And to the angel of the church in Per'gamum write: “The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is; you hold fast my name and you did not deny my faith even in the days of An'tipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 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, that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality. So you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicola'itans. Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and war 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 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 which no one knows except him who receives it.” (RSV)
Pergamos – Description of Jesus
Jesus emphasizes that He is the Word of God when He tells the church in Pergamum that He has the two edged sword. It is by the sword of the Spirit that we are able to discern correct teaching.
But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Heb 5:14 NASB)
The food that is being referred to is the Word. Notice that it is by constant use that we train ourselves. We can’t distinguish between good doctrines and false doctrines when we are on a starvation diet. The church in Pergamum probably didn’t do as the Bereans did in Acts 17:11. The Bereans examined the Scriptures every day to see if Paul’s teaching was true. The Pergamumians probably got used to saying amen to whatever their pastor or visiting preacher said. The Pergamum church probably watched TV and agreed with whatever the preacher was saying. One TV preacher I watched said that if a “man of God” came to his church and told the congregation to do something, then he wouldn’t hesitate. When one came to his church and said to give $2,000, he was the first one there with a check. You guessed it, the guy then asked for money and there were still 67 open phone lines out of 100. At least 33 people immediately took this man’s doctrine of “don’t question God’s anointed and without hesitation” and acted on it. It’s really scary to think that Jesus will use the weapon He has given us to fight Satan against those who don’t use it the way they should (Vs. 16). But, you know, they deserve it.
The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me. (John 12:48-50 ESV)
The very words that Jesus spoke will condemn anyone who rejects them. Believers need to understand and obey as a demonstration of faith. Notice that the Word came from the Father and then the Son spoke it. No wonder John called Jesus the Word in John 1:1. We shouldn’t distort His Word to fit our own uses and we should know it well enough to keep those who do from hoodwinking us.
Jesus has sympathy for this church because they are surrounded by satanic religions, which were so blatant in their society that He says Satan had his throne there. Under these conditions there was persecution in which their bishop, Antipas, was killed. (Antipas was said to have been one of Jesus’ first disciples.) The good thing about this church is that they remained true to the name of Jesus even though it could cost their lives. Jesus knew Antipas’ name and commended him as a faithful witness. Nothing escapes the attention of the Lord. He knew and understood what had happened. Jesus said that the Father knows when a sparrow drops from the sky; how much more valuable are we than birds? Whatever we may be going through, He knows, and that should be a great comfort.
Acts 7:55-59 is the only detailed description of a New Testament martyr’s death. It is an example in that we can look forward to the grace of the Lord so completely surrounding us so that we, too, may be at peace in the event we face martyrdom. “And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:60) His peace extended to the point that he forgave his persecutors when he died. If the Lord can give us this kind of peace in the face of martyrdom, why can’t we seem to acquire it when we are not dying, just being bothered. When someone wrongs us, shouldn’t this be our prayer? Shouldn’t we practice leaving no room for anger, resentment or revenge for another’s actions? These people were not Stephen’s friends or family. He probably only knew some of them as acquaintances. How much more should we behave without anger toward members of our own family, church and friends? I think I would like to hear Jesus’ commendation even for that.
Jesus is very clear; He rebukes the Pergamumians for allowing people to be part of their church who hold to evil teachings. He is not addressing the people who have the wrong teachings and commanding them to repent, but rather He is rebuking the church for allowing those with these heresies to be among them.
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. (2 John 10-11 NIV)
In Pergamum, they had obviously welcomed people who had brought teachings contrary to moral behavior. These people probably called themselves “Christians.” Like Balaam, they didn’t want to convert pagans, but were more interested in converting true Christians to their thinking and ways. Think what would happen if your church let people become members simply because they called themselves Christians. There are many people who make up their own definition of “Christian.” I was meeting with a Bible study group at work when a person wanted to join the group. He brought his Bible and joined the conversations with some “creative” ways of looking at Scripture. Privately, he admitted that he was a devotee to a group that had a better scripture given to them by some guys in a flying saucer back in the 1930s. (I kid you not!) His goal was to spread his word, not The Word and his targets were Christians who didn’t have a good grip on their own understanding of the Bible. What should we do? John was not talking about those who were flaunting evil practices, only deceptive teachings. This is one of the things that the Nicolaitans did.
The church in Ephesus had not tolerated evil. They had learned to shun those who call themselves Christians and practice immorality. Apparently, the church at Pergamum hadn’t listened to Paul’s words in 1 Cor 5:9-11. From these verses it is clear that immoral behavior is not to be part of the Christian church. Yet we can look at churches and cults that want to participate in adulterous affairs and cover them up with the idea that this is something God wants or that it is all covered by grace.
Counsel and Warning
Jesus says He will come to the church (organization) and fight against the ones that hold the false teachings (unbelievers?) unless the church repents. His command to repent is twofold. First, if the church repents of its tolerance, then these wicked people will be ejected from the congregation and Jesus will not need to come to the church and fight. Second, if the sinners repent, renounce their false teaching, and change their lives in keeping with repentance, then Jesus will not have anything against them.
Those who allow false teachers and immoral behavior will probably suffer loss unless they repent and start leading the church the way they are supposed to. The picture seems to become clear that in each of the churches there are unbelievers. He is addressing not only His Body at each location but the organization of people. This passage should make it abundantly clear that there are unbelievers in churches because Jesus does not war against His own people. The wrath of God is not against His children. He will be fighting against those in the church that are unbelievers.
For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, (1 Thess 5:9 NASU)
In Ex 32:25-29, when the Israelites ran amok in immoral behavior, the Levites killed whoever was next to them. In verse 35, the Lord also caused a plague to come upon the people. Allowing sinful practices in the church hurts more than just the people who are participating in the sin. When God brings retribution for sin, there may be many bystanders who suffer physical and spiritual loss, not just those who have been involved. This points out the seriousness with which God views sin.
And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (1 Cor 12:26 NKJV)
Whether we allow unbelievers in our church as members and tolerate their ungodly actions or whether we allow Christians to behave immorally, the result is a church that will suffer.
We need to be willing to judge one another inside the church (1 Cor 5:12). This will prevent the suffering that is bound to happen if it is left unchecked.
"Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance.” (Isa 55:1-2 NKJV)
One of the promises for an overcomer is hidden manna. It is the spiritual food that keeps us going. One reason it is hidden is that unbelievers don’t know what it means to delight their souls in the richest of fares. They can’t partake because they won’t come to Jesus to receive it. If they do come, they insist on trying to pay for it with their own merits instead of accepting it as a free gift of God and turning to Jesus in faith and repentance. We have already seen how the Word of God is also called food. A mark of where a person is in their spiritual walk is shown by what they get from the Word. Is it a delight or a chore to read and study? Jesus gives this promise to anyone who has an ear to hear (a willingness to listen and obey) His advice and follow through by becoming an overcomer. It is very important to listen and obey the Word.
But Jesus replied, "I have a kind of food you know nothing about." "Did someone bring him food while we were gone?" the disciples asked each other. Then Jesus explained: "My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. (John 4:32-34 NLT)
As we overcome and obey, we too, experience the refreshing that comes because of doing His will. Have you ever experienced a time when you were so dog-tired that you couldn’t do one more thing, but God brought some ministry opportunity in which He used you greatly? How did you feel afterwards? You may have still been physically drained, as was Jesus while waiting at the well. But did you feel the spiritual refreshment that came from doing His will by His power and not your own?
Saul’s name was changed to Paul. Abram’s name was changed to Abraham. These are only a couple of examples of name changes in Scripture when God chose to use someone. Saul means, “asked for” and Paul means, “little.” Paul went from a persecutor of the Church to a person who was humble before God and who considered himself the least among the apostles (1 Cor 15:9). He had little strength in himself, but he was used mightily by God, who shows His power in our weakness. Abram means “high father.” Abraham means “father of a multitude.” It was through Abraham’s family line that the Messiah came to earth. Think about how significant it is to be renamed by God. It would signify that we were not just willing to let Him use us as He wills, but that we yielded to His plan. Perhaps the reason it is a name that no one knows is to keep us humble.
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off.” (Isa 56:3-5 RSV)
Outside of Israel there was no salvation. Even though a Gentile converted, or an Israelite became a eunuch, they were never afforded the same status as a Jew born and raised in their normal position. The significance of God’s promise to them in this prophecy is that they are no longer going to be called a foreigner or eunuch, but by a new name, which includes the promise of eternal life. This is also an Old Testament glimpse into the future when all prejudice, racism, etc. will be put away. In some non-Christian cultures and cults, the handicapped have no place. They are killed at birth. Since all cults have a works salvation, often there is no place for the handicapped because they are unable to complete the work required for salvation. All this is gone when we accept our new name.
And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. (Acts 11:26b KJV)
One new name that we are all given is “Christian.” Just as when a person is adopted into a family and takes on their surname, we are identified with the family of God and we belong to Jesus. A biblical name communicated the essence, character, and reputation of the person named. Our character is changed when we become a Christian. An implication that no one knows the new name is that a non-Christian cannot know or understand the makeup and workings of a Christian. The change that takes place is a mystery for which sociologists and psychologists have dreamed up thousands of theories. It also communicates the intimacy that we have with the Lord. There is a very personal aspect of being a Christian since we are part of the family.
Some law courts used to give a white stone to a person when he was acquitted or a black one to someone who was found guilty. In Jesus, we are a new creation and receive a new name and acquittal before our Lord because we receive His righteousness.
Church History - Churches Today
This is the church in history that turned away from the Word of God as its standard. They allowed other teachings to come in without testing them. There is also a degree of compromise with the world. The whole idea of eating meat sacrificed to idols and allowing sexual immorality is caving in to the world’s standards for right and wrong.
In today’s churches there is a lack of understanding among “Christian” teens and young adults who engage in sex before marriage and living together without marriage. It can also be seen in the way that abhorrent lyrics and philosophy of rock music has been accepted by Christian teenagers. I won’t even talk about movies because too many Christians say they are OK, giving the excuse that the language isn’t any different from what you hear on the street. I wouldn’t want to say this is wrong because I would be seen as out-of-step with the times. Ouch, it hurts to bite my tongue! Today, we would call this a “tolerant” church.
In Church history, this would be the age of conversion of the Roman Empire. The martyrdom of the early church still occurred to some extent; it is still fresh in the mind of the church; yet, allowing itself to become the official church of the Roman Empire compromised itself. The customs and practices of the pagans who joined without true conversion eventually corrupted the church. Later in history, when the pre-reformers objected to these practices, they were hurt, killed or thrown out. The cost of fixing the problem later is much higher than taking care of it now.
We certainly live where Satan has his throne. Let’s be careful, though, to continue to be entrenched in the Word of God so that we don’t compromise our church. We will certainly reap the blessing and promises of Jesus if we do.