“Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.” (Revelation 2:22-23, N.K.J.V.)
The church in Thyatira was an active, vibrant church. Jesus Himself commended those Christians for their works, service, and faith (Revelation 2:19). He even said of their works, “The last are more than the first.” But there was one thing that He REALLY didn’t like about that church. The problem was, they had a certain false prophetess in their ranks who was holding sway over the entire congregation.
Jesus called her “Jezebel” and said that through her teaching she was seducing His servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things offered to idols (Revelation 2:20). How was she seducing those Christians to commit sexual immorality? She must have been encouraging them to partake in the idolatrous worship services of the pagan temples in Thyatira. Evidently some of those Christians were frequenting those services, perhaps in addition to continuing to meet for church and worship Jesus. That was scandalous because those idolatrous worship services featured “priests” and “priestesses” who led their congregations in lewd sexual orgies as a means of “worship.”
As for those Christians eating things sacrificed to idols, Paul taught that it was permissible for them to do that provided that certain rules were met. Rule #1: The Christian had to truly understand that an idol didn’t have any real power to corrupt food (Romans 14:14). Rule #2: Playing off rule #1, the Christian had to have a clear conscience about eating the food (Romans 14:23; 1 Corinthians 8:9-12). Rule #3: If the discerning Christian ate the food but in so doing caused an undiscerning Christian, one who didn’t have a clear conscience about eating it, to sin by following his example, that discerning Christian’s eating actually became sin because it caused that weaker Christian to stumble (Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:10-13). In the specific context of what was happening in Thyatira, those Christians were in sin for eating that food because some of them were doing much more than just eating the food. Again, they were actually participating in the worshiping of the idols to which the foods had been offered.
While there were legitimate prophetesses in the early years of the church age (Acts 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5), this woman in Thyatira wasn’t one of the them. Even if she did have the gift of prophesying, her prophesying should have been done outside the church because inside it women were prohibited from teaching (1 Timothy 2:11-12). It’s almost certain that “Jezebel” was a pseudonym rather than her literal name, but she was certainly cut from the same cloth as the notorious queen from Old Testament days. Lehman Strauss, in his commentary on The Revelation, even suggests that the same demon that had possessed the Old Testament Jezebel approximately a thousand years earlier possessed this prophetess in Thyatira.
Just as the male name “Judas” carries a negative connotation for good reason, the female name “Jezebel” does as well. The Jezebel of the Old Testament was the infamous daughter of Ethball, the pagan king of the Zidonians. When she married Ahab, the wicked king of Israel’s northern kingdom, she immediately set herself to the task of converting the Jews of the northern kingdom to the worship of the false god Baal (1 Kings 16:29-34). God, in turn, sent His prophet Elijah to fight against Ahab and Jezebel, and when Elijah proved very successful at doing so, Jezebel tried to have him killed.
In much the same way that Jezebel had plunged Israel’s northern kingdom into idolatry (1 Kings 16:29-34), the so-called “prophetess” in Thyatira was doing the same kind of thing in that church. And those Christians were heeding her! The situation wasn’t a recent occurrence, either. Jesus said, “I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent” (2:21). If that term “sexual immorality” should be taken literally rather than figuratively, it means that she herself was physically participating in those sex-driven worship practices in the pagan temples.
Consequently, since this woman had refused to repent, what was Jesus going to do to her? He was going to cast her into a “sickbed” and kill her children “with death” (2:22-23, N.K.J.V.). Interpreted literally, this meant that Jesus was going to strike the woman with a sickness that made her bedridden, and He was also going to bring premature deaths to those who followed her. If those who followed her were authentically born-again Christians, they would soon end up classified with the ranks of other Christians who committed “sin leading to death” (1 John 5:16-17; 1 Corinthians 11:27-30; Acts 5:1-11).
The lesson that we Christians should learn from what happened in ancient Thyatira involves those to whom we give an ear. If we are listening to (heeding, following) ungodly people and allowing them to control our lives to any degree, we are on very thin ice. To use the crude imagery that dominates Jesus’ words about the Jezebel of Thyatira, we had better not be caught in bed with someone whom God is about to judge. Therefore, let’s all examine our lives and ask God to open our eyes about any problem people to whom we are giving too much credence. And if He points out anyone to us and says, “Get out of bed with that person,” we had better do so before He ends our own lives prematurely.