And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things said the Son of God, who has his eyes like to a flame of fire…
Careful readers of these letters will observe how in this and the foregoing ones St. John seems to be contemplating great historical events recorded in the Old Testament. In the first, the allusion to "the tree of life" and the "Paradise of God" carries us back to the story of the Fall and the expulsion from Eden. In the second, Noah and the Flood are apparently referred to in the promise of life as the reward of fidelity, and the not being "hurt of the second death;" for the Flood was the second death of humanity, and the waters of the Flood may point us to that awful lake by which the ungodly at the last shall be overwhelmed, and which St. John calls the second death. In the third, the wilderness life of Israel, the ruin wrought on them by Balaam, and "the manna" which was their food, these form the groundwork of the letter to Pergamos. Then in the fourth, that before us now, we come on to the times of the monarchy, and that dark period when Ahab ruled over the northern kingdom, and Jezebel led him and his people into all the vileness of idolatry. A thorough Jew as St. John was, and having complete knowledge of the ancient Scriptures, they being his one book, would be quick to find analogies and illustrations of the spiritual condition of the Churches in the checkered history of mankind, and especially of Israel, as recorded in those Scriptures. And the tragedy - for it was no less - associated with Jezebel (cf. 'Macbeth,' and see whence Shakespeare got his nspiration); and the flashing fire in the eyes of the fierce Jehu, and the burnished brass of his swift-revolving chariot wheels as he furiously drove along on his journey of vengeance to slay the proud, idolatrous queen who had led all Israel astray, - this avenger might well come into the mind of St. John as he thought of the spiritual tragedy at Thyatira, and of an avenger more awful still, "the Son of God," whose eyes were "as a flame of fire and his feet like molten brass," and who was swiftly hastening to take vengeance on the guilty leader of whom Jezebel was the prototype, and that guilty Church. A fit name for this letter would be "The wrath of the Lamb," for much concerning that wrath is shown in it.
I. ITS REALITY. The letter is full of fearfulness to those whom it concerns, and was without doubt intended so to be. There is scarce a soft, gentle word in it, but all is stern from first to last. The inscription, the contents, the very promises at the end, are all marked by the same character. The Church had connived at, or at least had offered no strenuous opposition to, most awful and flagrant wrong, which had been taught and practised in her very midst; and in the wrath that this aroused all their righteousness - and they had much - is little more than named, and seems scarcely mentioned. The letter is hardly anything else than one vehement outpouring of the Lord's wrath and threatenings of his sore displeasure. The symbols show this. The eyes like as a flame of fire, and the feet of incandescent, glowing, molten brass, suggest strongly the twin ideas of rage and ruthless resolve to execute it upon those against whom it is directed. They bring before us a truly terrible aspect of the character of our Lord, but one which is real and actual, though far too much ignored both in thought and teaching. We say and sing far too exclusively, "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild;" and this, notwithstanding the very Gospels themselves give not a few indications of a power of holy and awful anger which he who so graciously took up little children in his arms yet evidently had within him. Hearken how he speaks to the scribes and Pharisees; listen to his reiterated "woes" denounced upon hypocrites; and observe as a momentous fact that the most fearful utterances of the whole Bible fell from our Saviour's lips. And this Book of the Revelation, is it not like the prophet's scroll, written both within and without, and full of scarce anything but "lamentation and mourning and woe"? And all of it is the Lord's doing, either directly or through his agents. The Bible, therefore, gives but little countenance to that far too general idea that the character of Christ is only gentleness and love. And there is, and there ought to be, no such character anywhere. That love which is said to go out to everybody generally goes to nobody in particular, except the man's own self above all. It is a mere easiness and softness, utterly unreliable, and of little moral worth. But when there is real love, the obverse side will be a corresponding wrath against all that injures what is so much loved. What is tenderer, and at the same time fiercer, than a mother's love? Even amid the beasts of the field it is so. A bear robbed of her whelps, woe betide the despoiler if the mother overtake him! And all that wrath which is told of in the Bible, and especially in this book, those eyes which, against the Jezebels that seduce his people, are "as a flame of fire," once wept over Jerusalem and by the grave of Lazarus. If he could not hate, he could not love; and because he does so love, therefore is the wrath of the Lamb so real and terrible a thing.
II. ITS SEVERITY. (Vers. 22, 23.) God does do even now what is meant by these expressions. Out of men's own wickedness he makes whips to scourge them. How dreadful and irreparable is the ruin which even here and now often overtakes the ungodly! There is no need for laboured argument to prove that there is a hell hereafter: many men spend their lives in hell now. Their intense realization of their shame, their fall; the horror which good men have of them; the ruin they have brought upon themselves, and yet more upon those who trusted and loved and depended upon them; - all this is hell, and is a fearful corroboration of the sure teaching of God as to the judgment he forewarns us of hereafter.
III. ITS FORBEARANCE. "I gave her space to repent." Sentence upon an evil work is not executed speedily, and hence men too often, therefore, all the more set their hearts steadfastly to do evil.
IV. ITS JUSTICE. The Lord denounces here, we think, not a person, but a party; some evil knot of persons in the Church, who were to the rest what the woman Jezebel, Ahab's wile, was to Israel - their seducer and leader in all abominable ways. Vers. 22 and 23 seem to imply that there was not one person merely, but a dominant party in the Church, who were guilty of the sins which had so roused the wrath of the Lord. True, we have the phrase, "thy wife Jezebel," and this has led some to suppose that the pastor of the Church was afflicted with a detestable woman as a wife - such things do happen; but when we remember how "the harlot" is the continual name with which corrupt Churches are branded, we are permitted to regard the whole as symbolical. The phrase may therefore be regarded as telling of a pestilent and powerful set belonging to the Church, and therefore it could be said, "thy wife," who were as Jezebel. And we must regard the sins spoken of as being literally what they are said to be. And who that knows the power of these sins to waste the conscience, pollute the mind, ruin the body, paralyze the will, and every way turn man into worse than the very brutes, and so to make the Church in which they were practised a byword, a hissing, and a rebuke, can wonder that, as has ever been the case, the wrath of God arose against them until there was no remedy? Because of them the Flood came, the cities of the plain were overwhelmed with fire, the nations of Canaan were exterminated; and today, given the sin, there, not far off, is the judgment of God. Beware of them, for they "war against the soul," and against all the well being of mankind, so that, in mercy to the human race, God has branded them with his severe displeasure.
V. ITS DISCRIMINATION. "The Lord knoweth them that are his" and his eye was upon them even in that corrupt Church. They had refused to be beguiled by the specious pretences of these ungodly teachers that their doctrines were profound, not for the uninitiated; that they were "deep" things - deep things of the devil, the Lord in indignation adds - though they pretended that they came from above. But this "rest of you in Thyatira" would have none of the doctrine; they spurned it as they should. And now the Lord tells them that no other burden should be put upon them. To have to endure such people amongst them, and to have the Name of Christ so dishonoured, this was burden enough. Therefore only let them abide in all those good and blessed qualities which characterized them, and which he commemorates in ver. 19, and then in that coming glory foretold in Psalm 2. they shall share, and from being despised and borne down with the burden of the wicked, they shall with Christ rule over them, and restrain them effectually as with "a rod of iron," and as now they were powerless to do; and best of all, he who is "the Root and the Offspring of David, and the Bright and the Morning Star" (Revelation 22:16), he will give himself to them; the day star should arise in their hearts, the joy of the Lord should be theirs forevermore.
"Grant, Lord, that I may come
To thy saints' happy home,
Where a thousand years one day appears;
Where a day appears
As a thousand years,
Parallel VersesKJV: And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass;
WEB: "To the angel of the assembly in Thyatira write: "The Son of God, who has his eyes like a flame of fire, and his feet are like burnished brass, says these things: