“To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
“… I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.
“Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering …
“Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’”
(verses 18-22, 24-25)
Thyatira was not a major town – indeed, it was the smallest and least important of the seven communities addressed here by the Lord. But even so, it was a thriving centre of commerce and had more trade-guilds than anywhere else in the province of Asia. Which, of course, was very good for trade. But it created problems for followers of Christ who were trying to earn a living, since joining one of the guilds was almost a necessity. And if you belonged to one you were expected to attend regular guild celebrations which included banqueting on meat sacrificed to idols, honouring the idols themselves in the process. Further, these celebrations often degraded into sexually loose revelries. All of this presented a very real problem for anyone who was seeking to follow Jesus.
But there was a woman in the church who styled herself as a prophetess and seems to have provided a solution. The Lord calls her “Jezebel,” which would, of course, remind the hearers of the Baal-worshipping wife of Ahab, King of Israel, who killed many of the Lord’s prophets. The very name, used by the Lord, tells us what he thought of this self-styled prophetess at Thyatira. She seems to have been teaching the people that it was allowable (even desirable) to partake in food sacrificed to idols – that even as members of the church they should feel no inhibition in doing so. You can readily see how such teaching would be a relief to those Christians who were seeking to earn a living in the city – they would be relieved of the moral dilemma posed by the obligations of guild membership. How good (they would have thought). But it effectively drew these believers into acts of honouring other gods. Such involvement inevitably also led to sexual immorality which would only deepen the betrayal of their Lord and his teaching. It seems "Jezebel" was encouraging freedom in this area, too.
Therefore, the Lord called “Jezebel” to repentance – to put aside her teachings. But she refused. So, the Lord pronounces judgement upon her. Such judgement was a cautionary warning for all other believers, as well.
I think it’s equally a warning for today. Our culture, certainly in the West, has shifted so quickly away from the standards which the Lord himself has revealed in his Word. Sexual ethics is a stark example. But think also of issues of caring for the poor, welcoming the foreigner, racial justice, faithfulness in marriage, stewardship of creation, care for widows and orphans, preservation of life, generosity, and even truth-telling. It’s often easy to compromise without even realizing it.
The Lord rebuked the church in Thyatira, saying, “You tolerate that woman Jezebel.” They were allowing her influence within the life of the church itself. They had grown accepting of her teaching. It provided an easier path for them in the world around. They allowed it to shape their life and behaviour. It eliminated the tension over earning a living in Thyatira. Under “Jezebel’s” teaching they compromised with the world. So, the Lord pronounced judgement upon her and spoke words of warning to the church.
What would he say to us today? Where have we compromised because it’s just that much easier? How would he choose to reshape our own thinking and behaviour? Are we willing to listen to his voice?
Dear Lord, give us ears to hear your words of redirection wherever it’s needed. Give us eyes to see your path and guidance even when it puts us at odds with the world. Grant us grace to follow you alone. Help us live that grace with others, too.
Ask the Lord if there are places in your own thinking and behaving where you have shifted away from him and toward the perspective of the world around? Reflect. Listen. Respond.
Photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash