The Letter to Pergamos

Pergamos  –  Compromising Church
Reading  Revelation 2:12-17

And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, 2:12. The third church that the apostle John is instructed by Chris to write to.  So far we have looked at Ephesus, a faithful body of God’s people, faithful in their worship, witness and teaching and yet had lost their first love – their life for Christ had become a duty, a responsibility, a burden – is this what it is like for you?  If it is Jesus says repent.

Last time we looked at the second church to be written to Smyrna – another faithful church, one that was suffering great persecution, and bearing in a way that glorified Christ and cost them dearer still – do not be afraid!

So today –
Today it is called Bergama, a city in Turkey. 50 miles north of Smyrna. In John’s day it a population of about a quarter million people. It’s habitants were a proud people—it was the Roman capitol of the entire province of Asia. Before the Romans it had been the capitol of the Seleucid empire, an important place for 400 years.

It was a very beautiful city. Built on a rocky hill about 15 miles from the coast, on a clear day you could see the blue of the Mediterranean in the distance. Unlike Ephesus and Smyrna it was not a port nor was it a major trade city. It had a reputation as a centre of culture.  It had beautiful official buildings, a theatre that could seat 3500 people. But its greatest of all was its library. It  contained over 200,000 scrolls. Only the library in Alexandria was bigger.

A centre of religion boasting at least four great temples—one for each of the greatest gods of the Greeks. They had a temple dedicated to Dionysus, the god of wine and drama; they had one for Athena, the goddess of wisdom in art and war; They had one for Aesculapius the god of healing, and the biggest temple in town was dedicated to Zeus. Zeus’ massive temple was built on a hill overlooking the city and it was referred to as Zeus’ throne. It was also  the centre of emperor worship in that part of the world. In fact, in all the empire it was the first city to build a temple dedicated to the worship of a living emperor. In other cities you could burn your pinch of incense once a year and say, “Caesar is Lord” and then you could do as you pleased on other days, but not in Pergamum – this was a city where Satan ‘ruled’ 24 / 7. I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. v13. The Christians living in this city must have felt that Satan ruled!  Sometimes we feel that way as we see the Christian restraints that our society has lived by for generation after generation being stripped away and experience ‘Satan’ flexing his muscles.

Sometimes when you read these accounts of hardship and tribulation you might be tempted to ask, why don’t they just move somewhere else? Why stay when you can up sticks and live in more pleasant places, certainly there are many Christians who would and indeed do – the simple answer is that it is Christ who builds His church, not you and I, it is Christ who determines where the foundations are to be laid and  the gospel is for all men, even those who hate the sound of it, that’s why we are instructed to love our enemies and do good to them that hate us. Oh we have the freedom to take ourselves elsewhere, but when we do we take ourselves out of the place of blessing.

God put His church in that dangerously difficult city to reach out to its lost residents. That was His assigned mission field for those particular Christians. That is the part of the world those believers were gifted by God’s Spirit to serve—so that’s where they needed to be.

In other words, we’re not to seek an easier place to be a Christian, but to be a Christian exactly where God puts us. The believers in Pergamum were called by God to share His love in that capitol city full of proud, emperor-worshiping, Christian-persecuting people. God still puts us where He needs us. He gifts us and talents us so that we are able to share His love in specific places.   God has placed you where He needs you—next to neighbours who need to hear of His love—and co-workers who need to see you live out your faith. The next time you start to complain about your place in life—stop and think—Almighty God has put you there as His representative!

This means our church is right where God wants it to be. It may seem tough at times—but this is where God has placed us. This is where God has equipped us to minister. He has given—and will continue to give—us all we need to do His will.

They are not forgotten
Sometimes, especially in hard trying times, that God has forgotten about you, or He has no interest in you – but that is never the case.  Yes it seems as though Satan is winning – but God is still in control – v13 I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is – See Jesus is still in the midst of His church, His eye has never for a moment left it – how encouraging is that!
And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. V13b.

Now we don’t know much about Antipas because he’s not mentioned elsewhere in Scripture,  tradition tells us that he was a member of this church in Pergamum – Antipas was brought to the temple of Caesar, and commanded to swear out loud that Caesar is God. Antipas cried boldly, “Jesus alone is God!” A Roman official said, “Antipas, don’t you know that the whole world is against you?” He replied, “Then Antipas is against the whole world!” Antipas was put into a large, hollow, brass bull, and a fire was built under it, creating an oven where they roasted Antipas to death. All because he refused to renounce his faith in Jesus. He was martyred like this because he would not worship the emperor.

This was a church of very brave people, people who would not give up their faith in Jesus, even though it meant enduring severe persecution and even death. In fact, the Greek phrase here that we translate, “did not deny” carries the idea of holding on to your faith in Jesus with a firm grip that won’t let go. Here was church that refused to budge. They held firmly to that truth. Even when they suffered and died for doing so—they held tightly to their belief that Jesus is the only Son of God, the Saviour of the World—the way, the truth, and the life. Now why would they do this? Why cling to their faith when it was so costly to do so?

These Christians were willing to face difficult days in that Christian-persecuting city because they had experienced the presence of the living Jesus in their day to day lives—a presence through which He had given them the courage and the strength to stand fast. These believers were willing to face death—because they each had experienced a personal relationship with the Living Lord—the only One Who defeated death and was therefore qualified to promise them eternal life.

It was Jesus, their faith in Him, their relationship with Him that made all the difference to their lives, yes it brought the wrath of men down upon them, but that is nothing in comparison to the forgiveness of God, to the adoption into His family, to the deliverance from the wrath to come – Jesus made the difference. It’s the same with us today, it’s Jesus that makes all the difference that changes our view of hard times, painful times, so that they become much less, not that the pain lessens for it doesn’t, not that the hardship lessens for it doesn’t but the despair that they each bring that is lessened if not taken away – Roms.8:28  And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  And   For me—to live is Christ and to die is gain.

They had issues that needed to be dealt with
But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. V14-15

What is that we are being shown here? Well these Christians were doing a great job of withstanding attacks that came from outside – but they were weak when it came to threats that came from within.   They tolerated in their midst people who taught falsehood—people who embraced the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans.

Now what exactly are we talking about here? What did Balaam and the Nicolaitans teach?

Balaam, is a name from history –  in to the book of Numbers (ch.22ff) when Balak, a Moabite king, heard about the victories of the Hebrew people as they journeyed from Egypt on the way to the promised land and that were headed his way, he hired Balaam, a well-known prophet—to curse them. Balaam accepted the job, hopped on his donkey, and was on the way to do exactly that when he met an angel of the Lord (the famous talking donkey incident) —and as a result of that meeting he confessed his sin and offered to go home.

The angel told him not to do that and to go with the Moabites but to only speak the words that God gave him to say. So instead of cursing the Israelites Balaam blessed them four times. But Balaam was greedy and to keep from losing his pay he told Balak to send his women to seduce the men of Israel. In essence he said, “Balak, if you can’t curse them, corrupt them.” Ever since then Balaamism had been known as a teaching that attacked the separation and sanctification that God expects His people to maintain. So, in short, the doctrine of Balaam was the teaching that Christ-followers could embrace the world’s teachings while maintaining their Christian distinctiveness.
Balaamism is the attempt to make the best of both worlds, the earthly world and the spiritual world. It’s like trying to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.

The Nicolaitans taught the same basic thing. They believed that sinning was actually a good thing because it gave God another chance to forgive you. This led them to happily participate in the immorality of that city. They went to church on Sunday—and then attended lavish banquets in the temple to Zeus on Monday banquets that were a form of worshiping Zeus as they ate the meat of animals that were sacrificed to him—and became involved in the sexual immorality that served as dessert.

And some of the people in this church worshiped Jesus—but they also lived like the devil. The main problem of this church was the fact that some of its members had compromised their faith. They were trying to play both sides and as a result this church in Pergamos was becoming like the world. Instead of transforming their culture as salt and light, they were letting the culture transform them.

Unfortunately this kind of thing still happens. There are churches today with believers who tend toward this same kind of compromise. Now the church must be in the world—that’s our mission field but we must not be of  the world. Let me put it this way. It is fine for the boat to be in the water—but it’s bad for the water to be in the boat.

We have to realize that following Jesus will mean living differently than people who don’t follow Him. It will make us stand out. We are to be a peculiar people—a distinct people—a separate people. Philippians 2:15-16  says that we are to strive to be, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16  holding fast the word of life,.

And never forget that our faith really is the word of life. Living as God has called you to, standing out, really is the best way, the only way to live. In Jeremiah 29:11 God says to you and me, For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.  And later in chapter 32:38-39  God says They shall be My people, and I will be their God; 39  then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. So God’s law is not negative in nature. It’s purpose is not to burden us but to protect us.

It’s foolish to go along with the world—if it means ignoring God’s loving laws. That kind of worldly compromise is a serious liability for any Christian—for any church.

They had Something they had to do.
Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.v16

The grammar used emphasizes the seriousness of their situation – this is a command that is to be obeyed immediately!  God’s Word—His reprimands are never mere suggestions. They are to be taken seriously and acted on with determination and speed. So, if you are living a compromised life, Jesus would say, repent, quickly!

And remember—Jesus’ word was a powerful opponent! With it He calmed storms, healed the sick, drove out demons, and raised the dead.

This repentance was not just a matter of the individual turning away from their sinful ways, it was also of the congregation, the church turning away – it was both private and public, the false teachers had to be put out, they were not to be tolerated within the body of God’s people, there was to be no sitting in synod’s with them, no making allowances for them to run their own services at a different time – they were to be put out of the church. How different would the churches in our land be today if this had happened many years ago in some. If the rot has gone so far that the true followers of Christ cannot separate the false from the church, then they must separate themselves from that body that is in error.  1 Cor.5:6 Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?

They had to Expect something
To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it. V17.

When Jesus promises manna here He is referring to much more than physical food. He’s reminding them that He is the Bread of Life. The manna in the wilderness sustained those people physically but Jesus came to give us abundant life—He came to satisfy the hunger for God that we all have. It is a satisfaction that the unbeliever cannot know or see.

Jesus also  promised a new name – a special name that indicates our closeness and intimacy with God. I’m sure many of you have given your spouses nicknames—pet names known only to you—and whenever you call them by that name they know how special your love for them really is. Well, God does that as well. Think of the powerful nicknames He has given people in Scripture. Peter, the fearful” became “Cephas—the Rock.” “Saul the persecutor” became “Paul, the missionary.” “Abram the childless” became “Abraham, the father of many nations.” These special, God-given names communicated the fact that these individuals were special to God. And so, Jesus is saying that the person who rejects the friendship of the world will enjoy a unique friendship with God—a special closeness. When we walk close to Jesus – living according to His loving laws – even though it means standing out – we’ll develop a close intimate relationship with God. What is the meaning of the white stone upon which the name is written – I don’t know, there are several opinions expressed by different commentators but that all they are, just the opinions of men. What I will say is that the colour white in scripture symbolizes Holiness (see 1:14  His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow,) – whatever it means, we have a picture of the Holy God declaring his faithful children as Holy and naming them as His (He gives the name!)

What sort of letter would Jesus write to you? I said as we started this series on the seven churches that in these letters we would each see something of ourselves, think then, consider your life and your faith and ask yourself what sort of letter would Jesus write to you?

Are you clinging to your faith in Jesus as stubbornly as the Pergamum Christians did?
Are you guilty of trying to live a compromised life,  one foot in each camp?

Do you know God personally, intimately? Are you a Christ follower?

To quote Jesus’ letter once more, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says.”