Thyatira is first mentioned in Acts 16: 14 as the city from which Lydia, the seller of purple, came. Interestingly, ancient records fail to disclose the existence of a church in Thyatira during John’s time. This discrepancy was known to the early church, and alluded to by Epiphanius (c. 367 A.D.), who speaks of a certain sect named the “Alogi,” who rejected the Apocalypse on the grounds that John couldn’t have written to a church which didn’t exist. Epiphanius’s answer was that the church mentioned in the Apocalypse would exist at some future time. This forms the basis of our opinion that the seven epistles record conditions which will prevail during pre-adventual times.
Christ is described as having His eyes like unto a flame of fire–implying the judicial scrutiny with which he beholds all men. His feet are likened to fine (i.e. polished) brass. This denotes His power and authority to tread down the wicked when He comes. In its strictest sense, this treading down will entail His coming to destroy Antichrist and his forces. Read Isaiah 14: 25: “I will break the Assyrian in my land, and upon my mountains tread him under foot;” the “Assyrian” being, of course, another name for Antichrist.
(2: 19) “I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first:”
Here is a church which, in the midst of great persecution, shows evidences of spiritual growth. We should think that such a church would receive nothing but commendation from its heavenly Lord. But that is not the case. While the church has made significant advances in charity, faith, patience, and other Christian graces, the body has a touch of gangrene which is slowly eating it away.
(2: 20) “Notwithstanding, I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.”
It is futile to look for any such woman in the annals of the Christian church. To get the meaning of this verse, we must go back to the Old Testament.
Jezebel was the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Zidonians, whom Ahab, king of Israel, took for his wife (1 Kings 16: 31). She induced him to follow her false gods; and, “stirred him up” (1 Kings 21: 25) so that he built an altar for Baal, and a grove (1 Kings 16: 33). The term “grove” is the A.V. rendering of “Asherah,” which denotes a phallic image. The first of its 40 occurrences appears in Exodus 34: 13, where God commanded Moses to “destroy the altars, break down the images, and cut down the groves” of the Canaanites.
These Asherahs were an untold source of impure worship; and it was to exterminate the nations which adhered to such worship that the Israelites were commanded to enter Canaan. These nations were descended from the “giants” (Gen. 6: 4), that is, the progeny of the fallen angels, often referred to as Anakim, Nephilim, and Rephaim. Many of the difficulties of anthropology, as well as the source of those popular accounts of “ancient astronauts,” may be linked to these Canaanite races.
It is clear that Jezebel was a patroness of this lascivious form of worship. And we have every reason to believe that under the “beast” government of the last days, such religious practices will once more come into vogue. In this epistle, an antitypical Jezebel appears in communion with the church of Thyatira. Her purpose of joining with the Christian assembly is obvious. It is to “teach and to seduce” Christ’s servants “to commit fornication, and to eat things offered unto idols.” She holds out that she is a prophetess; and by this pretext induces many to listen to her. But her business is to lure souls into damnation.
Tertullian suggests, that “she had taken upon herself to teach what she had learnt from the Nicolaitanes” (On Modesty, xix). We think that this is very close to the truth. Jezebel’s apostasy is that of the Balaamites and Nicolaitanes. During the last times which immediately precede the Lord’s second advent, there will be a revival of ancient systems of idolatry. We have indications of this mentioned throughout the book of Revelation (e.g., Rev. 9: 20-21; 21: 8). Idolatry is already a common practice among third-world nations; and it is sanctioned by the Roman Catholic veneration of icons.
We believe that a strong resurgence of primitive religious rites and practices, caused by a mingling of the people of all nations into one common system of government (see Daniel 2: 43), will occur before Christ returns. In that day, the Christian church will be beset by enemies roundabout, many entering the fold from without to corrupt those who mantain the pure faith. Already this is beginning to happen, with the proliferation of heresies on the internet. The church is being weakened from within, that it may be weakened from without.
(2: 21) “And I gave her space to repent of her fornication, and she repented not.”
She was offered a reprieve, that so she might repent. We find it dificult to believe that the church at Thyatira will have knowledge of the full extent of her idolatrous activities. Perhaps they’ll know very little at all. Hence the need for this epistle, and the requirement to “keep the commandments” contained therein (see Rev. 1: 3). She’ll evidently work undercover, luring weaker minds into her net by holding out a “higher knowledge” of divine things.
We suggest that she will form an “inner circle” of secret devotees, the existence of which will be unknown to other church members. Thus the reprieve here mentioned won’t come from any kind of “church discipline.” It will issue directly from the Throne of Grace, but may be manifested by premonitory signs of divine displeasure. Whether known to her or not, her judgments are delayed to give her space for repentance. But on account of her fornications and idolatries, which she prefers over the true religion of God, her heart is hardened; and, should she continue in her disobedience, the heaviest corrective measures will be needed to save the church from her evil influence.
(2: 22) “Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.”
Here the collaboration of other church members in Jezebel’s idolatries is brought to light. Her secret cult must be destroyed, else it will mean the spiritual death of the church. Christ will cast both her and her secret associates into a bed of “great tribulation.” We’ll see later, as we get into the seals and trumpets and vials, how the judgments of God overtake the wicked like a flood. When the dispensation of judgment begins, the conditions of the world will be similar to those during the days of Noah and Lot. When they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escpape (1 Thess. 5: 3).
The Lord is calling them to repentance; but the mercy He has shown thus far will not continue forever. How do we know that we ourselves won’t live to see the events outlined in the Apocalypse fulfilled? Let us do some soul-searching (2 Cor. 13: 5), and ask ourselves whether we have maintained the faith in its purity. How far have we met up to the spiritual standards revealed in these epistles to the churches? Is the Lord giving us space for repentance? Or have we our hearts yet hardened? (Mark 8: 17).
(2: 23) “And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts; and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.”
The word “death” here signifies pestilence. Hence, the tribulation into which Jzebel and her associates will be cast appears to be that of the fourth seal (Rev. 6: 8). Here Jezebel’s followers are recognized as her spiritual “children.” We’ll remember Paul’s statement to the Corinthian church: “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel” (1 Cor. 4: 15). The saints of Corinth were Paul’s children, so to speak. Well, here we have something parallel, but oh-so different! The secret devotees of Jezebel’s inner cult are recognized as her children. She has begotten them unto herself through an altogether different set of teachings–teachings which lead souls into hell.
Christ is commanding her and her followers to repent. Sickness, disease, and dire pestilence will befall them who obstinately continue in their impure and idolatrous practices. That the Lord searcheth the reins and hearts is something Christians take for granted (1 Sam. 16: 7; 1 Chron. 28: 9; 2 Chron. 6: 30; Psalm 7: 9; Jer. 11: 20; Romans 8: 27, etc.). But the wicked need a daily reminder of this truth. Regardless of Jezebel’s supposed secrecy, her thoughts and intents are known to God. In the abundance of His mercy and grace He is giving her space for repentance. But will she hearken to Him?
Remember, we shall all be judged according to our works (2 Cor. 5: 10). When the Lord plants a tree, He expects it to bear fruit. All fruitless and unprofitable professions will be consigned to the fire when the Lord comes to purge His floor (Matt. 3: 10). Let no man think that a mere belief in the doctrines of grace or in election, without the appropriate fruits, will wing his soul to heaven. That which we sow in time, shall be reaped in eternity.