Reigning with Christ Forever

Learning from the Church at Thyatira

Did you ever have any of those people in your life growing up who were prone to abuse authority? I’m an older brother – so I think my two younger sisters could possibly place me in this category…but it’s debatable!

I do remember being placed “in charge” when our parents left us at home for a few hours. Inevitably, I would think of something that needed to be done, boss my sisters into doing it, and any protests were met with, “Dad told me to tell you…”

As I grew older, I learned that this isn’t just the antics of childhood. It can carry over into adulthood as well. One Wednesday evening, after a mid-week prayer service, I was meeting in our regular adult teachers’ meeting. I was as far away from the door as I could possibly sit.

During the meeting, a college student interrupted our meeting, told the pastoral staff member running it that “Pastor needs to see Bro. Lester.” I was on my way to find him, disrupting the meeting, apologizing, and then leaving.

As I walked around the church lobby, I couldn’t find Pastor. A fellow staff member saw me and wanted to engage in some conversation. I politely told him I couldn’t talk right now because Pastor needed me. He looked at me with the straightest face and said, “Oh, Pastor’s already left…I was the one who needed you!”

Years later, this still disturbs me. From my point of view, this was an abuse of authority and name-dropping at its finest! I think we can all identify with abused power – whether it be personal or political. Yet, I have some good news. There is One who has all-power, and has never abused it! In this section, we’ll see how He promises to share that power and authority with His followers.

The Setting at Thyatira

In Revelation 2.18-29, John shifts his attention to Thyatira. He has much to say to this church that is battling corruption within itself.

What does history tell us about this city? Wiersbe comments that, “The longest message was sent to the church in the smallest city!”  Though the town was small, it seemed to be a commercial center. Sir William Ramsey, famed atheist turned apologist, noted

…more trade-guilds are known in Thyatira than in any other Asian city. The inscriptions, though not especially numerous, mention the following: wool-workers, linen-workers, makers of outer garments, dyers, leather-workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave-dealers and bronze-smiths.”

William Ramsay, The Seven Letters to the Churches of Asia, p324

The problem for the Christian community was what these trade guilds brought to the city. Wherever these guilds were present, feasts offered to idols and sexual immorality always followed. These two twin evils, idolatry and immorality, were always at work in the ancient empire.

The context would seem to indicate that “Jezebel” was teaching some type of permissiveness for participation in the revelries. Theologically, this teaching falls under the label of antinomianism. A working definition for this term would be a view or teaching that believes Christians are not obligated to observe the moral law. Why? The answer comes down to a misunderstanding of “grace” and a shallow understanding of “we’re not under the law.”

In the ancient world, every city had a patron deity as well as smaller temples to other gods in the pantheon. For Thyatira, the patron deity was Apollo, the sun-god.

Apollo was believed to be the twin of Artemis (Diana) and had the ability to speak prophetically. As the offspring of Zeus, Apollo was referred to as the son of a god.

Interestingly, and worthy of our observation, when Jesus addresses this particular church, He specifically introduces Himself as “the Son of God.” This is the only time this description is used in Revelation. The true Son of God is putting the city on record that Apollo is an inferior god to worship.

Armed with some backdrop to the story, our next post will help us unpack the message to this ancient church. Don’t forget to subscribe to be notified when it posts!

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