So we go on with our tour of the seven churches of Asia and we stop in Thyatira. The first three churches were on the coast of Asia Minor and starting with this church we begin to move inward. The important point though is not the geographical location but the spiritual distance of this church from God. Thyatira is south of Pergamos both geographically and spiritually. Compared with the three churches prior this church has made a major departure from soundness of faith and practice. This church shows us the natural progression of a church like Pergamos. Pergamos had a little false doctrine creeping into the church but here we have false doctrine permeating the church. The little leaven in Pergamos turned into the whole leavened loaf of Thyatira. In the first they only allowed it in the congregation and the last they put up with it in the pulpit. It is most probable that Thyatira was founded under the ministry of Paul. The only real mention of Thyatira in the New Testament is the conversion of Lydia the merchantwoman from Thyatira under the preaching of Paul at Philippi (Acts 16:14). It is therefore assumed that this was the means of introducing the gospel to this area. The angel of this church is also unknown. The meaning of the word Thyatira is “daughter.” John Gill explains the story behind the meaning: “Thyatira … signifies a “daughter”; and it had its name …, from hence: Seleucus …being at war with Lysimachus, and hearing that he had a daughter born, called this city Thygatira, which was before called Pelopia, and Semiramis; which is a very fit name for this church, and expresses the effeminacy of it, when the virgin Mary, whom the Romanists call the daughter of God, was more worshipped than her son….” As the picture unfolds it is interesting how descriptive this story is. That which before bore the name of pagan goddesses and incited Babylonian Baal- like modes of worship, is now turned into a name associated with Christ. If I was to hold to a church age view of the seven churches it would be because of this church; though I am not for what Christ says to one church He would have all of His churches in all ages to hear. Probably the most interesting points of the dispensational view are found here for it definitely shows the idolatry of the wicked Jezebel from the middle ages to the time of the Reformation when the Roman Catholic Church had a strangle hold on all that was called Christian (with the exception of the faithful Ana-Baptists churches). I believe it could be prophetic in the sense of foreseeing such churches embracing such idolatry which would find the fullness of example in the idolatry of Rome, which is nothing more than ancient pagan Roman religion called by Christian names. This is the idolatrous church and we would do well in any age to hear what Christ has to say to her. Regardless let us look at the several points of this church.
First, Christ would be known to this church in terms of His judgment. “And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass….” Paul said that we should not be deceived for God is not mocked. That is true for the church as it is for the world, if not more true. Judgment begins with the house of God. There is nothing that escapes the eyes of Christ. His eyes are searching and penetrating. The eyes of the Lord are in every place and that includes the pulpit and that includes the pew. Christ is the supreme authority. He is the Son of God. He is the Creator, Sustainer, and Judge of all the earth. He sees all. His feet are prepared to walk in judgment. The term Son of God gives Him His right to judge the church. The eyes of flame attribute to Him the wisdom and discernment to judge the church. The feet of brass describe His power and readiness to come in judgment. His way is the way of judgment (Deut. 32:4). Job wisely noted the wisdom and power of God in judgment like this: “No thought is hidden from him, and he can do all things” (Job 42:2).
Secondly, as we have seen before, Christ would have this church to know that He knows their works. “I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.” This as in the church previously spoken of prevents an objection. “This must be a good thing because of all the good works that are done through it. Is not a tree known by its fruit?” The answer to this is a yes and a no. Yes, what we as men can judge is the fruit. But this is not about what we know or judge but about what God knows in His judgment. He does not judge as we do. He knows the fruit and the root. We may be ultimately fooled into thinking that wild grapes are good fruit but our God is not fooled. Ultimately what we learn then is that not all fruit that is pleasing to our eye is in accordance with the will of God. We really should have learned that from the garden. We should then always judge fruit according to the truth of God’s Word and not according to the arbitrary judgment of men. People may do what is good in the eyes of men but still carry the poison of error. Consider then the fivefold commendation in our verse. There were works done in this church. Works in and of themselves are only as good as the motives. There was charity done in this church. Let us never minimize true acts of love done by those who have poisonous doctrine. Mother Teresa and St. Patrick both belonged to a church that was permeated with falsehood. They did genuine acts of love which are to be commended and even emulated but yet they were connected with falsehood. There was service done in this church. The Mormon Church can teach us a thing or two about service but yet their doctrine is poisonous. There was faith in this church. These people really believed on and in something, but that in and of itself does not correspond itself to the truth. There was also patience in this church. Many false ascetic systems could teach us a thing or two about patience. The false metaphysical system of Hinduism or the falsehood of Islam is definitely pictures of patience. The point is this: A church should not be embraced solely for it acts of charity but for its embracing of God’s truth. The last of their works were even said by Christ to be better than their first. So there was a great deal of excitement in this church. I like what our dear friend Bro. Bell said. “Not all things that grow are truly alive; a dead possum on the road will swell; it’s growing but its dead.” In our modern times the “social gospel” of pseudo-Christianity seems to being doing more and more and producing a great amount of excitement but at the end of the day Christ in all the glory of His gospel is not being preached. The works are worth emulating but their errors are worth fighting. Buy the truth and sell it not.
We next note that Christ shows His abhorrence for spiritual adultery in His church. “Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.” The “notwithstanding” of our text tell us that despite all of the works of the “social gospel” God will not and cannot overlook their error. What is this error that Christ speaks of? On the face of it, in the literal sense we see the problem of a woman in the pulpit. Regardless of the spirit of the age in the church the woman is not to usurp authority over a man. And even though a true church, as in this case, may allow such a thing, it is against the teachings of the New Testament. The bishop is to be the husband of one wife. But this is not just speaking of a literal a figure (a female preacher) but according to the twenty-fourth verse is a “doctrine.” That which crept in unawares in the church of Pergamos has seized control of this church. A little leaven will leaven the whole lump. They had not the courage to oppose the advances of Balaam and now they are compelled by the full seduction of a Jezebel. The Baalamites are in the pulpit. Here a different Old Testament figure is invoked and it would do us well to follow the picture. Let us remember that committing fornication and eating things offered to idols was part of Roman pagan worship. I have recently been reading Augustine and considering ancient Roman culture. I have come to this conclusion. Everything about the Roman Catholic church, which despite what people think still today has a strangle hold on what is called Christian in this world, is not about the perpetuation of the gospel but the perpetuation of the ancient pagan Roman worship (the worship of the queen of heaven, the Eucharist, praying to saints, holy orders, etc. all have their root in Roman paganism). I believe with all my heart that Roman Catholicism has put Christian names on old Roman religion. This idolatry was called adultery in the Old Testament and it was called fornication here. Jezebel introduced pagan worship to Israel and is a fitting emblem of those who brought pagan worship into the New Testament church. Here Thyatira is an example of what would later become a reality throughout western churches. Gill said this: “Rome, comparable to Jezebel, the wife of Ahab; as she was the daughter of an Heathen, so is Rome Papal the daughter of Rome Pagan; and as she was the wife of Ahab, and therefore a queen, so the whore of Babylon calls herself.” Consider the parallel between Jezebel and Rome. Jezebel was not of Israel but of a pagan origin, Jezebel introduced Baal worship to God’s elect people, she killed all the true prophets, and she is known for her violent destruction. All of this is known of Rome and of the great whore we will later see in this book. God hates spiritual adultery especially when it is found in the church. The real problem though is not the female pastor or the idolatrous doctrine. The real problem is the church that ‘suffers’ it to be so and to continue. The church is the sinner here. The church suffers that Jezebel to teach, call herself a prophetess (one that speaks for God), and to teach others to sin. The church sins by allowing sin to propagate.
Next we see that Christ is longsuffering to His church. God bore long with the adultery of Israel and He bears long with His church. “And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.” Hear now the grace of God! He gave Jezebel space to repent. The one who taught his people to attend the altar of pagan idols and to commit spiritual fornication was given by God a means and an opportunity to repent. That is grace. Do you need any further proof of God’s desire to save? God does not have pleasure in the death of the wicked. He truly desires and offers all men everywhere opportunity to repent. He gives them the means of hearing His truth and he gives them the opportunity of conviction to respond. We have examples of this wonderful grace of God historically, allegorically, practically. The historical Jezebel was given a great chance of repentance. During her reign of terror the great miracles of Elijah and Elisha gave her chance to repent. The word was preached. The power of God was demonstrated. Sadly, Jezebel would not repent but went on to her own violent death. Allegorically, we see the picture of Catholicism. The means of opportunity has been given her to repent. The preaching of the martyrs and reformers were given to her and like the Jezebel of old she shed their blood. She would not repent and is running headlong to her destruction. Practically, many men and women have led others astray despite the call of God to repent. Those run headlong into destruction as well. The sad commentary on men is that God gave them space to repent and they would not. Matthew Henry summed it up well: “Two things aggravated the sin of these seducers, who, being one in their spirit and design, are spoken of as one person:—[1.] They made use of the name of God to oppose the truth of his doctrine and worship; this very much aggravated their sin. [2.] They abused the patience of God to harden themselves in their wickedness. God gave them space for repentance, but they repented not. Observe, First, Repentance is necessary to prevent a sinner’s ruin. Secondly, Repentance requires time, a course of time, and time convenient; it is a great work, and a work of time. Thirdly, Where God gives space for repentance, he expects fruits meet for repentance. Fourthly, Where the space for repentance is lost, the sinner perishes with a double destruction.”
Christ would also to have his church here to know that He will judge their idolatry. He will judge the adulteress and all who follow her. “Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.” “Behold this” the Lord says. Three great promises of God follow. I will cast her into a bed. I will kill her children with death. I will judge everyone in my righteousness. Going back to His introduction He is again desiring to be known as the one the searches the hearts of men and reigns (those things which guides and controls their will; their true motives). Look again at the three promises. What does it mean to be cast into bed? Studying the instances in which the bed is mentioned in the Bible more often than not it is connected with some great sin. It is often connected with sickness and languishing as well. Here Christ makes it synonymous with the great tribulation. Prophetically that hurts the idea that the church of the Middle Ages will take part in the terror of the great tribulation described by our Lord in Matthew (Matt. 24). Surely, it does help us to identify the great whore and her destruction described in this book. We have heard the saying “You made your bed now you must lie in it.” Jamison rightly said this: “The place of her sin shall be the place of her punishment. The bed of her sin shall be her bed of sickness and anguish.” How this played out specifically in the church of Thyatira is not known but how it will play out ultimately is revealed to us by God. Not only will she be cast into this tribulation but also all who partake in her sin will be cast into it as well. “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4)! The second I will is this: “I will kill her children with death….” I do not care how you want to interpret this matter of her children; whither if be the daughters of Rome that came out of the Reformation and are destined to return to Rome or whether it be a general statement concerning any or all children of disobedience. Those who follow her or are the direct descendants of her will also face her end. What does it mean to kill with death? Jamison stated this: “Kill with death is a Hebraism for slay with most sure and awful death; so “dying thou shalt die” (Genesis 2:17). Not “die the common death of men” (Numbers 16:29).” To kill with death is synonymous with the warning of Christ that He is able to kill the soul and to destroy both body and soul in hell (we will talk about the second death later in this book). The last I will is a statement of Justice. No man can call God harsh for given each man exactly what they deserve; to measuring to them with the same measure that they use; to give to every man in full accordance with their works. At the end all men will say of the judgment of God that he is righteous and we will marvel at it. In our text we see plainly that in the end God would have all of His churches to know His glory through the destruction of Jezebel and all who follow her.
Lastly, Christ would not have those who are faithful to be discouraged by the unfaithfulness of the many. “But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.” Sad state affairs it is for any church when there is but a remnant of true believers within her; the remnant here is simply known as “the rest.” The saved remnant within this church is specifically addressed by Christ. Christ would have His own comforted that dwell in this wicked world. The remnant is known in two ways. First they are known for their doctrinal purity. They did not have this doctrine by which we spoke. It was a doctrinal problem all along in Thyatira. True Christians are known by the substance of what they believe. They will not embrace a false Christ or a false gospel. Secondly, they are known as those who have not known the depths of Satan. The original sin was to know good and evil, to know the depths of Satan is to be acquainted with evil fully. Here the depths of Satan is the false pagan gospel that was brought into the church. A full blown error is much easy to avoid than one that is dressed in the garb of truth. The remnant will not know in their experience, they will not embrace, the lies of Satan peddled by the peddlers of a false gospel. Notice that the depths of Satan are connected with the speech of false religion, “as they speak.” No other burden by Christ is given to this remnant that has steadfastly resisted the false doctrine that crept in their church. They will not be cast into the bed of affliction. They will not be cast into the great tribulation. They are not appointed to wrath but to obtain salvation. Christ only encourages them to hold fast to the truth they have; to no let go. But the most precious encouragement of all is the last three words, “till I come.” There is an end in sight and we may lift our head for our redemption is drawing nigh. Just hold on till He gets here.