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THE CHURCH AT THYATIRA

By Milburn Cockrell

(1941 - 2002)

Brother Cockrell was the pastor of the Berea Baptist Church in Mantachie MS.

For Books by Milburn Cockrell please visit The Berea Baptist Church Bookstore.

            "And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass; I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first. Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts; and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put unto you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (Rev. 2:18-29).

            In the circle of the seven churches thus far, we have been going north from Ephesus to Smyrna to Pergamos. Now we are turning south  and east in the geographical circle. Thyatira was what we might call a lax church. This is the longest letter of the seven, and it is written to the church in the least important city. Thyatira is also the only church in the seven in which a woman's name is mentioned.

            In the first three letters the churches were seen in conflict with the world, but they, in the main, were victorious over it. They had a few who taught false doctrines which encouraged a worldly life, but these were a small minority. Beginning with the Thyatira Church, the scene has changed. The immoral and heretical minority has suddenly become the majority. The "some" have become the "many," and the faithful have become the "few."

THE CHURCH (v. 18)

            We can be certain there existed a congregation of baptized believers in Thyatira in A.D. 96 when the Book of Revelation was written by John. The notion held in Epiphanius's time (300 years after this epistle) that there was no church in this city until after John wrote is absurd. All Asia heard the gospel in the first century (Acts 19:10, 26; Col. 1:5-6).

            When Paul and Silas visited Philippi they preached to some women on the river side, who had gone there for the purpose of worship. Among these women was "Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira" (Acts 16:14). The Lord opened her heart to receive the gospel preached unto her, and she was baptized. Lydia may have returned to Thyatira, taking the glad tidings about Christ with her. Paul could have possibly later visited this town and founded the church there. This may have been the case, but there is no real proof that Lydia returned to Thyatira, nor that Paul founded a church there.

THE CITY (v. 18)

            Thyatira first appeared in history about 290 B.C. It was situated on the border between Mysia and Lydia, a little south of the Hyllus River, and at the northern extremity of the valley between Mount Tmolus and the southern ridge of Temnus. It was 27 miles from Sardis and a day's journey from Pergamos, and about the same distance from the sea coast. The Roman road from Pergamos to Sardis passed through it.

            Thyatira was one of the many Macedonian colonies established in Asia Minor. It was built as a sentinel block to guard the capitol city of Pergamos. Being situated on the boundary line between Mysia and Lydia, it was one of those military outposts fated to flight a delaying action while Pergamos prepared for the attack.

            The waters of Thyatira were well suited for dyeing cloth. The costly purple or the "turkey red" dye was obtained from two sources: one, from the madder root which grew around this city; second, from a little seashell fish called the murex. Lydia was a seller of purple from Thyatira as I have already mentioned (Acts 16:14).

            The principle deity of the city was Apollo, worshipped as the sun-god under the surname Tyrimnas. This god was introduced by the Macedonian colonists as the name is Macedonian. Coins found some years ago in Thyatira represented this god with a battle-ax on his shoulder upheld by a blacksmith's bar. A priestess of Artemis is also mentioned in the inscriptions. This may have been the woman Jezebel mentioned in this letter. It appears from this epistle of Christ, Thyatira was an early center of the women's liberation movement, seeing the only two times it is mentioned in the Bible it is connected with two women.

            The city was noted for its "trade guilds." These controlled the social, political and religious life of the whole town. The artists, artizans, merchants and industrial workers found membership in these trade brotherhoods absolutely necessary to success in their profession. These trade unions were brotherhoods based on pagan religions and idolatrous rites and ceremonies. Gross immoral practices were associated with these heathenish worships. The common meal, of which every member of the brotherhood partook, was a sacrificial and religious meal in honor of the pagan deities. Anyone not a member of these clubs was considered an enemy of mankind, and he could expect failure in the business world. These trade brotherhoods were a great deal like the labor unions and lodges of our generation.

THE CHRIST (v. 18)

            Christ is called the son of man in chapter 1, and the Son of God in our text. The term "the Son of God" denotes Christ's oneness with the Father in nature and essence. God is the Father of Jesus Christ in a sense in which He is not the Father of anyone else. Christ is the only begotten of the Father by an eternal generation. This title was awarded Christ by His Father, and He here appropriates it by Divine right in defiance of all His enemies.

            The Speaker to this church is said to have "eyes like unto a flame of fire." This implies His searching and consuming Divine observations in which the evil in men is seen as it is. Christ has the power of penetration into the very reins of the heart of a man or church. There is no hiding of anything from Him.

            It is also said of the Speaker that "his feet are like fine brass." Here are feet which trample down everything unclean and hostile.

THE COMMENDATION (v. 19)

            "I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first." What a wonderful eulogy! They had not only worked for Christ, but they were working more for Him than they did in times past!

            This church was busy for the Lord. Age had not dampened their zeal nor diminished their efforts. They had "love" to both man and God; they worked out of pure love for Christ. All this activity sprang from faith. They had patient endurance in serving and suffering for Christ. They were acting more and more in accordance with the nature and claims of the Christian profession. Oh, that such could be said of every church in the world today!

THE COMPLAINT (vv. 20-21)

            "Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to suduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols."

            Jezebel was a female of great rank and influence in the church at Thyatira, who suduced the members of the church to mix heathen impurities with the worship of the true God. In the language of today she was a liberal, loud-mouthed, broad-minded modernist. She had great charm and attraction by which she won many followers. Jezebel claimed her teaching was given by inspiration of God and deeper than the teaching of the apostles. She called her false doctrine "the deep things of God" whereas Christ called them "the deep things of Satan!"

            Jezebel may  not have been her real name. It may have been given her as expressive of her character and influence. The Old Testament Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab, exerted great influence in Israel. She introduced her native idols, and Ahab became an idolater himself. The Jezebel of the New Testament had demoralized the church just as the Old Testament one did the nation of Israel. Just as King Ahab permitted this in Israel the Thyatira Church allowed it to go on without rebuke. This lady preacher had the servants of God conducting themselves as if they belonged to the Devil.

            This church, like so many churches today, permitted low moral standards to go unprotested. They said, "Why not be broad-minded and tolerant in the church? Why stir up a fuss over a few thousand liberals and infidels in our seminaries, who deny the deity of Christ and repudiate the inerrancy of the Scriptures? Let us have peace at any price. Let us permit the ladies to be ordained as preachers and deacons." Without doubt this liberal attitude made the church at Thyatira popular with the world, but it cost them the blessings and favors of Christ. Jesus Christ plainly said He is "against" such a church.

            "And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not." Jezebel had been warned of the evil of her course and told to repent. But she showed no disposition to abandon her course. It may have been that Christ warned her through the godly element of the church, but the church took no disciplinary action when she failed to repent. They went on permitting her to teach in the church, a thing forbidden for a woman to do (I Tim. 2:11-12). Such an attitude on the part of the church was sinful; it constituted false charity.

THE COMMAND (vv. 22-23)

            "Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds." Most take this in a figurative sense. However, I believe it should be taken in the literal sense. This verse proves to me that Jezebel was a literal woman and not a religious sect.

            Jezebel had committed adultery with some of the male members of the church. Base-born children had come into the world because of these adulterous relations, called "her children." Sexual promiscuity was quite common in those days in heathen religious rites. If indeed this Jezebel had been a heathen priestess as I think, it is easy to see how she kept a part of her pagan rites while professing Christianity.

            Christ is soon to turn the harlot's bed into a sick bed. The place which had been the scene of her sin is to be the place of her punishment. The bed of pleasure is about to become the bed of pain. Physical adultery results in disease in the body. Such diseased bodies could only be avoided by sorrow for the past and abandonment of the evil course of life.

            Jesus Christ was determined to kill her base-born children like He did the first child born to David and Bathsheba: "And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searchest the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works." The Lord would visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children (Ex. 20:5; Rom. 5:19). This judgment was designed to convince all the churches that Christ knew the inner parts of men and all their unclean deeds.

            Our modern churches are in the main like the church at Thyatira. Open sexual sins are committed by church members without any protest from the church. It is not uncommon to hear of a deacon who left town with the preacher's wife, or a preacher who left town with the deacon's wife. Marriage and divorce are the order of the day among professed Christians who boldly claim it is a mere exercise of "God-given rights." Young girls in the church leave home to spend a weekend with their boy friends, and vice versa. Shotgun weddings are held in churches and even church folks see no wrong in such things.

THE CONSIDERATION (v. 24)

            "But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden." Christ shows His compassion in these words toward the consecrated few members in this compromising church.

            Some had not embraced the doctrinal errors which were so deep that they almost exhausted the talent of Satan himself. The godly people suffered greatly because they had failed to purify the church of such members. They would share some of the punishment sent by Christ upon these corrupt members since they had not excluded them. But the loving Savior would add no weightier burden on this remnant of faithful believers than what would arise from His purpose to inflict judgment on the guilty church members.

THE COUNSEL (v. 25)

            Wise counsel is given to the faithful members in this lax church: "But that which ye have already hold fast till I come." Christ is saying to the faithful few: "Your Bible, your Christ, your gospel is sufficient. Let no man or woman deprive you of your simple faith. You know not the time of my second coming. Keep the faith until I return."

            The proper attitude of any church is to hold fast the faith in view of Christ's imminent return. The second coming of Christ is the ultimate objective point of Christian anticipation. "It is a very just observation, that the Scriptures never exhort us to prepare for death, but always for the coming of the Lord" (LECTURES ON THE APOCALYPSE by William Jones, p. 86, 1830 edition). Christ spoke plainly to this church about His return. He would have spoken plainly if He had said: "Hold fast till the Antichrist comes." Christ's words in Revelation 2:25 are clearly pre-trib, not post-trib.

THE COMFORT (vv. 26-29)

            "And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father." Christ is destined to receive the right to rule the earth from the Father. These words from Christ look back to Psalm 2:7-9: "I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." In Revelation 2:26-27 Christ says the overcomer will share in that same rule which is given to Him by the Father.

            Speaking to His church Christ said: "And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me" (Luke 22:29). Here is seen the saints' share in the reign of Christ on earth. Those who hold fast to the faith until Christ comes shall share in the kingdom promised to them before the foundation of the world. The Bible teaches that when Christ receives the authority to rule the nations with a rod of iron, and enters into that rule over the nations, the overcomer will also rule with Him over those same nations (II Tim. 2:12). In Revelation 19:15 we see Christ coming from Heaven with "a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron." In Revelation 20:4 it is written: "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them. . .and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years."

            Second, Christ promised the overcomer "the morning star." There can be no doubt as to the meaning of this, for Christ said in Revelation 22:16: "I am. . .the bright and morning star." Christ is called "a Star out of Jacob" (Num. 24:17). Thus the meaning is that Christ will give the believer a personal interest in Himself. The morning star signals the dawn, it heralds the promise of full day. When Christ comes for the overcomer He will turn all his darkness into day.

            The morning star comes before sunrise. Even so Christ will first come as the Morning Star to take His churches out at the rapture before the tribulation. When He returns to earth some seven years later He will come as "the Sun of righteousness" (Mal. 4:2) to Israel at the beginning of the glad Millennial Day. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches."

 


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