I am returning to the study of John’s Revelation, received from the Lord Jesus Christ. The last passage we read together was Christ’s message to Pergamos. Below are the things Jesus wanted to say to the assemblies in Thyatira—a significantly longer message than He delivered to the first three churches. It is, in fact, the longest of Jesus’s seven letters.
The Words of Jesus
Then, to the angel of the assembly in Thyatira write, “These things the Son of God is speaking, the One Who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet, in similar manner, like fine brass:
“I have seen and perceived your deeds, of your love, of your faith, faithfulness and trustworthiness, of your ministering service, of your hopeful, patient endurance, that your last works are greater than your first works.
“Yet I have against you that you are passively permitting the woman Jezebel, the one declaring herself a prophetess, as she not only teaches but also leads astray My servants to have illicit sex and to eat sacrifices to idols.
“I even granted her time in order that she would repent, and she is not willing to repent of her sexual/spiritual debauchery.
“Behold, I am throwing her onto a bier, and the ones debauching with her into great oppressive affliction if they do not repent of her works.
“Also, her disciples, her spiritual offspring, I will slay in death—then all the assemblies will know that I AM the One Who searches and examines the innermost mind and the inclination, desire, and purpose of the heart, and will give to you all, to each of you, according to your works.
“But I speak to the rest of you in Thyatira, however many who are not holding onto her teaching, however many who do not experientially realize and know the depths of the Accuser (Satan), as they are saying, I will not beset you with another burden.
“Except, take hold of what you have until whenever I may come.
“And the one conquering and the one keeping My works until the end, I will give to that one jurisdiction over the nations,
“and that one will shepherd them like a staff of iron as the vessels of potters are shattered—as even so I have taken hold of from my Father—then I will give to that one the morning star.
“The one having an ear: Listen, comprehend, attend to what the Spirit is saying to the assemblies.”Revelation 2:18-29
I made some judgment calls on a number of word translations.
Of the two literal translations I checked, one chose dost suffer for this word, and the other rendered ἀφίημι as are tolerating. Both seem to come close to what afiymi means, but after some digging, I decided passively permitting made the most sense. It was not as though the assemblies endorsed Jezebel’s teaching, per se, but they also did not seem to be actively correcting what she was promoting.
A similar situation seems to have been going on in Ephesus in the first letter addressed to Timothy, and attributed to the apostle Paul.
I urge you, as I did when I was on my way to Macedonia, to remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach different teachings.1 Timothy 1:3 (NRSV)
Evidently, there were at least two men and one woman who were teaching things that did not align with the true Gospel. Paul was certain the woman needed instruction, because what she hoped for was a noble pursuit—to be an overseer in the church. Therefore, he told Timothy, make sure she gets instruction, and that she comports herself as a model student.
Sadly, the two men (along with some others) had rebuffed Paul’s every attempt at correction and reformation. He told Timothy,
By rejecting conscience, certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith; among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have turned over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme.1 Timothy 1:19-20 (NRSV)
So, it seems, the assemblies in Thyatira were passively permitting this female false prophet to teach wrong things and lead members of the churches astray in their lives of faith. It would have been better if they had been actively seeking to instruct this woman and her adherents in the right understanding of scripture and Christian understanding.
Porneia is a somewhat slippery word.
It technically includes all illicit sex, and is the root word for pornography.
We tend to associate porneia with lust, but that is only somewhat helpful, because our current culture allows for ‘licit’ lust in romantic relationships, whether married or otherwise. What was considered pornographic in recent centuries has also changed, as western cultures become ever more relaxed.
In John’s day, sexual liaisons between men with their slaves—whether male or female—was considered largely licit in the broader Greco-Roman world. Even among those of Jewish faith, sexual liaisons between men and their enslaved women and concubines were considered legal, if not always advisable or the moral high ground. Male and female prostitution was legal in many places, and advertisements for brothels were often graphically coarse. Cult prostitution, particularly in service to the goddess Aphrodite, was sanctified by religious overtones.
And that is what, most likely, Jesus’s message to Thyatira was about—practices that translated into illicit sexual liaisons and hedonistic activities associated with some form of spiritual teaching.
The first entry for this word is “that on which one lies, a couch or bed,” for whatever reason—to lay in sleep, to recline at meals, to have sex, to languish in physical ailment. But to use that word conures up images of Christ that are untenable. Jesus was not saying He would throw Jezebel on a couch or bed for any of those purposes.
Some translations do choose to portray Jezebel as taking to her bed in some kind of fatal, or at least severe, illness. But that, it seems to me, would still belong to the category of opportunities Jesus said He had already provided for Jezebel’s repentance.
The second entry for kliny is bier, and this makes far more sense to me.
Jesus had already introduced Himself as the One Who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet, in similar manner, like fine brass, a reference to Christ as Judge. As Savior, Jesus extended to Jezebel ample time to both understand what she was doing as wrong, and to repent of it. She would not, and did not. Therefore, the purifying aspect of God’s wrath, intended to cleanse away all impurity, would land Jezebel on a bier, for she would not release herself of the wrongs God intended to rid creation of.
The children, as it would be literally translated, may be actual children “Jezebel” had adopted or given birth to, but that seems unlikely. God had expressly instructed the prophet Ezekiel to explain to the faithful among God’s people,
The person who -sins- shall die.
– A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent
– nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child;
the righteousness of the righteous shall be their own,
and the wickedness of the wicked shall be their own.Ezekiel 18:20 (NRSV)
The word teknon also refers, in a wider sense, to a disciple or adherent of a particular person’s teaching. The apostle John referred to those who were reading his first letter as his παιδία | little children. In his second letter, John addressed those who belonged to the assemblies of two women church leaders as τοῖς τέκνοις | to the children.
Asking the Bible to interpret the Bible is my first go-to, and in this case, several biblical passages make it clear Jesus was referring to Jezebel’s spiritual children, her disciples.
Apoktenō en Thanatō
But theologically, this is a tricky phrase.
What does it mean?
- Is Jesus simply emphasizing that these people will die?
- Is Jesus saying they will both physically and spiritually die?
- Is Jesus making some sort of statement about eternal consequences?
- Is this an oblique reference to what some call the Second Death?
I am not prepared to land on an explanation, so it seemed safest to simply translate the phrase in the most literal fashion possible, and rely upon the Holy Spirit to guide each reader into understanding it.