A Study of the Seven Churches of Asia
by Al Maxey

(Revelation 2:18-29)

"It is an odd fact that the longest of the letters to the seven churches was written to the church in the smallest and least important of the seven towns" (William Barclay, Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 55). Pliny, the elder (born in the year the apostle Paul arrived as a prisoner in Rome; despised Christianity and persecuted its professors while Proconsul in Asia) dismissed the city of Thyatira contemptuously with the phrase, "Thyatira and other unimportant communities."

Although the city itself may have been widely regarded as unimportant, the church there was certainly not, and neither were its problems! It was a congregation in which the Lord found several positive qualities to commend, but one in which there were also some serious problems. (NOTE: There are also some interesting comparisons & contrasts to be made with the Lord's evaluation of Ephesus --- Rev. 2:1-7).


ONE --- "I know your deeds" (NASB, NWT, NIV, NAB, SEB) ..... "works" (ASV, KJV, NKJV, RSV) ..... "all your ways" (NEB) ..... "all your good deeds" (LB) ..... "what you have done" (Phillips) ..... "what you do" (TEV) ..... "your record and what you are doing" (Amplified). This is the same phrase that Jesus uses to Ephesus (refer to the Evaluation of Ephesus for a discussion of this phrase). This same phrase is also used in the letters to Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Only in Smyrna and Pergamum is it not used.

To Ephesus Jesus says, "Repent, and do the deeds you did at first" (Rev. 2:5), however to Thyatira He says, "Your deeds of late are greater than at first" (Rev. 2:19). Jesus "commends them for progress made in their work" (Ray Summers, Worthy Is The Lamb, p. 117). "It is a Scriptural axiom that there cannot be too many good works after one is saved by grace. This commendation implies that a church's only security is in going forward" (James M. Tolle, The Seven Churches of Asia, p. 51).

The real difference between Ephesus and Thyatira here (both were "working" congregations) is that Thyatira's works were motivated by LOVE, whereas in Ephesus they had left love! "Ephesus had let its first love wane and languish, while Thyatira had kept its love aflame. This continuously burning flame of love and enduring faith had led to the increase of works" (Homer Hailey, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 136). "Unlike Ephesus, Thyatira had not grown slack in love; love had remained active and diligent" (R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. John's Revelation, p. 114). "Thyatira's commendation exceeds that of Ephesus, whose love had waned to a point where a return to her first works was called for" (The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 1685).

TWO --- "I know your love" (NASB, NWT, NIV, NAB, SEB, ASV, RSV, NKJV, NEB, LB, TEV, Phillips, Amplified) ..... "charity" (KJV). In our present day and age this word ("charity") conveys a different meaning and thus is not the best word to use in translating the original Greek word. The LB ("Living Bible"), keying in on the word "charity," adds to this verse: "I am aware of ... your kindness to the poor, your gifts and service to them."

This is the Greek word agape which refers to a self-sacrificial love; it is the type of love which is willing to place others above self. Unlike Ephesus, Thyatira was known for its love. This Greek word (in its noun form) appears only twice in Revelation: 2:4 and 2:19 (the letters to Ephesus and to Thyatira).

The apostle John, who along with his brother James were given the name "Sons of Thunder" by Jesus (Mark 3:17), later became known as the "apostle of love." Agape (a noun) appears 116 times in the pages of the NT writings; 30 of those appearances are in the writings of John (26% of the NT occurrences). Agapao (a verb) appears 142 times in the pages of the NT writings; 72 of those appearances are in the writings of John (51% of the NT occurrences). The verb appears four times in Revelation: 1:5; 3:9; 12:11; 20:9.

THREE --- "I know your faith" (NASB, NWT, ASV, LB, KJV, NKJV, NIV, RSV, SEB, NAB, Amplified) ..... "faithfulness" (NEB, TEV) ..... "loyalty" (Phillips). This is the Greek word pistis which means "faith, belief, trust; firm conviction; faithfulness, trustworthiness." Just by way of comparison, this Greek word (in its noun form) appears 244 times in the NT writings, yet it is used only five times by John (only 2% of the NT occurrences) --- one time in I John (5:4) and four times in Revelation (2:13; 2:19; 13:10; 14:12).

Paul tells Timothy that "the goal of our instruction is LOVE from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a sincere FAITH" (I Tim. 1:5). These were qualities which were present in Thyatira, and the Lord commends them for it.

FOUR --- "I know your service" (NASB, NEB, LB, KJV, NKJV, NIV, TEV, RSV, SEB, NAB, Phillips, Amplified) ..... "ministry" (ASV, NWT). This is the Greek word diakonia which refers to "the act of rendering service; ministering to; to render aid, help, support." It is from another form of this word that we get the English word "deacon."

There are several types of servants and service spoken of in the Greek language. A slave has no choice but to render service to the master; it is compulsory service. The service of a servant, however, is "voluntary service, freely rendered, for the benefit and the help of those needing it" (R.C.H. Lenski, p. 114). This was service rendered from out of a loving heart, not service rendered under compulsion (somewhat like the freewill offerings of the OT). A loving heart will manifest itself in loving service. "It is as if the risen Lord was saying: 'If you claim to have Christian love in your heart, you can prove it only by showing that you have Christian service in your life'" (William Barclay, Letters To The Seven Churches, p. 62).

FIVE --- "I know your perseverance" (NASB, NIV) ..... "patience" (ASV, KJV, NKJV, TEV, LB) ..... "endurance" (NWT, SEB, Phillips) ..... "patient endurance" (RSV, NAB, Amplified) ..... "fortitude" (NEB). Jesus uses this word twice in commending the saints at Ephesus (refer to the Evaluation of Ephesus for a discussion of this phrase). John also uses it in reference to himself in Rev. 1:9.

SIX --- In reference to the false teaching, destructive influence, and immorality of "the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess" (Rev. 2:20), Jesus commends those saints at Thyatira "who do not hold this teaching, and who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them" (Rev. 2:24).

Although this woman, and her teaching, had corrupted some of the brethren in Thyatira, yet there were a good many who remained faithful to the Lord and His teachings. These our Lord commends for not succumbing to the wiles of this immoral temptress.

"The deep things of Satan" has been variously interpreted. This was apparently an expression used by Jezebel and her followers as Jesus indicates with the phrase: "as they call them." There are two major views as to what this may have been:

Jesus tells those who were serving Him faithfully, "I place no other burden on you!" (Rev. 2:24). Men love to impose the burden of commandments and traditions and customs and practices upon one another, but not so with Christ! "His commandments are not burdensome" (I John 5:3). "For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (Matt. 11:30).


Although a rather lengthy discussion is provided of Jezebel and her sins and what God intends to do with her and her followers, yet the congregation itself is condemned for only one sin: "But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel" (NASB, NWT, NEB, NIV, TEV, RSV, SEB, NAB, Phillips, Amplified) ..... "sufferest" (KJV, ASV) ..... "allow" (NKJV) ..... "you are permitting that woman ... to teach My servants" (LB).

This is the Greek word aphiemi which means "to tolerate, permit, leave alone, allow, forbid not." This word appears in the Present Tense in this passage which signifies this was happening continuously. They permitted the destructive influence of this person to continue unchecked! Thyatira is a perfect example of a congregation which was aware of a destructive force within its midst, but which lacked the spiritual courage to practice discipline.

Some scholars suggest that the congregation feared this woman, and "let her have her way" rather than incur her wrath. Through the intimidation of a violent nature she was gaining in power and influence in the congregation. Others suggest the church simply didn't want to "rock the boat;" "things are going fine otherwise, so why risk a church fight over a few misguided brethren ... give them time; they'll come around!"

Although Thyatira was a very loving, active and serving congregation, "this does not constitute an excuse for failure to exercise discipline with respect to members who make a compromise with the world" (William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, p. 89). They "ignored her views without objecting to her presence in the church" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, p. 444). They "permitted her to teach ... and allowed her to continue in the fellowship of the church" (J.T. Hinds, A Commentary on the Book of Revelation, p. 48).

"The church 'suffered' (allowed, permitted, tolerated) her to continue, offering no opposition. This was Jesus' criticism of those who stood aloof from her teaching but said nothing. Not only must one have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but he must reprove & expose them (Eph. 5:11)" (Homer Hailey, p. 138). "It cannot be over-emphasized that the sin of this church consisted in the fact that it raised no protest against the woman Jezebel, that it allowed her to promulgate under its shelter the terrible teaching that had also plagued the church in Pergamum, with the most disastrous results. We must observe that the church as such is not charged with complicity in this teaching, but with the toleration of it. Even though its love was abounding in good works, it lacked the moral force and courage to eradicate the evil from its midst. It tacitly condoned sin in its midst for fear of causing a disturbance, thus greatly hindering the cause of Christ" (James M. Tolle, p. 52).

There are several theories as to the identity of "the woman Jezebel":

  1. The wife of one of the elders. The Greek word for "woman" and "wife" is the same word. In some ancient manuscripts the word "your" is found here, making the phrase read "your woman/wife Jezebel." This has led some to assume that Jesus is referring to the wife of one of the leaders.

  2. The famous local prophetess at the shrine of Sambathe.

  3. Lydia. "It has been suggested that, when Lydia returned to Thyatira, she found her Christianity clashing with her business interests and urged the church to the way of compromise and accommodation. That theory is merely a slander on Lydia!" (William Barclay, Letters To The Seven Churches, p. 60).

  4. The name is merely symbolic, and does not refer to any one person but to a "corrupt faction" within the congregation (J.T. Hinds, p. 51).

  5. A real woman in the congregation. Her real name may have been Jezebel, or she may have been called "Jezebel" because she exhibited qualities similar to the Jezebel of the OT. This view seems to be the most likely.

William Barclay even suggests that this woman may not have been intending to destroy the church, but that in her own mind she honestly believed that one could compromise with the world and still be a "good Christian." "It must be clearly understood that she had no wish to destroy the church; but she wished to bring into it new ways which were, in fact, destructive of the faith" (The Revelation of John, Vol. 1, p. 106). "No doubt Jezebel seemed to many a fine character. She must have had a command of language and a fine presence to be regarded as a prophetess" (ibid., p. 110). "She urged upon the Christians that there was no need to cut themselves off from society or abstain from the trade guilds. Jezebel, in simply trying to protect her business interests, is to be counted amongst those to whom the claims of commercial success speak more loudly than the claims of Christ" (ibid., p. 107).

"The likelihood is that this woman, who is called Jezebel, argued and insisted that Christians should become members of the trade guilds, that they should attend the heathen functions, that they should compromise with the heathen world and with heathen worship, in order to protect their business interests" (William Barclay, Letters To The Seven Churches, p. 60).

In OT history --- Jezebel was the wife of Ahab (7th king over the northern kingdom of Israel; he reigned for 22 years), and she was the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians. For a study of this woman read: I Kings 16:29 -- II Kings 9:37. See also: Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 8, Chapter 13ff.

Pergamum Sardis

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