Dr. Richard L. Strauss
October 29, 1978
It is strange, indeed, that the longest and most difficult to understand of the seven letters is written to the church in the smallest and least significant of the seven cities. Thyatira vies with Philadelphia for the distinction of being the least important city of these seven. Its major factor in the ancient world was its location, lying on the crossroads of two heavily-traveled highways. The one was the road from Byzantium (Constantinople or Istanbul), the largest city in this part of the world, south to Smyrna. The second was the road from the capital of Pergamum, southeast to Syria. Situated just 20 miles southeast of Pergamum, it was considered to be the gateway to the capital city.
It had practically no natural protection, lying in a vast open valley, and every invading army that ever approached Pergamum from the east had to pass through it. So it was considered to be a military outpost designed only to slow the enemy down long enough to fortify the capital city against attack. Its fate was to be destroyed and rebuilt many times as the mere stepping stone to a prize far greater than itself. Just as the town had little political importance, so it had little religious importance. There was no center of emperor worship there. There were no gods or goddesses that commanded the respect of the entire province. It had its temples and shrines, but none of them were extremely famous.
But it was inevitable that Thyatira should become famous for something. Situated at the crossroads of such strategic land routes, it soon began to develop into a thriving commercial and industrial center. Archaeological discoveries show it to be famous for its bronze workers, its weavers, dyers, clothing manufacturers, its tanners and cobblers, and its potters. There is a famous woman in the New Testament that came from Thyatira. She was part of the dyer guild in all probability. Her name was Lydia. She held the franchise for the purple cloth sales in the city of Philippi, and she came to know Jesus Christ, of course, as her personal Savior.
As the trade grew, the city grew, and as the city grew, the church of Jesus Christ grew also. That's right--a greater percent of this town's population claimed to be Christians than most towns of the day. The church had made significant impact on the community. In fact, while located in one of the smaller cities, the church itself is commonly reported to have been one of the larger in all of Asia and Greece. And the Lord commends them for what they are doing. Listen to their glowing praise in verse 19.
1. Their Glowing Praise
We begin reading with Revelation 2:18-19. "And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write, These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass: 'I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first."
Just as He has begun the commendation in each letter so far, so Christ begins again, "I know your works." What kind of works were these in Thyatira? There are four different things in which they are praised. The first is their love in view of the situation at Ephesus, we can understand how much of a compliment this was. At that very fundamental church, love was waning. But in the church at Thyatira, love was gaining. This is the greatest of all Christian virtues, according to the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 13:13). It heads the list of the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). And it was found in this church. There was no coldness nor indifference here. There was no lethargy nor complacency here. There was no disunity nor disharmony in this church. They had love--love for the Lord and love for one another.
And their love led to a second commendable characteristic: their labor. "I know your service," says the Lord. This is not the word for hard work or strenuous toll we saw in the letter to Ephesus. This is the word diakonos from which we get our word deacon. It means to serve or to minister. Here is something we evangelical churches need to develop: a desire and a willingness to serve, to minister to the needs of one another and to the needs of the community in which we labor. There's a tone of sacrifice in this kind of service. It's a desire to help others, to befriend them, to render them some kindness. It goes beyond the mechanical "work for the sake of work" that we found in Ephesus. It supersedes the cold complacent attitude that does a job because of obligation or duty that is so common among God's people. It removes all grudging service and all griping in fulfilling ones duties, and adds to our work. The refreshing and satisfying element of concern for others, the tender touch of loving kindness. Listen, these people had something for which the Lord could praise them.
But love and labor were not the only strong points of the Thyatiran Christians. They were characterized by loyalty. The word faith in this instance should probably be rendered faithfulness. There were very few fickle and faithless saints in Thyatira. They were not occasional and spasmodic in their attendance, nor undependable in carrying out their responsibilities. You could count on them. They were right there where they were supposed to be, doing just what they were supposed to do, regularly. Great buildings are not built with defective, irregular, second-rate building materials. Neither are great churches built by irregular, undependable, second-rate Christians, who come and go as they please. God gives us folks who are here, willing to do whatever needs to be done, whenever the doors are open. That's the kind of church they had at Thyatira--the people were loyal.
The last part of this commendation points out that they were longsuffering. They had patient endurance, even when their faith was tested. They knew how to bear hardship for their Lord without griping and complaining. This is the same compliment Christ gave to the Ephesian Church. It doesn't seem as though there was as much persecution against the church as a whole in this city as in some of the others, but those who stood true to the Lord had their share, and they bore it patiently.
Note something about this compliment. There was love, labor, loyalty, and longsuffering, and they were growing. "I know your works," says the Lord, "and the last are more than the first." Now there is a real compliment. I know so many Christians who begin strong. They start with a mighty blast off, and then they promptly fizzle out. The going gets a little tough, a few sacrifices are called for, the week-in and week-out grind begins to get both burdensome and monotonous, and before you know it their seat is empty, their job is resigned, or their love grows cold. Not the believers in Thyatira. Things were getting better there. They were loving each other more, serving each other more sacrificially, showing more faithfulness and patience with every passing day. This is a glowing note of praise for some well-deserving Christians, a commendation which could not be given to every Christian church today.
2. Their Glaring Problem
But all was not rosy at Thyatira. There was a glaring problem. The reason for the problem is the very cause of the growth of that city. Do you remember all those commercial enterprises centered in Thyatira: the bronze workers, dyers, weavers, and so on? These workers were organized together in trade guilds, which were the trade unions of the day. And they posed a real problem to the dedicated Christian. You see, since they lived in a predominantly pagan society, all of life was wrapped up in the worship of heathen gods. And the social activities of these trade guilds were no exception. They had common meals together, and they were normally begun by a sacrifice to a heathen god. The meat was dedicated to that god, and what was left provided the food for the feast. Furthermore, these trade-guild banquets usually degenerated into drunken immoral reveling and carousing. Could a Christian participate in affairs where idolatry, drunkenness, and fornication were the accepted practices? If he refused to become a member of such a guild and participate in its ceremonies, he would be committing commercial suicide and would soon face bankruptcy and sure poverty. There is no question but that a real problem existed.
Now the Apostle Paul had advocated a policy of non-resistance to the government, and participation in the normal life of society, so long as no matters of conscience were affected. He said to eat at their feasts, so long as it was not a matter of clear-cut idolatry, recognized as such by those present (1 Corinthians 10:27). Soldiers of the day, even Christians, were required to carry the idolatrous emblems of emperor worship as their military standards, and mass homage to the emperor was part of their daily exercises. If a man was in the army, he went through the forms, because he was required to do so, but knowing in his heart he was not worshipping Caesar, and I think rightly so. The general principle was that they were to be a part of the activity of the community as long as their conscience would allow them to do it and as long as it wouldn't be a bad testimony. But this thing in Thyatira was different. And I think the zealous Christians knew that is was clear-cut sin. They needed to avoid it, no matter what the consequences might be.
But there was a woman in the church with a most persuasive personality who thought otherwise. The record of the problem in verse 20 centers about her. "Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce My servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols" (Revelation 2:20).
We do not know what her name was for sure, but Christ calls her Jezebel, likening her to that wicked Phoenician wife of Ahab who introduced idolatry with all its immoral practices, into Israel. This church was allowing this woman Jezebel to have a place of prominence, teaching her vile doctrines in the church, accepting her blasphemous claims to be a prophetess. She was encouraging the Christians there to take an active part in the activities of the local trade unions, and so commit fornication freely and worship their idols freely. She was coaxing them to compromise with the world, and she was gaining a following rapidly.
Corruption was beginning to take its hold on the church of Jesus Christ. Paul's doctrine of Christian liberty had been perverted into a "live as you please" philosophy. This was the same essential error propagated by the Nicolaitanes whom we met at Ephesus and Pergamum. And it is the same essential error taught by the Balaamites we met at Pergamum. And look at the progressive deterioration we see. The church at Ephesus hated this doctrine. They would have nothing to do with it. At Pergamum they tolerated it and permitted those who believed it to remain in the church, undisciplined. But now at Thyatira, they had given a position of authority to one who was openly propagating these errors.
Isn't it true that we humans have to go to one extreme or another? Why can't we live a balanced life, which is the life of the Spirit? There was Ephesus--they wouldn't tolerate any such nonsense as this. They were pure, separated, holy, righteous, good---but they had no love, the most important single Christian virtue. You know that's true of so many churches today? Orthodox, fundamental, evangelical--whatever word you want to use. Conservative in their doctrine. But the love is not there. The warmth of the Spirit is not there. That's a sad commentary on evangelical Christendom today.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have people who talk about love. We might call them the Liberals. They say they love everybody (except us fundamentalists!). They love everybody so much that they let anybody teach anything they want in their church. Love has become the substitute for doctrinal and moral purity. They espouse pre-marital sex and homosexuality. Unfortunately, the liberals are loving people, and helping them by mercy and kindness, but they're not loving them to the Savior. They're loving them into an ecclesiastical structure that is doctrinally and morally corrupt. But let me tell you something, their method (love) is still Biblical, and the lack of it in fundamental circles puts us to shame.
Why is it, dear Christians, that we who have the truth cannot love each other, and love a lost world, and seek to help them in their needs, and by acts of kindness woo them to the Savior? God help us to be doctrinally pure, but with love for one another and love for a lost world. I think if there was one thing that I would pray for, for our congregation, is that our love for one another might grow. I pray that God would eliminate the critical spirit and the negativism that may be here, and would continue to bring about a Christ-like love.
You know, I don't know whether to say this or not, but I guess it's on my mind so I might as well say it. I want to say it in kindness. After coming back from Scotland, I have a suggestion for folks who have become very critical. My suggestion is that we as a church buy them a one-way ticket to Scotland; that's my suggestion! Having spent 10 days in Scotland, I say, "Lord, what could we possibly have to complain about?" Why, the folks who listened to me preach sat in the hardest seats I have ever sat in in my entire life. Board seats, perfectly straight. I didn't preach Sunday morning; I sat in the service and listened to someone else preach. I didn't think I was going to make it through that service! It was awful! People complain about the music being too loud or too soft, or the air conditioning being too cold or too warm--something wrong. I'd like you to visit Scotland! I really would. Now I only preached in Aberdeen, but some of the other pastors who went were there longer and traveled around more. Some of them preached on the north coast of Scotland, and there was a howling gale one night when Paul Steele from Cupertino was preaching. He said the wind was just whistling through the church like there were no walls there. Now Paul is a pretty lively fellow and can probably work up a sweat when he preaches, but he said while I was preaching he could have used an overcoat and a scarf and a cap! He was freezing, and the congregation was sitting there shivering the whole time. No more complaining, folks! If the air conditioning is too cold, just forget it! If you're too hot, fan yourself! God help us to love one another and to be so filled with the love of Christ that little things like this don't mean anything at all.
How did I get off on that?! All right, let's get back.
Jezebel was justifying her false doctrine by teaching Gnosticism. Evidently her claim to be a prophetess was justification for certain deep truths that were supposedly revealed exclusively to her. This is the old Gnostic heresy the New Testament condemns. The Gnostics taught that the Scriptures were not enough, that there were certain deeper truths revealed to a select initiated inner circle of Christians. Some Gnostics taught that the matter was essentially evil, and had no relationship to spirit. They contended that you could do anything at all with your body, and it had no effect whatsoever upon your spiritual relationship with God. So go ahead and sin, commit fornication and idolatry--it didn't make any difference. Such superior knowledge compromises so-called deep things of God borrowing a phrase from Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:10.
Look down to Revelation 2:24, even though we're not there yet. "Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, and who have not known the depths of Satan"--they were calling them the deep things of God; Jesus says they are the deep things of the devil.
You can mark it down: Miss Jezebel Jones, or whatever her name was, was a tool of the devil, corrupting the church of Jesus Christ with her special revelations. I am suspicious of anyone who claims special revelation from God. The New Testament canon closed with the death of the Apostles, and we have in our possession everything God wants us to know for the time being. Someday we'll know more, but right now, this is what God wants us to know. Anyone who claims to have further light which contradicts the plain truth of the Word or adds to it, has condemned himself by his claim. That includes Ellen G. White with her Seventh-Day Adventism, Mary Baker Eddy with her Christian Science, Joseph Smith with his Mormonism, Charles Taze Russell with his Jehovah's Witnesses, or anybody else. Christ sums them all up as the "deep things of Satan."
Now let's say a word about the removal of the problem (Revelation 2:21-23). God says He's given her room to repent, but she refused to repent, so the Lord promises that she shall be the victim of her own heresy, cast into a bed, or more accurately, into one of the banqueting couches used at the pagan feast. "And I will kill her children with death"--her children likely meaning her followers. All them that follow her vile teaching shall be judged severely by the Lord in great tribulation. Christ is the one who "searcheth the reins and hearts," according to the King James Version. The reins is the seat of the intellectual life to the ancient. We could also translate it as Christ is the one who "searches the minds and the hearts." He is the one who has eyes like a flame which penetrate into our hearts and minds, and His feet of fine brass, the symbol of judgment (verse 18). He will remove the dross from His church, take them away in judgment when He returns to earth to reign.
3. Their Glorious Promises
Permitting this heresy to be taught in the church was absolutely wrong. But I want you to notice, there were still some true believers among them, some who had not embraced the error nor entered into the sin.
"Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, and who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have till I come" (Revelation 2:24-25).
a. Encouragement for the Present
Christ says, "I will put on you no other burden." This is encouragement for the present. What did He mean? I think that this is a reference to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:28-29. This, you recall, is the result of the Jerusalem Council: "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden"--same Greek word used in Revelation 2--"than these necessary things. That you abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if you keep yourselves, you shall do well. Fare you well."
Abstain. There are four things they abstained from. They weren't under the intricate rules and regulations of the Mosaic law so they didn't have to be circumcised, for example. But to keep harmony in the early church between Jewish and Gentile believers, they asked new believers--particularly new Gentile Christians--to abstain from these four things found in verse 29.
Now two of those things were ceremonial things that had to do with foods: blood and things strangled. The other two were things that are part of God's eternal moral law: idolatry and fornication. When we get to Revelation 2 (in 96 A.D.), the two ceremonial laws are dropped, and only two are left--things which are clearly sin, about which there could be no doubt: idolatry and immorality.
These two things are so very vital in our testimony to a lost world. We are free. We have liberty in Jesus Christ. But our liberty is the liberty of being led by the Spirit, of voluntarily bringing our lives into conformity to the Word of God by the power of God which is in us. These two things are important in maintaining our testimony to a lost world: that you abstain from idolatry and from fornication. These were the two things that Jezebel was teaching in the church: to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed to idols.
"But hold fast what you have till I come." They are challenged to keep their lives above reproach. You just live by the Word of God. This was a tremendous encouragement for the present.
b. Exaltation in the Future
The second part of the promise is in Revelation 2:26-27, an exaltation in the future. "And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations. He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels."
This again is for the overcomer: the true believer even in the midst of the compromising and corrupt church at Thyatira. They would prove they were overcomers by keeping His works to the end, and when Christ returns, they shall be exalted to a position of authority and rule over the nations, and put down all opposition and rebellion against the rule of Jesus Christ.
Here is added evidence that Jesus Christ is coming back again to set up His kingdom on earth, and that those of us who know Him personally as Savior from sin are going to share in His reign. Isn't it interesting that this quotation from Psalm 2 is promised to the Christians at Thyatira--little insignificant Thyatira, without any governmental authority, nor military might. You, and all true believers like you, shall reign with Jesus Christ, and put down all opposition and resistance to Him.
c. Enjoyment of the Savior
There is one last precious promise we cannot overlook. Read Revelation 2:28-29. "And I will give him the morning star. He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
If you have received the Savior, if you know Him personally as your sin-bearer, you are going to have an enjoyment of the Savior throughout all eternity. "And I will give him the morning star." What is the morning star? Well, you need to compare Scripture with Scripture: Jesus says in Revelation 22:16, "I am the bright morning star."
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Do you know Jesus Christ today? Have you told Him you know you are a sinner; you believe He died for your sins? Have you invited Him into your heart and life to be your Savior? If you have, you have the glorious prospect of enjoying Him throughout all eternity. To reject him is to be separated from Him forever. Don't wait another day to receive Him as your own.
Heed the word of the Spirit: "He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we pray that You'll use this message to encourage us believers, to not only stand firm doctrinally and to be separated from sin, but to truly love one another. And Lord, we pray that if there are some here today who have never trusted the Lord Jesus as Savior from sin, that they will hear with ears of understanding, knowing that Christ died in their place and paid the penalty for their sin on Calvary's cross. God, give them grace right now to put their trust in Him. We ask it for Jesus' sake. Amen.