OVERVIEW – The prophetess “Jezebel” deceived many at Thyatira to accommodate the idolatrous practices of pagan society – Revelation 2:18-29

Acropolis - Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash
city of Thyatira was situated fifty-five kilometers southeast of Pergamos and eighty kilometers inland from the Aegean Sea. Its proximity to Pergamos explains how the doctrines of the Nicolaitans also had infiltrated this congregation. Christianity reached Thyatira at an early stage, but the details of its establishment are unknown. - [Acropolis - Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash].

The city produced a dye used in the production of a purple fabric that was highly prized around the Mediterranean. Its economy was dominated by trade guilds for the bronze, linen, leather, pottery, and dye industries. Trade guilds promoted the interests of their members, and it would be difficult for a tradesman unaffiliated with any guild to conduct business. Each guild featured rituals and patron deities, and membership demanded participation in religious rites.

The letter to Thyatira is the longest of the seven letters and is positioned at the center of the literary unit. Beginning with this message, the exhortation to hear the Spirit is repositioned to the end of each letter.
  • (Revelation 2:18-29) - “And to the angel of the assembly in Thyatira, write, These things saith the Son of God who has his eyes like a flame of fire, and his feet like glowing copper: I know your works and your love and faith and ministry and endurance, and that your last works are more than the first. Nevertheless, I have against you that you suffer the woman Jezebel, she who calleth herself a prophetess and is teaching and leading astray my own servants to commit fornication and to eat idol-sacrifices; and I gave her time, that she might repent, and she wills not to repent out of her fornication. Behold, I cast her into a bed, and them who are committing adultery with her, into great tribulation, except they repent out of her works; and her children will I slay with death; and all the assemblies shall get to know that I am he that searches reins and hearts, and will give unto you, each one, according to your works. But to you, I say, the rest who are in Thyatira, as many as have not this teaching, such as have not come to know the deep things of Satan, as they say, I do not cast upon you any other burden; nevertheless, what you have, hold fast till I come. And he that overcomes and keeps throughout my works, I will give to him authority over the nations; and he will shepherd them with a scepter of iron, as vessels of earthenware are dashed in pieces: as I also have received from my Father. And I will give to him the morning star. He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

Jesus is the one with flaming eyes and feet “like burnished bronze.” The designation “Son of God” occurs only here in Revelation; it is an allusion to the second Psalm:

  • (Psalm 2:7-9) – “Yahweh has said to me, You are My son; I, today, have begotten you: Ask of me and let me give nations as your inheritance, and as your possession, the ends of the earth.

The terms “furnace” invokes the story of the “fiery furnace” into which the three compatriots of Daniel were cast when they refused to render homage to the great image “set-up” by King Nebuchadnezzar. They were delivered from death by “one like a Son of God.” In Revelation, that “fiery furnace” becomes the model for the “lake of fire burning with brimstone” into which the “beast and false prophet were cast” - (Daniel 3:24-25Revelation 19:20).

Jesus knows that the church’s “last works are more than the first.” This is in contrast with Ephesus, where the earlier works of testimony were greater than the later ones.

Despite its previous faithfulness, Jesus rebuked the church for tolerating a false prophetess he named “Jezebel.” Her teachings paralleled those of the ‘Nicolaitans (“to eat idol-sacrifices and to commit fornication”). She promoted accommodation with the idolatrous and dominant culture of the city.

Jezebel” was probably not her real name. She is modeled after the Old Testament pagan queen Jezebel, who promoted the worship of Ba’al in Israel and persecuted the prophets of Yahweh, including Elijah. Allusions to the ministry of Elijah appear in the vision of the “two witnesses” who exercised the authority of Moses and Elijah - (1 Kings 16:31, 18:4-19, 19:1-2, Revelation 11:3-7).

Fornication” is metaphorical for idolatry. Note the explanatory “eating meat offered to idols.” The “lovers” and “children” of Jezebel were adherents of her doctrine. Most likely, conflicts developed at local guild meetings over questions about Christians participating in their idolatrous rites. Non-participation meant economic loss.

This Jezebel is a “prophetess,” a verbal link to the “False Prophet from the earth” described in chapter 13. Like ancient Jezebel, the “False Prophet” caused others to engage in idolatry - (Revelation 13:11-18, 16:13, 19:20, Daniel 3:1-7).

Jezebel” is a harlot-like figure because of her seductive powers, which also link her to the “Great Whore, Babylon,” who caused the earth’s inhabitants to drink the “wine of her fornication” - (Revelation 17:1-6, 18:3, 18:8-9).

Church ruins - Photo by Kirsten Drew on Unsplash
Church ruins - Photo by Kirsten Drew on Unsplash

Thus, “Jezebel” is a version of Babylon that is already at work in the church. The threatened judgment on her and her “children” anticipates God’s judgment on end-time Babylon. Anyone who partook of her sins would also receive “her plagues” - (
Revelation 18:1-6).

The prophetess “deceives” Christ’s servants, another link to the visions about “Mystery Babylon.” Note the parallels:

  • Satan deceives the whole world - (12:9, 20:3, 20:8-10).
  • False Prophet deceives those who dwell on earth - (13:14).
  • Babylon deceives all the nations by her sorceries - (18:23).
  • The False Prophet deceives those who receive the mark of the Beast - (19:20).

Jesus allowed time for her to repent. If she refused, he would “cast her into a couch along with them who fornicate with her.” The “couch” refers to a sickbed, indicated by her punishment with “great tribulation” and plagues. Christ would “kill her children with death” (apoktenō en thanatō), a verbal link to the first four seal openings when the four horsemen were authorized “to kill…with death” - (apokteinai en thanatō - Revelation 6:1-8).

He who searches reins and hearts” interprets his “eyes like a flaming fire” – Nothing is hidden from his eyes. This alludes to a passage from the book of Jeremiah where Yahweh pronounced judgment on the Israelites who participated in idolatry for economic gain:

  • (Jeremiah 17:10-13) – “I, Yahweh, search the mind, I try the heart, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doingsYahweh, the hope of Israel, all that forsake You shall be put to shame. They that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken Yahweh, the fountain of living waters.

The rest” or “remnant” are those who were not corrupted by Jezebel and her doctrines. The term may be a link to the vision of the “woman clothed with the sun” and her “the remnant of her seed” persecuted by the “Dragon,” those who “keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.” Similarly, the faithful in Thyatira must “hold fast what you have till I come” – (Revelation 12:17).

The prophetess argued that it was permissible to “know the deep things of Satan.” Possibly, this was a slogan propagated by her supporters (“as they say”). More likely, in her mind, she taught the “deep things of God” – deeper spiritual insight to protect initiates from harm during their participation in idolatrous rites - “There is only one God, and an idol is nothing! What harm could there be?” - Jesus exposed this doctrine for what it truly was - The “deep things of Satan.” As Paul taught, idolatry is communion with demons - (1 Corinthians 10:20).

The “deep things of Satan” provides a link to the “Abyss,” the deep pit from which the “beast,” demons, and Satan ascended to deceive men and women into idolatrous worship - (Revelation 9:1-2, 11:7, 13:1, 17:8, 20:1-3).

Jesus received the authority to rule the nations through his Death and Resurrection. He shares this authority with his faithful disciples, now and in the future. The text alludes to Psalm 2:8-9 - “I will give him authority over the nations, and he shall shepherd them with a scepter of iron, as vessels of earthenware are smashed in pieces” - (Revelation 1:5, 12:1-5).

Revelation follows the text of the Greek Septuagint where the Hebrew term for “smite them” was changed to “shepherd them.” Jesus does reign with full authority, but he does so in paradoxical ways. Just as he “overcame” by dying for others, so believers overcome Satan and participate in his reign by laying down their lives for the “Lamb” and his “testimony” - (Revelation 12:10-11).

The “morning star” symbolizes the reign of Christ, an image from the prophecy given by Balaam. Jezebel’s deceptions parallel the false doctrines of the Nicolaitans/Balaam. The prophecy of Balaam referred to a “star from Jacob and a scepter from Israel that shall crush” - (Numbers 24:17, Psalm 2:8-9, 2 Peter 1:17-19).

He that has an ear, Hear, what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” Once more, the pronoun switches to the singular and the noun to the plural. The message is applicable to a larger audience. The Greek verb for “saying” is a progressive present – Continuous action. That is, the Spirit continues to declare this exhortation to all churches and individuals that have an “ear to hear.”

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