Last time we looked at a church that was threatened by the surrounding world. This week we look at a church that was threatened by Jesus Christ. The church at Pergamum evolved into a walking contradiction where it staunchly confessed Christ on one hand but simultaneously indulged in idolatry and immorality on the other. Somehow this church had an unflinching belief in Christ under intense opposition but couldn’t find the doctrinal scruples of the Ephesian Church. It couldn’t be smashed but it could be seduced.
That’s why Pergamum was becoming the poster-child of syncretism – the idea that we can combine two different opposing ideas together into a new blending of thought. For Christians it means we can believe in Jesus and a bunch of other stuff too that undermines Jesus and somehow that’s okay.
There are two dangers in the life of a church (or believer). One is to flat out deny Christ. That wasn’t Pergamum. The other danger is to confess Christ, but, then adopt other beliefs and teachings that are opposed to everything Jesus represents. This is syncretism. This was Pergamum’s problem. They treated the teachings of the Nicolaitans and Balaam to be on par with the teachings of Jesus. They wanted Jesus AND Balaam – Jesus AND the Nicolaitans. Jesus Christ will not have any of it. Jesus is utterly intolerant of syncretism. Christians are not to arouse the jealous anger of the Lord by holding to teachings that undermine His words. To do so is to become a church of the world.
If there was a church that the world could love it was the church at Pergamum. But, is the Church supposed to seek the world’s love? To do that the Church has to become like the world. As we see in Revelation 2:12-17 this church was commendable for certain things. However, it was a church that became like the world to be liked by the world. The resulting rebuke from Jesus Christ reminds us of James 4:4, “friendship with the world is hatred towards God. Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” Strong words that should cause each of us to heed the words of “Him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.”
#1: Armed and Dangerous (12)
Jesus is Armed and Dangerous. In verse 12 Jesus presents Himself to the believers in Pergamum and don’t miss what He says, “These are the words of Him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.” Jesus is dangerous. He is not presented here as a suffering lamb, a gentle rabbi hugging children, or meekly and mercifully pardoning a sinner. He is seen here as dangerous. His Person is meant to strike fear into the hearts of those who disobey Him.
A sword is a weapon. Jesus is armed with a sword and I kid you not He will use it. This sword was mentioned in 1:16, “In his right hand he held 7 stars and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword…” This sword is said to come out of His mouth. The same thing is said again in Revelation 19:15, “Out of His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.” We are not talking about a physical sword that comes out of Jesus mouth like you would see with a sword swallower in a circus act. His sword is His word. The sword is a symbolic way of referring to His words, the words that come from His mouth. The Bible refers to God’s word a sword many times. Hebrews 4:12 says, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword…” Ephesians 6:17 says, “Take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Isaiah 49:2 says, “He made my mouth like a sharpened sword…” So when He presents Himself to the church at Pergamum, they are to see that He is the one whose words are a crushing arsenal against the enemy. His words are a fierce weapon which have divine power.
Why does He start this way with them? Because Pergamum had been tolerating false teaching. And that false teaching led to sinful behavior, and the problem could only be solved by God’s Word. This was a church that needed to learn from the Ephesian Church, who had done so well handling the sword of God’s Word (2:2; Eph. 6:17). False teaching had no place there, but Pergamum had let it run rampant, and the results were scandalous – immorality and idolatry. Starting right away they were to pick up the sword of the word of God and cut out those false doctrines going around and bring an end to the ungodly behavior that plagued their church.
It is not a strange and fringe activity of the church to be doing battle with the sword of truth. It is normal church life, defending the truth and cutting down the enemies lies. Second Corinthians 10:3-5 says, “For though we live in the world we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretense that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” Titus 1:9 says that church leaders should “hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught [God’s Word], so that they can encourage others by sound doctrine [God’s Word] and refute those who oppose it.”
When Jesus comes to a Church armed with His sword there is going to be war. Mind you Jesus meant war with those “believers” who were active in idolatry and immorality. This church needed to start warring with the worldly proponents of these false teachings and cut them down with God’s Word, demolishing their arguments, and keep the truth upheld in their church. The only weapon against worldliness is the word of God. If they didn’t use it on those parasites within the church-body then Jesus was going to come and do it. He is armed and dangerous with the Word of God.
#2: The Allegiance of Antipas and Others (13)
After presenting Himself, Jesus commends them. This church was to be recognized for their Allegiance. One man, Antipas is mentioned for His allegiance even unto death, but credit is given to the whole church for their allegiance to Jesus Christ. Notice with me verse 13, “I know where you live – where Satan has His throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city – where Satan lives.”
Let me point out here what might be confusing: how can they be acknowledged for their allegiance if they were letting false teaching creep in? Well, I want to offer two levels of allegiance: doctrinal and persecutory. Persecutory allegiance simply means that you don’t deny Jesus when you are faced with persecution. So when the ISIS soldier holds a sword to your neck and demands you Recant your faith and become a Muslim you say no and let them kill you. That’s persecutory allegiance: allegiance to Jesus in the face of persecution.
The other form of allegiance is doctrinal, which is to say that believers show their allegiance to Jesus by maintaining doctrinal purity. This means that we don’t adulterate our doctrinal beliefs by mixing false teachings in with sound biblical beliefs.
The believers at Pergamum deserve some serious credit. They had grade A persecutory allegiance. They lived in the very city where Satan had lived and had established his throne.
We often attribute evil and hardship coming into our lives to Satan. But in reality probably none of us have ever personally encountered Satan or his work. Instead we have all probably only encountered – knowingly or not – Satan’s demonic underlings.
I’ve read some suggestions as to what this may mean, but, it seems pretty simple to understand this as it is written: Satan lived in Pergamum. That’s not too hard to understand seeing as how Satan can only be in one place at a time. He is not omnipresent like God. Consider how heavy the evil must have been in the atmosphere there. Pergamum was the most beautiful city in all Asia Minor. It sat up on a hill that was 1000 feet above the surrounding plain. Fitting that Satan would want an exalted hill for his throne, in Ezekiel he said, “I will exalt myself above the Most High, I will ascend the Holy Hill…” It became the center of the cult of emporor worship. They built the first temple to the Roman Emperor before anyone else. Then they built the 2nd Temple and the 3rd Temple in their city.
You can learn some things about Satan here. First, he loves to be worshipped. Second, he loves to control, which is why he operates through both religious and political structures. Satan doesn’t believe in separation of church and state – he wants the head of state to be worshipped and he wants the state to enforce worship. The apogee of this ambition will arrive in Antichrist during the Tribulation.
It is safe to say that the power of darkness was far greater in Pergamum than any other city. I say this because Satan is the most powerful demon and we can assume that wherever he is present evil is more powerfully at work. Satan’s goals are to undermine the truth of God’s word. To keep people blinded from seeing the Gospel and coming to Jesus Christ for salvation. Satan wants to suppress holiness and promote sin. He wants the glory that is due to God to be rerouted to himself. He does this through false religions, philosophies, and spiritual ideas that do not acknowledge Jesus Christ. There is one way to God, and if Satan can obscure that one way with many other false ways he will do it. Roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Put on armor of God.
I want us to see something right here in this point. When it came down to it, these were believers who would not be intimidated by anyone or anything into denying the name of Jesus Christ. Satan could not destroy this Church from the outside. So, as we are going to see next, he set out to destroy this church from the inside.