Copyright © 2015, 2017, 2020 Philadelphia Church of God
Jesus Christ had the Apostle John record this message to the fourth era of His true Church: “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; I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first” (Revelation 2:18-19).
Jesus opens His message to this era by reminding them about His glorified body previously described in Revelation 1:14-16. He says His eyes are as a flame of fire and His feet “like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace”! Christ mentions these facts for specific reasons.
By a.d. 1000, the church at Rome had finally achieved supreme control over the religious thoughts of the empire. It also wielded considerable political power. The coronation of Charlemagne as “Emperor of the Romans” by Pope Leo iii in a.d. 800 was one of the most significant events of the Middle Ages. It set a precedent for the coronation of future Germanic kings of Europe.
During this time, profoundly unscrupulous men assumed control of the papacy. Spiritually, Rome was in chaos. The papal office was bought and sold. Some men obtained it through intrigue and murder. Sexual immorality was so bad that some historians refer to the rule of the popes during this age as “pornocracy.” It was during this period that the infamous “Cadaver Synod” was conducted (a.d. 897). Pope Stephen vi exhumed the body of Pope Formosus (a.d. 891–896) and put it on trial for treason. Formosus was found guilty, and the exhumed body was dragged through the streets past jeering crowds. Pope Stephen vi was later imprisoned and strangled that same year.
Sergius iii, pope from a.d. 904 to 911, obtained the office by murdering his predecessor. He lived openly in sin with a prostitute named Marozia, with whom he had several children. One of his sons from this relationship became Pope John xi. Historians refer to Sergius’s term in office as “the rule of the harlots.”
These were the Dark Ages. It was a black time for Europe and the Western world.
Christ’s message to the Church at this time reminds it that His eyes are as a flame of fire. His eyes can pierce any darkness. Christ clearly sees all that men do. He told Thyatira, “[A]nd all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works” (Revelation 2:23). Jesus Christ personally tests all Church members to see what is in their hearts. Those willfully disobedient to Him will be thrown into the lake of fire. Christ also reminds them that His feet are like unto molten brass. He has the power to trample His enemies and walk on their ashes (Malachi 4:3).
On the other hand, Christ’s all-seeing eyes should be of great comfort to those who are obedient to Him. Christ never forgets His people’s sufferings and works. He promises to reward all who do well. Those who follow in His footsteps are a light to the world—a candle put on a candlestick (Matthew 5:14-15). We will see that Thyatira was a bright flame in the midst of the Dark Ages.
The reference to flames in relation to Thyatira may also have another meaning. The Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course states: “Few people are aware that burning to death first became a penalty for heresy about this time. Among Romans, Goths and others, burning was a civil penalty, and for only the most heinous crimes. Mob action such as the burning of Polycarp in the second century was outside the law. Furthermore, the early Catholic ‘church fathers’ taught that for the church to put a heretic to death would be an inexpiable sin. They allowed no more than banishment or imprisonment. But since civil authority had prescribed burning for sorcery, it gradually became the custom to equate sorcery with heresy, which made burning the new official punishment for heretics” (Lesson 51).
Christ called upon Thyatira to work during one of the most difficult times in human history. Civil governments in Europe were often in disarray. Religious leaders stepped into the void—and ruthlessly controlled the people. It was either submit to papal authority or die.
But even in the face of this onslaught of evil, because the Church was empowered by Jesus Christ, it could be a fiery flame of hope.
Jesus Christ praised the people of Thyatira for their works during this extremely difficult time. He said, “I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first” (Revelation 2:19). This era’s works included charity, service, faith and patience. These four qualities are very important when doing Christ’s Work.
The word charity comes from the Greek word agape, which refers to the love of God. This miraculous love saturates everything God does, exemplified most of all by the ministry and sacrifice of Jesus Christ (John 3:16). God implants that very love within His saints through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) and commands that we exercise and demonstrate it (e.g. John 13:34-35; 1 Corinthians 13; Galatians 5:22-25; 1 John 5:1-3). The entire Work of God is an expression of God’s love for the world and His desire to draw men to Himself (e.g. 1 Timothy 2:1-7).
Service, from the Greek diakonia, is defined by Thayer’s as “service, ministering, especially of those who execute the commands of others … of those who by the command of God proclaim and promote religion among men.” This word shows that this era responded successfully to Christ’s commands to do the Work. We will see that Thyatira did have some strong ministers who knew they had a commission from God to proclaim the gospel of Christ. And as a whole, this era did lovingly and faithfully serve the spiritual needs of others. In the Dark Ages, people were spiritually bankrupt. The Thyatirans filled the void for those who would listen. They kept God’s truth vibrantly alive and taught others to follow the truth and their example.
Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). It is faith in the glorious promises of God that has always enabled God’s people to press forward in His Work despite horrific opposition and persecution (e.g. verses 32-40). This quality was especially needful for the saints of the dangerous Thyatira era.
Thayer’s defines the Greek word for patience as “steadfastness, constancy, endurance.” Strong’s defines it as “cheerful …vendurance.” We must build faith and patience. Patience is needed not only to endure, but to endure cheerfully. God’s people in this era were hassled, persecuted and martyred, but many remained steadfast, constant and true to the Bible and the Work.
Jesus Christ also indicates in Revelation 2:19 that Thyatira’s later works were greater than at its beginning. We will see how their qualities of charity, service, faith and patience produced great growth.
God chose the name Thyatira to describe this era for good reason. The city of Thyatira is first mentioned in the book of Acts. “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul” (Acts 16:14). The ancient city of Thyatira was known for its cloth and textile industry. It was a city of merchants and weavers. This city was especially famous for its fine woolen cloth that was dyed purple.
Lydia, a famous convert from Thyatira, sold this purple cloth. Christ had opened her heart to be able to understand Paul and the others while they prayed by the river.
During the Dark Ages, Alpine Europe was also known for its textiles. The Alpine area of southern France, where the Thyatira era began, was the heart of the textile industry of Europe at that time. Historians have speculated that the Paulician and Bogomil missionaries were also in the cloth industry. It is believed that Paulician missionaries carried woven silk from Byzantium and the east to the enthusiastic markets of the west. Although these facts about Thyatira’s textile industry are not mentioned directly in the Bible as one of the spiritual signs of this era, its physical correlation cannot be denied.
Alpine Europe was also known as a center of heresy at this time. Remember, the title heretic was applied by the Roman Catholic Church. Like Lydia from ancient Thyatira, this area had been prepared by Christ to receive the knowledge of the truth.
Because of the people’s natural inclination to resent the papacy, their minds were more open to the truth. The Paulicians and Bogomils in Italy were also called Cathars, which meant puritan. In France they were known as Cathars, Publicani, Bulgars and finally Albigenses. In Germany, the Cathars, who settled around the area of Cologne, are described by Encyclopedia Britannica as “the abiding background of medieval heresy.” They are also referred to as “the debris of an earlier Christianity” (11th edition). One of the main occupations listed for the Cathars was weaving.
Not all of the Cathars, Publicani, Bulgars and Albigenses were part of the true Church. Often members of the true Church were mistakenly associated with these groups.
The Encyclopedia Britannica indicates that this area’s history of heresy appears to have had ancient roots. Some histories show that this area was heavily influenced by the original apostles. Remnants of the earliest Christianity remained hidden in this geographical area. J. A. Wylie, in his book History of the Waldenses, wrote: “Behind this rampart of mountains [Alpine Europe], which Providence, foreseeing the approach of evil days, would almost seem to have reared on purpose, did the remnant of the early apostolic Church of Italy kindle their lamp, and here did that lamp continue to burn all through the long night which descended on Christendom …. Their traditions invariably point to an unbroken descent from the earliest times, as regards their religious beliefs.”
The meaning of the name Thyatira is significant. One definition of the Greek word Thyatira is “sacrifice of contrition”—a reference to genuine repentance. History shows that some of the early Thyatiran ministers focused their preaching on real repentance.
In 1096, the pope declared that the Val Louise in Dauphiny, France, was infested with heresy. This declaration was the result of the evangelization of this area by the Paulicians, or God’s true Church. In 1104, we have record of a man named Peter de Bruys, a native of this valley, preaching repentance. He is considered the first Thyatiran minister to do a work.
Peter’s ministry began at Embrun and spread throughout Languedoc and Provence. Peter taught that infant baptism was meaningless. He only baptized adults who had come to a real repentance—who could fully understand what they were doing. “The Thyatiran era got off to a vigorous start, preaching repentance throughout the Alpine Valleys of southern France and northern Italy. Many heard and were converted,” Mystery of the Ages explains.
History also shows that Peter de Bruys rejected the Roman Catholic teaching of the mysteries. He did not accept the teaching that the priest literally changed bread into the flesh of Jesus during mass. He opposed the veneration of crosses, any emphasis on church buildings, and the false teachings concerning purgatory, prayers for the dead, and bribes paid to the religious leadership. Peter preached the continued and perpetual authority of the Ten Commandments.
It is believed that Peter was able to preach the true gospel for nearly 20 years. Converted followers gathered around him. He trained two men, one named Henry and the other named Arnold. Through their preaching, the number of people following the truth multiplied.
The Catholic Church became outraged by Peter de Bruys’s rejection of its authority. When he made a bonfire of crosses—a pagan symbol associated with the Babylonian mystery religion—he so horrified and enraged a mob that it ended up burning him to death.
Here is what Dr. Hoeh wrote concerning these Thyatiran beginnings in his Church history booklet: “As a result of the evangelization of the Alpine regions by the Paulicians and Bogomils of Bulgaria, as God’s people were called, there arose numerous ministers and faithful congregations around a.d. 1000. One of these men was Peter de Bruys who preached the gospel of the Kingdom in the south of France (Jones, Church History). Two other preachers of the time were Arnold and Henry. They were charged by the Catholic Church with remaining faithful to the whole law of God and of observing the Sabbath (Peter Allix, Ecclesiastical History).”
Dr. Hoeh then quoted the Lutheran historian Mosheim, who wrote that these 12th-century believers held “a notion that the observance of the law of Moses, in everything except the offerings of sacrifices, was obligatory upon Christians; in consequence of which they … abstained from those meats, the use of which was prohibited under the Mosaic economy, and celebrated the Jewish Sabbath. The second tenet that distinguished this sect was advanced in opposition to the doctrine of three persons in the divine nature ….” They rejected the trinity doctrine—they knew that God is a Family!
While Peter de Bruys was alive, the true Church was known as the Petrobrusians. After Peter’s martyrdom, Henry, from the Laussanne area, took over the leadership of the churches. Henry is most well known for his criticism of Cathar and Catholic error. In his preaching, he exposed the worldly Roman holidays of Christmas and Easter. He taught against infant baptism. He despised the corruption and immorality of the priests. Under Henry, the true people of God became know as Henricians. Under Arnold, Church members became known as Arnoldists.
Here is how the Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course sums up this phase of Thyatira’s era: “Peter and Henry occupied the office of apostle. ‘Has the whole world been so blinded [that it should] have to wait so long for you and choose Peter of Bruys and Henry, his disciple, as exceeding recent apostles, to correct the long error,’ chided the contemporary Abbot of Clungy, a Catholic. How similar this is to the way some disparage God’s Church today!
“Years passed. Even priests accepted the truth. But persecution increased. Henry was imprisoned in 1135, though later released. Moving his headquarters to the Albi-Toulouse area, he continued to preach for several more years. Again cast into prison, he died there in 1149 ….
“While Peter and Henry were alive, multitudes had been attracted by their preaching. But people then were like today. Many listen and accept parts of the truth. But instead of continuing on to become converted, most either do nothing or they join ‘the church of their choice’” (Lesson 51).
After Henry’s death, Thyatira’s work fell into serious decline. The world nearly lost sight of God’s Church as its work, lacking organization and leadership, went into obscurity for about 12 years.
At this point in Thyatira’s history, it appeared that the Work was over. However, Thyatira’s greatest work was yet to be accomplished. In His message to the Church, Christ had stated, “I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first” (Revelation 2:19).
Jesus Christ does not speak any words in vain. There is a reason the word works is repeated: Christ planned to revive the work of Thyatira! He prophesied that Thyatira’s “last” works would be more than its first.
Christ’s revival of the Thyatira work began in the smallest way. God and Christ always work that way with human beings (Matthew 13:31-32). We must learn to appreciate the “day of small things” (Zechariah 4:10). God consistently develops small things into greater things. This has been true for every Church era. If you want to find God’s Work, take note of the work that begins very humbly.
The world at that time hardly noticed that a work was being revived. Christ revived it in a most unusual way. In 1161, a man named Peter Waldo—a wealthy merchant from Lyons, the weaving capital of Europe—began publicly preaching the truth of God. A notable, organized work began. Though we know little about this man, certain Catholic writers give us some history about his life.
Some 12 to 15 years before he began preaching, Peter Waldo witnessed the sudden death of a friend. This tragic event shocked him into seriously questioning the meaning of life. Waldo came from Dauphiny, the same area of France that Peter de Bruys was from. It is believed that his family came from the Walden district and had direct contact with the Church of God. So Peter Waldo had some knowledge about God when he saw his friend die so suddenly.
Waldo came from an extremely wealthy family of clothing merchants. Believing that money had kept him cut off from God, he gave up his incredible wealth to completely follow Christ. He gave the bulk of his money to the needy. However, he committed a portion of his wealth to have the Scriptures translated into the language of the people. He diligently began a personal study of God’s Word. He was earnest in his search for the truth of God. Jesus Christ opened Waldo’s mind to understand truths he had probably previously rejected.
Waldo’s Catholic wife and daughters thought he had lost his mind. They separated from him. History shows that one of his daughters entered a convent. His wife later reconciled with him. She helped him and the Work, using money he had left behind for her.
“Waldo brought the same practical common sense that had made him successful as a businessman to the organization and work of the Church,” the Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course states. “He had the education and experience which so few in God’s Church had (1 Corinthians 1:26). Jesus Christ had probably guided that experience, unknown to Waldo, long before his conversion.
“As he preached, others united themselves and their efforts to his. They became, as it is said, ‘as many co-workers for him.’ They dedicated their lives and their property to the spread of Christ’s gospel.
“This little group became known as the ‘poor men of Lyons.’ But that was not the name of the Church. They called themselves the Church of God, or simply Christians.
“Little is known of the progress of the Work during the first 19 years. At an unspecified but probably early period, Waldo and a group of co-workers went to Picardy (in north France). When persecution was raised there, some went further to Flanders and the Netherlands—their translation of the Bible always with them. As early as 1182, their doctrine had gained many adherents in Holland. Prominent among these were weavers. Picards, as these Waldenses were called, ultimately spread as far as eastern Germany, Poland and especially Bohemia” (Lesson 51).
The impact Waldo and his co-workers had on central Europe was felt by the church of Rome. The archbishop of Lyon launched a persecution against Waldo and the “poor men of Lyons.” In 1176, he officially forbade them from preaching. Waldo and the Church refused to comply. Waldo responded with the same words uttered by so many courageous saints before him: “We must obey God rather than men.”
Waldo’s persistence in preaching the gospel came to the attention of the pope. At this time, papal authority was reaching its peak. In late 1178, Waldo was summoned to appear before Alexander iii in Rome. The outcome of this meeting was critical: The real issue at hand was whether the Work could continue in central Europe.
During this meeting in Rome, Waldo used great wisdom. He deflected the arguments away from specific doctrine and focused on a more fundamental issue: the use of the Bible. He carried with him a copy of the Scriptures written in the vernacular. He showed the pope how desperately the people needed access to the Scriptures. He showed how these Scriptures had helped people all over southern France and parts of Italy and Spain.
Alexander iii at first appeared to agree with Waldo’s demands. However, he left the final decision to the Lateran Council of 1179. Peter Waldo left two of the “poor men” behind to attend this council. They were condemned. The Lateran Council told Waldo’s co-workers they could preach only if the local priest asked them to. Why? “The Roman church cannot endure your preaching!” Likewise today, God’s people will be told that the land cannot bear their words (Amos 7:10).
Waldo’s associates resisted the decision. It is reported that they replied, “Christ sent us. If you were His Church, you would not hinder us.”
These faithful men continued their work. “It took the archbishop 5½ years, a new pope, and a new bull [papal decree] anathematizing Waldo and all his followers to finally drive them from Lyon,” the Ambassador correspondence course states. “But Waldo had already gone elsewhere. Jesus Christ had opened a door (2 Corinthians 2:12)” (emphasis mine throughout).
The door Christ opened was truly remarkable. At the same Lateran Council that denounced Waldo’s work, representatives of a growing ascetic movement within the Catholic Church also sought the right to preach. They too were denied. Disappointed but undeterred, they did something extraordinary: They defied the Catholic Church and asked Peter Waldo to become their leader.
Driven from France, Waldo crossed the Alps to teach these people. Thus, a second branch of Waldensians was established in Italy.
All these events once again reinforce an important lesson for us today: God’s Church and Work often grow stronger in the face of persecution. And if, because of the severity of the opposition, the Church is unable to grow, Christ moves a remnant of His faithful followers to a place of protection (e.g. Revelation 12:6, 14).
When Waldo moved into Italy, the Work grew rapidly. He soon founded a college to train men for the ministry, located in three stone buildings in the Angrogna Valley of the Cottian Alps. The college and the town of La Torre became the new headquarters for the Work and the growing Church of God.
The ministers, college students and Church members produced booklets and articles to support the preaching of the gospel. The printing press had not yet been invented. Any book or other written material had to be carefully, laboriously copied by hand. We can begin to see why Christ praised this second effort of the Thyatira era. The Church’s literature was given freely to all who were interested. Christ taught the disciples, “[F]reely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Peter Waldo and the Church followed Christ’s commands. How was it all paid for? Church members and co-workers paid the cost through their tithes and offerings, which were sent to the college and headquarters.
“For several years in the 12th century, these Waldensians flourished in the Alpine Valleys, preaching what truth they had. Booklets and articles were written and copied by hand. This was still before the days of printing,” Mystery of the Ages says. “As Jesus prophesied of the Thyatiran era, they had faith and they worked hard. Their latter works were greater than the first.”
Since the Work at that time was expanding into several different European countries, the Bible was also translated into several different languages. History shows that these people took the Bible literally. One unique version of the Bible, translated into Low German, was done in rhyme to make memorization easier. The early followers of Waldo were well known for committing entire sections of the Bible to memory.
Young men of about age 25 were chosen as college students. They were expected to attend classes in the winter months for about three or four years. They had to work in the fields and at other occupations during the summer months. Each minister had to learn a trade so he could support himself. Because of the scarcity of Bibles (it was even dangerous to carry one), every potential minister was required to memorize entire sections of the Bible. He also had to learn to explain the Scriptures. Most of the ministers were trained to speak at least three languages. They were also educated in matters of physical health. All were tested and tried. Those who bore the necessary fruits were ordained into the ministry.
The fruits of Peter Waldo’s ministry prove he was an apostle of Jesus Christ. However, he personally refused to be called anything other than the chief elder. Even the Roman Catholic Church referred to Waldo as the “chief elder” in its documents against him and the Church of God.
Many additional elders and deacons were ordained. Some elders directed the work of others. Some served as pastors of churches. Others served as evangelists, carrying the gospel into foreign countries. Through Peter Waldo, Christ restored all the biblically mandated ministerial offices to the Church.
As the Work grew, so did the persecution. Ministers had to conceal their identities to protect themselves. They became known as “barbes,” which meant uncle. Times became extremely dangerous. The ministers were constantly on the move, visiting scattered brethren. Generally the Waldensian ministers traveled in pairs; one was senior, the other junior. Ministers with stationary assignments were rotated every two to three years.
Few of the Waldensian ministers married. This was done not out of religious philosophy, but because of the danger of the office. Their journeys were too treacherous for a wife to accompany them. Paul had set this same example during his ministry (1 Corinthians 7:25-26). Though he could have had a wife, it would have been extremely difficult to support her and a family while doing the job Christ required of him. Still, Waldo and the Thyatiran ministry condemned the Roman Catholic doctrine of celibacy for priests, just as Paul did (e.g. 1 Timothy 3:2; 4:1, 3).
“The early Waldenses practiced overcoming and education in every walk of life,” the Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course states. “They were obedient, clean, honest. Even their enemies acknowledged they could find no fault with their lives. They would not lie or swear (Matthew 5:34), nor do anything to others which they would not have done to themselves (Matthew 7:12). They dressed and acted modestly (1 Timothy 2:9; 1 Peter 3:3). They were chaste, temperate in all things, in control of their emotions, diligent, continually keeping busy, founding their whole teaching on the Bible. Their enemies marveled.
“They made no public show of prayer like those who wasted endless hours uselessly repeating meaningless words (Matthew 6:7). But they did teach and practice earnest, believing, fruitful prayer in a private place ….
“Below the college level, a system of elementary schools was later established. Both boys and girls attended. Even small children learned to memorize and recite whole chapters of Scripture. …
“The Waldenses recognized that they were the true successors of the apostolic Church” (Lesson 51).
These believers obeyed the laws of the Old Testament. They observed the weekly Sabbath. They kept Passover each spring. And each fall, they held a large conference at their headquarters, attended by as many as 700 people who traveled in for it. At this conference, ministerial assignments were announced, and new students were chosen. Most importantly, crowds gathered each day to hear sermons. Those in God’s Church today will recognize these practices as the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:34).
The correspondence course concludes, “How much more we might have known about these Middle Ages’ Feasts of Tabernacles had not the inquisitors so zealously burned the records!”
In time, serious persecution set in against the Church and the Work. Pope Lucius’s bull of 1184 condemned several rebel religious groups. Among the groups named were the poor men of Lyons, the Arnoldists and the Passagines (another group that observed the whole Old Testament law). The Church of God was targeted for persecution.
Lucius’s decree read: “Wherefore we being supported by the presence and power of our most dear son, Frederick, the most illustrious emperor of the Romans, always increaser of the empire, with the common advice and counsel of our brethren, and other patriarchs, archbishops and many princes, who from several parts of the world are met together, do set ourselves against these heretics, who have got names from the several false doctrines they profess ….
“More particularly, we declare all Catharists, Paterines, and those who call themselves the Poor of Lyons, the Passagines, Josephites, Arnoldists, to lie under a perpetual anathema ….
“[W]hosoever shall be notoriously convicted of these errors, if a clergyman, or one that endeavors to conceal himself under any religious order, he shall be immediately deprived of all prerogative of the church-orders; and so being divested of all office and benefice, be delivered up to the secular power, to be punished according to demerit, unless immediately upon his being detected, he voluntarily returns to the truth of the Catholic faith, and publicly adjures his errors, at the discretion of the bishop of the diocess and makes suitable satisfaction. And for a layman who shall be found guilty, either publicly or privately, of any of the aforesaid crimes, unless by adjuring his heresy, and making satisfaction, he immediately return to the orthodox faith; we decree him to be left to the sentence of the secular judge, to receive condign punishment, according to the quality of the offense ….
“We ordain further, that all earls, barons, governors and consuls of cities … shall promise upon oath, that, in all these particulars, whenever they are required so to do, they will powerfully and effectually assist the church against heretics.”
This bull did not have the effect the pope intended. The Work, especially in southern France, continued to flourish. Many civil rulers actually protected Church members.
However, in 1194, Alphonso ii, king of Aragon and count of Barcelona and Provence, declared that the Waldensians were worthy of punishment. He commanded them to leave his lands immediately. Any person attending a Waldensian meeting risked having his lands seized.
In 1197, the persecution intensified: It was commanded that all Waldensians in these lands be burned at the stake. The Waldensians fled to Castile. But many were mercilessly tracked down and slaughtered.
In 1208, Pope Innocent iii declared the Albigensian Crusade—an attack not only against God’s people, but also against the civil rulers who protected them. Many civil rulers and some disenchanted clergy had become disgusted with the corruption of the power-hungry Roman church. Essentially, the Albigensian Crusade pitted the pope, loyal clergy and civil rulers of northern France against southern France.
“When the war began in 1209, the Provencal civilization was the most brilliant in Europe. When it was over, after 20 bitter years, that civilization had been completely destroyed,” the Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course states. “South France had become a backward region completely subject to Paris and Rome.
“The infamous Inquisition was then set up to complete the job by eliminating religious objections. Papal bull decreed severe punishment against any person suspected of even sympathizing with ‘heretics.’ Confiscations, imprisonments, burnings and every imaginable form of persecution continued for more than a hundred years. Thousands died. In the city of Montségur alone, 200 persons were burned in one day.”
Innocent iii proved to be one of the most notorious popes of all time. He brought a lot of force and energy to his office. He went after the Waldensians on all fronts. He ferreted out church groups that were using the Bible and ensured that their Bibles were burned. In addition, he developed his own form of “poor men” within the Catholic Church. These men were poorly clothed. They lived austerely and were loyal to Rome. The pope sent these men out two by two to counteract the true ministers of God. In 1209, he sponsored a revival of the Waldensian movement within the Catholic Church to draw members away from God’s Church.
Outwardly, these efforts had little effect. Not many joined the Catholic Church. But an internal sickness developed within God’s Church.
Christ warned the Thyatirans: “Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works” (Revelation 2:20-23). Many in Thyatira began to believe the false doctrines promoted by the Catholic Church.
Jesus Christ used the Old Testament character of Jezebel to warn the Thyatirans against the errors of this false church. Remember, God uses the symbol of a woman to represent spiritual Israel, or the Church (Revelation 12). Jezebel represents the great false church (Revelation 17). Involvement with this New Testament Jezebel would mean spiritual sickness and death.
Study the history of Jezebel (1 Kings 16 – 2 Kings 9). She was a Gentile who seduced her husband to worship Baal (1 Kings 16:31) and follow the sins of Jeroboam. She was extremely wicked—totally selfish, conniving and murderous (you especially see this in 1 Kings 21). She used deceit to serve her own purposes. She usurped her husband’s authority. She practiced sorcery and played the harlot for political favors (2 Kings 9:22, 30). Worst of all, she martyred the prophets of God (1 Kings 18:4; 19:1-2).
Jezebel aptly portrays what the church at Rome was doing during the Middle Ages when it sank to great depths of moral depravity. Reputable scholars and historians have recorded this history. Many “celibate” priests fathered numerous offspring. The papal palace at Rome became a brothel. Political deals were struck. The papal office was often won by murder and intrigue. However, this church called itself a prophetess (Revelation 2:20). It arrogantly believed it could rule over and teach true Christians.
Conditions at Rome became so bad that many loyal Catholics eventually formed the Protestant revolt. In verse 23, the Protestant churches are referred to as Jezebel’s children.
Sadly, some true Christians fell prey to the schemes of the false church. Some Waldensians allowed themselves to be seduced into a religion of compromise. Tired of persecution, some began to allow the Catholic Church to baptize their young, reasoning that the ceremony was meaningless. Some attended Sabbath services and Sunday mass in order to avoid persecution.
Gradually the vibrant truths of the Bible were compromised. The Thyatira era of the Church of God fell into serious decline. By 1532, long after the lamp had been moved to the Sardis era, several of the scattered “Waldensian” groups joined forces with those involved in the Protestant Reformation. They renounced their former biblically based teaching.
Today, the surviving Waldensian groups in Europe appear to be like any other modern “Christian” church.
Note in Revelation 2:21 where God says He gave this great false church “space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.” This is an extraordinary detail in this prophecy!
Yes, God gave the Roman Catholic Church an opportunity to repent—as He will once again in the future. What love God the Father has for all! As the Apostle Peter wrote, God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Look at the details of history, and it is possible to discern just what Christ’s statement about a “space to repent” may refer to.
The ministries of Peter de Bruys, Henry and Peter Waldo were all established geographically close to Rome. Henry had even been a Catholic priest and was converted from that false system by the preaching of Peter de Bruys. He denounced his Roman Catholic teachings and declared that he believed in the Bible. This had a tremendous impact on lay members and clergy alike. The ripple effects powerfully impacted Rome itself! Many people—even those who did not become members of God’s true Church—were affected, and they became staunchly opposed to the papal authority and abuses of the time. The pressure they exerted became so strong that it was instrumental in eventually forcing Pope Eugene iii into exile! This incredibly unique event took place in 1146—right in the midst of the Thyatiran era.
In the latter half of the same century, Peter Waldo and his supporters copied and distributed Bibles in the language of the people. This was unprecedented. Common people could actually read for themselves what the Bible said. This forced the Catholic clergy to deal with questions they could not answer. Lay members could see with their own eyes that what is plainly revealed in God’s Word differs greatly from the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Again, this presented “Jezebel” a great and unique opportunity to repent!
The work of God’s true people once again had such an impact that its effects reached the highest office in Rome—the pope. When Pope Alexander iii summoned Peter Waldo to Rome in 1178, he received a bold, Bible-based, personal witness that apparently almost convinced him. It appears this was another great opportunity for repentance. But as Revelation 2:21 prophesied, “she repented not.” Alexander left the final decision to the Lateran Council, which condemned Waldo and his followers.
In the end, the Catholics doubled down on their persecution against God’s Church, and that window to repent closed. Near the end of the 12th century, they launched a 10-year inquisition in the area of southern France where God’s Church had made such an impact on so many lives. That was followed by the 20-year Albigensian Crusade—the first military crusade launched within the borders of Europe itself! It was aimed at destroying teachings contrary to those of the Catholic Church—the very teachings that these Thyatiran ministers had established during the previous century.
The Encyclopedia Dictionary of Religion explains, “By the beginning of the 13th century, the Albigenses had become a threat to the very existence of the [Roman Catholic] Church in southern France.” The Catholic Church’s very existence was threatened! What an impact the Work of God had during the 12th century! “During the next 10 years, the [Catholic] army led by Simon de Montfort forced the surrender of the most important heretical strongholds, employing in the process methods that were cruel even by medieval standards. Fighting continued until 1229, but its purpose became political: the incorporation of Languedoc into France. Once deprived of baronial protection, the Albigenses found it necessary to flee or go underground. Their final extirpation was accomplished by the Inquisition established by Gregory ix in 1233. By the end of the 14th century their power was completely broken.”
Indeed, God had given this church “space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.”
The Thyatira era was beset by persecution and apostasy. However, even in the midst of intense trial, a faithful remnant remained true to Christ and the Bible. Christ highly praised these people: “But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Revelation 2:24-29).
The Thyatirans who held fast and remained faithful are going to gain a wonderful reward: They will receive power over the nations. They will rule with Christ. Even more, they will receive a significant role in teaching the truths of God to the world. They will be given the “morning star,” which is Jesus Christ (Revelation 22:16). He is the Husband, and the true Church is His wife (Revelation 19:7). Christ will give her His own power and ability to enlighten the world.
Remember, the Thyatirans were a bright light in a dark age. They kept the lamp of Christ burning brightly when Satan violently tried to snuff it out. They were, and in the Kingdom will be, a bright, shining star.Continue Reading: Chapter 8: A Few Names in Sardis