Pergamos, A Compromising Church Revelation 2c
Stephen Caswell © 2004
The following is a Russian parable. A hunter raised his rifle and took careful aim at a large bear. When about to pull the trigger, the bear spoke in a soft, soothing voice, Isn’t it better to talk than to shoot? What do you want? Let us negotiate the matter. Lowering his rifle, the hunter replied, I want a fur coat. Good, said the bear, that is a negotiable question. I only want a full stomach, so let us negotiate a compromise. They sat down to negotiate, and after a time the bear walked away alone. The negotiations had been successful. The bear had a full stomach, and the hunter had his fur coat. Compromises rarely satisfy both sides in equal measure.
Today we will see the Church at Pergamos, a Compromising Church. We have seen that Ephesus represented the Church from its birth in Jerusalem to about 100AD. The Church at Smyrna covered the time period from 100Ad to 414AD. Satan had attacked the Church for about 200 years and amazingly the Church grew at an incredible rate. The same thing has happened through out the ages. Russia and China would be recent examples. Because of this incredible growth Satan changed his tactics. Instead he attacked the Church from within. If you can’t lick em’, join em’. We will see 4 things; The Correspondence, The Commendation, The Condemnation, The Counsel.
1. The Correspondence
Revelation 2:12: And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword:
a. The City
The City of Pergamos became the capital of Asia Minor in about 200 BC. The city was about 20 miles inland from Smyrna. Pergamos was famous for its university with a library of about 200,000 volumes, and for manufacturing parchment, a kind of paper. Like Ephesus and Smyrna it was a wealthy city, but it was also wicked. There were four large temples at Pergamos. The people worshiped Athena, Asclepius, Dionysus, and Zeus. It was also the first city to embrace Emperor worship. Today on the ancient site of Pegamos there stands a village called Bergama. This is the Turkish word for Pergamos.
b. The Church
We don’t know how the Church at Pergamos started. It was probably started by Paul or a disciple from Ephesus. Remember, Paul ministered in Ephesus for 3 years. Except for Revelation chapters 1 and 2 we would have no knowledge of this church. There is still a small Christian Church in Pergamos today. The word Pergamos, Πέργαμος, means thoroughly married. Historically this church represents the time soon after Constantine, when the church was thoroughly married to the state. He made Christianity the state religion and proclaimed the empire Christian. Thousands became nominal Christians, and the church tolerated pagan practices in its midst. This describes the Christian Church between 314AD and 606AD. It was the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church.
c. Jesus Christ
The Lord here describes Himself as the one who possesses a sharp two edged sword. What is the significance the two edges? The sword speaks of God’s Word. Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. God’s Word has a powerful two fold function, firstly, to bring salvation, secondly, to execute judgment.
On the day of Pentecost Peter preached God’s Word. Listen to how many responded to God’s Word. Acts 2:37-38: Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said to them, Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. God’s Word cut them to their hearts and then set them free from sin.
Tragically not everyone who is convicted by God’s Word repents. Those who don’t will suffer judgment from God’s Word. Revelation 19:15, 21: Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse.
Zorro came to a large gathering to free some of his countrymen sentenced to death by the wicked Spanish Governor. The same sword used to free his countrymen wounded and killed his enemies. In the same way, Christ’s Word will have a two fold function. His Word both saves the repentant sinner and condemns the wicked. Jesus Christ was warning the Church at Pergamos to take His Word seriously. Christ will not be trifled with. Pergamos must pay attention to Christ’s Word. We can’t ignore His Word either!
2. The Commendation
Revelation 2:13: I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. 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.
a. Faithful Warriors
What did the Lord mean by Satan’s throne? The first great false religious system was established at Babel or Babylon. This is recorded in Genesis chapter 10. Babylon was the centre of pagan religions for around 2000 years. However this changed when Attalus III Priest - King of Babylon fled from the conquering Persians. Satan successfully moved his throne from Babylon to Pergamos where he spread his pagan worship again. Later he would shift his throne to Rome and infiltrate the Christian Church through the Emperor, Constantine. The Lord knew that the Church at Pergamos was in enemy territory. He describes the city as where Satan’s throne is and where Satan dwells.
It wasn’t easy for believers in Pergamos. Satan was very much in control of the territory. The four pagan temples there gave Satan a lot of control over the people. Emperor worship also enabled Satan to force people into idolatry. Along with this Satan used priests from Babylon to spread their idolatry. They were constantly involved in spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6:12: For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
b. Faithful Witness
The believers at Pergamos persevered; they held fast to Christ’s name. That’s quite a commendation when you are vastly outnumbered. Humanly speaking Satan held the advantage. He controlled the government and most of the people. Yet this group of believers held fast to Jesus Christ. They were not ashamed of their Lord. They refused to worship the Emperor. As a result the City heard about Jesus Christ as these believers held on to Him. It’s quite easy for Christians to avoid persecution. All they have to do is to keep silent about Jesus Christ. But God condemns that kind of behavior. How will the world hear the Good News if we don’t tell them? We are called to be Christ’s witnesses.
c. Faithful To The Word
Christ also commended them for not denying the faith. This refers to the body of true doctrine which is believed by Christians. It’s important that Christians know the truth and defend it against the attacks of the enemy. Satan will always find someone to say has God said? The believers at Pergamos defended the truth from such attacks. To stand up for the truth takes courage. Sometimes it will cost us dearly. Antipas a believer at Pergamos gave his life to defend the truth. He was the first known Asian to die for refusing to worship the emperor. The word martyr, μάρτυς, means to testify, to witness, one who witnesses at cost of his life, a martyr. Revelation 12:11: And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.
The Church at Pergamos lived in Satan’s back yard. Firstly, they were soldiers of Jesus Christ. The Lord commended them for being faithful in this. Are we holding fast to Christ’s name? Are we involved in spiritual warfare through prayer and witnessing? Are we defending the faith once and for all delivered to the saints?
3. The Condemnation
Revelation 2:14-15: 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.
Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
Firstly, Christ commended the Church at Pergamos for their faithful service. Then, He condemned them for compromise. Despite their courageous stand against persecution, the believers in Pergamos were not faultless before the Lord. We should note that not all the believers were doing this but they tolerated them in their midst. Christ says you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. A group of compromising people had infiltrated the church fellowship. Jesus Christ hated the doctrines and practices of these ones who snuck in. Satan had not been able to destroy them by coming as the roaring lion, but he was making inroads as the deceiving serpent.
3-4: Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
a. Doctrine Of Balaam
King Balak of Moab hired Balaam a prophet to curse Israel. Balak had heard what God had done for Israel and feared that the Jews would overrun his country. So he decided to curse Israel. God wouldn’t allow Balaam to curse Israel and turned his prophecy into blessings. Balaam still wanted the riches promised by the King and suggested that Balak try a different plan. The women of Moab invited the men of Israel to one of their pagan feasts. As a result many of the Jews became involved in idolatry and sexual immorality. If you can’t lick em join em’. Because of their sin God punished Israel and 24,000 died. Put nicely the doctrine of Balaam is friendship with the world. In reality it is idolatry and sexual immorality. If Christians befriend the world they soon forget the Lord.
Remember the name Pergamos means thoroughly married. God’s people were joining themselves to the world. Instead of being set apart for Christ their heavenly Bridegroom, they married the world. 2 Corinthians 11:2: For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. Why did this bit of ancient history apply to the believers at Pergamos? Because a group in that church said, there is nothing wrong with being friendly to Rome. What harm is there in putting a pinch of incense on the altar and affirming your loyalty to Caesar? Can’t we go to their religious festivals too? No, we can’t! God expects His people to be separate from the world. We are called to be pure, holy, distinctive.
The bride and bridegroom were handcuffed to each other during the ceremony. As they stood there before the minister, one arm of the bridegroom was handcuffed to the adjoining arm of the bride. It happened at Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Fernan Lowe was tipped off that some friends of his were up to a practical joke. They planned to abduct the bride at the wedding. But Fernan fooled them. He fixed it so they’d have to abduct him also. That’s why the bride and bridegroom were handcuffed at the altar. They went off on their honeymoon still handcuffed together.
What is involved in a Marriage? Commitment, communication, intimacy, loyalty, affection, fidelity, service, devotion and love. Christians belong to Christ. Since we are engaged to Jesus Christ, we mustn’t flirt with the world.
b. Doctrine of Nicolaitans
The word Nicolaitans, Νικολαί̈της, comes from 2 words, niko meaning to rule over and laos meaning people. Together it means to rule over the people. Sadly, this group of professed believers lorded it over the people and led them astray. This doctrine states that God has instituted an order of clergy or priests, as distinguished from the laity. This teaching elevated some believers over the rest of the Church. Not just in function but also in their spirituality and ability to intercede and perform ministries in the Church. The Bible teaches that Pastors and deacons are servants of the flock not Lords over it.
1 Peter 5:2-3: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;
In the apostolic church there were offices: elders and deacons; and gifts: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. But late in the apostolic period there emerged a disposition to appoint to elders alone the authority to administer ordinances, and, generally, to constitute themselves a class between God and the people; they were the Nicolaitans. You will observe that what were deeds in the Ephesus or late apostolic period, had become a doctrine 200 years later in the Pergamos or Constantine period. This teaching became law under the Roman Catholic Church. Christ hates this and says so in verse 15. There is no distinction between believers in Christ. Galatians 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
The believers at Pergamos tolerated false doctrine. Compromise with worldly morality and pagan doctrine was prevalent in the church, especially in the third century when Christianity became popular. This compromise led believers to depart from biblical faith and soon corrupted the church. Are we flirting with the world? Have we made unholy alliances with non Christians? Is our thought life pure? Are we careful about what we watch on TV? Do we have the right perspective on doctrine and Church leadership?
4. The Counsel
Revelation 2:16-17: Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. 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.
Justice Will Come
Learning that her husband had betrayed her, Vera Czermak jumped out her third-story window in Prague. The newspaper Vicerni Praha reported that Mrs. Czermak was recovering in the hospital, after landing on her husband, who was killed.
There was only one solution to this sin; repentance! The Church at Pergamos had compromised with the world. Therefore Christ told them to cut those ties or He would! They had allowed people to come in with false doctrine. Now they had to challenge these people to change their ways or to leave the fellowship. It’s one thing to invite the lost to hear the Gospel at Church. It’s quite another to embrace their pagan lifestyles in the Church. Balaam caused Israel to sin through intermarriage with heathen women and through idol worship. Intermarriage with heathen women was also a problem in Pergamos where any social contact with the world also involved worship of idols. Christ told them to repent or He would come and fight against these wicked people Himself.
2 Corinthians 6:14-17: Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people. Therefore Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.
Forsaking All Others
When a couple is married they make a number of vows to their spouse. They promise to be true forsaking all others. This is right and essential to protect their marriage. Marriage is a life long commitment to your spouse. When infidelity strikes a marriage the offended party feels hurt, betrayed. So too, we are betrothed to Christ our heavenly Bridegroom. How do you think God feels when Christians betray Him and marry the world? The Lord is jealous of His people with a Godly jealousy. Therefore we must remain true to Him. If we have married the world we need to break it off and be devoted to Christ alone.
Christ promised to give the overcomers Hidden Manna. What is it? I believe that it is Jesus Christ Himself. He is the Bread of Life who satisfies our deepest needs. John 6:48-50: I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. Instead of eating at the pagan feasts believers are called to feast on Jesus Christ; to enjoy sweet fellowship with Him. Revelation 3:20: Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
I believe this has special significance when we look at the Roman Catholic Church. As time when on the Church at Pergamos or the Roman Catholic Church corrupted the Lord’s Supper. They claimed and still do that the elements become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. This is not true. They are only symbols reminding us of His sacrifice. In John 6 the Lord is referring to the food that sustains our souls and spirits. Without food we die physically; without Christ we die spiritually. Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life who gives us eternal life. We receive Christ into our lives by faith at salvation. We feed on Him each day as we read His Word.
The Giving Of Rings
When a couple is in love they do something to show the world their intentions; they exchange rings. Often a diamond is chosen for the ring because it is pure, valuable, and sparkles like their love. The happy couple want people to know they have made a life long commitment to each other. The bride takes a new name, the name of her husband. They often inscribe words of commitment on the ring. The giving of a ring made from one piece of gold expresses the permanence of their marriage. It’s a testimony to all that they now belong to each other. They will live all their lives together as man and wife.
So too this pictures our relationship to Christ our Heavenly Bridegroom. The white stone is a gift from the Lord symbolizing our importance to Him. The important thing is the stone’s inscription which gives the believer a new name, indicating acceptance by God and his title in glory. Though believers at Pergamos may not have had precious stones or gems from this world, they had what is far more important, acceptance by Christ Himself and assurance of infinite blessings to come. We too will live in our Father’s home where Christ has prepared a place for us.
The Church belongs to Jesus Christ; we are His holy bride. He wants us to be holy and without blemish. Are we living appropriately? Are we keeping ourselves pure just for Him? Or are we flirting with the world? Have we entered unholy relationships with the world or people in the world? Have we embraced the world’s standards? If we have done any of these things we must repent. Christ calls us to come out and be separate, to avoid all that is unclean. It may mean that we break off sinful relationships that have spoiled our witness. Let us be pure like the 5 wise virgins waiting for their Lord to return for the Wedding Feast.
Jude 24-25: Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, Who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.