CHAPTER 2 - THYATIRA (4)
"I will proclaim the decree of Yahweh: He said to me,
You are my son, today have I fathered you; ask of me, and I shall give you the nations
as your birthright, the whole wide world as your possession. With an iron scepter you will break them,
shatter them like so many pots.'"
-Psalms 2: 7-9
|Preamble:||2:18||"Here is the message of the Son of God who has eyes like a burning flame and feet like burnished bronze:..."|
|Historical Prologue:||2:19||"I know your activities, your love, your faith, ..."|
|Ethical Stipulations:||2:20-21||"Nevertheless, I have a complaint to make..."|
|Sanctions:||2:22-24||"Look, I am consigning her to a bed of pain,..."|
|Succession Arrangements:||2:25-28||"I am not laying...hold on firmly to what you have until I come. To anyone who proves victorious..."|
You may want to consult the Summary of the 7 Churches in the Charts and Handouts section.
Thyatira (modern Akhisar, Turkey) was located just 35 miles southeast of Pergamum. The businesswoman Lydia, the seller of purple cloth who was converted by Paul, was from this city (see Acts. 16:14-15). In the 1st century this city was known for the dominance of her trade guilds over the local economy. Every business in Thyatira was strictly controlled by these powerful trade guilds. In order to work in any trade, one had to belong to the guild of that trade and to belong to a guild was integrally connected with the pagan religions that were approved by the Roman government. All the guild meetings took place in the pagan temples and the eating of a common meal, the meat of which had been sacrificed to pagan gods, was the accepted practice. In addition to eating meat sacrificed to pagan idols, illicit sexual relations were a central aspect of pagan worship. Most temples had male and female prostitutes who were permanently assigned to serve the temple and its worshipers. Any Christian who worked in a trade faced sever problems. His commitment to Christ and obedience to living a life of holiness as a Christian would affect his livelihood, his acceptance by his peers, and his ability to feed and house his family.
The city's chief deity was Tyrimnos, the son of Zeus. Emperor worship was also practiced in Thyatira and since Caesar was proclaimed the incarnate son of god,' the worship of their chief god was mixed with the worship of Caesar and was central feature of the Thyatiran community. The conflict between the worship of the false son of god' and the true Son of God was always present for this Christian community so the first word of Christ to this church is the proclamation that He alone is the Son of God! It is interesting that this is the only place in the book of Revelation where this specific title of Christ is used.
Read verses 18-19
Verse 18 "Write to the angel of the church in Thyatira and say, Here is the message of the Son of God who has eyes like a burning flame and feet like burnished bronze." The Preamble to the letter begins with the identification of the great king.' It repeats the pattern we have already mentioned from chapter 1:13-15 "...and in the middle of them, one like a Son of Man, ...his eyes like a burning flame, his feet like burnished bronze..."
Verse 19 This verse is the Historical Prologue of the Covenant Treaty format: "I know your activities, your love, your faith, your service and your perseverance, and I know how you are still making progress." Christ's compliments to the church on their works.
Question: What are the 4 works of faith which Jesus says are even greater now than in the past?
Read verses 20-23
Verse 20 "Nevertheless, I have a complaint to make: you tolerate the woman Jezebelwho claims to be a prophetess, and by her teaching she is luring my servants away to commit the adultery of eating food which has been sacrificed to idols. This passage is the Ethical Stipulations of the Covenant Treaty format. Jesus rebukes the angel/bishop of Thyatira!
Question: In spite of all the good works of the church at Thyatira, this church suffers from a
great defect; what is this defect?
Answer: Allowing themselves to be led into doctrinal heresy and moral laxity. The elders were allowing false doctrine to have a place in the teaching of the church. Jesus again calls this heresy by a symbolic name as He had before in the letter to Pergamum (Balak and Balaam).
Question: This time with who is the heresy identified and who was the
Old Testament woman who carried this name? Read 1Kings 16:31-21: 26; 2Kings 9:22-37.
Answer: This time the heresy is identified with Jezebel was the daughter of Ethbaal, pagan king of the Phoenician trading city-state of Sidon. She was given in marriage to Ahab, king of Israel in the divided kingdom period of Biblical history (9th century BC). She fostered the worship of the Canaanite god Baal in Israel and supported 450 prophets of Baal (1Kings 18:19). When the prophets of Yahweh resisted the practice of Baal worship, Jezebel attempted to establish the worship of Baal as the dominant religion by exterminating the prophets of Yahweh (1K 18:4,13). God's prophet Elijah took on the 450 false prophets defeated them in a dramatic showdown on Mt. Carmel (1K 19:1-2) which resulted in Jezebel decreeing a death sentence against Elijah. She was a powerful, strong-willed woman (married to a weak man) who was guilty of heresy and murder (1K 21:5-15). She came to a very bad end (2K 9:29-37). Jezebel's actions in the Old Testament are identified as "harlotries" and "witchcraft's." The Jezebel of the church at Thyatira also advocated compromise with paganism. She may have been the wife of the pastor since priests were still married at this time (some of the ancient MSS reads "your wife Jezebel") , the wife of an elder or she may have been a deaconess.
Question: Do we face this same danger today? What about the call for more Catholic compromise
in the Ecumenical movement? It is often suggested, by Catholics committed to this movement,
and others that we abandon our arrogant, intolerant absolutism and seek to combine the best
of our tradition and doctrine with the best in other religions.
Answer: I suppose the woman in the spirit of Jezebel in the church at Thyatira might have argued the same themes as the "Ecumenicist at all costs" adherents: " After all, there is only one god so any worship given to false gods like Allah or Buddha is really offered to the true God" or that "by communing with other religions we might be more effective in witnessing to them" or that "by joining with other religions we would truly be creating a universal faith which answers the needs of all peoples and all cultures "all inclusive." Regardless of the arguments used then or now "the doctrine contrary to the teaching of the Church is heresy and is not to be tolerated. That is the very phrase Jesus uses here (v. 20) "you tolerate the woman Jezebel!" Orthodox (true doctrine) Christianity is intolerant of false doctrine. A church that tolerates false doctrine is a church under God's judgment for God will not tolerate her! This is not to say we shouldn't be involved in dialogue with other Christian churches and other religions (Moslems, etc), and we should be tolerant of each other's mistakes and differences over nonessential issues but when it comes to clear violations of Biblical law and doctrine (teaching) and dogma (truths) of the Holy Catholic Church, the leadership of the community is required to put a stop to false teaching before it damages the Church. Some false doctrine is taught through ignorance and some through agenda.
Question: Can you think of any examples of each of these errors?
Verse 21 Sanctions: " I have given her time to repent but she is not willing to repent of her adulterous life." This woman had been given time (and probably instruction in her errors) to repent "of her fornication" and she had refused. In the literal sense it would appear that Jezebel had actually encouraged God's people to commit physical fornication in connection with the pagan religious rites of the trade guilds. On the other hand, the word "fornication" has a long biblical tradition as a symbol of rebellion against God (see Ezek. Chapters 16 & 23). St John will also describe the Great Harlot of Babylon' with reference to the biblical story of Jezebel, the harlot queen' in Revelation 17:5 & 16; and 19:2, and he will identify her with apostate Judaism.
Verse 22 "Look, I am consigning her to a bed of pain, and all her partners in adultery to great hardship, unless they repent of their practices;..." The Greek word translated bed' is kline which can mean a bed that you sleep on or the couch one reclined on at meals (following Greek and Roman customs of reclining to eat meals). Some scholars suggest the word could also refer in Greek to one's funeral bed or bier. It was a Roman custom to cremate the dead. Really all of these interpretations fit symbolically: the couch on which she ate the pagan sacred meal in pleasure would yield not pleasure but intense pain from polluted (with sin) meat; or such indulgence in heresy/ adultery would yield a bed of death in eternal fire. But most of the commentaries point out that this is a sickbed. There seems to be a play on words' explained by the next clause: "and all her partners in adultery to great hardship,..". With grim humor Jesus seems to be saying: Do you want to "get into bed with her"--commit heresy/ adultery? All right then "here's a deathbed for you! In this case the punishment fits the crime. Those who profane to walk in the way of love' are destined to a bed of pain. Notice that this first century judgment against the followers of Jezebel is to be subject to " great hardship" or another way to translate this phrase: to "great tribulation." This is, I believe, another indication that the great tribulation' took place within the lifetime of these transgressors during the generation after Christ's death and resurrection; just as He stated it would in Matthew 24:21, 34. "For there will be great distress, unparalleled since the world began, and such as will never be again...; (vs 34) In truth I tell you, before this generation has passed away, all these things will have taken place."
But the end of the verse holds out hope: " unless they repent of their practices;" holds out the prospect of mercy. This is a theme throughout the book of Revelation. The book is full of divine judgments but always there is the prospect of divine deliverance for those who repent!
Verse 23 " and I will see that her children die, so that all the churches realize that it is I who test motives and thoughts and repay you as your deeds deserve." "Her children" probably refers to her disciples or her followers in general but this is another example of what some scholars point out as John's terribly Greek. The literal translation is "and her children I will kill with death." This is another example of John thinking in Hebrew and writing in Greek. This is a common Hebrew means of intensifying the meaning of a word. It is known as a pleonasm, a linguistic means of double emphasis. For another example see Genesis 2:17 where God is speaking to Adam and Eve. The literal translation should read: "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat; for, the day you eat of that, you are doomed to die die." Of course, as Christians we can also see the theology of the second death', meaning eternal death, in both these passages.
"...so that all the churches realize that it is I who test motives and thoughts and repay you as your deeds deserve." The literal translation reads "test the kidneys and hearts." In ancient times the kidneys were regarded as the seat of the emotions while the heart stood for the intellect. The implication to "test" or to "search", as some translations read, is that nothing can be hid from Him. Even the most secret thoughts and actions are known to Him. "..to repay you as your deeds deserve..." The you' is plural which is interesting. I might have expected you in the singular to conform with the address to the angel/bishop of the church. The plural you' makes this statement very personal.
Question: What happens when apostles are disciplined and judged? (See Isaiah 26:8-10a for your answer: "Following the path of your judgments, Yahweh, we set our hopes in you, your name, your memory are all our soul desires. At night my soul longs for you and my spirit within me seeks you out; for when your judgments appear on earth the inhabitants of the world learn what saving justice is. If pity is shown to the wicked without his learning what saving justice is, he will act wrongly in the land of right conduct and not see the majesty of Yahweh.")
Answer: Those who truly love the Lord will heed the judgment and will yield to renewed obedience but God will punish those who rebel against Him. He is not a permissive parent. The purpose of judgment is to bring about repentance and salvation. The word discipline means "to teach."
Question: If you have ever disciplined a child, one of your own or a niece or nephew or if you have disciplined a subordinate, what was the goal of your discipline? How does that compare to God's discipline through judgment on His children?
Answer: Read Job 5:17-18 "Blessed are those whom God corrects! Do not then scorn the lesson of Shaddai! For He who wounds is He who soothes the sore, and the hand that hurts is the hand that heals." and Psalms 94:12 "How blessed are those you instruct (discipline), Yahweh, whom you teach by means of your law..."
Read verses 24-25
Verse 24 "But on the rest of you in Thyatira, all of you who have not accepted this teaching or learnt the deep secrets of Satan, as they are called,.." A central part of Jezebel's heresy involved a search into "the deep secrets of Satan, as they are called." Scholars disagree on exactly who this last they' is. It may be the true believers or it may be the false teachers. If it is the false teachers, the meaning will be that the heretics have claimed knowledge of the deep things' of God in a way that sets them apart and makes them superior. If the they' refers to the true believers, the indication is that this deep' teaching is not heavenly...it is satanic and the depths that the heretics know is really the depths of the Devil. One thing that is clear is that Jezebel's doctrine of sanctification through idolatry and fornication was simply a slightly Christianized version of the first heresy that soiled the world with sin and which has been manifested in every culture from the beginning down through history.
Question: What was the first heresy and where did it take place?
Answer: In the Garden of Eden. Eve saw disobedience to God as the key to freedom, wisdom and attainment of divine status. Genesis 3:4-5 "Then the snake said to the woman, No! You will not die! God knows in fact that the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good for evil.'" The church at Thyatira was experiencing the life or death conflict of revolution & chaos verses holiness & order.
Verse 25 "I am not laying any other burden; but hold on firmly to what you already have until I come." Jesus encourages those faithful to holiness and order. These are the Christians in Thyatira who have not been seduced by forbidden knowledge in satanic practices, despite the economic and social consequences of their refusal to compromise.
Question: Does Jesus place any other requirements on these faithful?
Answer: No. The faithful are to continue practicing the essentials of faith by hooding to their orthodox doctrine and standards until Christ comes with tribulation to judge the heretics who are illegally controlling the community. Notice the phrase "I place no other burden on you." Does this phrase sound as all familiar? The first great council was the Council of Jerusalem in 49/50AD. The edicts of this great council to the universal Church were already referenced in the passage about eating meat sacrificed to idols in the letter to Pergamum. Read Acts 15:28-29 "It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves not to impose on you any burden beyond these essentials: you are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from illicit marriages. Avoid these and you will do what is right. Farewell."
"..until I come." The command is to hold on', remain faithful to orthodox teaching and the words until I come' turns their vision towards the glorious day when He will bring judgment on the wicked and restore the faithful.
Read verses 26-29 The Succession Arrangements:
Verse 26-27 "To anyone who proves victorious, and keeps working for me until the end, I will give the authority over the nations which I myself have been given by my Father, to rule them with an iron scepter and shatter them like so many pots." The faithful Christians were suffering both from the pagan world outside and the false apostles preaching heresy within the church. It seems to be an impossible situation yet Christ makes this wonderful promise to the angel/bishop. This passage is a reference to God the Father's promise to the Son in Psalms 2:8-9 : "Ask of Me, and I shall give you the nations as your birthright, the whole wide world as your possession. With an iron scepter you will break them, shatter them like so many pots." God the Father has granted the Son the rule and dominion over all the earth and all nations come under His messianic kingship. The importance of the reference here is that the Christian overcomers to whom the letters are written are promised a share in the messianic reign of Jesus Christ in the world to come. And the message is clear, no matter how much faithful Christians suffer now; Christ will be victorious and He will conquer all who oppose Him! (Read Psalms 2:1-6). God has given His Son "all authority in heaven and on earth" and Christ the King is with His Church until the end of the age (Matt. 28:18-20) and the gates of Hades cannot prevail against His Church (Matt. 16:18).
(for more references about Jesus' messianic kingship also see Psalms ch. 2; 22:27-31; 46:4&10; 65:2; 66:4; 68:31-32; 72; 86:9; 102:15-22; 110; 138:405; 145:10-11)
Psalms chapters 2 and 110 are the two most quoted Psalms in the New Testament.
-Psalms chapter 2 references in the N.Testament: Mat. 3:17; 17:5; Mark 1:11; 9:7; Lk 3:22; 9:35; Jn 1:49; Acts 4:25-26; 13:33; Phil 2:12; Heb 1:2,5; 5:5; Rev. 2L26-27; 11:18; 12:5; 19:15, 19.
-Psalms 110 N.Testament references: Nat 22:44; 26:64; Mk 12:36; 14:62; 16:19; Lk 20:42-43; 22:69; Jn 12:34; Acts 2:34-35; Rm 8:24; 1Cor 15:25; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3, 13; 5:6,10; 6:20; 7:3, 17,21; 8:1; 10:12-13; 12:2.
Verse 28-29 "And I will give such a person the Morning Star. Let anyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches." The promises made originally to the Old Covenant Israel will now be fulfilled in the New Covenant Israel, the holy catholic (universal) Church. The sufferings of these Christians of Thyatira, within the church and without, did not mean the end of the world but rather the birth pangs of the beginning (see Rev. chapter 12:1-2). The long dark night of their sufferings would soon end and the redeemed and liberated universe would see a bright new day. Christ is about to give these victorious overcomers a further token of triumph: the Morning Star.
Question: Who is the Morning Star? Hint: see Rev. 22:16.
Answer: Jesus Christ is the light of the eternal day! This passage may be a symbol of the Christian's share in the resurrection and glory of Christ since the morning star announces each new day' and its symbolic rebirth-resurrection. But since Christ Himself is referred to as the bright and morning star in 22:16 it seems more likely, or as likely, to refer to the presence of the Christ, Himself. After all, the ultimate reward of each Christian is to be with His Lord in perfect communion. There may be a connection to the prophecy of Balaam in Numbers 24:17 "I see him "but not in the present. I perceive him "but not close at hand: a star is emerging from Jacob, a scepter is rising from Israel..." The morning star' is also mentioned by St. Peter in 1 Peter 1:19 "So we have confirmation of the words of the prophets; and you will be right to pay attention to it (prophecy) as to a lamp for lighting a way through the dark, until the dawn comes and the morning star rises in your minds."
Jesus ends the letter with the same message that closes the other letters: with the reminder that God the Holy Spirit is speaking to the churches.
What Old Testament references did you notice?
St. John now shows us the imagery from the period of the Israelite monarchy and the Davidic covenant.
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