• Greek Bible manuscript on papyrus | Photo credit: pxhere

The Book of Revelation – Write Number Six

Rev Willem J.J. Glashouwer - 12 February 2020

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this: ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.” Revelation 2:18-20

Thyatira was the least important city of the seven, not a religious or political center, but a place of trading and commerce. It is apparent from inscriptions that guilds flourished there. The members of a guild ate meals together that they dedicated to one or other god—and that was what caused the Christians difficulties. It was practically impossible to take part in trade and industry without such membership. Some Christians said: “Oh, those pagan gods don’t really exist; there is no problem with becoming a member and participating in these dinners.” Others said: “No, that is out of the question—the more so because these dinners often end up in a licentious manner!”

The guilds of Thyatira had the same practices as those we saw the Gentiles practice at Ephesus and Pergamum. Was Lydia, the purple seller, a member of such a guild? Acts 16:11-15 and 40 “So putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis; and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days. 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 .A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay…They [Paul and Silas who had been arrested and thrown into the prison in Thyatira] went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.” Apparently Lydia had a house in Philippi as well…

The ‘works’ clearly take center-stage in this letter to this church. Their ‘deeds’ are mentioned in a beautiful three-fold way: deeds and love; faith and service; perseverance and your deeds of late being even greater than at first. These deeds are mentioned no less than five times in this epistle.

The risen Christ reveals Himself to the seven churches in a different way each time. Now He says: “I am the Son of God.” This is the only time He refers to Himself in this way, although on many occasions it is stated that God is the Father of Christ (Revelation 1:6; 2:27; 3:5 and 21, 14:1). The Christian believers are also called sons/daughters of God on one occasion: “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.” The title ‘Son of God’ is used in Psalm 2:7: “I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son; Today I have begotten You.”

“His eyes are like blazing fire and His feet like burnished bronze: “His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters” Revelation 1:14-15. He sees through everything, He is angry about injustice and is ready to tread all the enemies of the true children of God under His feet.

“Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.”

At first the church is praised. It had works as a fruit of love, and service (‘diakonia’) as a fruit of faith. Indeed, in contrast to Ephesus, there is no reproach for loss of their first love, no exhortation to do the first works again. Christ even says that their perseverance in love shows that their last works are even more than their first ones! True Love grows and will bring forth fruits; it does not remain sterilely concentrated upon oneself. It is more blessed to give than to receive. The Apostle Paul writes in Acts 20:35 “In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Faith and love go hand-in-hand—faithfulness and perseverance. 1 Timothy 1:5 “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” 1 Timothy 6:10-11 “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.”

To be married means to be faithful. In Dutch, the word for marriage is ‘trouw-en’ meaning to ‘remain faithful’, ‘true’, to each other, all your life.  That is true in the case of Christ’s relationship to His Church as well. And that should be the same as for a man and a woman in marriage. The source is love and you grow towards each other more and more in marriage, so that the last works are greater than the first ones, and happiness increases rather than decreases. In the concept of the seven epistles to the seven churches representing also seven stages in Church history, Thyatira represents the period from 800–1520, up to the beginning of the time of the beginning of the Reformation.

The meaning of the names of the seven churches are: Ephesus – the desired one, the one who desires; Smyrna – myrrh, bitter; Pergamum – ‘thoroughly’ married, or also tower, fortress; Thyatira – daughter or female predominance; Sardis – a remnant that has escaped; Philadelphia – brotherly love; Laodicea – the people rule, democracy, power to the people.

But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.”

After the praise the risen Lord Jesus has also some criticism. And he refers to the woman Jezebel in the Old Testament. 1 Kings 16:30-33 “Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him. 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. So he erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal which he built in Samaria. Ahab also made the Asherah. Thus Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him.”

So the woman Jezebel was the wife of King Ahab, the daughter of Ethbaal, the king of Sidon. She took her own gods, the Baals and Ashtaroth, with her from her pagan land. Ahab, insensitive to religious matters as long as power and wealth were maintained, took no interest and let her have her way. In Israel, among the people of God, there were foreign altars and consecrated poles and the practice of idol worship and sexual immorality were prevalent.

This now goes even further than with Balaam, who was spoken about at Pergamum.

There Christ is still speaking, there a judicial verdict is given by Him, but apparently, but there the people were lacking courage and strength to take this verdict seriously and start changing their ways. And consequently they did not repent in Pergamum. As it says in Revelation 2:14-16: “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this:…I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.” But they did not repent.

But here in Thyatira, not only is that courage lacking, but also the clear insight and understanding about what was happening. At Pergamum they knew what was going on; at Thyatira they simply let it happen and consciously tolerated this. Revelation 2:20 therefore says: “But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality.”

The problems and wrongdoings in this case have entered into the church.

There is this comparison with Israel. Balaam was still a foreigner who came from abroad, from outside to the people of Israel and then went his own way again. But Jezebel settled in Israel. She came from abroad, from outside, but then she became the king’s wife. She had settled within Israel. Elijah scorned her and her priests of Baal, although he nevertheless held Ahab responsible. 1 Kings 17:1 “Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” And 18:17-18 “When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is this you, you troubler of Israel?” He said, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and you have followed the Baals.”

And then the people had to make a decision, a choice: between either the God of Israel or the pagan god Baal. The judgment at Carmel becomes the decider and Baal and his priests were defeated. Read 1 Kings 18:20-40.

Jezebel’s rage was intense and vicious. Whoever resisted this ‘prophetess’ could count on ‘all hell breaking loose’. 1 Kings 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.” The Lord does not allow Himself to be mocked, however.

Jezebel’s end was horrible. We read in 2 Kings 9:29–37 ”Now in the eleventh year of Joram, the son of Ahab, Ahaziah became king over Judah. When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it, and she painted her eyes and adorned her head and looked out the window. As Jehu entered the gate, she said, “Is it well, Zimri, your master’s murderer?” Then he lifted up his face to the window and said, “Who is on my side? Who?” And two or three officials looked down at him. He said, “Throw her down.” So they threw her down, and some of her blood was sprinkled on the wall and on the horses, and he trampled her under foot. When he came in, he ate and drank; and he said, “See now to this cursed woman and bury her, for she is a king’s daughter.” They went to bury her, but they found nothing more of her than the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands. Therefore they returned and told him. And he said, “This is the word of the Lord, which He spoke by His servant Elijah the Tishbite, saying, ‘In the property of Jezreel the dogs shall eat the flesh of Jezebel; and the corpse of Jezebel will be as dung on the face of the field in the property of Jezreel, so they cannot say, “This is Jezebel.”

Yet there was some grace for Ahab as a result of some repentance on his part. We read in 1 Kings 21:27-29: “It came about when Ahab heard these words, that he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted, and he lay in sackcloth and went about despondently. Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but I will bring the evil upon his house in his son’s days.”

But sound Biblical doctrine and truth are very important. True ‘works’ and true ‘deeds’ are the fruit of a true and righteous Biblical faith.

Thyatira left Jezebel alone. They let her be. They tolerated her. She could do what she liked. She was allowed to give her immoral teachings in the church, using some ‘prophets’ and ‘priests’; indeed, she was even predominant—whereas the true children of God withdrew themselves from her teachings and practices. They preferred to personally follow Christ in deeds of love and righteousness. Fruits of their faith.

In Ephesus, the false teachers, apostles and prophets were put to the test and rejected. Here tolerance refused to make short shrift of them. As some in Christianity today claim: Christian doctrine is not very important. Do as it pleases you, they say. They say: what you feel is the right thing for you to do, just do it. Don’t worry if it is according to the Bible or not.

But sound Biblical doctrine and truth are very important. True ‘works’ and true ‘deeds’ are the fruit of a true and righteous Biblical faith. Jesus says in Matthew 7:17-20 (NLT) “A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.”

Prophets were held in high esteem in the early church. They were sometimes referred to in the same breath with the Apostles, 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11. The gift of ‘prophecy’ leads the list of the gifts of the Spirit, Romans 12:6. Prophecy was not just predicting or foretelling the future, as Agabus did in Acts 11:28 and 21:10–14, but it was more particularly speaking to ‘strengthen, encourage and comfort.” 1 Corinthians 14:1-5 “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. But one who prophesies speaks to men for ‘edification and exhortation and consolation’. One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.”

The word of God was revealed through Apostles and prophets, Ephesians 3:5.

There were also prophetesses who taught the church, like Anna (Luke 2:36), and the daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9). The New Testament was not yet in existence; thus the false prophetess, like ‘Jezebel’, was able to claim that the Spirit of God gave her insight.

The Spirit never contradicts the Word of God, however. The Spirit can never say: “You must divorce your wife and marry someone else.” As such a statement clearly contradicts what the Bible teaches.  The Bible says in this matter: ‘Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.’ (Genesis 2:24 KJV) and ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ (Exodus 20:14 KJV). You nevertheless sometimes hear people say: “Okay, the Bible does say this, but the Spirit clearly tells me that.” Such comments are not inspired by God’s Holy Spirit.

1 John 4:1-3 “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. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the anti-Christ, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

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