Verse 18: In terms of political influence Thyatira was the least significant of the seven cities. Basically it was a working-class town located about 35 miles south east of Pergamum at the junction of the main interior road and a highway leading north toward Bithymia. Many of its workers were members of trade guilds (dyeing, garment-making, pottery, brass-work, etc.) (M.J.S. Rudwick, on Thyatira, New Bible Dictionary, J.D. Douglas, ed., Eerdmans, 1962, p.1275). And since most trade guilds of that time identified themselves with a particular god or goddess, Christian workers must have faced enormous pressure to honor the guilds god. Anyone who wanted a job in a particular trade had to be in a guild, and to be in the guild meant worshipping the guilds patron deity at meetings. To refuse meant removal from the guild. Removal from the guild meant unemployment.
Verse 18 (continued): So it surely comes as no surprise, human nature being what it is, that someone stepped up with a prophetic revelation that God would permit believers to participate in these pagan worship events. After all, the logic must have run: its whats in our heart that really matters, not bowing or saying words we dont really mean to a god who doesnt really exist. As well see in verse 20, religious prostitution was also involved in the situation at Thyatira. But thankfully, its also clear from the Lords letter that many believers were not taking part in any of these things.
Revelation 2:18, 19
Verse 18 (continued): To this congregation which was composed of faithful and unfaithful believers, the Lord introduces Himself as the Son of God who has eyes like a flame of fire and
feet like burnished bronze
. His divinity and resurrected body shine like the sun, and, in particular, He mentions to this church His eyes. He wants them to remember that nothing they do is hidden from Him. Those eyes see everything. His omniscience searches their minds and hearts (v 23). Verse 19: And here is His verdict. First, He lists the positive qualities Hes seen in the church. Over the years they have not stopped serving Him, whether it be by deeds which were done because of their love for Him and faith in His promises, or by many acts of selfless caring for people and patiently enduring trials that came upon them because of their faith. And many of them had not stopped doing these deeds, but were doing even more than they had in the past. So the eyes of God saw a lot of faithful people in Thyatira for whom He had no corrective word, except one (v 24).
Verse 20: The church had refused to discipline a growing faction in their midst which was led by a woman who claimed to be a prophet. Her influence, and that of her followers, was undermining peoples resolve to remain morally and spiritually faithful to Jesus. By tolerating this deception the church had become more and more infected. Undoubtedly the Lord would have considered the elders of the church to be those most responsible for this failure, but He doesnt single them out, implying that all the true believers there somehow shared in the blame. One way or another they had refused to accept their pastoral responsibility to warn those who had been caught in this trap or protect those not yet effected.
Verse 20 (continued): As we read this scenario, one can hardly miss the similarity between the failure of the church in Thyatira and the failure of the church in Corinth to discipline a morally compromised member (1Co 5:1-13; 6:9-10). Paul scolded those leaders saying, You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this would be removed from your midst. Because the church had not acted, Paul unilaterally stepped in from a distance (Ephesus; 1Co 16:8) to remove the mans protective spiritual covering which was afforded him because he was still associated with the church. In doing so Paul exposed him to Satans physical harassment. Pauls heart behind this action was not to punish the man but rather to rescue him by creating a crisis (1Co 5:5) and at the same time to protect the rest of the church from having their moral resolve eroded (1Co 5:6, 7).
Verses 21-23: Many in the church in Thyatira were carrying on with solid Christian lives. But they had closed their eyes to a spreading danger among them. Whether by intimidation because of the personal dynamism of the woman Jesus likens to Jezebel (1Ki 16:30-32; 19:1, 2; 21:25, 26) or because they themselves had been subtly influenced by the groups deceptive logic, the church had passively tolerated an intolerable situation. They needed to act immediately, not only for their own sake but for the sake of the prophetess and her followers. She and her group were about to undergo severe discipline. Contagious disease and even death would race through their numbers because of their actions (vs 22, 23). By confronting them it was possible that at least some might repent and be spared all this.
Verses 21-23 (continued): By saying, I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality, Jesus makes it clear someone had already spoken to this group and called for repentance. Tradition tells us John pastored the church in Ephesus during these years, and that claim is supported by the fact that he writes from a prison colony on a small nearby island (Rev 1:9). If so, John would certainly have received reports about the health of other churches in the region and might even have visited them in person. So the one who had enough courage to confront the deceived prophetess in Thyatira may have been John himself. But regardless of who spoke it, at least one clear prophetic warning had been given already. The severe penalties listed here are not coming without prior warning. Adequate time has been given in which to repent, so its only because the group stubbornly refuses to change that such threats are necessary.