Saturday, October 24, 2009

Revelation 2 and the Return of Jezebel: Who Do You Say She Was?

To the church of Thyatira, John writes,

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. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 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, 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. (Rev. 2:20-23, ESV)

Some interesting suggestions have been made concerning the identity of the “Jezebel” (Ἰεζάβελ) mentioned in Rev. 2:20-23.

1. Some argue this Jezebel was the actual name of a troublesome woman in Thyatira who, coincidently, mirrored the notorious Jezebel of the Old Testament.

2. Others argue that the name “Jezebel” is used as a title for an actual woman in the church of Thyatira who was causing the aforementioned disturbances. The reason for the title being quite obvious, since the Jezebel of the Old Testament led Israel into Baal worship and sorcery (1 Kings 16:31-34; 21:25-26; 2 Kings 9:22). So calling this woman “Jezebel” would have come as a strong rebuke to her and the congregation that tolerated her. She, like the Jezebel before her, was leading people astray.

3. Still yet others argue that “Jezebel” stands for a corrupt faction in the church of Thyatira and not necessarily an actual, historical woman per se (cf. 2 John 1 [?]).

Here's what we know about this "Jezebel" according to the passage:
  • She calls herself a "prophetess" (ἡ λέγουσα ἑαυτὴν προφῆτιν).
  • She's teaching and seducing Christians to "practice sexual immorality" (πορνεῦσαι) and "eat foods sacrificed to idols" (φαγεῖν εἰδωλόθυτα).
  • She refuses to repent of "her sexual immorality" (τῆς πορνείας αὐτῆς).
  • Some are committing "adultery with her" (τοὺς μοιχεύοντας μετ᾽ αὐτῆς).
  • She has "children" (τὰ τέκνα αὐτῆς).
  • Jesus threatens to cast her onto a sickbed (βάλλω αὐτὴν εἰς κλίνην), throw her fellow adulterers into great tribulation (εἰς θλῖψιν μεγάλην), and kill her children (ἀποκτενῶ ἐν θανάτῳ).
So, was this "Jezebel" the actual name of a real first century woman in the church of Thyatira, a title used for a real first century woman in the church of Thyatira, or a name given to a corrupt faction in the church of Thyatira? What do you think?


Alan Bandy said...

Excellent post!

Marcos said...

Outstanding breakdown of the text.
I have heard many times that the "Jezebel" which NT speaks of is a spirit that was dominating in the first century church. Just as this spirit was seducing the christians in the church in Thyatira, it is seducing and overshadowing over the church today. I believe that there are powers and principalities that are working to destroy the body of Christ and strategize to seduce, tempt, and lure men and women of God to derail them from God's purpose and plans. Ahab we understand allowed Jezebel to lure him into idol worshipping, though King Ahab knew God's commandments. Today, many ministers and leaders are being lured to do opposite of what we are called to do. Lured to forget about integrity and character. Lured to remove God as priority and Lord of all in their lives and the Church's life. I believe that Jezebel exists in our time, our age, our era, our century. More than a corrupt faction, Jezebel has an agenda to kill and destroy the Church of Christ. But praise God that Christ has given us the key... everything that we bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven...

Jorge said...


Thanks! I know you are working on a Theology of the book of Revelation (with Andreas Köstenberger), which I will most assuredly purchase as soon as it's released. I'd love to hear what you think about this passage. I'm not totally certain as to which of the three is the correct view.


Your pastor's heart is showing! Thanks for reminding us that this passage still remains relevant for the church today.

tanya said...

I think that there was a lady of the day with the name.I also think that Jezebel can be a spirit that people walk under and now that same scripture points to people who have that spirit on them or in them

Jeremy Shunk said...

I don't believe that "Jezebel" was ever a "spirit" or is some type of "spirit" today.

Out of your three choices, I tend to favor the third choice most, with number 2 following behind it, although, I have my doubts that the term "Jezebel" in this Revelation passage referred to an actual woman at that time with either the name or the title.

We have to remember that the author of Revelation was writing to a Jewish-Christian audience, and refers to the Old Testament very, very often throughout the whole of Revelation. Much of Revelation is adapted from Old Testament imagery, including the term Jezebel here. The term is symbolic for those who are like Jezebel from the Old Testament, so number 3 seems to be the best choice out of those listed. The author's audience would have understood exactly what he was trying to convey, and, like other images in Revelation, would have been shocked, especially by the author's claim that these words are not from him, but from Christ himself.

tanya said...

Now saying that there is not a Jezebel spirit is to say that you can not recognize the spirit when you see it in people. you can see the presence of Spirits based on the actions of the persons and the fruit that it displays. it says that you will know the tree by it's fruit.. so saying that there is a spirit of Jezebel is not strange or bizarre it is a fact. you have to recognize what is around you least you be caught off guard!

Jorge said...

Tanya & Jeremy,

Thanks for sharing your views!

I think there might be some confusion or misunderstanding in talking about Jezebel as "spirit," which was first mentioned by Marcos above.

If by "spirit" one has in mind something like a "prevailing attitude or mindset," then yes; I can see how the "spirit" of Jezebel, in that sense, lives on and can be found in some churches today (as Marcos has said and Tanya has echoed).

But if by "spirit" one means an "incorporeal being" (e.g. demon) which specializes in a particular sin and stands behind the deviant actions people in the church, then no; I just don't know how someone could truly know such a thing. I think this lies behind Jeremy's objection.

More importantly, I don't think you find that sort of demonology or demon taxonomy taught in Scripture.

tanya said...

well i was speaking of a spirit which can be taken in more than one way. if we are discounting the validity of demons in today's world then we are wondering what happened to those things Jesus sent into the pigs and over the cliff. Or the other scriptures that mentioned them being cast out of various people. Now whether or not Jezebel is one such demon I do not know nor will I debate however I will say that the spirit is seen in today's church and dealt with. but I do know one of the tricks in today's world is people thinking that demons are not real and they very much are real and dangerous.

Jorge said...


I'm not arguing against the existence of demons; this is clearly taught in the pages of the New Testament. What I disagree with is the notion, especially popular in *some* charismatic circles, that behind every sin or illness lies a demon/spirit that needs to be 'cast out.' I've heard many a preacher use the term "spirit" in such a way.

For example, if someone has a fever, some preachers will try to cast out 'the spirit of fever,' thinking that a demon must be responsible for the fever. If someone has a tooth ache or is anxious or worried - they want to cast that "spirit" (i.e., demon) out. It's that kind of "spirit"-talk which I take issue with.

While the NT does, on occasion, associate someone's illness with demon possession, it more often than not doesn't.

In Matthew 8, for instance, a leper comes and asks Jesus to heal him, so Jesus does (vv. 1-4). No mention is made of a demon being cast out. The same is true when he heals the centurion's servant (vv. 5-13) and Peter's mother-in-law (vv. 14-15).

So back to Jezebel. I don't see John associating the problems in the church of Thyatira to a demon or spirit. But if someone wants to use the phrase "spirit of Jezebel" to refer to the attitude or mindset that was plaguing the church in Thyatira (or some churches today!), then I have no objections.

Thanks for the exchange. I hope I've clarified things a bit.

tanya said...

I got the picture now. and you are right people tend to blame everything on Satan and Demons when there are some things that are not on the. Every sin is not the work of Satan... we do have free will and the enemy is not always at work. I do know that since Jezebel was a real person who was not thought of very well. Paul used her as a way to describe the actions and attitudes of the people he was speaking too at the time. I do c how some pastors are talking about casting out fever demons and the like because Illness is not of God so it must be from Hell and therefore able to be cast out. we are healed by his stripes, and knowing that all illness an be healed or avoided. In Jesus name :-)