The word Thyatira means sacrifice of contrition. The message to this church covers the period of church history dealing with the deepening apostasy of the church under the absolute power of the Papacy. When Emperor Justinian chose to establish the Bishop of Rome as the c corrector of heretics he handed him almost unmitigated temporal and ecclesiastical authority over both the church and the states that professed to be its loyal adherents.
The church covers the longest period of church history spanning about 1000 years, covering the time when the Papacy was the single most consistent bulwark of European society. Thyatira represents the church of the middle ages and while it was a time of great spiritual darkness it was also a time of light. It was during the time of Thyatira that great spiritual luminaries like Luther, Calvin, Knox, and others stood against the encroaching darkness.
However, the message to Thyatira was also relevant to the church during John’s time and is still relevant to us today, presenting vital gems of truth that can be mined for our spiritual benefit.
Jesus introduces himself to the church at Thyatira as one who is the Son of God, thereby asserting his authority over them. He also points to himself as the one who has eyes like flames of fire and feet like fine bronze. These references point to Jesus’ ability to read the hearts of his people and lead them in the way they should go.
Jesus’ introduction of himself is at once reassuring but also solemn. It is reassuring to know that he sees our hearts and understands our motives. It is reassuring to know that He is the Son of God and is able to lead us. But it is also a solemn thing to think about the fact that Jesus reads our thoughts. That He has authority over our lives and is more capable than we think of leading us.
Jesus begins his commendation of the church by telling them that he knows their charity and service and faith. The church of Thyatira is full of charitable deeds and acts of service. A church that has faith and patience. In other words, even though this period of time signifies a great spiral downwards into apostasy there are still some redeemable qualities on the surface.
The church is full of charity and good works. There is a measure of faith and a desire to patiently serve God. The church hasn’t passed a point of no return. There is still some glimmer of hope that they may be salvaged and brought back to the purity of a Bible-based faith.
The most important factor in our spiritual growth is our willingness to expose our hearts to Jesus and to allow Him to lead and guide our lives. When we are willing to accept His authority over us and allow Him to take control of our lives through His word we will find that our spiritual lives will grow exponentially. It is during those times when we are unwilling to recognize and accept these facts that we begin to flounder spiritually and fall away into apostasy and backsliding.
But though the church of Thyatira had a measure of faith and good works she was beginning to show signs of apostasy. Of compromise. Jesus tells the church that has formed an unholy alliance with an unholy woman who has led them to commit spiritual fornication with idols.
It’s a pretty jarring description. Graphic, raw, and to the point. In Bible symbolism, a woman is a church. A pure woman is a pure church and a harlot is generally an impure church that has assimilated unchristlike characteristics and practices. In this case, it seems that Thyatira is somehow committing spiritual adultery, that is compromising the truth, with a woman or spiritual system that is pagan, much like Jezebel was.
The story of Ahab and Jezebel is well known in the Bible. Jezebel was a Phoenician princess who married King Ahab of Israel. She was a priestess of the pagan God Baal and set herself to introduce Baal worship and by extension, sun worship into Israel.
The marriage of Ahab and Jezebel and the resulting apostasy in Israel are a type of the time when paganism would seep into the church and when there would be a union of church and state.
Interestingly red and purple cloth was an iconic trademark of Thyatira and correspondingly is what the apostate church is clothed in, in Revelation 17. The apostate system of religious worship and the union between church and state that characterized this period of church history led to deep spiritual apostasy and darkness in the church.
Jesus strongly condemned this mingling of the sacred and profane, this marriage between the things of God and the things of Satan.
But Jesus doesn’t just tell them to walk away from a bad relationship with Jezebel, he tells them that if they continue with it there will be consequences. One of Satan’s biggest lies in Eden was that sin does not have consequences. When he goaded Eve to eat from the tree he added the caveat “you shall not surely die” In other words, he told her that disobeying God’s word would have no consequences. That is a lie.
In His message to the church of Thyatira Jesus plainly tells them that their apostasy with paganism would have dire consequences if they did not disengage at once.
While he warns Thyatira that their continued apostasy would lead to ruin Jesus also counsels them and gives them hope. “But that which ye have already, hold fast till I come”. He tells them to hold fast to the truth they already know. To hold fast to His word, to hold fast to Him. Holding fast to Jesus means letting go of something else. It means letting of the spiritual compromise they have engaged in and committing themselves heart and soul to Him.
Jesus promises those who overcome power over all nations and the hope of ruling all nations with a rod of iron. It’s an interesting promise to leave the church of Thyatira with. A promise for dominion and power.
The oppression of Roman would have been a big factor that led to apostasy during the time of the early church. The actual church of Thyatira was under Roman rule and the pressure to conform to Roman society in order to survive would have been significant. But Jesus assured the early Christians that He is in control. That the authority to delegate power over the nations lies with Him and not with Rome, contrary to popular conceptions.
The same is true of the period of apostasy during the dark ages that this message covers. Rome was still larger than life at this time and it would have been tempting to conform, to give some ground in order to avoid the continued confrontation and persecution that the church had endured for so many centuries. But Jesus assures them that all power and authority belong to God.
Compromise is not necessary for survival. Faithfulness is the only factor in not just surviving but thriving not only here and now but also for eternity.