This post last updated on May 6th, 2022
The letter to the church in Thyatira, found in Revelation chapter 2, reveals great accomplishments. Spiritual maturity among believers and a growing church were a few of them. However, there was rampant moral compromise: tolerating sin was a cancer that corrupted this church from within. Read on to learn how the moral compromise of Thyatira is alive today and how you should respond.
And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you…’Revelation 2:18-19
Thyatira received the fourth of the 7 letters of Revelation, which is the longest of the 7. Not only that, it’s probably the most troubling.
Unlike some of the other cities in the Revelation letters, Thyatira was a blue collar economic city.
Home of a temple to the sun god Apollo, Thyatira was known for it’s metal smiths. There were also workers of wool, linen, and dyes. In fact, Lydia, part of the church in Philippi, was from Thyatira and was a dye worker, notorious for having specialized in purple (Acts 16:14).
Revelation Letter to the Church in Thyatira
And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.Revelation 2:18
Eyes like fire
Right away, Jesus establishes His authority identifying Himself as the Son of God, and He does so in such a personal way to the audience of this church. In fact, there is quite a lot He’s saying just in this introduction!
That He has eyes like a flame of fire illustrates that Jesus is more than aware of all that goes on among His people and in his church. More than that, a flame of fire may represent a searching and seeking action. This shows that Jesus knows the very thoughts and intentions of His people. His is an all-knowing sight that cuts with discernment right past any facade we could erect.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.Hebrews 4:12–13
With feet like bronze
Jesus also introduces Himself as having feet like burnished bronze. Bronze smiths were among the metal workers and were a big part of the trade in the city. This is a relevant and familiar point of reference for the people of Thyatira. They would immediately recognize the strength and authority that burnished bronze represents.
When you put the feet of bronze and the eyes of fire together, it communicates the deity of Christ as well as His strength and authority. Both of these features are similar to Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Days in his prophetic book.
His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude.Daniel 10:6
Growing in spiritual maturity
‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.Revelation 2:19
Chances are that you have seen, experienced, or have at least heard of a growing church. That was Thyatira when John wrote Revelation. Who knows, Thyatira may have even qualified as a mega church in those times!
Jesus commended the believers of this church for their service, their faith, and for their patient endurance. Amazing qualities for any Christian, and absolutely commendable!
He also noted that their “latter works exceeded the first.” The believers in Thyatira were increasing in their maturity and in their commendable qualities as a body of believers.
The cancer of compromise
But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.Revelation 2:20
I’m also certain that you have also at least heard about a church that has compromised. There’s a vast difference between a growing church and a church growing with compromise.
Ironically, that also describes the church in Thyatira. Like Pergamum, Thyatira tolerated sexual sin in the church (Revelation 2:14). However, comparing what was going on in Thyatira to Jezebel was much worse.
This is how Jezebelian compromise works: where compromise is allowed in the church, ideas begin to change. You’ll hear things like, “That’s old fashioned. No one believes that anymore.” Or maybe, “The times have changed. Now people can be more true to how they feel and who they are.” Or how about, “What’s true to me may not be true to you.” Then there’s also, “Let’s agree to disagree.”
Friends, doctrinal ground that is fluid and changes with culture is absolutely dangerous to walk on. Compromising what is true leads to apostasy every single time. And according to the letter to the church in Thyatira, Jesus is not tolerating it. ‘I have this against you that you tolerate that woman Jezebel’ is not to be missed.
The spirit of Jezebel
Because Jesus describes someone in Thyatira who calls herself a prophetess and who leads his people to “practice sexual immorality,” you can conclude that Jesus is using Jezebel as a symbolic reference in Thyatira.
Meaning, it’s most likely that He’s speaking about a pagan prophetess named Sambathe. She was a sibyl, or a pagan oracle, who was associated with Thyatira and there was a shrine dedicated to her just outside the city walls.
Exactly what a cult pagan prophetess would do. What’s more, these practices haven’t changed. You can find the same sexual sin tolerated and approved of in so many churches and denominations today.
The big difference is that it once took generations for a church to fall into apostasy. Now it takes less than one generation.
Sambathe then, representing Jezebel, would have been the cause of the moral corruption and sexual sin in this church, yet provides the example for us to learn from today.
Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.Revelation 2:22-23
Did I mention that the Revelation letter to the church in Thyatira is probably the most difficult of all 7?
Here, Jesus is saying that He is going to allow the consequences of not heeding his warning to repent. Sadly, it’s going to impact all who tolerate and approve of the immoral teaching within this church. That’s the meaning of ‘unless they repent of her works, I will strike her children dead.’
I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.Revelation 2:21
In Ephesians 2:1-6, Paul writes about being saved by grace, and that we who believe were once dead in sin, that we lived in the passions and desires of our flesh. So in this verse, I do not know if Jesus is referring to prematurely ending the lives of these people in the church, or if He’s speaking about returning them to their spiritual death.
Either way, whether spiritual, physical, or both, death is still death and it’s not a positive thing here!
One thing you can understand from these verses is that the sin of compromise, of tolerating the intolerable, carries dire consequences.
But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come.Revelation 2:24-25
The letter to the church in Thyatira shows you that there were 3 groups of people in this church.
First, there were the followers of the Jezebelian teaching. That is, those who compromised the truth of God. You see them in verse 22 as “those who commit adultery with her.”
Second, those who tolerated immorality in their church. These are the ones who knew full well what was going on, but for whatever reason they closed their eyes and their ears. You see this group in verse 20, “But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel.”
You’ll see the third group in verses 24-28, “But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching.” These are the ones who did not follow the apostasy, and they didn’t turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the sins of fellow believers.
Thyatira in Today’s Church
The spirit of Jezebel found in the Thyatiran church is alive and well today. I’ll show you how, but hold on. This is going to require me to say things that are true, but which are universally unacceptable to the world.
First, there are many today who embrace and endorse heretical, apostate attitudes and false teaching. You can find them in fringe outlying groups, and in mainline denominations. Their teaching is in line with the Jezebelian teaching in Thyatira. Truth is compromised in many ways, most notably as it relates to sexual immorality. And now you find it not only tolerated, but celebrated. That’s because sexual sin, be it fornication, adultery, pornography, or homosexuality, has long been a weapon of Satan against God’s people and the church.
Second, you’ll find those who strive for a life of faithfulness to God and the truth of His word. They are focused on loving their neighbors and their enemies, on making disciples, and on being disciples. They’re often called intolerant and other bad words in mainstream society today, and are frequent victims of cancel culture in social media.
And finally, in between the 2 groups are they who won’t align themselves with either, but will quietly tolerate both. Often, this is done to avoid conflict, or worse, to preserve the idolatry of denominational loyalty and union at the expense of compromising the truth of God’s word.
I know this is difficult, and it’s even socially dangerous to say these things. However, the one area I do not compromise is the truth of Scripture. These points aren’t here to be divisive, but to point out that the letters to all of the Revelation churches are speaking to the church throughout every age. Even our own.
The Message from the Letter to the Church in Thyatira is the Eternal Promise of Christ
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.Revelation 2:29
Don’t miss the end of this letter. Here’s where you’ll find the eternal promise of Christ. This is what you read about in verses 24-29, and this is where you want to take your stand!
The promise of Revelation 2:26-27 has it’s roots in an early Messianic Psalm, where you’ll see the prophecy of Messiah over the nations.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.Psalm 2:8-9
In this letter, Jesus is illustrating that He is the promised Messiah of God and is the “bright morning star.” Don’t miss this! The image of a star in relation to Messiah in the line of David is first found in Numbers 24:15. That’s where you’ll find Balaam’s prophesy telling that, “A star will rise from Jacob.”
The promise is that those in the church at Thyatira who remain faithful to God will receive enduring, intimate, and eternal fellowship with Jesus Christ. That is a truth that you can take home from the Revelation letter to the church in Thyatira.