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Thyatira, one of the seven churches of Revelation, is warned in Revelation 2:20 to resist someone referred to as the prophetess Jezebel, and not to allow anything to come between them and God: “…I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols".
Jezebel is mentioned in the Old Testament (see I Kings 16:31-33 and chapter 18) and also referenced in the book of Revelation because her story contains a warning for us today to resist becoming distracted or seduced by worldly values. It might seem irrelevant in the 21st century to talk about idolatry and paganism, as there are no longer temples to Apollo, Zeus or Artemis, but idolatry has not really disappeared, it has just changed its form.
Ancient Thyatira was a manufacturing center, located on a major trade route, which produced all kinds of goods and services. They even had trade guilds which were like modern unions, but the big difference was pagan deities were associated with them. Part of a person’s employment included attendance at the temple of your patron god, where worship might involve a meal with food dedicated to the pagan god and could also include immoral sexual conduct. All aspects of life in Thyatira was associated with pagan religious worship, and your success, prosperity and employment depended on honoring those gods.
The warning to the church at Thyatira not to compromise with idolatry is compared to what Jezebel did in ancient Israel, and it is very relevant for us today. For example, some modern churches have images supposed to represent Jesus Christ and other so-called saints. There may also be stained glass installations with images of angels and saints, and some worshipers pray and offer incense to these physical representations.
Christ tells the Christians in Thyatira, "I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first'" (Revelation 2:19). Evidently, some Christians refused to commit idolatry and did not participate in the worship of the pagan gods. They kept faith with God and had true love for one another. We are told their last works were more than the first, indicating there was spiritual growth and a commitment to their calling.
But who was this Jezebel in the church in Thyatira? Most commentators agree the passage is referring to a literal woman who called herself a prophetess, who was using her influence to lead others into idolatry. She, like Jezebel in ancient Israel, insidiously encouraged compromise with pagan cults, impacting the church and destroying spiritual lives. This woman had opportunity to repent, but she did not (verse 21).
How do we resist idolatry today? We have already mentioned the trap of worshiping or praying to a statue, painting, or an image depicting God or some holy relic. But other modern forms of idolatry can also be deceptive. We might cross the line into idolatry when the pursuit of God and His righteousness is not our number one priority. For example work could become all-consuming to the point of diminishing our relationship with God, and making it an idol.
We have to ask ourselves whether God is the first priority in our lives. When we worship anything other than the true God, we are in danger of entering into what Christ calls “the depths of Satan” (verse 24). We cannot allow any thought, desire, object or person to stand between us and our Creator. This is really the core thought of all the messages to the seven churches.
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