Thyatira was about 35-40 miles southeast of Pergamum. It was famous world-wide for its dye manufacturing, and beautiful cloth produced with their popular purple dye. You may remember in the book of Acts, we met a lady named Lydia in the city of Philippi. Luke writes,
Acts 16:13-14 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshipper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.
It is possible that Lydia herself brought the gospel to Thyatira, for we don't read of any of the apostles traveling there to spread the Word of Jesus Christ. However the church was established there, they had come to a place where they were doing good works, but had some terrible sin hidden inside. Enough that this is the longest letter Jesus dictated to any of the seven churches.
Jesus begins by describing Himself with three statements to the church in Thyatira, the first being, "The Son of God." Many have discussed, disputed, and dissected the question of whether Jesus is the Son of God:
The devil challenged the fact:
Matt. 4:3 ...The tempter came and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread."
Matt. 4:6 and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God throw Yourself down..."
And when the demons saw Jesus, they fell down before him and shouted,
Mark 3:11 "You are the Son of God!"
During Jesus' trial, the High Priest questioned,
Matt. 26:63 ..."Tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God."
At the crucifixion, the chief priests accused,
Matt. 27:43 "HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET HIM DELIVER Him now, IF HE TAKES PLEASURE IN HIM; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'"
And when Jesus died, the centurion confessed,
Matt. 27:54 "Truly this was the Son of God!"
And even though it has been debated that He never personally claimed the title, Jesus clearly did.
Luke 22:70 And they all said, "Are You the Son of God, then?" And He said to them, "Yes, I am."
Jesus Christ, God's Son, our Savior.
His second description is that He has eyes like a flame of fire. What does this symbolize? The first time the word "fire" appears in the Bible is in Genesis 19, when,
Gen. 19:24 ...The LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire...
Fire was judging the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah for their sin, purifying the land from their sin. We see all throughout Scripture that fire is a picture of God's judgment and purification. Jesus said,
Mark 9:49-50 "...Everyone will be salted with fire."
What does He mean? Well, "fire destroys the perishable and purifies the imperishable." (Morgan) There is the fire that punishes, and the fire that purifies. We can allow God's refining fire to burn out our impurities, or we are tormented eternally in the fires of Gehenna.
The Lord sees with eyes like a flame of fire - purifying us or judging us. It's our choice.
In the Scripture, bronze is the metal which symbolizes judgment. The altar of sacrifice, where sins were judged, was made of bronze. The Lord says in Micah,
Micah 4:13 "Arise and thresh, daughter of Zion, for your horn I will make iron and your hoofs I will make bronze, that you may pulverize many peoples, that you may devote to the LORD their unjust gain and their wealth to the Lord of all the earth.
judgment is symbolized by bronze. His feet are described as bronze for the Father is going to put His enemies beneath His feet. (Matt 22:44; Acts 2:35; Heb 1:13; etc.)
Hebr. 10:12-13 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET.
There will be a day that the enemies of God will be crushed under the feet of Jesus in judgment.
Jesus tells them first what they are doing right. He lists their deeds, love, faith, service, and perseverance. That's no short list.
This was a church that was doing good things - probably reaching out to the poor, evangelizing the unsaved, loving their neighbors, having faith in Christ, serving one another, and persevering in these things. As a matter of fact, what they were doing now was even more than they were doing before!
But there was something terribly wrong in the church...
Jesus is obviously not happy about this woman Jezebel in the church at Thyatira. Whether or not this was this woman's actual name, He was bringing to our remembrance the attitudes, actions, and atrocities of the Old Testament Jezebel.
In the book of Kings (divided into 1st and 2nd Kings), Jezebel is a major player. She shows up in 1Kings 16, as we're reading about King Ahab:
1Kgs. 16:30-31 And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD more than all who were before him. And it came about, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went to serve Baal and worshiped him.
King Ahab, the most wicked of the kings that had gone before him, marries Jezebel, the daughter of the king of the Sidonians. (An interesting side note: "Thyatira" means "daughter." Remember that Jesus described Himself at the beginning of the letter as the "Son." He is making an illusion to their diametric opposition.) Reading on in 1Kings, we get a clue as to her character in chapter 18...
1Kgs. 18:3-4 And Ahab called Obadiah who was over the household. Now Obadiah feared the LORD greatly; for it came about, when Jezebel destroyed the prophets of the LORD, that Obadiah took a hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave, and provided them with bread and water.
Jezebel worshiped Baal, and we see that she had the Lord's prophets put to death. Then Elijah comes to town, and has a contest between his God and the god of the prophets of Baal. When He wins, he says,
1Kgs. 18:40 ..."Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape." So they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.
1Kgs. 19:1-2 Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time."
Jezebel worshiped Baal, killed the prophets of God, and now has vowed to kill Elijah. The next incident we see Jezebel involved in was with Naboth the Jezreelite. You see, Naboth had a vineyard next to Ahab's palace. And Ahab said, "I need a vegetable garden next to my house - I'll either pay you for your vineyard or give you a better one. Naboth said, "Sorry, no deal." So Ahab went and pouted on his bed until Jezebel came in and found out what was going on. She said, "You do realize that you're the KING, right? Don't worry about it - I'll get you the vineyard."
1Kgs. 21:8-10 So she wrote letters in Ahab's name and sealed them with his seal, and sent letters to the elders and to the nobles who were living with Naboth in his city. Now she wrote in the letters, saying, "Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the people; and seat two worthless men before him, and let them testify against him, saying, 'You cursed God and the king.' Then take him out and stone him to death."
So they made it happen just like Jezebel ordered, and Naboth was falsely accused, taken outside the city, and stoned to death.
1Kgs. 21:15-16 And it came about when Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, that Jezebel said to Ahab, "Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth, the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead." And it came about when Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, that Ahab arose to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.
1Kgs. 21:25 Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife incited him.
She was a murderer of God's people and of innocents, and was an inciter of evil to her husband. A woman of this character was in the church at Thyatira. Not only in the churche, but in authority at the church!
How was this Jezebel-like woman in authority in the church? Her position was not as a queen, but as a self-proclaimed prophetess.
There is nothing wrong with a woman being a prophet of God. Indeed, the Scriptures teach that Miriam, the sister of Aaron, was a prophetess (Exodus 15). Also Deborah, one of the judges of Israel (Judges 4), Huldah (2Kings 22, 2Chronicles 34), Anna (Luke 2), and Philip's four daughters (Acts 21) were all prophetesses of the Lord.
But there is a big difference between a prophet of God and someone who calls themselves a prophet of God. Jesus warned us explicitly about this in the last days, saying,
Matt. 24:11 "And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many."
And Peter reiterated,
2Pet. 2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies...
John, too, warned,
1John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
How can you tell if a person is a true prophet of God, or a false one? Jesus gave us the standard of measure:
Matt. 7:15-20 "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.
They wear sheep's clothing - they look like believers in the church. You go to their houses for dinner, you fellowship with them before church. How can you tell a wolf, a false prophet, in sheep's clothing? Here the test: Are they bearing fruit in keeping with repentance? Are they evidencing the fruit of the Spirit? What kind of fruit is their ministry bearing? In Thyatira, Jezebel's so-called "Christian" teachings and prophecies were leading the people to spiritual adultery with other gods. She brought idolatry and immorality into the church.
Jesus is giving them a strict warning - all those who fall into her teachings and practices will suffer greatly.
Notice that Jesus says specifically,
Rev. 2:20 "But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel..."
The sin of the church body as a whole was toleration. Even the ones who hadn't bought into the deception were being held accountable. In the political correctness of today's society, toleration is viewed as a good thing. But as far as the Lord is concerned, toleration is sin.
Ps. 50:16, 18 But to the wicked God says... "When you see a thief, you are pleased with him, and you associate with adulterers."
You're not the thief, you're not the adulterer - but the wickedness of their sin is imparted to you by toleration. The word used for tolerate here means "to permit, leave alone, or neglect". The Thyatirans knew that she was teaching heresy, idolatry, and immorality, but didn't want to make waves or put themselves out on a limb.
Jesus gave her time to repent. Peter wrote,
2Pet. 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
But there comes a time when the Lord will no longer tolerate blatant, unrepentant sin. When a person's sin is filled to a full measure, even God in His mercy would be violating His righteousness to wait any longer. If you're in continual sin, you may be thinking that, because you haven't been judged, you never will be. But you're wrong. God is longsuffering, but He is also righteous. God is patient, but He will not be mocked. He is giving you time to repent of your blatant sin - to quit that habit, to forsake that iniquity.
As you read the Bible you come to recognize the terms "fornication", "adultery" and "prostitution" to have not only their physical meanings, but spiritually speaking of going after other gods. Hosea the prophet was directed by the Lord,
Hosea 3:1 "Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods..."
Both Israel and the church are described as women in relation to God - Israel is the wife of Yahweh. The church is the virgin bride of Christ. And when they go after other gods, they are in adultery towards their Husband. God is a jealous God, and will not share His woman with another.
Here, Jesus is deadly serious about the judgment that will come upon those who follow the woman Jezebel's teachings.
Jesus, in His mercy, tells those who have not bought into this woman's leadership towards immorality and idolatry, that He has nothing else negative to mention, other than their toleration of her. If they will cast her out, He has no other condemnation for them.
Notice the heart of God here. He hates sin and wants it gone. But besides that, He is so willing to work with us, waiting patiently for us to grow and mature. He's not saying to you this morning, "Hey, I want you to sell everything and be a missionary in Zimbabwe! I want you to quit your job and become a street evangelist! I expect you to fast for the next 40 days!" All He is saying is, "My child, I want that sin out of your life. That's all I'm asking of you today."
Jesus tells them to hold fast. Hold fast to what? Paul wrote,
1Cor. 15:1-2 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
1Ths. 5:21-22 ...Hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.
Hebr. 3:14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end;
Hold fast to the Word. Hold fast to the gospel. Hold fast to holiness. Hold onto it until the day you die. The remnant in Thyatira had deeds, love, faith, service, and perseverance. They were to hold onto these things they had until Christ returned.
If they held fast and kept His deeds, He promises to give the authority the Father gives Him to them. In Psalm 2, the Father tells the Son,
Ps. 2:8-9 "Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, Thou shalt shatter them like earthenware."
As it is given to Jesus, so He will entrust it to us. Paul wrote,
1Cor. 6:2 ...Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?
And in Daniel, we read,
Dan. 7:18 'But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come.'
So the promise to the overcomer is that he will reign with Christ. In the millennial kingdom, the thousand year reign of Christ, we will be ruling over the nations. In Luke 19, we read of the parable that Jesus gave of stewardship. Ten slaves are each entrusted with a mina.
Luke 19:15-19 "And it came about that when (the master) returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him in order that he might know what business they had done. And the first appeared, saying, 'Master, your mina has made ten minas more.' And he said to him, 'Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, be in authority over ten cities.' And the second came, saying, 'Your mina, master, has made five minas.' And he said to him also, 'And you are to be over five cities.'
Our influence in the millennial kingdom will be directly proportional to the faithfulness we've shown in this age.
Finally, the promise of salvation to the overcomer is
Rev. 2:28 "...I will give him the morning star."
What is the morning star? Again, no need to speculate, for the Bible explains itself:
Rev. 22:16 "I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star."
To him who overcomes the world by their faith, he will receive Jesus Christ for eternity.