The letter to Thyatira is the longest of the seven letters. Let's kick things off with a theological word definition. This will play a key role in helping us understand Thyatira.
The word is antinomian. It means:
The view that Christians are released by grace from the obligation of observing the moral law.
In 1643 the Church of England condemned antinomianism, stating "no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the command-ments which are called moral. By the moral law, we understand all the Ten Commandments taken to their full extent." Further, The Westminster Confession, foundational to Presbyterianism, holds that "the moral law contained in the Ten Commandments does forever bind all…to the obedience thereof." Let's all park that little history lesson in the back of our wee little brains.
Now for geography. Here's a picture to give some sense of the geography of Thyatira:
Thyatira was a prosperous center for manufacturing and marketing. Its most prominent claim to fame was a much sought after purple dye. Lydia was an entrepreneur and seller of cloth made from this dye. She was originally from Thyatira. She was the first convert on European soil. In fact, Paul established the Philippian church with the help and faithfulness of Lydia. Records specifically note that Thyatira teemed with woolworkers, linen-workers, makers of outer garments, dyers, leather-workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave-dealers and bronze-smiths.
Thyatira was originally founded as an outpost to slow anyone attacking the more important city of Pergamos. Eventually, after many cycles of destruction and rebuilding, once the purple cloth was developed, it became an important, and better protected, city in its own right. Money and prosperity will do that.
That's what we know about Thyatira culturally and economically.
Religiously, Thyatira was kind of, "Meh;" the usual cast of minor pagan
players. Nothing trendsetting or magnetic about their gods and goddesses.
What was bad about Thyatira was what the church allowed to happen. Here's a simple truth you might want to write down:
THE WORLD IS ALWAYS HOSTILE TOWARD THE GOSPEL.
Contrast that with the primary purpose of the church. More than anything else, we are a gathering of God's holy people. We should be known by how we worship and why we worship. Churches exist to exalt righteousness and condemn unrighteousness. Churches should be known for pursuing holiness. We do good. Our lives express the fruit of the Spirit…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The church exists to glorify God, love each other, and love its community. It's as simple as that.
There were two huge ways Thyatira was failing as a church. They were not a church where Jesus Christ was lifted up in the fullness of his glory. And they were not intolerant of sin. Let's look at how that's spelled out in Revelation 2:18-29:
“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
“‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
The letter to Thyatira shows what compromising gospel truth with the world leads to. Thyatira absorbed sin and error, and had no problem with it.
Make no mistake. We are all flawed people. And flawed people make flawed churches. There's no doubt about it. But in most Christians, and in most churches, most of the time, we recognize flaws and error and sin and seek to overcome them and move beyond them. But in Thyatira, flaws were embraced and celebrated and enthusiastically pursued.
It was antinomianism at its finest, before the term had even been coined.
Let's look at verse 19:
I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient
endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.
This is good. Not bad at all. They have been doing good things. The word translated as "service," diakonia, means a "voluntary meeting of needs." That's a good thing. And there was also, hupomon, which is rendered as "patient endurance," which literally means "steadfast endurance which springs from faith." Another really good thing. These people were loving and kind to others. And they had grown in their acts of kindness. There was life in that church.
Here's the kind of church they had become…and there are all kinds of churches like that today. Some churches lean more toward social service agencies than centers of sound Biblical doctrine and God-honoring worship. It should always be that sound Biblical doctrine and God-honoring worship leads to works of righteousness. Getting it wrong puts a church in grave danger.
Verse 19 cleverly sets the stage for a double-barrel, full-bore chastisement and condemnation. It was bad. It was going to hurt. And it should have caused much grief. Let the devastation begin, with verse 20:
But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who
calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.
The danger to the church wasn't external. It was internal. The problem wasn't the worship of some outside god, but the tolerance of some inside false teachers who were bringing in false gods and unbiblical doctrine.
In fact, the false teacher was like Jezebel, from the Old Testament. That is quite the name. Do you know anyone named Jezebel? I'll bet in the history of names, no one has ever been named Jezebel. Jezebel was the wicked queen of Ahab who was just a horrible, horrible person. The pagan religion she promoted engaged in child sacrifice. Lovely. So verse 20, while not claiming these false teachers were exactly like Jezebel, said they were horrible, horrible people.
Verse 20 then makes clear that the false teachers can call themselves prophets all day long, and still, they'd be wrong. It was a horribly manipulative thing to do, and people still do it today. There are pastors and churches and church leaders from certain traditions who claim to speak for God and get a profound word from God, and it's garbage. One guy claimed God gave him a prophetic word that Trump was going to win in 2020. How did that work out? Another pastor, at a large church in Texas, said in his sermon on February 27, 2022 that he was "99% sure Russia was not invading Ukraine." He supposedly got that information from God. Make no mistake. God only speaks to us through His Word. That profound prediction or promotion you're pushing? If it ain't in the Bible, it ain't from God. "God told me…" No, no, no. "The Bible says," and if I look for it and the Bible doesn't say it or if the Bible refutes it, then it's just you talking, not God. People who claim prophecy are selfishly manipulating or grifting or are some kind of sick, twisted, cult leader. In the case of the woman in Thyatira, she made people comfortable with their pagan idolatry and immortality. But I'm sure she was more than happy with their good works.
We have to wonder. How was it possible that someone could come into a church in the first century and convince people that you can live an immoral life and carry on worshiping false gods? How was it possible? It was possible then, and it continues to be possible even today.
Remember antinomianism. She convinced them that pagan expressions of
worship and immorality were okay because we're all sinners, after all, whom Jesus has saved. We can't do any better. We're saved by grace. So don't worry about sin. It's all been taken care of. Grace is like a get out of jail card that you can keep playing over and over and over again. We're in
the flesh. That's the way it's always going to be.
Years ago, a pastor in one of those cities that was right on a state line, claimed he had a special kind of ministry. One day, one of his parishioners driving several counties over in the other state, drove past what he thought was his pastor's car. It had the license plate from their state on it. Only problems was, it was in the parking lot of a gentlemen's club. Don't you love that euphemism? Hardly gentlemanly. It was a strip club.
Well, the next day that church member did what the Bible told him to do. He went to his pastor and asked him about it. And you won't believe what the pastor told him. The pastor said he was developing a ministry to strippers. Now, there's no doubt that strippers need Jesus. But that was the worst and last way it should have been done. He claimed that because he was saved, there was no reason he couldn't begin to develop a relationship with the strippers at the strip club while they were stripping. That was antinomianism at its strippiest.
Back to Jezebel. Somehow she convinced the church that paganism, with
all of its warped manifestations and immorality, was okay. It was fine. We're all sinners. We're saved…we can't get any more saved. That's who we are. We're in the flesh. We were born that way, and that's the way we're going to be.
The next verse is shocking:
Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead.
Now, don't misunderstand. The mention of children does not mean literal children, but the people who follow after her example. This is an example of how, in His sovereign will, God can use sickness and death to draw people away from the path of sin and destruction. What a frightening example for those on the fence about the false teachers. God has ways of reminding the church that we cannot tolerate sin. Repent, before it's too
Finally, there's the last command. This is a beautiful promise from our
But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.
The Lord knows those who are his own. He calls them by name, and they hear his voice. He holds them like precious jewels.
And here's the beauty of it all. The one who holds fast to the gospel endures to the end. The one who is obedient to the teachings of Jesus will be with Jesus in the life to come. Good works give evidence to the fact that one has been called to follow Jesus. In other words, holding fast to Biblical truth demonstrates the genuineness of one's salvation. It is an anti-antinomian reality. "The one who conquers and keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations."
Here's a promise you might want to write down:
YOU WILL REIGN WITH CHRIST. YOU WILL SHARE LIFE WITH JESUS.
In the end, people were being led away from Jesus for a lot of reasons. False teaching. The lure of immorality. A worldview that is not rooted in God's Word. So many pressures on people to abandon the gospel. Yet treasure in heaven awaits those who do not give up or give in.
And so it goes for us. Churches need to look at themselves…we need to look at ourselves…and ask, "Are we tolerating sin? Is there any room for false teaching? How are we responding to immorality?" We're not talking about our corrupt and corrupting culture here. Pagans gonna do what pagans do. We're talking about the church…the place over which gospel truth wields its control. Our primary area of concern is within the church. And Jesus Christ is at our door, with his penetrating gaze…eyes like a flame of fire…ready to make his judgment.
Will he see in us A PLACE OF LIFE AND JOY AND HOLINESS?
SOLI DEO GLORIA…
To the Glory of God Alone