Osborne, Grant R. Revelation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002. Location: Ellis BS 2825.53.O73 2002
II. Churches Addressed (1:9-3:22) pp. 77-217.
B. Letters to the Seven Churches (2:1-3:22) pp. 104-217.
“4. Letter to Thyatira (2:18-29)” pp. 151-170.
Osborne observes that Thyatira is less important than the other cities addressed in Revelation’s seven letters. We also know relatively little about the city due to the modern town Akhisar being on the site, thus hindering archaeological studies. But the city was on a frontier, had strategic importance, and was well known as a center of commercial activity including manufacturing (Osborne 2002, 151). Because the trade guilds had religious elements, Christians would have been under pressure to participate in the local paganism so as to succeed in business (Osborne 2002, 152).
The opening of the letter is very similar to the others except for the identification of the source. Here the words of the letter are from “the Son of God.” Osborne notes that this title is not used anywhere else in Revelation (Osborne 2002, 153). He considers it may be due to the customs surrounding Apollo, the son of Zeus. These words could identify Jesus as the real son of he real God. The imagery of firey eyes could indicate that Jesus is completely aware of all that is going on in Thyatira, including the situation attributed to Jezebel (Osborne 2002, 153).
The letter continues in 2:19 with a statement of the good works of the people. Osborne notes that there are four good works listed here. The churches with the most serious problems also have the most extensive lists of good works (Osborne 2002, 154). Osborne also notes that the word for love, ἀγάπη, is used only twice in Revelation. It is what is lacking in Ephesus and present in Thyatira (Osborne 2002, 154).
Despite the good works found in Thyatira, the church has some serious weaknesses, discussed in verses 20-23. They have been tolerant of heresy, specifically that exemplified by a leader here called Jezabel. Osborne notes that Jezabel, wife of Ahab, in the Old Testament, was known for sexual immorality. This could tie the error with that of the Nicolaitans (Osborne 2002, 155). Although prophecy was accepted in the early Christian period, the person was apparently a false prophet. Though there have been attempts to identify this person, Osborne finds no one compelling theory (Osborne 2002, 156). He does think the situation is tied both to idol worship and sexual immorality which may have accompanied the sacrifices to the false gods (Osborne 2002, 157). Here, and no place else in Revelation, Christians are described as being deceived.
Osborne further observes that, in 2:21, the gift offered by God is an opportunity to repent. The Thyatirans were given opportunity, but their judgment is already impending (Osborne 2002, 158). Verses 22-23 contain an oracle of judgment which Osborne considers equal in severity to anything found in the Old Testament (Osborne 2002, 158). Jezebel and her participants will be punished severely. This will happen if they do not repent. Osborne does not seem to note the assumption of the conditional statement, which implies that no repentance appears forthcoming (Osborne 2002, 160).
The letter to Thyatira does not end with the negative statements about “Jezebel.” It continues to say that all the churches will see the power of the Lord’s judgment. Osborne observes that this makes sense when we consider that the last two letters have addressed churches which allowed false teaching. It is important that all churches take notice (Osborne 2002, 161). God promises that the people will receive reward or punishment in accord with their actions. Osborne finds a principle of retribution in many New Testament locations, some of which he notes (Osborne 2002, 161-162).
Counter to those who have allowed the work of “Jezebel,” in verses 24-25 the faithful are promised a reward. They have not accepted the false teaching, although they did not manage to stop it (Osborne 2002, 162). The Lord does not lay an additional burden on those people. Osborne considers several commentators who have analyzed this principle. The existing burdens are difficult to identify with any clarity (Osborne 2002, 163). The faithful are to hold fast to Christ (2:25). This is most likely the burden they are to carry.
The one who holds fast and overcomes is given a great promise. The risen Christ will put his overseer in a position of power and authority over the nations. Though the exact scope of the promise is not entirely clear, it is certainly a kingly promise. Osborne notes that the word “shepherd” can also mean “destroy” (Osborne 2002, 166). The promise is thus startling on several levels.
There is an additional promise of the “morning star” for the overcomer. Again, it is a little unclear, but the possible interpretations center around honor, glory, and eternal life (Osborne 2002, 168). The letter closes, as expected, with a call to listen carefully.