4. Thyatira

Thyatira is probably the most complex of The Seven, in that dealing with an explanation of all that it represents involves a great deal of research to ensure what is written is right. Clearly, the church at Thyatira was a real church that existed from somewhere between either Paul preaching the gospel to Lydia in Acts chapter 16 or Paul’s lengthy ministry in Ephesus outlined in chapter 19, until approximately AD 200, when it was no more. But, Thyatira also reveals an age of church history which stretched from around AD 600 to AD 1500, known as the Papal Age. Curiously enough, secular historians refer to the same period as the Dark Ages. And, if it represents the Papal Age, then Thyatira also should be seen as a church still functioning under the guise of Catholicism. You can see the complexities that must be unravelled in order to see exactly what Y’shua (Jesus) was addressing when He wrote to the angel of the church at Thyatira.

I think it prudent to remind myself here that all prophecy from the Living God has certain qualities which act as kind of verification. Firstly, the is always a ‘right now’ application. That is to say that in the case of the letters written to the seven churches of Asia Minor, there is, for each, a message that must be heard at the time of writing. There will also be a message for the future, telling of either future events or signs that mark events. And, often but not always, that message for the future will also be a foreshadowing of an event from the End of Days.

With the letters to The Seven, and the revelation of Y’shua the Mashiyach (Messiah) that follows, we have been given what appears to be a deeply complex set of prophecies, warnings, and promises. However, it is clear that Y’shua wanted these things to be understood by all of His church, and therefore, any mystery that shrouds His words is not placed there by Him, but by His enemy.

We fail to understand the things of God only when we fail to ask His Holy Spirit to reveal them to us. The message to the church at Thyatira is complex to anyone’s cursory glance, but with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can remove the veil that hides the simple meanings of the deeper things of God.

And so, a prayer before I even begin to type the words that follow. I pray that God will enlighten the eyes of your heart to see His light in the words of the revelation of Y’shua. I ask that His words would rest in your heart and find a place to grow there, and produce fruit enough to share with others. Amen.

I have spent some time thinking about and praying on this particular letter. Sometimes, before I type these things up, I have all the words in my head already. Occasionally, the words don’t come until I start typing. With Thyatira there is so much to cover; so much background to the city itself, that I find myself having too many words. This one needs to be written with discernment over what is useful to a greater understanding of who God is, and what will simply crowd the simple message.

So, some background. Thyatira still stands today. It is a smallish city of around 25,000 inhabitants in modern day Turkey. Today it is famed for its woven carpets but back at the end of the first century when John recorded the revelation, it was particularly famed for its production of purple dye.

My understanding is that the purple dye was produced from two sources – one a small marine creature; and the other, a plant material. Both methods of extracting the dye were labour intensive and, therefore, expensive. The dye itself was used in the production of thread and linen that appeared to have a widespread appeal and market. To confirm this, we can turn to the book of Acts (chapter 16:11-15) to find the account of Paul and his companions and their encounter with Lydia, who was a dealer in purple cloth from Thyatira. The encounter took place in Philippi in Greece, which is several hundred miles away. It is possible that this encounter may well have led to the establishment of the church at Thyatira because the record states that Paul and his companions were clearly persuaded to ‘come and stay’ at her house. Of course, it may be unrelated to the establishment of any church at Thyatira, but we can be confident that Paul would have been instrumental in all of the churches of that particular region because of what it says further on in the book of Acts:

“This (teaching in the synagogue in Ephesus) went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks (that is, everyone) who lived in the province of Asia (Minor) heard the word of the Lord.” [Acts 19:10 NIV (my brackets)]

Thyatira, according to other historical records, was also a highly significant place for guilds. Today, the closest with have to guilds is really work-place unions whose design is to protect the rights of the worker. Back then, the guilds appear to have a different role. Using the example of Lydia’s trade of purple cloth, it is likely that she belonged to a guild whose members were exclusively attached to that particular trade. The guild probably covered all aspects of purple, from its extraction as a dye, to the manufacturer of the thread; the weaving into cloth; and the sale and distribution. Each guild had its own deity that it honoured and worshipped. There would have be regular feasts and meetings in which homage was paid to these deities. There would have been idols representing the deities. They would have offered food and drink as sacrifices to the idols, and, in many cases, sexually immorality would have been part of the ritual.

In a place like Thyatira – a stronghold for such guilds, it would have been almost impossible to trade or work in any kind of industry without being a part of a guild. And, if you were a part of a guild, then your continued membership would have been linked to your involvement in the rituals and feasts. A Christian would have faced a daily dilemma of choosing the teaching of God, which tells us not to be involved in any kind of idol worship, and continuing to be able to earn money to live upon. Quite a dilemma. And one which explains much of Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth – another city in which the trade guilds were a powerful force.

Today, it is hard to relate to the idea of idol worship. This doesn’t mean that it has died out. It hasn’t. It simply means that Satan has changed the disguise that it wears in order to make it as acceptable today, as it was back when the guilds were so influential. We shall come onto this a little further on.

There is a great deal more that we can learn about the historical backgrounds for Thyatira, and the other six churches of Asia Minor, but I am going to leave that to your own mind to decide to find out more. The background to the guilds provided useful insight to the language that Y’shua uses in His letter to the church at Thyatira for me. I hope it will also help you to see the same.

In my research of Thyatira I listened to a couple of lengthy teachings from a famous Bible teacher. He espoused, like many others do, that the letters to The Seven weren’t written to angels but to messengers or pastors. I have to say that, for me, this is dangerous ground. I am not a legalistic, ‘letter of the law’, type of person in any way. But, when it comes to the book of Revelation, I take seriously the warnings of chapter 22:18-19. If Y’shua had meant pastor or messenger, He would have made sure that John recorded it correctly. The text (written in Greek) used the word angelos, which is transliterated from Aramaic and Hebrew. We know that both John (Yochanan in Hebrew) and Y’shua were Hebrews. They spoke in Aramaic. The apostle Paul confirms that the risen Y’shua spoke to him in Aramaic on the road to Damascus (see Acts 26:14). It is right to assume that when Y’shua gave His revelation to John, that He did so in Aramaic – the natural tongue of both men. It was then written down in Greek, probably not by the hand of John, but by a scribe who would have transliterated the Hebrew or Aramaic words into Greek, which was the common written language throughout the Roman empire. The Aramaic word which would have been used, and from which angelos is transliterated, is mal’ak. It literally means messenger from God. In today’s usage, it suits us to render it in English as pastor. But, as always, we need to get the right context from the text in order to understand the true message.

So, when Y’shua told John to write to the ‘angel of the church in Thyatira’, I do believe that He was addressing this to a real angel – the guardian of that particular church, for the purposes of the angel, who cannot be in two places at once, knowing what the will of God is for the congregation that the angel was charged with overseeing.

Let’s work our way through the actual letter.

“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.” [Revelation 2:18 NIV]

The letter is clearly addressed to the angel of the church, implying that each church that Y’shua establishes and builds upon has an angel overseeing God’s work. In order to verify to the angel that the message is indeed from God, Y’shua reveals something of Himself that the angel would be able to recognise. The angel would know this description of Y’shua personally from being in the throne room of heaven. Each of the seven letters begins with this kind of verification of who Y’shua is and confirming that He is the author. Whilst we can readily accept that Y’shua is the Son of God, I don’t know of anyone who has personally seen His eyes or feet. This description of Him would have been immediately recognised by an angel, for an angel can pass between the seen and unseen worlds.

The letter continues with the attributes of the church that are favoured by Y’shua. I like to think that He is responding to their prayers in His opening remarks. Imagine that during their prayers to Him that they have reminded Him of their good deeds, and their love for others, and their faithfulness to Him. Imagine now that before Y’shua, who is just, there stands a balance scale and that, as we pray, he adds our good points to the positive side of the scale and our bad points to the negative side of the scale. If the positive side outweighs the negative side, He will answer our prayers, because He is just. If, however, the negative side outweighs the positive, how can He possibly answer our prayers and remain just?

“I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” [verse 19]

This is good. Y’shua, whose eyes of fire, see everything and He knows the good they have been doing, as well as the love they have for one another. He knows that they trust in Him faithfully, probably for provision, and that they serve Him, even in the face of opposition. Then He goes even further to say that He recognises that they are better at the things they do, than they were when they first started. This is a church learning to do God’s will; who know what it is to practice faith and deeds, in love and perseverance. If any of today’s churches heard directly from Y’shua similar words they would be greatly encouraged by them. The positive side of the scale is weighed down heavily.

But…time to add to the other side of the scale:

“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.” [verses 20-23]

And that tips the scales in the other direction.

Now, there is a lot here, so I am going to go through it a bit at a time in order to show exactly what Y’shua is talking about.

With the first three churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos, Y’shua describes pressures that are outside the walls of the church – take you time to re-read them and you will see what I mean. With Thyatira, however, what He has against them is within the church.

It is unclear whether the name Jezebel points to someone actually called Jezebel – it would be unusual for a parent to name a child by that particular name, but Y’shua’s meaning by using the word is a clear reference to the person of Jezebel, who is found in the Old Testament. We shall come onto her shortly.

What is very clear is that this Jezebel had not only been given a platform (you tolerate that woman Jezebel), but she was a self-proclaimed prophetess. Only God, and He alone, appoints His prophets. It is fairly easy to weed out the false from the real in this day and age. The false prophet will always promote themselves. Any who claim to be a prophet themselves, treat with caution. God may well speak through them at times, but to call oneself a prophet is a dangerous business. The accolade of their status of prophet is only valuable, in my mind, if another true follower of God declares them to be so. Beware of self-proclaimed prophets (and prophetesses) who make such claims, particularly if they are using the internet and social media to do so.

And here, in Thyatira, we encounter one who is tolerated by the church; who is clearly amongst the ranks of the congregation; who is allowed to teach; and whose teaching is allowed to go unchecked. And not only that, but Y’shua’s own servants (literally, those whom He bought at a price) have been led into sin.

The real problem that Y’shua is addressing in this church is not the outside influences such as Satan’s throne, or the synagogue of Satan, or persecution, which we saw with previous churches. No, it is that this church has allowed sin to be tolerated within its own number.

If we take a look at Y’shua’s very first instruction to His church, found in Matthew 18, you will see just how He expects us to behave towards sin amongst the church.

“If you brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses’ (Deuteronomy 19:15). If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan, or a tax collector.” [Matthew 18:15-17 NIV (my brackets)]

Obviously, this church didn’t put this into practice. And, just take a good look around, because the modern church has a very similar policy to those at Thyatira – we tolerate sin amongst us.

But, before we all rush to the judgement of others, let us take a look at how it might have gotten to this state that Y’shua challenges.

It may have started with this Jezebel getting a word of knowledge or speaking some prophetic words out. Her words may have come to pass in a way that she could claim God spoke through her. She may have misunderstood that the role of a prophet is one of humility, and began to call herself a prophetess. Perhaps she did this in order to appear more spiritual to others; to give herself some credibility. Perhaps she desired to lead – many have fallen at this hurdle, unable to discern between the desires of the flesh and the leading of the Spirit. And once she had started to promote herself in this fashion, she may have claimed to speak on behalf of God; speaking directly into the lives of others, declaring the authority of God over them. And because this self-promotion had been tolerated over the path of humility, she may have found herself in a commanding position within the church.

Perhaps then, some workers from some guild or another, came in front of the church to say that they were being threatened with expulsion from their guilds if they didn’t fully participate in the pagan worship of idols, complete with the eating of food sacrificed before them, and even sexual immorality. Maybe, at this point, in front of all the church, she stood up an announced a ‘word from God’ on the subject. Perhaps she told those from the guilds that eating food offered to idols, or taking part in sexual acts in the name of idols was fine because God will forgive them. Perhaps, as is popular today, she preached a message of grace – that what we did in the flesh didn’t matter, that only the spirit mattered before God. And, perhaps, fearing the loss of income brought on by expulsion from the guilds, the otherwise loyal servants of God, listened to Jezebel speaking in His name, and committed adultery with other gods.

I can tell you that as I type these words, I can think of others whom I have come across in churches over the last thirty years who fit this bill – both in the sense of self-proclaimed prophets who lead people into sin, and those who blindly followed, despite knowing the gospel of Y’shua. You will probably know some yourself.

So, that is what may have happened. But what about the reference to Jezebel? What is so important about that particular chapter in the chequered history of the northern kingdom of Isra’el? To unravel that we need to look at the person of Jezebel.

We can find the account of Jezebel in the first book of Kings and chapter 16. We learn that Ahab, the king of Isra’el, not only considered lightly the things that God despised, by committing the same sins that Jeroboam had committed, but he also married outside of the nation of Isra’el. Jezebel was the daughter of Ethbaal, king of Sidon. As his name suggests, Ethbaal, came from a pagan nation whom worshipped Baal (the sun god) and Ashtoreth (the moon goddess). Under the clear influence of Jezebel, Ahab set up altars to both these false gods across the northern kingdom. The Bible tells us Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God than all of the kings before him. Now, I can tell you that is some going. If you follow the history of the kings of the northern kingdom, you will see that none were good. Ahab was particularly offensive to God.

Jezebel’s influence over the kingdom meant that Isra’el were further enticed away from following God. The worship of any other gods was simply not permitted. Idolatry brought death. But these particular pair of false gods were particularly offensive. Satan has long used them to lure God’s people into false religion. In fact, they are probably the original false gods.

A little research into Baal and Ashtoreth will lead you to the unholy trinity of Nimrod, Semiramis, and their son Tammuz. Nimrod is credited as being the warrior who built Babylon, and in particular, the Tower of Babel. Semiramis was his bride. She eventually murdered him. She was a very, very similar character to Jezebel – the power and influence behind Nimrod’s throne. Semiramis, after seizing power in the wake of Nimrod’s death, deified herself as the goddess Ishtar and her son as Gilgamesh. Later, her various titles included the Queen of Heaven.

You will find reference to her throughout history, particularly in the false religions. But you will be astonished to see images of her and her son Tammuz. They are a fine representation of what the Catholics now refer to as Madonna and Child. Google ‘Semiramis Tammuz images‘ and see what comes up. I am not going to go deeply into this here. There are plenty of resources that will concur with what I have said. I suggest that you do your own research (particularly if you are a practicing Catholic), with the help of the Holy Spirit. A good place to start would be the Fuel Project’s excellent series, Know Your Enemy. You can watch it all on YouTube for free. Click here for the playlist.

The important aspect of this sorry story of Jezebel is to note that she exhibits all the signs of a personal manifestation of Semiramis. Today, we have a tendency to call this particular spirit, the Jezebel spirit. It is alive and well and functioning in our churches. Check out a post on the subject here called ‘We Need to Talk About Jezebel‘.

I only draw your attention to the history behind Jezebel because of how it relates to Catholicism. Thyatira represents the Papal Age, in which the rituals of the Catholic church were deemed to be the only way of obtaining righteousness. All of those rituals; all of those idols, are pagan in origin. We shall come onto that shortly.

The key things about the Jezebel of the Old Testament is that she, like Semiramis, dominated her husband and caused his people to follow false gods. That is why Y’shua uses her name in this letter. He wants to make everyone aware that this is no new type of false teaching – this is part of the original idol worship that brought the Hebrews into conflict with God. He is telling His servants, His followers, that there is no excuse for this.

To emphasise this, Y’shua exclaims that He has already passed judgement, not only on this Jezebel herself, but also the second generation of believers she has influenced. The reference to ‘her children’ is unlikely to be actual infants, but her disciples who have long chosen to first tolerate, then follow her teaching, and now also propagate this false doctrine. Y’shua declares that she has had time to repent and has chosen not to. Judgement is coming soon, probably just in the same way that judgement befell Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter 5. Back then, back at the start of the spread of the gospel, it would seem that Y’shua would judge His church and weed out wrong teaching and wrong doing. Today, it appears to have stopped. We need to understand that the reason He is no longer intervening and stamping out sin in His church is hidden in the parables of the Wheat and the Tares, and the Sheep and the Goats. There will be no more judgement until the harvest.

But, back in the first century, Y’shua took swift action when no repentance was forthcoming, and His judgement of Jezebel, and those who failed to repent of being seduced by her lies, were soon to be no more. During this first generation of churches, this may have happened more often than you think. If you read carefully Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, it is clear that people had been indulging in feasts dedicated to idols and then came and partook in the Lord’s Table. Some were killed, as a result (1 Corinthians 11:30).

It may appear odd that Y’shua’s judgement of the church stopped. But it actually follows a very similar pattern to the Hebrews. Before they crossed the Jordan and started to claim the Promised Land, many died in the wilderness because of idol worship and unfaithfulness to God. In fact, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, the entire generation that crossed the Red Sea, died in the Wilderness because of their unbelief. God didn’t want that to be carried across the Jordan, so He brought judgement upon it. Those who had learned to trust in God crossed over. The rest perished. But, despite judging and punishing the Hebrews at various times by sending them into exile, God has chosen to leave all judgement until the end, just as He is doing with the church.

The lesson from the letter to Thyatira to today’s church is that we should not tolerate any sin, but expose it. If repentance doesn’t follow exposure, then expulsion should.

This judgement, when it came, would have served a dual purpose. Firstly it punished those who refused to repent. And secondly, it would act as a very real example of just who Y’shua is. He is the one who searches the hearts and minds of the people. Nothing can be hidden from Him who sees everything. He declares that each of us will be repaid according to our deeds. If our deeds are in line with our repentance then we have little to fear. If there are in line with satisfying the desires of the flesh, then fear is the right place to stand.

The letter continues:

“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.” [Verses 24-25]

This tells us that this was clearly a divided church. There may not have been open factions, but rather, it was divided because there were some who stuck to following Y’shua, and were not led astray. Y’shua tells them to hold on to what they have already. In other words, stay firm. He doesn’t intend to wipe them all out with the followers of Jezebel, and tells them that they already have a heavy enough burden just being part of this wayward church.

Now, before we look at the reward for the overcomers of this world, it is essential to mention that most biblical scholars view the church at Thyatira as representative of an age in church history, known as the Papal Age. This period lasted from around 600 to 1500, when the papacy ruled the entire Roman empire, or rather, the Holy Roman Empire. But there was little holiness that can be attributed to it. Until the rise of the papacy, the gospels had been available in many languages. But Rome issued orders to ensure that all copies of the Bible written in anything other than Latin were destroyed. For 900 years only the clergy of Rome could read the gospels. The people simply had to accept what the priest taught and could not verify it in any way. This is why it is called the Dark Ages – no illumination from God’s word. Compounded to that, paganism and idolatry were redressed as Christianity. What we now refer to as Catholicism differs little from what the church at Thyatira were accused of. Just do some research into some of the symbolism used even today in Catholicism and you will see what I mean. If you are a genuine believer in Christ but still follow the catholic tradition, I strongly advise you to seek the Holy Spirit today. Let Him show you God’s will in worship.

And besides the Papal Age, Thyatira also represents today’s Catholic church. Some within that church are swayed by the same old false doctrines that have been taught since the days of king Ahab, and before. Worship of Mary is not in line with God’s word to us. The images we see displayed in Catholic churches of Mary with an infant are not Mary, and the infant is not Y’shua. They are Semiramis & Tammuz, updated by Constantine in the forth century to appease his pagan citizens and the previously outlawed Christians. He merged two faiths – one true and one false. Same old god and goddesses, different names. That method is one Satan has used throughout history. He has no new tricks.

And further still, Thyatira represents a kind of believer too. These people are easily swayed. They know the truth but feed on the desires of the flesh, instead of following the Spirit. How can you tell what is right and wrong? Simple really, learn to figure out the different between flesh and spirit. All false religion and doctrine serves to satisfy some fleshy desire, whether it be the belly or the pride. The true religion of the One True God, is led by His Holy Spirit and serves only to fill and nourish us spiritually.

The letter to the church at Thyatira, like the other six churces, finishes with a message to the true, invisible church; to those who listen to the Spirit for guidance and counsel. The overcomers are believers – true believers; those not swayed by the desires of the flesh. The promises for those who overcome are available to all. We shall look at them closely in a post that will be entitled Overcomers at a later date. For now, here are the closing remarks of Y’shua to be heard by all His disciples, everywhere and especially for today:

“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 sceptre; 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.” [Verses26-29]