Revelation 2: Thyatira - The church that was corrupted

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Bible Study Series: Revealing Jesus in Revelation

Revelation Chapter 2:18-29 Thyatira: The church that was corrupted

by I Gordon

Jezebel and the Church at Thyatira Bible Study

We are studying another letter to one of the seven churches in Revelation and this one is bit of a doozy! We are looking at the church at Thyatira today... a church that had some great characteristics but became corrupt and controlled, led astray into idolatry and immorality by a mysterious woman. To her followers, there are warnings about being cast into the great tribulation. To the overcomers, who follow Jesus, there is a hidden promise of the rapture and reigning with Christ. Rapture, reward or righteous judgement... this letter has it all! So we'll explore the good, the bad and the ugly of Thyatira and see what this means for church history, the day in which we live, and for things still to come.

Let's start with a quick overview of this city, church and letter.

Quick Thyatira Overview

Located halfway between Pergamos and Sardis, this city had been under Roman rule for nearly three centuries (c.190 B.C.). Since the city was situated in a long valley that swept forty miles to Pergamos, it had no natural defenses and had a long history of being destroyed and rebuilt. Originally populated by soldiers of Alexander the Great, it was little more than a military outpost to guard Pergamos. Lydia came from this city on business and was converted under Paul's ministry (Act_16:14-15).
The MacArthur Bible Commentary

  • Meaning of Thyatira: 'Perpetual sacrifice' - a pointer to the continual sacrifice and unceasing mass of the Roman Catholic church instead of Jesus' one sacrifice for all sins, for all time! (Heb 9:28, 10:10-14)
  • Thyatira was the smallest and least important of the seven cities mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3
  • The city was famous for its cloth dyeing processes and outside of Revelation the city is only mentioned in one other verse in the New Testament - in the book of Acts where Lydia, the seller of purple cloth, was from this city (Act 16:14) and along with her household believed the gospel and was saved
  • Nothing is really known about the church here apart from this letter in Revelation
  • The city is called Akhisar today with around 130,000 inhabitants 

As an overview, the letter has the following:

  • Commendation - They had love, faith, service and perseverance - great attributes!
  • Complaint - The allowed a false prophetess to teach and lead then into sexual immorality and idolatry 
  • Counsel - Repent!
  • Warning - The followers of the woman will be thrown into Great Tribulation. A terrible warning!
  • Challenge - Don't hold to her teaching. Hold fast the truth and you will be given authority over the nations in Jesus' rule!

Over-riding thought: For me this letter is a great warning to hold fast God's true way. It is a warning that judgement, and even the great tribulation, is coming for the corrupted false religion and churches. But it also holds great promise for those that hold the truth and place their faith solely in Jesus and His death for our sins. To them is given a veiled promise of the rapture and their reign with Jesus!

Thyatira Report Card - The Good

Rev 2:18 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.

Jesus introduces Himself to this church as the Son of God. More often than not He used the title 'Son of man' but here it is Son of God. Hmmm - why? This letter has references to Psalm 2 which speaks of Jesus as the Son of God. It also relates to the historical/prophetic fulfillment of this letter. The church in Thyatira speaks of the age under the Roman Catholic church. It is an age of idolatry and one aspect of that was the exaltation and worship of Mary as 'the Mother of God'. Even though the Bible is clear that there is only one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, the dark ages saw Mary exalted into the role of mediator, then co-redeemer and 'Queen of Heaven' - almost as if she is the 4th member of a three person trinity! So this title of Jesus is a reminder that He is God. He is the Son of God. The focus should not be on anyone else. He also says He has eyes like blazing fire and feet like burnished bronze. Simply put, this is not someone to mess with, replace, or be on the wrong side of! 

The eyes are those that see all and through all. You probably know that we live in an age of surveillance. Your phone can listen to what you are saying and then serve up adverts based on your conversations. Smartphones track where you go. Your TV can listen and record conversations you are having in the privacy of your living room. Cars with GPS can be tracked. Cameras out on the streets monitor who goes where. It is all digitally recorded. Yet modern technology and surveillance still have nothing on Jesus who sees and knows all things! And He also has feet of bronze which speak of the One who has been through the judgment and is entrusted with judging this world. As we move on we will see that while this church had some good things going for it, they were led astray and are given some of the greatest warnings of judgment that any of the seven church received. But let's begin with the positive...

Rev 2:19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

This church, specifically the true believers at Thyatira, were noted for their love and faith, along with service and perseverance. That is a great combination! And they were increasing in these so were commended for doing so. As will we if we have these attributes. Jesus knows all of our deeds. He knows what we do, what our love and faith is like, and this is never forgotten. I remember many years ago being given a scripture that said:

Heb 6:10 For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.

That became one of my favorite scriptures! It says that service and ministering to the saints is showing love towards Him - for the saints are part of His body. This church at Thyatira had faith. They had love. They had service. Again, these is a great combo to be known for! Yet it seems that this positive of love may also have became a weakness. It seems that their love extended so far that it became tolerance of that which is wrong! Let's look at that now.

Thyatira Report Card - The Bad

Rev 2:20 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.

You might remember the first church Ephesus that was very strong in doctrine and did not allow false teaching to come into the church. However, against that they had left their first love. Well this church is the opposite. They have love and service to the Lord and one another and are noted for it. Yet their love has become tolerance even for that which is evil in the sight of God. 

When love goes too far

This church tolerated the woman Jezebel. There is a small chance you have heard of this word 'tolerance'. The world loves this word 'tolerance'. Having largely jettisoned its God-given moral foundation, the world mostly lives by the mantra that anything goes as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. And if you say otherwise... well, we'll show you how tolerate we really are by canceling you! Unfortunately many churches have followed the world here accepting lifestyles and practices that God hates... all in the name of love and tolerance. They want to be seen as non-judgmental and accepting of all. They want to be seen as a 'loving' church.

So lets be clear... God is love. We should always remember that and treat everyone with love and express His love to all. But He is also truth... and He also has eyes of blazing fire! Both love and truth go together and to separate them leads to either love or truth being denied. Ephesus lost it's love while maintaining truth. Thyatira lost the truth while maintaining love. Both churches were rebuked and corrected for both qualities are required. Now, to be sure, this is not an easy road to navigate at times. Jesus of course is our example so we need to look to His lead here! But also remember that it didn't stop those in the world hating Him and, well, putting Him on the 'cancel' list! But that didn't go exactly as planned. That cliff hanger came with a surprising twist three days later! 

Now to get a bit more specific about the church of Thyatira and where it went wrong, they had a woman called Jezebel rise up who called herself a prophetess. She wasn't stopped and lead the church into sexual immorality and idolatry. This name Jezebel is obviously quite famous in the Bible. Well, 'infamous' is the right word.1 This is the only mention of Jezebel in the New Testament but she was certainly infamous in the Old Testament days of Elijah. Time for a refresher I think...

A refresher on Jezebel - and the prophetic parallels

"Jez'ebel. (chaste). Wife of Ahab, king of Israel. (B.C. 883). She was a Phoenician princess, daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Zidonians. In her hands, her husband became a mere puppet. 1Ki_21:25. The first effect of her influence was the immediate establishment of the Phoenician worship, on a grand scale in the court of Ahab. At her table were supported no less than 450 prophets of Baal and 400 of Eastward. 1Ki_16:31; 1Ki_16:21; 1Ki_18:19. The prophets of Jehovah were attacked by her orders, and put to the sword. 1Ki_18:13; 2Ki_9:7."
Smiths Bible Dictionary

Simply put, Jezebel was the most wicked woman of the Old Testament. She wasn't Jewish but was, as Smiths Bible dictionary states, a Phoenician princess, the daughter of the king of Sidon. She established the false worship of Baal, the principle male Canaanite god of fertility and rain, as foremost in Israel. So the use of her imagery with this church, especially associated with sexual immorality and idolatry, is extremely suggestive. But let's dig a little deeper. Can you remember what a woman speaks of in Bible imagery? On the positive side, she is a picture of the bride of Christ. On the negative side, she is a picture of the harlot - the false religious system2. No prizes for guessing then which applies when Jesus speaks of Jezebel controlling this church! You might remember that later in the book of Revelation we see the image of a woman, a harlot, who is drunk on the blood of the saints, as she rides and controls the beast (Rev 17). This is the same imagery using a woman as the picture of the false religious system.

Because we are dealing with prophetic imagery here, it is useful to explore some aspects from the life of the Old Testament Jezebel and see how they point to the prophetic aspect of this church in Thyatira and the woman seen in Revelation 17.  

Jezebel - a type of the false religious system
  1. Jezebel, a Phoenician princess, joined herself to Ahab, arguably Israel's wickedest king! (1 Kings 16:30-33)
    Prophetically. this is a pointer to what the false religious system has done through history and will do in the last days. The Bible presents the image of a woman, a harlot, who 'with her the kings of the earth committed adultery' (Rev 17:2). She has been around for thousands of years, joined to the political power, and in the last days will be closely aligned, for a season, with the antichrist and the 10 kings.
  2. Jezebel held the power... While Ahab was the king, Jezebel was the power behind the throne. She essentially was the one who ruled! She was the voice in his ear controlling the king. 1Ki 21:25 states: 'Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife incited him.'
    This pictures how the false religious system has often controlled the political system. Again, we see this down through the history of the Roman Catholic church and it is seen by the woman pictured in Revelation 17 who sits upon and rides the beast. (Rev 17:3) And in the last days this false religious system will control the political system and rule of the 10 kings - for a season!
  3. Jezebel promoted false religion, idolatry and the worship of Baal while persecuting and killing the true prophets of God. (1 Kings 18:13)
    Both through church history and in the last days the false religious system will promote all types of idolatry while again persecuting and killing the true servants of God (Rev 17:2,6)
  4. Jezebel's power and hatred of frightened even Elijah - Such was Jezebel's power and control, that even Elijah became scared and ran for his life (1 Kings 19:1-3)
    Again this pictures the persecution of believers that has occurred through the ages by the false religious system and will increase in the tribulation period. (Rev 12:17, 17:6)
  5. Jezebel and Ahab desired the vineyard - A very telling and pivotal moment in the life of Ahab and Jezebel comes when Ahab wanted Naboth's vineyard and Jezebel was willing to kill Naboth to get it. (1 Kings 21). Jezebel organized two men to lie and give false testimony about Naboth, leading to his death (1 Kings 21:7-10,13)
    When used symbolically in the Bible, the vineyard points to Israel (Isaiah 5:1-7, Hos 10:1). Jesus used the same picture in His parable (Matt 21:33-46). So this is a pointer to the fact that in the last days the king will take the vineyard (nation of Israel) through murder and force. This is clear in Jesus' Olivet discourse, as well as in the book of Revelation itself, where in both cases the Jews have to flee their land to a place assigned for them (Matt 24:15-18, Rev 12:6,14-16). The two lying witnesses also pictures how false religion dealt with the Lord Jesus, the vineyard's owners son (Matt 21:37-39) who was also condemned to death on the false testimony of two lying witnesses (Matt 26:60-66)
  6. Jezebel's deeds were not forgotten by God! He didn't forget what Jezebel did. He didn't forget the blood of His prophets that was shed. 2Ki 9:7 'You shall strike the house of Ahab your master, that I may avenge the blood of My servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the LORD, at the hand of Jezebel.
    And the false religious system throughout the ages has shed the blood of many saints. The woman pictured in Rev 17 is said to be drunk on it (Rev 17:6). But God has not forgotten and will repay (Rev 18:20,24)
  7. Jezebel's end - God used a king, Jehu, to strike down this wicked woman! She was thrown down (literally!) from her high position and brought to an end (2 Kings 9:30-36)
    In the last days God will use 10 kings to destroy this wicked woman, this false religious system (Rev 17:16-17)

Thyatira Report Card - The Warning

Rev 2:21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.

It is important to remember that this church of Thyatira points prophetically to the age from around 600AD through to the tribulation period. For most of that early period the Roman Catholic church held sway over Christendom. The Lord says that He has given her time to repent but she would not. H.A Ironside writes in this telling quote:

“Romanism is Christianity, Judaism, and Heathenism joined together; and the Lord abhors the vile combination. God gave her (Rome) space to repent, and she repented not. Go back to the days of Savanarola in Italy, Wickliffe and Cranmer in England, John Knox in Scotland, Martin Luther in Germany, Zwingle in Switzerland, Calvin in France-all those mighty reformers whom God raised up throughout the world to call Rome to repent of her iniquity, but she repented not."
H.A Ironside

Rev 2:22 'Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds.

So what is the outcome? She, and all who commit adultery with her will be thrown into 'great tribulation'. That is a stark warning so it is important to see its prophetic implications. The words translated 'Great tribulation' here are the same two Greek words used by Jesus in Mathew 24 to describe the coming 'Great Tribulation' at the end of the age. The message to the Thyatiran church following this false woman is if you do not repent you will enter the Great Tribulation. Again... this is a stark warning! And anyone who follows the Roman Catholic Church with its Babylonian religion should realise who they are getting into bed with. William Newell comments:

"And them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of her works. Here is a most terrible threat! We know of The Great Tribulation; and I cannot avoid the conclusion that this warning points to it. For we read in Rev 17:1-18 that the Babylonian harlot is to be hated and made desolate by the Beast and his ten kings (Rev 17:16). Please note at once that these last four churches look toward the end - that is, to the closing of church testimony to give way to the kingdom. Thyatira, impenitent, is threatened with the tribulation; Sardis, with Christ’s coming as a thief - that is, (after the true Church has been raptured) they will be “caught” like the world - 1Th_5:2-3; Philadelphia, faithful though weak, has the promise of the Rapture, to escape all the trouble of the awful “hour” that is coming; while Laodicea is spewed out as lukewarm, irrecoverable - ending the history of the Church as Christ’s earthly witness."3
William Newell, Revelation A complete commentary

Rev 2:23 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.

I will strike her children dead. Remember, this is Jesus speaking. Taken literally it is obviously full on but we should should remember that this letter is prophetic. When it speaks of 'her children' it is speaking of this religious system's followers - her offspring if you like. The Lord is saying that all the followers of this false religious system who do not repent will die. They will be judged. He is the One who searches and knows the hearts and minds. He is the One with eyes of fire. He is the One who will repay according to their ways. He wants them to repent, He is giving them time to repent, but if they will not then judgement awaits. And the Great Tribulation awaits. In the last days followers of this type of church with it's false religion will go into the tribulation if they have not been born again. So the message to the Thyatiran type church is very serious... Repent! And come back to salvation in Christ alone, through faith alone, by grace alone.4 Jesus alone is your hope and do not follow any other false system!  

Thyatira Report Card - The Challenge

Rev 2:24 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):

There were lots of things that came into the Church through the Catholic/Babylonian mystery religions. 

Dr Tim LaHaye, in 'Revelation - Illustrated and made plain', notes the introduction of the following practices during this period including:

  • 607AD - Boniface III made the first Pope
  • 786 AD - Worship of images and relics
  • 850AD - Use of 'holy water' began
  • 995 AD - Canonization of dead saints 
  • 1079 AD - Celibacy of the priesthood 
  • 1190 AD - Sale of Indulgences
  • 1215 AD - Transubstantiation
  • 1229 AD - Bible forbidden to laymen  
  • 1439 AD - Doctrine of purgatory decreed  
  • 1534 AD - Jesuit order founded
  • 1545 AD - Tradition granted equal authority with Bible 
  • 1854 AD - Immaculate conception of Mary
  • 1870 AD - Infallibility of Pope declared5 

There are many things making a strong comeback today in the church such as centering prayer, contemplative prayer, eastern meditation... they come with nice names but are really Satan's deep secrets. The Bible doesn't talk about them and we are not to learn them. They come from the Eastern mysticism. According to Jesus' own command to this church there are many things that we are not to even learn, let alone practice, for they are actually 'Satan's deep secrets'. So don't go there! So what should you do?  

Rev 2:25 Only hold on to what you have until I come.

This church had some who were not following Jezebel or her teaching and they were commended by Jesus. And what they were told to do is what we are commanded to do... hold to the truth. Hold on to the true faith until Jesus comes. (See 1Th 5:21, 2Ti 1:13; 2Ti 1:14, Tit 1:9, Jud 1:3). This promise of His coming is now seen in the promise He gives. It is both a promise of rapture and reward! 

Thyatira Report Card - The Promise (rapture and reigning!)

Rev 2:26-27 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 scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery' -- just as I have received authority from my Father.

First of all is the promise of reward to the overcomer. Jesus quotes Psalm 2, which is a prophecy about Jesus ruling the world in His coming Kingdom, and He also applies this to the true believers in the church. We shall rule and reign with Him. But our rewards and position in the life to come are directly related to our faith and service today. And, like a good Christmas, there is another gift!

Rev 2:28-29 I will also give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

What is the morning star? Well, a better question would be 'who' is the morning star? This is answered later in the book of Revelation where Jesus says:

Rev 22:16 "I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star."

Jesus Himself is the morning star. He is also 'the sun of righteousness'. (Mal 4:2) The morning star appears first in the darkness of the sky before the breaking of the dawn. Then the sun rises over the earth bringing the hope of a new day. The imagery of the star and sun, both symbols of Jesus, are fulfilled in the rapture of the church and return of the Lord Jesus to this world. Jesus appears first as the morning star to His true church. Later He appears as the sun of righteousness to this world to bring in the new day where He shall rule and reign!

And, when we are given the Morning Star, that’s the announcement of the dawn.  That’s the proclamation of the new and the glorious day.  And when we have Christ, caught away with Him, the Morning Star, we are with Him at the dawning.  We are with Him at the great consummation of the age.  We are with our Lord in the denouement of all time.  The Morning Star is ours.  Christ is ours. We with Him... in gladness, in glory, in joy, in victory, in triumph, in righteousness, in salvation, world without end.  
Dr. W. A Criswell


So what have we seen? The church at Thyatira had some great characteristics walking in love, faith and service to one another. Yet this love seemed to lead to tolerance, allowing a false prophetess called Jezebel to lead many followers into immorality and idolatry. This picture of the woman leading the church into falsehood is telling for it speaks to far more than just a single woman and a single church of the first century. Revelation is a prophetic book and this letter and false woman point to the false religious system of the Roman Catholic Church through history and the false religious system that is prophesied to come in the last days. To the followers of this system the threat of the great tribulation is given. 

In contrast to those that experience the great tribulation, those that overcome, who hold fast to the Lord Jesus and salvation by grace through faith, there is a promise of rapture and reward. They will experience the morning star - the Lord Jesus coming as a sign of the coming new day. And they will receive reward. They will rule and reign with Christ in His Kingdom. So the stakes are high. Very high. Make sure you stay true to the faith in Christ alone. Glory in no one but Christ.    

  1. Scholars are not sure if the woman's name in this church was actually Jezebel or if this name is being used figuratively to show the type of woman who was controlling this church. Probably the latter as I doubt that name was overly popular given its well known history!

  2. You might also remember the parable Jesus gave of a women who added leaven into the flour, resulting in the whole dough being leavened. This again is a picture of false religion and its influence with 'Christendom' in this Church age - Matt 13:33  He spoke another parable to them, "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened."

  3. This point about the the last four churches (Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea) is very important. It is what I tried to portray in an earlier diagram showing three of the four churches going on into the tribulation and one, the true church Philadelphia, going up in the rapture. We'll explore this more in the message to Philadelphia.  

  4. At the heart of the Protestant faith is:

    By Grace alone (Sola Gratia)
    Through Faith alone (Sola Fide)
    In Christ alone (Solus Christus)
    According to Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura)
    For God’s Glory alone (Soli Deo Gloria)

  5. As Time LaHaye writes 'since the above changes and additions have been made, as substantiated by history, it seems quite ironic that the church of Rome today like to board that "Rome is always the same".

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