“To the angel of the Church in Thyatira write …” (Rev. 2:18)
The ancient town of Thyatira had little historical significance, “but,” notes Archbp. Averky, “it is known in the history of Christianity because from it there came Lydia, who was enlightened with the light of faith in Christ by the Holy Apostle Paul (cf. Acts 16:14,15,40).”
“These things say the Son of God, the One who has His eyes as a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass” (Rev. 2:18).
Christ the Lord’s introductory words to each of the Churches reveal deep Christological mysteries. The Son of God is a Messianic title prophesied in the Old Testament, see Ps. 2:7. St. Paul makes reference to this prophecy at the beginning of his epistle to the Hebrews (2:5) in which he also shows Christ the Lord to be God. Christ Himself uses this divine title in the Gospels, cf. Jn 3:16, 18, 5:25, 10:36. It also clearly refers to the eternal Sonship of the Word (cf. Mat. 3:17).
The eyes as a flame of fire and the feet like fine brass are also references to revelations of Yahweh in the Old Testament. The “one having the likeness of a son of man” in Daniel appears with eyes as a flame of fire (cf. Dan. 10:6). Many see here a pre-incarnate appearance of the Logos. When Ezekiel had a vision of the Lord, he describes the appearance in terms much the same as those of Revelation, “From … the waist and downward I saw as it were the appearance of fire with brightness round about …” (Eze. 2:27, see this section for a more lengthy description). Christ Jesus clearly appears in the same image of revelation as Yahweh of the Old Testament, this is because Christ is the Divine and eternal Person – the Logos, one of the Holy Trinity. Anyone who has a basic understanding of Biblical typology will comprehend that the Divine images of the Old Testament are clearly applied to Christ Jesus, thus He is God.
Fire also symbolizes the purifying actions of God. “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29; Deut. 4:23-24). God purifies with complete righteousness for He sees all things perfect and clearly, He knows all things completely. Those who come to Him will be purified.
As God guided the Old Testament Church of the nation of Israel, so He is now speaking to and Personally guiding the fullness of the Church of the New Covenant.
Remember the letters to the Seven Churches are letters to the Church throughout the last age. The Lord “knows” well what is transpiring in His Church and He will take action.
“I know your works, and the love, and the faith, and the service, and your patience, and your works, and the last are more than the first” (Rev. 2:19).
As with every one of the Seven Churches, Thyatira is judged according to its works. It is good to point out that the Lord Himself includes faith as a work (for those possibly caught in a faith vs. works dialectic). I will not spend time unpacking each virtue, but will simply point out that Elder Athanasios sees here the principle of spiritual ascent and growth. The reader may reference 1 Pet. 1:5-8 as another example of a spiritual “ladder,” as it were, in Scripture.
The Elder tells us, “Do you want to keep your Orthodox spirituality? Then keep climbing. If you say: I have advanced enough, I feel content with my progress, so I will take a spiritual sabbatical, then you are already on a dangerous down-slide if you persist in this thinking ….” He does tell us that it will be inevitable that we encounter points of spiritual “crisis.” “When you begin to climb spiritually, at some point you will reach a critical point, and have the feeling that you cannot climb anymore because you are tired. This is a crisis that we all encounter along the way … But if you do not cower, if you do not give up from exhaustion, and succeed in passing the barrier, then the spiritual life that awaits you is wonderful … This is Orthodox spirituality. Remember this, because those who speak to you about something very easy and effortless are most likely offering you something foreign and strange to true Orthodox spirituality.”
Christ the Lord is personally watching the contest of assent. He does not observe in some passive and detached manner, no! He is intimately involved in the life of His Church. For we may only contend faithfully through the divine empowerment of His energy. He is Personally present to those who labor diligently.
The Lord commends the bishop (recall that one of the interpretations for “Angel of the church …” is the bishop) in Thyatira for making spiritual advancement.
Even in light of this positive advancement, these dread words are spoken by the Lord, “I have a few things against you …” (Rev. 2:20). The Lord then exposes a very serious pastoral issue, the bishop has “tolerated” a demonic teaching/teacher which is symbolically called “Jezebel.” “I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refused to repent of her sexual immorality” (Rev. 2:20-21).
First, it must be clear that it is a grave sin to “tolerate” teachings that are clearly contrary to “sound doctrine.” Indeed any shepherd in the church, and even any believer, is called to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). The reader may see these passages for further reference, Titus 1:9, 2:11-14; 1 Tim. 1:10, 6:3. St. Paul also teaches that false doctrines must not be “tolerated,” “They [false teachers] must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:11). It is a great sin to permit false teachers to have a voice in the Church.
The source of the falsehood in Thyatira is called “the woman Jezebel.” This is a very clear reference to the historical figure, queen Jezebel in the Old Testament. The account of which may be read in 1 Kings 16:31ff. It is worthy to note that she was in some sense the main adversary to the Holy Prophet Elijah. She actively seduced the Israelites into idolatry, the worship of false gods, and sexual immorality, many times connected to pagan rituals and rites. She hunted down the true prophets of God to kill them. Jezebel is one who aggressively promotes an alternative manner of “worship” to the children of Israel. This false worship is completely sensual, that is not simply based upon lustful urges but also one that is completely obsessed with worldly things.
Jezebel actively led Israel of old into falsehood and the worship of that which is not God.
St. Andrew of Crete notes, “He [the Lord] compares the cunning deception of the heretics to a harlot.”
Although actual physical fornication is a part of the problem, the deeper spiritual issue is revealed to be that the people of God are giving themselves to something other than God, they commit a form of spiritual fornication/adultery. It is worth pointing out that throughout the Old Testament Israel’s unfaithfulness to God is framed in the context of sexual immorality (the book of Hosea is the most potent example of this image). “Eating things sacrificed to idols,” may also be understood as the consuming of falsehood. As Christians we are to partake of Christ the Lord only, yet these false teachers bring a “new” sacrifice and ask people to “eat” of it. In doing so, we consume that which is of the “idols” (broadly speaking, that which we put in the place of the true God.)
Elder Athanasios comments, “Bishop Anthimos, an eighteenth-century bishop of Jerusalem, writes of the bishop of Thyatira, ‘He was not negating her Christian identity but was addressing her as a Christian and by this name she was able to lead the servants of God astray and make them subject to her delusion, committing sexual immorality and eating foods sacrificed to idols.’ In other words, the mistake of the bishop was that he did not cut her off from the flock. He failed to warn the flock, to announce to them that this woman was not a Christian. As long as she was calling herself a Christian, she could easily delude Christians in the church.”
Elder Athanasios makes clear that it is the bishop’s, and by extension priests and other teachers, responsibility to guard the faith. The rebuke to the bishop in Thyatira is a rebuke to those who are shepherds in the church and yet “tolerate” false teachings. In our day such examples are groups like “public orthodox,” “orthodoxy in dialogue,” and the many others deceptive groups that spread teachings which are clearly against those of sound doctrine, and yet they are allowed to remain and some shepherds even support them!
An opportunity for repentance, and time to do so, should be offered. Elder Athanasios teaches, “the time offered for repentance is necessary. I am only afraid that sometimes it may be too long. We often put up with all kinds of intrusions in the Church and remain silent. This is what is worrisome and this is precisely what the Lord complains about to the bishop. He reprimand is based on this point: you tolerate this woman and she is deceiving My faithful. Her teachings are demonic.”
Since there is stubborn continuation in willful sin, the Lord says, “Behold I cast her into a bed and those who commit adultery with her into great affliction, unless they should repent of her works. And I will kill her children with death. And all the churches shall come to know that I am the One Who searches the reins and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works” (Rev. 2:22-23).
It is written elsewhere, “For we know the One Who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will recompense, says the Lord,’ and again, ‘ The Lord shall judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:30). Those who willfully persist in spreading falsehood while at the same time posing as Christians will face a fearful judgment. The Lord warns us so that we may guard ourselves, and so that those who fall into such things may repent and find mercy and salvation.
The Prophet Jeremiah says of the Lord, “You are He who approves righteous acts, and see the reins and the heart, may I see Your vengeance upon them [workers of iniquity] …” (20:12).
The death that is referred to seems most certainly to be the second death, from which the Lord promised to save those who are faithful to Him (cf. Rev. 2:11, 20:6). That is, the ultimate end of persisting in perverting the truth is the “second death” (cf. Rev. 21:8).
“But to you I say, and the rest who are in Thyatira, as many as do not have this teaching, who did not come to know the deep things of Satan, as they say, I do not cast upon you another burden. However, that which you have, hold fast until I come” (Rev. 2:24-25).
The Lord reveals the root source of the teachings of this woman who is figuratively called Jezebel, and that source is Satan. A fearful warning. Are we in our day letting certain “deep things of Satan” into the church? May we examine our hearts well.
The Lord calls those who have not listen to Jezebel to simply hold fast to what they have, that is the Truth that they have. How encouraging is this for us today! May we be given the prudence and discernment to see those things that are false, of Satan, and may we hold fast to the Faith that has been given to us, “So then, brethren, be standing firm and holding fast the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:18). Every Christian is to “hold fast” to the Faith which has been proven by the saints. We are called to reject all else, even if it presents itself in Orthodox attire.
Elder Athanasios calls the faithful to vigilance, “Deluded individuals can say a number of good things. The devil, because he is the one that inspires them, is capable of telling you one thousand good things and one false thing. The one thousand good things do not outdo the one that will lead you astray. ‘God-inspired’ means all that is good, all that is correct.”
The “burden” is the Gospel (cf. Matt. 11:30), which does not change. All Christians are called to hold to it only. “The Gospel is the only burden … It is the faith of Christ – but complete faith of Christ – unadulterated, pure, handed down to us by the Apostles and our Church Fathers,” instructs Elder Athanasios.
“And the one overcoming and the one keeping My works until the end, to him will I give authority over the nations – ‘and he shall shepherd them with an iron rod; as the vessels of pottery shall they be shattered’ – as I also received from My Father. And I will give to him the star, the morning one. The one who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches” (Rev. 2:26-29).
Notice the continued action of “overcoming” and keeping.” This is a dynamic endeavor of one’s whole life. As it is written also, “He who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matt. 24:13). The end is our bodily death, the end of this fallen earthly existence.
The Lord quotes the Messianic Psalm 2:8-9. The believer participates by grace in the work of the Lord. “To him who does My work I will give power, as promised in the Gospel, over five or ten cities (Lk. 19:17-19) Or this indicates the judgment of unbelievers, through which those who have been deceived, being judged by the believers of Christ, will be crushed as a crock is by the rod: the men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it (Matt.
12:41). The words, ‘even as I have received from My Father,’ are spoken of His human nature, because of His acceptance of flesh” (St. Andrew of Crete, as quoted by Archbp. Averky).
Archbishop Averky gives this interesting interpretation to “the morning star,” “There are two interpretations of these words. The prophet Isaiah calls Satan the morning star (Lucifer) which fell from heaven (Is. 14:12). In that case, the words signify the dominion of the faithful Christian over Satan (cf. Lk. 10:18). On the other hand, the Holy Apostle Peter, in his second catholic epistle, by the ‘morning star,’ which shines forth in the hearts of men, means the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:19). In this sense, the true Christian is promised the enlightenment of his soul by the light of Christ and participation in the future heavenly glory.”
The reader is reminded that the seeming “difference” in the interpretations is not contradictory. In fact, in one image is conveyed the complete victory of the believer in Christ the Lord. Such is the depth of Scriptural interpretation.
May we indeed have the spiritual ears to hear.
This is part of an ongoing series that is studying the Seven Churches of Revelation. Please see “Seven Churches of Revelation” in “categories” for the preceding studies. Thanks!