May 4, 2014

THYATIRA: THE PERIL OF COMPROMISE

Revelation 2:18—29 (contd)

THE longest of the seven letters is written to the least important of the seven cities. Nonetheless, the problem which faced Thyatira and the danger which threatened it were those which were universally involved in the position of the Christians in Asia.
Thyatira lay in the long valley connecting the valleys of the Hermus and the Caicus rivers through which the railway runs today; and it was its geographical position which gave it its importance.
(1) Thyatira lay on the road which connected Pergamum with Sardis and went on to Philadelphia and to Laodicea, linking up with both Smyrna and Byzantium. That was the road by which the imperial mail travelled; and it was crowded with the commerce of Asia and the east. Therefore, first and foremost, Thyatira was a great commercial town.
(2) Strategically, the importance of Thyatira was that it was the gateway to Pergamum, the capital of the province. The first we hear of Thyatira is that it is an armed garrison, protected by a company of Macedonian troops, placed there as an outpost to defend Pergamum. The difficulty was that Thyatira was not capable of any prolonged defence. It lay in an open valley. There was no height that could be fortified; and all that Thyatira could ever hope to do was to fight a delaying action until Pergamum could prepare to meet the invaders.
(3) Thyatira had no special religious significance. It was not a centre either of Caesar-worship or of Greek worship. Its local hero god was called Tyrimnus, and he appears on its coins on horseback armed with battle-axe and club. The only notable thing about Thyatira from the religious point of view was that it possessed a fortune-telling shrine, presided over by a female oracle called the Sambathē. Certainly, no threat of persecution hung over the Thyatiran church.
(4) What, then, was the problem in Thyatira? We know less about Thyatira than about any other of the seven cities and are, therefore, seriously handicapped in trying to reconstruct the situation. The one thing we do know is that it was a great commercial centre, especially of the dyeing industry and of the trade in woollen goods. It was from Thyatira that Lydia, the seller of purple, came (Acts 16:14). From inscriptions discovered, we learn that it had an extraordinary number of trade guilds. These were associations for mutual profit and pleasure of people employed in certain trades. There were guilds of workers in wool, leather, linen and bronze, makers of outer garments, dyers, potters, bakers and slave-dealers.
Here, we think, was the problem of the church in Thyatira. To refuse to join one of these guilds would mean to give up all prospect of commercial existence. Why should a Christian not join one of these guilds? They held common meals. These would very often be held in a temple; and, even if not, they would begin and end with a formal sacrifice to the gods, and the meat eaten would be meat which had already been offered to idols. Further, it often happened that these communal meals were occasions of drunken revelry and slack morality. Was it possible for a Christian to be part of such occasions?
Here was the problem at Thyatira: the threat came from inside the church. There was a strong movement, led by the woman referred to as Jezebel, which pleaded for compromise with the world’s standards in the interests of business and commercial prosperity, maintaining, no doubt, that the Holy Spirit could preserve them from any harm. The answer of the risen Christ is uncompromising. Christians must have nothing to do with such things.

Barclay, W. (2004). The Revelation of John (3rd ed. fully rev. and updated., Vol. 1, pp. 111—113). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.

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