Thyatira

The prophetess “Jezebel” deceived many at Thyatira into accommodating the idolatrous practices of pagan society – Revelation 2:18-29

Acropolis - Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash
The city of Thyatira was situated fifty-five kilometers southeast of Pergamos and eighty kilometers from the Aegean Sea. Its proximity to Pergamos explains why the doctrines of the 
Nicolaitans had also infiltrated this congregation. Christianity reached Thyatira at an early stage, but the details of its establishment are unknown. Most likely, it was an area reached by Paul’s earlier missionary activities from Ephesus - [Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash].

The city produced a dye used in the production of the purple fabric that was highly prized around the Mediterranean. Its economy was dominated by trade guilds for the bronze, linen, leather, pottery, and dye industries, and it would be difficult for a tradesman unaffiliated with a guild to conduct business in Thyatira. Each guild had its own religious rituals, and membership would necessitate participation in them.

The letter to Thyatira is the longest of the seven letters and is positioned at the center of the larger literary unit. Beginning with it, the exhortation to hear the Spirit is repositioned to the end of each letter.
  • (Revelation 2:18-19) - “And to the angel of the assembly in Thyatira, write: The Son of God declares these things, the one who has his eyes like a flame of fire, and his feet like glowing copper: I know your works and your love and faith and ministry and endurance, and that your last works are more than the first.
Jesus is the one with the flaming eyes and feet “like burnished bronze.” The designation “Son of God” occurs only here in Revelation, and it alludes to the second Psalm:
  • (Psalm 2:7-9) – “Yahweh has said to me: You are My son. I, today, have begotten you: Ask of me and let me give nations as your inheritance, and as your possession, the ends of the earth.
In the vision of the “one like a son of man,” Jesus was described as having “feet like burnished brass as if it had been refined in a furnace.” The reference to the “furnace” invoked the story of the “fiery furnace” into which the three compatriots of Daniel were cast when they refused to render homage to the king’s “great image.” They were delivered from death by “one like a Son of God.”

Jesus was refined in such a “furnace” when he endured death on behalf of his saints. But now, in Revelation, the “fiery furnace” from Daniel becomes the model for the “lake of fire burning with brimstone” into which all who render homage to the image of the “beast” will be cast. For them, there will be no miraculous delivery - (Daniel 3:24-25Revelation 19:20).

Jesus knows that the church’s “last works are more than the first.” This is in sharp contrast with the church at Ephesus, where the earlier works of testimony were greater than the later ones.
  • (Revelation 2:20-21) - “Nevertheless, I have against you that you suffer the woman Jezebel, she who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and leading astray my own servants to commit fornication and to eat idol-sacrifices; and I gave her time, that she might repent, and she wills not to repent from her fornication.
Despite its previous faithfulness, Jesus rebuked this church for tolerating the false prophetess “Jezebel.” Her teachings parallel those of the ‘Nicolaitans’ (“to eat idol-sacrifices and to commit fornication”). Like that group, she promotes accommodation to the idolatrous culture of the city.

Jezebel” was probably not her name. She is modeled after the Old Testament pagan queen Jezebel who promoted the worship of Ba’al and persecuted the prophets of Yahweh, including Elijah. Allusions to the ministry of Elijah appear in the vision of the “two witnesses” - (1 Kings 16:31, 18:4-19, 19:1-2, Revelation 11:3-7).

Fornication” is metaphorical for idolatry. Note the explanatory “eating meat offered to idols.” The “lovers” and “children” of Jezebel are adherents of her doctrine.

She is a “prophetess,” a verbal link to the “False Prophet” described in chapter 13. Like Jezebel in Ancient Israel, the “False Prophet” will cause others to engage in idolatry, especially the rendering of homage to the “image of the beast” - (Revelation 13:11-18, 16:13, 19:20, Daniel 3:1-7).

Jezebel” is presented as a harlot-like figure because of her seductive powers, which also link her to the “Great Harlot, Babylon,” the one who caused the earth’s inhabitants to drink the “wine of her fornication” - (Revelation 17:1-6, 18:3, 18:8-9).
  • (Revelation 2:22-25) - “Behold, I cast her into a bed, and them who are committing adultery with her, into great tribulation, except they repent out of her works; and her children will I slay with death; and all the churches will get to know that I am he, the one who searches reins and hearts, and will give to each one according to your works. But to you, I say, to the rest who are in Thyatira, as many as have not this teaching, such as have not come to know the deep things of Satan, as they say, I do not cast upon you any other burden; nevertheless, what you have, hold fast till I come.
Thus, “Jezebel” is a version of end-time “Babylon,” the seductress that is already at work, even in the church. The threatened judgment on her and her “children” anticipates God’s final judgment on the “Great Harlot.” Anyone who partakes of her sins will also receive “her plagues” - (Revelation 18:1-6).

The prophetess “deceives” Christ’s servants, which is another link to the visions about “Babylon the Great.” Note the parallels:
  • Satan deceives the whole world - (12:9, 20:3, 20:8-10).
  • False Prophet deceives the inhabitants of the earth - (13:14).
  • Babylon deceives all the nations by her sorceries - (18:23).
  • The False Prophet deceives those who receive the mark of the Beast - (19:20).
Jesus allows time for her to repent. If she refuses, he will “cast her into a couch along with them who fornicate with her.” The “couch” refers to a sickbed, which is indicated by her punishment with “great tribulation” and plagues. Christ will “kill her children with death” (apoktenō en thanatō), a verbal link to the first four seal openings when the four horsemen are authorized “to kill…with death” - (apokteinai en thanatō - Revelation 6:1-8).

Church ruins - Photo by Kirsten Drew on Unsplash
Photo by Kirsten Drew on Unsplash

He who searches reins and hearts” interprets his “eyes like a flaming fire.” Nothing is hidden from his eyes. The phrase alludes to the passage from Jeremiah when Yahweh pronounced judgment on the Israelites who committed idolatry for economic gain:
  • (Jeremiah 17:10-13) – “I, Yahweh, search the mind, I try the heart, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings… Yahweh, the hope of Israel, all that forsake You shall be put to shame. They that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken Yahweh, the fountain of living waters.
The rest” or “remnant” are those believers in Thyatira who have not been corrupted by Jezebel. This may be a link to the vision of the “woman clothed with the sun” and the “remnant of her seed” that are persecuted by the “Dragon,” identified as those who “have the testimony of Jesus.” Likewise, faithful saints must “hold fast what you have till I come” – (Revelation 12:17).

The prophetess claims it is permissible to “know the deep things of Satan.” Possibly, this was the slogan propagated by her supporters (“as they say”). More likely, in her mind, she is teaching the “deep things of God,” deeper spiritual insight that supposedly protects initiates from harm during idolatrous religious rites. Jesus exposes this doctrine for what it truly is, the “deep things of Satan.” As Paul taught, idolatry is communion with demons - (1 Corinthians 10:20).

The “deep things of Satan” is a link to the “Abyss,” the deep pit from which the “beast,” demons, and Satan ascend to deceive men and “wage war against the saints”- (Revelation 9:1-2, 11:7, 13:1, 17:8, 20:1-3).
  • (Revelation 2:26-29) - “And he that overcomes and keeps throughout my works, I will give to him authority over the nations; and he will shepherd them with a scepter of iron, as vessels of earthenware are dashed in pieces: as I also have received from my Father. And I will give to him the morning star. He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
Jesus received authority to rule the nations through his Death and Resurrection. He now shares that authority with his faithful disciples - (Psalm 2:8-9, Revelation 1:5, 12:1-5).

The Book of Revelation follows the text of the Greek Septuagint where the Hebrew term for “smite them” has been changed to “shepherd.” Jesus reigns in paradoxical ways. Just as he “overcame” by dying for others, so believers overcome Satan and participate in his reign by laying down their lives for the “Lamb” and his “testimony.” They are a “kingdom of priests” who mediate God’s light in this darkened world; they reign as priestly intermediaries, not tyrants - (Revelation 12:10-11).

The “morning star” symbolizes the reign of Christ, an image from the prophecy by Balaam. Jezebel’s deceptions parallel the false doctrines of the Nicolaitans and Balaam. His prophecy referred to the “star from Jacob and a scepter from Israel that shall crush” - (Numbers 24:17, Psalm 2:8-9, 2 Peter 1:17-19).

He that has an ear, hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” Once more, the pronoun switches to the singular and the noun to the plural number. The message is applicable to a much larger audience than the small congregation in Thyatira. And the Greek verb rendered “saying” is a progressive present; that is, it represents continuous action. The Spirit is continuing to issue this summons to all churches, from the time John wrote the letter until the arrival of Jesus on the last day.

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