“I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first” (Revelation 2:19).
by David Rice
Thyatira was a bleak period of church history, from 1157 to 1517. It was not bleak in warm Christian discipleship but bleak with burdens and trials of faith upon the followers of Jesus. This was the period of greatest dominance by the papacy, represented by Jezebel, the wicked queen who brought Baal worship into Israel and persecuted the prophets of Jehovah.
Revelation 2:20, “Notwithstanding [their good works, charity, service, and patience] I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.”
One of the faithful leaders of this period was Peter Waldo, widely embraced as the messenger, or “angel,” to this church, one of the seven “stars” held in the right hand of Jesus. Dates for the ministry of Peter Waldo vary. Br. Frank Shallieu, The Keys of Revelation, page 53, gives evidence that the Waldenses, a group associated with Waldo, were recognized as heretical by the Roman Church before 1160. If the “space to repent” for papacy refers to a prophetic time of 360 years (Revelation 2:21), and if this reaches to the Reformation in 1517, this suggests an opening of the Thyatira period in 1157, not long before 1160.1
(1) Br. Streeter, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, page 164, begins this period with 538-539, when papacy became a civil power. Jacobus Baradaeus, began then a far-ranging Monophysite ministry, that there was only one nature, the human, in Jesus (editor).
Perhaps relevant is this fragment of ecclesiastical history. “The term ‘sacrum’ (i.e. ‘holy’ in the sense of ‘consecrated’) in connection with the medieval Roman Empire was first used in 1157 under Frederick I Barbarossa … Before 1157, the realm was merely referred to as the Roman Empire” (Holy Roman Empire Association.com). The pope then was the English born Hadrian (Adrian) IV (1154-1159).
Examples of Christian trials in this period, are the following from The Time is at Hand, pages 334-335. “The Council of Oxford in 1160 consigned a company of Waldenses, who had emigrated from Gascony [in France] to England, to the secular arm for punishment. Accordingly, King Henry II ordered them, men and women, to be publicly whipped, branded on the cheek with a red-hot iron, and driven, half-naked, out of the city in the dead of winter; and none were permitted to show them pity or to grant them the slightest favor.”
“Frederick, the emperor of Germany, AD 1224, sentenced heretics of every description, alive, to the flames, their property to confiscation, and their posterity, unless they became persecutors, to infamy. Louis, king of France, AD 1228, published laws for the extirpation of heresy and enforced their execution. He forced Raymond, Count of Toulouse, to undertake the extermination of heresy from his dominions without sparing friend or vassal.”
Description of Jesus
Each of the messages to the Churches in Revelation begins with a description of Jesus mostly drawn from his introduction in Revelation 1:13-16. The description for Thyatira says, “These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass” (Revelation 2:18). During those dark days of papacy, Jesus’ perceptive gaze distinguished the good from the evil. His feet “like fine brass” remind us that his judgment is grounded in righteousness.
Verse 23 assures us that the atrocities of this period will receive divine judgment. “I will kill her children with death … I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.”
This dark period of Church history is pictured in the fourth seal with a pale green horse (a color sometimes associated with death), whose rider was “Death, and Hell followed with him” (Revelation 6:8). Because the religious world was ruled by apostate papacy in this period, there was a dearth of spiritual vitality.
In verse 23, “I will kill her children with death,” the word “death” refers to plague, which brought death from an unrecognized cause. It is rendered “pestilence” in the NASB. During the Thyatira period, spiritual pestilence brought spiritual death to many who had not the fortitude or encouragement to resist the corrupt values from papacy. Would we have maintained in these circumstances? The message of Jesus to those beleaguered Christians should benefit us also, through deep introspection.
Jesus’ message to those dear saints was only mildly chiding, first commending their devotion under trial, then urging them “notwithstanding” this to be careful lest they be complicit by accepting the ecclesiastical domination then prevailing. The burden was intense. More than it is upon us. But we can respond to Jesus’ words also, by standing against the ways of our fallen flesh as firmly as those who perished in flames stood against the sinful hierarchy. Secondarily, we can stand kindly, pleasantly, but firmly, for our best understanding of the direction of God in our life, for our spiritual service.
The spiritual pestilence threatening Thyatira was paralleled by a literal manifestation, the Black Death. That Bubonic Plague “was the deadliest pandemic recorded in human history … [it] resulted in the deaths of … 75-200 million people in Eurasia and North Africa, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351 … it took until 1500 for the European population to regain the levels of 1300” (Black Death, Wikipedia).
Many details of Waldo’s life are unknown, but “Extant sources relate that he was a wealthy clothier and merchant from Lyon [France], and a man of some learning.” Sometime “before the year 1160, he was inspired by a series of events,” (1) a sermon on the life of St. Alexius, (2) rejection of transubstantiation “when it was considered a capital crime,” and (3) the sudden death of a friend at an evening meal. “He began living a radical Christian life, giving his property over to his wife, while the remainder of his belongings he distributed as alms to the poor” (Peter Waldo, Wikipedia).
Noting that “no man can serve two masters, God and mammon,” Waldo taught publicly, condemned papal excesses, and considered purgatory and transubstantiation as dogmas from “the harlot … of Revelation.” It seems that Waldo identified who Jezebel was.
Waldo commissioned a local cleric to translate the New Testament into the French of his time, apparently the first common tongue version outside of Latin. He and a companion were welcomed to Rome by Pope Alexander II, explaining to a panel of clergy: the universal priesthood, the gospel in the common language, and voluntary poverty. Apparently, the pope affirmed his vow of poverty but forbade Waldo to preach because he was laity. “Waldo’s ideas, but not the movement itself, were condemned at the Third Lateran Council in March of the same year” (1179). “In 1180 Waldo composed a profession of faith which is still extant.”
At that Third Lateran Council it was “decided not to pass judgment about the preaching of the Waldensians,” so as not to risk church disunity in light of political concerns (Papal Encyclicals.net). Waldo was later excommunicated by Lucius III in 1184. After his death, Waldensian doctrines were condemned at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.
The Depths of Satan
“Unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and … have not known the depths of Satan … I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come” (Revelation 2:24, 25).
Later, in the Reformation, more progress would be urged upon the Lord’s people. But for Thyatira, holding faith against the conduct and practices of Jezebel, sufficed. Mention is made of the coming of Christ, “till I come.” Later, to Sardis, is mention of Jesus coming “as a thief;” to Philadelphia, “I come quickly;” and to Laodicea, “I stand at the door and knock.” Thus, from the dark period of Thyatira there are successive mentions of Christ’s return, until his presence in church seven, Laodicea. The word “Satan” means adversary or opposer, and when used in Revelation it frequently refers to the adversary’s opposition through the nominal Church. Thus the expression here, “the depths of Satan,” is appropriate to the strength of papacy during this period.
The reward of the saints promised to this church was to rule the nations “with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers” (Revelation 2:27). This is an appropriate assurance to this church, afflicted by state powers in league with papacy. In due course, the suffering saints would dispose of the corrupt powers of this world.
The Morning Star
“And I will give him the morning star” (Revelation 2:28). The morning star is Jesus (2 Peter 1:19). He is the inheritance of saints beyond the vail. However, there is a secondary meaning here, especially relevant to Thyatira.
Jesus already had noted that in this church period their latter works would “be more than the first” (verse 19). Later in this period would appear the “morning star of the Reformation,” John Wycliffe, who from 1371 to 1384 proved a remarkable force on behalf of truth. He stirred common preachers, the Lollards, to proceed in the spirit of Peter Waldo and his “poor men of Lyon,” preaching the simple precepts of Christ, and distributing portions of Scripture. Wycliffe, like Waldo, commissioned a translation of Scripture in the common language, in this case early English.
Wycliffe’s ministry blossomed in England, the same land from which came the pope who ruled at the outset of this period, in 1157. John Wycliffe, the “morning star of the Reformation,” passed away in 1384, a precursor of the real Morning Star who appeared 70 weeks of years later, in 1874.
Wycliffe in turn ignited the passion of John Hus of Bohemia, burned at the stake in 1415, 31 years after the death of Wycliffe. John Hus, in his last experience, comparing himself to a goose (husa in Czech is goose), prayed that in a hundred years God would raise a swan whose voice would not be stilled. That prayer was answered in the voice of Martin Luther.
The devoted labors of Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, John Hus, and the consecrated labors of simple, devoted brethren whom they nourished and encouraged, paved the way for the Reformation that came a century later.2
(2) We observe in passing that from the death of John Wycliffe, to the Adventist expectations of William Miller in 1843, was the sum of 153, 153, 153 years. From the death of Wycliffe’s successor John Hus, to 1874, was the sum of 153, 153, 153 years. From the death of Martin Luther in 1546, to the birth of Charles Russell in 1852, was the sum of 153, 153 years.