The Seven Churches, Part VI : The Church of Thyatira

In our survey of the seven churches, we are now in the middle—there are three churches before Thyatira and three churches after it. The middle church is an appropriate place to analyze where we have been and where we are going. The messages to the seven churches were given to the seven churches in western Turkey during biblical times. They also represent seven periods of time between the time of the apostles and the end of time. During this time—with the exception of the great revivals that took place during the second advent awakening in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries—the course of the church of Christ since the days of the apostles has been mostly downward.

We see striking evidence of this fact if we look at the churches in sequence with the description given them by Jesus in the Revelation. The list would look like this: (1) Ephesus—the loveless church; (2) Smyrna—the persecuted church; (3) Pergamos—the compromising church; (4) Thyatira—the corrupt church; (5) Sardis—the dead church; (6) Philadelphia—the faithful church; and (7) Laodicea—the lukewarm church.

There is not much question about the period of the Ephesus church—the time of the apostles until the latter part of the first century. The Smyrna church covered the period of the great pagan persecutions in which “Paganism foresaw that should the gospel triumph, her temples and altars would be swept away; therefore she summoned her forces to destroy Christianity.” The Great Controversy, 39. This period lasted from the time of Nero (see Ibid., 40) until the edict of Milan in 313 a.d. We see, then, that almost immediately (less than ten years) after the edict of Milan, there was a tremendous compromising with the world by the Christian churches that lasted for over 200 years.

Tolerating Jezebel

When did the compromising have such an effect that the church could be described as corrupt? The church at Pergamos is described as a compromising church, but the church at Thyatira is described as tolerating the harlot Jezebel. This is a similar description to that of Babylon in Revelation 14:8; 17 and 18. The church is to be espoused to Christ and is to be presented as a pure virgin to Him at His coming. She is to have no other liaison or relationship.

“He who was our example kept aloof from earthly governments. Not because He was indifferent to the woes of men, but because the remedy did not lie in merely human and external measures. . . .

“Not by the decisions of courts or councils or legislative assemblies, not by the patronage of worldly great men, is the kingdom of Christ established, but by the implanting of Christ’s nature in humanity through the work of the Holy Spirit. . . .

“Now, as in Christ’s day, the work of God’s kingdom lies not with those who are clamoring for recognition and support by earthly rulers and human laws, but with those who are declaring to the people in His name those spiritual truths that will work in the receivers the experience of Paul: ‘I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ Galatians 2:20.” The Desire of Ages, 509, 510. [Emphasis supplied.]


When the church unites with the world instead of being united to Christ, she is called an adulteress in the Scriptures. When did the church compromise so much that she could be described as tolerating Jezebel in the church? Jezebel represents a union of paganism with the people of God—Israel—so much so that Jezebel—paganism—controls the people of God.

In the early 1980s, when it was being publicly debated whether the United States should have an official ambassador to the Vatican (as was established by President Ronald Reagan in 1984), it was stated that the Catholic Church is not just a church like Protestant churches. Rather, the Roman Catholic Church is both a church and a state government. Since Jesus said, as recorded in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world,” whenever a church also becomes a kingdom of this world, that church is allowing that which the founder of Christianity would not allow—a mixture of churchcraft and statecraft. Jesus taught a strict separation of church and state. (See Matthew 22:21.)

When did the church first engage in this amalgamation? By decree it happened first in a.d. 533 when Justinian, the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, legally recognized the bishop (pope) of Rome as the head of all the Christian churches. However, because of the Arian domination of some of the Roman Empire by the barbarian tribes—Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and Vandals—this authority could not be exercised by the bishop of Rome until a.d. 538 when the Ostrogoths, the last of the barbarian kingdoms, retired from the city of Rome. So the date when the church could be said to be corrupt by allowing in Jezebel with all her abominations would be a.d. 538.

The Dark Ages, a long period of time lasting almost 1,000 years—a longer period of time than that of any of the other churches—began in a.d. 538. The letter to Thyatira is the longest of the seven letters to the seven churches.

Addressing the Church

The title of the one addressing the church at Thyatira is “the Son of God.” Revelation 2:18. This is the only time this title is used for Jesus in the letters to the churches or in the entire Book of Revelation. It was during this period that Jezebel usurped the place and authority of Jesus in the church. Since the church at Thyatira had usurped the place of Christ, the witnesses of Jesus were put in dungeons and sent to stakes and inquisitions.

No longer does Jesus picture a Balak who has induced some of the leaders of the church to apostatize for worldly honor, as in the church at Pergamos, but rather, this church has a Jezebel at the very heart of the church. The antichrist has come right into the temple of God (the church, see Ephesians 2:19–22) and has seated himself there, showing himself that he is God.

A Little About Thyatira

Thyatira was located about 25 miles southeast of Pergamos. It was founded by Seleucus Nicator, one of the generals of Alexander the Great. It was a city built on the plains with no natural fortifications, such as Pergamos had, and was captured and destroyed and rebuilt many times.

When the Book of Revelation was written, this city was a manufacturing city, and its citizens were mostly poor, laboring people—just the opposite of Pergamos. In addition to various metallurgy industries, this was a center for dyeing cloth, especially of the royal purple. (See Acts 16:14.)

No Safety in Church Membership

There are many people who have assumed that if you belong to the church and stay with the church you will be saved. The letter to the church of Thyatira proves that this reasoning is false. Jesus predicts that he is going to destroy not only Jezebel but her entire family—all her children will be slain. (See Revelation 2:23.) If you are one of Jezebel’s children in character, even if your name is on the church books and you are professing to be a part of God’s people, the Lord says that you will be killed if you do not repent of your works. (See verse 22.) This letter shows that being part of the church by profession will not save you. If the church tolerated Jezebel inside of it, then all that participate in the works of Jezebel and do not repent will be killed.

There were some others in the church at Thyatira who did not have this teaching—that is, they did not tolerate Jezebel within their borders. They did not allow the amalgamation of the kingdom of God with the kingdoms of this world. Since they did not allow Jezebel within their church, “they did not have this teaching”—the teaching of Jezebel whereby the church and the state were united, forming an adulterous marriage between the church and the world. (See verses 20, 24.) As a result, they “did not know the depths of Satan” as the family of Jezebel did who claimed the right to be the teachers of all Christians. The Lord said to them, “I will not place on you any other burden. However, what you have hold fast till I come.” Verses 24, 25.

Character of the Professed

There are many lessons that we can learn from the instruction to the church at Thyatira.

First of all, in spite of the fact that there was a Jezebel in the heart of the professed church of Christ and the whole family of Jezebel who did not repent of the spiritual fornication taking place was destined to be slain, there were many Christians during the Dark Ages who lived up to all the light that they had and were commended for it by the Lord. Jesus says, “I know your love and faith and service and steadfast endurance, and your last works [are] more than the first.” Verse 19. This reveals clearly that the eyes of Him who has “eyes as a flame of fire” (verse 18) discern and detect not just profession of Christianity or profession of being members of the body of Christ, but Jesus detects the real character of the professed believers.

All the letters to the seven churches reveal this fact, and this fact shows us that in which Jesus is really interested. He values His church, not by the numbers of its professed believers or by the outward measurements that we use to evaluate, but by the character of His professed followers. He knows whether or not we have the first love. He knows whether our faith and love make us spiritually rich or poor. He knows whether or not our lives deny His character, whether we are spiritually dead or alive, whether our hearts are faithful, and whether we are hot, cold, or lukewarm.

The True Church

Second, Jesus knows what doctrines we are allowing to be taught in the church we attend. In the church at Thyatira, there were some people that would not go along with the teachings of Jezebel. In other words, they would not consent to an adulterous union of the church of Christ with the kingdoms of this world. As a result, not only were they excommunicated from the “church,” but they were also persecuted and martyred by the millions. They were told that they were cast out from the true church and therefore relegated to everlasting punishment, but actually, they were the true church.

These people were the true church at Thyatira, and Jesus addresses them as such. The counsel to them is as follows:

  1. They are referred to, in the King James Version of the Bible, as “the rest in Thyatira.” Verse 24. The Greek word translated “rest,” loipois, is the same Greek word that is translated as “remnant” in Revelation 12:17. They were the “remnant” or the “remaining”; that is, those who remained faithful in the midst of a worldwide apostasy.
  2. They did not learn, teach, or subscribe to the false teachings that resulted in Jezebel’s family knowing the depths of Satan.
  3. Jesus said, “I will not place on you any other burden. However, what you have hold fast till I come.” God did not expect as much of the Christians during the Dark Ages as He does of us. Most of them did not have ready access to the Bible, and gospel preaching was outlawed. God’s expectations are based upon opportunity. It is not good enough for any of us to say that our parents and grandparents did things in such and such a way, and they were good Christians, so it must be all right for us to do it that way also. Each of us is held accountable according to our opportunities.
  4. Those who conquered or were overcomers and kept unto the end Christ’s works would be given “power over the nations.” Revelation 2:26. During the Dark Ages, millions of Christians—the true church—were put to death by the various nations at the instigation of Jezebel and her family, but Jesus revealed that the time was coming when the circumstances of these Christians would be reversed. They would be the ones in power, and their former persecutors would be subject to their decision. (See 1 Corinthians 6:2.)
  5. The time is coming when the general to whose army these martyrs belong will shepherd the nations with a scepter of iron. (See Revelation 19:15.) After the manner that the persecutors have judged, they will be judged. They will be given a double reward for everything they have administered to others. (See Revelation 18:6; Isaiah 40:2.)
  6. The nations that have persecuted the saints, which will include every nation at the end of time, will be shattered in pieces or, in other words, completely destroyed. (See Revelation 16, 17, 18:7–24; 19:11–16.) The complete break-up and destruction of the old nations of this world must precede the new order of things that Jesus is coming to create. Before the first dominion can be restored to the church of Christ—the dominion of Adam before his fall and the kingdom of David with Christ ruling as King of kings and Lord of lords—He must bring to an end all rule, authority, and power. (See Revelation 19:16–21; 1 Corinthians 15:24.)
  7. The climax of the promise to the remnant or the faithful in Thyatira is that they will receive the Morning Star. (Revelation 2:28.) There are many morning stars written about in the Bible. (See, for example, Job 38:7.) The covering cherub, Lucifer, was one of these morning stars. (See Isaiah 14:12—the literal translation is “daystar,” “morning star,” or “shining one.”) In the future life, there will be those among the saved who are described as stars (see Daniel 12:3; Matthew 13:43), but when the Bible speaks of the Morning Star in the singular or, in other words, the Chief Star of the morning, it is referring to Jesus Christ. (See 11 Peter 1:19; Revelation 22:16.) He is the Royal Star that arose out of Jacob. He is the Daystar that changes night to day.

The morning star rises during the darkest part of the night, just before dawn. To those who lived during one of the darkest periods of earth’s history—“such persecution as the world had never before known,” The Desire of Ages, 631—was given the promise that they would receive the Morning Star—the Arbiter of all destinies; the General of all battles; the Ruler of all rulers; the Creator of the heavens and of the earth; the One whom the Father has appointed as the Heir of all things; the One who created the entire universe and Who upholds numberless worlds, solar systems, and galaxies by the Word of His power; the One who by Himself made a purification for our sins and Who sits on the right hand of His Father’s throne. This One unites His interest, presence, sustaining power, and grace with His torn, bleeding, scattered, persecuted flock who have been excommunicated, denounced, proscribed, persecuted, and sentenced to death by the professed church of Christ.

“Through the agency of Romanism, Satan took the world captive. The professed church of God was swept into the ranks of this delusion, and for more than a thousand years the people of God suffered under the dragon’s ire.” The Signs of the Times, November 1, 1899.

False Teachings Transmitted

Third, Jesus understands how false teachings and practices are transmitted from generation to generation. The tragedy and abomination of Jezebel in the church includes the fact that she has children. The false teaching and doctrine that Jezebel brought into the church in the past has been handed down by her children from generation to generation and will have to be dealt with by God’s people in the end of time. These false doctrines are what have caused a shaking among God’s people today.

“God’s Spirit has illuminated every page of Holy Writ, but there are those upon whom it makes little impression, because it is imperfectly understood. When the shaking comes, by the introduction of false theories, these surface readers, anchored nowhere, are like shifting sand. They slide into any position to suit the tenor of their feelings of bitterness.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 112.

In the final generation, the great mother harlot is spoken of as having “daughters” who are also harlots. (Revelation 17:5.) As already demonstrated, a church becomes a harlot when she becomes joined to a state government instead of being joined only to Christ, as was the apostolic church in the first century. The result of churches becoming joined to state governments always results in persecution of non-conformist Christians and churches. The threatened judgments in the letter to Thyatira include not only the mother but also all the daughters—the entire family of Jezebel will be destroyed. This is Christ’s own verdict on all churches that retain the teachings and practices introduced into the church by Jezebel.

They may claim to have separated from Jezebel, but if they still cling to any of her doctrines and practices, and commit spiritual fornication with the kings and nations by uniting with them when opportunity presents itself, they will receive the same punishment as Jezebel herself. These threatened judgments, then, include all Christians and all Christian churches—including Seventh-day Adventist churches that refuse to give up all the doctrines and practices introduced into the church by Jezebel.

End of Time Challenges

The following quotations show that the church in the end of time will have to deal with the same theological controversies with which the church of Thyatira had to deal.

“Past history will be repeated; old controversies will arouse to new life, and peril will beset God’s people on every side. Intensity is taking possession of the human family.” Review and Herald, August 31, 1897.

“Old controversies which have apparently been hushed for a long time will be revived, and new controversies will spring up; new and old will commingle, and this will take place right early. The angels are holding the four winds, that they shall not blow, until the specified work of warning is given to the world; but the storm is gathering, the clouds are loading, ready to burst upon the world, and to many it will be as a thief in the night.” Special Testimonies, Series A, No. 01b, 38.

“In history and prophecy the Word of God portrays the long continued conflict between truth and error. That conflict is yet in progress. Those things which have been, will be repeated. Old controversies will be revived, and new theories will be continually arising.” Selected Messages, Book 2, 109.

“The last great conflict will be short, but terrible. Old controversies will be revived. New controversies will arise.” Ibid., Book 3, 419.

Searches Affections and Minds

Fourth, Jesus understands the issues that will determine the eternal destiny of every professed church member. No one is saved because he or she professes to be a Christian or because his or her name is on the church books of any church. “It is the character, not the placing of our names on the church books, that makes us Christians.” The Upward Look, 28.

Jezebel claims to be a prophetess and a teacher of God’s people, but she teaches them to break the Law of God. (See Revelation 2:20.) The fact of her professed membership and leadership of God’s true church will not keep her and her children from the great tribulation that Christ will bring upon her for refusing to repent of her sins. (See verse 22.) The punishment of Jezebel and her children is going to be just as worldwide and well known as the sin was worldwide and well known—all the churches are going to know that Jesus is the One who searches the affections and minds (literally the “kidneys and hearts”). (See verse 23.)

In ancient times, the kidneys were thought to be the seat of the will and the affections, and the heart was thought to be the seat of intellect. So, using speech that they understood, Jesus is telling us that He is the One who searches the will and affections and intellect. In other words, He is the One who searches both the thoughts and the emotions or feelings.

Moral Character

“The thoughts and feelings combined make up the moral character.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 310. Jesus is teaching us here that it is our moral character that will determine our eternal destiny. Our thoughts and our feelings find expression in our works or actions. So, when Jesus says, “I will give to each of you according to your works,” He is saying, “I will reward each of you according to your character.” If we say it in the simplest way, character determines destiny. (See Christ’s Object Lessons, 74.)

Hold Fast

Fifth, Christian excellence is an attainment that requires holding fast. It is very easy when most of the church is compromising, as was the Pergamos church, to begin to compromise with the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitans in order to retain friendship with others who are compromising.

“Many are the ways by which Satan works through human influence to bind his captives. He secures multitudes to himself by attaching them by the silken cords of affection to those who are enemies of the cross of Christ. Whatever this attachment may be, parental, filial, conjugal, or social, the effect is the same; the opposers of truth exert their power to control the conscience, and the souls held under their sway have not sufficient courage or independence to obey their own convictions of duty.” The Great Controversy, 597.

It is very easy, in times of persecution, to begin to compromise to avoid trouble, loss, and suffering. But compromise, once started, never seems to end. The devil continually agitates for even more compromise. This is the way Babylon developed in the first place. There will be an army of people in the last generation just as there was in Thyatira who will hold fast.

“There will be an army of steadfast believers who will stand as firm as a rock through the last test.” Selected Messages, Book 3, 390. If we are going to stand firm as a rock then, we must stand firm as a rock now. “Those who would not receive the mark of the beast and his image when the decree goes forth, must have decision now to say, Nay, we will not regard the institution of the beast.” Early Writings, 67. [Emphasis in original.]

“We must know individually the prescribed conditions of entering into eternal life. We must know what is the voice of God, that we may live by every word that proceeds out of his mouth. We cannot allow these questions to be settled for us by another’s mind, or another’s judgment. We must search the Scriptures carefully with a heart open to the reception of light and the evidences of truth. We cannot trust the salvation of our souls to ministers, to idle traditions, to human authorities, or to pretensions. We must know for ourselves what God has said.” Review and Herald, March 8, 1887.

You Must be Faithful

Sixth, this letter contains a clarion call for Christian fidelity in the midst of an internal apostasy within the borders of the church as well as the unbelief of the world. The counsel is, if you have been part of Jezebel’s family by your teachings or practices, you must repent. And if you have been part of the remnant who have not partaken in the apostasy, then you must hold fast to the truth that you understand and be faithful to the truth that you know until Jesus comes. You must be faithful to the end. You must be an overcomer, a conqueror in the battle for Christian character, and you must keep until the end the works (character) of Christ. It is required that you be faithful. (1 Corinthians 4:2; Matthew 24:13.) Every church member must be an overcomer if he is to be retained in the church when it becomes triumphant.

One with Him

Seventh, as Christians, we are united in a close fellowship with our Captain, Lord, and King—Jesus Christ—closer fellowship than exists between any earthly general and his troops. As we are united in battle and war, we will be united in victory and triumph at the end. In this world, we are together in witnessing to the truth of the gospel. We are together at the stake, the prison, the dungeon, and the headsman’s chopping block. We serve our Lord here in the midst of great tribulation with many tears and temptations. We are crucified together; we die together and are buried together. (See Romans 6.) But we are destined to rise together, to live together, and to be glorified together. As we become one with Him in heart, life, and suffering, we are destined to become one with Him in triumph and glory.

Broken to Shivers

We open our affections and minds to be searched by the Lord, but we also have the promise that we will be part of the future victory. When reigning with Christ, all opposition will be shattered into fragments. Our weapons are not fleshly, but spiritual and mighty through God. Our watchwords, if we are part of the remnant, will be: “The Word of God only! The cross of Christ only! The might of the Spirit only!”

The day of Christ’s triumph will become the day of our triumph. The enemy someday will flee, and the armies of the living God will take the field. The ultimate triumph will involve the breaking into shivers all opposition from Jezebel and her children. If we suffer with Him now, we will reign with Him then.

In that day, those who have raged against our Lord Jesus Christ will be broken into shivers, as the vessels of the potter. Then the dominion will be given to the saints of the Most High. Let us all remember from the letter to Thyatira that we each one have a dreadful alternative between which we now stand—either we will reign with Christ or, if we have clung to any of the teachings or practices of Jezebel, we will be broken to shivers.

[Some Bible texts quoted are literal translation.]

Pastor Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at:, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.