In this video we will look into the prophetic message to the church of Thyatira.
If you have been following this video series on the prophetic messages to the seven churches of Revelation, you have seen the relentless degeneration of the Christian church through the ages. To summarize briefly:
During the Ephesus period of the late first and early second century the post-apostolic church was commended for her good works and doctrinal purity. But her good works were spoiled because she lost her first love, as evidenced by her growing hatred of the Jews.
During the Smyrna period of the second and third centuries the church reacted to persecution from the Roman Empire and heretical movements within the Christian community by developing authoritarian leadership and legalistic rituals, which Revelation calls the “synagogue of Satan”. This seemed to provide stability and security, but in fact, sapped the church of the power of the Holy Spirit.
The church declined even more during the Pergamos period of the fifth and sixth centuries when the Christian Church became the official religion of the Roman Empire. This resulted in corrupting government influence, called the throne of Satan. Being the official state church also resulted in a massive influx of half-converted pagans whose influence led to the acceptance of idolatry and immorality.
The next era, described in the message to the church of Thyatira, covers the dark ages from the sixth through the sixteenth centuries. “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:… I know your works, and love, and service, and faith, and your patience, and your works; and the last are more than the first” (Revelation 2:18,19).
Surprisingly, the church of the middle ages, which is often considered to be the darkest period of Christianity, receives the most positive commendation of any of the churches, with works, service, faith, and even the love that was lost in the Ephesus period.
The explanation is that the official state church, symbolized in this message as “Jezebel,” had gone so far in its departure from Christ that the message is no longer addressed to her. “Notwithstanding I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols” (Revelation 2:20).
This is a major shift from the Pergamos era. Pergamos had faithful Christians who resisted idolatry, symbolized by the martyr Antipas, but they also “have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam” and “have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans”. In other words, the Pergamos church was a mixture of faithful and false Christians.
In the Thyatira age, there has been a separation; the true church does not “have” Jezebel; rather, it “allows”, “tolerates”, or as the New Living Translation puts it, “You are permitting that woman– that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet– to lead my servants astray” (Rev. 2:20 NLT).
In Revelation, a woman symbolizes the church, either pure and holy or wicked and corrupt. The Wicked Jezebel organization is a counterfeit of the true church. She “calls herself a prophet”, in other words, she claims to have direct communication with God, and she uses her influence to lead God’s true people astray.
Jezebel is a fitting symbol of the Roman Catholic papacy of the Middle Ages. Jezebel was the wife of Ahab, a king of old-testament Israel who “did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before Him” (I Kings 16:30). Rather than taking a wife from among the women of Israel, he married Jezebel, the daughter of the powerful pagan king of Sidon. Jezebel had a very strong personality and became an effective ruler, manipulating weak king Ahab to do her will.
Jezebel set up a temple to the god Baal in the capital city. She personally supported 850 pagan priests and massacred the prophets of the Lord.
In one particularly egregious incident, she noticed that King Ahab was pouting because he wanted a vineyard that was not for sale. Naboth, the owner didn’t want to sell it because he wanted the property to stay in his family. So Jezebel arranged for false witnesses to accuse Naboth of blasphemy before the city council. After he was stoned to death she directed Ahab to confiscate the property for himself. This was just one of many atrocities committed by Ahab and Jezebel. “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” (IKings 21:25).
One of the greatest tragedies of the Christian church is that during the middle ages she acted like Jezebel.
The ascent to power began with the breakup of the western Roman Empire in the AD 530’s. There were many competing barbarian tribes that vied for control of Rome and its territory, but the Roman Church made alliances that allowed it to survive and thrive no matter who was in power.
When Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as Roman Emperor in 800, he established the precedent that, in Western Europe, no man would be emperor without being crowned by a pope. With the launching of the Crusades in the 11th century, the papacy increased its power over the secular rulers of Europe by sending them to fight the churches’ battles.
In the thirteenth century, Pope Innocent III 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 proceedings [of the inquisition] were secret, the names of the accusers were not given to the prisoner, and he could be tortured. The confiscation of the convict’s property was one of its most destructive features; these spoils were shared by the government authorities, which undoubtedly kept the fires of persecution burning” (The History of the Christian Church, Williston Walker).
The wicked queen Jezebel had influenced the king to exterminate God’s faithful prophets and had Naboth murdered in order to seize his property; The medieval papacy, as prophetic Jezebel, did the same thing.
Obviously, the official church of the dark ages is not the church that Jesus commends in the message to Thyatira. So WHO were the true people of God during the Thyatira era? They are described as having “works, love, service, faith, and patience” (Revelation 2:19).
But they also “allow that woman Jezebel…to teach and seduce my servants” (Revelation 2:20). In other words, they are influenced by her and do not effectively protest against her. But with the passage of time they become more effective in rejecting her—“As for your works, the last are more than the first” (Revelation 2:19).
The names, beliefs, and deeds of individuals and groups that rejected the papal system and were true to God are mostly known from the writings of those who accused them of heresy.
The Paulicians, the Cathari, and the Waldensians were among those who rejected some of the worst errors of the papal church. Although they had some strange doctrinal positions, they refused idolatry and attempted to follow the scriptures rather than church tradition.
At first, the Roman church sent missionaries to try to convert the Waldensians and Cathari. Although many were won back to the church, the so-called “heretic movement” continued to grow and spread. A crusade was organized against them in AD 1209, and “in the course of a little more than a century the Cathari had been exterminated and the Waldenses greatly repressed” (The History of the Christian Church, Willistan Walker p. 254)
But just as prophesied, “As for your works, the last are more than the first”. Toward the end of the Thyatira era the true church became more biblical in her doctrines and more effective in her resistance to Jezebel.
In the fourteenth century John Wycliff, a brilliant Oxford professor, defied the papacy by translating the scriptures into English and denouncing the Papal and monastic systems. His followers, known as Lollards, carried the translated scriptures throughout England.
They were read by foreign university students who took them to the rest of Europe. John Huss, the rector of the Charles University in Prague, boldly preached against the corruption and false doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, in spite of unbelievable pressure that was brought to bear against him. His heroic martyrdom in 1415 was an example for the reformers who followed.
In the meantime, another aspect of the prophecy against Jezebel was being fulfilled. “I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to turn away from her immorality. Therefore, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her will suffer greatly unless they repent and turn away from her evil deeds” (Rev. 2:21,22). The papacy reached the pinnacle of power in the thirteenth century and then began a long a steady decline into corruption, power struggles, and divisions, which the message to Thyatira refers to as a “sickbed.”
During this time vast amounts of money were needed to pay for grandiose projects such as the building of St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome. One of the favorite means of raising money was through the sale of indulgences. According to Catholic teaching, sins committed after baptism had to be paid for by good deeds.
The average sinner didn’t have enough good deeds, so he would have to pay for his sins with punishment in purgatory, a place where the souls of those who have died are tortured until they are pure enough for heaven. However, by benefiting the church by buying an indulgence he could have access to the good deeds of Christ and the saints, who because of their holy lives, had more than they needed. The indulgence could be applied either to themselves or to their loved ones who had died, to shorten their time in purgatory.
Obviously, this system was completely against the true Bible teaching of free grace and forgiveness to all who come to God in repentance. It also led to corruption on the part of the sellers of indulgences. And it encouraged sin on the part of those who believed they could purchase forgiveness.
Martin Luther’s protest against indulgences was a major blow to the Jezebel church.
Luther had been a strict, guilt-ridden Catholic monk, trying in vain to escape feelings of condemnation with fasting, vigils, and scourging. But God in His mercy enabled him to understand that repentance is not produced by self-inflicted penances and punishment, but by receiving a new heart. He became a professor of theology at the University of Wittenburg, and in his studies of the book of Romans he came to understand the concept of grace, as summed up by Paul’s statement, “the just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).
This new revelation was in striking contrast to the selling of indulgences.
As the Papal representative approached Wittenburg in 1517 Luther reacted by publicly posting his famous 95 theses, which exposed the fallacies of the indulgences scheme. This act of defiance sparked a massive wave of protest and reform throughout Europe.
The Protestant Reformation was a devastating sickbed for Jezebel, as vast areas of Europe were torn from her grasp.
In His final words to Thyatira Jesus urges his faithful followers to hold on to what they have attained. “Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this [Jezebel] doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have till I come” (Revelation 2:24,25).
The message to Thyatira teaches us that as Christians we are not to use the coercive tactics of Jezebel; as much as we may be against the sin in our society, God does not call on us to help Him straighten things out by enlisting the powers of the government.
We also learn that as much as we may long for unity among all believers, there may come a time when we must rise up in protest. If the established church abandons the teaching and example of Jesus we must follow the teaching of Paul in Ephesians 5:11 to “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).
And finally, no matter what kind of pressure we may experience, Jesus urges us, “hold fast what you have till I come” (Revelation 2:25). He has promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Sometimes in the darkness it seems that we have been abandoned, but we have not; Jesus is always there for us.
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