THYATIRA, A FEW THINGS WRONG
A Study in Revelation 2.18-29. (Part 2)
K. W. H. Howard
We have been considering the letter to the Church at Thyatira* and the activities in that church of that woman Jezebel. We faced first the question, Who is she? The question of her identity. She was a woman, not without a name but unnamed as far as we are concerned. The woman in Thyatira, although she was unnamed, yet had something of the character of the Old Testament Queen Jezebel, that infamous Queen of Israel a thousand years before. She had so deceived the Church at Thyatira that she had wormed herself into membership, passed herself off as a believer, when in fact she was a charlatan. She was a deceiver; she had the appearance of a Christian, but she had the character, and the motives of a devil.
The Complaint (Continued)
4. What was Jezebel’s sin?
Her sin, as the Lord Jesus indicates it in verse 20, is threefold. The First thing in her sin is this; she called herself a prophetess (verse 20). She did not get that name from the Church, she did not get that name from the Lord, she gave it to herself, ‘which calleth herself a prophetess’. The claim to prophecy of course, involved the claim to inspiration. It involved the claim to superior enlightenment. It involved the claim to new revelation, deep teaching that had so far not been revealed, not even to the Apostles. In fact, Jezebel, this woman Jezebel in Thyatira, was a usurper of the Apostolic office. She claimed that to which she had no claim. She called herself what she was not. She was a liar, she was a deceiver. That is the first thing in answer to the question. What was her sin? She called herself a prophetess.
The second thing according to the word of the Lord Jesus in verse 20 is this. She taught! That woman Jezebel was allowed to ‘teach … my servants’. Nothing is said in verse 20, as to what she taught, but there is a hint in verse 24 as to what it was. ‘Unto you I say, and unto the rest at Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine (this teaching, that is, the teaching of the prophetess, the false prophetess;
Jezebel’s teaching), and which have not known (not embraced, not welcomed) the depths of Satan, as they (that is, Jezebel and her followers) speak.’ This doctrine, in verse 24, means Jezebel’s teaching, and the depths of Satan means the calibre, or the level of Jezebel’s teaching. This was the name, the characterisation, the categorisation given by the Lord Jesus Christ to that which Jezebel taught – the depths of Satan. She apparently scoured the depths, the lowest of the low things that Satan ever thought or devised or did. She could not outdo Satan, but she did her best to equal him in wickedness. She called herself a prophetess; she professed new light, new revelation, deep mysteries, a new philosophy of life to convey to the Christians in the Church of Thyatira. She professed to know the deep things of God, but Jesus said that what she professed and what she taught really was the deep things of Satan.
What then was Jezebel’s teaching? Well, we may know it by process of deduction and it had to do with those trades guilds at Thyatira to which I made reference earlier. There is a great deal of evidence that has come down from archaeology, and other sources as to the various trades and crafts that flourished in that ancient city at that time, and also a great deal of what went on in the social life among these people. Jezebel’s teaching had its setting, its context, in that connection. Each of those trades had its own guild for its own workers. Each of those guilds had its own pagan god, and each craftsman was expected to join his own guild. These guilds were not the ancient equivalent of trades unions, not at any rate, in any comparable way to the modern times. They were essentially men’s clubs under the guise and under the umbrella of pagan religion. They were social clubs, they were men’s clubs and they were dens of positive iniquity, because in those clubs there were feasts at which the men ate food that had been dedicated to the idol, the god, of their crafts. Of course, the idol being a mere dead thing, the food was still there so, having been dedicated to the god, it was brought back and put on the table, and they ate it. In some way, they felt that this helped them. The whole thing had a vain cynicism about it. The festivities then ended with a whole programme of gross immorality. That was the social situation in which Jezebel brought her teaching. For the Christians, the members of the Church in Thyatira, the question was this – what was a Christian craftsman to do? He was expected by the authorities to join his guild, and the guild expected him to join in the club life. What was he to do? If he joined the guild and attended the club, he would deny the Lord, and he knew it. If he refused to join the club and attend the club, he would be ostracised, no work would be given to him; he would be out of work, and his family would be reduced to poverty and brought to penury. It was almost, if not quite, a closed shop situation. That was the position of
Christian craftsmen who were members of the Church at Thyatira. Join the club and deny the Lord or steer clear of the club and you will be persecuted and your family will be brought to humiliation and to penury.
That was the situation into which Jezebel came, this tense, this delicate situation; that is the situation into which Jezebel came with her deep teaching, and her superior insights, insights which the Apostles had never heard of, which even the angel or the pastor of the Church at Thyatira had never heard of, but which she claimed to have received from God as a prophetess. Her teaching in effect, if I may paraphrase it, was something like this. She said to these craftsmen who had problems of conscience about the guilds, ‘It is all right for you to participate in the festivities, and even in the immoralities at the guilds and the clubs. There is no need for you to worry. There is no need for you to be over-strict, and over-particular. You are in a difficulty and the Lord sees you are in a difficulty, and the Lord understands that you are in a difficulty, so He will wink at it. It is all right.’ What Jesus said of that teaching was this, ‘It is the depths of Satan.’ Satan himself could not sink lower than that lie. Jezebel tried to accommodate the two parties. She tried to harmonise black and white, right and wrong, good and evil. She posed as having this new revelation, and this new insight, that she could do this. The poor pastor at the Church at Thyatira, did not know how to answer the problem, but she was superior, and she came with this teaching, and Jesus said that such teaching was the depths of Satan.
What was her sin? Her sin was that first she called herself a prophetess, and secondly, she taught on the level of the lowest depths of Satan. What was her sin? There was yet another element, a third element in her sin, and that was this. She ‘seduced’ (verse 20), saith the Lord Jesus in his letter, ‘She seduced my servants’ (seduce is to draw away, to entice). Now, what exactly does this mean? Well, it means that Jezebel was listened to by some people in the Church, that she did have her followers. She seduced, she won over some of the members of the church who were immature, were unstable, who were untaught and ill-equipped in their understanding of the doctrine of the faith. She persuaded them, so they joined the guilds, and they took part in the pagan feasts, and they got involved in the immoralities. In that way some of the elect of God were deceived, some were enticed, and some fell from their steadfastness. There were those who succumbed to this Jezebel of a woman.
The sin of Jezebel, and the teaching of Jezebel, are still to be found in Christendom. It has been there all through the centuries in one way or another. The voice of Jezebel is still to be heard. God’s
Word says to Christian people, ‘Come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing.’ As you read in the second Epistle to Timothy, ‘Let every one who names the Name of Christ depart from iniquity.’ That is what God says. That is what God’s Word says. But Jezebel says, ‘You do not need to be so strict. You do not need to make yourself so angular among men. You do not need to hold yourself aloof from the world. Your private life is your own. You go your own way, and if everybody is doing a thing, well, you can do it. You can still be a member of the Church, you can still be known as a Christian, you can enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, and still be a Christian.’ That is ‘Jezebelism’ and it is as current and as common today as it ever was. That is very common teaching in Christendom today. There is an easy Christianity abroad today, not only easy-believism in evangelism, but when people do believe, and are supposedly Christian, then there is an easy life for them to live as a Christian. It is found in evangelical circles, it is found in so-called fundamentalist circles, it is found in Bible-believing circles and amongst people who call themselves born-again Christians. The philosophy of it is this: “Believe what you are told, and do what you like”.
Well, you know, there is not really much difference between that and the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes that we have already seen at Ephesus and at Pergamos. There really is no difference between that and the doctrine of Balaam at Pergamos. There is no difference between that and the doctrine of Jezebel. There is no difference between that and the depths of Satan. It is all of a piece. It is deadly doctrine. It is all a variation on the theme; now you are a Christian, you do not have to keep the law of God, you are not under the law. It is all a variation of this theme which theologically is called practical Antinomianism. It is deadly. It is deadly to the health of the Church. It is deadly to the spiritual vitality of the Church and a congregation. It is deadly to the individual Christian. You cannot do what Jezebel says and remain loyal to Christ. You cannot participate in the pleasure of sin for a season without denying the Lord. Reckon with Jezebel for what she is, a seducer, a liar, a humbug, a pervert, a charlatan.
5. Her Judgment
There is another thing to be considered, and that is her judgment, because obviously, this kind of person does not get away without judgment. It is the judgment of Him who had the feet like fine brass, hard, heavy, weighty, woeful in operation. The judgment runs from verse 21 to 23. There is the judgment, and the thing I ask you to note immediately about this is the statement in verse 23, ‘All the Churches shall know.’ All the Churches shall know about Jezebel’s
judgement, and they shall know by way of warning. Very often when Jezebel is prosecuted in one church, she flees to another. Jesus says, All the Churches shall know! This shows the seriousness of JezebelÂ’s presence among GodÂ’s people in any Christian Church, and it is a situation in which Christ, the Son of God, rides forth in judgement.
I have got to ask you to notice this from verse 21, He is not keen about His judgement, He is not eager about His judgement; He does not enjoy this strange work of judgement, though he does it. Â‘I gave her space to repent, and she repented not.Â’ I gave her time to repent, and she repented not. How gracious is the Lord. What? Give Jezebel the opportunity to repent? There it is in the SaviourÂ’s own words, Â‘I gave her space to repent.Â’ She repented not. He has no delight in the death of the wicked. He says to us, Â‘Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?Â’ How gracious is the Lord. In spite of the flagrant sin, in spite of the disregard of Him, I gave her space to repent, and she repented not. Her judgement was her just desert, she asked for it.
Well, here then is the judgement, and it runs in three steps. You can see (verse 22), first, there is the judgement on Jezebel herself. Â‘Behold, I will cast her into a bed.Â’ In the bed in which she enjoyed the pleasure of her sin would she endure the punishment of the sickness from which she would not recover. In other words, as so often in Divine judgements, the punishment was commensurate with the sin, the judgement on Jezebel herself.
Then, secondly, there is the punishment on JezebelÂ’s followers, also in verse 22, those who believed her, those who followed her, those who adulterated their own religion by accepting her example, and her teaching, and her practice. They, the Lord says, were to taste of unspecified tribulation. The very uncertainty of it was to increase its fearfulness. The judgement on Jezebel, the judgement on her followers. Then there was to be another phase in this judgement, and that was the judgement on her children, her own literal children. They were to be taken from her by violent death (verse 23). Â‘I will kill her children with death.Â’ All this, mark, all this was not to be done in a corner. Â‘I will kill her children with death, and all the Churches shall know that I am He which searches the reins and the hearts.Â’ I am the Judge. JezebelÂ’s influence in the Church at Thyatira was a public scandal, and JezebelÂ’s judgement and punishment was to be a public punishment. All the Churches shall know, and take heed and beware and put their hand on their mouth lest they find themselves in the same situation. So that they should search their own hearts, and so that they should be warned that if Jezebel comes to them, they are to keep her at a distance. A public scandal in one Church is a dire warning to all Churches, and it was
meant to be a warning to all seven of the Churches of Asia Minor. So it is in any other context, for God is the God of judgment; though He mixes mercy with His judgment, He is the God of judgment. It was once said by an English politician that every man has his price; God does not have a price, Christ does not have a price when it comes to judgment. His justice is inflexible even when it is mixed with mercy. Well, this is the first part of the twofold complaint against the Church at Thyatira. The presence and the activity of that woman, Jezebel. We have seen her identity, we have seen her sin, we have seen her threatened judgment.
6. The inactivity of the Church
The next part of the Lord’s complaint against the Thyatirian Church was this. The inactivity of the Church concerning Jezebel, the great troublemaker. Here it is in verse 20, ‘Thou sufferest (hast allowed, hast permitted) that woman Jezebel.’ Thou hast permitted. They had the right, they had the authority, they had the entitlement not to allow her to continue, but ‘thou sufferest.’ She taught heresy under the Church’s patronage, and the Church did nothing but brush the problem under the carpet. She wrought havoc under the Church’s eye; the Church was too tolerant, too latitudinarian, too broad-minded, they did nothing. They were more afraid of discipline than they were of that woman Jezebel, and her evil influence.
Notice that the complaint was not that the whole Church at Thyatira accepted Jezebel and her teaching or that they were all deceived by her. The judgment is not because they all accepted her teaching and followed her example. The complaint is that there were some who did, some were seduced, and seeing that happen, the Church refused to cast out that evil person that had brought this state of things to pass in the Church. History repeats itself, and Jezebel is reincarnated in Christian Churches today. Again and again, timid and ill-taught Christians are afraid of Jezebel, she goes on with her superior air, she knows it all, she seduces many. Well, the situation as we saw it in the Church at Pergamos, was that when the Church refuses to discipline the Lord takes judgment into His own hands. He says, ‘All the Churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins, and the hearts.’ He is the one who will dispense judgment, and this is within the knowledge of all the Churches so that they may know, and knowing, they are warned to hold Jezebel and her religion at a distance. Well, there is the complaint, and it is a heavy-hearted and a sad business, but there it is. It is my business to expound the Word of God, not to pick and choose, but it is with a sense of relief, and with a sense of gladness that one comes now thirdly, to the last of these three things.
We have considered the commendation and the complaint. Now we come to the counsel which the Lord offered the Church, that is to the faithful members of the Church at Thyatira. You have it in verses 24 to 28.
Here is the counsel, and it is in two forms and the first form is this, there is encouragement to the faithful. ‘But unto you, I say, unto the rest,’ those who have remained faithful in Thyatira, I say this, ‘I will put upon you none other burden.’ Those who remained faithful in Thyatira must have had a hard time. They refused to join the trade guilds, so they would have been persecuted, they would have been heavily humiliated. They were persecuted simply because they withstood Jezebel, and Jesus, having passed His judgment on Jezebel and her followers, comes and He says, To you who have been suffering for my sake, to you who have refused to deny My name by joining the guilds and the clubs, I will put upon you no other burden. Well, what does this mean? I submit that it means two things. None other burden means, no new doctrine, no new teaching, no new revelation, no new philosophy. Self-appointed prophets and prophetesses always have something new and something extra to say. They have always got something novel that outstrips what the poor old angel or pastor at Thyatira had ever heard of. Oh, he was dull, he was dull, he just went on in the same old way preaching the same old glorious doctrines of grace. It is always a characteristic of something new, that no one has heard of, something novel, for Christ says to the faithful at Thyatira, I want you to know that I have no new teaching for you, but only what you find in My word. Let Jezebel come with her novelties; those novelties belong to the depths of Satan, not to Me. I have no new revelation to make. I have no new depths for you to plumb. My friends, we have to beware of those who have some new thing to teach in religion, something that has been unknown to Christ and His Apostles and prophets, in His Word, and to His people throughout the centuries. When new teaching appears, as alas, it does appear, and has appeared so much and so fearfully in this twentieth century, I say when it appears, it means that those who purvey such doctrines, regard themselves as having discovered things that the eternal God forgot to say. Well, God does not forget;
God has a perfect memory, and these new teachings, whatever particular name or brand they may be, they can only remind us that God has never forgotten anything, that the canon of Scripture is complete, and that it is closed, and that there is nothing more to add to it, and that the old adage is perfectly true with regard to these new
teachings and revelations that are brought among us today. If it is new, it is not true, and if it is true, it is not new. Says Jesus, I put upon you. My faithful flock, none other burden, no new doctrine, no other burden.
This means also, I think, no new standards of Christian living, no different standards of Christian living, the same old standards apply. The Christian ethic is not shifting, and to be adjusted. It is constant. The standards are these, ‘Be ye holy, for I am holy.’ ‘Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing.’ Jezebel had new standards of conduct; she had a new ethic, but it was a lower standard, and it was a debased ethic. Today’s easy Christianity is a lower standard. Jezebel’s ethics taught and seduced Christians. To teach and to seduce Christians is to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. Something which Christians have been expressly forbidden by the council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:28), the conclusion of that council was this, ‘It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication (immorality).’
So the Lord says to the faithful in Thyatira, those who did not join in the guilds and the clubs, You know My standard, you have My Word, and I am adding nothing to them, I am taking nothing from them. All I ask is that you hold fast until I come (verse 25), ‘that which ye have already hold fast, till I come.’ We have our Christian doctrine, and we have our Christian ethics, and that we are to hold fast, and over and over that, the Lord will add no other burden than that which He has already given us. The teaching is settled, the ethics are settled; Jezebel is wrong. I will put upon you no other burden. Well, that clarifies the position to the Thyatirans, as it does for us. That surely, was a great encouragement to them as it is to us. The Word is complete, the Word is settled. The Holy Spirit, the Author of the Word, is given to us to illumine and to interpret it. That surely, is encouragment to the faithful, that is the counsel.
2. The Promise
The second part of the counsel offered I see in this way, as a promise to the overcomer. Verse 26, ‘He that overcometh, and keepeth my works to the end, to him will I give power over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers.’
The promise is in two parts. First, there is the promise of a coming authority to be had and held by the Lord’s people. ‘He that overcometh and keepeth my works to the end, to him will I give power over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron.’
Well, God gives strength and power to His people here and now, and especially in times of trial and difficulty and persecution, but the promise is this, that in the world to come, He will give even more.
Here, His faithful people are given power even to resist Jezebel;
there and then they shall have authority to rule over the nations. Verse 27 in this chapter is a quotation from Psalm 2 which relates to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself but here He quotes this statement, not in relation to Himself, but in relation to His people. Christ says,
-He that overcometh, he shall rule them with a rod of iron, and as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers. What does this mean? He is saying that the overcomer is to be set down with Christ in His throne, and when Christ reigns, the overcoming believer will
reign with Him in the world to come. Know ye not, says the Word, that we shall judge angels. If we suffer because of Jezebel, we shall also reign with Him (2 Timothy 2:12). While we reign with Him, Jezebel will be in outer darkness. There is a promise of coming authority in which the overcomers shall share the reign, the kingship of their glorious Saviour and King, Jesus Christ.
Also, you notice, there is the promise of the Morning Star (verse 28). I will give him the Morning Star. The Morning Star is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, He gives Himself in substitution on behalf of
His people on the Cross. Yes, but also as a risen Redeemer, He gives Himself to His overcoming people in ways quite beyond our present understanding. His people are to share the dazzling brightness, the morning glory of the Star that outshines all other stars, the Star that shines unto the perfect day. I will give unto him, the overcomer, the Morning Star. Here is the great prospect. What more could He give?
*See Vol. 13. p. 295.