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Chapter 18 – The Seven Churches II

Thyatira

          Jesus knew Thyatira possessed works, love, faith, service, patient endurance—and that their works kept increasing. Nevertheless, Thyatira tolerated Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, who was teaching and deceiving God’s servants to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed to idols. She was given time to repent but refused. (As already mentioned, God always gives abundant time for repentance before judgment.) Jesus threatened to throw her on a bed of affliction, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation unless they repent of her deeds. Her offspring He would kill with death  [lit.] As a result, all the churches would know that Jesus searches their motives and judges their works. There were still in Thyatira, however, some true believers who had not learned what some call the deep things of Satan. Jesus did not put on them any burden other than just holding on to what they had until He returned.

          This is the church of the 6th to the 16th century. Lest some become mystified at our including those who do evil as being in the Church,. We should bear in mind that Jesus included them, too, as part of the Church. Those who are false and who bring evil into the Church are obviously not His sheep; but in the kingdom parables previously quoted, Jesus recognizes that evil persons, motivated by and doing Satan’s will, will exist side by side with the righteous. He admonishes us not to try to uproot them but to wait until the harvest, the close of the age, when the tares will be torn out, the rotten fish separated from the good, and that which was separated thrown into hell. On the other hand, it is doubtful He meant we should not do anything about the wicked in the Church when we know they are there. He commended Ephesus for hating the Nicolaitans while reproving Pergamum and Thyatira for tolerating false doctrine and for indifference to evil influences. The true sheep should continually struggle for purity in the Church; but to attempt to weed out all evil in all of Christendom would sidetrack them from Jesus’ primary purpose for the Church: to preach the gospel to the lost; and to glorify Him through trials, tribulation, and suffering.

          So, Jesus speaks of the apparent Church: The entirety of Christendom including the bad and the good—in the midst of which always exists and remnant faithful to Him and His purposes: His true bride. We need wisdom to know the difference and what our part would be in opposing evil because there are many today who are unable to discern the difference between the false and the true, accepting anyone who says he/she is a Christian whether the evidence is there or not. Paul told the Corinthians to drive the wicked person out from among them; yet, I have known more than one pastor who tried to do this and ended up with only the fragments of a church left sifting through his hands. Therefore, great wisdom is required in knowing where the line of tolerance is, and when to cross it.

          We must interject here that these Church ages are not sharply distinguished from one another. For the most part we cannot point to the exact year Pergamum ended and Thyatira began, nor any other two such churches. They merge one into another. In addition, once one of these Church ages begin, some limited elements of it continue on and are found existing within the others. For example, the Church in many communist countries would be closer to Smyrna than to Laodicea, the latter being the predominant church of the 20th century.

          What, then, were the characteristics of the Thyatira church? Love, which also means charity and benevolence; faith; service, which means ministry and aid; patience, or perseverance; and works. Above all it had works—and the works increased so as to be more at the end of this Church period than at the beginning. Indeed, these were the distinctive qualities of that church throughout the centuries, and even continue into the present time. Monastic orders were founded which ministered to the sick and poor; hospitals and orphanages were established; schools built. A strong, tenacious faith tied to perseverance was an admirable quality found in this church. Service went hand in hand with charity. All these speak of strong works, a common denominator uniting these traits—so much so, that salvation came to be viewed as resulting from, or attainable by works.

          Yet, this church was a paradox. In spite of these admirable qualities evidenced in many of its adherents, at the core the woman Jezebel, who called herself the voice of God, sat and ruled. Not only that, but she was permitted to do so [virtually] without objection.

          Jezebel of the Old Testament was an exceedingly wicked queen of Israel, wife of Ahab, the most wicked of kings. 1 Kgs. 16:3ff What were the outstanding features of her conduct?

1.     She taught the Israelites to worship idols.

2.     She brought the worship of Baal, with its licentious practices, into Israel.

3.     She introduced the worship of Asherah to Israel. Asherah (also called Ashtoreth, Astarte, Ishtar) was a female deity, sometimes considered the wife of Baal. The most detestable, unclean, immoral rites were associated with her worship, as well as blood-letting. 1Kgs 18:19, 28

4.     She persecuted the true worshippers of God.

5.     She killed the prophets of God.

6.     She shed innocent blood to gain wealth and prestige.

7.     Her influence was so pervading that only a tiny remnant of 7,000 remained who had not worshiped Baal.

Who, then, was the Thyatiran Jezebel that had such an influence in the Church? She is the same woman who hid the leaven in the flour; she is wickedness personified, the woman found in the ephah who was carried to her temple in Babylon; she is the woman riding the scarlet beast. She is the antithesis of the bride of Christ which is the true Church. She is Satan’s bride: the false church. Calling herself a prophetess, she claims to have the authority and mandate to speak for God. She holds in her hand a cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication.

          What are these abominations and impurities? She entices God’s servants to practice fornication and to eat idol sacrifices. This must be understood in the spiritual sense. Let us look carefully at 2 Cor. 11:2-4.

I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy: for I betrothed you to one husband as a pure virgin to present to Christ. But I fear lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his trickery, your thoughts should be seduced away from the simplicity and purity that is in Christ. Indeed, if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus whom we did not proclaim; or you receive a different spirit from the one you received; or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it well enough [you make no objection.]

          As a pure bride has eyes only for her husband, so we are to have only one object of our devotion: Jesus. Yet, during this period of Church history, a whole roster of saints was introduced to be venerated. (Veneration is one degree below worship.) Although those praying to these saints deny worshiping them, it is a moot point. The saints serve the same function as the pagan gods. There is one saint who specializes in finding lost articles, another in hopeless cases, another for healing, another to guide travelers, another for farmers, one for musicians, and on and on. They are called patron saints. Statues of them are fashioned and shrines built to them in specific locations to which pilgrims travel to secure special favors. Candles are burned and prayers offered before these graven images. Many of those so involved choose a patron saint and offer most of their petitions to that one saint. Yet, we have all we need, or ever will need, in Jesus who is the only mediator established between God and man. 1 Tim. 2:5 When this statement is presented to such people they consider it absurd. Let no one contradict me. I speak from first hand experience, being one who used to do this. But since I entered into a salvation covenant with Jesus, I have never known of a single prayer He could not, or would not, answer. That these saints, many of whom were true believers in Jesus, have been dragged unwillingly into this is unfortunate.

          Satan, then, working through the Jezebel spirit, introduced a form of idolatry into the Church. I stop short of calling it full idolatry for most, but not all, of those adherents know only God is to be worshiped. The difference is very subtle but the results come down to the same thing. We then, as members of the Church, the Bride, are to view Christ as our one and only Husband. Any other view is spiritual adultery: we are to have no other gods before us.

          What then is the spiritual meaning of eating foods sacrificed to idols? Paul writes in 1Cor 9:13& 10: 18-20

Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons.

          So, then, eating food sacrificed to idols means partaking of the fruits of idolatry and, ultimately, defiling contact with demons. That there have been apparent miracles wrought through prayers to the saints cannot be denied; but the power behind the miracles in not holy. “Even Satan transforms himself into an angel of light [so as to deceive]. It is not surprising, then, if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness.” 2Cor 11:14-15

          In Rev 17 we are told the kings of the earth committed fornication with the harlot woman riding the beast. As Jezebel made the worship of Baal an integral part of the government of Israel, so in Thyatira Christian doctrine was wedded to pagan practice. There was a marriage between the Church and political affairs. All the rulers who could, partook of the power, favor, and advantages the false church had to offer. Thus, “the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her.” She caused the people of the earth to become drunk with her wine of immorality and lose their senses in the heady enamoration of eating from her table.

          We are also told that she herself was drunk: drunk with the blood of the saints and the martyrs of Jesus. Just as the Old Testament Jezebel killed the prophets of God, so this New Testament Jezebel likewise killed the servants of God. The Inquisition, which began in the 13th century and was not disbanded until the 19th, (some say it still exists) was one of the cruelest events in human history. Countless true believers were ferreted out, brutally tortured, and turned over to the civil authorities for execution—which frequently meant being burned to death. All this in the Name of Christ! The Jews, wherever they crossed this vicious beast, also came in for the same treatment. Why? There are no two groups Satan hates more, or desires more to eradicate than the Jews and Christians. Here was his perfect opportunity to persecute and kill the two at the same time. No wonder the Jews have such a fear and abhorrence of [supposed] Christians.

          There were some true believers in Thyatira who had not learned the deep things of Satan; had not gone along with the patently idolatrous politico-ecclesiastical system. Since they were the ones under persecution and threat of death by torture, Jesus placed no other burden on them than to simply hold on and stand fast.

          To the rest—Jesus threatens this church more than any other with severe judgment and death to her children. Yes. She has offspring from her adulterous unions. She spawns numerous cults which partake of the characteristics of both parents: churches or religious systems merged with or supported by political power. “Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues.’” Rev 18:4

          The husband of the Church is Christ. A liaison with any other is adultery.

          The parable of the leaven corresponds to Thyatira in every way. The woman, Jezebel, hides the leaven of corrupting influences in the Church, until it permeates and contaminates the entire body.

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