Pergamum: Constant, But Compromised (Revelation 2:12-17)
Topic: Revelation Passage: Revelation 2:12–2:17
Happy Ever After
Pergamum: Constant, But Compromised
(One Truth: Walk in Truth )
October 19th, 2014
I. A Clear and Present Danger?
If you were to travel to the West African country of Liberia twenty years ago, the danger was clear and present. Civil unrest. Armed insurgencies. Political instability. In the 1990's, the country had become a killing field. But if you would have traveled to Liberia twenty weeks ago, the danger would not have been so obvious. Most likely, you would not find yourself looking down the barrel of a machine gun. But twenty weeks ago, a simple sneeze could have killed you. As we now know, five months ago, the Ebola outbreak was just beginning. To date, almost 2500 Liberian have died from the disease.
This morning, as we once again explore the book of the Revelation together, we will also discover that sometimes, we can become blind to what is truly dangerous.
Turn with me to Revelation 2:12-17. This morning we come to the third church to be addressed by Jesus in the opening chapters of this book, the church in the city of Pergamum. As you may remember, all of Revelation is in fact a letter to seven churches in the western half of the Roman province of Asia Minor. But interestingly, chapters 2 and 3 of the book are composed of seven short letters, a unique message for each of these churches. So having studied Christ's message to the cities of Ephesus and Smyrna, let's move almost fifty miles to the north of Smyrna, to Pergamum and the third of the seven introductory letters.
II. The Passage: “The Church in Pergamum” (2:12-17)
Look with me at verses 12-17 of Revelation chapter 2. These are the words of Jesus...
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.  “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.  But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.  So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.  Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’"
So let's go back through this message using the pattern or structure we discovered was used in all seven of these mini-letters. You will find that breakdown in your notes outline. It includes five distinct elements. We find the first element in verse 12...
A. Description of Jesus (2:12)
Look at the description of Jesus we discover in verse 12: “And to the angel [that is, the “messenger”] of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.'”:
Now just like the first two letters in chapter 2, this description is also pulled right out of the vision of Jesus that John was given in chapter 1. Look back at verse 16 of chapter 1. John describes his vision of Christ in this way: In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. Notice the connection between this verse and 2:12. In chapter 1, the sword is seen coming from the mouth of Jesus. But in chapter 2, we are pointed to the words of him who has “the sharp two-edged sword”.
Why has Jesus chosen to reveal Himself in this way to the church in Pergamum? I think there are a couple reasons, both of which become clear as we move into the next several verses.
B. Diagnosis of Believers (2:13-15)
And if we do move forward, we discover, in verses 13-15, a diagnosis of the believers in Pergamum. Just as with Ephesus, the beginning of this diagnosis is positive. Jesus begins by reassuring them that He knows where they live. They “dwell, where Satan's throne is.” What might that mean? Well, Pergamum was the home of many famous pagan temples. But I think the emphasis here falls on the word “throne”.
You see, Pergamum was for many years the provincial Roman capital of Asia. And even though the capital was moved to Ephesus before the time of Revelation, it remained the most important center of the Roman Emperor cult. In fact, Pergamum was the very first city in the entire Roman Empire to worship the Roman Emperor. It eventually had several temples dedicated to different emperors. So we know that Pergamum was very enthusiastic in its support of Roman, and in proving its loyalty to the Emperors.
This might in fact be the background for what Jesus goes on to declare in verse 13: Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
We know nothing about this man Antipas, except that he is the only other individual named in the book of Revelation, in addition to John and Jesus, and that he is described with the same title used of Jesus in 1:5, “faithful witness”. How did Antipas witness of his faith in Christ? With his very life. With his very blood. Could it have been that Antipas was executed because he would not worship the Roman Emperor? There does seem to be a connection here between who was killed, the significance of his death, and where he was killed, “where Satan dwells”.
Whatever the circumstances, Jesus is clearly pleased by the perseverance of this church, the fact that even though one of their members was killed for his faith, they have stood firm for the “name” of Christ and the “faith” of Christ. This is a mark of healthiness.
But verses 14 and 15 take us the opposite direction and reveal some very serious unhealthiness in the church at Pergamum. If you look back at those verses, you will see that this unhealthiness is first described using an Old Testament precedent.
You may remember from the OT that the pagan prophet Balaam was hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to pronounce a curse upon the Israelites. But every time Balaam tried, God would frustrate his attempts and turn the curses into blessings. But that was not the end of Balaam's influence. Numbers 31 reveals that Balaam made another attempt to undermine the Israelites. But this time, he used idolatry and immorality to tempt the Israelites away from the true God. And according to Numbers 25, the people gave in to these temptations and twenty-four thousand were killed under God's judgment.
But look again at verse 15: So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. You may remember that we first learned about this group in the letter to Ephesus, specifically in 2:6. There, the Ephesians were commended for their hatred of the practices of the Nicolaitans. But only in this third letter do we discover what this group was actually teaching. The Nicolaitans were modern Balaamites. The same temptations were still there.
But unlike Ephesus, some (not all, but some) Christians at Pergamum were actually embracing these false teachers. Like the Israelites long ago, they too were compromising and embracing the pagan practices around them, which also included idolatrous feasts and cultic, sexual rituals.
C. Directive to Action (2:16a)
Not surprisingly, the directive to action in the first half of verse 16 is simple and straight to the point: Therefore repent. Jesus has clearly said, “I have this against you.” And Jesus has clearly connected these practices with past events that merited the wrath of God. And so directive is clear: Therefore repent.
Remember what it means to “repent” according to the Bible: Repentance is a remorseful, regretful attitude toward sin that leads us to renounce and reject sin's deception, embracing God's will instead.
As we talked about a couple weeks ago, repentance is that inner “U-turn”, that “180” of the heart. For those in Pergamum who had followed the Nicolaitans, repentance would require an acknowledgment of the sinfulness of the idolatry and sexual immorality, and therefore a rejection of such practices.
D. Danger to Consider (2:16b)
But what would happen if the deceived and disobedient disciples in Pergamum failed to renounce such practices? Well, as we see from the rest of verse 16, Jesus gives them a clear danger to consider: Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. Given the context, this is clearly not a reference to the second coming of Jesus, but a warning that Jesus' can and will pronounce judgment against the disobedient. His word is powerful, isn't it; like a 'sharp, two-edged sword”.
Next week, we will talk more about what this kind of judgment can look like, but it's enough here to recognize that Jesus is absolutely serious about the dangers of this Nicolaitan cancer. As is clear in 2:6, Jesus hates this false teaching, and therefore hates to see His church ensnared by such destructive lies.
E. Declaration of Reward (2:17)
But as we've seen in the first two letters, Jesus never ends on a note of judgment. Instead, He urges them to obedience and to the blessings it brings. Look again at verse 17:
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’
What beautiful rewards, blessings, provision that God has prepared for those who endure. Just as He fed the Israelites in the wilderness with the manna from heaven, so too will God satisfy the one who conquers by faith. Jesus will also give him or her a new name. Think about it. The manna. The white stone. The new name. The symbolic imagery here is powerful. Eternal provision and divine satisfaction. A permanent and pure transformation. Individual intimacy with God.
Shouldn't all of us hunger for such blessing? The idolatrous feasts and the sensuality of the world can never compare to the feast and the love God has for His children.
III. Fighting the Deadly Disease
In light of these things, we need to think very carefully about what Jesus is saying to our church as He speaks to this church. What does He want us to take from this letter? Well, I think we could sum up the message of Christ here by saying...We have been called to stand firm against both that which threats our confession, AND that which threatens our conduct.
Think about what was happening at Pergamum in light of this verse from Titus 1:16, They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. The church at Pergamum was willing to stand firm in their witness for Christ. They understood the dangers posed by the civil authorities, those who, as Romans 13 expresses it, those who “bear the sword”. But like Antipas, they were willing to face that danger, constant in their faith, firm in their confession.
But at the same time, they were so focused on this obvious threats that they were blind to the deadly disease that was infecting their church family. They would not deny Christ before the world, but were tolerating worldly practices which denied His desires and design, ignorant of the fact the sword of Jesus is far more serious than the swords of this world.
As schizophrenic as this sounds, aren't we also susceptible to this kind of blindness? We too can become so focus on defending the faith and standing firm in our doctrine that we miss the moral compromises that slowly infect our everyday living.
We compromise in our ethics. We compromise in regard to what we watch, what we listen to, what we read; what we call entertainment. We compromise in terms of who we stand with; in terms of who represents us. We compromise in terms of what we desire and what we tolerate. We become the influenced, rather than the influenced.
And all the while we lean on the consistency of our profession. We won't miss church, but we will miss opportunities to honor Jesus with our purity. We will display our Christian bumper stickers, but won't drive with patience and gentleness. We feel safe in our faith, but all the while, the dangerous disease of compromise is spreading.
So what can we do? I think there are two ways God calls us to be vigilant and fight this disease.
First, God calls us to stand for purity in the church. Notice that in verse 16 Jesus calls the whole church to repent, but speaks of “them” when warning of possible judgment. Those who prove the hollowness of their godly confession through ungodly and unrepentant conduct will be judged. Jesus cares that much about the purity of His church. But He also wants us to share that same concern. Listen to how Paul speaks to the Corinthians about similar issues:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife.  And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.... I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.  But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.  For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (I Cor. 5:1, 2, 9-12)
Jesus instructed His church in Matthew 18 about dealing with unrepentant sin in the church. It must be addressed. But we do so in mercy, always looking to restore those who are straying. Listen to how Jude instructs us in this matter:
And have mercy on those who doubt;  save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. (Jude 1:22-23)
Are we willing to stand together for the purity of the church? Are we on guard against these kinds of compromises that can infect not just a few, but eventually the whole church? Where does this kind of community commitment come from?
Second, God calls us to stand for purity in our own lives. The only source of a healthy vigilance for the sake of US is a healthy vigilance for the sake of YOU. The former without the latter only comes from a hypocritical, judgmental, and legalistic spirit. Listen to how God's word challenges us to flee from moral compromise:
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (II Corinthians 7:1)
If your understanding of the Christian faith allows you to accommodate compromise, something is off in your understanding. This seems to be the case with some in the church at Pergamum. They would die for Christ, but not live for Him...at least not in a way free of compromise with the world.
God has called each of us to live distinct lives for the sake of Jesus, following His commands. Why? Because it is 1) for our physical and spiritual well-being, and 2) because it reveals the goodness and light of Jesus to a world that is starving in the darkness. Listen to those words again:
'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’
Because of His death on the cross, Jesus enables us, through faith, to stand for Him, even to death if necessary. But because of His resurrection to life, He also enables us, through faith, to live for Him in all of our affections, attitudes, and actions. Let's trust Him this morning. Let's ask Him to help us guard against this kind of compromise, to recognize the ways we have, and to turn away from that which cannot satisfy as we strive to conquer through His grace.
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