UPDATE: This is an old article. An updated and expanded commentary on this passage can be found in Paul’s book Letters from Jesus.
Can you imagine what it must be like to have God visit your church and His eyes are blazing like fire? Look at how Jesus described Himself to the church at Thyatira:
These are the words of the Son of God, who has eyes that flash like a flame of fire, and whose feet glow like bright and burnished and white-hot bronze. (Rev 2:18, AMP)
Before Thyatira got a message, they got a revelation of Jesus. It was a picture designed to awe saints and terrify sinners. And this was exactly what the folk in Thyatira needed to see.
Thyatira is known to us as a church in compromise. The root of the problem was a Jezebel-like woman. This lady portrayed herself as a prophetess but she was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. She had seduced part of the church into committing adultery with her. She hadn’t done this through her good looks either, for Jesus says “by her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality” (v.20).
Jesus warned us about people like this. He said they can appear to be the genuine article but we will know them by their fruit. Jezebel’s teaching and prophesies may have sounded wise but the fruit of her sexual immorality was obvious. Jesus was not fooled. The one who searches hearts and minds knew that she was not doing the will of His Father. She was clearly an unregenerate sinner.
Thankfully there was another group in this church who did not hold to Jezebel’s teaching. This group ignored her but for some reason they didn’t kick her out. Jesus said they tolerated her. This was not good. The sinners of Thyatira were hearing the gospel, coming to church, and running into this seducer. It was like putting a baby-killer in the infirmary. We don’t know why they put up with her but their inaction prompted Jesus to act.
So Jesus shows up with His eyes on fire. Imagine how a husband might feel when he confronts someone trying to seduce his bride and that’s Jesus with Thyatira. This was not Jesus meek and mild. This was Jesus incandescent with righteous fury. Pity the wicked woman who tried to mess with His church!
Jesus brings three messages:
1. The message for the false prophetess is “time’s up.” The verdict is in and you have been found guilty. You who have seduced with a bed of pleasure will be cast on a “bed of suffering” (v.22).
2. The message for her “children” or followers is, “repent or there will be terrible consequences for you too.”
3. The message for those who did not follow Jezebel is, “hold on to what you have until I come.”
Sin is destructive. Sin can hurt you in this life and the next. We don’t know exactly what Jezebel’s “bed of suffering” was but it may have been hell. Note that Jesus says she is both out of time and “unwilling” to repent. Every sinner is just one heart beat away from eternal condemnation. As long as life endures, every breath is a moment of mercy where one may repent and take hold of the grace of God. To delay, to be unwilling, is to risk everything.
Neither do we know exactly what happened to Jezebel’s followers other than it involved the possibility of intense suffering to the point of death. There is no doubt that some of those who followed Jezebel into sin were Christians, for Jesus said, “she misleads my servants.” Were these sinning Christians in danger of hell too? Jesus doesn’t say so, but He makes it clear that they were in mortal danger. Sin is never a good idea.
Okay, so here’s the leadership challenge. Imagine you’re running this church. What are you going to do to clean up Jezebel’s mess?
(Take a minute to think of something before reading on.)
I suspect many people would say, “what we need now are clear boundaries,” and this might lead to rules about who gets to preach and who gets to be alone with whom in counseling sessions. I’m a parent, so I think boundaries are good. And indeed, Jesus does provide boundaries to those who sinned. He says, “repent, or there will be consequences.”
But I suspect some leaders would go a lot further than Jesus on this issue. They might supplement repentance with “restoration.” Restoration is often just another word for punishment. It usually implies accountability rules, putting people on probation, and dictating the terms of what it means to live in Christ. Although well-intended, these rules may have the perverse consequence of driving people further into sin. We should not tolerate the Jezebels, but neither should we punish those who repent.
The solution to bad behavior is never rules dictating good behavior. Although rules and regulations have an appearance of wisdom, they “lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col 2:23). Indeed, law-like mandates will actually serve to empower sin (1 Cor 15:56).
Although Jesus is well aware of the bad deeds of the Thyatiran church, His response is to address their hearts and minds. To those who are running after sin He says, “turn around, change your way of thinking or there will be suffering.” This is not a burdensome rule. This is life-saving instruction!
To those who didn’t run after Jezebel he says:
I will not impose any other burden on you. Only hold on to what you have until I come. (v.24-5)
Again, no burdens. No rules. Jesus says they already have everything they need. They just need to hold on to it. So what do they possess that’s so precious? They have God-given faith in Jesus. They have the forgiveness of sins. They have the gift of no condemnation and the gift of Christ’s righteousness. They have the Holy Spirit. They have God’s precious promises. They have His seal of ownership guaranteeing what is to come. They have new life. Significantly, they have a new identity as sons of God (Gal 3:26).
People drift off course when they lose sight of who they are in God. Some, like the Galatians, may drift into legalism. Others, like the Thyatirans, may drift into licentiousness. The remedy in either case is to hold fast to the love and grace of our Father who has adopted us and who calls us his sons and heirs (Gal 4:6-7). When you appreciate the limitless riches of his mercy and love, the trinkets of earth will hold no appeal.
Finally, Jesus leaves them a wonderful promise.
To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations… I will also give him the morning star. (v.26,28)
As we have seen elsewhere, those who believe Jesus is God’s Son have already overcome the world (1 Jn 5:5). Again, Jesus is not calling us to a life of dead religious works based on human definitions of overcoming. No, Jesus is calling us to believe in him to the point where heaven invades earth and the reality of his kingdom becomes our reality.
But who or what is this promised morning star?
It is Jesus.
He is our reward. He is our prize. We already have his Spirit within us, but one day we will have him in person. One day God will come to dwell with men and this will mark the beginning of Life as we can only dream of. On that day everything will be made new. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.
I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star… Yes, I am coming soon. (Rev 22:16,20)
This was good news for the Thyatirans and it’s still good news today.