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.