The city of Thyatira, modern Akhisar, Turkey, is said to be the least important city among the seven mentioned in the book of Revelation. Yamauchi quotes Pliny the Elder’s statement about Thyatira in the Roman period as “a city of no first-rate dignity” (The Archaeology of New Testament Cities, 51). Thyatira was strategically situated on a main road that ran between Pergamum and Laodicea. Philadelphia also was on this road. Most travel was through the valleys. This road, which was part of “the imperial post road linking Italy-Greece-Asia Minor with Egypt, gave it commercial importance” (New International Dictionary of Church History, 974). The modern road between Izmir and Thyatira is good, but the road between Pergamum and Thyatira has not been among the best during my trips. See map here.
Inscriptions and coins show that Thyatira was noted for its many trade-guilds, roughly equivalent to our labor unions. “There are references to unions of clothiers, bakers, tanners, potters, linen-workers, wool-merchants, slave-traders, copper-smiths and dyers” (Hemer, “Unto the Angels of the Churches,” Bible History 11 (1975). 110). The Christians who lived there objected to the guilds because of the guild rites which required all members to eat a sacrificial meal and to honor a pagan deity. Immorality was often associated with the banquets.
One of the most prominent deities at Thyatira was Tyrimnos, an ancient sun god, but there was also a Artemis type temple whose goddess was called Boreitene. No temple to the Roman Emperor was ever built there. Cosmades says, “When the Romans took over the city, the emperor-worship cult was united with the dominant system” (Nothing Beside Remains, p. 56). Even without a temple to the Emperor at least four Christians of Thyatira (mid third century) were taken to Pergamum and martyred (Meinardus, St. John of Patmos and the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse, p. 95).
The major excavated ruins of Thyatira cover a square block in the center of modern Akhisar, Turkey.
A rooftop view of Thyatira. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
For years columns and arches of the ancient city have lain scattered across the square block in Akhisar. In October, 2020, Dr. Mark Wilson, author of Biblical Turkey who makes Turkey his home, was able to get his first photo of the restored stoa of Thyatira. I have only seen it in the ruins.
The recently reconstructed stoa of Thyatira. Photo by Dr. Mark Wilson. Used by permission.
There are numerous inscriptions strewn among the ruins of Thyatira that illustrate some aspects of this longest of the seven letters [edicts].
You may have noted that various statements about the glorified Christ in chapter 1 are used in the text of the individual edicts. One statement says, “his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace” (Rev. 1:15 ESV). Roman coins from Thyatira highlight this statement.
Hephaestus is portrayed as a metal worker making a helmet for Diana. Ramsay, Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 325.
The Lord tells the church at Sardis,
The one who conquers will be dressed like them in white clothing, and I will never erase his name from the book of life, but will declare his name before my Father and before his angels. (Rev. 3:5 NET
This inscription shows the erasure (blotting or wiping out) of the name of Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus II ) = Elagabalus, A.D. 218-222) on the fifth line from the top. This indicates he was of damnable memory. Note last line – oi gnapheis – the fullers – one of the important trade guilds. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
Another inscription from Thyatira has the name of Domitian chiseled off on the fourth or fifth line. You will see the name of Titus Vespasian, the brother of Domitian on the top line.
Inscription photographed at Thyatira in 2001. It has the name of Titus Vespasian on the top line, but the name of his brother Domitian (Roman Emperor A.D. 81-96) is erased. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
The problems faced by the saints at Thyatira was much the same as those faced by the other churches. Idolatry, the worship of pagan gods, and Emperor worship was a problem they all faced to some degree. Eating meat sacrificed to idols and immorality was also a problem for many of the Christians. Compromise with these more common practices had already been mentioned in the letter to the church at Pergamum where the Old Testament character responsible for leading the saints to compromise was the Old Testament character Balaam. In the letter to the saints at Thyatira the person responsible was a woman who claimed to be a prophetess like Jezebel.
What do we know about the Old Testament Jezebel?
- She was the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians, and a
devotee to Baal.
- She supported 450 prophets of Baal and 450 prophets of Asherah.
It was these prophets of Baal with which Elijah contended on Mount
Carmel (1 Kings 18).
- She sought to kill the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 19:2).
- She had Naboth murdered and confiscated his vineyard at Jezreel (1 Kings 21).
If you have read the Old Testament account you know that Jezebel came under the judgment of the LORD. Both this account and the one in Revelation illustrates the folly of making a concession to error and the practice of immorality.
As mentioned in an earlier post, the situation described in the book of Revelation fits perfectly with what we learn when we read the history of the area and visit the ruins of the ancient cities named in the book.