The agora at PergamumTo 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. 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. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold on to what you have until I come. To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations.”

‘He will rule them with an iron scepter;
he will dash them to pieces like pottery”

just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Revelation 2:18-29

This is fourth of seven articles on the seven cities mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3.
Part I: Ephesus
Part II: Smyrna
Part III: Pergamum

Thyatira, the fourth of the seven churches written to by the Apostle John, is seated on the Lycus River, approximately 40 miles east of Pergamum. It was a city founded on trade, producing its own wool and royal purple cloth. Historical records show that Thyatira was home to several powerful trade guilds, all of which paid allegiance to one or more of the patron gods of the city: Tyrimnos and the Roman Caesar – both of whom were considered to be sons of Zeus – the father of all other gods. As such, it is interesting to note that the letter to Thyatira opens this way:

These are the words of the Son of God…

This is the only one of the seven letters to refer to Jesus by His title “Son of God”, perhaps in direct defiance of the worship practices in the city.

To be a member of one of the many trade guilds, you were required to participate in the guild banquets. In these banquets, all meat and wine were sacrificed to Tyrimnos and/or the particularly god associated with that guild. All those in attendance had to eat and drink – honoring their patron – and they were also expected to participate in the other “festivities”, which were often public and sexual in nature. So, it would be somewhat of an understatement to say that being a Christian and a guild member in Thyatira, at the very least, provided a challenge to one’s witness – but we know of at least one, Lydia, who became a believer after meeting Paul.

Christians in Thyatira who did not belong to one of the guilds were also faced with many challenges. Should they buy and sell from spiritually corrupt guilds? If they spoke out against the practices of the guilds, they risked economic – if not physical – persecution. Additionally, since Thyatira had no natural defenses but was strategically important, there was always a strong military presence that was sympathetic to the pagan practices of the city. This, combined with the strength of the guilds, led Thyratira to be much more secular that the other cities in John’s letter.

Who is Jezebel?

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. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

It is likely that ‘Jezebel‘ in this passage is a symbolic figure in Thyatira and not a physical one. Jewish Christians in Thyratira would recognize her name as being one of the most reviled in history, on par with bringing up the name ‘Hitler’ for comparison today. Her primary sin, outlined in the Annals of the Kings, was that of leading the Israelites into worship of Baal and Ashteroth, the fertility deities (sexual and economic) of Palestine.

From the context of the passage and the culture to which it was written, it would be reasonable to infer that the warning to those in Thyatira was to avoid becoming so enmeshed in the systems of their culture (economic, political and religious) that they began worshiping the ‘gods’ that supported them. Even more importantly, it is the leading of others to this sin that garnered these first century ‘Jezebels’ the level of condemnation received in this letter. In fact, it is very similar to the curse given by Jesus in the synoptic gospels against those who would lead His “little ones” into sin!

How hard was it to hold onto your faith and maintain your witness in Thyatira? Just maintaining the basic needs of food, water, clothing and shelter – because these all came from the guild system, along with the money to pay for them – must have been an incredible hardship for those Christians. Our clue to this is in the next passage:

Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold on to what you have until I come.

Then, possibly in reference to the purple cloth made in Thyatira – a symbol of royalty in the ancient world, he makes this promise:

To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations”

‘He will rule them with an iron scepter;
he will dash them to pieces like pottery”

just as I have received authority from my Father.

As a footnote, it should be known that Thyatira became one of the major centers of Christianity within 200 years of receiving this letter, its people having ‘overcome’ those influences Jesus, through John, warned them about.

So What?

From the context of the message given to Thyatira, I believe the key message to those of us in western society today is this: We live in a wealthy culture, where the gods of our world – sex, money and power – are worshiped, and in many parts of corporate America, require a level of loyalty that is idolatry. For me, it is my challenge to live in a corporate world – a world where people need Christ as much as anyone – and to abstain from the value system that makes these ‘gods’ supreme – even if it costs me my livelihood. When faced with decisions that make good business sense but poor moral sense, I must decide against the business. (I praise my Father in Heaven daily for putting me in a company where the “right” decision (at least where I have had influence) has always been the right decision.)

Christ’s message to the church at Thyatira is relevant to me today, as well, as I counsel my son – who will be entering college next fall – and others on the ‘world of work’. it is also a warning to me that, should I fall into worshiping the cult of money and power and if I influence others to do the same, my fate will be that of Jezebel.

I don’t know about you, but that millstone looks awfully uncomfortable as neckware…

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 10th, 2009 at 8:20 pm and is filed under Devotional. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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3 Comments(+Add)

1   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
February 11th, 2009 at 10:11 am

Again – a very important post here. Thanks.

I especially feel challenged by this statement:

For me, it is my challenge to live in a corporate world – a world where people need Christ as much as anyone – and to abstain from the value system that makes these ‘gods’ supreme – even if it costs me my livelihood. When faced with decisions that make good business sense but poor moral sense, I must decide against the business.

In reading this I was reminded of Asaph’s honest confusion in Psalm 73 – an amazing and highly relevant psalm with a great ending.

Especially in light of the current economy that will be further shaken to its core, it is important that we find our strength, peace and life in the Lord.

2   Brett S    
February 12th, 2009 at 6:04 pm

Chris L,

I finally had a chance to read this; sometimes you make my brain hurt (in a good way!)

as I counsel my son – who will be entering college next fall

I didn’t realize you had a son that age. The oldest of my3 is only 5, and I take seriously the job of counseling them (a job that is rapidly draining the energy out of me).

I look forward to them maturing, but the thought does bring me fear. Thanks, for being a good and wise example. (something not always easy to find)

3   Rick Frueh    http://http?//followingjudahslion.com
February 13th, 2009 at 7:12 am

“it is also a warning to me that, should I fall into worshiping the cult of money and power and if I influence others to do the same, my fate will be that of Jezebel.”

And this is the most blatant, and yet the most ignored, cultural strnglehold upon the western church. In the most orthodox of evangelical churches lives a spirit of hedonism including huge cars, huge houses, huge term insurance policies, expensive vacations, large stock portfolios, closets stuffed with clothes, hundreds of monthly dollars spent in eating establishments, hundreds of monthly entertainment dollars, and houses full of all sorts of expensive furniture and electronic equipment. And the church building itself is a study in plush carpeting, wonderful architecture, state of the art audio/visual equipment, comfortable pews, massive air conditioning systems, and inflated budget requirements.

And this same orthodox church might very well dismiss someone like Shaine Clairborne as a nut case hippie that is detached from reality. There are none so blind as those who will not see. But most times these same blind churches say “We see”. The sin remains.