Commentary on Revelation 2:18-29

Notes (NET Translation)

18 “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:

This is the sole reference to Christ using the title “the Son of God” in the entire book of Revelation. It proclaims Christ’s exalted status over against the local worship of Apollo Tyrimnos, “which was merged with that of the emperor (identified as Apollo incarnate) so that both were acclaimed as sons of Zeus” (Mounce loc. 1921-2). The description of Christ comes from 1:14-15. “Polished bronze” was a refined type of brass manufactured by the local guild of Thyatira for use by the military. Apollo was often depicted as a warrior god astride a horse and armed with a double-bladed battle-ax. Therefore, the term may be used to say that Christ, not Apollo, is the true divine warrior.

19 ‘I know your deeds: your love, faith, service, and steadfast endurance. In fact, your more recent deeds are greater than your earlier ones.

“Love” and “faith” provide the motivation for Christians to exhibit “service” and “steadfast endurance.” “Service” (diakonian) refers to a life of care towards others. In contrast to the Ephesians (2:4-5), the more recent deeds of the church in Thyatira are greater than their earlier deeds.

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.

Queen Jezebel of the Old Testament compromised Israel’s relationship with God by fostering the idolatrous worship of Baal and Asherah (1 Kings 16:31-34; 18:19; 21:25-26; 2 Kings 9:22). Likewise the false prophetess in Thyatira, nicknamed Jezebel, told her followers to accommodate pagan religious practices. Her sins, sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols, are similar to those of the Balaamites and Nicolaitans (2:14-15) but she is further criticized for false prophecy and false teaching. It is possible that the reference to sexual immorality is a figurative reference to idolatry. G. K. Beale explains why it may have been harder for the Christians in Thyatira to resist these temptations than Christians in many other parts of the Roman Empire:

It may have been especially problematic in Thyatira, since that city was the economic hub of a large number of prosperous trade guilds. The city had a guild for almost every trade, and most people involved in any economic activity belonged to one guild or another. And, since all the guilds had patron deities, Christian guild members would be expected to pay homage to pagan gods at official guild meetings, which were usually festive occasions often accompanied by immoral behavior. Nonparticipation would lead to economic ostracism. This economic factor was likely the reason that the teaching of Jezebel gained such a following. (Beale 261)

In some ways the judgment of Jezebel prefigures Babylon in chapter 18: fornication (2:20-21; 18:3, 8-9), deception (2:20; 18:23), the command not to participate in her sins (2:22-23; 18:4, 8), and that God judges everyone according to their deeds (2:23; 18:6).

21 I have given her time to repent, but she is not willing to repent of her sexual immorality.

This verse implies that Jezebel had been active for some time.

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.

Illness was a way to symbolize suffering. With this in mind we can see that both Jezebel and her followers (“those who commit adultery with her”) are in line for the same kind of punishment unless they repent. This punishment could be a present judgment (from the readers’ perspective) or a final judgment.

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.

The Greek literally refers to Jezebel’s “children” but the NET is correct in taking this to mean her followers rather than her biological offspring. “It is not personal vindictiveness against the woman’s own offspring that concerns Christ, but the necessity to bring an end to those who have become her spiritual offspring” (Fee 40). The Greek also literally refers to her children being struck dead, rather than struck with a deadly disease. While certainty cannot be had, this may refer to literal death. The judgment of Jezebel serves as an example for the other churches to know Christ’s power in judgment. The eyes like a fiery flame (2:18) are explained here as Christ’s ability to search minds and hearts (literally “kidneys and hearts,” a stock phrase for a person’s inner being). In the second sentence of this verse the pronouns are switched and are directed at all the readers, not just the heretics.

24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, all who do not hold to this teaching (who have not learned the so-called “deep secrets of Satan”), to you I say: I do not put any additional burden on you. 25 However, hold on to what you have until I come.

Outside of tolerating Jezebel and her followers the church in Thyatira is doing well. Jezebel and her followers may have used the phrase “deep secrets of Satan” but I think it is more likely that they used the phrase “deep secrets of God” and Revelation changed “God” to “Satan” in order to point out the true nature of these secrets. The phrase may also refer to the idea, held by Jezebel, that Christians could participate to some degree in idolatrous situations, thus having some experience with the Satanic or demonic realm, without suffering spiritually. The language of not placing additional burdens on the Thyatirans is similar to the language of Acts 15:28-29: “For it seemed best to the Holy Spirit and to us not to place any greater burden on you than these necessary rules: that you abstain from meat that has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what has been strangled and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from doing these things, you will do well.”

26 And to the one who conquers and who continues in my deeds until the end, I will give him authority over the nations – 27 he will rule them with an iron rod and like clay jars he will break them to pieces, 28 just as I have received the right to rule from my Father – and I will give him the morning star. 29 The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

The promises in these verses draw on Psalm 2:8-9, which was interpreted messianically by both Jews and Christians in the first century. Christians are promised that they will rule along with Jesus the Messiah (cf. Ps 149:5-9; Isa 60:14; Dan 7:14, 18, 27; Mt 5:5; 19:28; Lk 22:30; 1 Cor 6:2-3; 2 Tim 2:12; Rev 1:6; 3:21; 5:10; 20:4, 6), who is the morning star (22:16; cf. Num 24:17). This rule takes the form of participating in the final judgment as part of the armies of heaven in the destruction of the wicked (17:14; 19:14). Beyond this it cannot be said exactly what role the saints will play in the final judgment. To say that the saints will be given the morning star may mean a few different things: (a) they share in the glory given to Jesus the Messiah, (b) they will be in his presence, or (c) they will inherit the new age that fulfills their hopes after the “night” (present age) of longing and expectation. Another possibility involves a statement against Rome. “Roman legions carried the symbol of Venus [the morning star] on their banners to depict Roman invincibility. In this context Christ would be saying that the only final sovereignty and power lay with himself and his victorious followers” (Osborne 168).

Bibliography

Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

Boxall, Ian. Revelation of Saint John, The. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Baker Academic, 2009.

Brown, Raymond Edward, ed. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Pearson P T R, 1991.

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Kindle ed. New Covenant Commentary Series. Cascade Books, 2010.

Koester, Craig R. Revelation and the End of All Things. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001.

Metzger, Bruce M. Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993.

Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Revised. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Osborne, G. R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

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