The fourth church to receive one of the Lord’s messages was located in Thyatira (modern Akhisar), a city that archaeologists date back to approximately 3000 BC.
The Asian king Seleucus I used this city as a barrier against the attacks of the Macedonians because it was located in a valley through which the Macedonian armies would have had to pass to invade his kingdom.
When the Romans conquered this region in 190 BC, they liked Seleucus’ idea so much that they copied it for themselves and made Thyatira protector of Pergamos, the capital of the local province.
Thyatira’s location was equally good for trade.
Historians and archaeologists report that one could buy almost anything there: wool, linen, leather, dyed cloth, pottery, bronze and even slaves.
Paul’s first European convert in the book of Acts was a woman named Lydia, who had come from Thyatira and made her living selling a royal, purple fabric (Acts 16:14).
This color was probably derived from the root of the madder herb, a plant that once flourished there.
In Thyatira craftsmen was expected to be members of the appropriate trade guilds for their crafts.
Each guild also maintained its own religious cult.
To be a member of a particular guild, one had to affirm his commitment to that guild’s deity.
Those who could not do so suffered ostracism and financial ruin.
Perhaps Lydia sold her goods in Philippi, some two hundred and fifty miles away, because as a proselyte of Judaism she could not join Thyatira’s guild of cloth dyers.
Apollo-Tyrimnos was the patron god of the city as well as the supreme god of all the various trade guilds.
Being a son of Zeus, he was often called “son of god” and was represented figuratively by rays of light and brass feet.
To the church of Thyatira, Christ introduced himself in verse 18 as /the Son of God, who hath eyes like unto a flame of fire, and … feet … like fine brass/.
This description penetrated to the heart of the matter right away, forcing the church to consider who the Lord of their livelihood really is.
The choice was simple: either Tyrimnos or Christ.
Except that Thyatira’s population in the first century was roughly 25,000, not much more is known about the city.
Even less is known about the church.
Some have surmised that Lydia returned to Thyatira after her conversion and help to found the church, but there is no evidence to support this.
Jezebel — the Deceiving Prophetess
However the church was established, the Lord commended it for being unusually rich in good deeds.
He said, /I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works/ (v.
And not only was the church already rich in these things, it was constantly improving in them.
The same verse continues: /and the last to be more than the first/.
On the other hand, the Lord’s wonderful commendation also functions as a prelude to the longest and most severe criticism found in the seven messages.
The church of Thyatira had allowed Jezebel to deceive the servants of God into committing gross violations of God’s law.
Verse 20 mentions fornication and idolatry — the same two crimes that the followers of Balaam were teaching in the church at Pergamos (cf.
Needless to say, the Jezebel mentioned here was not the wicked queen of the Old Testament (cf.
Rather, the Lord called her by this name to make a comparison.
Her ways resembled those of Ahab’s wife, who sought to substitute the worship of Baal for the worship of Jehovah.
But who was the woman who similarly agitated the church in the first century?
Some commentators suggest that Jezebel was Lydia, the seller of purple mentioned earlier.
Here the assumption is that she, having helped to establish the church, assumed a position of prominence.
But if there is no basis for assuming that Lydia returned to Thyatira, there is even less reason to think that she became an enemy of Christ.
Other commentators think that Jezebel was not a single individual, but rather a group of false prophetesses.
Again, there is no indication in the text that this is so.
She is consistently referred to throughout the message to the church at Thyatira with singular nouns and pronouns.
Instead of making unwarranted assumptions about Jezebel’s identity, a safer approach is to look at the text to see if the Lord has given us any clues.
And indeed he has.
Verse 20 offers two insights.
First, it shows that Jezebel was unusually influential — so much so that she was able to convince the servants of God that fornication and idolatry were good deeds.
And second, she is called /that woman Jezebel/.
Here the Greek actually uses the pronoun “your” (σοῦ); and the word translated /woman/ (τὴν γυναῖκά), especially when used with a personal pronoun, is better translated as “wife.”
The resulting translation, then, would be “Jezebel your wife” (τὴν γυναῖκά σοῦ Ἰεζάβελ).
Keeping in mind that these seven messages were addressed to the /angels/ — most likely the pastors — of the seven churches, Jezebel was probably the wife of the local minister.
Who more than the pastor’s wife would have had the amount of influence that she had?
Whether this woman taught in a formal sense or just had a domineering personality and an uncontrollable urge to speak out of turn is hard to say.
The point is that she was a natural leader, and it was just as natural for men and women to follow her as it was for her to spew out her own ideas.
There is a very serious warning here for men who believe that God has called them to the gospel ministry (or to any church office for that matter).
Pastors must have wives whose conduct is as exemplary as their own in every respect.
That’s why the apostle Paul not only listed the qualifications for bishop and deacon in I Timothy 3, but also the qualifications for their wives.
Their wives, he wrote, must be /grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things/ (I Tim.
The pastor of the church in Thyatira had made a terrible choice for a wife, and it had cost him and the church he served dearly.
But if it is true that the pastor made a bad choice, then the church did even worse.
It had chosen a man to be its pastor whose character failed the Biblical test.
Obviously he did not rule his own house well (I Tim.
3:4): his wife was not under his control.
Few things can destroy churches faster than ungodly wives of ministers.
For this reason, churches calling men to the pastoral office must consider not only the man, but also his family.
Men with unruly, obnoxious wives or children should not even be considered.
The Message of the False Prophetess
Now, the problem that Jezebel addressed in the church at Thyatira was only too real.
It was struggling for its survival.
If the men in the church could not provide for their families because they could not join the trade guilds, they would have to find work elsewhere.
Of course, we don’t know exactly how Jezebel addressed this, but one possible scenario would go something like this.
First, she reminded the craftsmen that idols are nothing to fear.
Some are made of wood.
Others are stone.
Many are just figments of human imagination.
In any case, they have no real power.
So far, the argument is absolutely right.
But instead of reminding the craftsmen to fear God, who is able to cast both body and soul into hell, she convinced them that joining the trade guilds was not that big of a deal, except that it would allow them to practice their trades, provide for their families and remain members of the local church.
Now, assuming that Jezebel’s advice was something like this, why would she have come to the conclusion that idolatry is inconsequential?
Basically, her problem was her philosophical or theological starting point.
She believed that she could empirically discern the meaning of things without a word from God. Eve had the same problem in the Garden.
Genesis 3:6 says that she /saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise/.
Both women believed they could determine reality by simple observation and then judge what ought to be by what is.
The assumption here is that man can discover eternal truth without any help from God.
The Bible, on the other hand, gives a very different system of ethics.
Ethics are not determined by anything observable — use, purpose, common practice, etc. — but by divine revelation.
God spoke to the prophets, and in his speech he specifies what conduct pleases him.
The Westminster Confession says:
Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation.
Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing: which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary: those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased (I, i).
And, notice its emphasis on revealed ethics in its chapter entitled /Of the Law of God/:
God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity, to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it.
This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables: the first four commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six, our duty to man (XIX, i and ii).
Likewise, Question 91 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What are good works?”
The answer, in part, is that good works are those things that “are done according to the law of God,” i.e., according to the law that God has revealed in the pages of Scripture.
Jezebel, by relying on her own power of observation and interpreting her observations according to her own self-chosen axioms, missed the first and second commandments and led the church many in the church into gross wickedness.
The idolatry mentioned in verse 20 needs no explanation.
Fornication, on the other hand, is a little more difficult.
According to verse 14, the followers of Baalam had led the church at Pergamos into fornication, too.
In that case, the fornication was probably physical, since Baalam literally used Moabite and Midianite prostitutes to seduce the men of Israel (cf.
But at Thyatira the fornication was probably spiritual in nature.