The Book of Revelation Part 6: Thyatira and the Cult of Apollo

Apollo
18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
19 “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. 24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come. 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star.                                              
                                                                                                                                  -Revelation 2:18-28

Sambethe, by Michelangelo
Commentary
Verse 18: Fifty miles southeast of Pergamum, and 50 miles from the Aegean Sea, lays the ancient city of Thyatira. As was the case with most ancient cities, Thyatira was deeply Pagan, with a central temple of Apollo, which itself contained an oracle presided over by a "prophetic" priestess, known as a Sambethe. Interestingly, tradition has it that Sambethe was a descendant of Noah. Pausanius (110-180 A.D.), an ancient Greek geographer and traveler, writes of a Hebrew prophetic oracle:

"...there grew up among the Hebrews of Palestine, a woman who gave oracles named Sabbe, whose father was Berosus and her mother Erymanthe. Some say she was Babylonian, while others call her an Egyptian oracle."

In fact, the Byzantine Suda, an ancient encyclopedia, states that this Hebrew pagan priestess was the author of the Sibylline Oracles.

As we're dealing with Paganism, we can reasonably surmise that this oracle, though she may have been of Hebrew heritage, wasn't faithful to the God of Israel, and likely held to many of the pagan ideas of Babylon. She served as a priestess in the temple of Apollo, who in the Greek was known as Helios, one of the Titans.

Resheph, a Canaanite deity, was a god of plague and pestilence, also identified with Nergal (god and gatekeeper of the underworld), pictured as riding a horse and carrying a bow. Apollo too was seen with the same symbolism, and same attributes. He was said to be an archer who could bring plague and pestilence with his arrows. In ancient Celtic paganism he was known as Apollo Atepomarus (the great horseman). This may connect to the first horseman we will see later in this study.

Verses 19-20: The presbyter of Thyatira is praised for his faith and for his good work in the ministry. Unlike Timothy, his zeal has increased, yet there is one fault for which he is reproved. He hasn't sufficiently guarded the faithful against the teachings of a certain false prophetess who is stigmatized as "a Jezabel." We find the story of Jezabel in the Old Testament. Through her influence, King Achab fell into idolatry and became the most wicked of Israel's rulers. In like manner the Christians of Thyatira were being led into the doctrines of the Nicolaitans (sexual immorality) by a wicked woman who called herself a prophetess. She was even seducing them to partake of the sacrificial and orgiastic banquets of the pagans. It seems reasonable to conclude that this "Jezabel" was likely the oracle at the temple of Apollo, as her function was that of a "prophetess", and the worship of Apollo did include sexual orgies during certain festivals.

Verses 21-23: Our Lord has shown special mercy by giving this false prophetess and her followers time to repent, but they will not repent of their sins. They are now threatened with severe punishments. They shall be stricken down with sickness and death. All the churches must realize that Christ will tolerate neither heresy nor false worship, idolatry, and fornication.

Verses 24-25: The faithful of Thyatira are admonished to avoid the doctrines of heretics, and to guard carefully the Faith that has been preached to them. No other commandment is needed for them. The Nicolaitans were a type of Gnostic sect who boasted of a higher knowledge of divine things possessed by them alone. They called it the "abyss" or "depth" of knowledge. The true nature of this so-called knowledge, coupled with the Pagan worship of Apollo, is referred to as the "deep things of Satan."

Verses 26-27: The faithful are warned of the necessity of keeping Christ's works for salvation. This brings to mind the following statement from Christ:

12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.  13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it."-John 14:12-14

Those who persevere in them to the end will have part with Christ in the judgment of the wicked. They will participate in the power He has received from the Father; the power to rule the nations with a rod of iron.

Verse 28: To those who persevere, our Lord will give them the Morning Star; that is, the direct fellowship of Jesus Christ. This same reward was promised to the other churches under slightly different symbols. Christ is referred to as a star in the prophecy of Balaam: "A star shall arise out of Jacob." In an other passage of Revelation Christ calls Himself the "bright and morning Star."

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