“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These things said the Son of God, who has His eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass: I know your works, and love, and service, and faith, and your patience, and your works; and the last are more than the first. Notwithstanding I have a few things against you, because you allow [tolerate] that woman Jezebel” (Revelation 2:18-20). The message to Thyatira starts with a surprising development: the church has recovered the virtues of the Ephesian period (works, service, faith, patience) and has even developed the love that the Ephesus Church had lost, and this during what is considered the darkest period for the church—the Middle Ages.

The explanation is that the official state church had gone so far in its departure from Christ that the message is no longer addressed to her. In the Pergamos era the Lord declared that the faithful Antipas Christians “have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam” and “have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans,” in other words, that these heretics were a part of God’s church. In the Thyatira age there has been a separation; the true church (known in Revelation as “the remnant”) does not “have” Jezebel, rather it “allows” her.[1]

Jezebel is a fitting symbol of the visible false Church of the Middle Ages. Jezebel was the wife of Ahab, a king of Israel who “did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before Him” (1 Kings 16:30). Previous to Ahab, the ultimate in iniquity was “the sins of Jeroboam” who had divided the kingdom and set up calf idols in the territory of Ephraim and Dan. But Ahab, “as though it had been a trivial thing to walk in the sins of Jeroboam…took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians” (v.31). Jezebel became the effective ruler, manipulating the weak king to do her will.

Their first act was to “set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal, which he had built in Samaria” (v.32). She had an army of idolatrous priests—“the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table” (1 Kings 18:19). Later Jezebel “massacred the prophets of the Lord” (1 Kings 18:4) and arranged to have Naboth, an innocent man, murdered in order to seize his property. “So there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the sight of the Lord, because Jezebel his wife stirred him up” (1 Kings 21:25).

In like manner the medieval church officially embraced idolatry and manipulated the state to persecute the true children of God. In both the east and the west the worship of images of Jesus and the saints became more and more entrenched, despite the fact that it is condemned by the scriptures.[2] Early in the eighth century the Byzantine emperor Leo III initiated the iconoclastic controversy, vigorously opposing any artistic representations of Christ or the saints. For more than a hundred years the controversy raged, with church councils deciding for and against the worship of images.[3] In 787 the Second Council of Nicea made an official decision to continue the use of icons,[4] and in the ninth century finally rejected the last attempt to put a stop to the use of images, an event that ironically is still celebrated as “the triumph of Orthodoxy.”

Meanwhile in the west, at the end of the Pergamos era the western Roman Empire was overrun by barbarian “heretics” who severely limited the political power of the Papacy. The powerful Byzantine emperor Justinian changed that, sending his armies to liberate not only Rome but also to reclaim much of the western Roman Empire. In order to do this he needed the support of the influential Bishop of Rome. The pope and the bishop of Constantinople had been involved in a long-standing rivalry as to who would have precedence. But in AD 533 Emperor Justinian settled the controversy by issuing a decree in the form of a letter to the pope, in which he declared him “head of all the churches” and “the true and effective corrector of heretics.”[5] It took many years for the papacy to fully establish her own political power, but when she did, she became the “Jezebel” of prophecy, establishing idolatry and destroying all who opposed her.

By the thirteenth century this had become a fearsome reality. Innocent III (1198-1216) organized the Inquisition, a cooperation of church and state, to root out heresy. “Pope Innocent III held that heresy, as treason against God, was worse than treason against the king…The Inquisition became a most formidable organ. Its proceedings were secret, the names of his accusers were not given to the prisoner, who, by a bull of Innocent IV, in 1252, was liable to torture. The confiscation of the convict’s property was one of its most destructive features, and as these spoils were shared by the lay authorities, this feature undoubtedly kept the fires of persecution burning where otherwise they would have died out.”[6] Jezebel had influenced the king to exterminate God’s prophets, and had Naboth murdered in order to seize his property. Her despicable actions were reproduced in the medieval papacy, which controlled the kings of Europe and used them to war against God’s faithful followers.[7]

Continue to next section: THE TRUE CHURCH

[1] The Greek verb is “eaos” which means to permit, to allow one to do as he wishes, not to restrain

[2] John of Damascus and Theodore of Stoudios were the leading theologians who defended icon worship in the iconoclast controversy. “John of Damascus carefully distinguished between the relative honour of veneration shown to material symbols and the worship due to God alone” Timothy Ware, “The Orthodox Church,” (London, Penguin books, 1997) p. 32. However, the masses of worshipers were not able to make such a distinction, and their “veneration” is identical to actual worship, including bowing, kissing, prayers, liturgies, shrines, special days, processions, and all that would be involved in worship. John of Damascus asserted, “Of old God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was not depicted at all. But now that God has appeared in the flesh and lived among humans, I make an image of the God who can be seen. I do not worship matter but I worship the Creator of matter, who for my sake became material and deigned to dwell in matter, who through matter effected my salvation. I will not cease from worshiping the matter through which my salvation has been effected.” Ibid, p.33. But this argument does not recognize that God had already sanctified matter in His original creation as it came forth from His hand, but He always forbade its being used to depict God or being worshiped in any way (Exodus 20:4,5, Deuteronomy 4:15-18, Deuteronomy 27: 15, Isaiah 44: 9-20, Acts 17:29). The many strong prohibitions against using images to depict an object of worship demand be clear scriptures to show that this had been changed, not just the arguments of a philosopher or theologian.

[3] Both Orthodox and Roman Catholics insist that they do not worship the images, distinguishing between worship (Greek latreia--adoration) and veneration (Greek proskinisi—bowing down to show allegiance or reverance). But the second commandment forbids both worship and veneration of any image of anything of the creation (Exodus 20:4,5). Although Jesus, being divine, allowed proskinisi, Peter and the angels did not (Acts 10:25,26, Revelation 19:10, 22: 8,9) Angels insisted twice in Revelation, “see that you do not do that (proskinisi) for I am your fellow servant … Worship God” (Revelation 19:10, 22; 8,9). Every one of the 60 times the word proskinisi is used in the New Testament refer either to worship of God or Jesus, a condemnation of false worship of idols or “the beast”, or a rebuke of those who tried to worship men or angels. Icon and statue worshipers claim that they do not worship the wood and paint, but the one who is depicted. But this is even worse, since it is usually a human being (one of the saints or the Virgin Mary) who is depicted and worshiped.

[4] The Nicean council of AD 787 which permanently approved of the use of icons was the seventh and last ecumenical council.

[5] Codex Justiniani as quoted in Smith, “Daniel and the Revelation”, Review and Herald 1972.

[6] Walker, The History of the Christian Church, p. 254

[7] An example was in the inquisition against the Cathari. “This war threw the whole of the nobility of the North of France against that of the South. The widespread northern enthusiasm for the crusade was partially inspired by a papal decree permitting the confiscation of lands owned by Cathars and their supporters. This made the region a target for northern French noblemen looking to aquire new fiefs. The barons of the North headed south to do battle.” Wikipedia contributors, "Catharism," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Accessed June 25, 2014.