And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
“ ‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But 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 refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ -Revelation 2:18-29
The danger was not necessarily inside the city. Nor was it from an obvious source. Outside the walls of Thyatira, lay a small shrine of white stone. Neither the Imperial Cult, nor the cults of the Pantheon held great sway in Thyatira. It was reasonably free of persecution and Christians could live there with little fear of practicing their religion.
Thyatira, the smallest of the cities, but the the recipient of the longest letter from Jesus Christ in Revelation.
The only major threat to Christians within Thyatira may have been the trading guild. They incorporated pagan practices into their business dealings. Members of the guid were expected to participate. It is debated how much of a threat this posed to the first century Christians who called the city home.
But just outside the city, within a mile or less, there was that little, seemingly insignificant shrine outside the city walls. It was the shrine of the Sambathe (pronounced som-both-eh), an oracle, not unlike the famous Oracle of Delphi. A witch, and seer, one who could glean knowledge from the gods, or a god, and pass it along to those who sought divine knowledge.
The Sambathe was not as famous as the Oracle of Delphi. In fact, shortly after the letter to the church in Thyatira was written, the cult of Sambathe seems to have suddenly and inexplicably gone extinct. We know hardly anything about them. It is as if they were suddenly snuffed out of existence. For example, did Sambathe refer to a title of a single oracle, or did the term refer to an order of sibylline oracles who attended the shrine outside Thyatira?
What we do know is that the Samabathe, like other oracles, would inquire of a god or the gods. In the case of the Sambathe, it was likely something related to the ancient Canaanite god Baal (pronounced bah-awl). By this time no one called Baal by his Canaanite name, but they were still worshipping him. Baal, like many gods, liked to stay relevant. As cultures changed with time, war, and language, so did the image and name of the gods. For example, you’re probably well aware that the Romans and Greeks had virtually the same pantheon of gods but called them different names. The Greeks’ Zeus was the Romans’ Jupiter, Artemis (Greek) was also Diana to the Romans, and Apollo was Mars, and so on and so forth.
Baal likely evolved into Apollo and that was the most prominent god worshiped in Thyatira, though it was not considered a center of power for any of the pantheon’s cults, meaning persecution from them would be almost non-existent.
Jesus says, “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.” Of course, Jesus is not referring to the Jezebel of nearly 800 years earlier, but a type of Jezebel existing in Thyatira and acting in a similar way to the historic Jezebel. And so, she is a metaphorical “Jezebel.” Just as Jezebel, the witch, a daughter of the witch-king of Sidon, had seduced and lead Israel into idolatry and spiritual adultery against Yahweh, so the metaphorical Jezebel was leading Jesus’ church into idolatry and spiritual adultery (unfaithfulness) against their Lord and Savior.
Jesus says that the church tolerates her. She is clearly a member of their congregation. And slipping in among the flock she has gained a foothold to begin to plant seeds of doubt, division, and discontent. “Don’t like what you heard from the reading and the sermon today, she coos in a young man’s ear. “Come see me in the shrine of the Sambathe. I’ll tell you you what you really want to hear.” To the young mother she says, “I’ll heal your infant son, even if the Lord God will not. You should not be kept from the power of the Sambathe simply because of a jealous god’s ego. If he will not heal your child, what right does he have to claim all worship.”
And so, one by one, the new and richest member of the church in Thyatira tempted the body of Christ to commit adultery with her husband. The pastor and elders turned a blind eye. She was giving a lot in the offertory. They could use the funds. Sure, they had heard that she was luring members of the congregation out to that old forgotten shrine outside the city walls. As long as she wasn’t performing her witchcraft within the church, what did they care.
And then it happened. She began to openly teach Sunday school. She held a prophetic revival. And next thing you know she was breaking out in spontaneous ecstatic tongues, and interpreting them herself. They dare not stop her, despite it being against the direct prohibition of the apostle Paul. She had given too much. She was too influential by now. A quarter or more of the congregation saw her as a prophetess. To deny her now would seem unseemly. There were, after all, appearances to be kept up. The mortgage on the church building was only half-paid. They needed her money, and the money of her followers. What were they to do.
Jesus, the one with eyes of fire and feet of brass tells them clearly. He will not allow it. They shall not tolerate her. He sees the members of the congregation who go to her in secret, listening to other words; words that are not the Word of God; words that pretend to be the Word, but are false and deceitful words, contradicting Scripture. He says that whatever they think they do in secret will be revealed by the all seeing gaze of His eyes like a flame of fire. And He is ready to stand with them through whatever trials they face as He has the feet of burnished bronze; feet tempered already by the heat of persecution and suffering.
But if they will not, then He will bring the Sword upon not only this Jezebel, this Sambathe, but also her children; those who follow and listen to her words over and against the Word of God. And if they will conquer, if they will reject her, refusing to tolerate her any longer, and refuse to listen to her any longer, instead listening solely to the Word of eternal life, then Jesus will give Himself, the morning star, to them. Rather than being killed by the sword, they will be given authority over the nations to rule.
Keep Christ’s Word. For within it are the words of eternal life. Fear not what this present age along with sin, death, and the devil have possibly to do to you. Their torment is for but a few years. This short, little season of Satan cannot even compare to the thousand year reign of Christ in all its goodness and plentifulness in the new heavens and upon the new earth.
Brandon is married to Becky and together they have two daughters and a son. Previously, he has served in the armed forces as an infantryman for seven years, from 2001-2008. In 2004, and again in 2007, he was mobilized for overseas deployments to combat zones where he ran force protection and peacekeeping missions, and would tell you he is still learning from those experiences. He has served in children and youth ministry, jail outreach, and as an officer on boards for evangelism and missions. In his spare time Brandon likes to read books about sin, grace, and faith. He also writes for the CHF blog, enjoys thought-provoking movies and shows, and has actually sipped craft beer so good he hopes it's the micro brew they serve in heaven. But his true passion, even if expressed in great weakness, is and always will be sharing the scandalous message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. None of us deserve it, but we are forgiven. This is most certainly true.