Bible Reference: Revelation 2:18-25
Heart of the Story: Jezebel was a false prophetess in the Thyatrian church. Intentionally, she led other members to sin.
Back Story: A small city, Thyatira is located in the fertile Lycus River valley of Asia Minor. When Christ spoke to the seven churches of Asia Minor, his message to the Thyatira church was the longest. Thyatira owed its importance to trade. Archeological evidence verified that Thyatira had guilds of woolworkers, linen workers, dyers, leatherworkers, tanners, potters, slave dealers, etc. Thyatira was the home of Lydia, a “dealer in purple cloth,” who Paul led to a saving knowledge of Christ (Acts 16:14-15). The city’s industrial base meant some women pursued careers outside the home.
Story Line: When Christ addressed the first century Thyatira church, he began by praising their love, faith, deeds, service, and perseverance. He noted that the members were now doing more than they did at first, indicating that they were growing spiritually. At the same time, Christ said that church members tolerated a woman he named Jezebel. Jezebel was a self-identified prophetess.
Thyatira church members sinned by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Most guilds had patron gods. Before banquets, guild members sacrificed to their god, food used in the banquet. As was common in the first century Roman Empire, banquets devolved into sexual orgies. Christ puts the blame for eating food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality on Jezebel. By her teachings she led church members into these sins.
Further, Jezebel abandoned God’s word to search for the deep things of Satan (Revelation 2:24 and ESV text note). She promised followers secret spiritual knowledge. Her actions and promises were similar to those of Gnostics, whose name comes from the Greek word for knowledge (gnosis). Gnostics believed they could triumph over Satan if they knew his deep secrets. Possibly, Jezebel claimed that followers could both triumph over the satanic world while participating in guild banquets if they didn’t believe in the false gods that their food was sacrificed to.
Ever gracious, Christ has given “Jezebel time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling to do so” (Revelations 2:21 NIV). In these words Christ seems to be saying that Jezebel’s sins didn’t start recently, but were going on for some time, e.g., she had time to repent. Further, Christ’s assertion that Jezebel is unwilling to repent implies that she is aware that her teachings and actions are counter to New Testament doctrine, but doesn’t care to change them.
Because Jezebel won’t repent, her outcome was dire. Christ will: 1) cast her on a bed of suffering; 2) make individuals who commit adultery with Jezebel suffer intensely unless they repent of their ways; 3) He will strike Jezebel’s children dead.
Casting Jezebel on a bed of suffering implies that she will become acutely ill and have to be in bed. Alternatively, her suffering may result from seeing her followers suffer and die. In all probability, Christ wasn’t referring to Jezebel’s biological children but to individuals who followed Jezebel’s teachings, e.g., also engaged in sexual immorality and ate food sacrificed to idols.
Analysis of the Relationships: The false prophetess Jezebel was the only person singled out for condemnation in Christ’s message to seven churches of Asia Minor. Likely Jezebel wasn’t her actual name. Christ named her Jezebel because like the Old Testament Queen Jezebel, she taught and seduced others to practice idolatry including sexual immorality.
Unlike a true prophetess, Jezebel’s primarily relationship wasn’t with God; it may have even been with Satan as she delved for dark spiritual secrets. Definitely, she put her relationship with followers over her relationship with Christ. Looking at Old Testament prophets, we see a different pattern of behavior. Hosea cared more about God than his wife; Jeremiah spoke God’s message to the point where he was flogged and placed in stocks.
Conclusion: Remember the American proverb, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Seeing an individual living a life of sin without apparent consequences is more likely to influence our own behavior than being taught that sinful behavior is wrong. The prophetess at Thyatira engaged in eating meat sacrificed to idols and in sexual immorality. She seduced church members with learning deep religious secrets so they could feel superior to others in the church. She was a prototype false prophetess for the 21st century.
Jezebel of Thyatira spoke heresy and was dangerous to the church in that town. If you want to read more about Bible prophets and prophetess, take a look at my book Lesser Known Bible Characters (http://CarolynRothMinistry.com/
Copyright: April 17, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth, All rights reserved.