A recent post on Facebook read, “Marching tomorrow. No tolerance for intolerance.” Today, tolerance is the ultimate virtue and intolerance is the only vice. The church in Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) not only tolerated the presence of evil, but actively participated in it.
In Revelation 1:11, Jesus sent a message to each of seven local churches in Asia Minor. The letter to the church in Thyatira is the longest of the seven letters, even though it was written to the smallest of the seven cities. In the city of Thyatira, a false teacher was leading many Christians to embrace open immorality. The believers need to know that an all-knowing, all powerful Lord will punish her followers severely. Jesus wants us to be morally pure.
The Church (18a) – Not much is known about the church. Perhaps they heard the gospel through the witness of Lydia (Acts 16:1) or through the ministry of the apostle Paul (Acts 19:10).
The City (18a) – The city lies about 40 miles southeast of Pergamum. It was a much smaller city than Pergamum. The city was located on a plain and was the first line of defense for Pergamum. However, the city was poorly adapted to such military purposes and found itself repeatedly overrun by marauding soldiers across the centuries.
The city boasted a special temple to Apollo, the “sun god.” He was the primary god worshipped in Thyatira. His title explains why the Lord introduced himself as “the Son of God.”
The city was known for the development of trade guilds to which Lydia, the seller of purple mentioned in Acts 16:14, may have belonged. From what can be pieced together, the trade guilds, which consisted of clothiers, metalsmiths, and others, became such a predominant feature in the city that they eventually took on both political and religious significance. Each guild had its own patron god or goddess.
Since the guild’s feasts were the heart of the social and commercial life of the city, there was great pressure on Christians to participate in the idolatrous life of the people. To refuse to participate meant the loss of both goodwill and business.
The Character of Christ (18b) – Jesus presents himself as the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
The eyes of blazing fire represent that Jesus sees and knows everything. It signifies his all-encompassing knowledge. The bronze feet emphasize his all-encircling power. Together, the eyes and feet emphasize the indignation and righteous judgment of Christ.
Christ is the one who searches mind and heart (23b). Nothing can be hidden from the penetrating gaze of the Lord of the churches.
The Condition of the Church: Commendation (19) – While there is much that is wrong with the church, Jesus commends them for their love, faith, service and patient endurance. The first two are motives. The second two are deeds. Their love produced greater service and their faith led to patient endurance. Unlike the believers in Ephesus, these folks were doing more and more as time went on. They were not content to stand still in loving deeds and faithful perseverance. They had grown in faith and thus were stronger in love than when they first came to know Christ.
The Condition of the Church: Concern (20-21) – The criticism Christ has is severe. They tolerated the intolerable. The major condemnation concerned a woman named Jezebel (most likely a nickname). The name, Jezebel, suggests she was corrupting the church much like Ahab’s wife Jezebel corrupted Israel (1 Kings 16:31-33). She claimed to be a prophetess. She convinced gullible Christians that she spoke for God. She taught believers to compromise and engage in sexual immorality. She deliberately led Christians into sexual immorality. She encouraged believers to violate their conscience. If the believers were part of a guild, they were required to participate in the guild feasts, which themselves involved meat sacrificed to idols, the patron god of the respective guild was always worshipped at the feasts.
Their departure from morality had gone on for some time. She had multiple opportunities to repent but had not done so. She refused to repent.
The Command (21-22, 25) – Jesus exhorts those who compromised to repent. He encourages those who were faithful to hold fast. Today, believers who find themselves in liberal or apostate local churches can usually leave and join another fellowship. That was impractical under the circumstances in Thyatira.
The Consequences (22-24) – Jesus promises sudden and immediate judgment. The judgment would be so dramatic that all the churches would know that Christ is the One who searches hearts and minds.
There are three types of people identified in these verses. Christ will repay each according to their deeds. The first group were those who commit adultery with her. This indicates those who had compromised morally. The second group were her children, those who wholly committed themselves to her teachings. Suffering would extend also to her followers. The third group were the faithful believers who did not follow her teachings.
The Commitment (26-28) – Christ promises that those who are faithful will join him in his millennial rule. They will not simply be administering justice but will also, like a shepherd using his rod, be dealing with his sheep and protecting them as well. Believers will have authority just as Christ does.
In addition, they will receive the morning star. This has two possible meanings. (1) Since the morning star appears just before dawn, this may refer to the church being removed in the Rapture before the Tribulation and the dawn of the millennial kingdom. (2) Later in the book, Jesus is referred to as the morning star (22:16). This may refer to fellowship with him. The reward is Christ himself, who will end the long night of sin’s rule in the universe.
The Challenge (29) – Take the message to heart. Hear and heed the message.
It is not known how many in that congregation responded to Christ’s warning, but, tragically, the Thyatira church as a whole apparently did not heed it. History records that it fell prey to the Montanist heresy (a movement led by a false prophet who claimed continuing revelation from God apart from Scripture) and went out of existence by the end of the second century.
Principles – (1) God will judge continued, unrepentant sin in the church. (2) A pattern of obedience marks true Christians. (3) In spite of our struggles with sin and error, God’s gracious promise is that believers will experience the fullness of Christ as they reign with him in his kingdom.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 4, 2018. It is part of a series on The State of the Church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.