Summary: the next sermon in the series on the seven churches of Asia
And so we come to the church at Thyatira. This is the longest of the seven letters, which, ironically, was written to the smallest and least important city. Unlike the other towns, we don’t know very much about Thyatira, so it’s not so easy to understand and interpret the contents of the letter.
We do know that Thyatira was situated in a geographically important place, where several roads join together, passing through valleys. It must also have been something of a military centre, as it was in a strategic place to defend the greater city of Pergamum. Like many other places, there were temples to various religions, but it wasn’t a great religious centre. One thing that Thyatira was famous for, was as a commercial centre. With all the roads joining up there, it was a great place of trade, and was a centre of the wool and dying industry. As a consequence of this, it had the largest number of trade guilds of any town.
So, what did the author, John, have to say to this young church? He begins by praising them. He tells them that they have love, which has resulted in service, and they have faith, which has resulted in endurance. These are good virtues, and he praises them. Like all good critics, John has praised his friends, before he moves on to criticise.
It seems that the Christians in Thyatira are in trouble because they tolerate a woman called Jezebel, who has supposedly been a profit, but has been leading people astray. The immediate question raised, is who is this Jezebel? There are. Of course, several possibilities, but the only one that makes any real sense is that Jezebel represents the traders and merchants in the city. She probably represents all of them, but it could be that she represents Lydia, who was one of the most prominent.
Because Jezebel has been leading people astray, she is to be thrown on a bed. Decoding the Greek, it probably means that if she goes on as she has been, then disaster will come to her. The language used is not literal, but figurative, that is to say that she has been unfaithful, and untrue to God.
In verse 24 we are told that it is God who searches both minds and hearts. This is not just a glib phrase, in the way that we often use it, but it was chosen deliberately to show that God was not just interested in her intellectual life, or her emotional life, but in both.
John describes those things that have gone wrong as the “deep things of Satan”. It could be that this was people who were deliberately making Christian faith too complicated, too deep, too confused philosophically, as if they were presenting some special, hidden, secret, knowledge. This is an ancient heresy, and it’s technical title is Gnosticism. What John may be suggesting is that this teaching was so complicated and difficult that it was not from God at all, but was the devil. The other possibility is it had been suggested to people that they needed to deliberately experience bad things, in order to know what good was. In any case, it wasn’t a good thing.