My favorite morning coffee mug is the work of a craftsman. I have a whole shelf devoted to various cups and mugs. Most of them are machine made ceramic pieces of varying color and graphics but very little character. The one I gravitate to the most is a piece of hand thrown pottery. There’s just something about its authentic features that draws me to it. This particular mug came from Silver Dollar City in Branson Missouri. Silver Dollar City is unique among the various amusement parks that dot America. Sure it has roller coasters, rides, and shows. Along its pathways are also a variety of craftsmen demonstrating how things used to be made. Walking in the park you encounter blacksmiths, glass blowers, wood carvers, potters, and workers of leather. In a way, Silver Dollar City is a miniature but westernized view of Thyatira, the city where the fourth church in Jesus’ letter writing campaign resided.
Thyatira was a city of craftsmen, artisans, and labor. It was a city of industry and trade. For instance, in the Book of Acts Paul encounters Lydia, a seller of purple from Thyatira (Acts 16:14). As with any Greek city, there was idol worship although this was not the main draw as in Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum. To the church at Thyatira Jesus said, “The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this: ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. ‘But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. ‘I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. ‘Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. ‘And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. ‘But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you. ‘Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come. ‘He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also 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, NASB95) This is the longest of the seven letters so let’s get to it.
Jesus commends the followers at Thyatira for their deeds, their love, their faith, their service, and their perseverance. There is a sense of quality and genuineness in their community that continues to improve. Like a craftsman that is continually perfecting their trade, the followers at Thyatira continue to perfect the quality and effectiveness of their deeds and actions. We don’t know exactly what those deeds were. We can assume that they also stood fast against the culture of idolatry that surrounded them. But I also get the sense that they continued to learn how to craft deeds of love and service that were genuine, handmade if you will, and effective.
Jesus condemnation of certain issues at Thyatira takes up the bulk of the letter. Like Pergamum, they were allowing a false teacher in their community that was leading folks into sin. Jesus identifies her as a false prophetess along the lines of Jezebel. For those unfamiliar with Jezebel, her story can be found in 1 Kings 16 and following. Jezebel was the non-Jewish wife of the Israelite king Ahab. The histories record the many atrocities and ways in which Ahab and Jezebel led the Israelites away from God. The Old Testament Jezebel was a first-class manipulator and purveyor of witchcraft. It would seem that the Jezebel at Thyatira followed in the same foot-steps.
Jesus called the Thyatira Jezebel a self-proclaimed prophetess. In the early church, prophets and prophetesses were an accepted and desired part of church life. They are listed among the equipping ministries in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11. And women were included in this office as witnessed by Acts 21:9 and 1 Corinthians 11:5. At issue and evidently undiscerned by the elders at Thyatira was whether this particular gifting was from God. One of the themes of this letter from Jesus is discernment. This is evident in the imagery of Jesus’ eyes and in His declaration that “I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds” So, what was this Jezebel up to?
There’s a bit of folklore about Johnny Cash that goes something like this. Evidently, the then unknown Johnny showed up at Sun Records in Memphis Tennessee and tried to convince Sam Perkins to let him record a Gospel album. Now, Sam saw Johnny’s talent but had had his fill of producing Gospel records. The story goes that Perkins told Johnny to “go out a sin a little and then come back.” Essentially telling Cash that to be successful he would need to experience the world. Some Bible scholars speculate that the prophetess at Thyatira had the same kind of message. Something along the lines of, “if you really want to know grace and the deeper things of God you need to experience sin and the deeper things of Satan.” I’m sure that she veiled the lie in something more attractive like “know thy enemy.” Some, a remnant, saw through her disguise. But many did not and fell into immorality and idolatry.
It is interesting and instructive that Jesus gave her and her followers time to repent. That desire by Jesus tells us much about the Father’s heart. Recall these words in 2nd Peter, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9, NASB95) A changed heart that had turned back to God would have been the preferred outcome for Jezebel. We don’t know how long Jesus waited or how much damage He allowed her to cause. But, eventually, it came to the point where something had to be done and judgment was pronounced.
Prior to the promises for the overcomers, Jesus speaks directly to the faithful remnant at Thyatira, those that did not fall to Jezebel’s deception. To them, He says, “I place no other burden on you. Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.” Maybe Jezebel’s deception had caused doubt and fear to which Jesus is encouraging them to hold fast to the good. To the overcomers, Jesus provides two promises with an added condition. Jesus added, “and he who keeps My deeds until the end.” Overcoming is more than just surviving but continuing to labor for Christ even when everything seems contrary. The first promise is that they would reign with His authority. Perhaps that was the great failing at Thyatira, the elders may have been shepherding out of their own authority and not with the authority of Jesus. In this promise, we see authority that is given from the Father to Jesus and from Jesus to the overcomers. Recall that Jesus labeled Jezebel as a self-proclaimed prophetess, her authority was herself and her gift, not Jesus. Beware those whose authority comes from themselves. The second promise is that the overcomers would be granted the morning star. We don’t know exactly what that means. It could mean that they are granted Jesus like in the letter to Pergamum and the hidden manna. I wonder, however, if it doesn’t mean that they will always be granted the promise of the morning, of a fresh start, and a new beginning. That fresh start is what the church at Thyatira needed most.
What lessons in the letter to Thyatira can we apply to our lives today? There are obvious applications for church leadership in this letter, actually, with all seven letters. But, for our purposes, we need to put those aside and look as Christ followers. We too need to become a craftsman at deeds of love, faithfulness, and service like the followers at Thyatira; always looking to improve our effectiveness with genuine handcrafted quality. By handcrafted I mean that we should tailor our deeds to the person we are serving at that moment. One of the abilities of a craftsman is discernment, to see the result before the work is completed or in some cases even begun. We too need to be able to discern all that comes our way. Not a discernment that rushes to judgment or one based on personal likes and dislikes, but discernment based on God’s truth, love, and grace. Like Jesus, we also need to allow time for folks to grow and to find repentance for the sin that we see in them even when they may be blind to it. But, we also need to have ears to hear when Jesus says, enough is enough. Even then, however, we need to discern the Father’s heart for that person and His overflowing desire for restoration over retribution. Lastly, remember that Jesus highlighted their deeds, not only does our heart, our desires, our beliefs, and our proclamations matter but our actions matter even more. I feel that our actions need to flow from authentic quality and integrity, the right thing done the right way for the right reasons from a heart of love and compassion – that is Christ-like craftsmanship.