In our day we find it relatively easy to locate employment and “go to church” whenever and wherever we desire; we are doubly fortunate in that this is an opportunity free of any hindrance. In some locations of the ancient past this was not at all a possibility. If you had an opportunity to go back to that time, how would you get along in such an environment?
Thyatira was a wealthy city, but not large. It was noted for being a city of commerce and trade (cf. Acts 16:14), with trade guilds (unions) having prominence in the city. They were powerful and no man could find employment unless he was a member of one of the many guilds (cf. Acts 19:24-29). Each guild had its own patron deity and festive occasions surrounded them. These patron deities and their festive occasions were associated with idolatry – something no faithful Christian would allow to enter into his life. Not to allow such was a serious problem if one wanted to provide for his family; thus, a Christian in Thyatira had to choose whether to serve the Lord or have economic peace as he thought about the needs of his family.
The Lord addresses this longest and most instructive of the letters to his church in a midst of such an environment. He understood what problems faced each Christian. As the Son of God, his eyes were (and are) penetrating, seeing and understanding whatever it is that can be seen and understood. This terminology conveys the omniscient quality of God. When Samuel was to anoint Israel’s next king, you might remember, he was sure he saw Israel’s next king standing right before him. The Lord told him, however, that he does not see as man sees, but he who sees all looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
Encouragement and Concern
He who sees all is also the one who had been tested by the fires of affliction. This experience “allows” Jesus to address the church as one who has been there and understands. He commends the church and says that their love as manifested early on has only increased. They were a working church. Ephesus lost their first love. Thyatira did not seem to have a problem. The Christians in Thyatira desired to be of service to others, endured patiently in things that called upon them to wait, and with this the Lord was pleased. They trusted and obeyed God – for this is what love does.
The whole condition of things at Thyatira was exactly the reverse of what it was at Ephesus. There much zeal for orthodoxy, and for the maintenance of sound doctrine, but little love, and as a consequence, no doubt, few ministrations of love. Here the activity of faith and love; but insufficient zeal for the maintenance of godly discipline and doctrine, a patience of error even where there was not a participation in it.
Though the Lord spoke favorably of their works, he was greatly concerned about other matters (2:20-23). He quickly identified a person named Jezebel who encouraged immorality and idolatry. Who this Jezebel was we are not told, but that she was active in the church is clearly indicated. She was a self-appointed prophetess, one who taught error. Since it was customary for the guilds to have festivals and those festivals to be encumbered with immorality and idolatry, it seems possible this woman was connected with such. Perhaps she said something along this line: “God told me you need to be part of the guilds so you can support your families.”
The Lord did not find anything she did to be acceptable; in fact, because He loved her so, He gave her time to repent. She considered the Lord’s admonition and rejected it and, consequently, was judged! There is an old saying that goes like this: the bed you make is the bed you lay on. Jezebel made her bed, it was a bed of sickness and tribulation; now the Lord was going to make her experience it to the degree she never had!
The only remedy to lying in that kind of bed is a healthy dose of the medicine called penitence. This is a rather humbling pill to swallow for one so proud. She was determined, however, to have it her way and, unfortunately, there was a second generation of Christians who also were plagued with her evil deeds.
Not all, however, were plagued with the “Jezebel disease.” Those not plagued were offered encouragement. Those who received the Lord’s exhortation (remedy) for a sin-sick soul were expected to oppose her presence and teaching, and they were encouraged to be faithful until He who sees all comes.
Let us make an application to some current problems in the Lord’s church in some locations. Is there a particular role that God has assigned the male and female? Paul addresses this in his letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 2:8-15) and even briefly touches on it when he wrote to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:2-16; 14:26-40). The “Jezebel disease” is a disease of spiritual corruption; it is a disease that promotes, in part, the removal of a female from a God-ordained role and places them in a role that is of Satan’s origin.
For instance, does the New Testament teach that it is proper for a female to serve as an elder, a preacher, or as a deacon in the same way that men are to do so? A strong answer in the negative! Then why is it done?
It is done because many Christians have failed to hear God. The Lord appealed to the church to be faithful (2:25), but those plagued with the “Jezebel disease” can hardly be faithful to the Lord because that which the Lord had (and has) to say is not heard. His last exhortation to the church in Thyatira was: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Let us hear it brethren!