That is the way churches grow: People are always attracted by the reality of Christian love, the heartfelt compassion of Christian service, the stirring hope of Christian faith, the challenging example of Christian perseverance. People who stand outside the church and see such qualities being lived out in the name of Jesus are like hungry children standing outside the window of an ice cream shop with their noses pressed against the glass. They earnestly desire what they see inside.

If you and I could stand among the believers in Thyatira, we would be marvelously impressed by all that we see: the busyness, the bustling activity, the personal warmth and caring of many wonderful people, the deep faith, the concern and care for others. It was a very attractive church on the outside.

But something was dreadfully wrong deep within.


2:20-23 "Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. 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."

Evidently, there was a woman in the church at Thyatira who was influential, domineering and depraved. Jesus names her "Jezebel." That, of course, was not this woman's given name, but rather a name the Lord gave her to indicate her character. Jesus often renamed people according to their inner qualities, much as He renamed Simon, an ill-educated fisherman, to show that he would one day emerge as a "rock," as "Peter." Without question, everyone in the church at Thyatira knew who Jesus meant when He said "Jezebel." Equally without question, Jesus chose to give her the name of the most evil and loathsome woman in the Old Testament.

The original Jezebel in the Old Testament was the daughter of the king of Sidon, an ancient town in Lebanon that has been in the headlines of our own era as a major site of bloodshed and upheaval. Jezebel was the wife of King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and she is particularly noted for having introduced and made popular the worship of the pagan god Baal in Israel.

Baal was a fertility god, and the worship of Baal involved obscene sexual practices and temple prostitutes, both male and female. The worship of this demonic god spread throughout Israel because of Jezebel's influence, and she used her wealth to sponsor more than 800 false prophets of Baal.

It was Jezebel who attempted to murder the prophet Elijah after his famous encounter with 480 false prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. There, you recall, the false prophets failed in their attempt to call down fire from their god Baal to consume a sacrificial bull. But when it was Elijah's turn, he called upon God, and God sent fire from heaven to consume not only the sacrifice upon the altar, but the wood fuel, the stones of the altar, the dust of the ground, and the water Elijah had poured upon it all. When Jezebel learned of the humiliation and defeat of Baal and the prophets of Baal, she threatened Elijah's life.

Jezebel also murdered her neighbor Naboth so that her husband, the king, could seize the dead man's vineyard. Jezebel was a ruthless, godless, calculating, power-mad seducer of the people. According to Old Testament prophecy, her life ended when she was thrown from the palace window into the courtyard below. There her body was set upon by dogs, who licked up her blood.

As we gain an understanding of what kind of evil woman the original Jezebel was we begin to see exactly what Jesus means when He calls the tyrant who dominates the Thyatira church by the name Jezebel. The Jezebel in Thyatira called herself a "prophetess," and there is nothing innately wrong with that. No Scripture forbids a woman from exercising the gift of prophecy per se. There were other prophetesses in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and the New. Philip, the Spirit-filled evangelist of the book of Acts, had four daughters who were prophetesses and who faithfully exercised their spiritual gift for the edification of the church.

The problem with Thyatira's Jezebel was not that she was a prophet of the feminine gender, but that she was a false prophet. The Lord tells us what her corrupt teaching consisted of: seducing believers into tolerating, accepting, and engaging in immorality and idolatry.

At this point we find the link between this evil woman Jezebel in the Thyatira church and the pervasive economic control of the Thyatiran trade unions. In order to make a living in Thyatira, a citizen of the city was required to join a union or guild. The membership of these guilds was comprised largely of pagans. The problem for the Christians in Thyatira was that the meetings of the guilds were mostly devoted to idol worship and the licentious debaucheries associated with the Greek culture's erotic idols.

The English Bible scholar William Barclay describes the dilemma of the Thyatiran Christians this way:

These guilds met frequently, and they met for a common meal. Such a meal was, at least in part, a religious ceremony. It would probably meet in a heathen temple, and it would certainly begin with a libation to the gods, and the meal itself would largely consist of meat offered to idols. The official position of the church meant that a Christian could not attend such a meal.

Here was the problem: These Thyatiran Christians had to belong to a union in order to make a living yet belonging to the union meant they were pressured (and perhaps even required) to participate in immoral sexual practices and idol worship. So these Christians had to make a decision a decision that in many cases came down to a raw choice between remaining faithful to God and simple physical survival for themselves and their families.

Worst of all, this Jezebel in the Thyatira church was teaching that it was all right for the Thyatiran believers to join the unions, to submit to the pressures of the surrounding evil culture, and that God would overlook their sin. Her philosophy was one we often hear these days whenever Christians want to excuse or justify an unethical or immoral business practice: "Business is business." If your Christian principles get in the way of your success in business, then it is those Christian principles that have to go. "I have to make a living, don't I?" is the plea of many. I've heard this argument many times. You've probably heard it, too.

Here again we see how powerfully applicable and relevant the book of Revelation is to our own time and problems. The Thyatira syndrome is closely paralleled by many churches in our era. There are churches which endorse homosexuality as an alternate lifestyle, churches which do not discipline their members who engage in sexual immorality, churches which allow pornography to go unchallenged in their midst.

But the Lord holds such churches accountable today, just as He did in the first century. His charge against them is, "You tolerate that woman Jezebel." This is a problem that church leadership must face today just as church leaders of the apostle John's era had to.

Notice that in the letters to the churches at both Pergamum and Thyatira the Lord links sexual immorality with idolatry. At first glance we may wonder what one has to do with the other. In fact, however, one inevitably leads to the other. Fornication and adultery are clear-cut violations of what the Word of God clearly commands. So when a person engages in sexually impure behavior, he or she deliberately violates the authority of God. Even if that person verbally professes to be a Christian, he or she is living a lifestyle in which God is no longer their God.

Now the link between immorality and idolatry becomes clear: If people reject the Lord's authority over their lives and if God is no longer God in their lives, then they must find another god! It is impossible for the human spirit to thrive without something to live for, something larger than itself and that something is what a god is! Whatever makes your life worthwhile becomes your god. It may be the god of pleasure, of self-gratification, even of sexual self-indulgence. Or it may be the god of wealth, success, ambition, power, or fame.

The point is that we "enlightened," "modern," "sophisticated" people still have our idols, just as the ancients had. Our idols may not be carved out of wood or stone. But they are just as real, just as seductive, just as dishonoring and offensive to the one true God.

For most of us, our greatest temptation to idolatry can be found in our place of work in the office, on the campus, at the store, on the road. It is there that we spend most of our waking hours, there that we invest so much of our self and our aspiration, there that we are under the greatest pressure to compromise and knuckle under to the corrupt standards of the dying world around us. As Earl Palmer reminds us,

The most subtle challenge to faith does not usually originate in public amphitheaters but in the daily places where we earn the money we need to live. . . . A job that is worshiped is a job badly done. This is because we ask too much from the job we are doing from the company, from the union, from the success of financial achievement. What the trades need, what professions need, what all deployments of our lives need is not our soul but our skill, not our worship but our hard work. When we once learn this vital alignment of values, we will do better in our work, and have fewer ulcers too. Idolatries, whether of the dramatic amphitheater type or the low-grade office type, always make us sick.

The punishment our Lord assesses against the corrupt teaching of Thyatira's Jezebel reflects the seriousness of the disease of immorality and idolatry. Notice that this punishment involves three parties.

First, there is Jezebel herself. Jesus says, "I will cast her on a bed of suffering." There is a note of irony and even sarcasm in this statement. A bed, in this instance, implies a place not of sleeping but of illicit sexual union. He is saying, in effect, "If it's a bed she wants, so be it but it will