The Seven Churches (5): Thyatira

Thyatira was initially an important military garrison city standing at the junction of three main roads leading to Pergamos, Sardis and Smyrna. It eventually became a prosperous commercial center known for its many trade guilds; associated with these was the veneration of pagan idols and “closed shop” ceremonies that often descended into drunkenness and immorality. One of the main heathen deities linked to Thyatira was a sun god called Tyrimnas, who was described as being like a warrior wielding a double-edged battle axe.

Christ’s Authority

This is the only letter of the seven in which Christ refers to Himself as “the Son of God.” His absolute deity is emphasized and the perfection and glory of His life upon earth are brought to mind. John in his Gospel describes the signs or wonderful acts the Lord Jesus performed that were clear evidence of His deity. “His eyes like unto a flame of fire” speak of His penetrating gaze, seeing everything, missing nothing, and righteously assessing every life and heart. His feet “like fine brass” suggest His movements in majestic power and judgment. Throughout Scripture, brass, or bronze, is often associated with judgment in relation to sin (Exo 27:1-8; Dan 10:6).

Christ’s Assessment

It is significant that the Lord continued to speak of the positive features before He addressed the negative character of the church. His commendation was not just a token remark but a sincere assessment and true appreciation of their strengths. We often miss this in our own conversation, when we focus only on the faults of others and conveniently ignore their better qualities. We portray them in extreme either-or terms rather than admitting that they are a mixture of both strengths and weaknesses, just like ourselves.

The Christians in Thyatira were obviously busy in service and their good works were motivated by love, not just a sense of duty. We recall that love was the one thing the Ephesians lacked despite their orthodoxy. The Thyatirans were noted too for their endurance – their service was not just a “flash in the pan” kind, but it continued even in the face of difficulties. The second mention of works within the space of one verse is unusual and implies that there was development in their spiritual exercise and they were making significant progress in their service.

Despite all these features in their corporate testimony, the Lord identified a major problem concerning a woman and self-proclaimed prophetess named as “Jezebel.” Her teaching was leading the assembly away from a path of purity to one of unholiness, in much the same way as had occurred in Pergamos (Rev 2:14). Furthermore, it was being tolerated rather than being confronted. Various interpretations have been given but it is feasible to think that there was a real woman who, like her namesake in the Old Testament, was evil, domineering and manipulative. Whether or not she was allowed to publicly teach in the church in open defiance of apostolic teaching (1Co 14:34-35; 1Ti 2:11-12) is unclear, but she could have just as easily influenced others from her home base, subtly undermining the local church and its leaders in that way.

The Lord Himself in mercy had given her time and opportunity to repent but she had not changed her evil behavior. The only option remaining was for her and her associates to be rejected by the Lord; He would judge them decisively and severely. Their outcome would be a solemn warning to all the other churches that the Lord will not tolerate evil and His sure judgments are thorough and just.

Christ’s Appeal

As in many assemblies of Christians that are under pressure to change and jettison the truth of God, there is always a remnant who seek to continue in faithfulness to God and His Word. To such in Thyatira who refrained from false doctrine and sought to live in truth and holiness, the Lord did not press upon them any additional burden other than to encourage them to hold fast until His return. He promised that the overcomer would share in the rule and administration of His coming kingdom. This would not be a token role in name only but a proper responsibility of reigning with Him in His triumph and glory (Rev 20:6).

The morning star is seen in the darkness of the night sky and heralds the coming dawn. Christ Himself, “the bright and morning star” (Rev 22:16), is the hope of the Church. He will come to the air to call it home to heaven before He returns to earth in glory as “the Sun of righteousness” (Mal 4:2). This latter title is linked with His earthly people, Israel.

The call to hear what the Spirit is saying is an appeal to a remnant. In the three earlier letters it was issued to the complete company, before the promise to the overcomer was mentioned. In the last four letters it is issued after the promise, implying that a godly remnant is being addressed rather than the whole church.

An Application for Today

There is no doubt that for some local churches today the prevailing situation around them seems so difficult that the preoccupation of the faithful ones remaining is to hold on until the Lord comes. Their problems may have come not necessarily as the result of permitting wrong doctrine, but nevertheless they feel under pressure. The tendency would be to respond by “circling the wagons” and adopting a defensive mode. A circle of wagons may feel safer, but the truth is that it is not going anywhere!

Perhaps the main danger would be to become discouraged and regard the Lord’s counsel “to hold fast till I come” as a grim and cheerless assignment. The same Lord told the parable of a master who gave pounds to His servants and commanded them to “occupy till I come” (Luk 19:13). Surely there is joy in being busy for the Lord and seeking to do His will, no matter how difficult the circumstances might be. With His help and guidance, advances can still be made. When we are conscious of His nearness and His fellowship in the work, we can take heart that we are yoked with Him who said “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mat 11:30).