18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
19 “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. 24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come. 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 2:18–29 ESV)
Love. And faith. And service. And patient endurance.
This is a church that gets it right … even gets it better as time goes on! What a church!
But, they have a problem. “You tolerate that woman Jezebel,” Jesus tells them. Jezebel, wife of King Ahab the son of Omri, queen of the northern kingdom of Israel.
30 And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. 31 And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. (1 Kings 16:30–31 ESV)
A foreign queen, with her foreign gods, bringing even more idols to an already idol polluted land (Jereboam erected calves of gold at Dan and Bethel and commanded Israel, “Behold your gods, O’ Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”) — Baal and Asheroth. Elijah confronted Ahab and Jezebel — putting the 450 priests of Baal to death on Mt. Carmel. Eventually, long after Ahab dies in battle, Jezebel is tossed out a window and prophesy is fulfilled when dogs eat most of her body.
It is a constant theme in scripture, the intertwining of idolatry with sexual immorality. In Revelation, Jesus adds to that association the eating of food sacrificed to idols. The false teachings of this self-styled “prophetess” are leading some of the followers of Jesus astray, to practice sexual immorality (πορνευω). This Jezebel is the only named individual in these letters commanded to repent, and Jesus makes clear — she hasn’t and she won’t. She and those who cavort with her and even her children (are they small or grown?) will pay for their sins. Each will reap “as your works [εργα] deserve,” Jesus tell them.
And Jesus makes it clear — he will do this. Not us.
Because those who cavort and have even learned “the deep things of Satan” have time — they can repent. We can repent.
Repentance is a huge deal in these letters — five of the seven churches Jesus dictates these letters to are called to repent, with the other two basically being told to have faith and fear not in the face of their coming tribulation. I will say more about this when I am done with these reflections.
So, Jesus tells Thyatira, hold fast to the good things, to the love, faith, service, and patient endurance. He promises no extra burden to those who are faithful — which may mean he will inflict nothing else upon them, or that whatever comes will not seem a burden because of their patience endurance and faithfulness. (How about both/and?)
In return, those who conquer — those who are faithful unto death — will receive power and authority over the nations. And evoking Jeremiah 18, Isaiah 64, Romans 9 and 2 Corinthians 4, Jesus speaks of iron rods that can break clay pots. Pots formed and shaped by God, pots containing the great treasure of God, pots made and remade and broken. The dead in Christ are given the authority over the nations, and over the church, to judge. To break. To shatter.
But only the martyred dead. We the living are called … to love, to faith, to service, and to patient endurance. And that is all we are called to do.