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A Worldly Church

The Seven Churches of Revelation  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  1:30:53
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A Worldly Church
Revelation 2:12–17 (ESV)
12 “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.’
Big Idea: Jesus commends his church for persevering in faithfulness in spite of persecution
but warns them not to compromise with an idolatrous and immoral culture.
Introduction
The message to the church in Pergamum is the third in the series of messages to the seven churches in Revelation 2–3.
the capital of the Roman province of Asia Minor for somewhere between 250 and 300 years. The word “Pergamos” literally means parchment.
religious center where the pagan cults worshiping
this was the first city in the ancient Roman world to build a temple to Caesar.
The emperor worship had reached the point of cultic form.
He was no longer seen as a political or military leader
but he was seen as a god.
Further years indicated that they built further temples, and so the city had perhaps several temples of worship for Caesar. It came then the capital of Caesar worship. That city which was more given over to that than any other city in ancient Roman territory.
They had developed along with Caesar worship, of course, all of these other pagan forms of worship. And as long as you worshiped Caesar, you could worship somebody else.
What made it tough for Christians was they didn’t worship Caesar at all.
They worshiped Christ and Him alone and refused on the one day a year when you had to burn incense to Caesar to do it, and
therefore lost their citizenry rights and lost their lives in some cases.
That would have been intensified in Pergamos because
it was the capital city for Caesar worship, and probably it was required more than just one day a year in this city, and that’s what precipitates the fatality that occurs in this city to one of the members of the church.
Here is the first negative introduction because this is a church that is facing judgment.
Jesus commends the church at Pergamum for enduring persecution in a very idolatrous and immoral environment
but faults it for compromising
with false teaching that promotes the ungodly lifestyle of the prevailing culture.
this letter is written to a compromising church.
This church is beginning to be linked inseparably to the world. And this church has decided that it can maintain some kind of Christian credibility and also associate itself with the sins of the past.
Pergamos is a picture of any church that courts the world, any church that marries paganism in any form.
Jesus Has the Sword of Judgment
Revelation 2:12 (ESV)
12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.
This “sharp two-edged sword” is probably an image of judgment. Rather than envisioning Jesus with a sword-shaped tongue,
we should probably understand this to mean that
Jesus will speak decisive words of judgment.
The sword was certainly used in judgment in the Roman world, so this introduction contains a threatening image.
judging and moving fast from side to side and wreaking havoc as it moves. It is an instrument of judgment falling on those who are deserving of that judgment.
John’s audience knows that Rome wields the sword of judgment,
but the authority of Jesus and the sword of judgment that comes from his mouth will strike down the idolatry of Rome.
Whose judgment do you fear?
The Christians in John’s audience could avoid the sword of Rome by doing things that would put them in danger of the sword of Jesus.
We will all face situations where what the world judges to be right conflicts with what Jesus judges to be right.
Whose sword do you respect in that moment?
The sword of the world and the judgment the world might inflict, or the sharp two-edged sword in the mouth of the Son of man?
Faithfulness in Pergamum
Revelation 2:13 (ESV)
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.
The church is in a very bad neighborhood.
Satan’s got his operations all over the world but he’s got his throne in Pergamum.
That’s quite an amazing statement.
Make no mistake Satan’s throne is not in hell, it’s in this world.
This is the field of his operation.
Hell is the place of his incarceration, this is the place of his operation.
His power was unleashed from this city and some in the Pergamos church had fallen victim to Satan
ask lep ios
In the city of Pergamos was a medical school. And this was a famous place of medicine. Mingled into their medicine, of course, was a lot of superstition. And the emblem or the idol of Asklepios was a snake. If you have ever seen the medical symbol, you will notice that in the middle of a medical symbol winding its way around the pole is a snake … that is the ancient god Asklepios, the god of healing.
When you went to the temple of Asklepios you went there to be healed. In the temple harmless snakes slithered all over the temple floor. And in order to be healed you had to go in there and lie down and stay there.
You slept on the temple floor and while you slept the defused multiplicity of the deity of Asklepios crawled over your body and infused you with his healing power.
Satanic? Yes.
Right from the old serpent himself.
you hear that Asklepios was there, the serpent god, that sounds Satanic.
When you know that Zeus was there and big upon the hill looming over the whole place was an altar to this false god, you know that Satan was there. And when you know they were worshiping the Caesars, you know that Satan was there. And when you put it all together, certainly this is Satan’s throne.

Where is the Altar of Zeus today?

The famous Altar of Zeus, which was originally in the Acropolis, was taken to Germany in 1897 and it is presently on exhibition at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.
These Christians in Pergamum were holding up well in the satanic stronghold in which they lived, but as we see from ensuing verses,
they needed to repent of their toleration of false teaching.[2]
Between these references to Satan’s throne and dwelling in Pergamum,
Jesus commends the church because, in spite of the bad influence of their neighborhood, he says, “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” (2:13).
In spite of their proximity to Satan’s throne, they “hold fast” to the name of Jesus.
There was a true church here, there was a growing church here, there was a real church there, a saved church, waging an uncompromising war right at the throne of Satan.
They were doing well enough to be commended. “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is and you hold fast My name and did not deny My faith.”
They were true, true faith is not fragile, it is indestructible. It survives everything, even the onslaughts of hell.
You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city.
Antipas experienced the power of Rome to execute.
Perhaps because of his refusal to worship the Roman emperor.
Because he had remained true to the person and character of Jesus, he is identified as Jesus’s “faithful witness,” the same title used of Jesus himself in 1:5 (see also 3:14).
Tradition says, fascinating, he was burned to death inside a brass bull. They had created a brass bull hallowed out, they set afire and put him in it.
You saw that, it happened among you, you watched My faithful one, you watched My witness become My martyr and you never deviated from your faith and you never denied My name.
Antipas paid the supreme price for not compromising.
Some of us aren’t even willing to sacrifice our popularity or our wrong desires for the sake of staying separated from the world.
You have to ask … what in the world has happened to our sense of values?
Here’s a man who would rather die than compromise. We would readily compromise rather than change the simplest pattern of our selfish lives.
Satan had set up his enterprise there and this little church was feeling the heat of it and it was in some ways succumbing to it.
The Rebuke of Jesus
Pergamos for the most part was faithful
Revelation 2:14–15 (ESV)
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.
Obedience in one area does not cover for or excuse disobedience in other areas.
Jesus rebukes this church for tolerating the practices of the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans, groups that encouraged Christians to use their freedom to participate in pagan worship activities, including the worship of the emperor.
Practices such as eating food sacrificed to idols in the worship of false gods and sexual immorality were often part of festivals associated with local temples and trade guilds. Christians who refused to compromise suffered social and economic persecution or worse.[4]
The strange figure Balaam is a famous biblical example of an enemy who first tried to persecute believers but found greater success by seducing them.
When the Israelites were advancing through the wilderness near Moab, Balak the king of Moab sought to destroy them by having Balaam declare a curse.
This attack failed because when Balaam began cursing Israel, the Holy Spirit would come upon him and change his curses into blessings (Num. 23:1–12).
Like Satan in Pergamum, Balaam realized that persecution was only making God’s people stronger, so he changed tactics.
Jesus’ message says that Balaam “put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel” (Rev. 2:14), so that they ate prohibited foods and entered into sexual sin.
Balaam did this by sending the daughters of Moab into the Israelite camp to lure the men into sexual sin and idolatry.
Numbers 25 records that God judged Israel for these sins, slaying twenty-four thousand people by a plague.[5]
The church was probably facing pressure from the Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor.
This cult included homage paid to the emperor and the gods that would be inescapably idolatrous, and there is no shortage of evidence that Roman celebrations could degenerate into drunken orgies.
So the teaching of the Nicolaitans probably validated a certain level of participation in civic life, the celebrations of the city of Pergamum, which would have been idolatrous and immoral in nature.[6]
It seems, therefore, that the Nicolaitans encouraged cultural accommodation and secular living. In a place where it seemed impossible that Christians could survive by refusing to accept the imperial cult,
they urged believers to say the words and participate in the ritual feasts.
Perhaps they further added that since Jesus had died to forgive sins,
Christians should not worry about sinful patterns such as sexual immorality that would enable us to get along in a pagan world.
Robert Mounce suggests that their message may have taught “that it was possible without disloyalty to maintain a peaceful co-existence with Rome.”4
Are ideas circulating in our culture that we could liken to “the teaching of the Nicolaitans?
Today, Nicolaitans would be foremost among those
urging the ordination of homosexuals as ministers,
since this compromise is demanded by the secular culture. What other accommodations are there in the church to the prevailing influence of the culture?
The church can also be a place where abortion rights of women are affirmed. Where what is most obviously life in the womb can be sacrificed.
We have our own cultic worship of thoughts and ideas that have nothing to do with the God of the Bible.
The church is never to be a place of the mingling of those things.
It’s never to be a place where unbelievers feel safe and secure.
It’s to be a place where unbelievers feel frightened though loved, fearful though welcome and where they can hear the truth and be saved.
You can never suppress error by compromising with it.
Yes, we want to reach out in love.
Yes, we want to bring in unbelievers to hear the truth of Christ and experience our love and experience our kindness and our graciousness.
But never give false security that they belong until they know Jesus Christ which knowing is made manifest in their life.
Compromise is so serious Christ says if you don’t stop, I’ll make war against them with the sword of My mouth.
Here in Pergamum we see the danger of caring little for doctrinal truth and doing nothing to oppose false teaching when we learn of it.
Jesus’ warning to Pergamum teaches us that Christians and churches must be vigilant against false teaching. This was Paul’s counsel when he charged the elders of Ephesus to watch out for “fierce wolves [who] will come in among you, not sparing the flock.… Therefore be alert” (Acts 20:29–31).
Pergamum reminds us, in this way, of two great strategies employed by Satan against the Christian church.
The first is persecution, which the believers of Pergamum had withstood.
The second was false teaching leading to unholy and worldly living, and to this Pergamum was in danger of succumbing. Jesus thus warns his people: “Therefore repent[8]
The Call to Repent
Revelation 2:16 (ESV)
16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.
At Pergamum, repentance “would mean refusing to tolerate Nicolaitan teaching. The church and its leaders must confront the Nicolaitans,” seeking their repentance.8
Jesus says that unless churches are willing to oppose false doctrine and false practice, not accepting or even tolerating heresy, the Roman sword of persecution would not be needed, since Christ’s own sword of discipline would fall on his church.
“Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.
Whereas the church in Ephesus had dealt with the false teaching properly, although losing love in the process,
the church in Pergamum needed to be firm and decisive in rejecting the teachings and practices of the false teachers in their midst.
The sword image emphasizes the coming judgment of Christ on the church that encourages assimilation to and compromise with an ungodly culture.
[9]
The Promise of New Life
Revelation 2:17 (ESV)
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.’
He concludes his letter to Pergamum, as he concludes all seven letters, with the words,
“To the one who conquers” (Rev. 2:17).
To be sure, Jesus does not mean that Christians will in this life overcome all difficulties so as to become virtual gods ourselves. Rather,
Jesus refers to his true people who refuse to renounce him but hold fast against all persecution, who zealously uphold true doctrine while refusing heretical teaching, and who embrace the Bible’s call to holiness.
refusing to capitulate to the immoral and self-serving standards of a world under God’s judgment.
As John put it more succinctly: “This is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4).[10]
He promises to give them some of the hidden manna.
Manna was a honey-flavored bread with which God fed the Israelites during their years of wandering in the wilderness (Ex. 16:14ff.). According to Exodus 16:33, the Israelites were to memorialize that divine provision by keeping a jar of manna inside the Ark of the Covenant during their travels.
The hidden manna represents Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life who came down from heaven (John 6:48–51). He provides spiritual sustenance for those who put their faith in Him. The hidden manna symbolizes all the blessings and benefits of knowing Christ. (Eph. 1:3).[11]
It seems best to understand the white stone in light of the Roman custom of awarding white stones to the victors in athletic contests.
A white stone, inscribed with the athlete’s name, served as his ticket to a special awards banquet.
In this view, Christ promises the overcomers entrance to the eternal victory celebration in heaven.
There will be a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.
We cannot know what that new name is until we receive it (cf. Deut. 29:29).
Kainos (new) does not mean new in contrast to old in time, but new in the sense of qualitatively different. The new name will serve as each believer’s admission pass into eternal glory.
It will uniquely reflect God’s special love for and adoption of every true child of His.
The Choice
The Pergamum church faced the same choice that every similar church faces.
It could repent and receive all the blessedness of eternal life in the glory of heaven.
Or it could refuse to repent and face the terrifying reality of having the Lord Jesus Christ declare war on it. Maintaining the path of compromise ultimately leads to judgment.[12]
We don’t want to be a compromising church. And so we’ve got to deal with issues lest the Lord come against us and smite us with a sword out of His mouth.
We want our faith to be real, we want to hold fast to the name.
We want not to deny what we know to be true.
We want to deal with error in our fellowship.
We want to be the true church, the true believers, the overcomers who some day will be given Jesus Christ in all His fullness as the hidden manna, who some day will be given the white stone to give us admission in to the eternal feast in heaven.
And on that white stone will be written a special message privately from the living Christ to those He loves.
Conclusion
Do you have ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches?
Fight the good fight.
Overcome.
Feed your soul on the manna Jesus gives.
Enjoy the intimacy he promises.
He knows you as you are, and he loves you.
There is no love better than his.[14]
[1]Duvall, J. S. (2014). Revelation (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.; p. 52). Baker Books. [2] Hamilton, J. M., Jr. (2012). Preaching the Word: Revelation—The Spirit Speaks to the Churches (R. K. Hughes, Ed.; pp. 87–88). Crossway. v. Verse [3] Duvall, J. S. (2014). Revelation(M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.; p. 54). Baker Books. [4]Duvall, J. S. (2014). Revelation (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.; p. 54). Baker Books. [5]Phillips, R. D. (2017). Revelation (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.; p. 113). P&R Publishing. [6]Hamilton, J. M., Jr. (2012). Preaching the Word: Revelation—The Spirit Speaks to the Churches (R. K. Hughes, Ed.; p. 89). Crossway. 4 Mounce, Revelation, 98. 5 William Barclay, The Revelation of John, 3rd ed., 2 vols., New Daily Study Bible (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004), 1:102. [7]Phillips, R. D. (2017). Revelation (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.; p. 114). P&R Publishing. [8]Phillips, R. D. (2017). Revelation (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.; p. 114). P&R Publishing. 8 Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001), 7. [9] Duvall, J. S. (2014). Revelation (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.; p. 54). Baker Books. [10]Phillips, R. D. (2017). Revelation (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.; p. 116). P&R Publishing. [11]MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1999). Revelation 1–11 (pp. 90–91). Moody Press. [12]MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1999). Revelation 1–11 (p. 91). Moody Press. [13]Duvall, J. S. (2014). Revelation (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.; p. 54). Baker Books. [14]Hamilton, J. M., Jr. (2012). Preaching the Word: Revelation—The Spirit Speaks to the Churches (R. K. Hughes, Ed.; p. 92). Crossway.
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