Thyatira: The Worldly Church
To tolerate or not to tolerate – that’s the question. It is so overused that the meaning of tolerance has become confusing. In the message that Christ sent to one of the churches in the Book of Revelation, he talks about tolerance.
To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. 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, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’ To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Revelation 2:18-29
Thyatira was in western Turkey, and it was the smallest city among the seven. Yet, it received the longest letter. It held an important trade center at the road between Pergamum and Sardis. It was famous for textiles, especially the production of purple clothes. Acts refers to the apostle Paul’s encounter in Philippi with Lydia, a seller of purple clothes who became a believer. Thyatira had many trade guilds including wool, linen, baking, leather, bronze, poultry, and dyes. Major industry dealers had considerable power and influence, even when it came to the worship of different gods in the city.
How does Christ describe himself through the church inside Thyatira? Christ has ultimate authority over his church and people. There is a connection between how Christ describes himself and the problem the church was facing. He had a purpose to call himself the son of God considering the problem the church was going through. The title “Son of God” is one of the most controversial titles because it is central to the Christian faith. We can easily make a mistake if we try to understand it the way we perceive a human father/son relationship. Son of God does not imply a physical dissent; it is not about biological lineage. We must rather understand it in its semitic context which may have no equivalent in other languages. Son of God refers to the Incarnate Christ who took the flesh. It emphasizes his divine nature. What is the implication of this truth? Christ is evaluating his charge with full authority and power, and Christ has the same authority over us today. He has the authority to challenge the way we relate to him as the head of the church and to one another as parts of the body. God everything lays bare before him nothing is hidden to him and his assessment is always just and fair.
So what was the spiritual condition of the church? First, Christ commends their works; they were even doing more than they did before. It is amazing that while Christ rebuked the church in Ephesus for forsaking their first love, he commended the church in Thyatira for doing more than what they did at first. That means their love was increasing. Everyone wishes they could belong to a church which has such qualities; however, these qualities were hiding something very serious.
They were hiding a serious problem. Christ warns and disciplines the unrepentant. The problem was not Jezebel being a female but her false teaching and evil influence. They let her mislead people as she pretended to speak for God. Who is Jezebel? It would be a person or a system of value working to seduce and mislead Christians. Jezebel must have had a kind of personality that attracted people to her or maybe her ideas were appealing to the desires of the flesh. All her followers were yearning for new spiritual or supernatural experiences. Christ gave her the symbolic name Jezebel in reference to the Queen Jezebel in the Old Testament who had an evil character. Such tolerance means approving what Christ hates. This is not an encouragement to be unloving to people who are following the wrong path; it is a call to exercise caution not to condone what they do. Jezebel promoted practices that Christ hated, but they tolerated her. This kind of tolerance is not a sign of love.
We all have preferences and opinions, but they should not be the standard by which we decide what Christ likes or what he dislikes. We must rather submit to his word. When we decide to follow Christ, we agreed to live terms that are not ours. Otherwise, we become our own lords.
This should encourage each believer to persevere to the end despite the persecutions, troubles, and trials they may face. Christ will judge and reward believers in the way they live, so what we do matters. We don’t do it in our own strength; it is by the strength of Christ who lives in us. This should also motivate those who have followed the wrong path to return to God. So, to tolerate or not to tolerate? We, as followers of Jesus Christ, are to love people – including sinners who are who are far from him. We are not to tolerate evil in our lives or in our churches because we don’t belong to the world. We belong to Jesus Christ.