“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.”
Is there any such thing as the “Jezebel spirit”? If so, what is it, or who is it? And what relationship does it sustain to the spiritual gift of prophecy? To answer this we must turn our attention to the letter of Jesus to the church in Thyatira.
“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 as your works deserve” (Rev. 2:20-23).
Here are ten things we should all be aware of with regard to the so-called “Jezebel spirit.”
(1) Jezebel was a female member of the church at Thyatira who was promoting destructive heresies and leading many into moral compromise. She was a real person, but the name “Jezebel” is probably symbolic (it’s hard to imagine anyone deliberately naming their daughter “Jezebel”!). The name “Jezebel” had, in fact, become proverbial for wickedness. Thus, what is meant is that this disreputable, so-called “prophetess” was as wicked and dangerous an influence in Thyatira as ‘Jezebel’ had been to Israel in the OT.
(2) According to 1 Kings 16:31, Jezebel was the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians, who married Ahab, king of Israel. Largely because of her influence in seeking to combine the worship of Yahweh with the worship of Baal, it is said of her husband that he “did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him” (1 Kings 16:33).
Jezebel was responsible for the killing of Naboth and confiscation of his vineyard for her husband (1 Kings 21:1-6). She sought the death of all the prophets of Israel (1 Kings 18:4; 2 Kings 9) and even came close to killing Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-3). Her death came as a result of being thrown from a window where she was then trampled by a horse. When an attempt was made to recover her body for burial, it was discovered that the only thing left was her skull, her feet, and the palms of her hands. According to 2 Kings 9:36-37, dogs had eaten her flesh, in fulfillment of a prophetic word from Elijah:
“When they came back and told him, he said, ‘This is the word of the Lord, which he spoke by his servant Elijah the Tishbite, “In the territory of Jezreel the dogs shall eat the flesh of Jezebel, and the corpse of Jezebel shall be as dung on the face of the field in the territory of Jezreel, so that no one can say, This is Jezebel.”’”
(3) Note also that she “calls herself a prophetess” (v. 20). I can’t imagine Jesus using this language if her prophetic gift was of the Holy Spirit. Some contend she was a born-again believer who had simply gone astray, but I suggest that her behavior and beliefs are an indication that whatever claims she made to being saved and prophetically gifted were spurious. This isn’t to say she didn’t have a supernatural power, but the latter need not always be from God (see Matt. 7:21-23; Acts 16:16-18; 2 Thess. 2:9-10).
(4) Although the first Jezebel had been dead for over 1,000 years, her spirit had, as it were, found new life in this woman of Thyatira. She may even have been the leader or hostess of a house-church in the city. But what did she advocate that led to her being labeled with this horrid name? It’s likely she had exploited the commercial prosperity of Thyatira to justify and subsidize her immorality and that of her followers.
The complaint of the Lord lies in the unhealthy degree of toleration granted this woman. When it is said, “you tolerate that woman Jezebel,” the implication is that the church in general did not accept her teaching nor adopt her lifestyle. But the subsequent mention of her “lovers” and children in v. 22 indicates that a number in the community did so. These would have formed a distinct group within the church, and the church as a whole was content for them to remain.
(5) Jezebel obviously presumed on God’s grace and interpreted his longsuffering as approval or endorsement of her sinful ways, or at least his indifference toward her chosen paths. There may have been a definite time in the past when through some means, whether a prophetic word or direct encounter or perhaps through John, he issued this woman a warning, no doubt repeatedly. Whatever the case, the culpability of the false prophetess is evident. She “refuses” to repent. She clearly knew what was at issue and chose voluntarily to remain in her sin.
(6) Was Jezebel a Christian? Her judgment is said to come in the form of personal sickness, disease, or physical affliction of some sort. Jesus says, “I will throw her onto a sickbed,” language that is reminiscent of the discipline imposed on the Christians at Corinth who had persistently abused the Eucharist (see 1 Cor. 11:30-32). And before we too quickly conclude that someone born again could not commit such sins as are described in this passage, we should note that she is specifically charged with “teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols” (v. 20). Note well: those whom Jesus calls “my servants” are guilty of “sexual immorality” and eating “food sacrificed to idols.”