The Church at Thyatira

The Letter to the Church at Thyratira

Thyratira means ‘daughter’, coming from the Greek word ‘thygater’, or the Koine Greek word ‘thuateira’, and the name of this city has an interesting etymology that appears to work on at least three different levels.

First, the city was named daughter by king Seleucus I Nicator around 301 B.C., when word arrived during a battle with Lysimachus that his wife had given birth to a daughter. Prior to that, the city had been named Pelopia, but it was later re-named Semiramis, after Babylon’s ‘Queen of Heaven’. That name has some import that we’ll cover in a moment.

Second, as the 4th letter and the 4th church in the overall chronology of Christianity, Thyatira typified the medieval church that existed from about 590 to 1517 A.D. This is the period where the Church of England split off from Roman Catholicism, becoming its ‘daughter’ church. It was also the time of the ‘Dark Ages’ where the Bible was not available to the laity, as the church sought to be the only repository of God’s word.

Third, the ‘Jezebel’ at work in this church could be considered the spiritual daughter of the Old Testament Jezebel, who in turn was the spiritual daughter of Semiramis, for whom the city was formerly named. Why? Because the deeds of Thyatira’s Jezebel were the same as the Old Testament Jezebel, whose deeds were the same as those of Semiramis, the pagan wife of Nimrod, the founder of Babylon.

As Nimrod’s ‘Queen of Heaven’, Semiramis developed Babylon’s pagan system of worship, which was later exported to the entire known world, corrupting man’s understanding of God. In fact, virtually every pagan religious system practiced throughout the world today can be traced back to her Babylonian system. And the pagan rituals and pagan priesthood she developed there were later adopted by the Old Testament Jezebel when she married King Ahab. For those that remember the story of Jezebel from 1Kings and 2Kings, she became one of the most wicked influences on Israel in their storied history.

So when Jesus called this woman in Thyatira ‘Jezebel’, it is clear that she was a highly corrupting influence within the church, and that she was advocating the same pagan practices as the original Jezebel, who got them from Semiramis. When we consider the relationship between these harlots, their entire lives bear a stunning resemblance;
1) Semiramis was a harlot that married a king, just as Jezebel did.
2) Semiramis employed pagan religious rites, just as Jezebel did.
3) Semiramis developed and supported the priests of Babylon, just as Jezebel did.
4) Semiramis Worshipped ‘Bel’, just as Jezebel did (‘Baal’)
5) Semiramis corrupted the people of her kingdom, just as Jezebel did.
6) Semiramis had many of her enemies killed, just as Jezebel did.
7) Semiramis provoked the Lord with all her actions, just as Jezebel did.
8) Semiramis demanded worship as the ‘Queen of Heaven’, and no doubt Jezebel thought of herself this way.
9) Semiramis died a horrible death, just as Jezebel did.

I’m sure there were many more parallels in addition to these, but this is enough to see that Jezebel was the spiritual ‘daughter’ of Semiramis in every way. How ironic then that the ‘daughter’ of her spirit would continue to hinder the church located in the city that had carried her name.

HISTORY:

Ancient Pelopia was located on the border of the kingdoms of Lydia and Mysia, and after the breakup of Alexander the Great’s empire, This area was first ruled by Lysimachus, one of Alexander’s four Generals and successors, known as the Diadochoi. But by 301 B.C. Lysimachus had been defeated by Seleucus I, one of Ptolemy’s Generals (another Diadochoi), and Seleucus succeeded in taking control of his own Pergamean kingdom. By 282 B.C. this region became part of the larger Seleucid Empire that eventually would reach from Macedonia to the Himalayas, and the descendants of Seleucid went on to build one of the two great empires of that time.

The other great empire of that day was the Ptolemy Empire of Egypt, and the battles between the Seleucids and Ptolemies were the subject of Daniel’s prophecy of the ‘Kings of the South and the North” in Daniel 11/12. We’ll keep this in mind in future lessons, since the battles between these two empires will eventually spill over into the end times, according to Daniel. But for now we’ll get back to the ancient Pergamean kingdom.

Having a rural location at the juncture of 3 main roads, Thyatira became the eastern flank of the Pergamean kingdom, where it was re-founded as a military outpost.  Thyatira was located in a plain between the Hermus and Calcius rivers, and plains are not very defensible during siege. While this city’s sole purpose was to provide a buffer for the royal cities to the west, it‘s topography and remote location resulted in a change of rule between the Pergameans and Syrians on a number of occasions. Not surprisingly then, in those days it became the most destroyed and rebuilt city in Asia Minor. Today all that exists of it are ruins that cover about one city block, as shown in the adjacent illustration. Even its ruins were destroyed and plundered.

As the Roman Empire emerged, they quickly took control of Asia Minor, and by 133 B.C. the Pergamean kingdom was in the full control of Rome. Emperor Vespasian provided military stability and peace for this war torn region, and by the time of the Apostles, Thyatira was an important center of commerce, featuring more trade guilds than any other city in this region. It was famous for its purple dyes since it had a plant growing in this region whose roots provided a deeper color than that of the marine species that had previously been used for this task. Royalty and nobility from all of Asia and the Mediterranean would trade with Thyatira for their purple cloth, a product that brought them fame and great wealth. In fact, you may recall the story of Lydia in Acts 16, a dealer in purple cloth who represented a guild in Thyatira, who had accepted the Lord after Paul’s preaching. She was apparently a wealthy woman due to her trade in this sought after commodity.

The trade guilds were the source of great wealth for Thyatira, but their practices were their downfall and the source of rebuke in Jesus‘ letter. Each of these guilds had a patron deity that members were required to observe, therefore the guilds were by definition pagan entities. During gatherings, guild meals were served to the group after the food had been sacrificed to their patron idol, a practice the Bible specifically prohibited. But on top of that, it was common after these meals for some of the guilds to engage in extensive orgies. This was the influence that Babylon and Semiramis had on Thyatira, which was embodied by the Jezebel-like figure in their midst.

Naturally, this pagan behavior made it difficult for Christians to live and work in this city, since a righteous lifestyle made it impossible to belong to a guild. And without a guild, people were generally without work. But it also made it very difficult for others in the city to convert to Christianity, for fear of losing their job and sole source of income. I sometimes wonder what became of Lydia after her acceptance of Jesus Christ. Her position is the state that the Christians of Thyatira found themselves in at the time Jesus sent the following letter;

THE LETTER:

“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 prophetess. 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): Only hold on to what you have until I come.

To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—‘He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery’— just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  (Revelation 2:18-29)

1) CHRIST’S NAME:

“These are the words of the Son of God”

In each of the letters to the churches, God uses a specific name for himself that applies to that church. But this name also applies to that particular position on the menorah, relative to the Feasts of the Lord.  This will be explained in greater detail after all seven churches have been examined, but for now we recognize that this church is in the 4th position, or the ‘Shamash’ that always relates to God. So it’s no surprise that we find Jesus describing himself here as the ‘Son of God’.  It’s also ironic that this church struggled with a Jezebel-type figure in their midst, because the term ‘Son of God’ stands in direct contrast to Jezebel’s type, the ‘Queen of Heaven’.

“Whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.”

Christ’s eyes of ‘blazing fire’ represent his penetrating insight into all things, since nothing escapes his notice.  And his feet of burnished bronze represent the judgment that he will pour out on the nations when he tramples them in the last days.  In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a large statue in Daniel chapter 2, we learned that the head of that statue represented the early form of the gentile ‘beast’ that would eventually come against Israel. In contrast, the feet of this statue represented the final form this empire would take. In other words, the feet of the statue represented the empire that would come against Israel in the last days. So in like kind, Christ’s feet of bronze represent His final judgment against that very empire, since the metal bronze represents judgment in the symbolism of the Bible.

2) COMMENDATION:

“I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance”

James, the brother of Jesus, wrote about faith and deeds as an inseparable idea (James 2:20-26) that demonstrates our righteousness, and that faith without deeds is dead. So Thyatira must have had good deeds in her favor, as well as loving their neighbors.  They also demonstrated their faith by serving one another, and they persevered in the face of the opposition they surely received in Asia Minor.  So all of those things were to their favor.  So far, so good.

“and that you are now doing more than you did at first.”

If we are truly building our faith in Christ, we tend to become more conformed to Him with each passing month, and this was happening in Thyatira. This is one of the parallels between Thyatira and Jacob, since Jacob also did more later in life than he did at first.  At first, Jacob was the younger of two sons (Esau), and was not charged with the well being of his family.  But later in life, after he had obtained the birth-right and blessing of his father, he did much more than he did at first, eventually take action that would save the entire nation of Israel.

3) ADMONITION:

“You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.”

Thyatira apparently had a strong women figure in their church that was leading many astray with pagan practices, because Jesus calls her Jezebel, a high insult based on Old Testament history.  The Jezebel of Old Testament times worshipped Baal, a pagan god, and Baal worship included sacrificing food to idols, as well as sexually immoral rituals. So in essence, the Jezebel of Thyatira must have persuaded many Christian into the same practices of the surrounding guilds.

While nothing is known about Thyatira’s Jezebel, the Jezebel of Old Testament times was the daughter of the king of Sidon, a pagan family that participated in Baal worship. Jezebel married King Ahab, the king of the northern kingdom of Israel, and she corrupted him into worshipping Baal (1Kings 16:30-31).

God had expressly forbidden the Israelites from marrying the pagan peoples around them, for fear that they would corrupt his people. And this is one instance where the consequences of ignoring God’s advice were extreme, because Jezebel was in direct opposition to God, just as Semiramis had been in Babylon, eventually eliminating all of the prophets of Israel except for Elijah. Even though she came to a horrible end as prophesied, the damage to Israel had been done.

Jezebel (Eeyezebel)

As I studied Jezebel in preparation for this post, I thought it would be interesting to see what the pictographic form of the Hebrew letters would reveal about her character. In Hebrew, her name would be pronounced ‘Eeyezebel’, without the ‘J’ sound.  Jezebel is actually an anglicized form of her name.  Anyway, the results were quite interesting;

The first letter is the ‘Aleph’, which was depicted as an ox’s head, and having the possible meanings of strong, power, or leader.

The second letter is the ‘Yud’, shown as the arm and hand of a man, and potentially meaning work, throw or worship.

The third letter is the ‘Zayin’, which was a mattock used for tilling the ground. This picture could mean either food, nourish, or cut.

The fourth letter is the ‘Bet’, an aerial illustration of a house or tent walls, and having the potential meanings of family, house, or in.

And the fifth and final letter is the ‘Lamed’, a picture of a shepherd’s staff that carried the meanings of teach, yoke, to, or bind.

Obviously you noticed which meanings I highlighted for each letter, and in this instance the context was rather clear and easy to determine;

“Leader whose work feeds Ba’al (house of the Yoke).”

As always, the proper usage of each letter is determined by the context of the conversation or topic. And given the fact that the Sidonians worshipped Baal, and Jezebel supported hundreds of priests of Baal, well, what other conclusion can be drawn?

“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. 

Despite our many mistakes, God always gives us time to repent and change our ways. But the Jezebel’s of this world rarely change, so they are eventually punished for their rebellion. And in this case it’s interesting that her punishment would be so related to her sin. Her bed of sexual immorality would become her bed of suffering, and we can all look around and see the devastating effect of the sexually transmitted diseases in the world today.

But there is more to this admonition from a symbolic standpoint. This image of a prostitute and adulterer also can represent false religions, and it is employed precisely this way by the prophets and even by Christ himself. In this analogy, the sexual immorality of Jezebel represented the false religions of the Babylonian system.

“I will strike her children dead.”

Again employing the symbolism of false religions, the ‘children’ of Jezebel would be all of the hundreds of cults that have popped up around the world that deny the name of Jesus and the power of the Gospel message. When Christ returns at the end of this age, these ‘children’ will certainly be struck dead when he tramples the nations in judgment with his ‘feet of bronze’. Just as the biblical Jezebel died a horrible death at the hands of another, so the spiritual Jezebels will die a horrible death at the hands of Jesus Christ.

“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.”

It is Jesus who will judge the world when He returns, and it is Jesus who will reward us or condemn us based on what we have believed and what we have done in this life (Matthew 16:27). With his eyes of ‘blazing fire’ he searches our hearts and minds, and knows how each shall be repaid.

4) EXHORTATION:

“to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets”

There was a belief in the pagan world of that day that in order to conquer Satan, you had to first understand him by immersing yourself in his doctrines, his “so-called deep secrets”. But that’s like saying in order to understand the nature of bees, you should immerse yourself in a bee hive. It’s just not good advice, for very obvious reasons.  But this is what the cults and the New Age movement have unwittingly done, and it only leads to their destruction.

“Only hold on to what you have until I come.”

What the church at Thyatira had was their faith in Jesus Christ, and this is what Jesus was telling them to hold on to. As with each of the seven churches, Thyatira was located in a pagan land where Christians were a persecuted minority, and holding on to this faith undoubtedly required the ‘patient endurance’ described by Paul;

“If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.” (2Corinthians 1:6)

5) PROMISE:

“To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations”

The Bible is replete with examples of the saints inheriting not only the kingdom of God in the last days, but the role of ruler and judge within that kingdom. Immortal man will live alongside mortal man as a kingdom of priests, and will govern the nations of the earth with an ‘iron scepter’;

“He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery”

The iron scepter is symbolic of unquestioned rule, which the saints will have during the millennial age. While Jesus possesses this scepter, he will delegate His authority to his saints, who in turn will rule cities, nations, and kingdoms with unquestioned authority. It will be a different day with a completely different outlook, where evil will not be permitted.

But there is another element to the millennial age that is rarely discussed, although it is found in several prophetic passages. It is a fact of scripture that the nations that enslaved Israel will themselves be enslaved during the millennial age, and their labor will be for Israel and the saints. This arrangement will no doubt foster resentment, which will spill over when Satan is finally released from the Abyss after 1000 years of punishment (Revelation 20:7-10). But that would be the subject of an entirely separate post, as this one is already a bit long.

“I will also give him the morning star.”

Stars in scripture were often used to portray angels, and in this instance, the “morning star” is the brightest star in the sky, representing the most luminescent angel. So this star would represent Jesus himself, also known in scripture as the ‘Angel of the Lord’. In fact, this is made clear when Jesus uses this term near the end of the book of Revelation to describe himself;

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”  (Revelation 22:16)

But the term “morning star” was not reserved only for Jesus. It was used to describe other powerful angels as well. For instance, the ‘morning stars’ sang for joy with the other angels while Jesus created the world (Job 38:7). And there is the reference to ‘Lucifer’, who God called “O morning star, son of the dawn” (Isaiah 14:12). So this name is seemingly used to describe angels whose power is greater than that of other angels.

And as long as I’ve brought that up, there’s a very interesting sidebar to that name “Morning Star, son of the Dawn”. In Hebrew it reads “Heylel Ben Sahar”, which literally means “Morning star, son of the Crescent”. The word ‘Heylel’ is generally interpreted as Lucifer, the one many think of as Satan. But notice how this Lucifer is the SON of the more luminous Crescent moon. The moon appears much larger and brighter in our sky, which in symbolism would indicate an angel of much higher magnitude. So is THIS Satan? Let’s look at the symbolism and see if it fits.

First, the moon has no light (righteousness) of its own, just as Satan has no righteousness of his own. If not for the presence of the sun, the moon would keep us in darkness, just as if not for the presence of God’s spiritual light, Satan would keep us in spiritual darkness.

Second, the dark side of the moon (sin) is always facing away from us, so we never see it, just as Satan has a dark side that he keeps hidden so that we can’t see it. This is how we are often deceived, because we generally don’t see the consequences of our actions.

Finally, the moon acts as a companion to the earth by regulating it’s rotational axis and ocean tides, and also acts as a guardian by drawing celestial debris away from the earth. This is quite ironic in light of Satan’s intended role as a ‘guardian cherub’ (Ezekiel 28:11-19) of the earth, which would have placed him in the position of companion and guardian of mankind. Hmmm.

So let’s add this up. If the morning star is Lucifer, the light-bearer, and his father is the crescent moon Satan, known as the guardian cherub, then we may be looking at the same two fallen angels behind the Zeus and Apollo father-son counterfeit in Greco-Roman mythology. And notice how well both of these arrangements are intended to replace Yahweh the Father and Yeshua the Son. It’s my contention that this is exactly what was intended, since Satan always counterfeits God’s ways in an effort to corrupt mankind into thinking that HE is God instead. It’s very possible that THIS is part of the “powerful delusion” that God will send in the last days (2Thessalonians 2:11).

JACOB:

Finally, Jacob is the 4th signatory on God’s ketubah (see Part 2) with mankind, and in summation he is related to the church at Thyatira in the following ways;

1) Thyatira’s overcomers will receive authority over the nations during the Millennium, just as Jacob/Israel will receive authority over the nations.

2) Thyatira did more later than they did at first, just as Jacob did more later than he did at first.

3) Thyatira had to hold on to their faith amidst pagan influences, just as Jacob had to hold on to his faith amidst pagan influences.

GOD’S LESSON:

Rid yourself of Paganism!