Readers of the letter at Thyatira would have picked up on a number of key points made by Christ concerning the church.
Commendation of good deeds
Jesus commends believers at Thyatira for their good deeds. He knew of their love, faith and service to others, as well as their patient endurance, even pointing out their latter works exceeding their former deeds. Jesus doesn’t miss a beat, he knows every deed done, and every good deed done pleases him. Be encouraged that your good deeds don’t go unnoticed. Instead, each one done in faith is attended to and brings pleasure to Jesus.
Temptation to compromise
A prophetess named Jezebel had arisen in the church and was of similar effect to Jezebel, Ahab’s queen (1 Kings 16:31), who supported idolatry and led many astray from the faith. Christ held against the church this compromise of tolerating Jezebel and those influenced by her teaching, which plunged them into sexual immorality and idolatry. How this transpired isn’t mentioned. It may have been that Jezebel encouraged believers, most of whom would have been tradesmen and women, to compromise their faith by indulging in common sinful practices at trade guild festivals which involved worship of specific deities and sexual practices. We can learn from this by being biblically minded and alert to whether or not teaching is aligned to the Bible – wherever it conflicts with Scripture we must tackle this, together with the eldership, and not be complicit with following unbiblical teaching.
It’s clear that Jesus in his abounding mercy gave time for Jezebel and her followers to repent (change their minds and ways concerning these sins). However, he pronounced judgements over them – sickness, tribulation and even death, unless they repented . This might seem incredibly harsh but Jesus being God is holy and good. His judgements show how severe sins are to a perfectly good God, and his holding back of these just consequences for their sins over some time highlights his patience and love for them. Moreover, the open door provided for them to escape these judgements should they repent after this revelation, further highlights God’s grace toward them.
Jesus exhorts those who did not follow Jezebel’s teaching to persevere in the faith shown until his coming. I’ve wondered what that looked like. I think it resembled a flowing river – alive and active. They were to hold onto all that Jesus had previously commended them for, their trust in Christ, which looked like keeping in step with Scriptural teaching, loving God, one another and others, and growing in serving others. This exhortation is key for all believers, we’re to hold onto and persevere with living faith, despite the temptations and struggles that exist. If your faith doesn’t appear to be alive in the ways described, diligently ask and seek God to give you living faith that you can persevere with.
Reigning with Christ
Jesus states that all those who are victorious (over Jezebel etc), he will give authority to reign with him, the “Morning star”, over the nations. Exactly what this will look like isn’t clear. The reference to ruling them with “a rod of iron” draws on Psalm 2:8-9 which had been interpreted messianically by both first century Jews and Christians as indication of a place with God in the judgement of their, and God’s, enemies. On this point, Paul’s assertion is noteworthy, that our enemy isn’t fleshly man but demonic powers and principalities that preside over and influence mankind. Albeit, for those people who do forsake Jesus, God’s wrath does abide with them.
Living versus dead faith
Jesus is described as “him who has the seven spirits and the seven stars” (Rev 3 v1). The seven spirits refer to the Holy Spirit and the seven stars to the angels of the seven churches (Rev 1:20). Jesus’ next message addresses the church in the wealthy city named Sardis, located about thirty miles south from Thyatira. Unlike the believers at Thyatira, Jesus has no words of commendation for them. This would have likely been shocking to onlookers and the church, who had “a reputation for being alive”.
They may have had many programmes and church services happening, giving the look and feel of much fruit and life in the church. Yet Jesus states that the opposite reality was the case below the surface – they were spiritually “dead”. Jesus clarifies that he had not found their “works complete.” We read in apostle Paul’s writings that works are counted as nothing when lacking love (1 Corinthians 13:1-7). They are charged to return to the initial gospel they heard and repent, otherwise judgement would come upon them suddenly.
Some believers alive in faith existed in this dead church. They are stated as worthy of walking with Christ in white garments; white symbolising purity. All those who conquer (over sin through living faith in Christ) will be clothed in white garments (glory and purity) and their names will not be blotted out of “the book of life” – they will experience eternal life with God. This message was to stir a seeking after and longing for Christ, for both those dead and alive in their faith. We’re to guard against doing for doing sake and ensure Christ’s love is central in our deeds.
As in the other letters, Jesus makes an appeal to listen “to what the Spirit says to the churches” – each message was meant for a wider readership, the churches then, and those existing now.
Let’s all take seriously these messages and put them into positive effect in our lives, standing against compromise, seeking to follow Christ with faith, love, and enduring service for him; having the hopeful expectation of one day enjoying all the blessings of being face to face with our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.