The letter to the church at Thyatira
Rev. 2:18-29 – To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, the One whose eyes are like a fiery flame, and whose feet are like fine bronze says: I know your works – your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first. But I have this against you: you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and teaches and deceives My slaves to commit sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to repent of her sexual immorality. Look! I will throw her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her practices. I will kill her children with the plague. Then all the churches will know that I am the One who examines minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works. I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who haven’t known the deep things of Satan – as they say – I do not put any other burden on you. But hold on to what you have until I come. The victor and the one who keeps My works to the end: I will give him authority over the nations – and He will shepherd them with an iron scepter; He will shatter them like pottery – just as I have received [this] from My Father. I will also give him the morning star. Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. (HCSB)
Lydia, a seller of purple goods, whose heart God opened to the message of Christ, is from this commercial center steeped in paganism (Acts 16:14). Having heard Paul’s proclamation of the gospel in Philippi, she may have taken the good news back to Thyatira and been among the first to evangelize her city. Thyatira is a military town that also boasts guilds dealing in metals and fabric. Guild members celebrate their patron deities in festivals that no doubt tempt Christians. Some even may have given in to the message of a “prophetess” who promoted illicit sex and food sacrificed to idols. The city is known for its temple to Apollo, the sun god. Thyatira is the smallest of the seven cities yet receives the longest letter, and one of the sternest rebukes, from Christ.
Christ’s self-description: Jesus identifies Himself as “The Son of God,” the only time in Revelation this name is used. The title “Son of God” is from Ps. 2:7 and expresses the unique relationship He has with the Father, just as Jesus’ favorite name for Himself, “Son of Man,” identifies Him as the Messiah and as deity (see Dan. 7:13; Matt. 26:64). Matthew Henry comments: “His general title is here, the Son of God, that is, the eternal and only-begotten Son of God, which denotes that he has the same nature with the Father, but with a distinct and subordinate manner of subsistence.”
Borrowing from John’s description in Rev. 1:14-15, Jesus calls Himself “the One whose eyes are like a fiery flame, and whose feet are like fine bronze” (v. 18). He sees all with his piercing, penetrating eyes and knows the hearts of men and women. Nothing escapes His attention. And though some may seek to hide themselves beneath rocks and in caves, they will be found and made to stand before Him one day without excuse. His feet of fine bronze move swiftly and surely to judge; He will not stumble, fall, or delay.
Christ’s evaluation of the church’s condition: Jesus commends the church, saying, “I know your works – your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first” (v. 19). In contrast to the church at Ephesus, which has abandoned the love it had at first, the believers in Thyatira are growing stronger in heartfelt Christian service. They are not merely busy in religious activity; they are motivated by a love for the Lord and for one another.
Nevertheless, Jesus rebukes the church for tolerating a false prophetess named Jezebel, who leads many into the same sins practiced in Pergamum – sexual immorality and eating meat sacrificed to idols. While it’s possible that a woman, Lydia, helped evangelize the city, it is now clear that a different woman, Jezebel, is leading many into grievous sins.
The name Jezebel may or may not be the woman’s real name, but it suggests that she has the same influence on the church that King Ahab’s wife Jezebel had on the Israelites in Old Testament times. Jezebel’s evil is so pervasive that the Bible says her husband Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God than all the kings of Israel before him (1 Kings 16:33). Just as Ahab is responsible for the actions of those under his authority, including his wife, the leaders of the church at Thyatira are responsible for allowing the New Testament Jezebel to corrupt their congregants.
The apostle Paul makes is clear that there is nothing inherently wrong with eating meat sacrificed to idols (“We are not inferior if we don’t eat, and we are not better if we do eat” – 1 Cor. 8:8), but mature believers are to abstain from such practices if they are a stumbling block to weaker brothers and sisters; no doubt, the dietary and religious aspects of eating these meats could not be separated at Thyatira. Rather than abstain, the people indulged and the church leaders did little or nothing to stop it. Apparently this has been going on for quite some time because Jesus says He gave Jezebel time to repent. She refused. Therefore, judgment is imminent.
“Look! I will throw her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her practices,” Jesus declares (v. 22). Note that the time of God’s grace has ended for Jezebel but not for the church. It’s not too late for those deceived into sexual immorality and spiritual adultery. They still have an opportunity to repent. It is not God’s judgment but His kindness that leads to repentance (Rom. 2:4).
Christ goes on with a dramatic statement: “I will kill her children with the plague” (v. 23). This most likely is a reference to Jezebel’s followers, not to any innocent children she may have. Disciples, whether of Christ or of those who oppose Him, often are depicted as children and may suffer the same fate as their masters. Jesus warns His followers they will be hated, persecuted, and even killed because of their devotion to Him (Matt. 24:9; John 15:18-25), and we know from church tradition that most of the apostles suffer martyr’s deaths.
At the same time, those who ally themselves with Satan and his stewards should expect to suffer the wrath of a holy and righteous God (2 Cor. 11:15b). We don’t know what the “sickbed” is in verse 22 – perhaps a pestilence of some kind, a public humiliation that exposes her wickedness, or an abandonment of her false teachings. As for the death of her “children,” this could be a reference to the second death, the lake of fire. In any case, while the church tolerates Jezebel and her evil, the Lord does not.
Finally, notice the distinction between Jesus’ reference to “My slaves” (v.20) and “her children” ( v. 23). Even though believers may be deceived and led into grievous sins, they are secure in their relationship with Christ; He loses none of those given to Him. Who suffers death in “the plague?” The children of Jezebel, who are by extension children of Satan. The result of Christ’s judgment is dramatic: “Then all the churches will know that I am the One who examines minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works” (v. 23).
Christ’s comfort and/or commands: Jesus has a word for those who have remained faithful: “I do not put any other burden on you. But hold on to what you have until I come” (vv. 24-25). The burden of the faithful in resisting Jezebel’s tempting doctrines and protesting the church’s weak defense against them is sufficient in the eyes of the Lord. He asks them simply to “hold on” to their steadfast faith in Him and their confidence that one day soon He will make things right.
Note the commendation in other passages of Scripture to those who hold on:
- In the parable of the sower: “But the seed in the good ground – these are the ones who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring, bear fruit” (Luke 8:15).
- In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians: “But test all things. Hold on to what is good” (5:21).
- In Paul’s second letter to Timothy: “Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1:13).
- In the letter to the Hebrews: “But Christ was faithful as a Son over His household, whose household we are if we hold on to the courage and the confidence of our hope” (3:6) … “Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (10:23) … “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us hold on to grace. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe” (12:28-29).
Christ’s urge to listen: Jesus says in verse 29, “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” The church today is, in many respects, as corrupt as the one in Thyatira. While there are faithful believers who “hold on” to sound doctrine, there are many that tolerate false prophets and embrace their teachings, while some church leaders do little or nothing about it. Just as a little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough (Gal. 5:9), a little tolerance of false teachings in the interest of political correctness or for the sake of expediency will result in a church that can barely be distinguished from the world.
Christ’s promises to the victor: Jesus says, “The victor and the one who keeps My works to the end: I will give him authority over the nations … just as I have received [this] from My Father” (v. 26-27). In the middle of these words Jesus inserts a Messianic Old Testament passage, Ps. 2:9: “[A]nd He will shepherd them with an iron scepter; He will shatter them like pottery …” Jesus not only reaffirms His Messianic claims; He confirms the authority the Father gave Him to rule the nations and promises His followers a place in His coming administration.
According to The Bible Knowledge Commentary, “Though Psalm 2:9 refers to Christ’s rule, John’s quotation of it here relates the ruling (shepherding) to the believer who overcomes. Believers will have authority just as Christ does (1 Cor. 6:2-3; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 3:21; 20:4, 6).”
In addition, Jesus tells the faithful He will give them “the morning star.” While the Scriptures do not elaborate on this term, Jesus uses it to identify Himself in Rev. 22:6: “I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright Morning Star.” As the morning star appears just before dawn, Jesus one day will step into the clouds of heaven and return in power and great glory (Matt. 24:30). Every eye will see Him, for His coming will be like lightning (Matt. 24:27). Believers have an added promise: “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
Next: The letter to the church as Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6)