To the Church in Thyatira
18 “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. 19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.
20 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. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 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. 23 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.
24 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, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.’
26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— 27 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. 28 I will also give that one the morning star. 29 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The Church of Thyatira has several notable qualities. They are full of deeds of charity to those in need, a clear observance of Jesus' command for good deeds to the needy. Their service and administration of the church. They are giving themselves diligently to the operations of the church. And finally, they are holding fast to the faith given to them.
But Jesus has this against them. They are tolerating the teaching of Jezebel. This is likely referring to Jezebel in the Old Testament, who tried to lead Israel astray through sexual immorality, and eating of food sacrificed to idols. Cf. Acts 15:28. Notice there in the early church council meeting, they only declared these were two areas forbidden in the new church. They did not add any new laws but those two. Even Jesus says, "I will not impose any other burden on you." So you can see this is not going back to the legalism of the Old Testament.
The major issue is one of tolerance. They are tolerating this self proclaimed prophetess Jezebel, who again was teaching something similar to the Jezebel in the Old Testament. Her teaching, aided by so called "secrets", is leading others in the flock astray. This is a cancer that will only grow in the church, and severely inhibit the mission of the church. That is why Jesus is so clear of the impending judgment on this person. Again, we see the grace of God, who has given them much time to repent of their ways. And he qualifies the future judgment with, if they are "unwilling to repent".
Some might see this passage as "judgmental", after all where is the grace? The problem is that God has given them time to repent, but they are "unwilling". Meaning they are willfully sinning without any inclination to stop. God is patient, not wanting anyone to perish but come back to him. But he cannot make someone repent, as we still have free will, and we can reject the Spirit's guidance and reproof.
What can this mean for us? We see so much rhetoric today about the word "tolerance". In fact, the only thing people who hold this view are intolerant of is, anyone who is willing to call a sin, a sin. The church needs to beware of this teaching, which is often done "in secret", and deal with it right away. If not, judgment is promised for those who lead people astray. Those who teach, or call themselves a prophet, have a higher degree of accountability. See James 3:1on this.
The bible is pretty clear on right and wrong, based on the Ten Commandments. There are no secrets to what a life patterned after Christ looks like. We are not perfect yet, and fall short of this, but that doesn't mean we use that as a justification for all types of sin, especially sexual immorality. Paul says to the Corinthian church, which had many of these same issues, "Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body." 1 Corinthians 6:19
At the end of the passage Jesus gives a future promise. To those who hold fast to this teaching, they will be given authority in heaven. While we do not know exactly what this entails, it is clearly a reward for obeying Jesus words.
As we look at the world today, we can see its relevance for the church, especially those who lead.