The Message to the Church in Thyatira
Thyatira laid on a major road between Pergamum and Laodicea. The imperial post traveled this road, as did many merchants. It is in a wide, long valley. The city of Thyatira was a noted center of dyes. Lydia, a seller of purple, was from this city (Acts 16:14). It was the center of indigo and wool trade for the region and had a large number of trade guilds. It is commented that more guilds were known to be in Thyatira than in any other city in the Roman province of Asia at this time. The trade guilds had patron gods that they worshiped, believing that these gods favored their particular work. The city also had an oracle called Sambathe, a woman who claimed to prophesy on behalf of the various deities.
It is the trade guilds that would have caused difficulties for the Christians in Thyatira. To have work to do would require membership in the trade guild for that business. The guilds offered common meals to its members, but those gatherings featured sacrifices to the patron god of the guild. The common meals would at times be scenes of drunken partying.
Jesus introduces himself with the symbols of God coming in judgment. He is able to see all that is going on and will carry out condemnation of his enemies. The illustrations set a grim theme to the letter.
Starting with praises, Jesus states that he knows their deeds. Four examples are listed: love, faith, and perseverance. This is an active group with much going for it. More, they have been doing more recently than when the church first began; in other words, this church has been growing spiritually.
But there are major problems within this congregation. They have tolerated a false prophetess who was teaching her lies among members of the church. They had not headed Paul’s warning not to have fellowship with evil (Ephesians 5:11). Because of their tolerance, sin was spreading in the church (I Corinthians 5:6-7).
This woman is compared with Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab, in the Old Testament. Ahab had married Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Sidon in Phoenicia (I Kings 16:29-33). Due to her influence, he began worshiping Baal and Asherah, the male and female fertility gods of the Canaanites and the Phoenicians. Aspects of their worship involved acts of sex. Jezebel also set about to destroy the worship of the true God by killing off God’s prophets (I Kings 18:4). Jezebel also personally supported the priests and prophetesses of Baal and Asherah (I Kings 18:19). Later we find that Jezebel was involved in witchcraft and prostitution (II Kings 9:22).
Thus, the name Jezebel fits the woman in Thyatira. She claimed to be a prophetess to lend credence to her sinful teaching. Under her influence, Christians were encouraged to commit acts of fornication and participate in acts of idolatry. She leads them in these sins; thus, indicating she was participating in them as well (II Peter 2:18-20). Notice that these are the same sins that were plaguing Pergamum and that Ephesus had rejected. However, it seems that in Thyatira money wasn’t the chief motivation. Likely she found a receptive audience among Christians working in the trade guilds. She offered them a compromise between what Christ demands and what their guilds demanded. Those corrupted were “her children” (Isaiah 57:3; John 8:44).
Her teachings are called “deep things” (Revelation 2:24). Likely she justified the clear contradictions with the Scriptures by claiming that it took special understanding to comprehend the complexities of her teachings. This is the way the Gnostics promoted their false teachings and it is the way the Roman Catholics deal with objections to their teachings. But Jesus calls it “deep things of Satan.” Christianity is not about hidden mysteries (I Corinthians 2:10-16). Notice that Smyrna and Philadelphia of a synagogue of Satan, Pergamum the throne of Satan, and Thyatira the deep things of Satan.
Jesus is a faith judge. He gave this false prophetess time to repent, but she has refused (Romans 2:4-6). But sin cannot be overlooked for long. If a judgment is not executed quickly, sin spreads (Ecclesiastes 8:11; I Corinthians 6:6).
Therefore, punishment has been determined though there was still time for them to change. Jesus will use her own sins against her and her followers. She made her bed and she will be forced to lie in it (Ezekiel 16:36-41). In particular, they will be pulled into the great tribulation, and her followers will be struck down with diseases. Then the rest of the church will remember these words and know that Jesus sees the innermost thoughts of men (Mark 7:21-23).
Not everyone has succumbed to this depravity. For those who have not defiled themselves, Jesus does not give any additional burdens. What burdens do they have? Dealing with this false prophetess and her followers is probably foremost on the list. It echoes the letter from Jerusalem, where brethren were charged to stay away from fornication and idolatry (Acts 15:28-29). Thus, each member of the congregation is being punished or rewarded according to their individual deeds and not by the deeds of the whole church (Matthew 16:27; II Corinthians 5:10).
Faithfulness is not a momentary thing or determined if you are doing right most of the time. A Christian has to be dedicated to being faithful until the end of his days (Matthew 24:13).
Those who remain faithful will be given rule over the nations. This rule is not by the Christian’s own authority, but authority granted from the reigning Christ. It is a partial quote of Psalms 2:8-9. Christ currently reigns over the nations (Matthew 28:19). Faithful Christians reign as secondaries to Christ (Romans 5:17; Ephesians 2:6; Revelations 5:9-10). It is not that we control the governments of various countries; rather, we act as ambassadors bring a message of reconciliation to the nations (II Corinthians 5:18-20). We also have the authority from our King to ignore any sinful policies of the governments of men, while remaining obedient to those policies that don’t conflict with Christ’s laws (Romans 13:1-7). Through Christ, we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:33-39).
Christ reigns with a rod of iron. It is a firm, sure and steadfast rule (Isaiah 11:4). He holds all authority (Ephesians 1:20-23). This authority is passed down to those who overcome sin. Then by the obedience of the faithful, the wicked are condemned (Hebrews 11:4, 7).
Jesus also promises to give the faithful the morning star. In Revelation 22:16 we are told that Jesus is the morning star. It is prophesied of in Numbers 24:17. Thus, this is like the giving of hidden manna in Revelation 1:17. Jesus is offering them fellowship with him and the salvation that accompanies it.