Summary: Thyatira was the smallest of the seven cities mentioned in Revelation, Chapters 2 and 3. It is also the city about which little is known. Yet, it is to this church that Jesus addresses His longest letter.
Thyatira was founded by the Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great some 300 years before the birth of Christ. The name Thyatira means “unceasing sacrifice.” It more than likely received this name because it was a military “buffer city” located some 40 miles southeast of Pergamos, the capital city of the province.
Whenever enemy forces invaded, they would naturally approach Thyatira first. As its location did not allow itself to defend itself all that well, its mission was to “hold the enemy” just long enough for Pergamos to prepare itself for battle. As a result, Thyatira was destroyed and rebuilt numerous times during its history.
Thyatira was also known for its commerce and significance as a major trade route for the region and Rome as well. The main product for which Thyatira was known was wool and the types of dyes produced there. They manufactured a very expensive purple dye valued by both royalty and the wealthy of the region. It was extracted from a certain shellfish brought up by divers. Each shellfish was able to produce a drop of dye. When combined with the waters of Thyatira, this dye produced a variety of colors not found anywhere else. This industry was mentioned in Acts 16:14. One producer of this dye was a woman named Lydia, who came to faith in Christ under the preaching of the apostle Paul.
Thyatira was also known for its trade guilds, similar to the ancient unions of the day. Workers from the varied industries of the city, such as bakers, wool workers, dyers, bronze workers, potters, and others, banded together to set prices and give guarantees to their work. To refuse to join a guild was to give up all prospects of work.
Like the other cities of the region, Thyatira had its share of occult and pagan worship. There was a temple in the city known for fortune-telling, which was presided over by a woman named Sambathe. It was to the church operating in this city that Jesus sent this letter. We do not know who specifically founded the church in Thyatira, but it is possible that the Gospel was brought to the city by Lydia, who was saved in Philippi (Acts 16:12-15) or was evangelized by members of the church of Ephesus.
There was trouble in the church as it was being dominated by a woman whom the Lord Jesus refers to as “that woman Jezebel, who fancies herself a prophetess” (Revelation 2:20). I believe this situation parallels the warning about women exhorting pastoral authority over men (1 Timothy 2:12). I also believe that this is a form of ancient feminism, a movement not founded on issues such as equal pay for equal work and mutual respect but is in reality a form of witchcraft forbidden in Scripture (1 Samuel 15:23).
The Lord Jesus came to this church (2:18), presenting Himself in three ways. He comes as the “Saving One.” He is the Son of God and reminds them that He is the Savior. He alone is worthy of worship. He is also the “Searching One” with “eyes like unto a flame of fire.” He comes as One who sees all. He sees the works of the hands and the motives and thoughts of the heart. Here, He is not the “meek and lowly” Jesus, but with His eyes blazing forth with anger over sin. He is also the “Sovereign One” with “feet like fine brass.” He not only sees all but comes as the One able to judge all (Matthew 25:32; John 5:22; Acts 10:42, 17:31; Romans 2:16, 14:10; 1 Corinthians 4:4-5; 2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Peter 4:5).
He will not tolerate any kind of compromise with the world, especially in His church, and this was the problem with Thyatira. It had allowed itself to fall into a type of marriage with the world that was corrupting its influence and testimony. Anytime the church tries to appease or make friends with ideologies or trends that are clearly opposed to the Word of God and the exclusivity of Jesus Christ, it spells the end of that church’s ability or attempts to present the life-changing Gospel.
If the church approves of, or worse, remains silent about the sewer that represents the world system, then what purpose does it serve?
Thyatira, in terms of prophetic significance, represents the downward spiral the church found itself in between the years 600-1500 AD, known as the Medieval or “Dark” Ages when the Roman Catholic “System” emphasized papal authority, ritual, traditions, and persecution of Christians who dared to say that the Bible needed to be in the possession of all people, not just the property of popes and priests.
The letters to each church apply to the churches of today, and if we truly have “ears to hear,” then we need to both read and put into practice what Jesus teaches and expects of His people, especially as the days grow dark and the harvest still needs to be collected.
Like the other letters to the churches that have already been covered, Jesus gives words of commendation to this church. Thyatira was an active church in good deeds and benevolent outreach. They are examples of service to the Lord and engage in authentic ministry to the city despite the rank heathenism that permeated it. They could not be accused of being lazy. However, within the church’s structure, there was a festering sore that had to be addressed. This church was being led away from the Lord through the teachings of an influential woman in their midst. Jesus exposed her and her false teachings, calling her “Jezebel,” a reference to one of the wickedest women referred to in the Scriptures.
In the Old Testament, there was a wicked, idolatrous queen named Jezebel who was the wife of the equally wicked and corrupt King Ahab (1 Kings 16:31). She was a devoted, fanatical worshipper of the god Ba’al, and she supported 850 “prophets” of this despicable religion that included the sacrifice of children. Baalism was a religion that also centered on perverse sexual practices. Baal was the god of fertility. Its adherents were no more than prostitutes and perverts.
When Jezebel arrived in the northern kingdom of Israel, which had never known a godly ruler in its history, she brought this perverted religion with her and had her weak-willed husband follow her gods. Her influence caused Israel to turn to Baal instead of the Lord God Almighty (1 Kings 21:25). She attempted to kill every true man of God that she could. Her threats even caused the prophet Elijah to run off in fear for his life (1 Kings 19:1-3). She was also instrumental in the murder of the good and noble man Naboth for his vineyard (1 Kings 21:17-24).
God pronounced judgment on Ahab and Jezebel, with both being killed in brutal ways for their personal wickedness and the idolatry they brought to Israel (2 Kings 9:1-37). The Lord Jesus described the woman in Thyatira as having the same type of devious influence. What had this woman done? She more than likely led the members of the church away from authentic worship of the Lord by teaching that while they were indeed saved by grace through Christ, they could also indulge in the sins of the flesh. A teaching arose that the soul and body were not really connected; therefore, what a person did in their body had no effect on their spiritual life and vice versa.
The trade guilds had included pagan worship as part of their construct. Christians who made their living as tradesmen were faced with a dilemma. Do they join the guilds and thus be able to provide their families with a living, or do they make a stand for Christ and risk losing their jobs and everything else? This woman taught that they could do both. They could overlook the paganism and still hold on to their jobs. Well, it doesn’t work that way. Either we are sold out for Christ and trust Him to provide for us, or we kiss the feet of the world and lose what testimony we have to present Him to a lost individual or group.
This is the issue that Jesus addressed, but more importantly, would be an object lesson for any believer who thinks that “faltering between two opinions” somehow solves the problem.
What warning did Jesus give to this deceitful woman and those who followed her perverse teachings? In Verse 21-23, we read that the LORD had given this woman every chance to repent of her false teachings. She refused to submit to the Lord’s authority. Therefore, His patience had run out, and she was now slated for judgment. She and her followers would face His wrath. This shows that these people were not saved. If they refuse to repent even after these warnings and judgments, He will place them in “sickbeds” and will “kill her children” as a visible sign to the churches that He searches the minds and hearts of all people (2:22-23).
This should terrify anyone who is content to play “religious games” or use their influence to engage in behaviors and affairs that have no place in the body of Christ (Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 12:13-21; John 5:28-29; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 20:11-15).
The tragedy is that very few people today, even professing “Christians,” fear God anymore (Deuteronomy 10:12, 13:4; 1 Chronicles 16:30; Isaiah 8:13; Matthew 10:28; 1 Peter 2:17; Revelation 14:7).
The letter to Thyatira concludes with Jesus telling the faithful that He will reward them for their steadfastness and devotion to Him (2:25-29) and to heed what the Spirit says to the churches. This means that every church that claims to be faithful to Jesus and the Word of God needs to abide by His Word, keep their eyes upon Him, and look forward to our coming redemption (Luke 21:28).
Stay true to Jesus. Rebuke the influences of the world. He is coming soon. We do not need any more churches like Thyatira in the body of Christ. Agreed?