And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:18-29).
Regardless of church denominations, Jesus always deals with individual congregations. He looks at each congregation apart from the others. This is what’s represented by His eyes of fire. He sees past the outward works to the very heart of everything.
Words of Commendation
Jesus begins His message by reminding the church that He sees and knows the true condition of the church and the believers who comprise it. He is the one who has “eyes like a flame of fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” In this context, His feet remind the church that He is coming again to both judge and conquer His enemies.
As with the other churches, Christ knows the works of the church: “your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.” Notice here in addition to knowing the love, faith, service, and endurance, the Lord know that the church is growing spiritually (“your latter works exceed the first”). They are growing in the works He has just mentioned. That is the mark of a true church.
Words of Warning
As with most of the churches, Christ proceeds to give a warning: “But I have this against you.” In this case, the church at Thyatira tolerates “that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” Whether there was an actual woman in the church named Jezebel, there are a few things that are apparent:
- She “calls herself a prophetess.” This would seem to imply that she had assumed a title or office that the Lord did not confirm. Throughout Acts and the NT letters, it’s clear that the Lord appoints offices of ministry and leadership, and such appointments are acknowledged by the elders of the church. This doesn’t seem to have been the case here.
- She “is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” Whether the ‘sexual immorality’ mentioned is physical fornication is debatable; often the term is used in Scripture to denote spiritual unfaithfulness to God. While physical fornication can’t be ruled out, it seems the stress is spiritual in nature, especially if you combine both phrases. This person was turning people in the church away from Christ to others. (That this is a good interpretation is supported by Paul’s comments in 1 Cor. 10:14-22.)
A word of caution is in order here before proceeding. This passage and the corresponding OT passages referring to Jezebel are often taught in the context of a “Jezebel spirit,” implying that women alone are susceptible to it. It is just as often used to spiritually abuse women and justify excluding women from leadership.
However, the point of this passage is not on the gender of the person involved. “that woman Jezebel” is mentioned to represent one (male or female) who turns the faithful away from worship of the true God. (Note that Balaam was mentioned in two previous letters, but one rarely hears of a spirit of Balaam directed against men.) The emphasis of the passage is that she assumed an office of leadership that the Lord did not put her in. Many men do likewise. We should not push the passage beyond what it intends to teach.
The Call to Repent
Christ has given her time to repent, he tells the church. However, He says, she refuses to repent. The sin is open and willful. (The fact that Christ charges the church with tolerating her shows that the church is aware of her and what’s going on.) Since she has not repented, Christ pronounces judgment against her and those with her. Notice that His strongest condemnation against Jezebel is not the sin itself but her refusal to repent.
- He “will throw her onto a sickbed.” This phrase probably means more than just a normal sickness, probably a pestilence, plague or something. Note that he does not say, “Unless she repents” (as he does with “those who commit adultery with her”). He has given her plenty of time to repent and she has refused.
- For those “who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation.” Most likely, this refers to people who have been under Jezebel’s sway for a time, perhaps even co-teachers with her now. Christ qualifies the judgment with “unless they repent of her works.” (We take “those who commit adultery with her” and “her children” to be the same.) He will cast them into great tribulation, in order to wake them up and give them a chance to repent. If they refuse to repent, Christ will “strike them dead, an expression that means “cut off.”
The judgments seem severe, but two things must be remembered. First, Christ always gives time to repent. Second, His goal is the purity of His church and He takes that very seriously. His judgments are always in keeping with the nature and severity of sin. But judgment can be avoided through true repentance. They will also serve as an example to all the churches. He says, “All the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.”
A Final Word of Encouragement
Now, Christ speaks to the “rest” of the church, to those who “do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan.” The phrase deep things of Satan is particularly appropriate if the heretical group is engaging in idol worship, since false gods are nothing more than Satan’s counterfeits. It may be that Jezebel taught that she had access to special knowledge or power through knowledge of these dark realms. But “the rest” the church (perhaps even a minority) had stayed true to Christ.
To those in the church, Christ says, “I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come.” He need not give them any new commandments, since they are adhering to what He has commanded them previously. And John tells us that “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). That minority in the church is to hold fast to what they know, believe, and practice until the Lord comes for them. For those that do, He promises, “I will give authority over the nations.” The faithful are promised to rule the nations with an rod of iron.
This doesn’t mean that such a ruler will be cruel or vindictive, only that his power will be unchallenged. If judgment must be pronounced, it will be done in Christ’s authority. And Christ’s authority is the Father’s authority, “even as I myself have received authority from my Father.”
Finally, the faithful are promised “the morning star.” This may refer to Christ Himself. Thus, the faithful believers will see Christ personally, who will reward them for their faithfulness. It may also be a promise of eternal light that vanquishes the spiritual darkness surrounding them. Both are great promises and neither excludes the other.
One thing this passage reminds us is that in every congregation, Christ has a remnant of faithful believers who hold fast to His teachings. While He does charge them to not tolerate unfaithfulness, in the end he says to remain faithful. That is our call today: Remain faithful in the midst of spiritual darkness.
Next: Soiled in Sardis