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Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.
In Revelation 2:18 Christ introduces Himself to the church of Thyatira:
18 And to the angel of the church in Thyatira, write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this:
Once again Christ is pictured in a unique way that is appropriate to deal with the problems in this church. We have already seen in Revelation 1:14 and 15 that “His eyes were like a flame of fire, and His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been caused to glow in a furnace.” He is like a furnace, where we can see His inner fire through His eyes and see His glowing feet.
The fire indicates His character or nature (Deuteronomy 4:24), and His bronze feet indicate divine judgment by means of that fire. The messages to Pergamum and Thyatira are given by a Judge, whereas the other messages focus upon His attributes. Therefore, it is clear that Pergamum and Thyatira are singled out for divine judgment. We do not know the particular circumstances in those literal churches of the first century, but history tells us the nature and actions of the church as a whole during the eras that they represent.
Revelation 2:19 begins the actual message to the church:
19 I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first.
The focus on the church’s “deeds” (works, actions) seems to suggest that works somehow have overshadowed faith. Obviously, there were two kinds of people in the church, good and bad. The good deeds of the one group are not the problem, but the deeds of the others are exposed as the message continues.
The Meaning of Thyatira
Thyatira was located on the road from Pergamum to Sardis. The experts are uncertain as to the meaning of Thyatira. Many believe, however, that it is a compound word that is derived from thya, “a female deity, goddess,” and tyrannos, “a tyrant or ruler.” Others say that the name comes from thuo, “to sacrifice” and therefore means “continual sacrifice.”
Once again, it is likely that both of these meanings are true and prophetic, even as Pergamum (or Pergamos) and Antipas had double meanings. The meaning of Thyatira was no doubt being used to support the prophecy about “Jezebel” in Revelation 2:20. The Old Testament Jezebel not only asserted herself as a tyrant goddess, but she also killed the prophets, offering them up, as it were, as a continual sacrifice.
Furthermore, Thyatira was the New Covenant church that ran parallel to the Jezebel church under the Old Covenant. For this reason, of course, the message to Thyatira references its Jezebel problem. The New Covenant church was troubled by the spirit of Jezebel, who came from Tyre. Thyatira was like the New Tyre, built after the original city of Tyre was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.
Ethbaal, King-Priest of Tyre
In studying the Old Testament Balaam Church, which parallels the New Testament Church of Pergamos, we see that it involved the doctrine of Balaam who taught the king of Moab how to induce Israel to sin through intermarriage with the idolatrous Moabites. The intermarriage problem in Israel continued throughout their history in Canaan until it finally reached its apex in the days of king Ahab of Israel. King Ahab married Jezebel, who was the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Zidonians (1 Kings16:31). He ruled as a king-priest from the city of Tyre.
According to historians, Ethbaal was the high priest of Baal who had overthrown king Pheles of Tyre and replaced him as king-priest. Thus, Ethbaal was more than a mere follower of Baal. As high priest of the religion, he represented Baal on earth. As king, he ruled with temporal power as well. Hence, his name was actually a title: Eth-baal, one who rules with Baal, or by his authority, or in place of Baal. The name Ethbaal means “with, near, or together with Baal.”
In Roman terminology, he would be the Vicar of Baal. The kingdom of Tyre in the days of Jezebel was a religious kingdom of Baal on earth, and its high priest ruled supreme as king. This sheds much light on Ezekiel 28, which compares the beautiful city of Tyre to the Garden of Eden and compares the prince of Tyre (Ethbaal) to the tempter in Eden. In effect, in those days Tyre manifested the anti-kingdom of God, ruled by Ethbaal, an antichrist type.
The prefix “anti-” means “in place of.” For example, Matt. 2:22 tells us that Archelaus reigned in Judea anti, or in place of, his father Herod. In like manner, Ethbaal ruled Tyre in place of Baal himself. Likewise, because Ahab had married Jezebel, Ethbaal’s laws governed Israel in place of the laws of God. Even as the serpent in Eden successfully tempted Adam to sin, so also did Ethbaal tempt Ahab to sin in marrying Jezebel.
In the New Testament message to the Churches, we find that Pergamos, “married to power,” represents the unlawful marriage between the Church and paganism, or Ahab and Jezebel. The next Church era, that of Thyatira, gives us the results of that marriage. In the Church’s rise to power on a temporal plane over the kings of the earth, it formed an antichrist system. That is, the popes claimed to rule in place of Christ, calling themselves the Vicars of Christ. There is a direct parallel in this to King Ahab ruling Israel in place of Ethbaal, even as Ethbaal ruled in place of Baal as his vicar.
The name of Jezebel’s father prophesies to us of the underlying problem in the Thyatira Church era from 529 to 1517 A.D. King Ahab of Israel married Jezebel, and in so doing, he joined himself with her god, Baal. Thus, he placed Israel under the power of the kingdom of Baal on earth.
This set the stage for an era in which Ethbaal—through his daughter Jezebel—was the real power behind Israel’s monarchy. Ahab was a mere king; Ethbaal was a king of kings to all who worshipped Baal. In Israel, the laws of Baal replaced the laws of God as given by Moses, and it became unlawful to think differently. Jezebel then persecuted the true prophets of God and the Remnant of Grace during the days of Elijah (1 Kings18:13).
The History of Tyre
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquered the city of Tyre in 572 B.C., shortly after he conquered Jerusalem. This was no easy task, for Tyre had a wall that was 150 feet high. In fact, it took thirteen years for Babylon to subdue the city. The Hebrew name for Tyre is Tsur, which literally means rock, no doubt referring to its great strength as a fortified city.
The city of Tyre was a seaport divided into two parts. The main part of the city was built along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea in what is now Lebanon. The second section of the city was built upon a small island just offshore. When Nebuchadnezzar conquered the main part of Tyre, the people escaped to the island and remained free, for the sea itself provided a natural barrier against the Babylonian army, who did not have a navy to lay siege to the island.
Nearly three centuries later, Alexander the Great ran into the same problem. However, he decided to use the ruins of the old city to connect the island with the mainland. They hauled the rocks and columns from all the destroyed buildings and threw them into the sea. So much material was required that they literally scraped the dust from the bedrock of the old city and threw it into the sea. Only then were they able to conquer the island city of Tyre.
In this conquest, Alexander the Great fulfilled the prophecy of Ezekiel 26:4, 5.
4 And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers; I will also scrape her dust from her and make her like the top of a rock. 5 It shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea; for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God; and it shall become a spoil to the nations.
Today this causeway is used by fishermen to dry or repair their nets, as the prophet said.
One of Alexander’s four generals, Seleucus, took part in the conquest of Tyre in 332 B.C. After Alexander died in 323 B.C., the empire was divided among the four generals. Seleucus took control of Asia Minor and Babylon. In 312 B.C. he established the so-called Seleucid (Greek) calendar which later was used in dating events in the books of the Maccabees. Shortly before he died in 280 B.C., he founded the city of Thyatira—New Tyre.
As we said earlier, the name Tyre is, in Hebrew, the word Tsur, which means “rock” and refers to its strength as a fortress. According to The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, the name Thyatira means “the castle of Thya.” In other words, they take tira to mean “castle”—no doubt based upon its literal meaning as a rock or stronghold. This is supported by the fact that in later times it was renamed Ak-Hissar, which in Turkish means “white castle.”
Hissar is the Turkish equivalent to the Hebrew name Hazor found in Joshua 11. Hazor was the leading city of the northern part of Canaan. There is some debate as to whether Joshua conquered the city of Hazor, or if, in fact, he conquered Tyre. Hazor may be Ha-Tsur, “the rock.” At any rate, Strong’s concordance tells us that the name Hazor comes from the Hebrew word chatsar, which means “to surround with a stockade.” (See Strong’s #2690.) In other words, it is a castle.
Thus, the Turkish word for castle (Hissar) is the same as the Hebrew word for castle (Hazor). Both are closely related to Ha-Tsur, “the rock,” and Tsur is the city of Tyre. And yet Hassar is the modern name for the city of Thyatira as well. The connections are obvious.
Putting all these facts together, we can say that there is a spiritual connection and very possibly a physical connection between the city of Tyre and the city of Thya-TIRA. Both names incorporate the concept of a rock, fortress, or castle. Yet there are other striking similarities. Both cities worshipped the sun-god and a female counterpart. Both cities were famous for their purple dye and had trade unions, or guilds, to protect themselves from competition.
Tyre and Thyatira Known for Purple Dye
In comparing Tyre with the city of Thyatira, it is evident that Seleucus intended Thyatira to be like a second Tyre. Thyatira was noted for its production of purple dye, as was Tyre. We see this in Acts 16, where Lydia, one of Paul’s converts in Philippi, was in that city on business selling purple robes or cloth from her home town of Thyatira (Acts 16:14). So their main commercial activity was the same.
Her conversion perhaps foreshadows prophetically the Thyatira Church, which would be in need of a fresh conversion. Previous to meeting Paul, Lydia apparently had been a convert to Judaism, for it is said that she “worshipped God.” Nonetheless, she was in need of baptism into Christ (Acts16:15) in order to give her a full revelation of the Truth.
So also with the Church of Thyatira from 529 to 1517 A.D. While many of the people certainly attempted to worship God in the best way they knew, it is plain that their religious experience was in need of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The right to know Him personally had been taken from them in the rush to establish unity and single-mindedness in submission to “orthodox” Christian doctrine.
Tyre and Thyatira Had Similar Religions
We also can compare the religions of Tyre and Thyatira. The city of Tyre worshipped Baal, which was the name of their sun-god. The city of Thyatira in ancient times had a temple to the ancient Lydian sun-god named Tyrimnos. The first part of his name seems to connect him with the city of Tyre, as well as with the Greek word Tyrannos, “tyrant, or sovereign ruler.”
Ashtoreth was the goddess of the Zidonians (1 Kings11:33). She was the female consort for Baal and represented the earth, even as Baal was the sun-god. So also we find that the city of Thyatira had a goddess to go with their sun-god. According to The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,
“Another temple at Thyatira was dedicated to Sambethe, and at this shrine was a prophetess, by some supposed to represent the Jezebel of Rev. 2:20, who uttered the sayings which this deity would impart to the worshippers.”
In Rev. 2:20 the Church of Thyatira is condemned for allowing…
20 . . . that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce My servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols
Thus, we see that there was both a male figure, the sun-god named Tyrimnos, and a goddess named Sambethe in the city of Thyatira. It would appear that Sambethe is the “Thya-,” while Tyrimnos is the “Tyra.” Putting them together, as if to manifest the marriage of the god and goddess, they form the name of Thyatira.
Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.