Thyatira: The Church That Tolerated Jezebel
The apostle John had to deliver a message of severe warning and judgment to “the church in Thyatira”, which explains the description of the Lord’s eyes and feet (Revelation 2:18; see 1:14-15). “Eyes like a flame of fire” refer to the Son of God’s penetrating, all-seeing vision. We cannot escape the gaze of Jesus: “…all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts” (2:23). Jesus not only sees our deeds, His vision penetrates the dark recesses of the mind, burning deeply into the heart and soul of every congregation and member thereof, discerning the thoughts and intents of each. His eyes can flash with the fire of wrath at sin and error. “Feet like fine brass” depict the Son of God’s strength and power, and the fact that He is immovable and inflexible. When the Lord comes in judgment with feet glowing as though fired in a furnace, He is able to tread under foot and turn to ashes all that His feet touch. The Son of God’s eyes flashed with indignation as they penetrated with piercing insight into the corruptness of Jezebel’s false teaching; His feet were ready to trample and burn to ashes all who yielded to her seductions.
The Son of God’s Approval of the Church
Before Jesus issued His accusation and warning against the church, He said: “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first” (2:19). Their works in the Lord’s cause were increasing, there was growth, steady progress and all this was characterized by faith, love, sacrificial service and patience. They had not grown tired or cold, or fizzled out after a while. We often sing, “We’ll work till Jesus comes” or “Work for the night is coming, work through the morning hours…” We sing the words; but how many are actually working for the Lord’s body, the church?
Jesus also commended Thyatira for their love; how do we rate in this? Whatever else we may do, it will profit us nothing if we do not have love (see 1 Corinthians 13:1-7). Thyatira was commended for its service. The reason why the Lord gave specific functions to the local church was so that all the saints would be equipped “for the work of ministry”; i.e. able to render practical service in the Lord’s cause (see Ephesians 4:11-16). Every saint is to serve in some capacity, and we are to find out what our abilities are and use them in building up the body of Christ (see Romans 12:4-13). If the Lord were writing a letter to the church at Seminole Pointe, would He commend us for our service?
Jesus expressed His approval of the church in Thyatira’s faith. The main way saints show their faith is by their works; “faith without works is dead” (James 2:18, 26). Thyatira was commended for its patience; i.e., its steadfast endurance under all testing, temptation, and opposition. Thyatira’s continuously burning flame of love and enduring faith had led to the increase of works…“the last are more than the first.” Even today such love, faith, and patience will keep a church active in its works and service for the Lord.
The Son of God’s Accusation Against the Church
“Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexuality immorality and to eat things sacrificed to idols” (Revelation 2:20). It is a shame that it was necessary to mar such an excellent commendation with a sharp word of accusation; but no amount of loving and sacrificial works can compensate for the tolerance of evil. Evidently, the church was permitting a false prophetess to influence some members and lead them into compromise with the world.
It is not likely that this woman’s real name was “Jezebel;“ she’s given the name of Ahab’s queen because that name is synonymous with evil, idolatry and immorality. Jezebel was a worshipper of the idol, Baal. After marrying Ahab, king of Israel, she found he had no backbone to stand against sin and error, and she influenced him to serve Baal, and to build a temple and an altar for that false god in Samaria (1 Kings 16:29-33). Jezebel massacred the true prophets of the Lord and encouraged idolatry throughout the land by providing for and supporting the prophets of Baal and Asherah (1 Kings 18:4,19). This woman at Thyatira was like the Jezebel of the Old Testament, especially in the sense of teaching God’s people to compromise with the world and accept false doctrine.
Thyatira was a military town as well as a commercial center with many trade guilds. Wherever guilds were found, idolatry and immorality–two great enemies of the early church–were almost always present too. Meetings involved sacrifices to heathen deities; the meats eaten at such meetings had been sacrificed to idols. Not only that, but the meetings were generally characterized by drunkenness, revelry, lasciviousness, and fornication. If a man wished to get ahead in business, he had to belong to a trade guild; if he held membership in a guild, such implied that he worshipped its god. If he attended the guild-festivals and partook of the food, he participated in the pagan practice of receiving that food as a gift from the false deity. Then, when the feast ended and the real, grossly immoral fun began, he could not leave without becoming the object of ridicule and persecution. What was a Christian to do in such a situation? He stood to lose his job, his trade and his position in society; and his family would suffer for the necessities of life. But if he went along with such error and immorality, he would deny the Lord who redeemed Him.
Evidently, this Jezebel was saying there was no reason why they should not be members of the trade guilds and participate in their social festivals for the sake of their business or jobs and success. She encouraged people to love their businesses and the dollar more than they loved the Lord and His cause. Today saints are faced with similar situations regarding professions which demand that you “go along to get along”. In many professions, if you don’t participate in their “office parties” or “conventions and meetings”, which may involve “social drinking” and other compromising practices, you will not be promoted or successful. Especially related to the sales profession, many companies emphasize policies that can cause one to become proud and selfish, and uncaring about others; companies, or their managers, will ask you, “what are you willing to do to be successful…are you willing to work seven days a week, compromise your convictions, give up your family, lie and cheat?”
The Lord shows His attitude toward such compromise with the world; with the expiration of God’s longsuffering and time for repentance, judgment must follow (2:21-23). Jezebel and her spiritual offspring, those who followed her teachings, would be judged once and for all. The Lord threatened to use Thyatira as a solemn example to “all the churches” not to tolerate evil. It is instructive to note that Jesus refers to the spirit of compromise with the world as knowing “the depths of Satan” (2:24). Jesus called a false religious group “a synagogue of Satan” (2:9), and He identified emperor worship as the throne of Satan (2:13). Those involved in false religion and emperor worship then would not consider what they did as being “of Satan;“ neither will those involved in false religion today, but the Lord calls it what it really is. Many do not recognize compromise with the world, and compromise with sin and error, as being “of Satan,“ but the Lord says it is. Let us “hold fast” and be like those in the church at Thyatira who had separated themselves from the false doctrine and compromising practices of Jezebel and her followers (2:24-29).