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THE CHURCH IN THYATIRA
Scripture Reading: Rev. 2:18-29
Now we will continue by looking at Thyatira. Here I must especially emphasize that Ephesus came forth after the church in the apostolic age had passed away, and after Ephesus, Smyrna, and after Smyrna, Pergamos, and after Pergamos, Thyatira. The church during the apostles' time has passed, the age of Ephesus has passed, the age of sufferings has passed, and the period of Pergamos has also passed. Although Thyatira follows, the church in Thyatira will continue until the Lord Jesus comes back again. Not only Thyatira, but also Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea will continue until the Lord Jesus returns. In the first three churches there was no mention of the Lord's coming again, but in the latter four, the coming back of the Lord Jesus is spoken of in each case. Laodicea, however, does not speak of the Lord's second coming literally because of something particular concerning her, which we will explain later. The latter four churches will continue until the Lord Jesus comes again.
In the Bible the number seven signifies completeness. Seven is composed of three plus four. Three is the number of God; God Himself is three in one. Four is the number of the creature of God; it is the number of the world, including the four directions, the four winds, the four seasons, etc. All of these contain the number four. Seven means the Creator plus the creature. When God is added to man, that is completion. (But this completeness is of this world—God never puts seven in eternity. The number of completeness in eternity is twelve. Seven is three plus four; twelve is three times four. When God and man are put together, that is completeness in this world. When the Creator and the creature are joined together, then there is eternal completeness.) The number seven is always three plus four. The seven churches are divided into the first three churches and the last four. Three do not speak of the Lord's coming back, while the other four refer to the Lord's coming again. Thus, three churches belong to one group, while the other four belong to another group. The church in Thyatira is first among the four churches which will exist until the Lord Jesus comes again.
Thyatira means "the sacrifice of perfume,'' that is, full of many sacrifices. The words spoken by the Lord in this epistle become stronger and stronger. The Lord says that He is the One who has "eyes like a flame of fire'' (Rev. 2:18). Nothing can hide from His eyes. He is the light; He Himself is the illumination. At the same time He says that "His feet are like shining bronze'' (v. 18). In the Bible bronze signifies judgment. What the eyes see, the feet judge. All Bible scholars agree that the church in Thyatira refers to the Roman Catholic Church. This does not refer to the confusion which resulted from the marriage with the world in the beginning—that is now over. Now the situation has become so gross, so full of heresy and sacrifice. It is indeed remarkable how the Roman Catholic Church pays so much attention to behavior and sacrifice. The mass is their sacrifice.
The Roman Catholic Church, according to our observation, has nothing good, but God says, "I know your works and love and faith and service and your endurance and that your last works are more than the first'' (v. 19). The Lord acknowledges that there is reality in the Roman Catholic Church. Madame Guyon, Tauler, and Fenelon were all in the Roman Catholic Church, and we can mention many more of the best names. Indeed, there are many in the Roman Catholic Church who know the Lord. We should never think that there are none who are saved in the Roman Catholic Church. The Lord still has His own people there—of this we must be very clear before the Lord.
What we are taking note of now is how desolate the church has become in her outward appearance. First, we saw the behavior of the Nicolaitans; later, we saw that it developed into a teaching. But what about the church now? The Lord says, "But I have something against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, she who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and leads My slaves astray to commit fornication and to eat idol sacrifices'' (v. 20). Who is Jezebel? Jezebel was the wife of Ahab, who married her from the land of the Zidonians, the Gentiles. Jezebel seduced the people to worship Baal (1 Kings 16:30-32). Baal was the god of the Gentiles, not the God of the people of Israel. Jezebel told the people to worship the image of Baal. The problem was not just idols, but that God had been replaced. Baal was brought in and worshipped as their own god. In the history of the Jewish nation (Israel) up to 1 Kings 16, no one had ever led the people of Israel to sin in such a way as Ahab. Ahab was the first to lead the people to worship a Gentile god on a large scale. Not even Jeroboam could match him in the sins he committed.
Here we want to note who Jezebel is. Jezebel is a woman. The woman in Revelation 17 refers to the Roman Catholic Church. In Matthew 13:33 the woman who took the leaven and hid it in three measures of meal is also the Roman Catholic Church. Naturally, therefore, the woman in Revelation 2:20 also represents the Roman Catholic Church.
God never acknowledges the marriage between His people and the Gentiles as proper; God says that this is fornication. So Jezebel was not the queen; the coming together of Ahab and Jezebel was fornication. Fornication is confusion. What God sees is a woman who is confusing the words of God and the people of God. This woman brought in the god of the Gentiles. I have already said that the result of fornication is idolatry. The New Testament speaks of the conference at Jerusalem, the result of which was to exhort the Gentile brothers to abstain from meat offered to idols and from fornication (Acts 15:29). Here we see that the fornication of Jezebel brought idols into the kingdom of Israel.
Through Jezebel, Ahab was joined to the world. No matter where you are, it is apparent that the Roman Catholic Church unites herself with political powers. She sends out ambassadors and ministers to various nations, and in important world crises she stands up to speak. The uniting of the church with the world is the Roman Catholic Church. They claim that their first pope was Peter. But I think Peter would say that he was a disciple of the poor Jesus of Nazareth; the glory and honor of the world had nothing to do with him. Yet the Roman Catholic Church maintains her position in the world and commands respect from the people. The practice of the Roman Catholic Church within these more than one thousand years is, according to the James 4:4, the same as the greatest adultery. Here we see that the church has lost her virginity. Today there is a group of people who think that they can bargain with others since they have such a large membership. According to men it is a type of advancement for the church to be able to bargain, but according to God, it is sin for the church to gain what the world has gained.
What is the result? Idolatry. The facts are placed before us; there is not one church that is like the Roman Catholic Church with so many idols. We can say that the best class of idols is made by the Roman Catholic Church. I stayed in the city of Rome for one month. During that time I continually felt one thing: If theirs is the church, then ours is not; if ours is, then theirs surely is not. There is no middle ground for the two to come together. The remarkable thing is that they have fulfilled what has been prophesied in the Bible. There is an image of the Father and an image of the Son; there are images of the apostles and images of the ancient saints. They worship Mary; they worship Peter. Jezebel teaches the Lord's servants to commit fornication and eat the meat offered to idols. Jezebel is spoken of because the church has brought in Gentile gods. We can see this in the book entitled Mystery by G. H. Pember. Catholicism takes in Gentile gods and hangs the signs of Christianity upon them. The most evident is the image of Mary. Some think that at least Mary is of Christianity. But the fact is that Greece has a goddess, India has a goddess, Egypt has a goddess, and China has a goddess; every religion in the world has a goddess, except Christianity. Since there must be a goddess, they bring forth Mary. Actually there is no goddess in Christianity—the origin of the concept of a goddess is the Gentiles. So this is idolatry on top of fornication. This is Jezebel bringing in the things of the Gentiles to the kingdom of Israel.
She calls herself a prophetess because she wants to preach and to teach. The position of the church before God is that of a woman. Whenever the church has authority to preach, that is Jezebel. The church has nothing to say; in other words, the church has no word. The Son of God is the Word; therefore, only He has the word. Christ is the Head of the church; therefore, only He can speak. Whenever the church speaks, that is the preaching of the woman. The Roman Catholic Church is the woman preaching. In the Roman Catholic Church, what matters is what the church says, not what the Bible says or what the Lord says. It is quite remarkable that God says that Jezebel is the prophetess and the woman who speaks. "My slaves'' refers to individual slaves. Jezebel has the authority to direct every believer. The people in the Roman Catholic Church do not read the Bible, because they are afraid of misunderstanding what God means. Only the fathers can understand and only the fathers can speak; therefore, only they can decide all matters. Basically the Roman Catholic Church is the preaching of the woman who decides what the children of God should do. Many doctrines have been changed because she speaks for the church and people must listen to the church. She pays attention to the thought that people must listen to the church and pope, not that people must listen to the Lord.
In church history there were persecutions by the Roman Empire, and there were also persecutions by the Roman Catholic Church. When the Roman Catholic Church in Spain persecuted the children of God, we do not know how many she killed. The punishment applied during the Inquisition was cruel to the extreme. After people were brought to the point of death, they were turned over to the government gasping for breath, in order to show that none were killed by them. She will always make you accept her doctrine. The Jewish nation (Israel) had only one woman who killed the prophets, Jezebel. In the previous centuries we do not know how many witnesses died at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church. They claim that what they decide is always right. The people's ideas are entirely in their hands. The Lord said that the failure of Thyatira is due to the fact that she allows the teaching of Jezebel in her midst.
"And I gave her time that she might repent, and she is not willing to repent of her fornication'' (Rev. 2:21). They are still united with the world and filled with the behavior of the world. "Behold, I cast her into a bed'' (v. 22)—not into a coffin, but into a bed. A coffin means it is finished; a bed means it is not finished. It means that she will not be changed throughout her entire life. The patient cannot be cured and cannot be changed. Continuing in her present condition, she is incurable—this is the condition of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1926 Mussolini and the pope signed an agreement, setting aside the Vatican from Italy so that it could become an independent state, having its own court and police, etc. Believers in the Roman Catholic Church increase yearly. In China there is not one newspaper published by a Protestant church, yet the Roman Catholic Church owns a paper. Their number exceeds the Protestants by three or fourfold. In Revelation 17 we see to what extent this church will develop. Now it is undoubtedly becoming stronger and stronger. But the Lord says to His own people, "Come out of her, My people'' (18:4). What does the Lord say about those who have committed adultery with her and about her children? "I cast...those who commit adultery with her, into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works; and her children I will kill with death'' (2:22-23). These words probably refer to God's destroying of the Roman Catholic Church through the Antichrist and his followers. "And all the churches will know that I am He who searches the inward parts and the hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your works'' (v. 23).
"But I say to you—the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they say—I put no other burden upon you; nevertheless what you have hold fast until I come'' (vv. 24-25). "The rest in Thyatira''; although Jezebel is here, there are still the rest. When Jezebel set out to kill Elijah, Elijah was greatly discouraged upon hearing it. What did he do? He hid himself. Then God said to him, "What doest thou here?'' While he was murmuring, the Lord said, "Yet I have left me seven thousand'' (1 Kings 19:9-18). These are "the rest in Thyatira.'' When Jezebel lived on this earth, there was Elijah; in the Roman Catholic Church there have also been many who belonged to the Lord. Many were burned not only in Spain, but also in France and Great Britain. The blood of many was shed by the Roman Catholic Church. This is a fact. Today the Roman Catholic Church is still trying her best to persecute. Thank the Lord, there are still those who "do not have this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they say.'' The phrase "deep things'' in Greek is bathea, which means mystery. The Roman Catholic Church greatly likes to use this word. They have many mysteries or deep doctrines in their midst. These doctrines are not of the Lord, but are the words of Jezebel. The Lord will not put any other burden upon those who do not have this teaching, but they must hold fast to that which they already have. Hold fast "My works" which you have known—that is enough. Do not lose what you already have, "until I come.''
"And he who overcomes and he who keeps My works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; and he will shepherd them with an iron rod, as vessels of pottery are broken in pieces, as I also have received from My Father'' (Rev. 2:26-27). This is the first promise. What is the meaning of this? Everyone who tends sheep has a rod. When the sheep do not behave well, he can use the rod to beat them gently. Matthew 13:40-42 indicates that an angel will come and gather out of His kingdom all the things that offend, that is, use force to cast out all the things that are not right. But this does not mean that the nations will no longer exist in the millennium. We know they will still be there. Through the iron rod God will break these things into pieces.
God produces stones; man produces bricks. Bricks are very similar to stones. The tower of Babel was built of bricks. From the tower of Babel to 2 Timothy, all those who imitate Him are earthen vessels ("vessels of pottery"). The Lord says that the overcomer will shepherd the nations and break the earthen vessels in pieces. The word "shepherd'' means that something is not accomplished all at once but rather done by beating one by one as the need arises. This is shepherding. This sort of thing will probably be done continuously until the new heaven and new earth are brought in. The kingdom is the introduction to the new heaven and new earth. In the new heaven and new earth, only righteousness dwells. That is why the iron rod must be used to shepherd the nations and break in pieces all the things that come out of men.
"And to him I will give the morning star'' (Rev. 2:28). This is the second promise. The morning star is the so-called daybreak star in Chinese. At the darkest hour, just at the time the day is breaking, it appears for a little while, and then the sun arises. Many people see the sun, but few have seen the morning star. One day the Lord will be seen by the whole world, as recorded in Malachi 4:2: "The Sun of righteousness [will] arise.'' Before everyone sees the light, some may see it first while in darkness. This is what it means to receive the morning star. Just before the day breaks, it is really dark. But the morning star appears at that very moment. The Lord promises the overcomer that he will receive the morning star at the darkest time. This means that he will see the Lord and be raptured. When we see the sun, it is always during the daylight hours, but he who sees the morning star is one who makes a special point of rising to see while others are asleep. This is the promise to the overcomer.
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches'' (Rev. 2:29). The Lord is speaking not only to the Roman Catholic Church but also to all the churches.
In the first three epistles the calling to the overcomer comes after the phrase, "He who has an ear, let him hear.'' First there is "he who has an ear,'' and then there is the promise to the overcomer. But starting with Thyatira, the order is reversed. This proves that the first three churches are of one group, while the last four churches are of another. There is a difference between these two groups. Formerly, Smyrna came after the age of Ephesus had passed, and Pergamos came after Smyrna had passed, and Thyatira came after Pergamos had passed. But now Sardis comes even though Thyatira has not passed away. Thyatira will continue until the Lord comes back. Nor does Philadelphia come after Sardis has passed, nor does Laodicea appear after Philadelphia has passed. Rather, Sardis still exists when Philadelphia comes, and Philadelphia still exists when Laodicea appears. Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea will continue until the Lord Jesus comes again. The first three all came and went, but the last four emerge gradually and continue together until the Lord comes back.