'Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. ' Revelation 2:20 (NKJV)
These are the words of Jesus that John "the Revelator" recorded while in a vision. The Lord was talking to, what is referred to as the 'Corrupt church' in most Bibles, claiming they allowed a false prophetess to come in to the church and lead them into sin. Although this was addressed to a specific church, we as the Church and as Christians can heed His warning also.
There is much to unpack here in this verse, but before we do, I should address how this verse has been used to hurt people --namely women. Whether in the pulpit or in the congregation, women have had this verse brandished against them by other members. This has caused women that were once fiery preachers and teachers to step down, and members to leave churches. People that used this verse to hurt others either did so out of fear or insecurity. That is not the mind of Christ. Many women in the Bible were used mightily of God and He still uses us women to this day. Ask Him how He sees you, and to remind you of what He has called you to. Let God heal you of your past hurts...
Now that the healing has taken place, let us look at this verse with the Holy Spirit and allow Him to give us insight and wisdom. Initially, I stumbled across this verse and felt Holy Spirit wanted me to read it. The first thing I noticed was how 'eat things sacrificed to idols' was specifically mentioned in conjunction with sexual sin. Jesus claims that this corrupted (or defiled) the church. To do further research, I knew that scripture interprets scripture (Is. 28:10), so I set out to see where food and defilement are in the same context. In the book of Daniel, he refuses to eat of the king's food: 'But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. ' Daniel 1:8 (NKJV). We see here that Daniel did not want to eat the king's portions (most likely sacrificed to Babylonian idols) because they would 'defile' him.
Along with being defiled from food, we can see in a different verse how sexual immorality defiles someone. Paul says this: 'Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. ' I Corinthians 6:18 (NKJV). Sexual immorality is a sin and causes one's body to be defiled.
In Revelation 2:20, Jesus corrects the church of Thyatira (the Corrupt Church) for allowing a jezebelic, false prophetess to defile them with both food and sexual sin. The abstinence from these two items was also instructed previously in Acts 15. A council in Jerusalem wrote this letter to help guide the Gentiles that were coming to the Lord: "'...that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.' Acts 15:29 (NKJV). This is something the Thyatira most likely knew to do, however, they still allowed someone to convince them to do these things. How? We can see in the previous part: teach and seduce...
The false prophetess in Thyatira taught the church to defile themselves. Regarding this, Holy Spirit took me to a verse about worldly wisdom: 'For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness”; ' I Corinthians 3:19 (NKJV). There was twisted and corrupt teaching that led to the immorality the Thyatirans faced. Paul gave a warning about this: 'Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. ' Colossians 2:8 (NKJV). Other translations say "...takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy..." The church of Thyatira was taken captive by deceptive teaching and was rebuked for it by the Lord Himself.
Another thing this false prophetess did was to seduce them into doing these things. Seduction, in this context, means to influence someone in a sexual, usually immoral, manner. This instantly reminded me of another place in scripture involving sexual immorality --in the list of "works of the flesh". Paul describes this list: 'Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.' Galatians 5:19-20 (ESV). The sexual sin this false prophetess caused the church to do is in this list, and for that, they live on in our Bibles as the "corrupt church".
Background of the Figure Jezebel (1 & 2 Kings)
What could have been so bad about this false prophetess, whom Jesus refers to as 'Jezebel', to cause this church to go against the warnings in Acts 15 and Col. 2:8?
The "Law of First Mentions" is a way of studying the Bible which implies that in order to find what a symbol means, one must go to the place in the Bible where it is first mentioned. In the case of Revelation 2:20, the person Jezebel is first mentioned in is 1 Kings 16:31. The Lord is using her as a symbol in the book of Revelation to represent the type of behavior this false prophetess in Thyatira is exemplifying. In order to understand why He choose her as a symbol, let us look at who this was in 1 Kings 16.
We see that King Ahab is now ruler over Israel and he did evil in the Lord's sight (1 Kings 16:30). The next verse goes on to say that "as if it was a light and small thing to walk in the sins of his predecessor, he took for his wife Jezebel and served Baal" (1 Kings 16:31, paraphrase). The writer here is implying that though King Ahab was already doing wicked things, by marrying Jezebel, that this was the height of his deeds. Jezebel was from Sidon, a foreign country to Israel. God gives a warning about marrying foreign women so that they wouldn't lead Israel into idolatry: 'You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. ' Deuteronomy 7:3-4 (ESV). King Ahab obviously ignored this and the writer states: ' Ahab did more to provoke the Lord , the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. ' 1 Kings 16:33 (ESV). Wow. Let's see how Ahab was influenced by Jezebel to provoke God to anger more than any other king.
In chapter 18 of 1 Kings, the next mention of Jezebel is about her "killing off the prophets of the Lord" (1 Kings 18:4). The next time she is mentioned is in verse 19 when the prophet Elijah calls a gathering of the prophets of Baal and Asherah who "eat at Jezebel's table." The gathering that Elijah has, ends up with him slaughtering the prophets (v. 40).Word of the execution gets back to Jezebel in 1 Kings 19:1. She threatens Elijah, almost as if prophesying, saying: '...“So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” ' 1 Kings 19:2 (ESV). That is the last mention of her interaction with Elijah.
Jezebel appears again in chapter 21. King Ahab wants a plot of land from Naboth, a righteous man, but he says no (v. 1-4). So Queen Jezebel took the liberty of forging a letter in King Ahab's name to falsely accuse Naboth of taking the Lord's name in vain. He ended up being executed and King Ahab acquired his land (v. 8-16). This was seen as exceedingly wicked by the Lord and He moved on Elijah to tell him: 'And you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord , “Have you killed and also taken possession?”’ And you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord : “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood.”’” ' 1 Kings 21:19 (ESV). This similar prophecy he also gave Jezebel in verse 23. The event of her death came to pass in 2 Kings 9:30-37, wherein she tried to seduce the one who would eventually cause her death.
In regards to Jezebel, and sexual sin, the Bible doesn't explicitly talk about the depravity that she led the Israelites into. However, we can conclude that since she led them to worship Asherah, a goddess of fertility, what would have that entailed. So here we have both idol worship, and sexual sin.
Going back to Revelation 2:20 and what Jesus said to Thyatira, we can see why He used the figure Jezebel to describe the false prophetess that was corrupting them. The original Queen Jezebel in 1 and 2 Kings had idolatrous prophets eating at her table, and taught Israel to worship a fertility goddess. She was vindictive towards the Lord's servants, and tried to seduce the man that would order her death. All of these things corresponds with the "teaching and seduction" of the church of Thyatira to "eat things sacrificed to idols" and "commit sexual immorality". The person in 1 and 2 Kings aptly describes the figure that is portrayed in Revelation 2:20.
Takeaways for the Church Today
Now that we see the background of Revelation 2:20, how does this apply to us as a Church and as individual Christians? Well for starters, don't allow anyone to teach you false doctrine, don't defile yourself by eating at Jezebel's proverbial table, and don't allow yourself to be seduced into sexual immorality.
Ahab's downfall was caused by him coming into a wrong relationship. On a ministerial level, this could look hiring someone who tries to control the leadership. In a relationship, this could look like befriending/marrying a dominating, aggressive person. (I have a lot of personal experience with what is referred to as a "Jezebel spirit" in a person which I will definitely go more in-depth about in another article). Or overall a new pastor who leads the congregation astray.
The doctrine in a lot of churches today, especially in the West are erring on the side of false doctrine. Churches that are preaching the truth are threatened to conform or be silenced. Those who conform to false doctrine and spread it, get to "eat at Jezebel's table". Those who do not, have to rely on God for provisions. Throughout most of Elijah's interaction with Jezebel there is a drought and famine taking place in the background. During this, God feeds Elijah by unconventional methods: a bird and a widow (1 Kings 17) and the rest of God's prophets with bread and water (1 Kings 18:4). The false prophets had conventional means of food at Jezebel's table. In the end, Elijah lived and the false prophets were cut down.
The world may think the Church is strange when we are unconventional, eating the Bread of Life and drinking the Living Water which is Jesus. But He promised that He would build His Church and the gates of Hell would not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). God said in the book of Amos that in the last days He would cause a famine --not for food and drink, but for hearing the Word of God (Amos 8:11). Is the Church going to consume the false doctrine of Jezebel? Or are we going to be carriers of the Word of God? When people go looking for it, will they find it in our lives and in our churches? Will we be tempted into sexual immorality or will we be pure? God told the Israelites to be holy as He is Holy (Lev. 20:7). The same goes for us as Christians.
In the gathering of Elijah and the false prophets, the fire of God fell on Elijah's altar but not on the false prophets' altar (1 Kings 18:38). In the next verse, the people fell on their faces and proclaimed that the Lord is God. Fire fell on Elijah's altar because it was holy. Are we holy and set apart? When people see us, do we have God's fire, and do they know which God we serve? In two verses before Revelation 2:20, Jesus is addressing Thyatira as "...the Son of God who has eyes like a flame of fire..." (Rev. 2:18). His eyes are a flame of fire because He is holy. How do we avoid being seduced into sexual immorality and being taught idol worship/false doctrine? We avoid those things by abiding in the One who has eyes that are like a flame of fire. We do this by having daily communion with Him and His Word, by fleeing from sexual immorality, and shunning false doctrine. (I will go more in-depth on specific false doctrines in later articles.)
May we as the Church not be corrupted or rebuked. In the next chapter of the book of Revelation, Jesus speaks to what is referred to as " the Faithful Church", who kept His Word and stood firm (Rev. 3:7-8). May we be as those who did not lose faith, who kept His Word, and who persevered.
May we be found faithful.