Satan". Like many saints today they find themselves at odds with, but nevertheless in, an assembly that has moved away from divine principles. What should they do? Well, we should not go beyond the Lords kind words to them. He places "no other burden" upon them. He simply seeks that they "hold fast till I come", and reminds them that individually they can "overcome" in such circumstances. Rather than being among those judged, they will be with Him sharing His "power" and "rule" and the administering of retribution. In the darkness of their situation they are promised the "morning star" which follows the night and marks the beginning of a new day.
To be continued.