“I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching, she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.”
Much has been written in recent years about “the Jezebel spirit,” and how every local church and every believer should be on high guard against those who think and act like Jezebel. But who is Jezebel? What defines her spirit? And why does it pose such a threat to you and your church?
Jezebel in Scripture
In the Old Testament, Jezebel was a pagan who became the wife of Ahab, king of Israel, and proceeded to corrupt him and most of the people. She used her power and influence to sway others to idolatrous and wicked ways and was completely unrepentant. In Revelations 2:20, her name appears again—this time speaking of an unknown individual in the church of Thyatira who was similarly leading early Christians astray, seducing them into immorality through her influence and charisma.
For a little context, the modern city of Akhisar, home to about 107,000 residents, holds many similarities to its ancestral history as Thyatira. This urban area is a major trade center located at the intersection of several highways, which themselves lead to other great urban centers in western Turkey. Sprawling beyond this city center is the fertile Akhisar Plain, internationally known for its production of tobacco. As in the days of Thyatira, Akhisar city and district is also known for its agricultural production of cloth, wool, dye, olives, olive oil, grapes and raisins.
It is to the church of Thyatira that Jesus chose to reveal Himself with the divine title “the Son of God” (Rev. 2:18). The message He speaks to the church of Thyatira is a reminder to every church and every believer still today.
Rev. 2:23 “Then all the churches will know that I am He who searches hearts and minds.”
Jesus brings severe warning to the church in Thyatira, as a reprehensible false teaching and immoral practice has been embraced by some within this church. This entire blight is attributable to one whom Jesus symbolically calls “Jezebel”—referencing the cruel, immoral and idolatrous wife of Israel’s deplorable King Ahab
We can now appreciate the strength of Christ’s censure of the church in Thyatira, which harbored some who actively followed and some who irresponsibly “tolerated” their own “Jezebel.” “That woman Jezebel” is no doubt a symbolic allusion to her ancient counterpart. What we do know of Thyatira’s “Jezebel” is that she has falsely claimed herself to be “a prophet,” i.e., one who speaks a divine message. Like the religiously motivated ancient Jezebel, her influence is both of a sexually deviant and idolatrous nature.
It is well known within this first-century culture of paganism and idolatry that craftsmen guilds, early labor unions as such, commonly adopted patron deities. In honor of these false gods and goddesses, meetings or festivities held by these guilds often took place within the associated pagan temples. Here the ancients participated in drunkenness and sexual orgies; here also food was served which first had been offered in sacrifice to the idols of these false deities. This, no doubt, presented a constant moral dilemma for Christian businessmen and women and craftsmen and women.
To separate from these common practices or from the guilds themselves surely threatened their social acceptance and prosperity. It is likely then that Thyatira’s “Jezebel” taught as doctrine that for the sake of business there was no need for believers to separate from this idolatry and immorality.
To be sure, an attitude or spirit that is domineering and controlling with little or no regard for those who stand in his or her way is dangerous, inexcusable and so opposite the heart of Jesus. Yet, Christ’s greater issue with the “Jezebel” of Thyatira was her immoral and unrepentant lifestyle, which she wove into a false teaching that lured others into her trap.