Thyatira: Loving but Corrupted

Thyatira: Loving but Corrupted

Thyatira: Loving but Corrupted.

Please read Revelation 2:18-29.

Thyatira. A blue-collar town, out in the backwoods. A small military outpost of the Empire that has no political importance or significance. The city is known for its commercial activities, with many trades and small businesses. If people wanted to engage with wool-workers, linen-workers, dyers of cloth, leather-workers, or bronze-smiths, Thyatira was the place. This town had more trade guilds than any other city in Asia. There was a wide diversity of pagan religions to choose from in town, many temples in which to worship, but not one being dominant. One thriving business was a famous fortune-telling oracle speaking for the gods. There was also a growing, active little church there, but it was in the process of being corrupted from within. This is Thyatira, in western Turkey, in the latter part of the 1st Century.

Son of God, Son of Man. In Jesus’ introduction to His letter, He first declared Himself Son of God. He wanted to make a direct challenge to the Roman emperor, who had declared himself to be a Son of God. No, Jesus said, there’s only one Son of God, and it’s Me. Then He proceeded to name Himself the Son of Man by referring to Daniel’s visions in Daniel 7 and 10. In Daniel 7 Daniel saw the “Son of Man” and in Daniel 10 he described Him just as Jesus described Himself in this Revelation 2 passage… “His eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze.” We have already seen the vision of Jesus in Revelation 1, in which John described Jesus as having eyes like blazing fire and feet like bronze glowing in a furnace. All the Jewish believers knew their Daniel, and they would have known immediately about the famous vision of the Son of Man. So Jesus explained His identity in these two terms, Son of God and Son of Man. He didn’t want there to be any confusion about who He was, is and will always be.

The Church. Despite its pagan surroundings, the church in Thyatira had many things going for it. Jesus commended the church for its works of service, its love, its faith, and its perseverance despite the pagan environment in the city. Jesus made a special point of saying that the church was growing in all these qualities, it was getting stronger, more effective, and was not staying stagnant.

Jezebel. Despite its many wonderful qualities, Jesus had something against the church. It was being corrupted from within, it was tolerating the presence of a subversive woman who was in the Nicolaitan sect, a group of “liberated” believers who thought it was acceptable to engage in pagan idolatry, sexual immorality, and the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. Jesus called the woman a Jezebel, an historical figure from the Hebrew Bible, who was probably the most evil woman who ever lived. The biblical Jezebel was Ahab’s idolatrous queen who introduced sexual debauchery and Baal worship to Israel (1 Kings 16; 2 Kings 9). God indeed judged Jezebel for her evil influence, and now Jesus is judging this new Jezebel in Thyatira. She is a self-proclaimed prophetess, one who professes to be inspired by God, and she is leading many astray. She is claiming that there are actually no serious consequences to idolatry, to pagan worship, to sexual indulgence. Jezebel leads people to believe that compromising with paganism is acceptable in the life of the church. Jesus will have nothing to do with that evil counsel, and she, as well as all who follow her, are doomed. She won’t repent, which seals her fate. God, who knows the innermost being of all people, even our motivations and secrets, will need to put his universal principle into play… Sorry, Jezebel, but you will reap what you sow.

Trade Guilds. The other constant danger in the spiritual life of the church is that all the members in the assembly who work are tradesmen. Virtually all the working people in town belong to a trade guild, which unfortunately requires some involvement in pagan ritual meals, cultic worship, and perhaps even sexual activity. In fact, trade guild meetings were usually held in temples. Eating meat offered to idols was a constant pressure. As the notes in the NLT version explain it, “Meat sold in the marketplace was likely to have been offered to an idol in one of the many pagan temples. Animals were brought to a temple, killed before an idol as part of a pagan religious ceremony, and eaten at a feast in the temple, or the meat was taken to butchers who sold the meat in the marketplace. The believers wondered if, by eating such meat, they were somehow participating in the worship of idols.” So Christians had to be on their guard to maintain the morals of the Faith, while also keeping their jobs in their trade guilds. If there was one thing that the apostles made clear in their leadership over all the young churches, it was keeping away from sexual immorality and meat sacrificed to idols. They even had to declare an apostolic decree to that effect in Acts 15:28. The Christians were under constant pressure to keep the Faith in the midst of these complicated cultural realities.

Adultery. Down through biblical history, God has considered Himself married to His followers. The people of Israel signed the marriage contract, the ketubah, at Mt. Sinai, and God accepted and ratified it and has been true to those marriage vows ever since. But if believers stray away from these vows and engage in idolatry of any kind, God calls it adultery. Following other gods is considered spiritual adultery in the eyes of God. Hear the word of the Lord in Hosea 2:16, 19: “In that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘my husband.’ I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord.” And Jeremiah describes adultery this way: “You have lived as a prostitute with many lovers – Would you now return to me? Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? Like a wife who commits adultery, Israel has worshiped other gods on every hill and under every spreading tree. Return faithless Israel, declares the Lord. ‘I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful,” declares the Lord. ‘I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt; You have rebelled against the Lord your God; You have scattered your favors to foreign gods under every spreading tree, and you have not obeyed me,’ declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 3:1, 6, 12-13). Every Christian in Thyatira would have these words ringing in their biblical memories as they fought to stay faithful to God in their spiritual marriage to Him.

Morning Star. This is the gift Jesus has offered, the gift of Himself, the Morning Star. This particular star appears in the sky when darkness is complete, when the sky is at its darkest. The Morning Star is the promise that dawn will be coming soon, that the light of day will appear. The Morning Star is the “Dayspring from on high” (Luke 1:78), the star that will spring the day forward. The Morning Star is the “star out of Jacob”  (Numbers 24:17), that will bring light to a dark world. When you see the Morning Star just hours before the dawn, “you know the night has been defeated. For the Morning Star pulls the morning in behind it, just as certainly as Jesus pulls the Kingdom in behind Him.” (Darrel Johnson). And as Sheridan Larson says, “With His train of glory, He is pulling in the Dawn of the New Day. He says to us ‘I am coming.’ On the way. Look up – See my Star in the Darkness, know that I’m on the move!'” Jesus is the Morning Star, bringing the promise that light will shine in the darkness, that John’s promise in John 1:9 is true, that He is “the true light which gives light to every person coming into the world.” The Morning Star is also called the “star of the dawn,” the last star of the night, the first star of the morning. Jesus is the Morning Star, and the darkness will not overcome it. Referring to his eye witness of the Transfiguration, Peter said, “We couldn’t be more sure of what we saw and heard – God’s glory, God’s voice. The Prophetic Word (“This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of all my delight.”) was confirmed to us. You’ll do well to keep focusing on it. It’s the one light you have in a dark time as you wait for daybreak and the rising of the Morning Star in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19, Message).

2 Replies to “Thyatira: Loving but Corrupted”

  1. This blog entry is fascinating in terms of its history and critical lessons therein from the little church in Thyatira. “ Loving but corrupt” is chilling and very instructive to us as the church today.
    I particularly love the description of the Morning Star. I believe I’ve seen it in the sky in the very early hours of the morning, before dawn. It does represent light, a new dawn and focusing on it, as you aptly recommended, gives great hope .
    Thank you, Steve ( and Sheri:))

  2. This is so wonderful, Steve! Such a classic mix of study and worship that you (and Sheri) share with so many of us. Thank you!