Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 2:18–23

Revelation 2:18–23
“To the angel of the church in Thyatira write the following:
“This is the solemn pronouncement of the Son of God, the one who has eyes like a fiery flame and whose feet are like polished bronze: 19 ‘I know your deeds: your love, faith, service, and steadfast endurance. In fact, your more recent deeds are greater than your earlier ones. 20 But I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and by her teaching deceives my servants to commit sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent, but she is not willing to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Look! I am throwing her onto a bed of violent illness, and those who commit adultery with her into terrible suffering, unless they repent of her deeds. 23 Furthermore, I will strike her followers with a deadly disease, and then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts. I will repay each one of you what your deeds deserve.”
 (NET Bible)

The Church at Thyatira

People who are involved in questionable activities routinely hide them. Perhaps for a time they succeed, and no other person knows what they are doing. More than a few of these wrong-doers make the leap in thinking that God is busy elsewhere and does not know. When lightning did not fall from heaven after the first day, they felt emboldened.

But Jesus is not absent from his church; he graciously allows time for repentance. But time is running out!

Thyatira was a town which included a Roman military garrison at a road crossing. Trade guilds were especially strong in the city. Grant Osborne says, “Each craftsperson (merchants, tanners, potters, bakers . . . etc.) was part of a ‘guild,’ and though they were not obligatory, few workers failed to belong, for the guilds were centers of social life as well as commerce.”[1] The problem for Christians lay in the fact that each guild had a patron god or goddess, and their frequent feasts were religious in nature. A sexual component to such celebrations would be nothing unusual.

Jesus commends the church for its deeds and notes that it is getting stronger with time (2:19). But then he turns his burning gaze to the church’s greatest problem: “that woman Jezebel” (2:20). No woman of the Old Testament had a more evil reputation than Jezebel, so the use of that symbolic name is ominous. The NET Bible Notes say, “Jezebel was the name of King Ahab’s idolatrous and wicked queen in 1 Kings 16:31; 18:1–5; 19:1–3; 21:5–24.”[2] She was a figure of profound evil and God struck her with judgment; both facts fit the woman in Thyatira. Would she repent?

The church was guilty of tolerating this self-proclaimed prophetess, who was using that toleration to lead Christians into sexual immorality and into eating food sacrificed to idols (2:20). This set of practices is probably the very same as the hated teachings of the Nicolaitans in the churches at Ephesus (2:6) and Pergamum (2:15).

In spite of the severity of her behavior, Jesus has given the woman called Jezebel time to repent (2:21). This reminds us of the “wealth of his kindness, forbearance, and patience” (Rom. 2:4). But Jezebel proved unwilling to repent (2:21).

The result of Jezebel’s refusal was swift. Jesus had warned Pergamum, “but for Thyatira the coming judgment is announced as a fact.”[3] Her violent illness was an object lesson to those committing adultery with her that they must repent or take the grim consequences (2:22). This again is God’s grace promoting repentance! Unless they repent, they may expect “terrible suffering” (2:22).

If Jezebel’s illness were an object lesson for the benefit of the other fornicators, then what Jesus pledges to do to those followers — unless they repent — will serve as an object lesson to all the churches: “all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts” (2:23). The Greek text says Jesus threatens to “kill with death” the unrepentant followers of Jezebel, but that phrase generally means “divine judgment of a plague or pestilence.”[4] Jesus knows what is going on in all the churches, and “I will repay each one of you what your deeds deserve” (2:23).

What Jesus promises to those who hold on until he comes is that they will share his rule over the nations. The wording of Rev. 2:26–27 paraphrases Psalm 2:8–9. Such co-ruling believers — probably including all believers through the ages — will have important new responsibilities. Craig Keener says, “They are not only a kingdom and priests (1:6; 5:10) but those who will reign with him (5:10), both during the thousand years (20:6) and eternally (22:5).”[5]

The final gift to the conquering believers is that, in Christ and with Christ, we who trust in him are all conquerors!

To conquer you must serve Christ!

In some ways America is set up to encourage the example set by the guilds of Thyatira and Jezebel. Our economic system greatly rewards those who do whatever it takes to maximize the bottom line. And we regularly find out that certain corporate and public leaders arrange wild parties, often at public or shareholder expense. Jezebel and the Thyatiran guildsmen would feel right at home. Christians invited to take part in all these things should remember the eyes like a fiery flame (2:18) that see all we do.

Jesus knows what the score is! He says: “I am the one who searches minds and hearts. I will repay each one of you what your deeds deserve.” (Rev. 2:23). If you want to conquer, serve Christ every moment!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 151.

[2] NET Bible Notes for Revelation 2:20.

[3] Osborne, Revelation, 158.

[4] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 135.

[5] Keener, Revelation, 135-136.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!