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Special series: The Revelation of Jesus Christ

Fifth in a series of eight

Thyatira: The church in seduction of false leadership

By James K. Bridges

(Revelation 2:18-29)

The longest message of all seven is reserved for the church in Thyatira. Thyatira was known as a center for manufacturing and marketing with large numbers of trade guilds. Because these guilds were closely connected with idolatrous pagan worship, Christians could hardly find employment.

It appears that a kind of “hostile takeover” of the church in Thyatira had occurred in which the pastor had surrendered the spiritual leadership of the church to a self-proclaimed prophetess who was teaching contrary to apostolic doctrine and leading the church into a sensual lifestyle.

This misuse of the prophetic ministry and abuse of the prophetic office has plagued the church throughout the centuries. Even today, the church has suffered from prophets, so-called, who have usurped the authority of the pastor in an effort to gain power and control over the local churches. Here in the United States certain ministers, claiming to be apostles and prophets, have appointed themselves over certain cities claiming authority over all the churches within that city.

Such wrangling for power is contrary to the New Testament pattern for selecting local church leadership in which elders (pastors) were appointed in every church (Acts 14:23). The offices of apostle and prophet (prophetess) were never intended to undermine the office of the pastor in the local church. When false teachers appear, true pastors must not run like hirelings, but stand to protect the flock as true shepherds.

The identification of the Author

“These things says the Son of God” (2:18, NKJV).

In the initial revelation Jesus made himself known as the “Son of Man” (1:13), but the conditions in Thyatira necessitate that Christ approach the church in His deity as the “Son of God.” It is essential for the church to understand that her glorious Redeemer and Head is fully man and fully God.

“Eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass” (2:18).

The evil existing in the church in Thyatira could not be hidden from the piercing gaze of the all-seeing eyes of the Son of God. These are the eyes of the divine Judge who at His second coming will in righteousness judge and make war (19:11,12). His feet, like polished brass, trample down sin and impurity in His church, just as He will tread the winepress of the wrath of Almighty God among the nations at His return (19:15). Under the scrutiny of His penetrating eyes it behooves the church to walk uprightly.

The evaluation of the church

On the surface this church appeared to be a thriving example of what a church should be — they were commended for having “love, service, faith, and … patience” (2:19). In addition, the Lord notes the increase of their church activity when comparing their current works with their former deeds: “The last are more than the first” (2:19). Yet, while doing so many things well, there was something seriously wrong in the church. Failure to address the issue would bring certain judgment on those involved (2:22,23).

“I will give to each one of you according to your works” (2:23).

Good works are very important to the believer. When we appear before the judgment seat of Christ, what we have done while in the body, whether good or bad, will determine our reward (2 Corinthians 5:10). But good works can only issue out of our right relationship with Christ. One of the great purposes of our salvation is to become “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10). One of the final promises in the Book of Revelation given by Jesus is: “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” (Revelation 22:12).

“You allow that woman Jezebel … to teach and beguile My servants” (2:20).

The church in Thyatira, like so many throughout church history, had fallen prey to false leaders. Under the guise of the prophetic office, this false prophetess claimed divine authority for her ministry. This bold Jezebel had evidently been a part of the church and had considerable influence among the people.

Christ was not interested in giving us the name of this self-styled prophetess who pulled off a leadership coup in the church in Thyatira, but He was interested in giving us a clear picture of her unholy character, her immoral practices and her evil teachings. In the Old Testament, Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, king of Sidon, was the wife of Ahab, one of the wickedest kings of Israel. Jezebel was a most controlling and manipulating person. She initiated the slaughter of the prophets of Jehovah to stamp out the worship of the one true God in Israel. Instituting the worship of Baal as the state religion, she supported the prophets of Baal from the national treasury. Jezebel was known for her harlotries and witchcraft (2 Kings 9:22). By identifying the prophetess in Thyatira with the Old Testament queen, Christ gives us a complete picture of this New Testament Jezebel who was determined to alter the doctrine and the lifestyle of His church.

The “Jezebel” in Thyatira was just as determined to control the church through her unscriptural teaching and seduction of the believers to commit idolatry and immorality. Her doctrine was similar to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans in Pergamos. A common flaw among false leaders is their deviation from apostolic teaching. In the Jerusalem Council it had been clearly established by the apostles and the church that Jewish and Gentile believers would “abstain from things offered to idols … and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:29). Hardly a generation has elapsed since that council, and Christ is confronting teachings and practices in His church that are contrary to the inspired teachings of the apostles and prophets upon which Christ has founded His church “Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). Any ministry that claims revelation beyond or contradictory to the Holy Scriptures is false and should be rejected.

The solution to the existing condition

“I gave her time to repent … and she did not” (2:21).

Genuine repentance and breaking off with false doctrine and immoral conduct is the only solution acceptable to Christ. The prophetess was shown amazing grace as Christ gave her time to repent.

Just as Queen Jezebel was cast down to the ground and trampled by horses, the prophetess Jezebel, and those who had been with her in the bed of adultery (spiritually and physically), will now be cast down into a sickbed of pain, suffering, disease, punishment and even death for those who had become her disciples (2:22,23). Christ put a stop to Ananias and Sapphira’s sin of lying to God (Acts 5:1-5). He would certainly put a stop to the flagrant sin of disrespect toward His church and His ministry. Some of Christ’s most severe punishment awaits those who have used His gifts and ministries for their own advancement and gain. Christ is jealous for His church (the lampstands) and His ministry (the stars) and will severely judge those ministers who knowingly abuse and misuse them.

“And all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts” (2:23).

The church in the United States has become increasingly acculturated with this society. Leaders who guide and guard the church often fail to see the dangers of a sensual society whose influence is altering the lifestyle of the church today as it did the church in Thyatira. As the prophetess of Thyatira reinterpreted the apostles’ doctrine to allow for the sex-driven fashions and immoral practices of that society, so today the Scriptures are being reinterpreted to accommodate acceptance of sensual lifestyles and unscriptural practices that are rendering the church ineffective in fulfilling its mission in the earth. Believers tempted to compromise God’s standard of holiness must remember they serve the One who is aware of their every thought and deed. He never changes, and His Word is equally uncompromising.

The consolation promised to the overcomers

“Hold fast till I come” (2:25).

The promise of the return of Christ is always a consolation to His church in every generation. There have always been the scoffers saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Peter 3:4), but the Scriptures are replete with the promise of His coming and provide a blessed hope for all believers. To the faithful believers in Thyatira holding fast to Christ, a very special promise is given concerning Christ’s return: “I will give him the morning star” (Revelation 2:28). In the closing of the Book of Revelation Jesus identified himself as “the Bright and Morning Star” (22:16). The promise of the Morning Star is for every one of God’s faithful people throughout the church age.

“I will give power over the nations” (2:26).

To the overcomers and to every believer who “keeps My works until the end” (2:26), Christ gives the remarkable promise of ruling with Him in His earthly kingdom. John recorded that “He Himself [Christ] will rule them [the nations] with a rod of iron” (19:15). Here we are told that His faithful church will join Him in fulfillment of Psalm 2 (Revelation 2:27). The authority and power that Christ received from His Father He will share with His church. What a wonderful Lord we serve who has planned such an exciting future for those who will trust Him and serve Him. The Holy Spirit is speaking to the church about a glorious Kingdom to come prepared for overcomers. This world will pale in comparison.  

James K. Bridges is general treasurer of the Assemblies of God.

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This material will be found in expanded form in an upcoming book to be published by Gospel Publishing House.

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