Thyatira, Part 2
Dec 17, 2015
As the Pergamum era closed, a new emperor arose in the Christian Roman Empire. It may surprise many to learn that since the time of Constantine, the capital of the empire was in Constantinople, which they often called “New Rome.” Today it is known as Istanbul.
The new emperor was Justinian. He had been legally adopted by the previous emperor, Justin, and was made co-emperor on April 4, 527 A.D. When Justin died on the first of August of that year, Justinian became sole emperor.
Justinian’s wife was Theodora, an actress, exotic dancer (“stripper”), and prostitute in her early years, having had at least one child out of wedlock. She soon became Justinian’s mistress. Later, she was converted to a non-Orthodox sect known as Monophysitism. This sect believed that Jesus had only a divine nature and no human nature at all. She married Justinian in 525, and two years later, when Justinian became the sole emperor (Augustus), she became the empress (Augusta). The Britannica says of her,
“Theodora exercised considerable influence, and though she was never coregent, her superior intelligence and deft handling of political affairs caused many to think that it was she, rather than Justinian, who ruled Byzantium. Her name is mentioned in nearly all the laws passed during that period. She received foreign envoys and corresponded with foreign rulers, functions usually reserved for the emperor.”
On page 62 of A Short History of Byzantium, we read further,
“At Justinian’s insistence she was to reign at his side, taking decisions and giving him the benefit of her counsel in all the highest affairs of state.”
Hence, the Thyatira era began with Justinian and Theodora, who together provided the link to the Old Covenant church, which I call the Jezebel church. Perhaps more properly it should be called the church of Ahab and Jezebel, except that Revelation 2:20 mentions only Jezebel.
Whether or not we are to consider Theodora’s adherence to Monophysitism to be the equivalent to Jezebel’s adherence to the religion of Baal is not clear. The message to the church of Thyatira focuses upon the subject of immorality. This seems to point out Theodora’s immorality, at least in her early life.
Procopius, the historian of the day, wrote a book about Justinian and Theodora called Buildings of Justinian, in which the two were presented in a flattering manner as a pious couple. This was written while Justinian was yet alive. After Justinian had died, he wrote another book called Secret History, in which he presented them in a far different light. The Wikipedia tells us of this book,
“Justinian is depicted as cruel, venal, prodigal and incompetent; as for Theodora, the reader is treated to a detailed and titillating portrayal of vulgarity and insatiable lust, combined with shrewish and calculating mean-spiritedness…”
This book, however, was not published for another thousand years. It is probable that Procopius’ first book was designed to flatter the couple, while the second, written in secret, was closer to the truth. If so, the two come closer to King Ahab and Jezebel.
Changing the Calendar and the Roman Legal System
When Justinian became co-regent in 525, his first major project was to change the calendar, which had been devised by Dionysius Exiguus. Up to this time, the Roman calendar’s reference point (Year One) was the date of the founding of Rome (753 B.C.). Hence, Justinian became co-regent in the Roman year 1278 A.U.C. (ad urba condita), but he changed the calendar so that it began with the birth of Christ. By the new calendar, then, he became emperor in 527 A.D. (anno domini, “in the year of our Lord”).
Justinian’s second great project was to streamline and change the laws of the empire to reflect the values of the church. Roman laws had been accumulating for more than 1200 years. They were often contradictory or antiquated. Something needed to be done, and Justinian wanted to take the best of the old Roman laws, retaining those that reflected the values of the church and eliminate those that reflected pagan values. Will Durant tells us in his book, The Age of Faith, p. 111,
“the whole vast body of Roman law had become an empirical accumulation, rather than a logical code.”
According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, under the heading, “Justinian I,”
“The most enduring work of Justinian was his codification of the laws.”
The Codex Constitutionum, as it was called, was produced in 529 A.D. The Pandectae, or Digest, was produced in 530 along with the Institutes (i.e., student manuals). The final revisions were published in 534, known as the Corpus Juris Civilis with additions called Authentic. The new laws came into effect on December 30, 534 A.D.
The new Codex merged civil law with religious law. Will Durant tells us,
“This Code…enacted orthodox Christianity into law….All ecclesiastical, like all civil, law was to emanate from the throne.”
The Catholic Encyclopedia says of these new laws:
“It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of this ‘Corpus.’ It is the basis of all canon law (ecclesia vivet romana) and the basis of civil law in every civilized country.” (The Age of Faith, p. 112)
In other words, Justinian’s Corpus is to this day the basis of law in Europe and the western “Christian” nations. This is also why legal terms are expressed in Latin.
Daniel 7:25 tells us the importance of Justinian’s calendar and alteration of Roman law. The prophet identifies Justinian’s actions as the start of the “little horn” era, when Religious Rome essentially replaced Imperial Rome. The prophet says, “he will intend to make alterations in times and in law.” The “alteration in times” was Justinian’s change in the Roman calendar. The alteration “in law” was his Corpus Juris Civilis.
The prophet also tells us that the “little horn” was to flourish for “a time, times, and half a time” (Daniel 7:25). A prophetic “time” is 360 days in short-term prophecy and 360 years in long-term prophecy. In this case, it prophesies long-term, and 3½ “times” is therefore a period of 1,260 years. The time frame in question is from 529-534 A.D. to 1789-1794 A.D., ending with the French Revolution.
Daniel saw no more about the “little horn,” other than seeing his downfall at the end. Yet as we will see later in studying Revelation 13, John reveals that the “little horn” encompasses two beasts, not just one. The first beast arising from the sea ended after 1,260 years with the French Revolution, a near-death experience for the Roman church. Her deadly wound, however, was then healed with the arrival of a new beast arising from the earth. This second beast inspired the modern banking system and is thus characterized by financial terminology in the latter half of Revelation 13.
But the time of the “little horn” takes us beyond the church era of Thyatira, which ends in 1517. It is therefore beyond our current scope of interest. Nonetheless, it is important to realize that the start of the Thyatira era coincides with the “little horn” of Daniel 7:25.
Jezebel Persecutes the Prophets
As we have already shown, the name Thyatira suggests the church’s rise in temporal power and is connected to the city of Tyre as well. Tyre was the home town of Jezebel before she married King Ahab of Israel. Jezebel hated the prophets and all true believers in the God of Scripture. She persecuted them mercilessly in order to turn Israel into a nation of Baal worshipers.
During that persecution, King Ahab’s Chief of Staff, who was the head steward over the king’s household (1 Kings 18:3) was a believer in Yahweh who helped to support the underground church in his day. We read in 1 Kings 18:3, 4,
3 And Ahab called Obadiah who was over the household. (Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly; 4 for it came about, when Jezebel destroyed the prophets of the Lord, that Obadiah took a hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave, and provided them with bread and water.)
Later, the prophet Elijah had a showdown with Jezebel’s prophets of Baal. Her prophets were killed, and Jezebel then went on a rampage, vowing to execute Elijah himself. He fled to Mount Horeb and sat in the cave where Moses had first received the law (1 Kings 19:8, 9). Elijah was discouraged, complaining that he seemed to be the only believer left in Israel. Perhaps he thought that Obadiah had been found out and executed, along with the hundred prophets who had been hidden up to that point.
In his conversation with God, the prophet was told that there yet remained a remnant of 7,000 in Israel (1 Kings 19:18). Later, the Apostle Paul commented on this, relating those 7,000 to the remnant of grace under the New Covenant (Romans 11:4, 5). It is this same remnant of grace that are the overcomers in the messages to the seven churches.
The distinction between the church and the overcomers is clear. Even as Jezebel had pressured the Israelites to commit spiritual fornication with other gods, so also was there the same problem in the church of Thyatira, seducing the people to commit spiritual fornication and leading God’s bond-servants astray (Revelation 2:20).
The leadership in the Thyatira era followed the lead of the Jezebel spirit, but the remnant of grace—the overcomers—remained true to God.
This is part 24 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones