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Please note that throughout this discussion, I assume Jesus is addressing all the people who proclaim Christ, not any denomination or sect.
Book of Revelation, Chapter 2, Verses 18-29:
To the angel of the church in Thyatira, write this:
The Son of God, whose eyes are like a fiery flame and whose feet are like polished brass, says this:
I know your works, your love, faith, service, and endurance, and that your last works are greater than the first.
Yet I hold this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, who teaches and misleads my servants to play the harlot and to eat food sacrificed to idols.
I have given her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her harlotry. So I will cast her on a sickbed and plunge those who commit adultery with her into intense suffering unless they repent of her works. I will also put her children to death.
Thus shall all the churches come to know that I am the searcher of hearts and minds and that I will give each of you what your works deserve.
But I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not uphold this teaching and know nothing of the so-called deep secrets of Satan: on you I will place no further burden, except that you must hold fast to what you have until I come.
To the victor, who keeps to my ways until the end, I will give authority over the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. Like clay vessels will they be smashed, just as I received authority from my Father. And to him I will give the morning star.
Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
I’ve introduced my idea about the seven churches being periods in church history; I’m not at all sure I’m right so take all this with pounds of salt. Please. That being said …
I propose here that the Revelation letter to Thyatira refers to the Late Middle Ages, roughly 1,000 AD – 1,500 AD.
The description of the Son of God — “whose eyes are like a fiery flame and whose feet are like polished brass” — is repeated from the introduction (Rev 1:14-15). When it is taken in combination with the message to the victor – “I will give authority over the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. Like clay vessels will they be smashed, just as I received authority from my Father” – its original source is obviously Psalm 2.
Why do the nations protest and the peoples conspire in vain? …
The one enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord derides them,
Then he speaks to them in his anger, in his wrath he terrifies them:
“I myself have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD, he said to me,
“You are my son; today I have begotten you.
Ask it of me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,
and, as your possession, the ends of the earth.
With an iron rod you will shepherd them,
like a potter’s vessel you will shatter them.”
And now, kings, give heed; take warning, judges on earth.
Serve the LORD with fear; exult with trembling,
Accept correction lest he become angry and
you perish along the way when his anger suddenly blazes up.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him!
And Psalm 2 is clearly a call to put Jesus before politics.
This is the same theme we saw in the Revelation letter to Pergamum (Early Middle Ages). I think the line – “I have given her time to repent” – helps support my feeling that Pergamum is about the Early Middle Ages and Thyatira about the Late Middle Ages.
As I mentioned @ https://polination.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/the-seven-churches-of-revelation-part-seven/, the Carolingian kings had made it possible for the Roman Church to become an independent political entity, free from dominance by any emperor, prince or king. Unfortunately, rather than use this freedom to better “serve the LORD with fear”, the popes trampled all over the people of God to enhance their own worldly wealth and power.
For example, Rome got all huffy with the Byzantine emperor, which had the Orthodox Church firmly under his thumb. And with politics all mixed up in the East-West divide, what should have been strictly theological, liturgical and administrative church issues got worse and worse until the Orthodox and Roman Churches formally excommunicated each other in 1054, something now known as the Great Schism.
Later on, Rome used its big old jackboots of excommunication, interdiction and inquisition to stomp on the necks of political rulers and their citizenry, supposedly for the good of everyone’s immortal soul, but in reality, not so much.
- Excommunication is like shunning. It chucks an individual right out of the community. It is supposed to not so much punish the culprit, as correct him and bring him back to the path of righteousness.
- Interdiction suspends certain rights, without the chucking out part. It has different degrees and can be used against a locality or a person who needs correction. The big whammy interdicts the popes misused for political purposes forbade priests from administering the Sacraments to any of the faithful. Since they were all Roman Catholics who believed in the power and necessity of the Sacraments for eternal salvation, you can imagine the grass roots pressure rulers experienced when their people couldn’t get their babies baptized, go to confession, receive Eucharist, get married, or receive Last Rites!
- The Inquisition was a division of the judicial system of the Roman Catholic Church. It started in 12th-century France to persecute heresy, but was later expanded to other countries and other offenses. In 1252, Pope Innocent IV approved the use of torture, not one of my Church’s finest hours. Although being turned over to secular authorities for execution was possible in some places, the sentence was not performed by clerics, who were forbidden to kill. Inquisitors generally preferred not to do so, since it constituted a failure of the process, but some of them seemed to have been fairly enthusiastic about using the death penalty. In his fifteen years in office, one inquisitor had 42 executions out of his 900 guilty verdicts.
The freedom, power and authority of the Roman Church wouldn’t have been bad things, if only the popes had used them for strictly spiritual purposes – e.g., to chastize local churches that were straying from the Gospel or to discipline priests who were living in sin. But the popes used them for political purposes, to try and make themselves top dog over every political entity in all the orange parts, which was so not cool:
I think the reference to Jezebel in the letter to Thyatira points up just how much worse the papacy got in the Late Middle Ages. In the Pergamum (Early Middle Ages) letter, Jesus cited Balaam and the Nicolaitans. But really … Balaam was just a spiritual leader who sold out to the local political power while the Nicolaitans were just a small, splinter group of early Christians who condoned sexual immorality. Compared with Jezebel, the Baal-worshiping wife of the whipped King of Israel, they were very small potatoes on the whole political, religious and moral corruption front.
I want to close with one interesting point a convert I know made when he introduced himself to the RCIA class I was helping to instruct. He explained how he had spent the previous ten years “reading himself into the Catholic Church.” He was (and is) a really bright guy and a voracious reader who had set out to find the truth about his Catholic wife’s church. The thing that ultimately impressed him the most and led him to enroll in RCIA was the corruption of the medieval popes!
Extraordinary, wouldn’t you think? Most people point to that period of time as proof positive that the Roman Catholic Church is eeeeeeeeevil. But he had a point that resonates strongly with me to this day. He said,
“Even when the worst popes were in charge, they never used their power to CHANGE DOCTRINE.”
Really. They could have, couldn’t they? Isn’t that what Henry VIII did? Change the rules so he could legally do what he wanted? To me and I expect to many other devout Catholics, the rotten popes stand as a sign that the Holy Spirit was not absent from the Church. He was busy protecting the deposit of faith, even as he was granting to papal sinners the same freedom we all have to behave as badly as we choose.
Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity [Eerdmans Publishing, 1977]
The New Bible Dictionary [Eerdmans Publishing, 1962]
New American Bible online @ http://www.usccb.org/bible/
Jezebel @ http://www.keyway.ca/htm2002/jezebel.htm
Excommunication @ http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05678a.htm
Interdiction @ http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08073a.htm
Interdict @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interdict