Thai was a very important cat. The Benjamin Franklin of his day, He was a scientist, inventor, statesman, diplomat and celebrity. Naturally, when Thai wanted to get married, he didn't have much trouble finding a wife. And important cat like him could have his pick of women. He married a siamese named Nivra.
Nivra was very happy at first, but her happiness soon turned to disappointment. Her husband was never home. It was all to infrequently he shared her table or her bed. He spent his time with politicians, heads of state, lobbyists, reporters, investors and other very important people. On those rare occasions when he was home, he was too tired to do anything but eat or sleep. He did not talk to his wife and did not show her affection.
When Nivra could stand it no longer, she took her kittens and moved in with her family, never to see Thai again.
It was weeks later when Thai came home to an empty house that he realized how badly he had neglected his wife, and that no amount of great works which he had done could make up for the lack of love he had given his wife and children.
Thyatira, as a geographic church, was in an interesting situation. Their city was a bustling one, full of all sorts of industry and commerce. But one of the biggest was the fortune-telling business. At the head of this industry was an oracle called the Sambathe. It isn't known what influence this had on the church, except that it wasn't good. The tolerance which the church had for a certain woman claiming to be a prophetess was rendering the witness of the church ineffective.
As a church age, Thyatira represents the latter part of the dominance of the catholic church. It runs from about 600-1520 and encompasses the dark ages, making it by far the longest of the seven ages.
The name Thyatira means "unweary" and "sacrifice". Thiatyra is commended for their tireless good deeds. Jesus praises them for the works, their charity, their service, their patience, their faith, and their works. Yes, He lists works twice, because that was what they excelled at.
The church of the dark ages is the same. It was well known for its treatment of the sick, provisiom for the poor, education where it was possible, keeping the scriptures and spreading the gospel.
But the dark ages catholic church had a major flaw. While it practiced what might seem like caring, it could also be very cruel. They did not believe that Jesus would return and set up His own kingdom. They believed, much as the muslims do, that it was their duty to conquor the world. And of course, it was their duty to start with anyone who called themselves Christians. The catholic church relentlessly persecuted those denominations who would not submit to their pope. The jessuits were created for three purposes. They were to educate, spread the gospel, and to put baptists and other "rebels" to death.
Why were they like this? Consider the name "Jezebel", whom Jesus mentioned. Who was Jezebel? she was the wife of King Ahab and arch enemy of Ezekiel. Jezebel brought the worship of Baal with her from Sidon. She not only worshipped baal and got Ahab to do it too, she supported Baal's priesthood. She then set about to exterminate the prophets of God. She killed many of them during her reign. She is also known for taking what she wanted. Because Naboth would not sell his vinyard to Ahab, Jezebel falsely accused him of cursing the king and had him stoned to death. In 1 Kings 21:25, we learn that Jezebel so urged Ahab to do evil that he was the "hitler" of his day- the standard by which all other evil is measured. But while Ahab was ashamed when he heard of Naboth's death and humbled himself before God, Jezebel was recalcitrant and arrogant to the last. At the command of Jehu, she was thrown out of her window by two of her own eunichs.
So here's what we know about Jezebel.
1. Introduced bad religion.
2. Killed those who remained faithful to God instead of agreeing with her.
3. Killed for the sake of gain.
4. Enticed others to sin.
5. Though Ahab humbled himself before God. Jezebel did not.
Now let's take a look at how the Thyatiran church fits into this lifestyle.
Bad religion- When the catholic church became the Roman state religion in 312, Many Romans simply put adaptors on their old religion. Thus, many elements of idol worship were slipped into Christianity. Among them: praying to the saints, elevating Mary to godhood, elevation of the priesthood, canonization of saints, infant baptism, sale of indulgences... the list goes on and on. Now I am not condemning catholics here. And if any catholics are offended by what I'm saying, I'm sorry to hurt your feelings, but it is my job as a preacher to sort good doctrine from bad and proclaim which is which.
Killed the faithful- The Thyatiran catholic church mercilessly persecuted and killed those who would not agree with their doctrines. When touring continental Europe, you can see the great cathedrals and monasteries which they built. You can also see the catacombs where the baptists met in secret for fear of their lives. (Just as an interesting aside, this is why most Baptist churches have dark interiors. The dark-ages baptists were comfortable with the cave-like feeling and carried it over into the traditions of church design.) Even after the reformation, this practice continued. Martin Luthor himself murdered baptists.
Killed for gain- The catholic church believed it had the mission of taking over the entire world in preparation for he coming of Christ. To this end, they waged war upon innocent peoples in order to further the spread of the Holy Roman Empire, not the least of which were the Jews.
Enticed others to sin- The original purpose of the confessional was as a form of discipline. You'd tell the priest what you did, then he'd tell you how to set it right and give you a punitive assignment which would help you to get your heart back on the right track. In the Thyatiran age, however, Confession came to be viewed more as a way of cleansing one's karma. It didn't matter what you did. If you came and confessed it, the priest forgave you and you were no longer guilty. The worst manifestation of this was the sale of indulgences, where a person could pay cash and get his forgiveness in advance, thus allowing him to go and punch someone in the face or sleep with his sister-in-law or steal a pair of really nice shoes from his neighbor, and remain guilt-free.
Humility- The reign of this spiritual Jezebel came to an end in 1520, at the time of the reformation. The church became aware of its sins. Many took a good look at what was going on and compared it to their bibles, and had to raise their voices in protest against these actions. It is from this that we get the word "protestant". But, just as the death of Jezebel did not stop baal worship in Israel, so the reformation did not end the heretical practices which had so long plagued the church. But that's another sermon.
So even though the Thyatiran church did great works for God, they earned His wrath because they were cruel to His children.
But there is a brighter side to this dark letter. While Jesus threatens the dominant denomination of the church with severe punishment, he also offers his encouragement to those faithful children of his who were meeting in catacombs and fearing for their lives. He knows how terrible it was for them, and He is very pleased that they have stood firm in the truth, not adopting the doctrine which He called the "depths of Satan". He would put no other burden onto them than that they stand fast and hold tightly to the faith. Their reward will be that THEY, not the catholic church, would be placed in charge of nations.
It is a source of great pride to me to be the spiritual descendant of those who stood fast and held to the faith to the point of death.
This week's challenge: There are a lot of challenges which could be formed from this passage. But this is mine. See if there is any area of your life wherein deeds are more important than people. Do you know of anyone whom you have treated poorly because they didn't agree with you, or because you thought you had more important things to do? Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 5.
23 "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,
24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
and if you're one of those folks who have been put off from Christ by a Christian being mean or cruel, be assured that they are not representing Christ. Jesus does not approve of such cruelty, and He loves you.
18 "To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.
20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.
21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.
22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.
23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you):
25 Only hold on to what you have until I come.
26 To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations--
27 'He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery' -- just as I have received authority from my Father.
28 I will also give him the morning star.
29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.