And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass; I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.
Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.
And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.
Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.
And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.
And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
Every true church of Christ has strengths and weaknesses. This was true of the church in Thyatira. She had attractive strengths and repulsive weaknesses. It is good for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ to consider her strengths and give thanks to God for them, and to consider humbly her weaknesses and repent before God of them. May the word of Christ to the church of Thyatira guide our consideration of strengths and weaknesses in the churches of our readers.
Before looking at her glaring weaknesses, notice that Jesus begins by addressing her strengths: “I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first” (v. 19). Why does Jesus do this? He values the good found in the church because He is the source of this good. Failing to see the strengths is a failure to see His work in the church. The Lord Jesus Christ pours out His Spirit on the church enabling her to do good. Therefore, this good must not be brushed aside or ignored even when there are substantial weaknesses.
If this is the way Jesus deals with the weaknesses in the church, should we not deal with them in the same way? Let us take inventory of the strengths found in the churches of which we are a part and thank our Savior for them. Then address the glaring weaknesses with God’s Word in humility and all seriousness, while avoiding two ditches. The one ditch is ignoring the weaknesses in the light of the strengths. The other ditch is ignoring the strengths to address only the weaknesses.
What strengths do you see in your church and denomination? Take some time to thank God for the strengths of the church and churches to which you belong.
From the description of Thyatira’s strengths in verse 19, we would say, “This is a church where I want my membership.” This church showed in many respects that it was a vibrant, healthy body of Christ. She loved Jesus Christ although she suffered for it. This love of Christ was demonstrated in a fervent love for her fellow church members. Her love of Christ produced service. And her faith produced patience. In suffering, the members trusted in God’s promises and patiently waited upon Him. This church was not stagnant but growing in love and patience—“and the last to be more than the first.” This means they were growing in love and faith together. This was the result of Christ’s work in them through the faithful ministry of the Word. So far so good.
Is this true for the church and denomination where you are a member? May there be found in our churches love and faith that are ever reaching higher to Christ. Where it is found let us thank and praise our Savior profusely.
The church in Thyatira, however, had a disturbing and glaring weakness: unholiness. The list of strengths in verse 19 does not include holiness. This is serious omission because a chief characteristic of the bride of Christ is holiness. We affirm this every time we speak the words of the Apostles’ Creed, confessing that we believe “an holy, catholic church.” This church was tolerating horrible immorality that threatened to permeate the entire church.
This church was influenced by the immorality of the city of Thyatira. This city was a trading center located on a busy trading route. This city was booming economically because of her successful textile and metal industries. The workers in these industries were organized into trade guilds that were stronger than the labor unions of our day. If a man wanted to work in Thyatira, he must belong to one of these guilds. But there was a great danger for Christians who belonged to these guilds. These guilds were connected to idolatry. Each of these guilds had idol gods they worshiped. The worship of the idol gods included feasts dedicated to idols that the workers were required to attend. These feasts included sexual orgies. Intertwined with work was idolatry and sexual immorality. This was life in the city of Thyatira.
Christ had something against the church: she tolerated Jezebel. By tolerating Jezebel she tolerated fornication and idolatry! Jezebel was an actual woman who lived in that city, but this was most likely not her real name. This is the name Jesus gives her to warn the church of the seduction and wickedness of this woman. You will remember that Jezebel was the wicked wife of Ahab who introduced Baal worship in the northern kingdom of Israel. An important element of Baal worship was cultic prostitution. Baal was, supposedly, the god of fertility who made the crops grow. So sexual pleasure was part of Baal worship because it pictured agricultural fertility and financial success. The name Jezebel stands for seduction to idolatry and sexual immorality.
This woman in Thyatira told the church members to indulge in the sexual immorality and idolatry of the trade guilds in the city (v. 20). She would have said something like this, “What is a little sexual immorality and idolatry when you have to feed your families?” Within the church she encouraged the eating of foods offered to idols, indulging in sexual immorality, and having a good time in the name of feeding their families.
Sadly, this church tolerated this immorality and idolatry. We learn from verses 22 and 23 that there were those in the church who did what Jezebel said and the church did nothing about it. The pastor did not preach against the immorality of the city. The members and elders did not follow the steps of discipline found in Matthew 18 with those walking in this idolatry and sexual immorality. Instead, they ignored it.
What must we learn from this weakness of the church in Thyatira?
First, we learn that Satan has many weapons in his arsenal. He attacks the church with false doctrine. He attacks the church with persecution. In Thyatira he attacked the church with the wickedness of the world through the temptress Jezebel. This is one of the ways Satan attacks the church today. We must be aware of the danger of false doctrine and the attack of persecution. But we must not ignore Satan’s deadly weapon of worldiness.
Second, a danger for the church today is idolatry. Not the idolatry of bowing down to the statue of a fat man or a cow. Yet, idolatry is a problem in the church because, as Calvin said, our hearts are idol factories. The sin of idolatry is the sin of placing anything before God in our lives. It is the sin of trusting in something other than God. This has been and continues to be a problem in the church. We should take some time to examine our own hearts. We can do so with heart-piercing questions like the following:
Third, one of the greatest dangers the church faces today is the sin of sexual immorality. This is especially true because of the danger of pornography in our day. Our culture is saturated with sexual immorality, which can affect the way the church views sex. One danger is that a church that loves Christ and His truth and loves the members of the church begins to depart from what the Bible says about sexuality and marriage. This begins with the acceptance of divorce for reasons other than adultery and desertion. The next step down this road is that the church reexamines its stance on homosexuality. But this departure is not the only danger. There is the ongoing danger that the sexual immorality and filth of this world enters our homes by means of our screens. What about in our homes? Do we entertain ourselves with the movies promoting idolatry and sexual immorality? Are we so naive to this danger that we have no accountability and blocking software on the devices in our homes and in our pockets? If this is the case, then Christ has a word not only for Thyatira, but also a word for us. A warning!
Christ in this letter announces judgment for those who do not repent. He announces this by declaring who He is. He is the Judge, the Son of God! In the Roman empire, Caesar had stolen this name calling himself the son of god. Jesus takes back His rightful name saying, “This is not Caesar’s title, but mine. I am the Son of God.”
He has eyes like flames of fire. Nothing escapes His eyes. Nothing is hid from Him. He sees all that we do, think, and desire. There is no escaping the gaze of the Son of God.
His feet are like fine brass or bronze. This refers to the brilliance and judgment of the Son of God. With these feet He tramples those who will not repent of their sins.
The Son of God sends judgment on those who refuse to repent. Notice that Jesus is not specifically calling the church to repent. He called Jezebel and her followers to repent, but they did not. Therefore, the Son of God will judge them.
The judgment is severe. He will cast her into bed. This is a play on words since sexual immorality is usually committed in bed. Jesus promises to send her to the bed of sickness and death. This does not mean she will become sick, but the Son of God will send a tribulation worse than the persecution that comes for those who are not part of the guilds in Thyatira.
And the Son of God will kill her children with death. This refers to the followers of this evil seductress. This death they will face is the wrath of God. Think of the brutal death of Jezebel and her children at the hands of Jehu. The Son of God is declaring that such judgment will fall on those who do not repent!
With this warning of judgment, the Son of God is calling the church to repent. So let us examine ourselves with this Word of God and repent of our idols and sexual immorality. I have idols to repent of and you have idols to repent of. There are so many of them. Those who are struggling with sexual sins, repent. Confess your sin to God and turn in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let us do so in the assurance of what we read in Isaiah 55:6, 7, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”