In Part 3 of The letter to the church in Thyatira, we’ll look at the “But …” section. Things Jesus knows about the church. But unlike the Divine Knowledge of the previous section, this is not good news. In this case, it starts off with Jesus saying, Nevertheless, I have this against you. Is that as bad as it sounds? Let’s find out!
I have this against you
Before we resume with the letter to the church in ______, here’s the breakdown for this particular letter.
|To||the angel of the church in Pergamum|
|From||him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.|
|Divine Knowledge||I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.|
|But -||Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.|
|So -||Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.|
|Hear||He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.|
|To those who overcome||To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.|
But … for the church in Thyatira
In spite of the list of things Jesus said they were doing, He still says:
Rev 2:20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.
The church in Thyatira is tolerating a false prophetess. Someone who, as Jesus warns during His time of earth, will mislead followers. Jesus says He has given her time to repent, but she is unwilling to do so.
What does all that mean? To find out, let’s go back to the Old Testament to learn about Jezebel and what she could represent in the Thyatira church.
Jezebel – the Old Testament
Jezebel – from Easton’s Bible Dictionary
… the daughter of Ethbaal, the king of the Zidonians, and the wife of Ahab, the king of Israel (1 Kings 16:31). This was the “first time that a king of Israel had allied himself by marriage with a heathen princess; and the alliance was in this case of a peculiarly disastrous kind.
A new low for the Israelite Kings. Ahab was the eighth king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
While it’s tempting to think this was a surprise to the Israelites, it really should not have been unexpected. Just think back to when the Israelites first wanted a human king, rather than God. They were warned. Big time. But they wanted a human king anyway. What follows is a classic case of “be careful what you ask for”. Especially when we should know better.
Israel Asks for a King
The people wanted a human king because that’s what everyone else had. They didn’t appreciate the special relationship they had with the Creator of everything. God warned them what would happen, as we read below.
1Sa 8:10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day. ”
1Sa 8:19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
1Sa 8:21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. 22 The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”
Then Samuel said to the men of Israel, “Everyone go back to his town.”
The people got what God warned them they’d get.
This should remind us, before we get to Jezebel herself, we need to be careful of people who even want to be involved with her (or someone like her). Yes, we are to be in the world. But then, we’re not supposed to be of the world. That can be a pretty fine line. We’ve already seen what happens when false teaching is tolerated in the church in Pergamum, as opposed to Ephesus where the false teaching did not lead them astray.
So let’s keep going here to see about the church in Thyatira.
Jezebel has stamped her name on history as the representative of all that is designing, crafty, malicious, revengeful, and cruel.
This is the second time in the seven letters that we’ve seen someone who’s essentially the dictionary definition of something bad.
She is the first great instigator of persecution against the saints of God. Guided by no principle, restrained by no fear of either God or man, passionate in her attachment to her heathen worship, she spared no pains to maintain idolatry around her in all its splendour.
And the king of Israel married her. What was he thinking? For that matter, we should sometimes ask ourselves, what are we thinking – before acting.
Four hundred and fifty prophets ministered under her care to Baal, besides four hundred prophets of the groves [R.V., ‘prophets of the Asherah’], which ate at her table (1 Kings 18:19).
I think a lot of us know about Baal, but I’ve never really checked out Asherah very much. Since it may have a bearing on the church in Thyatira – and on us specifically – I thought I’d do that. In case you’re not familiar with Baal, here’s a summary for both of them.
Baal. Name of the most prominent Canaanite deity. As the god of fertility in the Canaanite pantheon (roster of gods), Baal’s sphere of influence included agriculture, animal husbandry, and human sexuality. The word Baal occurs in the OT in combination with other terms, such as place-names (Baal-peor, Hos 9:10; Baal-hermon, Jgs 3:3), or with other adjuncts as in Baal-berith (Baal of the covenant, Jgs 8:33). Use of the name in connection with a local place-name may indicate a local cult of Baal worship.
Baal worship became prominent in the northern Kingdom of Israel during the days of King Ahab (9th century BC) when he married Jezebel of Tyre, a city in Phoenicia (1 Kgs 16:29–33; 18:19–40). It later infiltrated the Kingdom of Judah when Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, married King Jehoram of Judah (2 Kgs 8:17, 18, 24–26). Places for worship of Baal were often high places in the hills consisting of an altar and a sacred tree, stone, or pillar (2 Kgs 23:5). The predominantly urban Phoenicians built temples to Baal; while Athaliah was queen of Judah, even Jerusalem had one (2 Chr 23:12–17).
In the Ugaritic epic material Baal is pictured as descending into the netherworld, the domain of the god Mot. That descent was evidently part of a cycle intended to coincide with the cycle of seasons. In order to bring Baal up from the realm of Mot and thus insure initiation of the fertile rainy season, the Canaanites engaged in orgiastic worship that included human sacrifice as well as sexual rites (Jer 7:31; 19:4–6). Sacred prostitutes evidently participated in the autumnal religious ritual. The worship of Baal was strongly condemned in the OT (Jgs 2:12–14; 3:7, 8; Jer 19). 
ASHERAH (Ȧ·shēʹ răh), ASHERIM (pl.) or ASHEROTH (pl.) Fertility goddess, the mother of Baal, whose worship was concentrated in Syria and Canaan and the wooden object that represented her. The KJV translated Asherah “grove” and the proper noun “Ashtaroth.”
The writers of the OT referred to the image of Asherah as well as to “prophets” belonging to her and to vessels used in her worship (1 Kings 15:13; 18:19; 2 Kings 21:7; 23:4; 2 Chron. 15:16). Over half of the OT references to Asherah can be found in the books of Kings and Chronicles. Deuteronomy 7:5; 12:3 instructed the Israelites to cut down and burn up the Asherim (plural form of Asherah). Deuteronomy 16:21 prohibited the planting of a tree as an “Asherah.”
The writers of the OT did not provide an actual description of an “Asherah” or the origin of the worship of Asherah. Other religious writings from the ancient Near East indicate that “Asherah” was the Hebrew name for an Amorite or Canaanite goddess who was worshiped in various parts of the ancient Near East. The biblical writers sometimes did not make a clear distinction between references to Asherah as a goddess and as an object of worship. According to ancient mythology, Asherah, the mother goddess, was the wife of El and mother of 70 gods, of whom Baal was the most famous. Asherah was the fertility goddess of the Phoenicians and Canaanites. She was called “Lady Asherah of the Sea.” See Canaan; Gods, Pagan.
Scholars who have studied artwork from the ancient Near East have suggested that some figures in drawings could be representations of the fertility goddess Asherah. Drawings of plain and carved poles, staffs, a cross, a double ax, a tree, a tree stump, a headdress for a priest, and several wooden images could be illustrations of an Asherah. Passages such as 2 Kings 13:6; 17:16; 18:4; 21:3; and 23:6, 15 have been interpreted as a definition of an Asherah as a wooden object constructed or destroyed by man. The object stood upright and was used in the worship of a goddess of the same name.
The Asherah existed in both the Southern and Northern Kingdoms of Israel. Jezebel of Tyre apparently installed Asherah worship in the north when she married King Ahab (1 Kings 18:18–19). The principle cities in which the objects were located were Samaria, Bethel, and Jerusalem. According to 1 Kings 14:23 (NASB) the people “built for themselves high places, and sacred pillars and Asherim (plural) on every high hill and beneath every luxuriant tree.” See Baal; Idol. 
The Asherah poles references in the Bible are never described. However, from other sources, we can learn what they looked like. Here’s a “cleaned up” description.
ASHERAH—and pl. Asherim in Revised Version, instead of “grove” and “groves” of the Authorized Version. This was the name of a sensual Canaanitish goddess Astarte, the feminine of the Assyrian Ishtar. Its symbol was the stem of a tree deprived of its boughs, and rudely shaped into an image, and planted in the ground. Such religious symbols (“groves”) are frequently alluded to in Scripture (Ex. 34:13; Judg. 6:25; 2 Kings 23:6; 1 Kings 16:33, etc.). These images were also sometimes made of silver or of carved stone (2 Kings 21:7; “the graven image of Asherah,” R.V.). (See GROVE .). 
Just the idea of 900 prophets from these two pagan religions should be detestable to a Jewish king. However, it wasn’t. If anything even close to this was going on in the Thyatira church, it’s no surprise that Jesus was very upset with them.
On top of that, consider that Jesus identifies Himself as one with blazing fire, to see what the people there do not see. We can only wonder how the people in that church didn’t see what was happening! Was it intention, as in turning a blind eye? Or were they truly clueless? Either way – it’s not good.
The idolatry, too, was of the most debased and sensual kind.” Her conduct was in many respects very disastrous to the kingdom both of Israel and Judah (21:1–29).
For sure, it was disastrous. Apparently they’d forgotten, or chose to ignore, the first few of the ten commandments.
The Ten Commandments – Exodus
20:1-17 pp — Dt 5:6-21
Ex 20:1 And God spoke all these words:
Ex 20:2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
Ex 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
Ex 20:4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
And those didn’t even cover the nature of the idols!
At length she came to an untimely end. As Jehu rode into the gates of Jezreel, she looked out at the window of the palace, and said, “Had Zimri peace, who slew his master?” He looked up and called to her chamberlains, who instantly threw her from the window, so that she was dashed in pieces on the street, and his horses trod her under their feet. She was immediately consumed by the dogs of the street (2 Kings 9:7–37), according to the word of Elijah the Tishbite (1 Kings 21:19).
I believe there’s a typo in the last sentence of that excerpt. Elijah’s prophecy about Jezebel’s death is actually in 1 Kings 21:23. I’m going to include a summary of each of the passages regarding Jezebel below, but want to point this out for anyone who checks the link above. Instead, here’s the verses surrounding Elijah’s prophecy of how Jezebel will die, from the section titled Naboth’s Vineyard in the NIV (see below for the entire section).
The first paragraph is from a letter Jezebel wrote, but signed Ahab’s name and put his seal in. Since the recipients thought it was from the king, they did as it said.
“Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. 10 But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them testify that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”
1Ki 21:11 So the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city did as Jezebel directed in the letters she had written to them. 12 They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth in a prominent place among the people. 13 Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, “Naboth has cursed both God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death. 14 Then they sent word to Jezebel: “Naboth has been stoned and is dead.”
1Ki 21:15 As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, “Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you. He is no longer alive, but dead.” 16 When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard.
1Ki 21:17 Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: 18 “Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. 19 Say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!’ ”
Verse 19 is actually about Ahab’s death, not Jezebel’s. Hers is coming.
1Ki 21:20 Ahab said to Elijah, “So you have found me, my enemy!”
“I have found you,” he answered, “because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD. 21 ‘I am going to bring disaster on you. I will consume your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free. 22 I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin.’
1Ki 21:23 “And also concerning Jezebel the LORD says: ‘Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.’
Here in verse 23, Elijah tells Ahab that Jezebel’s death will also be marked by her being eaten by dogs.
And the next verse tells of the same fate for “those belonging to Ahab who die in the city”. Those who doe outside the city will be eaten by birds.
1Ki 21:24 “Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country.”
1Ki 21:25 (There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife. 26 He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the LORD drove out before Israel.)
Finally, verse 25 tells of the part Jezebel played in making Ahab the worst man ever.
Her name afterwards came to be used as the synonym for a wicked woman (Rev. 2:20). 
Details of the life, evil deeds and death of Jezebel
Everything else we know about Jezebel is told in 1 and 2 Kings. I include the passages, but will provide only summaries of what’s in them. That’s enough for the purpose of looking at the letter to the church in Thyatira. If you’d like to read the passage, just click on the + sign by the NIV title to expand it.
We’re told right away that Ahab did more evil than anyone before him. Committing the sins of Jeroboam was trivial. Jezebel led him to do far worse things. Things that brought out more anger from God than any king before him.
It was Elijah who told Ahab the Lord was going to stop the rain. Now, he’s going to speak to Ahab again, and the rain will resume.
Obadiah, who is faithful to the Lord, is afraid to deliver Ahab’s message to Ahab. Ahab assures him it will be OK.
This is an amazing demonstration of the power of the Lord and the total lack of power of the pagan gods.
And yet, look what happens next.
Jezebel threatens Elijah, and Elijah is afraid. Afraid, in spite of what the Lord just did.
But God didn’t desert His prophet. An angel of the Lord appeared to feed Elijah. For certain, with food for his body. But apparently also with food for his soul.
It’s important for us to remember that God won’t desert us. And when we fail to remember that, God will still come after us.
There’s a lesson here for the church in Thyatira and for us as individuals.
This is what we looked at earlier, the events surrounding the death of Naboth – and the part played by Jezebel. All while Ahab doesn’t have the strength to do the deed himself, but is perfectly willing to take what Jezebel got for him through her evil scheme.
Between the previous passage and this one, Elijah was taken up to Heaven. We now have Elisha working in his place.
Elijah Taken Up to Heaven
2Ki 2:9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.
2Ki 2:10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise not.”
2Ki 2:11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart.
Elisha sends one of the other prophets to go tell Jehu that he is anointed King by God. he gives a shorter version that Elijah of what’s to become of Jezebel, Ahab and the house of Ahab.