Seven Churches of Revelation
4. Thyatira: Compromise With Spiritual Fornication
Barclay notes that it is odd that the longest of the seven letters was written to the Church that was the smallest and least important of the seven towns. The elder Pliny dismisses the place with the contemptuous phrase, "Thyatira and other unimportant communities." A former name of the city was "Semiramis."
Thyatira lay at the mouth of a long valley connecting the Hermus and Caicus rivers, through which ran a great road from Byzantium to Smyrna, and a great trade route from Pergamos to Syria.
Thyatira was the gateway to Pergamos, capital city of Asia. It didnít have great pagan temples, nor was it a center of Caesar worship. It did have an unusual oracle outside the walls dedicated to Sambatha, with a sibyl (female soothsayer). Peloubet states, "Now there is evidence to show that in Thyatira there was a great amalgamation of races." The Thyatiran oracle lent her aid to a great amalgamation of different religions.
City of Purple and Trade Guilds
Thyatira was a great commercial center, in particular of the wool trade and of the dyeing industry. Lydia, seller of purple, came from Thyatira, Acts 16:14. The province was called Lydia, as was the purple garment woven whole at Thyatira. Purple dye was extremely expensive, made from the madder root which grew around Thyatira and the murex shellfish.
Thyatira was thus a place of great commercial prosperity and wealth. It was distinguished by its number of trade guilds, which threatened the existence of the Church in Thyatira. The present name of the city is ak-Hissar, "white castle," and today has a population of about 30,000.
To Thyatira, the Savior says they should not permit "Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication . . . . Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds," Revelation 2:20-22. Adultery and fornication can be understood both in a physical and spiritual sense. Philadelphia is promised protection from the "hour of temptation" or "hour of trial" that will come upon all the world (3:10), while Laodicea is going to receive Eternal chastisement if they fail to repent (3:19). Symrna was to have tribulation ten days, (2:10). So another theme of the letters to the seven Churches is the tribulation: why it comes, how to bear up under it, and how to avoid it. This is a good reason why we should "hear" what the Spirit says to the Churches.
Jezebel and the Choices We Face Today
Who was the "Jezebel" threatening the Church in Thyatira? The original Jezebel, wife of Ahab and daughter of the King of the Zidonians, I Kings 16:31, brought her own gods and goddesses into Israel, including Baal and Astarte, and taught Israel to depart from the true God and worship these idols. Some say the Thyatiran Jezebel was the wife of the leader of the Thyatira Church, who undid all the good work her husband did. Others say Jezebel is to be identified with the famous local oracle Sambathe, who may have been a renegade Jewess. Barclay believes a third explanation. He says the influence of the Thyatiran trade guilds was the "Jezebel" threatening the Church of Thyatira. Ancient reliefs found throughout Asia Minor vividly portrayed the licentious nature of the guild feasts.
If one did not join a trade guild and partake of their heathen worship ceremonies and common meals with wine poured out as a libation and offering to the gods, it would be very difficult to obtain a job. But a true Christian could not partake of such a drunken and immoral celebration, where fornication was often rampant. The word for "bed" can mean "banqueting couch." Jesus may be saying to compromisers in Thyatira, "I will strike her down as she sits at her forbidden feasts." The Christian must divorce himself from such things, but this "Jezebel" said it was all right for the believer to join the trade guild and attend heathen functions, in order to protect their business interests. Believers in Thyatira had to choose between business prosperity and loyalty to Jesus Christ.
And so today, like it was in ancient Thyatira, thousands of men and women have to make a similar choice. Which comes first: your business relationships or your commitment to Jesus Christ? We either face or evade that question. So it was that the greatest threat to Thyatira was not from without, but from within. Not from persecution, heathen worship or state insistence on Caesar worship. But from "those within the Church who proposed to face the world with the most dangerous of all doctrines, a doctrine of compromise," (Barclay, p. 72).
Lessons from Thyatira
Loose and shameful immorality was a problem in Thyatira. So it is today, even, sad to say, in the Church. Infidelity to oneís mate is bad enough. But fornication against God is even worse. The vow to God and the marriage vow are alike in that they must not be broken. "Them that commit adultery with her," Revelation 2:22, means those who follow her bad example, and flirt with the pernicious doctrines she teaches. "Her children" are those who have accepted her teaching and are living her lascivious ways.
Verse 23 says that the Lord searches "the reins and heart," i.e., the emotions and the intellect. We are laid bare before His scrutiny, and there is nothing that we feel, or will that He does not know. Only Christ can cleanse us so that we can bear the gaze of His flaming eyes of fire, verse 18.
Verse 24 describes those in Thyatira "which have not known the depths of Satan." Gnostics in the early Church said that to be a real Christian, we must know "secret" knowledge, and they claimed to be able to supply it. This teaching leads to the belief that it is right and necessary to commit the grossest and most depraved sins, in order to experience what they are like, so we can know what virtue is like. Some today justify reading hundreds of books about the occult, the international bankers, prophetic speculation, etc. Instead, we should major on the Bible and Jesus Christ!
In verses 25-26, Thyatira is told to hold fast, overcome, and keep His works until the end. Victory and long fidelity are Christian essentials. The Christian life is not a battle, but a campaign. Finally, Thyatira is promised "the morning star." This may refer to the resurrection, but certainly it also points to the Messiah Himself, who is the "bright and morning star," Revelation 22:16. Those who do not compromise and hold on to the end will receive the greatest prize of all, no less than Jesus Christ Himself.
Seven Churches Beginning.