Revelation – Thyatira, The Church of the Middle Ages
“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; 19) 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. 20) 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. 21) And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. 22) Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. 23) 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. 24) 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. 25) But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. 26) And he that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: 27) 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. 28) And I will give him the morning star. 29) He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” Revelation 2:18-29.
City of Thyatira
It was located about twenty-five miles southeast of Pergamos. The city was founded by Seleucus Nicator, one of the generals of Alexander. It was a garrison city built on the plains, with no natural fortifications, and was captured, destroyed, and rebuilt many times. The present population is about 50,000 and known today as the modern Turkish city of Akhisar (“white castle”). The city was home to a Christian community that continued until 1922, when the Orthodox Christian population was deported.
Thyatira, at the time of this epistle, was an important manufacturing city, its citizens being mostly poor and humble laborers, just the opposite of those in Pergamos. They were made contrite by sacrifices, and their lives were made fragrant by the blessings of labor. The workmen of Thyatira were organized into labor unions, or “guilds.” The two leading industries were the manufacture of instruments of brass, bronze, and other metals, and the manufacture of dyeing of cloth, especially of the royal purple. Several inscriptions mentioning dyers and their guilds have been found. Agents traveled far distances selling Thyatiran cloth. Over in Philippe of Macedonia, the apostle Paul brought the gospel to “a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira” Acts 16:12-14). It is believed that the local church of Thyatira owed its origin to the labors of Lydia after she returned home. It is significant that purple and scarlet are the chief colors worn by the popes and cardinals of the ruling church of the Middle Ages. Revelation 17:3-5.
Christ introduced Himself to the church in Thyatira as “the Son of God, who hath His eyes like unto a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass.” This language was very familiar to a people who labored in foundries with their flaming furnaces, where fine brass, bronze, and other metals were manufactured into all sorts of articles for the market. During this period Jesus traveled everywhere and saw everything. Nothing escaped His piercing, penetrating gaze, and there was a great deal to see that made His eyes blaze with righteous indignation. His eyes searched “the reins and hearts” of all who professed His name. His feet trod down His enemies and broke them to shivers like a potter’s vessel. The symbols represent the Son of God as searching out every evil deed, and trampling in judgment upon the doers of iniquity.
This is the only time the title “the Son of God” is used in the seven epistles or in the entire book. During this period the place and authority of the Son of God were usurped by symbolic Jezebel, representing an apostate religious system. The backslidden and apostatized church failed to recognize His priestly service and sovereign authority, and assumed prerogatives that belonged alone to the “Son of God.” To Thyatira was sent the longest of the seven letters, and it covers the longest period of church history, embracing more than a thousand years, or half of the Christian Era.
The Middle Ages
It is appropriate that the church in the middle of the seven should be symbolic of the church of the Middle Ages. Thyatira covers the period of papal supremacy after the church was elevated to kingly power. This began with the first pope in the sixth century. Philip Mauro remarks, “Our view is that in this letter to Thyatira we are given to see the inception of that masterpiece of satanic deception, that monstrous heresy, whose fullest development has been manifested in Romanism.” (Of Things Which Soon Must Come to Pass. 1933. p.106.) If an exact date were chosen for the beginning of the Thyatira period, it would be A.D. 538, when the decree of Emperor Justinian and the arms of Belisarius elevated the Bishop of Rome to sovereign power. The bitter controversy over the papal throne between Vigilius and Silverius ended with the death of the latter and the enthronement of the former, in 538.
The False Prophetess
Some believe that Thyatira is equivalent to thygatira, meaning “a daughter,” and indicating feminine oppression; that the local church was led into apostasy by a woman who claimed to be a prophetess; and that this false prophetess was an adulteress. One is puzzled to know how such a woman had so much shrewdness and sex-appeal as to lead astray the servants of God in that church. The church tolerated the Nicolaitanes and this leader whose primary object was sexual immor-ality, and became too much involved with her to handle the heresy. (Compare Numbers 25:1-9 with 1 Corinthians 5:11.) The devil is particularly gratified when an immoral person holds a position of religious authority because they can do enor-mous damage.
Review the story of Jezebel who was married to Ahab, king of Israel, and the damage she caused Israel of old. Jezebel was the daughter of Ethbaal, king of Sidon, and brought with her the pagan religion of the Phoenicians and led all Israel into idolatry. As a result of his marriage with this heathen woman, Ahab “did sell himself to work wickedness” and “did very abominably in following idols.” (1 Kings 21:25,26.) Ethbaal was not only king of Sidon but also priest of Astarte, and Jezebel was probably a priestess and prophetess of Baal worship.
Jezebel soon became the dominant power over the king and kingdom of Israel. Her will was supreme. She hated the prophets of God and persecuted them. To supplant the worship of Jehovah she imported 850 prophets of Baal, the sun god and chief deity of the Phoenicians, and made the heathen system the supreme religion supported and enforced by the state. From the time of Jezebel’s marriage to Ahab the apostasy of Israel became general, and finally assumed such proportions that all but seven-thousand of the millions of Israel were bowing their knees to Baal! Likewise, from the time the church married the state, during the Pergamos period, the apostasy that began in the latter days of the apostles became so universal that the church and the world were led into the Dark Ages. In corruptness, Jezebel is compared to Semiramis and Cleopatra.
Back to the Jezebel in Thyatira, which should not be confused with the Jezebel, wife of King Ahab, who lived about a thousand years earlier. Jezebel of Thyatira must have been a very bright and capable woman. She called herself a prophetess, but she was not a prophetess of God. She prostituted Jesus’ teachings by leading others to do the very things that Jesus condemned!
She justified sexual immorality through Gnostic logic and philosophy. Jezebel taught that sex was not limited to the confines of marriage and she freely engaged and endorsed the popular belief that eating flesh offered to idols insured the bless-ings of all gods. The Bible does not itemize everything that Jezebel taught, but we know enough to determine why Jezebel promoted and endorsed ideas that gratified the sensual passions of carnal members. She skillfully merged contemporary pagan practices with Christian ideals.
This made the commitment threshold for Christian converts so low that pagans could join the church at Thyatira without having to renounce their pagan ways! This is an area where Christians have particular vulnerability. In fact, many Christians today teach that Jesus will accept any person who believes in Him. This claim is false because it is not entirely true. (Ezekiel 14:6-8) The Bible does teach that Jesus will accept any repentant sinner who comes to Him seeking forgiveness, but the key words are “repentant sinner.”
The devil believes there is a God and he trembles, but he has not stopped or repent-ed of his evil deeds. (James 2:19) Because Jezebel lowered the threshold of what it meant to be committed to Jesus, members in the church of Thyatira were not required to forsake their sinful habits and ways. Thus, the teachings and lower standards gave the illusion that the church was growing and prospering. Member-ship swelled and the church was packed, but the members of the church were not growing in sanctification.
The Scarlet Woman
The symbolic woman of Revelation 17 is doubtless identical with the Jezebel of the Thyatiran letter. There she is pictured as being “arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication.”
Purple and scarlet were the predominant colors manufactured in Thyatira. Both of these symbolic women are declared to be harlots, being guilty of spiritual fornica-tion. Jehu told Joram, the son of Jezebel, that there could be no peace “so long as the whoredoms of thy mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many.” (2 Kings 9:22) The deeper the church penetrated into heathenism the more she herself became heathenish; this prepares us for the expressions ‘harlot’ and ‘Babylon,’ applied to her afterwards.
Jezebel was swift to shed the blood of the prophets of God. During her relentless persecutions, the seven thousand of Israel who did not worship Baal, had to flee to the mountains and hide in the caves of the earth. Spiritual Jezebel ruled the world and persecuted the saints for three and a half prophetic years—a time of spiritual drought and darkness. During this time God’s loyal people had to flee to the mountains and remain in hiding. Millions suffered martyrdom because they refused to join the great majority in doing obeisance to an apostate power.
Unfaithfulness to God is called fornication because throughout the Scriptures the covenant relation between God and His people is represented by marriage. Christ represented Himself as the Bridegroom and His church as the Bride. Any transgres-sion would therefore be a form of spiritual adultery, harlotry, or fornication. This would especially be true of any union between the church and the state or the world.
An opportunity was given spiritual Jezebel to “repent of her fornication; and she repented not.” Through Elijah, Jezebel was warned and threatened and given ample opportunity to repent before she met her doom. Likewise, spiritual Jezebel was given time to repent and reform. Call after call to repentance was made through messages of rebuke and warning delivered by men in and out of the church who sensed the need of revival and reformation. The long delay of retribution did not indicate that the Lord was overlooking and winking at sin, as many seem to believe. (Ecclesiastes 8:11) It rather indicated the patience and long-suffering of a merciful God.
Jezebel is threatened with sore judgments if she does not repent and reform. I “will cast her upon a bed of sickness, and I will severely afflict those who commit adul-tery with her.” (Weymouth) The bed of sin would become the bed of sickness and suffering. The place of her sins would become the place of her punishments. This is the fate of all harlots and adulterers. Disease and suffering are the reward of their immorality.
Jezebel is charged with spiritual adultery. Her lovers, or paramours, are “the kings of the earth” who have committed fornication with her. (Revelation 18:1-5) The unlawful union of church and state will eventually bring terrible retribution to both church and state. The testimony of history proves that the predictions concerning spiritual Jezebel were literally fulfilled. Jezebel, like her father, was an ardent and loyal supporter of Baal worship. Under her reign church and state were united. Israel joined in unlawful union with a pagan system of religion, and was therefore guilty of spiritual fornication. Terrible were the consequences.
The weapons of Jezebel were turned upon her own head. Elijah the prophet said to her: “In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine.” (1 Kings 21:19) Jezebel was so eaten by ravenous dogs that “they found no more of her than the skull, and the feet, and the palms of her hands.” (2 Kings 9:35)
In Revelation 19:17,18 we are told that modern Jezebel, or Babylon, will be devoured by birds and beasts of prey. The fate of Jezebel was foretold by “His servant, Elijah,” and the fate of her antitype was predicted by “His servant, John.” The execution of the terrible threat against Jezebel is pictured in Chapters 17 and 18 of the Revelation. Here is described the bed of torment into which spiritual Jezebel will eventually be cast. Babylon will be rewarded on the basis of her treatment of the saints of God. She will be recompensed according to her works.
The Jezebel Family
“And I will kill her children with death,” is the judgment threatened upon the family of Jezebel. Ahaziah, Jezebel’s son, became a cripple from a fall, and spent the remainder of his life on a bed of anguish and affliction. The entire family was finally exterminated, as the Lord decreed. Spiritual Jezebel and her family will also be utterly destroyed. In Revelation 17:5 the “children” are described as the “daughters” of the harlot “mother.”
Papal Rome calls herself “mother,” and continually speaks of Catholics as her “children.” The Protestant churches are sometimes spoken of as wayward children who will someday return home, and when they do, a hearty welcome awaits them from the “mother church of Christendom.” Jesus declared that the judgments upon the Jezebel family would be open and manifest to “all the churches.”
The judgments upon Jezebel would reveal the fact that the One who “searcheth the reins and hearts” and gives to everyone according to his works is indeed “the Son of God.” This constitutes a promise to those who remained faithful to Him during this trying time, and a threat to those who united with the apostate church. The threat-ened judgments included the “children” as well as the “mother.” Here we have the verdict of Christ upon Romanism and the semipapal religious establishments that grew out of, and have retained many of the objectional features of, the semipagan mother system. Jezebel and her family include all the religious systems or churches that separated from the Papacy but still cling to her doctrines and practices and who commit spiritual fornication with kings and nations by uniting with them when opportunity presents itself.
Under the reign of Jezebel, the religion of Israel was paganized. Just so the “falling away” produced the semipagan papal church of the Middle Ages. “Roman Catholi-cism is a God-dishonoring mixture of Judaism, Paganism, and Christianity. Protes-tantism increasingly follows in its train. Of this combination, Seiss says: “Pagan life was transferred in Christian veins, heathen pomp and ceremony commingled with Christian rites and sacraments, and the professed Bride of Christ transformed into a queenly adulteress, the harlot mother of a harlot household.” (Seiss, J. A. The Apocalypse, Volume 1, p. 194, 1901.)
It is believed that the Reformation is referred to in Revelation 2:19, where a change for the better is to take place. Martin Luther and his fellow Reformers, through the power of the Word in the hands of the Spirit, broke the power of spiritual Jezebel and brought an end to the three and a half prophetic years of drought and dark-ness. It is regrettable that the Reformation, like that begun by Elijah, came to a standstill, and is still incomplete.
“But to you I say, to the rest that are in Thyatira” indicates that the remainder of the epistle is addressed to those who espoused the cause of the Reformation, and have not known “the deep things of Satan.” Satan’s religious system is called “the mystery of iniquity,” and his church, “Mystery, Babylon the Great.” The Catholics boast of having adopted and Christianized paganism in order to defeat Satan with his own religion. Thus, paganism with its “mysteries” and “the deep things of Satan” became the religion of the church during the Thyatiran period.
The Gnostics of the second century and onward spoke of their knowledge as “the depth” or “the deep things of God,” in contrast with the simple faith and doctrines of the primitive church. What the Gnostics called “the deep things of God,” the Lord called “the depths of Satan.” They boasted of their superior wisdom, especially regarding the “deep things of God.” “None other burden” was to be laid upon the faithful of the Thyatiran period except to keep themselves unspotted from, and to continually protest against, the Jezebel abominations. Acts 15:28,29.
The Gnostics misapplied Paul’s teachings on justification and the law, and made him say that the law was abolished as the rule of life and conduct in order that they might be freed from its strict requirements, just as so many of their successors of the modern religious world have done. The law is rejected by many as if it were an intolerable burden.
No other burden, or duty, was to be required of God’s people during this evil period than to hold fast to what they already possessed till Christ came to bring them more light during the coming Reformation. “Only hold fast to that you have received until I come,” is the admonition given. With the giving of additional light during the Reformation, more responsibility would be enjoined. All men are held responsible in proportion to the light received or the truth that is available.
“Till I come” must include the promise of the Second Advent, which would soon follow the reign of spiritual Jezebel. Paul declared that the “falling away,” or great papal apostasy, would end with a great reformation and the coming of Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:3-8). This is the first of the seven epistles that mentions the return of Christ. God’s people were to hold so fast to what they had of sound doctrine and spiritual experience that none could wrest it from them until the coming of Christ.
The Promised Reward
Jesus declared that the overcomer who “keepeth My works unto the end” would be given power over the nations, which he would rule with a rod of iron, and that He would give him “the morning star.” The works of Christ are here contrasted with the works of Jezebel. To the disciples Jesus said of the one who would believe on Him; “The works that I do shall he do also.” The works of Christ are such as He can approve of, works that are in harmony with His Word and law.
“Unto the end” doubtless has special reference to “the end of the world.” (Matthew 24:13,14; Revelation 3:10,11). It is not the beginning but the end of the race that determines the prize. To conquer is not enough; the victorious experience must be maintained to the end of the conflict. “I will give him authority over the nations” is the promise to those who get the victory over sin.
The tables will turn, and the saints who have been persecuted pilgrims and stran-gers in this rebel world will inherit and rule over the Earth as was God’s purpose in the beginning when He gave the dominion to Adam. The royal power and authority of Christ will be shared with His victorious saints, who constitute His Bride and Queen. (Matthew 19:27,28; Revelation 3:21.)
Verse 28 in Matthew 19 is a quotation from Psalm 2:9, which is a prophecy of the Messiah. The Hebrew word for “break” is rendered “rule” in the Greek Septuagint. It literally means “shepherd.” “Shall be their shepherd” is the Septuagint. “Rod” is better rendered “scepter” as in Hebrews 1:8. The rule of Christ will be as absolute as that of an Oriental shepherd over his sheep, or a potter over the vessels he makes and then breaks in pieces in order to make better vessels. The breaking in pieces “as the vessels of a potter” probably has reference to the destruction of the wicked nations, an event that must precede the absolute and everlasting reign of Christ as the Shepherd of His people. Daniel 2:32-45.
The new order of things must be preceded by the breaking up of the old. The Master Potter breaks the old so He can reconstruct the new. Christ breaks in pieces all the wicked nations so that He might restore the dominion of Adam and the kingdom of David with Himself as the King of kings and Lord of lords. The statement, “As I received of My Father,” is doubtless also taken from Psalm 2:7-9. Satan offered the throne and kingdom of this world to Christ, but He spurned the offer because of the conditions imposed and the fact that Satan was a usurper with no real right to the earthly principality. (Luke 4:5-8; 22:29; Revelation 11:15.) The cross as the only pathway to the crown was appointed by the Father.
The Morning Star
“I will grant him to see the Morningstar” (Moffatt) was the climax of the promise. Star in the Apocalypse is symbolic of one in authority. Christ promises to share not only His throne but also His kingly authority and glory. He will clothe His victori-ous soldiers of the cross with the glory of the brightness of the stars. (Daniel 12:3; Matthew 13:43.) The redeemed will reflect the glory and brightness of Christ, and shine with Him in the kingdom. Jesus is the royal Star that arose out of Jacob. He is the “Day Star” that brings the “day dawn” to those who take heed to the “more sure word of prophecy.” He is the “bright and Morning Star” who is to reign over the throne of David forever. (Numbers 24:17; Matthew 2:2; 2 Peter 1:19; Revelation 22:16.) The morning star rises during the darkest part of the night just before the dawn, which is ushered in by the rising sun. Christ is the Sun of Righteousness, and will bring with Him the dawn of eternal day.
The promise of the morning star indicates that a night, or period of darkness, was coming to a close. The morning star is the sign and promise of greater light. It does not disperse the darkness but is a sign that the soon-rising sun will scatter the dark-ness of night and usher in the dawn of day, that will be followed by the “perfect day” of noontide glory.
Wycliffe in the fourteenth century and Savonarola in the fifteenth were morning stars of the Reformation. They and others were beacon lights heralding the coming dawn of a new day of light and truth and liberty, when the morning stars would give place to the Sun of Righteousness. The Thyatiran period would be followed by the Reformation, which would prepare the Church for the coming of Christ.
The epistle of Christ to the church of Thyatira takes us through the apostasy of the Middle Ages and brings us to the Reformation Period.