During the apostle Paul’s lifetime, there existed a nondescript city called Thyatira, located within the modern-day city of Akhisar, Turkey, about 50 miles from the Mediterranean Sea. It was one of the many smaller cities that sprang up in Asia Minor after Alexander the Great destroyed the Persian Empire. In 190 BC, Thyatira fell to the Romans and finally gave itself completely to the Roman Empire in 133 BC. During this time, it became a communication center due to its location.
Although unremarkable in many ways, it was the area of one of the seven churches described in the book of Revelation. And while Thyatira was perhaps the least prominent of the churches in Asia Minor, Jesus Christ spoke more about it than any other individual congregation.
Revelation 2 states, “And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things says the Son of God, who has His eyes like unto a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass; I know your works, and charity, and service, and faith, and your patience, and your works; and the last to be more than the first. Notwithstanding I have a few things against you, because you suffer that woman Jezebel, which calls herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce My servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.
“And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am He which searches the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
“But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. And he that overcomes, and keeps My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of My Father. And I will give him the morning star” (vs. 18-28).
Although this passage appears cryptic, the history of the region makes the Bible’s message for those of the past era—and us today—extremely clear.
Religion Influences Commerce
The ancient city of Thyatira was one of the only places where an exotic purple dye was manufactured. While most purple dye was extracted from oysters, in Thyatira, it was derived from certain plants, resulting in a finer product.
According to historians, the water in the area was particularly suited for dyeing cloth. Because it was a textile city, merchants and dignitaries would travel for miles to purchase its brilliantly colored fabrics.
At the time, the costly purple fabric was considered a sign of status. The first Christian convert in Philippi mentioned in Acts 16:14 was a lady named Lydia who came from Thyatira. She is noted as being a “seller of purple.”
The production of this cloth and other textiles, as well as various other industries, was controlled by trade guilds. These guilds were closely connected to idolatrous practices, and financial security was assured through participation in their often-debauched events. This made it difficult for craftsmen who converted to Christianity to earn a living. The driving influence of Thyatira’s idolatry and decadence was its magnificent Temple of Artemis, constructed in honor of the pagan goddess Diana.
Historical accounts describe a highly influential woman in the city, called “Jezebel” by the apostle John, who was a follower of Diana. Over time, she became attracted to the true Christian Church and began advocating a message of compromise that included a show of faith in Christ while participating in guild debauchery. This ensured that a person could be prosperous without being ostracized.
Possessing great persuasive abilities, Jezebel began liberalizing the truth among Church members and introducing abominations (Rev. 2:20). Some pastors accepted and followed her teachings. The Bible records that she became known as a type of the original Jezebel in King Ahab’s time, who introduced abominable Astarte worship into Israel.
The Jezebel of Thyatira attempted to do the same to God’s spiritual Israel.
Beginning of an Era
Around AD 1160, Jesus Christ started preparing an individual in southern France to do the greatest Work seen since the first-century apostles. This would constitute the Thyatira era spoken of in Revelation 2:18-29. As had been the original city of Thyatira, this era was involved in the textile industry.
In Lyons, in southern France, Peter Waldo, a well-educated and wealthy merchant, was called to the truth. Fueled with conviction, he began to preach with great power and persuasion. Growing numbers of people believed and supported him. They were attracted to his ability to present the truth in a clear and understandable manner through the use of plain language.
Waldo and many of his “co-workers,” full of zeal for God’s Work, divested themselves of much of their wealth to spread Christ’s gospel freely to others. This involved dedicating a portion of their riches to pay for the Bible to be translated into the language of the time.
While these men called themselves the Church of God, the world around them referred to this group as the “poor men of Lyon” or, “those who made themselves poor.”
Those who supported Peter Waldo became known as Waldensians, even though many earlier Christians called “Waldenses, Vaudois” (meaning Valley Dwellers) or “Vallenses” had existed in southern France for several centuries before the Thyatira era began.
Peace Turns into Persecution
The work of the Thyatiran era flourished unhindered for about 19 years, even spreading into northern France and Holland.
But then resistance surfaced. Around AD 1180, the Archbishop of Lyons forbade them to preach in the area. After continued pressure for several more years, Waldo and his followers were finally driven out of Lyons.
But the Work did not stop. It spread and continued elsewhere.
Just as the apostle Peter had declared in Acts 5:29, “We ought to obey God rather than men,” so Peter Waldo’s leadership of the Thyatiran era continued to flourish in other areas including Italy and the French Alps. Instead of slowing, the Work grew greater!
A headquarters college was founded and ministers were trained and ordained according to biblical practice. Tithes and offerings sent in allowed much literature to be copied by hand and distributed freely. The Sabbath, Passover and other yearly festivals were observed, while obedience, honesty, overcoming, modesty, education and holding to all biblical teachings were a way of life. While those around them did not support their doctrines, at the same time, they could not dispute their conduct.
Because the Thyatiran era of the Church kept God’s Commandments and Holy Days, and emphasized character development, many of their enemies could find no ground to oppose them. Nevertheless, persecution continued.
The great false church—also known as the wicked “Jezebel” of this era—sought relentlessly to inject compromise, false doctrine, and heresy into the masses. In 1208, the Inquisition (Albigensian Crusade) was organized by the most powerful of all popes, Innocent III. This began the systematic decimation of the Thyatiran era. Faced with not only the loss of their livelihoods, but also their lives, many weak brethren “caved in.” They compromised and accepted “Jezebel’s” offer to commit spiritual fornication—just as happened in the early New Testament Thyatira Church.
Warning for Our Days
Incredibly, many in God’s Church in modern times have not taken the warning of the false church’s influence seriously and have sorely compromised the truth, even without persecution!
The Bible predicts that in the near future, far more severe persecution than what occurred during the Thyatiran era is coming. Those who are in a spiritually weakened Laodicean condition now will once again succumb to modern-day Jezebel’s demands or suffer martyrdom.
God’s anger is kindled against those who turn from Him and go into this world’s idolatry and spiritual fornication, treating Christ’s sacrifice with such contempt. But He also has great praise for the faithful, not only in the Thyatiran era, but also for this final era, which refuses to compromise and sets their hearts on supporting and preaching the true gospel—no matter the cost.
As Revelation states, “And he that overcomes, and keeps My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of My Father. And I will give him the morning star” (Rev. 2:26-28).
Those who overcome Jezebel’s fornication and idolatry are promised to a ruling role in the Family of God, and in His kingdom, which will bring God’s truth, happiness and prosperity to the whole world.
Strive for the day when all the works of the false church, Jezebel, will be banished and God’s eternal truth and government will reign forever!