The Seven Churches of Asia - Thyatira

Robert E. Surgenor

Taking our journey with memories of the worldly assembly at Pergamos and the martyrdom of Antipas lingering in our minds, we finally come to a junction of three main roads where lies the trade guild center of the world, the City of Thyatira. Pergamos now lies forty miles to the northwest of us. Entering the city, we are amazed at all the activity. Merchants and traders are pouring their goods into the city and the streets are thronged with people. Potters are busy in their shops while tanners farther along the avenue are busy working with animal hides for market. Noticing smoke rising from a structure, our curiosity reveals bronze-smiths producing various bronze products for the world market. Thyatira was also a very practical place for the dye industry as the madder root, used in the production of purple dye, abounded in the area. This was the city of Lydia, the seller of purple, who, while on business traveled to Phillipi and hearing Paul preach, was saved (Acts 16).. Located on the river Lycus the streams abound in leeches, which are being exported for medicinal purposes. Thyatira was rich in agriculture, being located at the mouth of a valley running from north to south and connecting the valleys of the Hermus and the Caicus. All communication and trade between these two fertile valleys passed up and down the vale.

One of the prominent features of this commercial and prosperous city were the numerous trade guilds. The various tradesmen, all had their own particular guild. Membership in the guild was compulsory if you were employed. These numerous guilds were very well organized, providing various benefits for their members. However, each guild was under the patronage of some pagan god and members were required to attend all guild meetings, which involved the paying of homage to the patron god prior to discussing business. Following this idolatrous business meeting, members were required to participate in a banquet which involved the eating of meat that had been offered to the presiding god. These banquets were characterized b), drunkenness and considerable sexual freedom. Refusal to join a trade guild made it impossible for any worker to secure employment or even to continue his own trade. Thyatira was a "closed union shop." The Christian position was difficult to maintain. Considering the prevailing conditions we shall be able to understand why and how a woman, who claimed the gift of prophecy in the Thyatira Assembly, gained such a foothold.

Founded by Alexander the Great after the overthrow of the Persian Empire, Thyatira was a garrison city, but nature certainly didn't give it the look of a fortress. Situated in an open "smiling vale," bordered by gently sloping hills, the whole scene conveys weakness and dependence. It had served as a handmaid city, lying right in the tract of any invasion, consequently obstructing momentarily the oncoming of an enemy, thus giving time for the calling together of the Empire's army. However, as we walk Thyatira's bustling streets we perceive that the thought of it being a garrison city is now only a memory. However, remaining was their main god, Tyrimnas (Apollos) the sun god, symbol of military power. Fitting for the city was also Diana, the goddess of lust. As we venture outside the city's wall we notice a small temple dedicated to Sanbethe, a woman with the gift of prophecy. There we find a mixture of Orientalism, Judaism, Greek, Roman and Christian rites and are told that all this was very appealing to the Jews and Christians of Thyatira. We are shocked, but more shocking surprises are to come as we settle in this city for a visit.

As we approach the gathering we are impressed with all the activity. To our surprise, a very attractive and charming woman greets us. For some reason we are impressed with her. Perhaps our discernment is not what it should be, for as time goes on her sins become very evident to us. Her name is ezebel. As we take our place and look over the company, something doesn't seem right. However, we certainly picked the right time to gather with these saints, for a letter from Patmos has arrived. Their letter is the longest of all the letters to the seven churches. Only in this letter do we find the mention of a woman, of brass, of adultery, and the title, "Son of God.' In spite of the desperate conditions in the Thyatira Assembly, we are impressed that Christ gives them the warmest commendation for love and service! Quietness settles over the gathering, a brother rises and the words of the risen Lord are now read.

Christ Presents Himself

"These things saith the Son of God, who hath His eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass" (Rev. 2:18).

Thyatira's favorite god, Apollos, claimed to be the son of Zeus, the father of all gods. Christ's claim is much higher - He is THE Son God! This is the only time in the book of Revelation where He gives expression to what He essentially is, exposing Himself to this church as the supreme authority and source of all revelation. In reality, He is setting Himself in direct opposition to Jezebel. Christ's eyes are like unto a flame of fire. His inspection of this assembly is severe! He is scrutinizing them, uncovering all the hidden things of darkness, penetrating the secret recesses of their heart. "Neither is there any creature that is hidden in His sight: but all things are naked and opened to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:13). He manifests His moral intolerance of evil, His burning indignation and purifying judgment. Jezebel professes to know much Christ knows all!

Walking by the idol of Apollos we were impressed as the brazen image seemed to actually be on fire - an allusion from the sun's bright rays falling upon it. Christ's feet are like fine (burnished, flaming) military brass, which symbolizes that His judicial action is unbending and in absolute righteousness. He was about to crush everything that was out of accord with the divine will. With unyielding strength in judicial judgment, He is determined to tread down the evils of this assembly, which mainly stemmed from Jezebel.

As the presentation of the Lord is read, our mind goes back to Paul's warning to the Corinthian Assembly. "If any man defileth the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are" (1 Cor. 3:17). Since the word defile and destroy are the same original words, I take it to mean that God will treat us in exactly the same manner as we treat the assembly. Should this not be a warning to all? If we defile the assembly with moral misbehavior, or, doctrinal error, God will consequently defile us. Certainly not in most cases, but in a few, sickness can be traced to the fact that the temple of God has been defiled. Let us ever be careful how we conduct ourselves relative to the temple of God. The Spirit exclaims, "But as He who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all your behavior, Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy." (1 Pet. 1:15-16). As the psalmist meditates on the eternity, the might and the throne of God, he commences, exclaiming, 'The LORD reigneth." He then concludes the psalm stating , "Holiness becometh thy house, 0 LORD, for ever" (Psalms 93:1,5). Holiness is not only befltting to the house of God but it also beautifies the house of God, as the word becometh indicates. Thus God's assembly should be characterized by the fact that the Lordship of Christ is being recognized in every aspect of our life and that holiness is manifesting itself in our walk. When this becomes a reality, the house of God will be beautified. The assembly in Thyatira could be commended, but it had also miserably failed. Let us linger in this busy city until the remainder of our Lord's longest epistle is read. He has much to say. He is about to commend them, judge them, warn them, exhort them, and promise them. Thank you for coming with me to Thyatira, the city of the trade guilds.