The Seven Churches of Asia - Thyatira (Part 2)

Robert E. Surgenor

It has been one month since we heard the presentation of Christ being read to the saints. We have toured the city, being quite impressed with its activity and the tremendous power that the various trade guilds manifested on behalf of its members. Raising revenues and owning considerable property, these well-organized unions provided many benefits for their members. We avoided the invitations to their banquets, having been informed of their character. These feasts usually commenced in the early afternoon with members lounging on dining-couches, eating and drinking and being entertained by troops of singing and dancing slaves. It was an atmosphere of revelry, thus very appealing to the flesh. I would say that the vile temptations at Thyatira were even more prevalent than in our day. There was no restraint in their society whatever in regard to fornication. It was the norm, it was expected, thus it was a daily indulgence. To the godly saints of this immoral city the words of Peter had found a place in their soul. "Dearly beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul,- Having your behavior honest among the Gentiles: that, though they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation" (1 Pet. 2:11-12). However, many in the assembly had corrupted their way and the risen Lord has much to say. It is very interesting to note however, that before He judges and condemns them, He commends them. Let us now draw near and listen to His words read to the gathering.

The Commendation of Christ

"I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first" (2:19).

Just as Thyatira was busy, the assembly had taken on the same characteristic. They were workers. Christ conveys to them that He knows their activity in the widest sense. He appreciates that the underlying motivation to their works was not duty, as sadly noticed at Ephesus, but rather their love. Love motivated these Christians to Christian activity. He values their service, as it was voluntary, beneficial, and it was the outpouring of life in abounding service. Didn't you notice as we toured the city last week the saints helping one another? One sister had a problem at home and immediately upon hearing of it, a few sisters visited her with help. Another brother had been injured in the bronze works but the assembly came immediately to his aid.

My brother, how would you react to the need of a saint, who having become a victim of circumstances was being evicted from his dwelling because of unpaid rent? Would you give him the needed $800? Brethren, this is not theoretical Christianity - this is practical Christianity! Could you measure up to the Thyatira saints in this respect? Christ commends them for their service. Could he commend you? Or are you living in your own little "glass cage" totally oblivious to the needs of others? Even though this assembly had grievous conditions, yet it possessed qualities that we would do well to emulate.

Christ also knew their faith. They manifested that beautiful fruit of fidelity, faithfulness, loyalty, reliability and dependability. That is not hard to accomplish in one's life if the underlying motivation is love. Are we dependable, can our word be taken as "good as gold?' I remember the late Archie Stewart. If you told him that you would meet him at 10 A.M. and you arrived at 10:05 A.M., you could expect a lecture on tardiness. The announcement board in front of our halls announces the time when all of us will be there. However, some seem to have the "tardy habit," and invariably they stroll in one or more minutes late, thus disturbing the meeting. This disorder ought not to be. We noticed that when the meeting started at Thyatira, all were seated and Christ commends them for their dependability.

Christ had observed their patience, meaning their emotional balance under pressure. The godly ones in the assembly perhaps were few, but the eye of Christ rests with pleasure upon them. They were seeking to run with patience (endurance) the race that was set before them. (Heb. 12: 1).

Finally the Lord exclaims that their last works were more than the first. In other words, their activity had not withered, but was rather growing in volume. Let me ask you, are you as active for the Lord as you used to be? You should not only be as active, but you should be more active! Brethren, we do not have many more days left. Some seem to think that when they retire from their secular Work, they automatically retire from their spiritual work. What a delusion! The fact that one retires from his secular employment leaves him free to a greater degree to work for the Lord. There are no vacations and no retirement in the work of God. Even our beloved aged saints, confined to their home, can labor fervently, as Epaphras, in prayers (Col 4:12). Beloved, let us consider in our hearts how these saints, with all of their shortcomings, are setting for us in some areas - good examples.

The Indictement of Christ

"However I have a few things against thee, because thou allowest that woman Jezebel, who calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit acts of immorality, and to eat things sacriflced to idols." (Rev. 2:20).

Notice, Christ is against the angel of this assembly. An angel of God? Hardly, for all His angels are sinless. A demon? Perish the thought, for since when is a demon responsible and answerable for the assembly? As expounded in the commencement of our journey to the western shore of Asia, we discovered that the angel (messenger) represented the responsible element in the assembly - the elders. The symbol used for this governing body is stars. False teachers are termed stars (Jude 13). Faithful teachers are called stars (Dan. 12:3). Elders, like stars, are not to be controlled by earthly things. They, like stars, are to give light, rule and guide. The elders at Thyatira had miserably failed and Christ has a few things against them. Those of you who are overseers, does Christ have anything against you? Remember, God says about you regarding the flock, "They watch for your souls, as they that must give account" (Heb. 13:17).

Christian craftsmen had a severe problem in Thyatira. They were constantly faced with the temptation to attend the licentious guild banquets that followed the union's business meetings. The gnostic argument was that fornication was inevitable because of the ways of life and that it had no relevance to Christian life and conduct elsewhere. Other saints maintained that a Christian should be strong enough to confront such immorality, maintaining a character of integrity. There was a danger that the demands of God for purity of life and complete devotion to the Person of Christ would soon be totally nullified. Fleshly enjoyment was about to destroy spirituality in the assembly. Jezebel provides a solution to the whole problem. However, her solution has angered the Lord and He is about to deal with her.

Either the oversight was gutless to deal with her, or, they were gullible in receiving her teachings. Notice four things about this charming woman.

(1) Her name - 'Jezebel' (Heb. Izebel). The word in English is Agnes, meaning pure, or, chaste. Here is a woman that certainly was not living up to her name! Do you remember that 1,000 years prior to this, there was a woman of the same name in Israel? Her father was Ethbaal, king of the Zidonians. She married Ahab, king of Israel and then reintroduced the worship of Baal into the nation. Connected with Baal was Ashtaroth, goddess of fornication. Jezebel was a wicked woman! Some have wondered if the woman's name in Thyatira was really Jezebel. Antipas was the doctor's real name, it is recorded in secular history. Why then should this not be this woman's actual name? If not, one thing is certain, that the same spirit that manifested itself in the wife of Ahab, was acting in the woman sitting in the circle!

(2) Her claim. "A prophetess.' Let us be aware, that in apostolic times the gift of prophecy in women was not uncommon. Phillip the evangelist's four daughters possessed this gift and so did certain sisters in the Corinthian assembly (1 Cor.11:5). The function of their gift was never to be in a public way as was being practiced in Corinth. However, Paul corrected that error before closing his epistle to them (14:34,35). Jezebel considered Paul's teaching antiquated, consequently not relevant for the day. She claimed authority of divine inspiration. Her teachings were final and binding. She professed to have profound insight to divine mysteries and she was corrupting the assembly with ethical and doctrinal errors. The germ of gnosticism was flourishing in the Thyatira Assembly. The gnostics professed a profound knowledge of a mysterious kind. They taught that one was safe in the name and in the faith and that it mattered little about one's conduct. They taught that one cannot truly appreciate grace until they really experience sin, that by sinning one could serve Christ better and be an example to freedom. In other words, subject yourself to infection to prove you are immune!

(3) Her function. 'To teach'jezebel, by her gnostic teaching told the saints that they should join the trade guilds and participate in all of their functions, which included idolatry and fornication. In the Graeco-Roman society, to stand aloof from the social clubs constituted a person mean-spirited, hostile to society, and an enemy of mankind. Jezebel convinced the saints that to act in this fashion was hurting the church. She considered their commercial success more important than the claims of Christ. It was either Christ and poverty or compromise and prosperity. This woman denied headship and was wrong in precepts and practice.

(4) Her action. 'To seduce my servants." She had led the assembly astray like silly sheep. She had deceived them. One wonders how a woman could gain such power in an assembly of God. Her magnetic personality, superior intelligence, seemingly sincere interest in others, all would contribute to her success. We are stunned! We are shocked! We are amazed! However, her time is up. Christ is now going to act and I am curious enough to lengthen my stay with this assembly another month to see what the outcome will be. I trust that you will stay too.