18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. (Revelation 2:18–ESV)
A unique introduction
This is the only letter to the Revelation Seven where Jesus called himself the Son of God. This does not mean there is any question that it was Jesus who was speaking to the other 6 churches. Those other churches were being spoken by by Jesus, the Son of God, but he just does not call himself that. The feature that underlies this more clear designation is the pronouncement of judgment. There was a corrupting influence in Thyatira: a woman named Jezebel. She had refused the call of Jesus to repent, and as such it was too late her to repent. Jesus as the Son of God would mete out punishment to this individual. It seems reasonable to connect the more formal name to the proclamation of judgment.
After the more authoritative name was the typical connection to John’s vision. In Revelation 1 John recorded the intensity of the eyes and the feet. From the top to the bottom Jesus displayed intensity. The eyes were as bright as a flame, and the feet were as shiny as highly polished bronze. I write these lessons before the sun rises and while the inside of the house is dark. While I study these scriptures I often have a candle or two burning beside me, and sometimes while my thoughts are pondering I will look at the dancing flames. When I leave my study table afterimages of the candles often go along with me into the darker rooms in our house. The candle flame is intense.
Intensity, heat, and words of the Godhead were admixed for the pastor at Thyatira. The impression Jesus made was not an idle one, but a thorough and penetrating one. The glow from Jesus was to add force to the words which were coming.
My own experience
During the week I was writing this lesson there was a scientific retreat at our university. The subject matter is almost entirely basic science and for me as a clinician it is very difficult to follow. Basic science involves enzyme systems, proteins, genetics and highly specialized techniques. The material studied and reported on extends from work done in labs. I have enough difficulty making my brain focus in a lecture environment with familiar things. Focus is almost impossible with the unfamiliar. It is not quite like a church service in a foreign language, but approximates it. It does so all the more because many of the researchers are from other countries with very strong accents.
The chairman of our department has made it clear that the clinical faculty are to go to these sessions. The day I wrote this I was facing between 6 and 8 hours of heavily accented, arcane lectures. For a man who values a practical approach to the hours of the day this was a difficult proposition. The point of a requiring clinicians to be present at this basic science event is valid. The basic science of this meeting relates to human disease which is the domain of the clinical faculty. Having a point does not always ease the difficulty, though.
So, connecting clinicians with basic science work can seem to be helpful, but it can sure be drudgery. A key component of Christianity is obedience and submission. That, of course, most closely relates to obedience and submission to God himself. In the Holy Scripture we are taught to obey those who are authorities on the earth. My chairman is my boss. He says, “Cancel your clinics and be present at this meeting.” I chafe, and have to be careful that I don’t walk around fussing in my head at what other things I could be doing, sometimes for that very boss.
Eyes of fire and feet of bronze
The way in which Jesus described himself in the letter to Thyatira was of authority and intensity. The mien of Jesus was not suggestive, but commanding. The Holy Spirit brought this connection to my chafing and intertwined it with the command of obeying one’s boss.
What is my response to be? It must be “Yes, sir,” to Christ and as an extension from that “Yes, sir” to my boss. That is how God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. To live this way is to set my stance toward Godliness and heaven’s style.
Jesus displayed his power and authority for the pastor at Thyatira. The Holy Spirit displayed that same power and authority toward my daily events while preparing the lesson. The context was vastly different, but the style of obedience was not.
Most of my “spiritual squabble” happened while praying the morning of that event. It was not really an arguing with God, but knowing the scripture, knowing my desires and all this happening while praying, engaging God. As so often happens a solution arrives in my mind. The solution was to take a notepad along and scrawl some notes to help my focus. Well that plus submitting my attitude to what God has taught worked. I never grew complainy, nor did fussy commiseration develop. God’s strength coupled to God’s insights and my obedience produced that life boost. It was better than it ever would have been expected to be.
What God had seen at Thyatira
19 “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. (Revelation 2:19–ESV)
The church at Thyatira would seem to be remarkably healthy. Look at what Jesus said of them; they would seem to be on track. Their deeds were good as were their motivations. Remember the Ephesian church? They were doing good deeds and their doctrine was correct, but their motivation was not proper. They did not live their godly styles from a God-type love. Agape was not their motivation, rigidity and tradition must have been. Thyatira did not have that shortcoming
Thyatira was faithful and they served each other and the community.
Think back to the church at Sardis. That church had endured and was about to endure further persecution. This church has been enduring patiently all along.
A point I made during the lesson on Pergamum related to backsliding. Both Ephesus and Pergamum had an initial religious fervor being passionate and forward looking. They had been improving and excelling, but they had lost that traction. The good things were faltering or they were being deceived away from them. In each of these cases Jesus spurred them to return to what they had lost.
Look at how verse 19 concludes: “…that your latter works exceed the first.” The NIV says, “…that you are now doing more than you did at the first.” So, Thyatira is not backsliding
Wow! That would be how I would want Jesus to speak of me: good deeds, good motivations, proper reliance upon God, serving others, enduring attacks with patience and not slacking off, but steadily improving. Whew! How’s that for being on track?
Maturity and Godly goodness fall short of the mark
20 But I have this against you… (Revelation 2:20–ESV)
Before we head into the character of Jezebel I want to hang out with the screeching halt brought at the beginning of verse 20. Since March Madness 2017 is spinning through the Sweet 16 sports analogies are readily available. Using a sports analogy verse 19 would seem to put Thyatira as the number 1 seed in God’s tournament. Thyatira would be a Gonzaga or Kansas among these churches. What is obvious in a tournament like this is that number 1 seeds still have to win. They are not home yet,1and by the time I gave this lesson Kansas had fallen to Oregon.
When Jesus said they were “…now doing more…” that stood out most notably to my consideration. Here was a people maturing. This people seemed to have such a good and righteous attention to behaviors of Christian people that I want to check them off for a commendation. They did get that commendation, but they also got a remonstration.
I teach and speak of maturity. Here is a message in Revelation that calls the maturation process a good thing, but the process alone is insufficient. The process of maturity is no protection from evil. Thyatira is almost a blend of the good of the churches in Ephesus and Pergamum, but they don’t go far enough.
What about us/me?
Look at what the Apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthian church.
“My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.” (1 Corinthians 4:4–NIV)
The conscience of the church in Thyatira might have been clear, but that was not all God had to say. There is a desire for me to call out to God and say, “I am good enough, right? Am I not doing a job that you are pleased with?” Those are good questions, but we must not forget that even so God may yet, and probably does say, “Yes, but…”
We need to be connected to God so that we hear the areas in which God is directing improvement. We must never presume we have arrived achieving all that is needed. If we are alive on earth God is not done maturing us. Look at my example above. There is clearly an example of where I needed to move forward and where with his strength I did. I will have to face this type of struggle again, it is not a finished battle while life goes on.
Jesus calls out Jezebel
20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. (Revelation 2:20–ESV)
There was a corrupting influence in the church at Thyatira, and one not kicked out of the assembly but tolerated among the members. The influence seems to be derived from an individual. With the church at Pergamum the negative influence seemed to be more a cultural group, but here a woman is spreading ungodliness. Just as the pastors were addressed by Jesus as angels of the churches it seems reasonable that Jesus is calling this corrupting woman by the name of one who acted similarly in the nation of Israel: Jezebel.
Name and behavior did not coincide
Jezebel was the wife of Ahab, a wicked king of Israel. She was the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians and priest of Baal. According to several resources 2 the name Jezebel means chaste. Herbert Lockyear wrote All the Women in the Bible, and in that text Lockyear adds “free from worldly connection” to the word chaste. From Biblical accounts we know that she was rather the opposite of that.
Her name and her behavior did not coincide. The context of Revelation 2 draws upon that type of theme. She called herself a prophetess in the church of Thyatira, but as in the Old Testament was leading people in a direction that was neither chaste nor free from worldly connection. She was teaching and seducing the people of Christ’s church to sexual immorality, rebellion against teachings of the church, and near unto idolatry in their food practices.
In All the Women in the Bible Lockyear describes Jezebel’s traits. She had an extraordinary force of character, she was an ardent idolater, a dominating wife, a schemer. He also calls her a corrupt tree following the words of Jesus as Matthew recorded: “…a bad tree bears bad fruit.”3 In another place she is called an “idolater, murderer, tyrant.”
What’s happening in Thyatira?
There is a brazen and defiant influence in that church. A woman has been engaging that community of God with teaching and seduction. The men and women of Thyatira are practicing sexual things in unsanctioned ways. They are rejecting the edict of Apostles by eating food sacrificed to idols. This Jezebel is not giving excuses for these behaviors or telling the people they are sanctioned or godly. She is just leading them away from godliness.
Pergamum and Thyatira
We can draw upon and contrast the charges brought against Pergamum with those brought against Thyatira. In Pergamum was the influence of Balaam which was a secret introduction of temptations. Its aim was to make people fall. There also was the Nicolaitan influence saying that the grace of God was sufficient to cover sins of moral laxity and rebellion.
In Thyatira Jezebel’s influence was not concerned with the religious sensitivities of the people. Jezebel’s influence was unabashed rejection of the things of God. Balaam’s influence was sneaking temptation. The Nicolaitan’s said, “God may not like these behavior’s, but his grace covers it.” Jezebel’s influence came right out in defiance of God.
Summary of these influences:
- Balaam: Sneaking seduction / temptation
- Nicolaitans: Do what you want because of God’s grace
- Jezebel: Brazen and defiant temptation
These are the ways of Satan
Satan casts a wide net to catch people and lead them into ruin. Some will be caught by sneaking seduction. Others will be trapped by thinking their passions are okay because of God’s love. Still others will fall to outright catcalls. None of these have any hope of satisfaction. The consequences are very real, widespread and painful. That demise is all that Satan seeks. Chaos, destabilization, harm these are the types of things Satan seeks to sow.
The Foreign Service specialists on the U.S.S.R. after World War 2 advised that the Soviet Union was interested in sowing chaos. Destabilization of democratic, capitalistic enterprises was a mode of operation. Anything which fomented rough sailing for the West was perceived as a good thing for the Soviets.
We must be vigilant against Satan’s ways and means. Crucial is to know the ways of God. Young and old alike keep their way pure by living according to God’s word. We must study his word and remain God connected. In that vein will their be success. Along that vein will come the whistles of the wicked one. Straight is the way and narrow is the gate that leads to eternal life. Broad is the gate and wide the way that leads to destruction. This is not news to us; this is a reminder. We know what we are to do. Will we do it?
Back to Thyatira
21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and I will strike her children dead. (Revelation 2:21-23a–ESV)
In the churches to this point Jesus has told the pastor to rid his church of certain sins, but Thyatira faces something else. Jesus said an interesting thing in verse 21. In some manner Jesus has already engaged the Jezebel directing her to repent. She did not do so. Jezebel of the Old Testament was brazen and defiant to the end. As Jehu rode up to the palace on that day of her death she put on her makeup and stood in the window. She never repented, but faced her destruction with a stiff neck of firm resolve. She died on the pavement below one of the palace windows.
Jesus is gracious, but his will will reign supreme. Jesus condemned the Jezebel of Thyatira’s behavior. He gave her time to repent of it, but she was defiant. Now Jesus will come and punish her. The Old Testament Jezebel was thrown from a window. The New Testament Jezebel will be thrown on a bed of sickness.
It seemed that even in her sickness people would carry on in their adultery. Jesus can solve problems, but he can also introduce them. Jesus does not introduce problems for their own sake, but as punishments. The seduced could yet repent while Jezebel had gone too far. If the seduced did not repent then they would find themselves struck with illness and the children of these illicit unions would die.
The rest of the story…
23 …And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. 24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come. 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ (Revelation 2:23b-29–ESV)
God’s character would be known by his deeds. He puts an understanding into our hearts of how we are to live. He has given his Holy Scripture and he has come alongside with grace after grace beckoning us to his place. For those who repent, submit and obey there will be life and hope, but not for those who rebel.
The style of Jesus in dealing with the people of Thyatira will be an example to others.
One’s deeds do matter and a lot of folks knew that and held on to that. Those who have not fallen to the temptations of the Jezebel were called upon to remain true to Jesus. By holding fast they would survive. They would be given positions of authority in God’s kingdom.