There has been a lot of ink used on topics such as God’s will, the sovereignty of God, predestination, free will, etc. The episode about Jezebel at the congregation in the city of Thyatira can shed some light on conversations and discussions about these topics. This woman’s true name is not known to us since she is only referred to by her symbolic [i.e., typological] name. She is named Jezebel because her impact and influence on the local congregation is similar at points to the ways the ancient Jezebel influenced God’s people in earlier centuries. Jezebel’s impact on Israel was detrimental because of her promotion of the worship of foreign gods and pagan practices like witchcraft [1 Kgs. 16-21; 2 Kgs. 9].
This Jezebel of Thyatira was promoting a syncretistic form of religion for herself and her followers which included “sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols” and teaching “Satan’s so-called deep secrets” (Rev. 2:20, 24). The Jezebel account reminds the modern church that our betrayal of the message of Christ can be both behavioral and doctrinal, as it was at Thyatira. It is hard to conceive of more polemical labels or more severe epithets coming through a Christian prophet like John than terms such as “Jezebel” and “teachings of Satan.”
Could anyone be more deserving of immediate and harsh punishment from God than this Christian Jezebel? Yet, at least as far back in time as the episode of the golden calves at Sinai, God has been known to deal slowly with his people when they deserve his wrath. Significantly, the Lord revealed himself to Moses as a
compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished (Exod. 34:6b-7a).
Accordingly, we are not surprised to learn from John about Jezebel that she was given “time to repent” (Rev. 2:21). There would be no spontaneous and punitive pyrotechnics like the apostles earlier wanted to bring down from heaven upon the Samaritans with Jesus’ consent (Lk. 9:51-55).
It is clear in the Greek text and most translations of Rev. 2:21 that there was divine purpose in Jezebel being given extra time, and the purpose was to give her time to repent. This divine intention certainly resonates with Paul’s words in Romans 2:4b, where he states the fact “that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance.” At Thyatira Jezebel did not read from Christ’s script and so she did not use this extra time to repent. There was obviously a clash of the wills. Christ acted with patience toward Jezebel with the intention that Jezebel would repent; but notwithstanding this revelation of divine intention, Jezebel wills otherwise and refuses to repent.
Jezebel’s refusal to follow God’s lead by continuing in her sins is a stark acknowledgement that God’s desire does not override our wills, and that by sinful choices we can thwart God’s intentions for our lives.