By Hope Bolinger, Crosswalk.com
We may not know much about the churches in Revelation. We know to avoid being like lukewarm Laodicea, but of the seven churches to whom John writes, what all do we know about their cultures, their good aspects, and the warnings administered to them. And more importantly, how can we learn from them?
Today, we'll address the Church at Thyatira. A church that was standing strong in their faith for the most part. But they'd allowed a Jezebel to infiltrate their walls. And consequently, they'd let their guard down and delved into sinful practices. Let's take a look at what Revelation 2:18-29 says: "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. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. 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. 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. 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.’ 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."
Let's explore what they did well, where they went wrong, and how to avoid a Jezebel infiltrating our churches today.
Who Was the Church at Thyatira?
Let's start with the city.
We don't know if Lydia spread the Gospel and helped plant the church in Thyatira, but considering a female Jezebel (or a disputed group of prophets, we'll address this in a moment) infiltrated and had an influence on the church, we can assume that the church allowed for female leadership. So perhaps Lydia had participated in that church plant.
Lydia also may not have started the church of Thyatira, because persecution caused her and her husband to have to move to Philippi.
According to the passage above, the church thrived in terms of service and love. We can imagine they had a strong impact on their community. Think of churches you know who may participate in soup kitchens or give meals to the homeless, and you have a good idea of the church of Thyatira.
Although they had some great acts of service happening, they made a brutal mistake. They allowed a Jezebel to infiltrate their midst.
Who Was the Jezebel in the Church of Thyatira?
Jezebel is never named in this passage. Commentaries speculate as to whether it was a single woman using her seduction and leadership to sway the church into idolatry and fornication, or if it was a group of false prophets (the group name being feminine in the root of the word). So the group of false prophets could have been men and women, perhaps. A faction created in the center of the church.
In either way, this woman or faction of false prophets seems to be driven by a Jezebel spirit, or acts like Jezebel.
According to Christianity.com, a Jezebel spirit acts in this way: "The Bible never strictly has the words Jezebel spirit, but both the Old and New Testaments have negative connotations and symbolism surrounding the name, Jezebel. Depending on one’s background, and denomination (most often from a charismatic background) the meaning of Jezebel spirit can differ. But we’ll go with the most overarching: A disposition, or demonic influence, that causes to create rifts in the church and in marriages through cunning, deception, and seduction."
Similar to Queen Jezebel, those driven by this spirit sow seeds of seduction, division, and idolatry. They woo the people of God to chase after evil practices and foreign gods.
In the case of the church of Thyatira, this person or faction drove the people to commit acts of fornication and to eat meat sacrificed to idols.
Sadly, this faction or person claimed leadership, claimed prophetic abilities. Because of this, they swayed God's people with their power to commit sinful acts. God even allows them (the Jezebels) a period of repentance, but because they refuse, they've incurred his wrath upon them.
John warns this church not to continue to allow this seduction to happen. Because they allowed for a traitor in their midst and didn't do anything to prevent what she (or they) did, John has a scolding in store for them.
Why Should We Heed the Warning to the Church at Thyatira?
We don't struggle on the issue as to whether we'll eat meat sacrificed to idols. Most Christians today don't run into that circumstance, at least.
But we do struggle with false prophets permeating the church walls. People who claim to hear from God and abuse that power to lead the church astray.
How do we define a false prophet? According to Christianity.com, "God speaks harshly against false prophets, occult practices, and other means of sorcery. God describes a false prophet as one who “presumes to speak in My name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods” (Deuteronomy 18:20)."
Sounds a lot like the Jezebels the Church of Thyatira had to deal with.
A false prophet twists the words of Scripture, says feel-good messages, etc. to sway the people of God. And if we don't exercise discernment and balance what people say against what Scripture says, we may fall prey to their lies.
So how do we spot a Jezebel in our midst and call this person, or group, to repentance?
First, we stay in the Word constantly. False sayings like "God won't give you more than you can handle" and "God helps those who help themselves" sound awfully enticing when we've been divorced from Scripture for a while.
Secondly, we nip it in the bud as soon as we spot it. We go to the person and confront them about their false teachings, about their seduction, and call for their repentance. The Church at Thyatira messed up because they tolerated this person or faction for too long. We cannot allow false teachings to continue to spread.
Finally, we seek the Lord's guidance on all church disciplinary matters. Church ecosystems work differently, and we need to turn to him when we encounter trouble or division, often caused by spirits like this.
Photo credit: NeOnbrand/Unsplash
Hope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, a multi-published novelist, and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,100 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy is out with IlluminateYA. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in November of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.