Sermon: Pergamum: The Compromising Church Revelation 2:12-17

Pergamum: The Compromising Church

Revelation 2:12-17

 

Rev. 2:12-17 (ESV)

   “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.

   [13] ” ‘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. [14] 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.

[15] So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. [16] Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. [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.’

Introduction

The Church at Ephesus was a church that was considered doctrinally sound but had lost its first love. The Church at Smyrna was a suffering church. Today we look at the Church of Pergamum, a compromising church. What led to their succumbing to the pressures from the outside? What was behind their lowering of their defenses to allow the world to enter into the fellowship? We may never know the answer to these questions but we can look at their example and follow it where it is good and reject it where it is sinful. We may not fully understand the exact details of what took them from being a faithful Church to a compromising church but I pray together, we understand some things that could cause us to go down the road of compromise.

The City of Pergamum was situated some fifty miles northeast of Smyrna. It wasn’t nearly as large as either Ephesus or Smyrna but it had something they didn’t have. This city was where the Roman Empire met to make decisions. Ephesus was sort of the New York City of the Roman Empire. Smyrna was the Chicago of the Roman Empire. Pergamum was sort of the Washington DC of the Roman Empire. It was the center cog for Rome’s operation. It was the seat of Satan.

Satan has often used two tactics to render the church powerless. The first tactic is that he persecutes the church and the second is he seduces the church. Most often, at least with true believers, persecution has back fired on the Devil and made the church much stronger and purer. Like a fire melting away the dross and refining metal, the church is often made purer. This can be clearly seen in areas where persecution has been heavy over the years such as the former Soviet Union and other areas in Western Europe, the church is strong and pure. It means something to be a Christian in places where it cost you. Would we remain faithful to Christ if being a Christian meant you would be unemployed, live in poverty, and chased down?

Satan’s other tactic is more subtle and often much more effective, he doesn’t attack us from without but he lulls us to sleep from within. He gets us off track and switches the real gospel with a false gospel; he tricks us into thinking that there are other things as important as serving Christ and loving the lost. . He gets us to believe that holiness is an option and that a true commitment to Christ is too radical and weird. He seduces us as we sometimes might think sin is not all that bad. He wants us to think that we can have the best of both worlds. He says you can have Christ and all that the world has to offer as well. Look around, he says, every other church is doing it. Because of our sinful nature and the desires of our flesh we take the bait and swallow the lie hook line and sinker. We often forget,

James 4:4 (ESV)

   You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

We’re going to see that Satan tried the first war tactic only to be partially successful so he moves on to “plan B” and tries to render the church ineffective through seduction.

  1. Christ’s Commission (2:12)

   “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.

As has been the pattern, Jesus gives his commission to the elder or messenger of the church. If you remember this word translated, as angel is a very literal translation, simply meaning messenger or more specifically elder or pastor.

As John share the words of Jesus, first for the Pergamum Church and then to us today, he highlights one trait of Christ that he saw in his vision, namely, ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. John highlights this specific trait of Jesus because the church at Pergamum had for a while now been powerless to combat the devil’s tactics. They were being seduced and had no weapons to fight back. They were loosing ground. Why? Why has the church today lost ground? Why is she having such a difficult time in this present age? Satan is seducing the church and she is lowering her weapons. In this commission, John highlights Christ’s Word as the weapon to overtake the enemy. They needed to be reminded that to stand against the attacks of the devil, one must be armed with the sword which is the Word of God.

Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

   For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Ephes. 6:17 (ESV)

   and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,

We could also go to Matthew 4:1-11, to the temptation of Christ, and see how Jesus battled Satan. What did He use? He used the Word of God to win the battle that day.

This church was trying to do battle with a watered down and even false word. Their weapon was dull and useless against the attacks of the evil one. Rather than standing and fighting, they chose to surrender and give in because they had no way of moving ahead.

In the temptation account of Jesus, Satan tried to appeal to His human nature by tempting Him with food (after a 40 day fast), with His claim to be the Son of God by asking Him to prove it and thirdly His claim to be King ( I will give you all the kingdoms of the word). Jesus fought the devil with one weapon, the Word of God. That day, Jesus drew blood with the sharp two-edged sword. The devil left Him and Jesus won the victory.
Jesus won the temptation when Adam caved in to it. Adam tried to confront the devil with an opinion not the Word of God. Jesus did not give the devil His opinion but drew the sword. The Church at Pergamum, no doubt, tried to fight with populat politics rather than the Sword of the Word of God.

  1. Christ’s Commendation (2:13)

[13] ” ‘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.

To the Church in Ephesus Jesus declares I know your works.

To the Church in Smyrna Jesus declares I know your affliction and your poverty.

To the Church in Pergamum Jesus declares I know where you live.

This city was the center of satanic activity for Asia. Smyrna had a center for Satan worship and was given a throne which emperor worship was practiced… where Satan’s throne is.

Even in all this the church was faithful in two areas.

  1. Held fast to Christ’s name.

They were faithful to uphold the name of Christ. They did not give in to declare that Caesar is Lord but remained faithful to Christ’s name. They said the right thing.

  1. Held fast their faith in Christ.

It wasn’t the false gods they looked to for salvation. They came to Christ on His terms…by grace through faith. They continued even in the worst of times.

Even when Antipas was martyred because of his faithfulness, they continued to uphold the name of Christ.

That’s the good news. Here comes the bad news.

  1. Christ’s Condemnation (2:14-15)

[14] 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.

[15] So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

Unfortunately with this church suffering had not perfected it but had caused it to give in, a little here and a little there. Oh they still considered themselves Christian but they were not the pure church that the Lord wanted them to be. They had allowed compromise to remain within the church. While this compromise was in some respect doctrinal it was mainly in holiness. This church upheld the name of Christ and faith in Christ but compromised its commitment to Christ. The church told the truth with it’s lips but lied with it’s life.

1 John 2:4-6 (ESV)

   Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, [5] but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: [6] whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

  1. The Example of Balaam

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.

Balaam was a spiritualist or a medium. King Balak of Moab had heard that the Israelites were coming so not to be defeated like the others he hired Balaam to curse the Israelites. Balaam, being an agent of Satan, recognized the power of God and claimed that he would only do what God would allow. For no amount of money would he do anything contrary to God’s will. For three times Balaam was to curse the Israelites and three times God caused him to bless them. The third time Balaam even prophesied to Balak that Israel would defeat the Moabites. King Balak was very angry. Before Balaam left he told the king how to defeat the Israelites. He said the Israelites could be seduced into pagan worship and into pagan sexual immorality and when this happens God would curse them.

Numbers 31:16 (ESV)

   Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord.

In all likelihood there were those in the first century church who like Balaam told the Roman government how to beat the Christians. Like Balaam who wanted the praise of men these leaders preached God’s Word sometimes and the other times wanted desperately to fit in with the popular vote. They caused the Christians to sin. They wanted the Christians to like them and they also wanted the secular world to like them and in so doing they brought God’s curse to the church.

These were deceivers within the church. Like Balaam who did some things right but really loved money and power more, these in the church were causing the church to loose God’s favor. The church was about to receive the curse from her Lord because she was literally, whoring with the world as Balaam caused the Israelites to do.

25 While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. And the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.” [1]

At the end of the day, it was money and power that Balaam was after. He sold the Israelites for a day’s fame. Many thousands of the Israelites died when God’s judgment came. This happened at least in part due to Balaam’s advice. It’s alright to take foreign women and worship their gods…nothing will happen. A little sin is ok. Don’t worry, if it feels right do it. You’re not hurting anyone. If you love someone then it’s ok.
Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand. [2]

I find it very fitting and ironic at the same time that Balaam was put to death with the sword…
And they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword. [3]

There may be no connection at all but Jesus is the One whose Word is the two-edged sword and these false teachers are compared to Balaam who was killed with the sword for his lies and false teaching.

The point is that just like Israel had compromised and married foreign women and worshipped foreign gods, so too was the church worshipping idols and foreign gods instead of the true God. By way of compromise they had fallen into idolatry.

  1. The Example of the Nicolaitans

[15] So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

If you remember from the Church at Ephesus, these guys were those who also in some respects looked the part of a leader. They upheld the name of Christ but wanted to straddle the fence. They wanted a little Christianity and a little of the world. They taught that as a Christian you could pretty much do whatever you wanted because after all, God will forgive you. They said that it was your flesh that sinned therefore your spirit was safe. They watered down God’s requirements in the area of Christian perseverance and sanctification.

These would be those today who teach that all a person needs to do is pray a prayer and you’re in. They are the ones who say that God justifies sinners but then after that there are no more requirements. These are those who would give an alter call and then declare that all you have to do is come forward and be saved. They make salvation nothing more than a formula to follow. If a sinner repeats the right words and agrees and hold the preacher’s hand they’re in. These people have led millions astray with a cheap gospel void of any saving power.

For both of these types of people, Jesus says if you don’t remove these men from teaching and preaching, judgment is coming.

A church to obey this type of false doctrine doesn’t look any different from the world. This type of church is degrading the name of Christ. They claim Christ but their lives deny Christ.

The word Nicolaitan means “overcomer of the people” and the name Balaam means “rule over the people” there is the reality that false teaching and sinful compromise is like leven that will in fact overcome the people. See, the reality is that people are prone to wander away from God and they need the truth over and over again to help them stay faithful to God. When someone promotes a false teaching that endorses worldliness and Christianity, that’s, for a human, the best of both worlds. I can live like I want now and when I die, God will take me to heaven. That’s the sin of compromise with the world. It’s the sin of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. It’s the sin of many leaders within the modern church.

  1. Christ’s Confrontation (2:16)

[16] Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.

Compromise had invaded the church. In an effort to be pleasing to all, everyone was happy except for one person…the only one that really matters, Jesus Christ. Jesus now launches His counter attack…Repent.

Isn’t Christ merciful? I mean He had every right to remove the lamp stand from the church and end it right then and there. He had every right to take those within the church and kill them with the sword just like Balaam. Instead He offers another chance to His people.

Therefore repent. Jesus says turn away from your sin of tolerance and compromise in the church and live like believers are to live. Honor Me over everything else.

Jesus gave this church two options…repent or suffer the consequences.

If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.

As much as we want to see Christ, we do not want to see Him prematurely. A premature coming means trouble.

Unless there is repentance, Christ will declare war on these people. Just like Jesus cleansed the temple He will cleanse His church.

Matthew 21:12-13 (ESV)

   And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. [13] He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

The difference is this time Jesus wouldn’t turn over the pulpit and the pews, He will wage war with His Word. His weapon will be the sword of His mouth.

  1. Christ’s Challenge (2:17)

[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.’

So far Christ has promised that those who are conquerors, those in Christ, will:

Eat from the tree of life

Be given the crown of life

Be protected from the second death

Now He says those who are in Christ will be given some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone.

  1. The Gift of Hidden Manna

God promised manna to His people in the wilderness. Remember from our Bible reading in Exodus the manna from heaven? Rather than eating this manna, God’s people were tricked by Balaam into eating meat sacrificed to idols. God says He has hidden manna. As the church, we must avoid this deadly error, the error of substituting false manna for the true manna.

John 6:30-35 (ESV)

   So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? [31] Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” [32] Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. [33] For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” [34] They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

   [35] Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

The hidden manna is the eternal provision found in our Lord Jesus Christ. The manna that came down from heaven is a foreshadowing of the true manna that came down from heaven to give eternal sustenance to all who partake. Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament manna.

Listen, those who refuse to participate in worldly Christianity or pagan feasts will be rewarded with participation in the end-time feast, which is the manna that’s currently hidden. In Exodus 16 we get the message that the manna was meant to sustain Israel in the wilderness, it was said to have been hidden high in the heavens

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. [4]

and was meant to ultimately prosper Israel at the end of days. Jesus is promising true Israel the manna that has been hidden. I do not know all that will be on the table when we sit down with Jesus but it sounds like one plate that is passed to us will have manna on it!

  1. The Gift of a White Stone

I will give him a white stone.

Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium.[5]

12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. [6]

What many theologians believe is that this too is a reference to the manna, which in extra biblical literature is referred to as like white crystals. The LXX refers to manna as rock-crystal and one version of the Hebrew Torah refers to manna as a round crystal, white like a pearl.

  1. The Gift of a New Name

In the ancient world, to be given a new name was an indication of one’s new status.

Here, every true believer will be given a new name, a new character, a new righteousness that will last forever.

2 Cor. 5:17 (ESV)

   Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

The gifts of Manna and a new name are given to those who conquer. We’ve heard this language before. In this case those who conquer are those who do not conform to this world but remain steadfast in truth.

Our Challenge

Christ knows our situation every bit as well as He knew the Church of Pergamum’s. He knows the things we are doing right and He knows the things we are doing wrong. He expects the church, and especially the leaders, to be on the offensive when it comes to the things He would condemn. Christ isn’t happy and never satisfied with a blemished church but is seeking a pure church. We should never be satisfied either. He will also show us mercy, patience and grace. If we seek to be obedient to His Word as a church, Christ will also grant us repentance. Let’s never settle for meat sacrificed to idols, which is an unholy substitute, when we can feast on the true manna from heaven… Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

***Some references came from the book, “Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament by Beale and Carson

 

 

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Nu 25:1–5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Nu 25:9). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Nu 31:8). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ex 16:4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Nu 11:7). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ge 2:12). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

%d bloggers like this: