It’s been my pleasure to help give leadership to the body of Christ over the past 10 years in various departments from the tape ministry, to ushering, youth pastoring, overseeing youth ministries across the Pacific Northwest, as an Associate Pastor and currently as a Lead (senior) Pastor. The blessings and lessons learned are more than I could count at this time. My Pastor always told me that more is caught then taught and I truly believe that to be a correct statement.
But leading the body of Christ also has its challenges. The Church has been around for a couple thousand years as a light in darkness to many places around the world. But here in the Western part of the world, one of the many challenges we are coming up against in the Church is holding out truth in the midst of a culture that’s moving farther and farther away from Jesus, the Bible, the Church, and from Truth as a whole. The difficulty with this is that sharing the many things the Bible requires preachers to share often separates and alienates us from a majority of people in the culture in which we live. In the short amount of time that I have been leading in the body of Christ I have taken my fair share of pop shots working to establish a plumb line of truth in the midst of the people of our my culture. It’s cost me ministry influence, money, and friendships among others things. Though I believe this to be just the beginning of difficulty that I will encounter in the days ahead for holding out the word of Truth I have received a taste of what it’s like in a Church culture that often shies away from the challenging truths in the Word of God and various facets of Jesus Christ.
The Church of Thyatira was in the same exact place that I have just mentioned. Living for Jesus, leading the Church and being faithful to the Word of God was very costly for them. Some inside the ministry were doing well with it, while others were struggling with compromise based on the difficulty of holding out the word of Truth in the midst of their culture. Let’s now take a look at both the City and the Church of Thyatira.
The History of Thyatira
Along the circular circuit of the Seven Churches of Revelation 2-3 in Asia Minor the Church of Thyatira is mentioned at the fourth Church. This Church was located in a valley between Pergamum and on the way to Sardis. The City of Thyatira is the smallest and least important of the seven Churches in Revelation 2-3.
Although this city is considered insignificant by many, it actually receives the most words from Jesus out of all seven Churches. It’s said that Thyatira was a small military outpost on the way to Sardis and it wasn’t known for being either highly religious or highly political. What made Thyatira something was its numerous trade guilds. Recent inscriptions found in the ruins of ancient Thyatira have noted trade guilds that included: wool workers, linen workers, makers of outer garments, dyers, leather-workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave dealers and bronze smiths. These trade guilds were the forerunner to what we now know as modern trade unions. They were the big business that protected the workers and took care of the paperwork which empowered the people to work without the red tape.
The big problem with these many trade guilds was that when you joined them you were also forced to attend the parties that were connected to these various trades. These parties in essence were drunken orgies mixed with worship to pagan gods and the eating foods that had been sacrificed to idols. Here’s the dilemma; to work meant you were also attending these parties as well; to not attend the parties meant that you couldn’t work. For the Christian who loved Jesus and longed to honor His word, the answer was simple but painful. This led to huge social and financial pressure for the believers living in Thyatira.
Something noteworthy is that the Church of Ephesus and the Church of Thyatira were totally opposite of each other. The Church of Ephesus were so busy working for God and defending Doctrine in their city that they began to lose their love for God and it led to the loss of love for the people in their city. The Church of Thyatira on the other hand loved the people of their culture so much that they lost their love for solid Doctrine, but in the midst of all of this they were actually increasing in their works and love for God. God’s passion would be to have a people that love Doctrine and love people and continually increase their works for God. That neither one would be neglected, but that both would increase. Now let’s look at the Jesus’ address to the Church of Thyatira.
Jesus’ Address to the Church Of Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29)
Now that we have looked at the City of Thyatira a little bit, I will take the rest of this chapter to look Jesus’ words to the Church of Thyatira. Following the same pattern that Jesus has carried with the previous three Churches (Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamos) He continues by Addressing the leadership of the Church of Thyatira. He opens in Revelation 2:18 by saying And to the angel of the Church in Thyatira write, ‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass.’ Jesus is once again addressing the human leader overseeing the Church at Thyatira. It’s through the leadership that Jesus knows He can also get to the people. Sheep are primarily a result of the shepherd and Jesus fully understands this. After His Address He then begins sharing various Attributes that He has previously revealed about Himself to John in Revelation 1.
In the revelation of His Attributes to the Church of Thyatira He reveals three facets of His personality to them that are dynamically related to what they are facing as a Church. He says to them …says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass… Firstly He reveals to them that He is the Son of God. This direct phrase about Jesus being the Son of God is the only time it’s said in the entire Revelation. And through it Jesus is declaring His Divinity as opposed to His humanity. Now, if you remember, He revealed Himself to the Church of Smyrna in His humanity and not His divinity. But here, He is making it clear to the Church of Thyatira that He has power as God to intervene in their ministry.
Secondly, He says to them He has eyes like fire. Jesus’ eyes like fire are speaking about His passion to help and deliver weak, struggling Christians, or to judge rebellious Christians who refuse to repent. Our response to Him determines what the fire of His love means. It’s my belief that we get to choose what the fire in His eyes means. It’s either going to be His passion and love to help us in our weakness, or it’s going to be His passion in love to release judgment upon those who refuse to repent. Something that we must learn to reconcile in Christ is that His passion for weak believers and His judgment are two sides to one coin called love. In love Jesus helps and judges; those two realities aren’t a contradiction. Jesus has passion for the repentant people of Thyatira to help them, but He is also willing to release judgment if they continue in sin without repenting.
And thirdly He comes to them as Him whose feet are like fine brass. The brass of Jesus’ feet is speaking about His ready commitment to trampling the sin of His people either through partnership with them, or against their will. Brass throughout the Old Testament is a clear message of Jesus’ commitment to crush sin, rebellion, compromise and immorality, specifically sexual immorality. When Jesus came to the Church of Pergamos He said to them in Revelation 2:16 Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. Jesus is saying to this ministry and the people who love Him in their midst either you fight against your sin with the Sword of My Word, or else I will come to you and fight against you with the Sword of My mouth. Beloved, Jesus is committed to delivering His people from sin and comprise. He longs to do it in partnership with us, but if we refuse, then He will personally get involved and do it Himself. This is what He is telling the Church of Thyatira with His feet like brass.
From Jesus’ revealed Attributes to the Church of Thyatira He begins with His Approval of the various things are doing right. In Revelation 2:19 He says to them I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first. Jesus’ approval of the things they were doing well includes a total of five things. He says they were loving, serving, being patient, and working well, even increasing in their works as opposed to decreasing them. It’s a beautiful thing that Jesus comes to us and approves us before He accuses us. It’s not always common that people in our lives do this, but it’s true of Jesus. Remember, Jesus is going to say some of His most challenging words to this ministry for what they were tolerating in their midst, but before He does, in great tenderness He lets them know they were doing some positive things, even increasing in them.
After the tender understanding, God Approves them for the things they were doing well, He then breaks into His Accusation of them for the negative things they were doing. Jesus says in Revelation 2:20 Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow (tolerate) that women Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants into sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. Something that will really help us in the process of serving Jesus is understanding that His correction of us isn’t the same thing as His rejection of us. For many of us in life when we are corrected by others they are also rejecting us. What I mean by rejecting us is that after they share the negative information with us, they withhold their heart from us, but this isn’t so with Jesus. Because His correction of us is always rooted in deep love for us, He’s able to level serious charges against us while never withholding His heart from us.
According to Jesus’ Accusation against the Church of Thyatira in conjunction with history we are led to believe that Jezebel was a female, self-proclaimed prophetess. She was an influential teacher among the Church who was preaching and teaching a cheap grace message that empowered the people of God to sin under the banner of the Grace of God. Through her Bible studies with the people of God she was telling them that God was okay with them going to the trade guild parties and participating in their feasts in the grace of God.
Jude addressed this specific issue in Jude 4 when he wrote For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember, Jude is writing to Christians when he says this. He is stating that various people have crept into the Church and they teach the same message Jezebel was teaching; it’s called a cheap grace message. The reason why it’s dangerous is because as Jude says, it actually denies the Lord and the nature of Jesus Christ. It denies Jesus, because those that should be helping the people of God are actually telling them they are okay without repenting while living in sexual immorality.
The Church of Thyatira was under serious social and financial pressure because not attending these parties meant they wouldn’t be able to work. For a husband to be unable to work meant that he would also be unable to provide for his family. On top of that, he would have heavy social pressure because of going against the grain, in regards to what the majority of the people are doing.
The power of Jesus’ words and the Attributes He showed the Church of Thyatira has a deeply rooted connection to what took place with the Old Testament Jezebel. In fact the Old Testament Jezebel of 1st Kings 16:31 was thrown from a window and trampled underfoot by Jehu in 2nd Kings 16:31. And this New Testament Jezebel is being threatened by Jesus Himself, with His feet like brass that He is ready to also trample her underfoot if she refuses to repent. Jesus is saying that this New Testament Jezebel is going to die in the same way that the Old Testament Jezebel did, and for the same reasons. Jesus is tender towards weak believers that are struggling with sin, but He is a Man you don’t want to cross if you’re steeped in rebellion, refusing to repent and helping lead His people astray into dark holes of immorality. His feet are like brass.
The statements and severity of Jesus’ plans concerning Jezebel continue in Revelation 2:21-23 when He says And I gave her (Jezebel) time to repent of her sexual immorality and she did not. Indeed, I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the Churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one according to your works. What’s clear with Jesus is that He’s patient with sinners and with sin, but He’s never tolerant of our sin and compromise. What I mean by tolerant is that He’s never approving of our sin and sinful decisions. It’s common that people today assume that because God hasn’t struck them down with lightening that He’s okay with their sin and compromise. This is a grave mistake, and it’s actually insulting the Spirit of Grace. Beloved, the reason Jesus hasn’t struck you with lighting in your sin and compromise is because He’s patient, longsuffering and kind at heart, longing for you to repent and be reconciled. But never take His patience for granted, because though He is patient, longsuffering and kind He’s ready at a moment’s notice to step into the affairs of His people.
Through Jesus’ Accusation of this Church leadership and specifically Jezebel in the passage stated above, Jesus is telling them that He’s committed to doing three primary things. Firstly, Jesus says …I will cast her into a sickbed… The Greek word for sickbed is Bed. It’s the Greek word number 2825 and it means a couch for sleep, sickness or a bed for sleeping. It’s the same word used in Matt. 9:2, 9:6; Mk. 4:21, 7:30; Lk. 5:18, 8:16, 17:34 which all speak of physical sickness. It’s clear that Jesus is making a statement to both Jezebel and those that follow her that He is willing to make her physically sick if she refuses to repent (1st Cor. 11:30-32). Secondly, Jesus says …those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds… Jesus is telling them that on top of making her and her followers sick, whoever they are; He is also willing to send them into great tribulation.
That word tribulation used there is the Greek word number 2347 and it means pressing, pressure, affliction and distress. I want to make this clear that this great tribulation isn’t the eschatological Great Tribulation at the end of this age that is spoken of in Matthew 24. But, the word tribulation used from Matthew to Revelation is always the same word. What this means is that the eschatological Great Tribulation is only an accumulative amount of trouble that will increase, but it’s the same type of trouble that has plagued the Body of Christ throughout world history. What Jesus is saying is that He’s committed to sending them into a large amount of trouble if they refuse to repent.
And thirdly, Jesus says to both Jezebel and her followers I will kill her children with death… No, I wish that this word meant something different than it does, but it doesn’t. It means what it says and it says what it means. Jesus is warning them that in love He is committed to killing them with physical death if they refuse to repent. It’s not just Jezebel that He is committed to killing but also all those that follow her teachings. It’s not just that Jezebel is guilty but also that those who follow her are guilty. Through this phrase Jesus is making it crystal clear that His people know He has zeal to deliver them from immorality but also that others would know when He casts unrepentant believers into a sickbed.
Now that we have made it through this challenge portion of scripture as Jesus gives the Accusation He is now going to give them His Advice. In His Advice to the Church of Thyatira Jesus is calling them to repent and even calling this teaching of Jezebel the depths of Satan. I believe that the reason why Jesus calls this a cheap grace message (which was the teaching of Jezebel) the depths of Satan is because of the deception in which it steeps the people of God. This teaching works to approve the people of God under the false pretense that they are okay with God without repenting and denying the sinful works they are participating. It actually works to remove the people of God away from God while attending Church, reading the Bible and praying. The reason for this is because the teachers and preachers that Jesus has set over the ministry to keep the people of God safe aren’t doing their job telling the people to repent. And because the people don’t hear the message to repent their hearts start to grow dull and disconnected from God while they are trying to reach for God. They struggle to find Him because their sin and compromise is separating them from Him. They don’t know that because the preacher won’t tell them, based his fear of man. His Advice is simple; repent, be restored and run the race set before you.
From Jesus’ Advice to the Church of Thyatira He speaks to them of the Assurance of reward for those that overcome. Jesus says to them in Revelation 2:26-28 And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations, he shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potters vessels, as I also have received from My Father, and I will give him the morning star. Jesus’ Assurances of reward are beyond comprehension in light of what Jesus is asking them to do right now in the present age. It’s common in our Western approach to ministry, that we tell people if they repent, Jesus will make them healthy, wealthy and happy in this age. This ideal, is totally foreign to the ministry of Jesus both in His incarnation and in His Resurrection. What Jesus is promising this Church through their repentance and steadfastness to Him in the place of suffering is that He will reward them primarily in the age to come, not primarily in this age. In fact Jesus knows that for this Church to honor Him, they are going to lose their livelihood and their ability to provide for their families. It’s really unto the place of death in the midst of suffering that Jesus is calling them to be faithful in.
Our understanding of the pre-millennial reign of Christ and the eternal age help us make sense of these difficulties in a way that empowers us to be faithful in this age with our hearts wrapped up in the age which is yet to come. To the Church of Thyatira, those that rule their spirits well and keep themselves free from sexual immorality will actually receive power over nations in partnership with Jesus in the age which is yet to come. The Assurance of reward is connected to three primary things; power over the nations; power, ruling with a rod of iron; rulership and the morning star, the experience of Glory. Beloved, if we knew what Jesus was promising us in the age to come, we also would be empowered to endure those things which are set before us in a faithful way.
Jesus closes His letter to the Church of Thyatira in the same way that He closes all letters to the Seven Churches, and that’s with His fervent Appeal. Jesus Appeal to them comes from Revelation 2:29 when He says He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches. What Jesus is believing for is that beyond a good conference, beyond a good Christian summit, and a cool teaching series, they would see this letter from Him as a warning from God to repent and endure, looking beyond this age into the age which is yet to come.
Let’s give ourselves to Jesus’ words in such a way that it’s not just a good teaching but it is life changing material that we not only hear, but also put into practice. Jesus is faithful to help us, if only we will ask.