Jesus' Words To The Church In Pergamum
Over the last two weeks we have looked at Jesus’ words to the church in Ephesus and the church in Smyrna.
Both competed with each other for status, recognition and honor.
Ephesus and Smyrna were rich and successful because of trade routes.
Today we are going to consider Jesus’ words to the church in Pergamum.
Pergamum is not able to compete with Ephesus or Smyrna in regards to trade.
However, Pergamum was important because it was the capital of Asia for over 400 years at the time of the writing of this letter to them.
Some have described it in this way, “If Smyrna is compared to the city of New York, then Pergamum is to be likened to Washington DC.”
William Barclay, in his commentary on Revelation says, “History and honor gathered around Pergamum”.
Pergamum was a city with a rich geographical, cultural, religious and political history.
Pergamum led Asia Minor in religious influence in two ways. First, through their worship of the Greek gods. Secondly, in their worship of the Roman Emperors.
The city considered itself the
protector of the Greek way of life
and a defender of Greek worship.
In 240 BC the city won a great victory against the Gaul’s. In response to this battle the city built a great altar to Zeus right in front of the temple of Athene. It was placed 800 feet high upon the cities elevation.
The altar stood 40 feet high and projected far out upon a projecting ledge on the side of the hill giving it an appearance of the throne on the hillside. All day long it would smoke with the smoke of the offerings that were offered to Zeus.
Pergamum was also connected to the Temple of Asclepios, so much so, that this diety became known as the Pergamum god.
Asclepios was known as the healing god so people would come from all over the known world to find healing here.
They believed that healing was partly the work of doctors, partly the work of priests and partly the work of Asclepios.
There were two characteristics of the worship of Asclepios that would have been offensive to Christians.
First, the title that was often said of this god was, “Asclepios – the saviour”. To the Christian, Jesus Christ is alone the Savior of the world.
Secondly, the emblem that was associated with this Greek god, and was often found upon the coins in this city, was a serpent.
For these reasons we can see why Christians and Jews considered this a Satanic cult and also the place where Satan dwells.
Pergamum was also at the epicenter of the worship of the Roman Caesar’s
Pergamum was the political and administrative center of Asia Minor.
People had to swear, by penalty of death, that Caesar is Lord. As we have already seen, this is something that Christians would not do and it cost many believers their lives. Because of this, many believe that this is why Jesus says that this is where Satan dwells.
This city had become important culturally because it had a famous library that was second only to the library in Antioch. It contained over 200,000 scrolls. This city had developed a new material that was used for writing that over time displaced papyrus as the primary means of paper. This product was named after the meaning of the name Pergamum and it was called Parchment.
Geographically Pergamum was a very impressive city.
It was built on and around a tall conical hill that rose far above the valley in which it was found. From the top, the Mediteranian Sea could be seen 15 miles away.
Sir William Ramsay said this about the city, “Beyond all other cities in Asia Minor, it gives the traveler the impression of a royal city, the home of authority; the rock hill on which it stands is so huge, and dominates the broad plain of the Caicus so proudly and so boldy.”
Considering all of these things, there is something encouraging and comforting about what Jesus has to say to the church who lives in this environment.
First, our hearts ought to marvel at the fact that God plants a church in an environment such as this. This is a true miracle! There are miracles such as this all around us. It is a miracle that God plants His church ‘where Satan dwells’ and from there He sends forth His Word to that city.
Secondly, it is a miracle that the Word and the Spirit bear fruit that is not only seen in the conversion of people but also in the fact that their conversion bears fruit of sanctification and godliness despite the environment in which they live.
Let our hearts be encouraged by Jesus’ words in Revelation 2:13 when He says, “I know where you dwell...”. This is not the typical word that is used of Christians in the New Testament. Most often the Christians are those who are referred too as exiles, sojourners, and pilgrims.
When the apostle Peter writes his first letter to the Christians who live in Asia Minor he calls them ‘elect exiles’. (1 Peter 1:1) Peter also says this in 1 Peter 2:11, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”
In our text today Jesus says, “I know where you dwell”.
He is saying that He knows where their permanent residence is.
He knows where they have been planted and where their lives have taken root.
Jesus says that they dwell where Satan’s throne is and they reside where Satan dwells.
In one way, these words regarding where they live are absolutely chilling. In another way, these words can be incredibly encouraging.
They are sobering because these Christians lived in the city where Satan’s throne was, where he exercised his power and authority. This is a city where Satan exerted great influence over the minds and hearts of the people.
However, these words are encouraging when we see that the church is miraculously established in the midst of such a place. Not only does God ‘elect’ people there and place His church there but the church is preserved, sustained and made fruitful even in such an environment.
I am mindful of Jesus’ words to Peter after he confessed that Jesus was the Christ, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18)
Jesus has always intended that His church be found in close proximity to where Satan exercises his greatest show of strength. Jesus places the church right at the gate of Satan’s stronghold and in the city of his throne so that the world might know that even there Satan cannot overcome it.
The church is like Mordicai who sat at the gate and even like Esther who finds herself even in the room thwarting evil intentions and the wicked plans against God’s people.
In John Stott’s book entitled, “The Radical Disciple”, he writes, “The church has a double responsibility in relation to the world around us. On the one hand we are to live, serve and witness in the world. On the other hand we are to avoid becoming contaminated by the world. So we are neither to seek to preserve our holiness by escaping from the world nor to sacrifice our holiness by conforming to the world.”
In our text, Jesus acknowledges that many in this church were faithful to live and witness in the world.
There were many in this church who had avoided being contaminated by the world.
They had not compromised truth, bent the knee to a false god, they had not begun to mesh together the sacred with the profane.
Jesus says to them in Revelation 2:13, “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.”
Let me give you five observations concerning this verse.
Observation #1 – Jesus sees clearly and accurately the situation we find ourselves in. ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.’ Jesus knows the true condition of the place that we live and minister.
Observation #2 – Jesus never looses sight of us in difficult times. ‘Yet you hold fast to my name...”. Jesus sees our day to day faithfulness in every detail. In fact, I would argue that we hold fast because of His provision of Grace.
Observation #3 – Jesus never forgets our confessions and deeds done by faith. ‘...you did not deny my faith.’ Every good deed and confession will be rewarded in its own time.
Observation #4 – Jesus continues to honor the faithful long after they are gone. ‘...in the days of Antipas my faithful witness’. Jesus gives this man a title given to Him alone in scripture.
Observation #5 – Jesus address’ painful things so that believers can be encouraged. ‘...who was killed among you’. Proverbs 10:7, “The memory of the righteous is a blessing...”. He does not ignore these things.
The church in Pergamum lived faithfully in this city. They did not withdraw and disengage from the community. But there were some in the church who began to compromise. There were some who had begun to pervert truth, twist orthodoxy, compromise clarity, sin blatantly and to compromise others within the church.
Jesus says to them in verses 14-15, “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.”
These individuals had begun to accept false teaching.
They began to twist the grace of God into a license to sin.
If this sin was allowed to go on it would affect the whole church. Therefore, in verse 16 Jesus commands them to repent. And He warns that if they fail to do so, He would soon war against them with the sword of His mouth.
Every faithful generation of Christians has had to deal with these types of people within the church. I am currently reading a biography about the reformer John Calvin and I would like to read to you a section regarding this very sort of thing.
“Groups of Geneva’s citizens caused him much pain, not the least of them being the Libertines, who boasted in sinful licentiousness. Sexual immorality was permissible, they claimed, arguing that the ‘communion of the saints’ meant that their bodies should be joined to the wives of others. The Libertines openly practiced adultery and yet desired to come to the Lords Table. Calvin would have none of it.”
“In an epic encounter, Philibert Berthelier, a prominent Libertine, was excommunicated because of his known sexual promiscuity. Consquently, he was forbidden from partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Through the underhanded influence of the Libertines, the City Council overrode the churches decision and Berthelier and his associates came to church to the Lord’s Supper with swords drawn, ready to fight. With bold audacity, Calvin descended from the pulpit, stood in front of the Communion table, and said, ‘These hands you may crush, these arms you may lop off, my life you may take, my blood is yours, you may shed it; but you shall never force me to give holy things to the profaned and dishonor the table of my God.’ Berthelier and the Libertines withdrew, no match for such unflinching convictions.” (Steven Lawson, p. 16)
Two things are very clear in our text today.
First, there is enough grace in God to forgive all men of any sin, whether done inside or outside the church, if they will repent. Jesus says in verse 16, “Therefore repent”.
Secondly. The Word of God plays a vital role in saving and sanctifying people.
For those who will be faithful and for those who will repent of such sins two promises are given.
First, to those who conquer Jesus will give some of the hidden manna. There are differing views in regards to what this may mean, but I have come to simply accept that this means that Jesus will give Himself to such a one. Jesus will draw close to such a person and give freely to such a person. (John 6)
Jesus says that He will also give to such a person a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it. Again, there are many views concerning these words. Let me give you two of the most widely held views. First, many say that it was a Jewish custom in the courts to render a verdict by using stones. If a black stone was given to the defendant he was found guilty. If a white stone was given to the defendant he was found innocent. If this is the meaning of what Jesus is saying then to those who will repent He will cleanse and declare them not guilty. Jesus will even give them a new name which signifies the new nature and the new life that He has given to them.
The second explanation of these is that in this culture there were many who would were jewelry with stones in them with the name of a god written on it. It was believed that this gave them favor and even power over such a deity to help them in certain situations. If this is the reason that Jesus mentions this then the meaning is that Jesus promises His presence and help apart from such things. The church is to be secure in life or in death because of their relationship with Jesus Christ. A relationship that is sealed with having been given a new name.
As we end this morning I would like to revisit something from Revelation 2:12. Jesus introduces Himself to this church as, “The words of Him who has the sharp two-edged sword”. The Word of God is not just a sword; it is a double edged sword able to cut both ways. It can discern truth and punish falsehood. And the Word of God is not simply a two-edged sword; it is a sharp two-edged sword. The Word of God is complete; not lacking. The Word of God is clear; not confusing. The Word of God is sharp; not dull. The Word of God is to be properly used and applied; not mishandled or neglected.
There is a fuller description of Jesus given in Revelation 1:12-18. This is what it says,
12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 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.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
The point that I would like to leave us with today is simple. You as an individual, and we as a church, will not be able to stand faithfully apart from a very biblical and exalted view of Jesus and without a high view of the Word of God.
Let me give you an illustration of this in scripture. In Luke 9 Jesus is praying and His disciples are near. He asks them, “Who do the people say that I am?”
The disciples respond with several answers, “Some think that you are John the Baptist, others think that you are the prophet Elijah; still others think that you are one of the prophets who has risen from the dead.”
Then Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?”
This is a very important question. If they do not yet know who Jesus is then there are many things that Jesus may not be able to go on to tell them.
Peter responds, “You are the Christ of God.”
Because of this answer Jesus goes on to speak of the fact that He will suffer at the hands of the religious and political leaders, He will die, and He will be resurrected from the dead.
Then, only after the disciples have the correct view of Jesus does He go on to tell them about the cost of following after Him. He says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)
In our Christian culture Christ is not always elevated to His proper place. As a result, many do not receive the sharp, clear, penetrating Word of God.
They twist what should be rightly seen. They confuse what is clear and straight forward. They neglect and speak against that which will one day condemn them. (John 12:48)
Let us be a people who allows our view of Christ to transform us.
Let us be a people who has ears to hear and hearts to respond to the clear, sharp, penetrating, sufficient Word of God.
Let us receive it into our lives and allow it to bring us to repentance and move us into sanctification.
One of the great boasts of the city of Pergamum was that from the top of that hill they could see the Mediterranean Sea 15 miles away. Let Community Church strive for, and boast in only the fact that we live each day in such a way that we might see Christ better and to understand His Word more clearer.
In Revelation 1:12-18 John saw a great deal about Jesus in His glory. But I find it fascinating that Jesus had to tell John about something He could not visibly see. Jesus said, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”
To come to Christ is to find a Savior. To come to His Word is to find Him who holds the keys of Death and Life. Do you need assurance of forgiveness? Do you need assurance that Jesus can save you? You will not find it in the library of Antioch, Pergamum, or in the Library of Congress. You will, however, find it in the Word of God.