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The Church of Thyatira, Part 3



I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works. Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. (Revelation 2:23–24).


Why These Seven Churches?


Thyatira is the fourth of the seven churches of Asia addressed by the Glorified Christ in the Book of Revelation. So far as we have looked at the letters to the churches we have seen a gradual deterioration from the pristine state of these churches into a deepening apostasy. The church at Ephesus had trouble with some that held the deeds of the Nicolaitans. In Smyrna we found a synagogue of Satan. In Pergamos we found Satan’s throne and some people that held the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. Now in Thyatira we have the depths of Satan where the church has been overtaken by the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitans.

The conditions exist in these churches in 96 a.d., the time at which the Revelation was given. Being that these churches were started largely through the mission work of the Apostle Paul, it has only been about 50 years since he founded these churches on the truth of the gospel. What happened? Is this representative of the entire church of God at this time in history? Cannot the truth of the gospel withstand these threats and put them down? Were there any churches left at this time that were sound in the faith and upholding the truth of salvation from sin and holiness of life? We have no record of how many churches had been founded by this time, but this historical record shows that the church was expanding in spite of Satan’s efforts to put it down through apostasy or persecution.

Let’s pause for a moment in our study and ask a pertinent question: Why were these seven churches singled out by Christ while there were hundreds if not thousands of other churches, most of which were what Christ intended them to be?

It is Christ Himself that selected these specific churches as mentioned in chapter 1, verse 11. Not only was He specific in naming these churches, He was specific in the order He named them and subsequently dictated the seven letters. This suggests that Christ had a purpose and that purpose was to reveal a pattern. Any church could face any of the problems addressed; but the pattern suggests a progression. We have seen the progression of spiritual deterioration and the advance of apostasy. While this can exemplify the potential falling away of any congregation, it also seems to parallel the general progression of the history of the church.

The various groups among the Church of God Movements hold to a church-historic interpretation of the Revelation that takes this historic progression into account. As far as these four letters are concerned, church history progresses from:

The Church at Ephesus: A time of growth and triumph over paganism.

The Church at Smyrna: A time of persecution.

The Church at Pergamos: A time of falling away from evangelical truth and the growth of form and sacramentalism.

And now, the Church at Thyatira: A time of protracted apostasy and absolute man-rule in the church.

It is true that the three following churches have their problems, but those problems are not the depths of Satan as found in Thyatira. The church-history model espoused by Church of God Movements actually presents a gradual restoration beginning with Thyatira and progressing upward through the seventh church age. But as we have seen the depths of apostasy at Thyatira, it does not appear to be an improvement or a turning around in church history as some would suggest.

F. G. Smith in his The Revelation Explained makes no connection between the Church of Thyatira and any particular church age.

Uriah Smith makes connections between the Churches of Asia and church history in a manner similar to the church-age concept. Uriah Smith saw the Thyatira Church age beginning with “the setting up of the papacy, A.D. 538. He then suggests that the most natural division to be assigned to the church of Thyatira, would be the time of the continuance of this blasphemous power through the 1260 years of its supremacy; or, from A.D. 538 to A.D. 1798”.[1] In other words, Papalism in Mediaeval times.

The familiar chart used by many Church of God ministers that appears in The Revelation with Gospel and Prophecy places the church age represented by the Church at Thyatira from the dates 1530 A.D. to 1730 A.D. According to this dating, the Church at Thyatira represents the Protestant Reformation. Uriah Smith says the Church at Thyatira appropriately represents the supreme rule of papacy in Roman Catholicism. It cannot be that both are correct—and in fairness to the authors, each has his reasons why he believes the letter to Thyatira fits his church age model. However, if we let the letters stand as letters without assigning church ages to them, we do see the danger and effects of apostasy that can entrap and destroy a church in any time in history.


The Ongoing Consequence of Apostasy


The ongoing consequence of apostasy consumes future generations. In verse 23 the Glorified Christ says, “I will kill her children with death”. Christ is not being cruel; He is just stating the fact that He is the only way of salvation. John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me”.

The Church at Thyatira had normalized the doctrines and practices of the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans and adopted them as doctrines and practices of the church. That the servants of Jesus were seduced by these things implies that these doctrines and practices were substituted for the gospel teachings on salvation and holiness. “Her children”, those coming to the church, rather than finding salvation from sin found nothing but form, ceremony, and teachings that actually perverted the true gospel.

In coming to the church the people did not experience salvation but were given a religious robe that allowed or encouraged all manner of sin while promising eternal life. This is certainly the depths of Satan, the making of pagan Christians.

If the Church at Thyatira represents a church age, it is an argument people have to settle on their own; and if it does, does it represent an age of Papalism or does it represent the Protestant Reformation. There are arguments for both positions. But rather than argue the merits of either side, it is best if we just recognize the conditions and their cause and guard against them in our churches of today.

While I do not believe this church depicts a church age, the conditions there do correlate with conditions that infected the church-at-large under the influence of Papalism.

The prophecy teaching of the Church of God Movement dealt harshly with Papalism and the Roman Catholic Church. But also Protestantism, Christian Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism have criticized and condemned the Church of Rome equally, if not more. The history of the Roman Catholic Church is filled with much cruelty and ungodliness, but also as the only representative of Christianity in mediaeval times it was responsible for the spread of Christianity across Europe and to many other places in the world. Its teachings and practices were tainted with the doctrines and practices of the apocalyptic Balaamites and Nicolaitans. Philip Schaff in his History of the Christian Church says:


The mediaeval light was indeed the borrowed star and moon-light of ecclesiastical tradition, rather than the clear sun-light from the inspired pages of the New Testament.[2]


Of the power and influence of the Roman Church, Schaff writes:


The church as a visible organization never had greater power over the minds of men. She controlled all departments of life from the cradle to the grave. She monopolized all the learning and made sciences and arts tributary to her.[3]


In the simplest but most illuminating words he comments,


It was a carnal anticipation of the millennial reign of Christ. It took centuries to rear up this imposing structure, and centuries to take it down again.[4]


While the Church of Rome exercised control over the lives and minds of its people and exerted its influence among the nations, its power was never absolute and total. Schaff notes:


The opposition came partly from the anti-Catholic sects, which, in spite of cruel persecution, never ceased to protest against the corruptions and tyranny of the papacy.[5]


So, even during the mediaeval ages, there were those that held fast to what they had until Jesus comes; overcomers that kept His words until the end. (Revelation 2:25–26).

Some Errors of the Church of Rome


It would take an entire college semester to compare the theology of the Church of Rome with the Scripture, but there are certain salient points that mark the depths of Satan in substituting error for critical truth.

The first is the office of the Pope as the head of the Church; the Vicar of the Son of God. The very concept is blasphemous. Ephesians 1:22 (Weymouth New Testament), “God has put all things under His feet, and has appointed Him universal and supreme Head of the Church, which is His Body.” Why is Christ the only head of the church? Ephesians 5:23, “Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.” The Pope died for no one’s sin; Christ died for the sin of the world and as our Savior is the only possible head of His body, the church, the assembly of all that are saved from sin.

Auricular confession, again another blasphemy introduced into the church. All Catholics are required to confess all their sins to a human priest, believing this is the only way to Heaven. 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It may be argued that confession to a priest could be indicated by what is said here; however, notice it is He who forgives sin and nowhere in the context is anyone else mentioned other that Jesus Christ, the One whose blood cleanses from all sin. The Contemporary English Version tries to clarify the meaning saying “But if we confess our sins to God”. The New Living Translation and The Living Bible in similar manner have “But if we confess our sins to him.” These are correct in meaning but they are not correct renderings of the Greek text. James tells us to confess our trespasses or faults one to another. This has nothing to do with confessing to a priest; confession here is a matter of honesty and fidelity among the people of God. “If you mess up; ‘fess up; and clean up.”

The Mass, celebration of the Eucharist. Celebration of the mass is not preaching service as Protestants and Evangelicals practice; in Roman Catholicism it is the continuing crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the eating of His literal body and drinking of His literal blood. A priest places the elements in a monstrance, a vessel that looks kind of like a sunburst. He speaks the Latin words Hoc est corpus meum, this is my body. The bread and wine are said to be transformed into the actual physical body and blood of Christ. The priest then places the bread on the tongues of worshippers telling them “this is the body of Christ.” In most cases, the wine is withheld from the worshippers to be drunk only by the priest. This continual crucifixion of Christ is unbiblical. Romans 6:9–10, “Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. . . . For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all.”

These are some of the salient points that are substituted for salvation in Christ. But perhaps even more blasphemous than these is the adoration of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Certainly, this young woman was blessed by God to be the mother of the Incarnate Christ, but there are significant errors assigned to her person.

First is the immaculate conception. Catholics are taught that Mary was conceived without original sin so that she could conceive and bear the sinless Son of God. Yes, both of her parents were sinners. It is supposed that the foreseen merits of her son made her free from sin. This can be only supposition as nothing is said in the Bible to this effect.

Second, the assumption of Mary. Upon completing her course of earthy life, Mary was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. This belief is held by some churches besides the Church of Rome. Third, Mary is seen as the mother of God. This doctrine is debated even among Catholics; the blasphemy is seen more in its implication in the minds of Mary worshippers, it places her in the realm of divinity and even in a position higher than Christ.


The Ave Maria


The last thing I will mention may seem trivial but it does reflect on how pervasive and influential Thyatiran-Romish thinking has influenced certain aspects of Christianity.

Most non-Catholics would never pray the rosary as they have a sense that this ritual is just too close to idolatry. The Ave Maria is included in the rosary. Also, some of the most beautiful and worshipful music has been written celebrating the Ave Maria and even non-Catholic Christians sense awe and spirituality in hearing and singing it. Most of the time the Ave Maria is sung in Latin. It sounds beautiful, spiritual, and religious, but it has no meaning for most people because Latin is an unknown tongue. The words in Latin are:


Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.

Benedicta tu in mulieribus,

et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,

ora pro nobis peccatoribus,

nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.


Beautiful! Here are the words in English:


Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.

Blessed art thou among women,

and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.


At this point there is nothing offensive; in fact, it is Scriptural. But listen to what follows:


Holy Mary, Mother of God,

pray for us sinners,

now and in the hour of our death. Amen.


Can you worship Mary as the Mother of God? Pray for us sinners—The Ave Maria is a prayer to Mary beseeching her to pray for us now, as we pray the prayer, and at the moment of our death. Praying to Mary is wrong because Jesus taught us to pray directly to the Father in His name. (Matthew 6:6, 9; John 16:26–27)

Why would Catholics want Mary praying for them in the hour of their death?  It is because they are taught that Jesus is stern and unapproachable. Rather than praying to Him, they pray to His mother with the idea that she can move Him to show mercy on them instead of wrath.

Mary was just a person such as you and I. She was born into this world with the same depraved moral state; she needed a Savior as do we all. She died a natural death and she is now in that blessed state of rest awaiting the resurrection as are all the faithful departed. Yes, she was particularly blessed in being the mother of Jesus, but in reality she is no different than any other child of God. You cannot pray to Mary; if you do, she cannot hear you and your prayer will go unanswered.

I say these things without any animus toward Catholics. I do believe that among that number there are those that have not known the depths of Satan. Having followed the rituals of the Church, they hold reserve against things that are blatantly wrong and they have genuinely looked to Jesus Christ as their only Savior from sin. As the Glorified Christ had grace for the faithful few in Thyatira, He has grace for the faithful few in modern churches of Thyatira by whatever name they may be called. Some of these precious ones never hear a “come out” message, but they will keep Christ’s works until the end.

[1] Smith, Uriah,  Thoughts Critical and Practical on the Book of Revelation,  Steam Press: Battle Creek, MI,  1875,  p. 51.

[2] Schaff, Philip,  History of the Christian Church,  Volume IV,  Wm. B . Eerdmans Publishing Compnay: Grand Rapids, MI,  1910,  pg. 12.

[3] Ibid, pg. 13.

[4] Ibid, in loco.

[5] Ibid, in loco.