Thyatira was the fourth of the seven churches mentioned by John in the book of Revelation. In ancient times, Thyatira was an important trade center for the textile industry, particularly related to the guilds of wool, linen, and fabric dyers. Because Thyatira was located along the trade route which connected Pergamum, Smyrna, and Laodicea, it was known as an important center for trade of textiles. Thyatira was also a center for worship of the Greek god Apollo, known as the “sun god”. Because of these attributes, Thyatira was wealthy and respected by the ancient people.
The first mention of Thyatira in scripture is in Acts chapter 16. Here we learn of Paul’s missionary journey and his encounter with a seller of purple cloth. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. The woman Lydia was a Christian woman who showed hospitality and kindness to Paul and Silas and likely was partially responsible for bringing the gospel message to her home town.
In Revelation chapter 2, we find John’s letter to the church in Thyatira. John writes:
“To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’ To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
In the opening sentence to the church in Thyatira, God refers to himself as “the Son of God”, which quite possibly was a reference to the temple to Apollo who was called the sun god. God was reminding them that He alone was God and that Apollo was not. He goes on to offer his affirmation and approval of the church by telling them that they were very involved in serving and sacrificial ministry for the sake of others. The church in Thyatira was characterized by faith, love, charity, service, and patience and God commends them for their love for others and for their servant hearts.
However, John goes on in verse 20 to reveal God’s accusation and reprimand of the church. God condemns them for their tolerance of evil in their desire to be serving and caring. The church was tolerant of a false prophetess who was influencing the people into idolatry. God referred to the woman as “Jezebel” which was a direct reference to the Old Testament Queen whose seductive teaching enticed Israel to add Baal worship to their religious ceremonies in 1 Kings. This woman in Thyatira was teaching the Christians that it was permissible to worship idols, commit fornication, and compromise with Roman religions. Even though the church was loving and compassionate, nothing can compensate for tolerance of evil in God’s eyes. These early Christians may have been accepting of her message because of cultural pressure and the threat of persecution if they did not participate in idol worship.
The church was not only tolerant of evil but they also were unwilling to repent when confronted with their sin. God had given “Jezebel” the opportunity to repent of her sin and turn to God, but she did not. The church was approving of her deceit as well and the Lord threatened to use the church in Thyatira as an example to all the churches. God told them that if they did not repent of their sin of compromise, then the false prophetess and her followers would be sentenced to tribulation and death.
Not everyone in Thyatira was guilty however of this sin of compromise and idolatry. John mentions that there were some who remained faithful to God and he had a special word for them. They had separated themselves from the compromising practices of “Jezebel” and God, who searches the depth of men’s hearts and minds, had found them faithful. To those, God said that he placed no additional demands on them, other than holding fast in their resistance of Satan until Christ’s return. At that time, God will reward the faithful with the crown of righteousness and power over the nations. God also reminded them that Christ will rule with a rod of iron and the rebellious men will be like clay pots, broken to pieces under his judgment. To those who resist compromise and sin, Christ will remain faithful and he, “the Bright and Morning Star” will belong to them. Because of their faithfulness, they will be one with Christ and he will be their light and salvation.
The church in Thyatira was divided between following the teachings of the false prophetess and remaining faithful to God. God gives them and us two choices. First, they have the choice to compromise with sin. The people in Thyatira had a logical reason to compromise with the culture in which they lived. They had families, jobs, communities and lives and their full commitment to Christ could have cost them everything. They were loving and accepting, generous and kind. Surely that would be enough to satisfy God’s demands. However, God does not allow his people to compromise with sin. His followers are called to be Holy as He is Holy. Our compromise with sin invites God’s wrath and judgment. God deals swiftly and harshly with the church in Thyatira because of their compromise with sin.
God is gracious however and gives a second chance. He offered it to “Jezebel”, to the wayward followers in Thyatira, and to his church today as well. He calls them to repent of their sins and change their ways. It is never enough to only partially or half-heartedly follow God. To those who choose to follow him whole heartedly, without compromise, he offers forgiveness, unity with Christ, the “Bright and Morning Star”, and a crown of life and power. The choice was left to them. We do not know what they chose, however, we do have the power to choose for ourselves. John ends each of his letters to the churches with these words calling us to listen. He says, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Our call today is to listen to the Spirit of God as he calls us to repent of our sins of compromise with sin and live a life abandoned to his perfect will for us. ~Mick Nichols