The Dig on Thyatira


“The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire.” Revelation 2:18

Jesus knows all and sees all.

Jesus sees right through the hype and lies of our life into the depths of our soul. There’s nothing that we can hide from him. Not even our toleration of false teaching in our lives, families, and churches escapes the eyes of Jesus.

The church in Thyatira’s sin of loving their city but not sound doctrine was the opposite of the church in Ephesus, which loved doctrine but not the city. Jesus makes clear that the solution is not to serve the city and shun doctrine, but rather to do both.

Let’s take a look at the city of Thyatira and the pressures that the church faced, and succumbed to, so that we can learn from their example.

The City of Thyatira

Compared to the other locations addressed by Jesus in the first three chapters of Revelation, we have little information on the city of Thyatira. Apparently it was written about much in ancient sources and since there is a city located where it once stood, there’s not much archaeological work that has been undertaken.

During the time that these words were penned to the church in Thyatira, the town itself was a small, militarized outpost on the way to Sardis.

What is known about this city, which proves to be important for understanding their situation, is that it had many trade guilds. Trade guilds were earlier forerunners to modern day trade unions. These voluntary guilds were vital to the economic and social well-being of their members.

What makes these ancient trade guilds different from contemporary trade unions was their religious devotion. Each trade guild worshipped a particular god or goddess. Seemingly, these guilds had many festivals with a religious bent. During these times they would offer meat to their god in worship. If you were a part of a particular guild, you were expected to participate in these activities. This is what proved to be problematic for the Christians living in the city.

Not participating in these festivals was easier said than done.

These Jesus-loving, hard-working men and women choosing not to participate in the worship of the guild’s god would result in tremendous social and financial consequences. They would’ve been sneered at and even given the cold shoulder by the other members who made up the guild and their communities. They could have even faced unemployment and the loss of business because the people wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with them.

The Church in Thyatira

Unlike some of the churches addressed, Jesus commended the church in Thyatira for growing in their faith, love, and service. He had this to say to them, “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first” (Rev 2:19).

Jesus doesn’t elaborate on the details. But he does provide them with strong, encouraging words before addressing what he has against them.

Jesus’ Words to the Church in Thyatira

Unlike the church in Ephesus that was fundamentally sharp, but cold-hearted, the church in Thyatira appears to have been more tolerant than God. The church was aware of and accommodating to “that woman Jezebel” (Rev 2:20). There have been several suggestions made as to who Jezebel was, but today they’re just suggestions. Commenting upon her identity, Grant Osborne concludes, “no positive identification for ‘Jezebel’ can be made.”

What Osborne does think is that Jezebel was a code name given to the female leader of the heretical movement within the church. Just like Jezebel led the Israelites away from worshipping Yahweh to Baal through her husband Ahab (1 Kings 16:31-34), this female leader was “seducing [God’s] servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food scarified to idols” (Rev 2:20). It seems that this woman encouraged the church to participate in the festivals of the guilds.

Though she had a level of influence upon the church, she didn’t influence everyone there (Rev 2:24). Jesus encouraged those that did not adhere to her teaching, “what some call the deep things of Satan (Rev 2:24),” to persevere and hold on to what they have (Rev 2:25).

A Final Word

Family. Friends. Significant others. School. Work. Anyone or anything from these areas of life can be lost when we choose to follow Jesus. Just like those that once lived in Thyatira had to make a conscious choice in whether or not they would follow Jesus at the prospect of losing everyone and everything they held dear in life, we too need to count the costs in following Jesus.

Some of you think that you can “believe” in Jesus in such a way that your life is unchanged and no devotion to him can be observed by others. This is not case.

Jesus has strong words for those that think they can be half-hearted and uncommitted to him. To the church in Laodicea he said, “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev 3:16).

When following Jesus, there are no shades of grey. There’s no riding the fence. You’re either for or against him (Matt 12:30).

Today, I encourage you to examine yourself (2 Cor 13:5). Are you committed to Jesus? Are you serving him with your life? Have you been buckled by the pressure of those in your life? Does the thought of being unaccepted by your coworkers or customers keep you from surrendering to Jesus?

By the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, I encourage you to trust Jesus with your life. Don’t be flippant. Don’t think you can wait until tomorrow. The time is now to surrender your life and follow Jesus.

There is no greater joy in the world than following Jesus.

This Sunday, Mars Hill churches will show the sermon “Progressive in Thyatira: More Tolerant than God.” The sermon, part #6 of our Seven series. Find a church near you.

For more about living as someone who serves Christ in the midst of a culture that doesn’t, be sure to check out the 1 Corinthians sermon series from 2006.