The Seven Churches of Revelation, part twelve

If you’re new to this series, go here to catch up:

Part 11 @

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Part 9 @

Part 8 @

Part 7 @

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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 Late Middle Ages is often depicted as a spiritual wasteland, a time when the Church had lost its way and the Holy Spirit was MIA. Yet here Jesus commends the “church in Thyatira” saying,

I know your works, your love, faith, service, and endurance, and that your last works are greater than the first.

Note that He says “the first”, not “your first.” And where did we see His praise for “the first”? In the letter to Ephesus, of course. This interpretation holds up when you compare the two letters:

Thyatira: I know your works, your love, faith, service, and endurance.

Ephesus: I know your works, your labor, and your endurance.

What an absolutely extraordinary idea … that the love, faith and service of medieval Christians exceeded the labor of the first Christians of the Apostolic Age!

Eerdmans elaborates on page xv:

From the tenth century, spiritual renewal began to sweep through the Western world, starting with the foundation of the monastery of Cluny in central France in 910. … Among other things, the Cluniacs wanted to stamp out the practice of buying and selling church offices (simony), re-establish the celibacy of the clergy, and eliminate corruption from the church. …

Other new monastic orders replaced Cluny when it faltered in its reforming zeal in the eleventh century. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and the Cistercians in the twelfth century, Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) and the Franciscans, and Dominic (1170-1221) and the Dominicans in the thirteenth century, were only the most prominent of dozens of new orders founded, dedicated to spiritual renewal and church reform.

Renewal and reform gave rise to a great new missionary thrust:

Missionaries to Denmark, Norway and Sweden revolutionized the Scandinavian way of life and stopped the Viking attacks that had terrorized Europeans for several centuries. Missionaries to the Slavic peoples introduced the faith to people in central, eastern and southeastern Europe and in northern and central Asia including Bohemians, Poles, Hungarians, Wends, Pomeranians, Lithuanians, Prussians and the Baltic peoples. The Russians were evangelized by Eastern missionaries who founded what was to become the Russian Orthodox church based in Moscow.

Franciscan friars preached in Persia, India and China. Eerdmans says (p 299):

Their journeys met with such success that early in the fourteenth century a chain of Christian missions extended from Constantinople to Peking, and it seemed at one time as if even the Mongol rulers might accept the Christian faith. This promising beginning did not lead to permanent results, however, since the western Mongols became Muslims and prevented the missionaries from travelling through their territories.

The excellence of the Medieval Church’s works, love, faith, service and endurance can also be seen in the areas of education, art, health care and relief for travelers and for the poor.

During the dismal Dark Ages following the fall of the Roman Empire, culture, art and learning were in very short supply in Europe. For centuries, the only education to be had was in Catholic monasteries where the monks preserved and advanced learning by hand copying decaying books and creating amazing works of art like this page from the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels that was created by Celtic monks ca. 800 or slightly earlier.

Book of Kells Chi Rho page

Music also owes a debt to the Medieval Church, which invented the notation and theory that shaped the great flowering of western music. Christians still perform and are inspired by Gregorian chant, possibly the earliest form of sacred Christian music that survives.

Monasteries also operated hospices for travelers, nursing homes for pregnant women and the elderly, and orphanages for homeless children. The first medical school of modern history was founded in a 9th century monastery in Salerno, Italy, where Arabic and Greek treatises were studied and careful clinical observations and serious experiments for the cure of disease were made. Both men and women taught and studied at Salerno, whose graduates were unrivaled for the quality of their care. One of the most important books of Medieval medicine that we have from the 12th Century was written by St. Hildegarde, a Benedictine Abbess. We also have records of fine hospitals built in the 13th century that were clearly designed for good ventilation and sanitation, having high ceilings, large windows, tile floors, and an abundant water supply nearby for cleaning and sewage removal.

13th c medieval hospice

During the 12th and 13th Centuries, the period of the Crusades, the activity of the Knights Hospitaler led to the formation of many hospices to care for sick and needy pilgrims. During the 14th century, Christian charity rose to heroic levels during outbreaks of the contagious and deadly Bubonic Plague. For example, Catherine of Sienna in Italy and countless other religiously inspired individuals there as well as in France, Germany, Poland and elsewhere served to alleviate pain and provide spiritual comfort.

Nuns caring for sick

All in all, I’d say it is not so surprising that Jesus commended the “church in Thyatira” so highly!



Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity [Eerdmans Publishing, 1977]

The New Bible Dictionary [Eerdmans Publishing, 1962]

New American Bible online @

Book of Kells @

Medieval Music @

Medieval Medicine History @

Schola Medica Salernitana @

The Rule of St. Benedict @

Charity, the Judeo Christian Tradition @

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