Chapter 2: 12-17
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: ‘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. 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. 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.”’
Last time, we looked at the church at Smyrna. This was a persecuted church, one of the only two churches about whom Jesus had nothing negative to say. It would seem that great persecution often leads to doctrinal and operational purity. This is hard to see and to hear; it makes us wonder what will happen to the modern New Testament churches to help us become purer and clearer Light sources?
Well, the answer is persecution. This is the way that people are forced to make very deliberate decisions. Am I for God or against Him? Is God and His cause worthy of my life and maybe even my death? Is the cause worth my children being killed or tortured? Suffering will either drive you to Jesus or drive you from Jesus, but it eliminates fence sitters.
Today we will look at the church at Pergamos. This church was a light source struggling in a sea of darkness; and even their light had been a bit shaded by false doctrine and false persons who had crept in to hurt them from the inside. We will look at this church that was situated in a powerful pagan and political city, a place where “Satan’s Throne” was. Maybe we can think of some similar places like that in our world today – places where evil abounds; but there in the midst of the evil is a little source of Light. It may be struggling, but it is doing its job.
I know Your Works, verse 13
The one theme that runs through these letters to each church was the absolute and complete knowledge of the Lord Jesus. He is not fooled and cannot be hoodwinked. No one can ‘pull one over’ on Jesus. You can and often will fool man, but God cannot be fooled. Jesus knows His people and He also knows the ones who are faking it. There will be no stowaways in Heaven; ALL will come through the front door or they will not get in at all.
Jesus describes himself as the one who has the “two-edged sword.” This is a sign of power; and it was important for them to know that Jesus was the absolute power, since the city of Pergamos was overrun by evil, pagan temples and a place called the “seat of Satan.”
In Hebrews 4:12-13, we see this: “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. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
The word of God is living and sharper than any two-edged sword, and it is able to discern the “thoughts and intents” of the heart. This cuts me, and it should cut you. All too often we play church; we play at being righteous, but under the actions is the way that we think.
The whole point of Christianity is that we are to be ever growing into the mind of Christ. Jesus did not begrudgingly wash the disciple’s feet. He did it out of the genuine heart of a servant. He set an example that says no one is ever beneath us. Jesus washed the feet of the man who would betray him, and he washed the feet of the man who would shortly deny even knowing Him.
I have to be honest; my heart is often not a heart after God’s own heart. I can be selfish, and I can do my duty as Christian. My actions are right but my motives are not. This is where the judgment of Jesus begins, with the actions of the mind. Jesus will address who we really are, not who we pretend to be.
The Seat of Satan, verse 13
The city of Pergamos was the capital city of Asia Minor. It had been the capital for the better part of 300 years. It housed one of the largest libraries in the world, and it was a city noted for both culture and education, according the commentary by David Guzik. Pergamos was also an extremely religious city with temples to Dionysius, Athena, Zeus and Demeter. It also had temples dedicated to the worship of the current Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus.
Above these, it was especially known for the worship of the god Asclepios, represented by a serpent. His temple in Pergamos housed a medical school; and sick persons were placed in the dark temple where tame serpents lived. The sick would be brushed by the serpent (representing being touched by the god) and supposedly healed.
In addition, Pergamos had a large throne-like altar dedicated to Zeus. As one can see, this city was wrought with paganism, idol worship and evil. This truly would have appeared to be the throne of Satan. We can think of many modern cities that are the same today. There is such idolatry everywhere and a deliberate and tangible hatred for God.
We meet Antipas; he was a martyr. He is called faithful by Jesus, and the church had suffered through great persecution that ended maybe with the death of Antipas. While I was looking up and reading about this text, I learned something that I did not know. The word that we derive the English word martyr from is the word in Greek, martus. In classical Greek, the word simply meant a witness. Antipas was Jesus’ faithful witness. He was one who stood for the truth in the midst of the lies of Satan. He was an unwavering source of light to the Gospel.
It was only later that the word martyr came to mean one who gave his life for a cause. What a lesson we can learn from Antipas! There is simply no excuse for those of us who know the truth to be silent. May the Lord find us faithful, even to death if necessary. If we remain silent, we are complicit in the lies around us. Antipas was one who pointed to the truth, spoke the truth, and would rather die than give up the truth for one second.
Satan will always endeavour to silence and then if necessary kill off the truth. Truth is the vaccine for Satan’s lies. Truth is the vaccine for death and lies; that is why Satan works so hard to water down the truth. He works to infiltrate and dilute the absolutes of God. Be wary; work to have Biblical discernment and stand for the truth.
Creeping Darkness, verses 14-16
Jesus begins to deal with the poison that has crept into the local church there in Pergamos. He has a ‘few things’ to chat with them about; there are some who hold to the doctrine of Balaam, and then there are the issues with the Nicolaitans.
In Numbers 22-24 and 31, we find the account where Balaam would not curse the children of Israel directly, but he coached Balak to use idolatry and sexual sins to put a ‘stumbling block’ before the people of Israel.
Now we have just spent the last little bit talking about the idolatry in the city of Pergamos; and often with the Roman and Greek idols came sexual acts as part of the worship. It would seem that these practices had crept into the church at Pergamos. They would eat food offered to the idols and engage in sexual immorality. Sexual immorality is any sexual act outside of marriage.
One Roman statesman named Cicero once stated this: “If there is anyone who thinks that young men should not be allowed the love of many women, he is extremely severe. I am not able to deny the principle he stands on. But he contradicts, not only with the freedom our age allows, but also with the customs and allowances of our ancestors. When indeed was this not done? When did anyone find fault with it? When was such permission denied? When was it that what is now allowed was not allowed?”
It took a deliberate and uncommon stand to swim against the tide of rampant sexual immorality that ran in the Roman Empire. We are no different today. It was said by Solomon in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “And there is nothing new under the sun.”
We/I often get the idea in our heads that the culture we face today is more corrupt than ever before, and I think we are simply making excuses for sin. I have seen many documentaries on the rampant sexual immorality that existed in the Roman Empire. Prostitutes, homosexuality, bestiality, multiple wives, rape, sex club and the like have been around forever. Jesus addresses these issues in the church; we are to purge out idolatry and stop sexual sins.
Lastly, the Lord again addresses the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.
As I study the doctrine – and there is a lot to learn – one sees the idea of ‘proud authority’ and the idea of conquering. So, one of the doctrines that was creeping into the church already was that of a hierarchy – that there was an elite class in the church. This was not to be so. Jesus, we are told in Philippian 2:5-7, ‘took on the mind of a servant.’ He came to serve the persons that He called, and he set the example of being a Shepherd for the sheep. Thus, his under-shepherds, his pastors and elders were to be shepherd-servants, not lords over the flock.
I grew up in a place where many of the church leaders had very long titles: the Right Honourable Bishop of the on and on. The Pharisees liked these titles and liked the recognition that came with it. One other aspect of the hierarchy was that of separation – the big me and the little you. This is not allowed in the Lord’s churches. We are all saved by the same grace, redeemed by the same blood, and kept by the same Holy Spirit.
We are not to allow these doctrines to come into the Lord’s churches. We are not to allow sexual immorality and idolatry into the Lord’s churches. And if we do so and say nothing, we are just as guilty as the one who brings it in. Silence is akin to agreement.
Repent, verse 16-17
Turn around and stop doing and/or allowing these things to be. Stop eating things offered to idols and stop sexual immorality; get married to a person of the opposite sex. Stop allowing some to lord it over others in the Lord’s churches. These things kill a church, they wreck the testimony, and they will cause judgment. When we do it right, we are blessed and we are given “hidden manna.” Jesus is the hidden manna, the bread that came down from heaven (John 6:41).
The white stones in the time that this was written were often a symbol of assurances and blessings. According to David Guzik, “the most remarkable of these instruments were the Tesserae hospitales, which were given as badges of friendship and alliance; and on which some device was engraved, as a testimony that a contract of friendship had been made between the parties.”
Our obedience to the Lord Jesus is rewarded with a friendship that is eternal and assurances of eternal blessing. Finally, we are told that the white stone will have a “new name” which only the recipient will know. The idea is that we have such an intimate relationship that Jesus will give us a new name. This was very common in the Bible: Jacob became Israel, Abram became Abraham, Peter was called Cephas, and on and on we can go. The idea is that, as we grow into the image of Jesus by obedience, the Lord will give us a new name as a sign of the new intimacy that we have with Him. Oh, wow and wow!
Each of the Lord’s churches should be diligent to root out false and damaging doctrines and practices. There should be a purity that is a sweet-smelling savor to the Lord, one that draws His favor and allows us to have a very intimate relationship with Him.
John 14:21 “Whoever has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me. The one who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and reveal Myself to him.”