Jesus’ Letter to Thyatira

To the angel of the church in Thyatira write…  Revelation 2:18 NIV 

Thyatira was the fourth of the seven churches in the book of Revelation to whom the Apostle John wrote letters. Located in the modern day city of Akhisar, Turkey, the only significant remains of the ancient city are preserved in a fenced area the size of a city block near the center of town. The two major features of the site are the ruins of a Roman columned street and the walls of a 6th century administrative building which is thought to have at one time served as a church. That would not be unusual as the city of Thyatira was almost completely Christianized by 200 AD and continued with a strong Christian presence onward for centuries. Bishops from Thyatira are known to have attended the Councils of Nicea in 325 and of Ephesus in 432. This strong Christian presence and witness endured for nearly two millennium, right up until 1922 when the last vestige of Christianity, the Greek Orthodox population, was deported by the Turkish government.

One of the distinctions of Thyatira, located on the Roman trade route from Pergamum to Laodicea, were the many artisan manufacturing centers with their powerful guilds. In addition to metal craftsmen, coppersmiths, tanners, leather workers, shoe makers, wool workers, potters, bakers, and even slave traders, the most important industry was textiles. The city was famous throughout the empire for its dyeing facilities and was the center of indigo (purple cloth) trade. Luke, the writer of the book of Acts, describes a woman named Lydia whom Paul met in Philippi, as being a seller of purple from Thyatira. Undoubtedly, that was the source of her wealth which enabled her to host the apostle Paul and his companions in her home (Acts 16:14-15, 40).  Some scholars conjecture that Lydia, after her faith encounter with Paul, may have traveled back to her hometown and helped spread the gospel in Thyatira.

The trade guilds wielded great influence among the various artisans of Thyatira. Each trade had its own guild or association of artisans and merchants which controlled the practice of their craft in the city. Functioning like a secret ritualistic society the guilds held banquets in pagan temples where food offered to idols was served, and following the meal immoral acts were committed on the couches upon which they reclined. Christian workers who wanted to prosper in their chosen professions obviously faced grave temptations to compromise their faith. Two of the four prohibitions issued to all Gentile believers at the council of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem in Acts 15 addressed these very issues. They were to “abstain from food offered to idols” and “from sexual immorality” (v. 29 NIV). As we shall see, the letter dictated by Jesus to the church at Thyatira was specifically written for those who had fallen prey to these two compromising deceptions, and to the leaders who were tolerating it.

Here then is an overview of the Thyatira letter from the Book of Revelation with some explanatory comments (2:18-29 NIV). It follows the pattern and order used in all seven of the letters as outlined in the introductory blog post on the Letters to the Seven Churches.

  1. Revelation of Jesus– “These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze” (v. 18). This revelation of Jesus is taken from John’s description in chapter one. “His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace” (1:14-15). Fire is often a symbol of purification and the purity of Jesus’ visage portrayed here offers an antidotal contrast to the impurity infiltrating the church in Thyatira.
  2. Commendation– “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first” (v. 19). This is a description of some remarkably faithful servants of God who obviously laid a solid foundation for a church in this city upon which many succeeding generations of believers benefited.
  3. Corrective Rebuke – “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols”(v. 20). Here we have a reiteration of the crux of the problem facing the church in Thyatira, and the trade guilds were the source of the temptations. The use of the term Jezebel for the self-proclaimed prophetess is a biblical code name for a purveyor of false counsel who seeks to lead others into compromising behavior like the original Jezebel in 1 Kings 16. The correction is directed at the leader for his passivity in tolerating such deception. As a shepherd, the leader must protect the flock from all such spiritual attack and silence everyone promoting false doctrine.
  4. Predictive Warning or Counsel“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” (vs. 21-23). This is a very sobering warning to the person with the spirit of Jezebel and her followers. Hopefully it brought the fear of the Lord into their midst. “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28 ESV). ”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, except to hold on to what you have until I come’” (vs. 24-25). Simple and straight forward advise to the righteous – “keep on keeping on.”
  5. Overcomer’s Promise“To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (vs. 26-29). Righteous attitudes and actions often result in being granted greater measures of responsibility and authority. In this case, as with all Christians, the reward of sharing in Christ’s authority and ruling with Him in heavenly places is promised to all those who maintain a righteousness in Him by faith (Ephesians 2:4-9).

Be sure to check out the two and half minute video posted above which was filmed at Thyatira for a first-hand look at an historic portion of this city. Stay tuned for more videos and blog posts on the remaining three churches of Revelation soon to follow!

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