The Church in Thyatira
I remember hearing a story about my wife’s grandfather a few years ago. He suffered from diabetes. One day he had a small pebble in his shoe. That small pebble ripped his foot apart as he walked all day with it in his shoe. The smallest of irritants can cause the biggest of problems. For this reason, the smallest church of the seven was given the longest message.
One of the things that shows us the power of Jesus Christ is that He knows (v19). The church in Thyatira has put their resume’ out and Christ can see it clearly. Jesus sees their love. Love certainly takes on all kinds of meaning. God’s interest in our love runs a constant course throughout scripture. He looks to see the love we possess for Him and for those that He created in His image. He steadily beats this drum through the 10 Commandments, the Two Great Commandments and through all of Jesus’ Earthly ministry. Jesus expects this love to be evident.
Jesus also sees their faith. A better translation of this word is fidelity. As God constantly tells his chosen nation, Israel, he knows if you are cheating on him. The power of this word is no accident. Choosing other things when we know the call the Lord has given us is viewed as seriously as we would view a cheating husband or wife. As the husband speaking to His bride, the Church, he expects faithfulness in word and deed.
Finally, He sees both our service and our endurance. Are you working for Christ? Are you furthering His Kingdom? To serve God faithfully, it take vigilance. A life with Christ is an adventure with highs and lows. We always seem to put a premium on strength. Guys hanging at the gym want to know what everyone else is benchpressing. The machines that go under used are the cardio machines; the ones that help endurance. Reliance on Christ acknowledges that He is our strength and that we are called to endure to the end. This is why Christ continues to make His promises throughout the letters to those that endure.
To sum up these characteristics, Jesus tells Thyatira that He sees their growth. They started off small. Their works now exceed those they had done at their first real encounter with Jesus. Many of the businesses we frequent are filled by placeholders. These are employees that need a temporary job. Their career will not be to work the fast food drive through or prepare the food forever. They will move on and seek permanent employment. Jesus expects His chosen in His church to be more than placeholders. He expects so much more (John 15:1-2). A Christian should be able to look back and see how much they’ve grown in Christ. Our latter works should certainly exceed the first.
There comes a point where our growth will stop. Our works come to a crashing halt when we as a body of believers start to tolerate evil (v20). In this letter, the name Jezebel is more than likely not of a person of that actual name but is invoking the symbol that those familiar with Old Testament scripture would recognize. The problems Jesus states are obvious ones: leading believers astray, practicing sexual immorality, and eating food sacrificed to idols. In these she encapsulated the Jezebel of the OT (I Kings 21). Jezebel led a life that literally led others to hell. She promoted Baal worship and had a man killed to get his property just to give a small snapshot of her character. Her death is of particular note as well. She was cast down, trampled by horses, and eaten by dogs. This is the reference Jesus makes as a dire warning to those that tolerate this evil.
Even in a warning as dire as this, we find that Jesus is still characterized by an abundance of mercy. In verse 21, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that He still has given this malicious leader an opportunity to come back to Him. There is a tremendous difference in saying you follow Christ and actually naming Him Lord. Change is hard. Change is really impossible until Jesus becomes involved in your life. This Jezebel thought she knew best and dragged others down with her.
The Church at Thyatira was a real church in a real city. Its always important to realize that the Bible is more than black words on a white page. Just as we do to today, those in the Church of Thyatira fought culture and those around them. Thyatira was known for its guilds or labor unions. Social acceptance was tied directly to these guilds. Unfortunately, these unions were more than ways to achieve fair payment for services. Each guild would worship their own idols and in turn sexual debauchery. For the members of this church, if they chose obedience to Christ they could lose their job. Their families would go hungry. The could go homeless. Imagine the choice that they faced- join the world or follow Jesus to His Kingdom. This decision was compounded by a woman that was apparently respected and was a leader in the congregation. It only takes one voice speaking lies loudly to lead others away from Christ.
Thyatira serves as a reminder that seeking God is not safe. Jesus Christ isn’t safe. He carried a life saving, life altering message and He was killed for it. If you are seeking safety, Jesus is not the one to pursue. If you are looking for fulfillment and life eternal, He is the one you seek. He is constantly searching us thoroughly. He searches both our minds and hearts (v23). He searches our thoughts, emotions, and our intentions. It is within these depths of who we are that show whether we will keep Jesus’ works until the end (v26).
For many, we will resent this intrusion by Jesus into our lives. Jesus though, doesn’t intrude, He knows. He searches because He cares (Psalm 139). Jesus isn’t searching our church attendance, charitable giving, or even our language. He is searching inside of us. The reward for those who He finds obedient is immeasurable.