Last night our Life Group (small group Bible study) completed The Story, which culminated with a brief study on Revelation. One of the letters to the seven churches was to the Church in Thyatira (Rev. 2:18-29). I wanted to study a bit more about this church because I see many of these churches across our country.
Thyatira was the smallest of the seven cities, but the one that received the longest letter. It lay about 45 miles to the southeast of Pergamum and was famous for its textiles, especially the production of purple dye and its trade guilds.
This church was doing many things well, but they were being led astray by someone teaching false doctrine. Evidently a woman claiming to be a prophetess had been influencing some in this church to join the local trade guilds without which a tradesman could not work in Thyatira. This meant participation in the guild feasts that included immoral acts and the worship of idols. In order to work in these unions, which constituted the entire business of the city, Christians had to join a union, or guild, made up of pagans for the most part. The meetings of the guilds were devoted to licentious debaucheries which were connected with the worship of erotic idols of the Greek world.
Sometimes the pressure of “fitting in” with the world is overwhelming, but we are to stand firm in our faith, trusting God to provide and to take care of us. We are also to stand firm on the truth of God’s Word and not tolerate those who disregard and distort it. As you study this letter to the church at Thyatira, be open to what God wants to teach you through the message to this church.
“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.” (Rev. 2:20) Rather than rebuke this false teacher and send her out of the church, the believers in Thyatira were allowing her to continue her deception. In Paul’s letter to Timothy he warned, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Tim 4:3)
There are those in the Thyatira church who are not only tolerating Jezebel, but they are also engaging in the sinful acts she is encouraging. How does a believer get to that point where he/she becomes so easily swayed by lies and sin? I believe it goes back to the original deception when Satan diverted Eve’s attention from all that she had and placed it on the one thing she couldn’t have: fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden. Are we going to fall for the enemies deception and put sin between ourselves and our relationship with the Lord? He longs to deceive you with half truths and shortcuts.
This whole scenario is paralleled in many churches today that accept the easy going sexuality and lack of standards that is so widespread in our society. For instance, some churches approve of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle. Many do not discipline their members when they fall into sexual immorality. Others allow pornography to go unchallenged in their midst. But notice that the Lord holds the church responsible. His accusation to them is, “You tolerate that woman Jezebel.” This is a problem that church leadership has to face in our day just as it had to face it in the 1st century.
Notice that in the letters to the church at Pergamum, and to the church at Thyatira, the Lord links sexual immorality with idolatry. We may find that strange, but actually one inevitably leads to the other. The reason is this: Fornication and adultery are both clear-cut violations of specific and explicit statements in the Word of God. Anyone who reads the Bible can see very clearly that God forbids these activities. It is wrong for believers to indulge in sexual immorality of any sort. When one does, he or she has deliberately violated the authority of God, therefore, in practice, if not in profession, God is no longer their God.
It is impossible to miss the condemnation of the Bible in these respects. If people deliberately reject the Lord’s authority, he is no longer their God. The result is, they must find another god, for it is impossible for the human spirit to live without something to live for. That is what a god is. Whatever you are living for, whatever makes life worthwhile to you, becomes your god. It may be the god of pleasure, even sexual pleasure. It may be the god of wealth. It may be the god of power, a lust for power and ambition. It may be the search for fame. The point that is being made here is that wherever you work is the place of greatest temptation in this regard. Right here this morning there are businessmen and businesswomen, stockbrokers, professional people, clerks, secretaries, various laborers in the marketplace, and in shops, etc. It is right where you work that you will be under pressure to compromise, and to go along with the standards of the world around.
The punishment that our Lord assesses against this teaching reflects the sickness that idolatry and immorality always bring. There are three parties involved: First, there is Jezebel herself. Jesus says: “I will cast her on a bed of suffering.” There is a note of irony or sarcasm there. He is saying, in effect, “She likes beds, so I will give her one, but it will prove to be a bed of agonizing pain and hurt.” It would constitute her only chance to realize what was happening to her, and lead her to change. Jesus pronounces judgment on this “Jezebel” and calls the church of Thyatira to repent of their sin: “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. 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.” (Revelation 2:22-23).
Then there is another group: “I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely [literally, “I will give them great affliction”] unless they repent of her ways.” Those who commit adultery with her are those who practice, as she did, immorality and the consequent idolatry. But notice the good news here: “unless they repent of her ways.” Our Lord always gives an opportunity for repentance. I have often thought that natural disasters — earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, etc. — are opportunities being given men to think again, to stop and look at what we are doing, and to change our ways. It is opportunity to repent, a slap in the face that says, wake up!
People love to feel they are being let into special, secret things. You find these mystic cults arising in many of the movements of our day. The New Age Movement, for instance, intrigues people with revelations of powerful spirit beings who can impart information that ordinary people do not have. These are what Jesus calls “the deep things of Satan.” In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he speaks of the “deep things of God,” (1 Corinthians 2:10). Whenever God has something good, Satan imitates it. These dark and hidden matters are Satan’s imitation of the wonderfully deep truths in the Word of God.
Now to those who refuse these, Jesus says, “Hold fast what you have.” Do not let it go. Do not accept these degrading moral standards. It may be difficult to live for Christ in a worldly church, but hang on to your moral standards at least. Do not go along with sexual immorality. Do not accept the idea that adultery is only a minor sin, that you need to have affairs now and then. Hold on,” Jesus says, “until I come.”: “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, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’” (Revelation 2:24-25). The faithful believers did not fall into Satan’s trap, and they only needed to remain faithful until Christ’s return.
To such who overcome by holding fast till he comes, he adds another word in Verse 26: “To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’–just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star.” (Revelation 2:26-28). That quotation from Psalm 2 is a reference to the rule of Christ in the earthly kingdom that we call “The Millennium.” It is a promise of reigning with Christ, not in the new heavens and the new earth, but in a period marked by the type of rule found in this quotation: Jesus says, “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” That means with some degree of stern judgment. “He will dash them to pieces like potter’s vessels” (Psalms 2:9 KJV), i.e., the combines of evil will be broken up in that day. This morning star is Jesus Himself, as Revelation 22:16 reveals. Jesus will give Himself to His church, and they will fellowship together forever.
Finally, the Lord says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 2:29) Not just to this church, but to all the churches. These promises and warnings are needed in our individual lives, no matter what our local church may be like. Ephesus tells us, “Do not let your love for Jesus grow cold,” (Revelation 2:1-7). Smyrna says, “Do not fear the persecution of the world,” (Revelation 2:8-11). Pergamum says, “Trust the Word of God to keep you strong and faithful,” (Revelation 2:12-17). And Thyatira tells us, “Avoid both sexual and spiritual adultery. Keep your moral standards clear.” These are tremendously practical letters for the age in which we live. We need to heed them today as much as they did in the 1st century.