I am reminded of Jesus’ statement to the disciple Nathaniel when he called him to become a disciple. On first meeting Nathaniel, Jesus said, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Guile is the word used in the Old King James Version of the Bible. In numerous translations it is translated “deceit.” I found the New Living Translation putting it into these words: “Now here is a genuine son of Israel–a man of complete integrity.”
People like this have become a rarity. Trusting people to be truthful and truly transparent in all that they say and do seems almost to belong to a by-gone generation. I am afraid that the Church has suffered as well. Today, church organizations do not have the automatic respect of the public as they did a few decades ago. There is of course always going to be unwarranted criticism of anything having to do with the things of God, but unfortunately, much of Christendom has contributed greatly to today’s distrust. In Ephesians 5:25-27 we find this:
…just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (NKJV)
We find in this passage of Scripture that God is looking for a Church that is truly glorious, having a spiritual splendor because it has no stains and is blameless. This is not something that can be put on, it just must be. Jesus said He is coming after a church that is holy. In today’s world, that is sorely lacking. With these introductory thoughts in mind, let’s read what Jesus had to say to the Church of Thyatira in Revelation 2:18-29:
And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass: “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first. Nevertheless, 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. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.
Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this 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. And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations– “He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels” as I also have received from My Father, and I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Of the seven churches Jesus addressed in Revelation 2 and 3, the Church of Thyatira received the wordiest message. Some of what Jesus said to this church resembles a couple of the points He made in His statements to the Church of Pergamos. A warning was given to both concerning eating food that had been offered to idols, and sexual immorality. This is because there has always been a strong temptation to mix true Christianity with paganism. Satan has always made his counterfeit of true spiritual life available and a great temptation.
Thyatira had no real claim to fame as Pergamos did. It was not a center for Greek worship nor Caesar worship. Thyatira did have a temple to Apollo, the “sun god”. Pergamos was the capital of the province and Thyatira was the gateway to Pergamos. Thyatira was in a long valley connecting the Hermus and Caicus rivers on the road connecting Pergamum and Sardis. That road also went on to Philadelphia and Laodicea. Historically, this was the imperial mail route and a well traveled commercial route. It was its geographical location that gave Thyatira its importance.
Thyatira was a key commercial center and it was known for many of its products. Thyatira had an extraordinary number of trade guilds. People from these various trades would get together for profit and also for pleasure. It is these very trade guilds that likely caused the problems the Church of Thyatira faced because unless one joined these guilds, they were economically and socially isolated.
It was common practice to have large gatherings for meals, often held in pagan temples. In Thyatira they would have been held in the temple to Apollo. Each of these common meals were traditionally begun and ended with a formal sacrifice to the gods and the meat eaten at these meals would be meat which had already been offered to idols. Christians could not allow themselves to be part and parcel with these pagan activities.
Not only was the problem not being able to participate in the meal with meat that had been offered in worship to the pagan gods, but most often these meals degenerated into drunken revelry and moral debauchery. We can now see in retrospect how idolatry and immorality were the two greatest enemies of the early church.
At this time, it was not so much an external persecution that was the danger to the Church. It was the danger from within. Believers in the church questioned why they could not participate in these common meals, saying that they would be protected from the degradation and demonic influences by the Holy Spirit. It has always been a slippery slope from compromise to outright corruption and the Church has faced it in every age, right up to the present time. I find it interesting to note that the Church of Pergamos was warned due to its compromising ways. The next church in line in Scripture, and also historically, was the Church in Thyatira, which is warned about its corruption. Without true repentance, corruption will always follow compromise.
The compromising church, the Church of Pergamos, was representative of the time of Constantine claiming for himself the headship of the Church, while still being a participator in pagan rituals. The Church of Thyatira was representative of the next 1,000 years, the Middle or “Dark” Ages. The history of this period of church age reads badly. There is a reason why this time in history was called the Dark Ages, and religion was the biggest contributor. Deterioration of the Church into an endless surging sea of power struggles within its own hierarchy, religious competition with kings and emperors for control over the masses, and of course, the accumulation of enormous amounts of wealth into the hands of a very few at the top, defines much of history of this era.
As the Church had gone through unspeakable persecution during the reign of the Caesars, it seemed a gift from God when Constantine put a stop to the persecution and declared Christianity the state religion. Instead of becoming a blessing however, it became a curse. Christians gained status within society and church leadership started gaining preferential treatment in the government. Soon, church leadership gained political power and it began to eat away at the true closeness Christians had in relationship with their God. During desperate times, God was their answer to everything, whereas when Christianity gained favor within the culture of the times, God was no longer “needed” for survival and luxury and ease began to corrode the foundation the Church had been built upon since the ascension of Jesus. The Church that had been built upon the Rock, Jesus Christ, now was removing the foundation and installing a man-made structure of straw, hay, and stubble. It was bound to rot, and rot it did!
In time, what started as a structure built upon common people being raised up to leadership positions so that the Body of Christ could be fed, encouraged, and strengthened, became a hierarchy of men that morphed into corrupt, narcissistic, morally degenerate, psychopaths. The Roman Catholic Church was formed out of the corruption that was birthed by the marriage of Church and State. A heretical fallacy that was propagated was the passing on of the Apostolic authority from one pope to another. The power of the Roman Catholic Church is built upon the supposed “Apostolic Succession” of the Popes, starting with Peter. But, regardless of what is claimed by the Roman Catholic Church, Peter was not appointed to be the head of the Church after Christ ascended; neither was Peter buried in Rome as is claimed, in spite of the fact that he was crucified upside-down along with his wife, in Rome. Peter’s sarcophagus has been excavated in Jerusalem, not Rome! That fact in itself does not have any great importance, but the fact that the entire Papal lineage having been built on the fallacy of Peter being the first bishop of Rome, does have monumental significance.
The narrative of the history of the Church of Rome is full of the lust for fame, power, and wealth for the entire 1,000 years of the Dark Ages. During this time, there was attempt after attempt to make the Bishop of Rome king of the known world. Within this thousand years of history there is no lack of examples, and the purpose of this article is not to attack the Catholic church, but I would like to mention a couple examples of the power that the Church of Rome exercised during the time of history that the Apostle John is referring to when writing to the Church in Thyatira. About twenty years ago, best selling author Dave Hunt wrote what became probably the most detailed and authoritative book describing the abuses of the Roman church over the centuries. In his book, “A Woman Rides the Beast”, he quotes Pope Nicholas I:
“Fear, then, our wrath and the thunders of our vengeance; for Jesus Christ has appointed us (the popes) with his own mouth absolute judges of all men; and kings themselves are submitted to our authority.”
Hunt also presented documentation of a historical event happening in the 12th century involving Pope Alexander III. On page 229, Hunt writes:
“…Consider, for example, the arrogant imperialism of Pope Alexander III (1159-1181) Declaring that ‘the power of the popes is superior to that of princes,” Alexander excommunicated Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Germany and Italy. Attempting to chastise the pope, Frederick’s forces were defeated by the pope’s army. The chastened emperor came to Venice to beg forgiveness and absolution, promising to ‘submit always to the Roman Church.’ Imagine a church ruling the world by military might! Fortunatus Ulmas, a Catholic historian, enthusiastically described the scene:
‘When the emperor arrived in the presence of the pope, he laid aside his imperial mantle, and knelt on both knees, with his breast on the earth. Alexander advanced and placed his foot on his neck, while the cardinals thundered forth in loud tones, “Thou shalt tread upon the cockatrice, and crush the lion and the dragon.”…The next day Frederick Barbarossa…kissed the feet of Alexander, and, on foot, led his horse by the bridle as he returned from solemn mass, to the pontifical palace…The papacy had now risen to a height of grandeur and power which it had never reached before. The sword of Peter had conquered the sword of Caesar!’”
Hunt goes on to comment: “Looking back from today’s perspective, such overt papal dominion over sovereigns seems inconceivable, but it was in fact the norm for that day. The popes literally ruled the entire known world for centuries, exactly as John’s vision foretold.”
The incredible opulence that has defined the Roman Church and its pontiffs is beyond imagination. I will once again quote from Dave Hunt’s book. On page 95, these two paragraphs are found:
It took centuries of developing ingenious arguments to finally arrive at the theory that the Christ who had ‘nowhere to lay his head’ (Matthew 8:20), who lived in poverty and was crucified naked, was to be represented by a regal pontiff who possessed more than one palace containing in excess of 1100 rooms each, was waited upon day and night by scores of servants, and wore the finest gold-embroidered silk robes! That Christ passed on to Peter such pomp and luxuries, which neither of them knew, is both ludicrous and blasphemous.
The glories and powers enjoyed by popes are not even remotely related to Peter’s life of purity and poverty. This fisherman-apostle said, ‘Silver and gold have I none’ (Acts 3:6) nor were papal luxuries and pompous claims of authority over kings and kingdoms known in the Church until centuries later as ambitious popes gradually extended and solidified their authority and control over earthly rulers. Popes began to call themselves by such titles as ‘supreme ruler of the world’ and ‘king of kings.’ Others claiming to be ‘God on earth,’ even the ‘redeemer’ who ‘hung on the cross as Christ did,’ asserted that ‘Jesus put the popes on the same level as God.’ Peter would have denounced such pretentious fraud as blasphemy.
The shameless debauchery showed how much of the pagan ways had infiltrated the Church. The examples openly available to the researcher again stretch over most of the last 1500 years. Once again, drawing from Dave Hunt’s works:
For years it had been a common saying that ‘Rome has more prostitutes than any city in the world because it has the most celibates.’ Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84) turned that fact into a source of considerable profit by charging Rome’s numerous brothels with a Church tax. Then he gathered more wealth still by charging a tax on mistresses kept by priests.
Upon becoming Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503), Rodrigo Borgia, who had committed his first murder at age 12, cried triumphantly, ‘I am Pope, Pontiff, Vicar of Christ!’ Some called him ‘the Tiberius of Christian Rome.’ Though he scarcely pretended to be a Christian, he was, like all the popes, deeply devoted to Mary. Of him a leading Florentine scholar wrote: ‘His manner of living was dissolute. He knew neither shame nor sincerity, neither faith or religion. Moreover, he was possessed by an insatiable greed, an overwhelming ambition and a burning passion for the advancement of his many children who, in order to carry out his iniquitous decrees, did not scruple to employ the most heinous means.’
The historical records continue, seemingly without end. Nor did they stop at the end of the Dark Ages. But, regardless of how degenerate and depraved the history of the Church of Rome is, they are not alone. Hence the importance of the Church taking to heart what Jesus had to say to the Church of Thyatira. The Church of Thyatira is not synonymous with Roman Catholicism, but Roman Catholicism is a major part of the Church of Thyatira–along with many protestant denominations who have allowed themselves to be corrupted. The same message applies to our day and time.
A friend of mine related a story of an experience he had during a trip to Nigeria. He had been invited to join a group of intercessors to pray for an upcoming election. As he related the story, he had felt the need to pray for the Church in Nigeria first. It seemed issues of pride had crept in that needed to be dealt with. Here is what was related to me:
The prayer group was meeting on a Christian compound that every month would have a million Christians come to it for prayer and once a year 5 million would attend a special emphasis. But what had happened was that the leadership had become prideful and if you wanted to have an hour meeting with the leadership, you had to bow before the leader for an hour, and then you could have your meeting with them for another hour. When we asked them when this started to happen they told us it began when some prosperity teachers from America came and taught them the prosperity doctrine. What resulted was the misuse and pride entered in. So we spent most of our days in Nigeria dealing first with the sins of the Church and then prayed for the nation.”
As it turned out, the direction of the entire election changed in a miraculous way, and it happened because some things wrong were corrected within the corporate church.
Unfortunately, many church organizations today operate more like corporations and most senior pastors fill the position of CEO of the corporation. Instead of the power of the Holy Spirit being the driving force in the church, it is the will of the “corporate board” that runs the church. Instead of pastors receiving fresh revelation from the Throne of God to share with their congregations on the Lord’s Day, it is more often the predetermined emphasis coming down from the corporate office that determines sermon materials. Many pastors exchange what should have been received from the Spirit of God for their congregations through personal study and prayer for an on-line pre-written sermon outline or script. It’s too easy to spot what sounds like a good sermon from a sermon resource center like “SermonCentral” and use it instead of doing the work of connecting with God ourselves! It is no wonder that the typical church experience for most people is so unsatisfying. It has no spiritual depth! And it is because the Church has become so anemic that society around us compromises away everything that is right and has true value. The Church has compromised so much in the past decades that much of it has become corrupt.
Returning to the message to the Church in Thyatira, we look at Jezebel. She was known as the most wicked woman in the Bible. She was the daughter of Ethbaal, King of Sidon and idolatrous queen of Ahab, King of Israel (I Kings 16:31). She was responsible for bringing Baal worship to Israel. Jezebel didn’t as much try and force the Israelites to exchange their belief in Jehovah God for Baal, but she rather enticed the Israelites to intertwine Baal worship with their traditional regular worship of the Lord (I Kings 16-19). She personally supported hundreds of false prophets and her hatred of Elijah the prophet was well known.
It was this mixing of Pagan rituals with the worship of Jehovah God that brought about the famous contest on top of Mount Carmel between Elijah and the prophets of Baal and the prophets of the Grove, 850 in all. Elijah’s words still ring for all to hear even today: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” (I Kings 18:21) Jezebel and her followers taught that there was no problem in compromising with the world. To get ahead in the business world in Thyatira, Christians would have to compromise their convictions. What is the real problem participating in the pagan guilds?
Separation from the world is clearly taught in God’s Word. One example is found in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.
The immorality was so great in the Church of Thyatira that Jesus made an interesting statement in verse 24 of Revelation 2 that is too often overlooked. Jesus said this:
…Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets…
By researching ancient history, and in particular pagan religious practices, one finds that the ancient records are rife with examples of some of the most detestable sexual practices. Homosexuality, pedophilia, bestiality, human sacrifices, and cannibalism were used as a special means of gaining forbidden knowledge. There was very good reason for God to address these pagan practices in detail when giving Moses the law. There seems to be no limit on the depth of depravity humans can allow themselves to fall into as they believe the same lie that Satan used to deceive Eve in the Garden of Eden.
The exhortation to the Church is definite in its intent. God is patient, as is shown in verse 21, but judgment is inevitable as we see in verse 22. Verse 23 shows us that the judgement for rejection of God’s laws and ways is thorough. Death is the inevitable result. The time for repentance and walking in newness is not open-ended.
Today we are living in a time when the majority of the Church is guilty of corrupting the Word of God and what it teaches on many fronts. How long has much of the Church stood silently by as millions of babies have been aborted? Just this last year, Planned Parenthood here in the U.S. has recorded well over 300,000 murders of the most helpless and innocent of us! National Right to Life estimates that the number of abortions performed in America since 1973 is over 56 million! World wide numbers for the same period of time is about 1.72 billion abortions–a large percentage of these abortions funded by the United States. The Church did very little to stand against this genocide.
The latest information I have is that in the United States 35 of 50 states have now legalized same-sex marriage. The other 15 will soon follow. We, as the Church, cannot give ourselves a pass by saying this is a secular problem, not a spiritual one. Church after church, Christian organization after Christian organization is condoning homosexual marriages, not only within the congregations, but also for the clergy. How conveniently we ignore God’s view on same-sex relationships! The Creator of the human race has declared that it is an abomination to Him, and we the Church allow homosexuals into the pulpit? Do we dare rebel against the Creator of the universe and tell Him His word is in error? Judgment is coming, and it is coming like a speeding freight train! Repentance is the only answer! Yet, the word “repentance” is an unpopular word from the pulpits today!
There are many of us who may read these last paragraphs and proclaim that we don’t support abortion, nor do we condone homosexuality. But what is the real condition of our soul? Matthew 7:16b-23 puts it like this:
Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit. A bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evil-doers!”
One of the challenges for us today is knowing where to draw the line in our spiritual lives. Youth today has an enormous amount of temptation thrown in its path. Drawing that line in the sand is a challenge. Youth has lots of energy and a healthy lust for life. I remember how it was. I could attend all of my college classes, work a full 8 hour shift at the lumber mill, do my homework in between times and still have lots of energy. In this entertainment age, it is easy to get caught up in things that draw us away from our relationships with our God. We walk with a Holy God and much of the entertainment in this world has been written by those who have traded their souls to the devil for success in this world. Can we really spend time bumping and grinding to music that is designed to seduce one into sin–in a place full of people who do not believe in the same standards as us? We start by compromise and then we are corrupted.
Most of the sitcoms on television today would have made people not that long ago embarrassed. People shacking up together without being married is now commonplace; having homosexual characters in TV shows is now the expected. Much of today’s humor is off-color and hedonistic. As the saying goes, “Garbage in; garbage out” and it affects our lives. What we take into our minds will eventually come out. Most of the popular comedians have routines that are crude, at best. The problem is, the more we watch, the more it seems normal to us. Most of the world sees comments like these as the ranting of a fanatic. Are they? We need to judge our thoughts and views with the Word of God. This offends many–even those who call themselves Christians but let’s take a look at what Philippians 4:8 says:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (NIV)
There is much more that can be pointed out about the statements Jesus made to the Church of Thyatira but I will only take time to make a short observation in closing. We know from a study of history that each Church addressed in Revelation 2-3 also prove to represent a slot of time in Church history. My personal belief for many years has been that the last two churches in chapter three overlap historically. The Philadelphia Church is the missionary church and is given a special promise that, due to its faithfulness, it will be allowed to escape the Great Tribulation. The Church of Laodicea however appears to miss the Rapture and will have to go through this most difficult time. From further study of the seven churches, I find comments made also to the Church of Thyatira and the Church of Sardis that seem to indicate that they are also represented right on through the rest of the Church Age.
Jesus said of the Church of Thyatira that due to their lack of repentance, they will be cast into “great tribulation” and all her children will be killed. The word for children refers to the offspring of the church, those who cling to the mother church. I also find the wording of verse 22 worth a second look. The church is threatened with being thrown into a deep bed, and into “great tribulation”…along with all those that commit adultery with her. The wording sounds eerily like what we find in Revelation 17:
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute who sits on many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries. Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. This title was written on her forehead: MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. I saw the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.
The Roman Catholic Church murdered millions of true believers that gave testimony to Jesus Christ during the Dark and Middle ages, and those who opposed her right on up to the Reformation. This church has not repented and will not be spared the Great Tribulation. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church, who is in the process of drawing every religion in the world under its cover, will find itself being totally destroyed during the Day of the Lord. The call from the Lord on high is for his true followers to come out from her so that they are not judged with her.
The next church addressed by Christ in the Book of Revelation was the Church of Sardis, which was accused of being the church that thought it was alive, but in truth was nearly dead! We will do a study on Sardis, the dead church, in Part 5 in this study series.
To be continued in Part 5.