seven letters  thyatira part I

So far, we've looked at three of the seven letters that Jesus sent to different churches as recorded for us in the Biblical book of Revelation. The fourth of these seven letters is the one that Jesus sent to the church that was located in the city of Thyatira (pronounced "thy-a-tie-ra"). Although Thyatira was the smallest of the seven churches that Jesus wrote to in the book of Revelation, this church actually received the longest letter from Him.

The city of Thyatira was located off a secondary road between the cities of Pergamum (whose church got the letter that we looked at last time) and Sardis (whose letter we'll see next). While there's evidence to show that there was some industrial and commercial activity in Thyatira at the time that Jesus sent this letter, it doesn't really seem like Thyatira was a very important city in those days. And while Thyatira also had it's share of false religious worship and trade-guild activity like the city of Smyrna that we looked at earlier, it also doesn't appear that the Christians there received the same type of heavy-duty religious persecution that the church at Smyrna did. 

Nevertheless, Jesus' letter to this church reveals that it had a mixture of some good things and some not-so-good things just as we saw earlier in His letters to the churches at Ephesus and Pergamum...

"To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first" (Revelation 2:18-19 NIV).

The church at Thyatira had four terrific qualities that Jesus mentions here: love, faith, service and perseverance (or patient, cheerful endurance). While Jesus praised the Christians at Pergamum for their faith and gave His approval to the church at Ephesus for their perseverance, the Christians in Thyatira had both of these qualities- and they were increasing in them! Unlike some of the other churches that received letters from Jesus in the book of Revelation, it certainly appears that the Christians in Thyatira had the right motivation, the right attitude, the right actions and the right character. These people clearly weren't motivated by some phony religious commitment; in fact, Thyatira is the only church among the seven that Jesus praises for it's love!

Unfortunately, it seems that some of that love may have been expressed in the wrong way…

"Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols" (Revelation 2:20 NIV).

The word "tolerate" as Jesus uses it above means to permit, to allow and not to hinder. Knowing this, we can say that the Christians in Thyatira weren't fooled or tricked by these false teachings but knowingly tolerated or allowed some very wrong things to go on in the church. 

Now we should be clear that "tolerance" is something that's very important when talking about things like freedom from bigotry or the ability to be patient and fair with others. (1)  In fact, the Bible supports this concept of tolerance in Scriptures like Titus 3:2 where we're told that Christians "...must not speak evil of anyone, nor quarrel, but be gentle and truly courteous to all" and Ephesians 4:2 which says that Christians should also "Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love."

The problem is that people today can make the same kind of mistake that the Christians in Thyatira did by mixing-up this concept of "tolerance" with the idea that people should automatically permit or accept any kind of attitude or belief that others may have. The issue with this idea is that it overlooks the fact that real love may sometimes involve being intolerant of those things that can bring harm to others. 

You see, even though the Christians in Thyatira were commended for their love, that still didn't make it right for them to tolerate someone in the church who claimed to speak for God but misrepresented Him by teaching that it was OK to do things that the Scriptures warned against and act in a way that dishonored Him. In this case, it would have been better for the church leaders in Thyatira to speak the truth with an attitude of humility and love by correcting the person who brought these false teachings rather than just tolerating them and letting them continue.

Now the center of this whole problem was someone whom Jesus refers to as "Jezebel" in verse 20. This name should be familiar to anyone who has read the Old Testament given the fact that a very dangerous woman with the same name is mentioned several times there. In fact, it almost seems like every time this lady Jezebel is mentioned in the Bible, something bad happens. For instance, here's one example from the book of 1 Kings, chapter 21... 

"Naboth, a man from Jezreel, had a vineyard on the outskirts of the city near King Ahab's palace. One day the king talked to him about selling him this land. 'I want it for a garden,' the king explained, 'because it's so convenient to the palace.' He offered cash or, if Naboth preferred, a piece of better land in trade. But Naboth replied, 'Not on your life! That land has been in my family for generations.' So Ahab went back to the palace angry and sullen. He refused to eat and went to bed with his face to the wall!"

"'What in the world is the matter?' his wife, Jezebel, asked him. 'Why aren't you eating? What has made you so upset and angry?' 'I asked Naboth to sell me his vineyard or to trade it, and he refused' Ahab told her. 'Are you the king of Israel or not?' Jezebel demanded. 'Get up and eat and don't worry about it. I'll get you Naboth's vineyard!'" 

"So she wrote letters in Ahab's name, sealed them with his seal, and addressed them to the civic leaders of Jezreel, where Naboth lived. In her letter she commanded: 'Call the citizens together for fasting and prayer. Then summon Naboth, and find two scoundrels who will accuse him of cursing God and the king. Then take him out and execute him.' The city fathers followed the queen's instructions. They called the meeting and put Naboth on trial. Then two men who had no conscience accused him of cursing God and the king; and he was dragged outside the city and stoned to death. The city officials then sent word to Jezebel that Naboth was dead. When Jezebel heard the news, she said to Ahab, 'You know the vineyard Naboth wouldn't sell you? Well, you can have it now! He's dead!'  So Ahab went down to the vineyard to claim it" (1 Kings 21:1-16).

Man, how cold is that!? Anyway, there's more to the story but you get the point- this lady was bad news. 

So here we have a woman in the church at Thyatira who duplicated the same kind of attitude as this woman Jezebel did in the Old Testament. She was the kind of person who encouraged immorality and idolatry under the cover of "religion" while still claiming to be a spokesperson for God. But Jesus is about to deal with this so-called "prophet"- and that's a story to be continued next time!

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(1) Webster's Handy College Dictionary

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Except as indicated, all Scriptural references taken from The Living Bible, 1971, Tyndale House Publishers


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