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Churches of Revelation: Part 5 – Thyatira

The last few weeks we have looked at 3 of the 7 churches in the book of Revelation. The first 3 churches that we examined were on the coast. As we move into the next 4 cities, we’ll start looking at those cities that are inland. The first of these inland cities is Thyatira.

Until around 300 BC, Thyatira was a small and insignificant town. It wasn’t on any major trade routes at the time. It was on one of the lesser roads between Sardis and Pergamum. It eventually became a commercial center, but never a really large city like the previous 3 we looked at.

In this city were two major temples to pagan gods. The first was Tyrimnos. They held games in his honor and his likeness was upon their money. The other deity worshiped there was Sambethe, who some regard as the idol of the Jezebel in Revelation 2:20.

This city was well known for their trade guilds. If you have ever played one of those fantasy RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons then you know about trade guilds. As a matter of fact, I believe that the guilds of Thyatira are what many of these games base their view of guilds. And Thyatira did guilds right! They were more organized than in any other ancient city. Every artisan belonged to a guild and every guild owned its own property and wrote its own contracts. The guilds in Thyatira had more influence than all other guilds in the ancient world.

The two guilds that were the most powerful in this city were the coppersmiths and the dyers. The dyers created a new type of dye that was known only to this city and was highly sought after.  The dyers created a new of that dye is called Turkish Red. In Acts 16:14 we hear of Lydia of Thyatira who sold her dyes in Philippi.

Many of the guilds were associated with Asiatic pagan religions, and therefore, opposed to Christianity. That didn’t stop people like Paul from preaching in Thyatira. Acts 19:10 tells us that inhabitants all over Asia heard the Gospel message associated with Paul. It was taught very early in Christianity that guilds were off limits to Christians because of the pagan practices. Remember this as we analyze the verses around this tiny church in a pagan city.

Revelation 2:18-19 – “Write to the angel of the church in Thyatira: “The Son of God, the One whose eyes are like a fiery flame and whose feet are like fine bronze, says:  I know your works—your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first.

To begin, Jesus immediately calls Himself the Son of God. Many claim Jesus never said He was the Son of God, but here is just one of many places where this is clear. He makes it very clear that His eyes are like “blazing fire.” These are eyes that can burn the false appearance of people. His feet are like “burnished bronze” which can trample evil. Both of these qualities are going to be needed here as this is the most corrupt of the 7 churches in Revelation.

But, Fred, if you read the first few verses about this church, they are doing a lot of great things! How can you tell me they are the most corrupt?

You would be right in saying that there is a lot in this church that is good. Love, faith, service, and perseverance are all good deeds that they are doing. And God even says they are doing more than they first were! Love produces service. Faith produces perseverance. And they are growing in all of it. This church had faith in God and they helped people significantly.

If we were there at Thyatira we would have seen a church that is busy about doing God’s business. They were helping people in the community. They were loving each other. They were persevering in a pagan society. And they had a strong faith.

But there is something below the surface; something that many people aren’t seeing. So God needs to point this out to them. This church, on the outside, looks like the most Christian church of the ones we have studied. But deep down they are the most corrupt of the churches!

Revelation 2:20-23 –  But I have this against you: You tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and deceives My slaves to commit sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols.  I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to repent of her sexual immorality. Look! I will throw her into a sickbed and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her practices.  I will kill her children with the plague.  Then all the churches will know that I am the One who examines minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works.

It is about “Jezebel.”

Now Jezebel is most likely not her real name. Jesus is calling this person Jezebel because she was the most evil woman in the Old Testament. The Revelation Jezebel is a leader in the church in Thyatira. She is someone the people are listening to.

In the Old Testament, Jezebel was the wife of King Ahab of Israel and daughter of the king of Sidon, a town in modern day Lebanon. Jezebel was the reason Israel worshiped Baal. As the fertility god, worship of Baal involved many immoral sexual practices. She spread the worship of Baal among the 10 tribes of Israel with her 800 prophets. She is responsible for trying to kill Elijah after his Mt. Carmel encounter with over half of the Baal prophets. Elijah faced over 400 prophets of Baal with strong courage, but when Jezebel got involved, he ran away. Jezebel in the Old Testament had a neighbor murdered because of coveting his vineyard.

She was immoral.

She was ruthless.

Her life ended when she was thrown from the palace window. After she landed, the dogs came and ate her body and licked up the blood.

The Jezebel in Thyatira was known as a prophetess. She was a leader in the church. Many women were Christian prophetesses. In the book of Acts, for example, Philip’s 4 daughters were all prophetesses. Unfortunately, Jezebel was not spirit-filled. She was a false prophet. She was teaching that it was ok to engage in sexual immorality.

Looking back at the guilds for a moment, these guilds ran almost all of the business throughout the city. In order for Christians to find jobs, they had to join a union, which was forbidden because of their sexual orgies, immorality, and pagan worship.

The Christians had to make a choice.

Jezebel was teaching that it was ok to indulge in the same practices that these guilds were engaging in. She was telling Christians that they should go along with what the world was teaching, God would understand.

This is something Christians today deal with a lot. Many businesses, and I have been affected by this myself, require people to conform to their practices in order to stay employed. I can imagine this same argument happening in Thyatira.

I can just hear Jezebel now, “You need to work. God will understand. You should just do what you need to do in order to join the guilds.”

What about today’s churches?

Many tell us to just accept what the world is teaching in order for us to live at peace with the world. Have you heard the arguments? “The church should change its views on homosexuality.” “The church should be more open to people who have different sexual views.”

If the church begins to compromise biblical standards, then that church’s testimony goes away. There is nothing to set it apart from the rest of the world. So when someone realizes that their life needs a change and they go to a church that has compromised, the only thing that church can provide is more of the same which that person is coming from. That person will not find healing or the truth or the love of God. They will find the same “love” the world has provided. They will find a “truth” not found in the gospel, which is a lie. They will find only death of the spirit, not life.

How does God respond?

He holds the CHURCH accountable.

Yes, it was Jezebel that was leading them astray, but it was the CHURCH that allowed it!

In the previous church, Pergamum, and Thyatira, there is a definite link between both sexual immorality and idolatry. Sexual immorality is clearly spoken against in the Bible. When we engage in it, we go against the authority of God. This leads to God not being the God of their life. This means that the person needs to find another god to fill the void, something else to live for. That is what a god is. It is something that we live for. In this case, it is the god of sexual immorality. But it could very easily be the god of wealth or the god of power or ambition. These gods don’t come in immediately and make themselves known. They take over as time goes on.

Dr. Earl Palmer says it best, “the most subtle challenge to faith does not usually originate in the public amphitheaters but in the daily places where we earn the money we need to live.”

This is what was happening in Thyatira.

And look at the punishment Jesus will give. It happens to three different groups. The first is to Jezebel. Jesus, in some ways sarcastically says, “I will cast her on a bed of suffering.” If Jezebel likes her beds, God is going to give her that. But this bed will be filled with suffering. The next group affected is those who commit adultery with her. He says that they will suffer with great affliction. With sexual immorality there are plenty of ways to suffer with great affliction. Sexually transmitted diseases are just one way, but even beyond that, sexual immorality leads to broken hearts, and those are even a greater affliction than a mere disease. The final group that is affected is those are Jezebel’s children. Those are the ones who not only practice Jezebel’s teaching, but teach it as well. The verse says “I will strike her children dead.” The death that Jesus is talking about spiritual death, the death listed in chapters 20-21 in Revelation. This is the commitment to evil that makes it difficult to repent of sin.

But there is good news. Jesus gives them the opportunity to repent! But if they don’t repent, then those groups will be affected and Jesus says the churches will “know that I am the One who examines hearts and minds….”

Revelation 2:24 –  I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who haven’t known the deep things of Satan—as they say—I do not put any other burden on you.

Jesus says some pretty awesome things in Revelation 2:24. For the first time in the letters to the churches, Jesus mentions his coming. But also in this, we see that he mentions that there are those who are seeking the “Satan’s so-called deep secrets.” When a church begins to move away from Scripture, we find that pagan ritual begins to enter in. People love to feel that they know some deep seeded secret that others do not.

And there are many churches today that have interwoven new age practices or even worldly movements into the church. These are movements that say if you don’t understand their version of the gospel, even when it doesn’t fully line up to Scripture, then you cannot be a member of the Christian community.

Revelation 2:26-27 – The one who is victorious and keeps My works to the end: I will give him authority over the nations— and he will shepherd them with an iron scepter; he will shatter them like pottery—just as I have received this from My Father.

But God knows there are those who have not listened to Jezebel and to them He tells them to simply hold on until He comes. To add to this, He quotes Psalm 2. This reference is to the millennial kingdom. This quote of Psalm 2 talks about Jesus ruling with an iron scepter and dashing them to pieces like pottery. It cannot be the new heavens and new earth because nothing evil can get in there. The millennial kingdom is the time when the saints share reign with Christ. Righteousness will reign. But in the new heaven and new earth, righteousness will dwell. Evil cannot be present with righteousness.

Revelation 2:28 – I will also give him the morning star.

Ending this section about Thyatira, Jesus tells us those who persevere without compromising will be given the morning star. In the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi says that the “Sun of Righteousness will arise.” He will be like the sun rising. Then in Revelation 22:16 Jesus calls Himself “I am the bright and morning star.”

So what this is telling us is that Jesus is going to present Himself to those who love Him before He comes in power and glory. This is a promise of the rapture of the church. He will appear for the true Christ-followers. Now don’t get me wrong, these Christ-followers still fall from time to time. But they repent and get back up. Those who have a true faith will repent.

In closing, Jesus tells us to hear what He has to say about the all the churches. So far we have the following:

  • Ephesus – Don’t lose your first love
  • Smyrna – Don’t fear persecution
  • Pergamum – Trust the Word and stay faithful
  • Thyatira – Avoid sexual immorality and idolatry

All of these messages are just as important today as they were in the first century.

And…

This is a message that the church drastically needs.

The Churches of Revelation: Part 2 – Ephesus

Out of the seven churches in the Revelation, Ephesus makes the most sense. Prior to Christ’s birth, Ephesus went back and forth between being controlled by the Romans and the Bergamian kings. By 4 AD, Ephesus was known for its wealth and luxury. During Augustus’ rule, the population reached 225,000 and the city became the capital of the region. The city continued to thrive after becoming a port city on the Caystros river.

It was a major city in early Christianity. While John planted the church in Ephesus, it was Paul who put it on the map.  When Paul chose this city on his missionary journeys, the city gained in prestige to Christians. Paul worked to evangelize the Ephesians who were worshiping Artemis. The elderly of the city did not accept him, but, over time, Christianity took roots with the youth, who turned it into a major religion in the city. There are also some experts that place the Virgin Mary in Ephesus around 42 AD to settle down for the rest of her life. There is currently a shared Catholic/Muslim holy site that points out her house at the top of Bulbul mountain.

By 1307 Ephesus lost its significance as their port closed and other port cities rose.

The people of Ephesus had both Greek and Roman influence. Ephesians used both sundials and water clocks to be able to tell time. Owning one of those showed a person’s wealth. Typically people woke at sunrise, although the Roman influence with the festivals added a little more color. The Greek population had boys going to school and women most likely not while the Romans sent both boys and girls to school.

Ephesus had a temple dedicated to their goddess, Artemis. Every day there would be animal sacrifices to Artemis. In most Greek cities, Artemis was worshiped as a secondary deity, but in Asia Minor, she was a primary deity. In most Greek cities she is worshiped for her hunting abilities, but in Ephesus, she was worshiped solely for her fertility. This could be a sign of the Roman influence.

John planted the Ephesian church. The disciples believed the larger cities like Ephesus, Smyrna, and Laodicea would help Christianity spread. It is believed that John and Mary traveled together to Ephesus after Jesus entrusted her to John. Around 42 AD, John established the Ephesian church. When Paul came during his missionary journey, he took over the church until he was beheaded outside Rome in 64 AD. At that point, John took the church over again. John died in Ephesus.

During Paul’s journey to Ephesus, he stayed in the city for about three and half years. Under Paul’s leadership, the church in Ephesus became the head church in Asia Minor. The city was filled with magicians, pagans, and a government that was not friendly to Christians. Even with all of that, Ephesus became the third most important city in all of Christendom behind Jerusalem and Antioch. After three and half years, the statue makers, led by Demetrius, who made a living selling silver statues of Artemis, were upset and performed acts of civil disobedience. The city ran Paul out of Ephesus where he went to Macedonia.

So what does Revelation tell us about Ephesus?

The first chapter of Revelation explains that the book was written BY Him FOR Him. This entire book is written to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Each of the seven churches has unique strengths and weaknesses and there is a distinct message to each. The problems addressed in each of the churches are problems that have happened in the church throughout history. This is shown that it is the case when the Lord wants us to make sure we hear what He has to say.

Revelation 2:7 – “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in God’s paradise.

There are multiple ways to analyze Revelation. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.

  • Preterist – The book was fulfilled in the early church. This would mean that the events have already occurred. The thing that is positive about this approach is that it is interpreted in relation to the historical significance in which it was written. Unfortunately, this view diminishes the prophetic nature of the book and turns it simply into a history book.
  • Futurist – This means that the book only deals with end times. If we look at this as an extreme dispensationalist, we would say that these churches are not the churches of the historical day they were in, but only of a future church and can only be applied to churches today. This makes all of chapters 4-22 of Revelation only prophecy and does not include history into it.
  • Continuous Historical – This is the view that says that Revelation is history of the world from the apostolic age until the end of times. While this does see the book as part of history, it opens the interpretation up to subjective views. Most people who fall into this group will view the book of Revelation in light of current events.
  • Idealist – The idealist sees no historical value in the book, but only a symbolic triumph of good over evil.

I am going to try and look at the historical context of the churches and then analyze them in light of future prophecy.

This means that it is appropriate that Ephesus is addressed first. As seen above, it was an amazing city!

Paul’s first visit was short (Acts 18:19-21) and then Apollos also ministered there (Acts 18:24-28). Paul returned and Christianity flourished throughout the city. Because of the passion that the church had to the gospel, the message spread to the region. To this, Demetrius took offense and had Paul removed from the city.

Paul did pass by Ephesus later because he wanted to reach Jerusalem in time for Pentecost. He called for the Ephesian leaders to meet him at Miletus (Acts 20:16). He explained to them the danger about him returning to Jerusalem.  Paul warned the elders that wolves would come among them and drive people away from the church.

Later, when Paul was writing Timothy, he asked him to stay in Ephesus to deal with those who were teaching false doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3-7).  He focused on the qualities of church leadership with Timothy as those who were leading were driving people away from the church.

1 Timothy 1:3-7 –  As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach different doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith. Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Some have deviated from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion. They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.

As we know John lived in Ephesus in his later years of life, John was instructed to write to the angel of the church in Ephesus. There are a lot of different theories about who the “angel” is that is being admonished, but regardless, the topic is the church at Ephesus.

In opening with the verse that explains Jesus as the One who holds the 7 stars and walks among the 7 lampstands, He shows that He walks among His churches. He is in fellowship with them. He is involved in them.

Jesus points out the good and the bad to the church in Ephesus. He points out that the church in Ephesus cannot tolerate wicked people and that they have persevered. They work hard and have good deeds. They have found the false prophets. They have endured and have not gotten tired of persevering.

BUT…

Jesus tells us that they have forgotten their first love; the love of God and the love of people.

Revelation 2:4 – But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first.

How many times have you gone to your church, sat there, and pointed out all the things that are good and bad in your church? Many times we allow our feelings to guide us in what we like and don’t like. Do you like the music? Then it must be a good church. Do you dislike the lack of small groups? It must be a bad church. But that isn’t the case.

I believe God is telling us, by pointing out so many positive points in this, and the other churches, and only a limited number of negative points, that there is really only a few critical things when it comes to being a church community.

In Ephesus, one of those points is remembering your love of God and people.

What does Jesus mean by “your first love?”

It must mean that they had previously had a love that they have left behind. It is easy to say that the primary love they had left behind was for both God and people. And that is partially right.

But I believe that the love Jesus is referring to in this passage is primarily for the people of the church and community.

Why?

First, In Ephesians 4:15-5:2, Paul tells the Ephesians to love one another. The context is an emphasis on the relationship between the community of believers.  Second, in Ephesians 1:15-16, Paul praised the church for their love of one another. Third, in Scripture, we are told that in the last days the love that will be lost is the love for one another (Matthew 24:9-12).

Matthew 24:9-12 – “Then they will hand you over for persecution,and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of My name. Then many will take offense, betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold.

The Ephesian church worked very hard to maintain their doctrinal purity but in doing so, they have passively neglected the love for one another. I could do a word study here that would show the passive nature of the neglect the Ephesians had for brotherly love, but I will leave that for more others who are more well versed with original language.

The consequence for the church continuing to neglect their love of one another would be for the Lord to remove their lampstand. The lampstand is the church’s ability to function as a testimony to the world. Just as Christians are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), the church is a lampstand.  Removing the lampstand could mean that the church’s ability to witness is lost. Please note that this Scripture has absolutely nothing to do with losing your salvation. It is simply the testimony of the church in the world that would be lost.

This is shown in John 13:34-35 when Jesus says:

John 13:34-35 – “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The Christian’s love for one another is a very powerful witness to the presence and power of Christ. If that is taken away, then our power to witness and evangelize is hurt.

The way the church in Ephesus, and consequently the church today, can fix this issue is through the 3 R’s:

  • Remember

Through passive neglect they had forgotten to love one another.  They are called to remember when they had that love.

  • Repent

This goes beyond just grieving. This is a genuine change of heart and mind that results in a change in behavior and overall lifestyle.

  • Renewed Response

Begin to put love into practice once again.

The Ephesian church shows a problem that is common for every church and every Christian. We allow Satan to take advantage of our strengths thereby turning them into weaknesses. The truth of doctrine is important, but doctrine can never be the end in itself. Truth and love should never be separated. Truth needs to be proclaimed in love.

Ephesians 4:15 – But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ.

And love must be proclaimed with truth.

Philippians 1:9-10 – And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you can approve the things that are superior and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ,

We need to remember the church in Ephesus and maintain doctrinal purity, but not at the expense of love.

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