In Revelation 2:20-23, who is Jezebel in that church and what is the situation?
The church of Thyatira looked like a vibrant church. Every time they worked for the Lord, their works exceeded the last works they did. They had all of the essential elements: love, faith, service, and patience (Revelation 2:19).
As Jesus often did with most of these smaller letters to the churches in Revelation, he began with the good things, spoke of the things they must change, and then concluded with the good things for those who were faithful to him.
The thing Jesus had against this church was a woman he names Jezebel and talks about her shortcomings and how she is deceiving the church (Revelation 2:20-23). Have you ever noticed there aren’t too many women named Jezebel today? Although we were not part of this church in the first century, we can gather much about this woman from the details.
John is partially cryptic in recording what Jesus says to this church. But here are the facts:
- This is a woman in the church who gives herself the title of a prophetess.
- She has the physician of authority as a teacher in that church.
- She teaches them something about sexual immorality through seduction (this may be idolatry, for many of the Old Testament prophets spoke of idolatry as spiritual adultery)
- She also teaches these people to eat meat sacrificed to idols (Refer to 1 Corinthians 8-10 for some background). This also refers to idolatry.
- She refuses to repent and doesn’t think she’s done anything wrong.
From what we can gather it seems that this was a woman in the church who was seductive, titling herself as a prophetess, and using that authority to teach false doctrines that may have pointed to idolatry.
Jesus issues through John quite the severe penalties and discipline for this church. If they refused to deal with this false teacher, he will give her a sickness that relates to her crime against the church. Throwing her into a sickbed is akin to pointing out that sexual morality usually happens in a bed.
But the leader isn’t the only one to suffer for false teaching. All of her followers will endure the great tribulation. Jesus doesn’t specify what these tribulations may be, but I wouldn’t want to find out.
He does specify that he will kill the ones who do not repent. Those who continue in this idolatry and sexual immorality will die. And he will repay each one according to his or her works. None of this sounds good.
God’s discipline and judgment may look different from Old Testament to New Testament but it is the same God. He doesn’t tolerate sin or false teaching within our midst. This may also be what Peter refers to when he says that judgment must begin with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17).
This letter shows us that we should never cave in to false teachers or their false teaching. It endangers the church, the body of Christ. We should not be nonchalant about it either. It may hurt the church in the sense that the false teacher may take people with him or her when confronted.
It may not look good on paper. And people (leadership included) may get used to it or tiptoe around it. But Jesus wants a pure church. No matter how hard it is to cut out the cancer, we must or Jesus will discipline the church most severely.