Pergamos: The Church That Married The World :: By Donald Whitchard

Ephesians 6:12, Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:19-21, Revelation 2:12-17

Summary: The church located at Pergamos wanted to “have it both ways.” They were doctrinally pure but at the same time were slipping into compromise with the world. They were trying to “falter between two opinions” (1 Kings 18:21). It didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now.

The city of Pergamos, the next stop in our look at the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3, was the capital city of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). The city was known for its political power, intellectual achievements, and, like the other cities, a hub of pagan worship. It was also a wealthy city that had given itself over to luxury and fashion.

Pergamos was the home of a vast library of over 200,00 volumes. That does not sound like a huge number in light of vast libraries today, such as the British Library in London, where in 1848, Karl Marx, who never held a steady job in his life, wrote the “Communist Manifesto,” a treatise on economics that ended with the death or imprisonment of over 100,000,00 people in the last century, or the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., which possesses copies of every book ever written in the history of the United States.

Pergamos possessed information that was handwritten on papyrus and parchment. Pergamos was where parchment was invented. It was a type of writing material developed from animal skins that proved to be far stronger than papyrus, which was made from reeds. The New Testament was first written on parchment, and no doubt, the original copies, or AUTOGRAPHA, were preserved carefully for years afterward in order that the successive copies were accurate, preserving what God had said to the prophets and apostles (John 17:17; Acts 17:11; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21).

Regardless of what the critics say, we have the authentic Word of God in our possession.

Like other cities of the Roman Empire, Pergamos had its share of temples dedicated to the gods of Greece and Rome. One particular temple was dedicated to Aesculapius, the god of healing and medicine. His temple was filled with snakes (snakes…why did it have to be snakes?). When someone needed healing, they would go to the temple, lie down on the floor, and spend the night there. If a snake crawled across them during their stay, they considered themselves healed.

There were also three temples that had been erected for the purpose of emperor worship. As mentioned in the previous message, every Roman citizen was required once a year to walk into one of these temples, place a pinch of incense on an altar, and openly declare, “Caesar is Lord.” Of course, Christians refused to utter this confession, and severe persecution broke out against them as a result. There was only ONE Lord, and it was Jesus (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 10:9-10). Caesar and Christ could not co-exist on the same throne. You could only be loyal to one (Luke 16:13). Those who chose Christ were considered enemies of Rome and were more often than not put to death for taking this stand.

The Christians in Pergamos were in desperate need of a word from the LORD, and He responded. When Jesus came to them, He came as One having “the sharp sword with two edges.” This is a clear picture of the Word of God (Ephesians 6:12; Hebrews 4:12). Jesus came to them declaring that He has a word for them from God. The church itself was doctrinally sound yet had a major problem that needed to be addressed and confronted, and that was the danger of compromise at the expense of their testimony. Jesus called them back to the right path.

Within these verses is a word for the last days church. There is always the danger that we can drift away from the standards of God. We may hold the right doctrines but can still drift into compromise with the world around us. The letter to Pergamos, like the others, can be viewed as practical, that is, real letters to real churches in a real world.

These letters also prophetically symbolize the history of the church. Pergamos is seen as a reference to the period between AD 313-590, when the church intermingled with the world system, producing a “marriage” that has reaped bitter consequences and tarnished the message of redemption solely through Jesus Christ.

There is also a personal word for the church today. We would be amiss if we did not take what the Scriptures say to heart and allow them to steer us back into full and uncompromising devotion to the LORD and the commission that He gave us (Matthew 28: 18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:8) to tell others about Him.

The Lord Jesus starts out by giving the church of Pergamos words of commendation. He knows that they dwell in a city “where Satan’s throne is.” Pergamos was a city chosen by the prince of darkness to be his headquarters on earth.

I want to pause here and correct a misconception about Satan. Some people believe that he is or will be the “ruler of hell.” The devil has never been in hell. He fears that place more than any lost individual ever has, and when he is finally cast there (Revelation 20:10), it will spell his final doom, and he knows it. For now, he has been given some leeway by the Sovereign choice of God.

Satan is referred to in Scripture as both “the god of this world” and “the prince of the power of the air” (2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2). Right now, he is active in this world and has seats of power in cities such as New York, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., Moscow, or any of a thousand other places. This is becoming more obvious as the days draw closer to the return of the LORD.

Jesus knew that the believers in Pergamos were living in a tough place, and He had a word just for them. He knows your situation as well. He is “a very present help in times of trouble,” and you are no exception (Psalm 46:1; Hebrews 4:15-16,13:5).

Jesus commended this church for staying put and not running away from the trouble around them. Pergamos sets an example of steadfastness that we need so desperately today. Far too often, we have allowed the world to cause us to run and hide in fear. They are trying their best to drive the church and its influence away from every part of society. We need to stop allowing the world to bully us. We need to get a backbone, trust in the LORD, and stand up and speak up against the obvious and growing evils and wickedness that are a blight on our society, no matter the cost.

Pergamos was also “holding fast” to the name of Jesus. They were not ashamed of His name. His name is the most divisive in history, yet His name is the only name “whereby men must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

We need to stand our ground and tell the world, “Yes, I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. What about it?”

All right, world, why don’t you give me some reasons why I should embrace your unbelief and skepticism? What benefits will I get out of embracing godless evolution and randomness instead of holding fast to the name of Jesus? Why do you rail against the name and person of God if you do not believe in Him? Why do you get so bent out of shape against those of us who choose to walk in the light of the Gospel?

The church of Jesus will never be content to wallow in the dung and mud of the cesspool that the wicked world system has built, using the worn-out tools of limited intellect, bitter attitudes, and empty souls. We are living in the world but choose not to be a part of the world. We are in the lifeboat of salvation found in Jesus Christ alone, and we should not let the lost and dying think that they can “tread” the bottomless sewer of sin and hope to keep their head above the waves.

We are to “rescue the perishing and care for the dying.” We should never compromise our dedication to Christ in order to appease the fickle whims of a society that has built its notoriety upon a foundation of sand. We are not to be like Balaam (Numbers 22-25) who compromised his prophetic office and faith in God to appease the desires of a pagan king. We cannot afford to “look back” while steering the plow (Luke 9:62).

Pergamos was rebuked by Jesus for trying to sit on the fence in matters of total and uncompromising service and dedication to God. It didn’t work then, and it certainly does not work today.

Stand fast, child of God! Do not let the world, the flesh, or the devil silence you when it comes to the message of the Gospel. Let us be a living testimony to the truth of the Gospel and the certainty of eternal life and salvation found in no one but the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to hear the commendation where He says to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your LORD.” I do not want to turn to the allure of the world but hold on to the eternal love and mercy of Christ, and I pray that is your attitude as well. Any church worth its salt should strive for that goal. No more compromises, please.