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Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Revelation Letters to the Seven Churches: Thyatira

Our little church congregation is embarking on a bible study of that book at the end of the Bible that everyone talks about but no one actually reads - The Revelation.  I'll try to publish here in this blog some of my notes as we go along.

Revelation 2: 18 – 29 Thyatira

Today it is the city of Akhisar in western Turkey. Originally a military colony established to protect the trade routes between Pergamum and Sardis, the city was a rough and tumble sort of out-post town, always ready for the possibility of warfare. It was often used as a garrison for soldiers. Coins found in Thyatira show a horseman with a battle axe over his shoulder going out to conquer and dash his enemies to pieces (Ford, 405)

Thyatira was located 40 miles south-east of Pergamum. It had shrines to various gods located throughout the city. It was important center of trade and manufacture in various materials, including: weaving, leather, pottery, and bronze. A guild of wool workers is also mentioned in inscriptions found there. It was also known as a center for the trade in luxury purple dye. Lydia, a household owner and was in the purple-dye trade, was one of the first Christians from Thyatira. (Acts 16:11- 15) She was, it seems, part of the Jewish community at Thyatira who came to accept Jesus as the Son of God.

The trade guilds practically controlled the city of Thyatira; every industry was strictly regulated by these guilds. In order to work in a trade; you had to belong to the guild – sort of like a powerful union. But to be a member of a guild also meant worshiping the pagan god connected to the guild. Any Christian involved in any trade was presented with the problem: his or her faithfulness to Christ would affect his livelihood.

“The local god, the guardian of the city was Tyrimnos, the son of Zeus; and Tyrimnos-worship was mixed in Thyatira with the worship of Caesar, who was proclaimed the incarnate Son of God. The conflict of Christianity and paganism in Thyatira was immediate and central – so the first word of Christ to this church is the proclamation that He alone is the Son of God (the only place in Revelation where this specific designation is used) (Chilton, 112).”

The Son of God with eyes like fire and feet like burnished bronze can see and know of their works and love and faith and service and patience and even their improvement. There was much for which to commend the Christians in Thyatira. Their love was an active love and their activity was increasing.

But the Son of God had something against them: they tolerated the woman Jezebel and her idolatrous teachings. This “Jezebel” of Thyatira was a real person, but her name is symbolic; it isn’t that the Jezebel of the 9th century had returned.  Her cult is identified with Queen Jezebel, the wicked wife of King Ahab who reigned in Israel during the 9th century B.C., and led the people into the worship of pagan gods. She aggressively set out to eliminate all worship of Yahweh. Her actions are specifically called “harlotries,” and “sorceries.” (1 Kings 21:25 – 26; 2 Kings 9:22)

It has been suggested that the Christian church in Thyatira tolerated this woman and her teachings as a way to justify their continued membership in the city guilds. “In any small town no citizen is a stranger and the penalties of ostracism can easily be inflicted if one does not fall in with the general trend of ideas. One’s livelihood might be jeopardized if one refrained from joining a trade guild (Ford, 406).”

Some early copies of Revelation read “your woman, Jezebel,” or “your wife, Jezebel,” If these manuscripts are more accurate then the leader of this heresy may have been the leading pastor’s or bishop’s wife. The exact nature of her teachings cannot be determined, but are expressed in terms that are again similar to those of the Nicolaitans and the followers of Balaam from Ephesus and Pergamum. Her teachings are described as “the deep secrets of Satan” but what that means exactly is unclear. 1 Corinthians 2: 10 speaks about the “deep things of God” or the “depths of God,” that are revealed by the Spirit. The opposite is intended here; the deep secrets of Satan are revealed by illicit practices and immorality.

Jesus tells the angel of the church at Thyatira that he has given the woman Jezebel time to repent of her immorality and of her adulterous life. God does not delight in the death of the wicked; he is not anxiously waiting for the opportunity to strike down sinners with his wrath. Rather he is anxiously waiting for them to repent – to turn from their various sins.

“Would I take pleasure in the death of the wicked – declares the Lord Yahweh – and not prefer to see him renounce his wickedness and live? I take no pleasure in the death of anyone – declares the Lord Yahweh – so repent and live! (Ezekiel 18:23, 32)”

But if the woman Jezebel will not repent Jesus will throw her on her sickbed along with those she has taught. Jesus, the Son of God, will see that her children die; he will slay them with disease. “Disease” here is the Greek word thanatos which can mean “disease” or “death” Jesus says, “I will kill them with death,” which sounds like a strange way to speak, but it is a common mode of Hebrew syntax called a pleonasm. It is used here in the same way that God said to Adam and Eve in the garden, “Dying, you will die, (Genesis 2:17)

The punishment of the immoral is intended as discipline, to structure and guide the churches into proper growth in holiness. When they see the punishment that the woman Jezebel and her children have received they will know that the Son of God is the one who sees and searches the hearts and minds of his people.

Yahweh Sabaoth, whose judgment is upright,
is the tester of motives and thoughts

Jeremiah 11:20

Not all the Christians in Thyatira had tolerated the presence of the woman Jezebel and her followers. On these faithful Christians Christ lays no further burden. The faithful are to continue doing the good that they have been doing, and to continue to avoid the evil that they have been avoiding. Those who continued in their faithfulness and proved victorious would be rewarded with Christ’s authority over the nations. They would be given a rod of iron, with which rule over and to smash the nations into tiny shards, like pottery shards. The Greek word “rule” here has two meanings: “to shepherd,” and “to devastate.” This is another reference drawn from the Scriptures of the Old Testament:

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.

Psalm 2: 8 – 9

The Messiah has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:10). He is the Absolute Ruler of everything. And those who prove to be faithful followers of the Son of God will be rewarded with a share in his authority.

They will also be given the “Morning Star,” This is a continuation of the same thought. One of the prophecies that Balaam made over the Israelites included:

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

Numbers 24:17

This prophecy of a rising star with a scepter to smash the nations was a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah. “So we have confirmation of the words of the prophet; and you will be right to pay attention to it as a lamp for lighting your way through the dark, until the dawn comes and the morning star rises in your minds. (2 Peter 1:19)” The Morning Star promised to the faithful is Jesus, the Son of God, himself. “I am the sprig from the root of David and the bright star of the morning.” (Revelation 22:16)

“Stars rise and ‘reign’ in the heavens: kings reign on earth by the influence of their stars. (Farrer, 76) The suffering Christians in Thyatira, weak and afflicted by the powerful forces around them would be rewarded with authority in the Kingdom of Christ. It has always been God’s way to use the weak to upset and overthrow the powerful, the foolish to shame the wise, and the poor to rule the rich.

Chilton, David, The Days of Vengeance: an Exposition of the Book of Revelation Dominion Press, Ft. Worth TX, 1987
Farrar, Austin, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1964.

Ford, J. Massyngberde, Revelation: Anchor Bible Vol. 38, Doubleday, Garden City NY, 1975.

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