6. The Message to Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29)
“The Church in Compromise”
The City and Its Affairs
Thyatira was smaller than Pergamum and 40 miles southeast, but it too was another city in the Roman province of Asia, in the west of what is now Asiatic Turkey. It passed under Roman rule in 133 B.C. and was an important point in the Roman road system, for it lay on the road from Pergamum to Laodicea.
It was also an important center of manufacture; dyeing, garment-making, pottery and brass-working are among the trades known to have existed there. A large town (Akhisar) still stands on the same site.
The Thyatiran woman Lydia, the ‘seller of purple’ whom Paul met at Philippi (Acts 16:14), was probably the overseas agent of a Thyatiran manufacturer; she may have been arranging the sale of dyed woolen goods which were known simply by the name of the dye. This ‘purple’ was obtained from the madder root, and was still produced in the district, under the name ‘Turkey red,’ into the present century.48
Because of its industry, the city was known for its trade guilds, or organized groups and associations for potters, tanners, dyers and bronze workers. It was particularly known for its wool and dying industry as illustrated in the life of Lydia, a distributor of the purple garments for which this city was famous (Acts 16:14). These guilds created a tremendous problem because it was extremely hard for a merchant to pursue his or her trade without belonging to one of these guilds. To belong to these guilds put a Christian in a compromising position because of the pressure from the guilds to participate in their pagan, idolatrous feasts. “Each guild had its own patron deity, feasts, and seasonal festivities that included sexual revelries.”49
Some of the symbols in the letter to the church (Rev. 2:18-29) seem to allude to the circumstances of the city. The description of the Christ (v. 18) is appropriate for a city renowned for its brass-working (chalkolibanos, translated ‘fine brass’, may be a technical term for some local type of brassware). The terms of the promise (vv. 26-27) may reflect the long military history of the city.50
This church may portray the period of the church during the middle ages and the time of the papacy.
The Christ, The Author and Answer
Again, we are pointed to the Lord Jesus as the issue and answer to every need and problem in life, no matter where we live and what our conditions. Walvoord writes:
In keeping with what follows, Christ is introduced as the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. This description of Christ is similar to that in 1:13-15, but here He is called the Son of God rather than the Son of Man. The situation required reaffirmation of His deity and His righteous indignation at their sins. The words “burnished bronze,” which describe His feet, translate a rare Greek word chalkoliban, also used in 1:15. It seems to have been an alloy of a number of metals characterized by brilliance when polished. The reference to His eyes being “like blazing fire” and the brilliant reflections of His feet emphasize the indignation and righteous judgment of Christ.51
Obviously, this description of our Lord stresses His authority in discipline and judgment as the Son of God, an expression found only here in the book, and the penetrating power of His knowledge along with the swiftness of His judgment. Thyatira was standing in idolatrous compromise and allowing a false authority to supplant the authority of Christ.
The Church and Its Affairs
The Commendation or Approval (19)
As the One who has infinite knowledge of all the affairs of His people, this church is commended for its works and service, and for the fact this had even increased. But please note a contrast which has a special lesson for us. Ephesus had a godly zeal for sound doctrine and holiness (2:12), but she was lacking in devotion and love to Christ—cold orthodoxy.
Thyatira had a definite and even greater ministry of service and endurance, one that seemed to be motivated by faith and love (cf. vs. 19), but Thyatira lacked on the side of zeal for sound doctrine, moral purity, holiness of life, and zeal against false teaching and practice. Obviously, the church needs to have both, it needs a balance or it must eventually lose its testimony and capacity for ministry.
The Condemnation or Ailment (20-23)
The church is strongly rebuked for tolerating a false prophetess with her teaching which promoted immorality and idolatry. She was evidently teaching that a believer’s freedom in Christ allowed them to not only belong to the trade guilds, but to participate in the immoral and idolatrous feasts that very often included cultic prostitution.
Jezebel refers to a literal woman who falsely claimed prophetic powers and who had somehow taken a position of leadership, perhaps because of her unusual gifts. Her actual name was probably not Jezebel, but she was a virtual Jezebel in her actions (1 Kings 16:31-33; 2 Kings 9:30-37). As the Jezebel of the Old Testament enticed God’s servants to abandon their loyalty to the Lord and to participate in her idolatrous practices, so this woman of Thyatira was enticing Christians to abandon their loyalty to Christ and a separated life. Her teaching was probably similar to that of the Nicolaitans.
In His grace, the Lord gave her time to repent, but she had no time nor interest in it. The fact she was called Jezebel suggests she not only was a false prophetess, but an unbeliever. The issue here then was a call to repent in the sense of changing her mind about her present evil course and condition and about her need of Christ so that she would turn to Him in faith.
Verse 22 refers to her judgment for failure to repent. While this refers to a literal judgment God would bring upon this woman, it also forms a prophecy of the Lord’s judgment on those churches which follow her adulterous ways.
“Bed of sickness” forms a sharp contrast between her luxurious and licentious couch of immorality and the pain of God’s divine judgment that awaited her for her rebellion.
“And those who … into great tribulation” simply refers to the severe judgment God would bring on her followers. It should not be taken as a reference to the future unprecedented time spoken of in Matthew 24:21 and literally called, “the tribulation, the great one” in Revelation 7:14.
The adultery mentioned here includes both spiritual adultery (idolatry), and physical adultery (fornication in cultic prostitution). This is the only place adultery is indicated. The fact adultery constitutes a violation of the marriage vow could indicate that some of those who had been seduced by this Jezebel’s teaching were believers, those who had been betrothed to Christ as His bride (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2; Jam. 4:4).
“Unless they repent of her deeds.” Note the change from “they” to “her.” This stresses that their deeds of immorality were really the product of her teaching, example, and error. It reminds us of what a great responsibility those in places of leadership have (cf. Luke 6:40; Jam. 3:1), but also of how we need to be sure that the lives and teaching of our leaders truly line up with the Word of God.
Verse 23 gives the effects. But we need to distinguish between two groups seen in the church at Thyatira. Compare “And I will kill her children” with verse 24 “But I say to you …” In verse 24 the Lord addresses the faithful remnant, those who would not tolerate her and who rejected both her doctrine and her practice. In verse 23, He speaks about those who followed her.
Some see these as unbelievers, mere professing Christians who were totally entangled in her doctrine and practice, but that they were unbelievers seems to me to be an unnecessary assumption as suggested by the use of the term “adultery” and in view of the problems at Corinth (1 Cor. 10-11). Certainly, some may have been only professing Christians, but others were likely to have been true believers, people who had put their faith in Christ, but who had been seduced by this woman’s trickery, and who refused to listen to the truth on this matter so as to repent of their actions.
First, there were those who tolerated her (verse 20). In other words, they rejected her teaching, refused to follow her, and refused to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed to idols. But, contrary to the believers in Ephesus, they refused to deal with her through church discipline. What she was teaching was clearly license versus true Christian liberty. This teaching was contrary to Scripture, but they tolerated her presence rather than deal with the problem.
Second, there were those who were her children—her spiritual progeny. These are referred to in verses 20b-23. Evidently, these were those who accepted her teaching and, like Ahab who was influenced by Jezebel of old, followed her example by participating in the activities of the labor guilds which meant involvement in eating things sacrificed to idols and fornication. Some of these could have been true believers who were judged and died the sin unto physical death (1 Cor. 11:28-32; 1 John 5:16-17).
The Counsel and Admonition
Verse 24. This counsel is to those believers who will hear, repent and break off the compromise. “The deep things of Satan” in verse 24 most likely refers to the false doctrine being taught. They taught moral evil and that its experience was necessary to truly appreciate good. Note the words “as they call them.” They were evidently teaching license as good and bragging about the debts of their sin.
No other burden, i.e., command is placed upon them—they were only to reject Jezebel, and avoid immorality and idolatry. They were then told to hold fast to what they had. This is no minor warning. The tendency of believers is to lose ground rather than hold fast and move ahead.
In verse 25 the words, “what you have, hold fast until I come,” warns against the universal principle that things always tend to degenerate rather regenerate. It’s much like the second law of thermodynamics which simply put says, life goes from order to disorder and not vice versa. Things naturally go downhill unless there is great effort against those forces that, like gravity, tend to pull us downward. So there is always the need to cling to the Lord and hold tightly through a close walk with Him in the Word, regardless of the many blessing we possess in Christ and where we are in our spiritual journey, babe in Christ or mature (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-13; Phil. 3:12-14).
The Challenges and Assurances
Verse 26 speaks of the promises and assurances to the overcomer.
“The overcomer,” as suggested previously, refers to those believers who overcome the specific challenges of these verses and are rewarded for their faithfulness. This is suggested by the exhortation to hold fast in verse 25 and by the words, “who keeps My deeds until the end,” in verse 26.
“And he who keeps My deeds.” “My deeds” undoubtedly refers to Christ’s way of life and to obedience to NT principles and imperatives. To keep Christ’s deeds means to experience Christ’s life and character in contrast to Jezebel’s works. Keeping His deeds is a result of overcoming through the walk of faith and daily fellowship or the abiding life. We must remember that Christ is not calling us to overcome in our own strength, which is really weakness, but to appropriate His strength and power through the knowledge of the Word and by faith. The issue is that of Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” But overcoming is also the basis for special rewards like positions of authority and responsibility the Lord promises believers in the millennial kingdom like authority over nations, etc. Undoubtedly, it is because we overcome in His strength and grace and never by our own strength that we find the elders, representatives of the body of Christ, casting their victors’ stefonos) crowns, (emblems of rewards) before the throne (see Rev. 4:10-11).
Verse 27. After mentioning authority over the nations, the Lord Jesus immediately speaks of return and promises He will return, rule, and reign to remind the overcomers that they will share in all of this with Him at second advent to earth. All believers will be in the reign of Christ and in the kingdom, but not all will share in that reign in the sense of verse 26.
“The Morning Star” is referred to in three passages:
(1) In Revelation 22:16 it is a reference to the Lord Himself.
(2) In 2 Pet. 1:19 is seems to be a reference to the fuller understanding we will receive at the return of the Lord for the church when the Lord is personally present to enlighten us.
(3) In Rev. 2:28 (our passage) the context suggests that in some way it relates to the overcomers and their reward in ruling with the Savior. Perhaps it is the assurance of His presence and provision to be able to handle the authority given over the nations assigned. As a promise to the overcomer, the one who keeps the Lord’s deeds to the end, it can hardly be a symbol of Christ’s return since all believers will share in His return regardless of their spiritual state. Paul teaches us a similar truth in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11. The Apostle shows us that all believers, whether awake (spiritually alert and sober) or asleep (spiritually out of fellowship), will be delivered from the coming wrath of the Tribulation and taken up to be with the Lord if they are living on earth when He returns. It is significant that the words Paul uses for awake and asleep have a moral connotation and are different words entirely from those used in chapter 4:13-17.
More than likely, the key to the meaning of the morning star is found in Revelation 22:16 which says, “I am the root and offspring of David, the bright morning star.” Literally, the text says as in 2:28, “the star, the morning one.” This means the brilliant or bright one, the brightest of all the stars. Note: this links Jesus with the throne of David and describes Christ as the star. Jesus is descended from the royal line of David and is the star, the King himself, who was prophesied in Numbers 24:14-19 as the star who would come out of Jacob and possess the scepter.
The Lord is promising the overcomer that he will share His royalty and splendor as the morning star. First, the Lord said that the overcomer would be given a dominion like His own (cf. 2:27b, “as I have received authority from My Father”), and so here in 2:28, the overcomer will be given a rule and splendor like that of the Lord’s. In this promise, the Lord promises a dominion and a splendor just like His own.
Verse 29 again repeats the familiar call to hear, a call that goes beyond this one church to all the churches. Only here as in all the rest of the messages, the call to hear follows the promises to the overcomers whereas in the previous three letters, it precedes it. Again we see the personal and loving concern of the Spirit of God for His people and His desire that we all respond in faith and obedience.