Summary: This is the fifth in an eight part series concerning the eight churches of Asia
This is the fifth week of an eight week series and this morning we are looking at the fourth of seven churches. It’s interesting to note that this is the longest letter and yet it’s addressed to the church that was situated in the least important city of the seven. If we were to pull up our trusty map we’d discover that Thyatira is located right here which is about sixty kms southeast of Pergamum. There were no real distinguishing features about the city. It was not situated on a harbour like Ephesus or Smyrna, nor was it on at hill like Pergamum. It was in the middle of a valley. Even though it was situated well away from the Mediterranean Sea it was on the road which connected Pergamum and Sardis. This was the road that the Imperial Post travelled and so while it may not have been a large city it was a thriving city. A city of merchants and manufacturing. The city actually had a large number of trade guilds, which were the early equivalent of unions, and so it could be said that Thyatira was a union town.
Strategically the importance of Thyatira was that it was the gateway to Pergamum which was the Capital of the Roman Province of Asia Minor. And so there was an armed garrison placed in the city to protect the capital. However Thyatira wasn’t capable of a sustained defence because it lay in the middle of an open valley. So the very best that Thyatira could hope for was to be a speed bump that would slow an advancing army down until Pergamum could prepare a defence.
The city is first mentioned in connection with Paul’s missionary labours in Europe. His first convert on that continent was a woman of Thyatira, Lydia, a seller of purple, a commodity for which the city was famous (cf. Acts 16:14 )
Religiously Thyatira had no special significance, it was not a centre of Caesar worship like Pergamum, nor of Greek worship like Ephesus. The two notable things about the city from a religious perspective was it had a local god by the name of Tyrimnus, whose image was on their coins and it possessed a fortune telling shrine presided over by a female oracle called the Sambathe. Religious persecution was not an issue in Thyatira it was very much live and let live but there was a type of economic persecution that came as a result of the trade guilds we mentioned earlier. These guilds represented different trades in the city but they were much more then that, the guilds operated much as service clubs do today, so their influence in the community was substantial.
The guilds often held common meals, which more often then not happened in the temple and would begin and end with a formal sacrifice to the various gods. The meat served during the meals would have been meat offered to one god or another. And if that wasn’t bad enough the meals often became an excuse for excess and often degenerated into immorality.
And so the question was: Should the Christian be involved in the guilds when their involvement would include at the very minimum attendance at these events. The other option for the Christian of course was to not belong to a guild. However due to the far reaching influence of these organizations this option would virtually guarantee economic ruin and commercial collapse. Have you ever been in a position where you’ve had to decide between playing it safe at work or taking a stand for something you believe in? Isn’t easy is it.