July 31, 2017 on 11:42 am | In REVELATION FOR BEGINNERS | Comments Off on Pergamos


As we take a look at the third church in the sequence of the 7, let’s review what Jesus is doing and why. Revelation 2:1 represents Him as walking among the 7 lamp stands with the implication that there is a burning lamp on each stand. It has already been established that the lamp stands represent the seven churches. Part of Jesus’ job is akin to that of the old lighthouse keeper–to see that the light keeps burning; in other words, a keeper of the flame. I remember the summer Olympics one year when the relay of the Olympic torch came through our town. There was great excitement and many people came out to see a runner carrying the torch, escorted by Highway Patrol vehicles. Then it was passed on to the next person to continue its journey. In similar manner the torch of truth and love was to be passed on from one generation to the next, from one era to another, until the work of the gospel should be completed and Jesus returns again.

Jesus is seeking to preserve His people and ultimately create a safe place for them to live and worship, where they can dwell together with Him for eternity. Compare Psalm 105:45 where God says He brought them out of Egypt so they could keep His commandments (Remember Pharaoh’s complaint that Moses was making the people rest [i.e. keep the Sabbath] so he made things harder for them. See Exodus 5:5). And if cleansing is necessary, He does that, too, much as the lighthouse keeper kept the lenses and windows of the lighthouse clean, so that His church may be the true light of the world, undimmed by human corrosive thinking. Think of Jesus cleansing the temple of the business commotion so those who wanted to worship in peace could do so. Thusly, as in Revelation 2:1 Jesus is represented as walking among the candlesticks to be sure all is well, and to correct any deficiencies that might interfere with His ultimate goal for them. He loves them too much to let them go to eternal destruction without seeking to save them from themselves.

Ultimately what Jesus is interested in is the salvation and character development of His followers, as well as the vindication of God, His character and purposes. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to accomplish this. For example, He testifies of Jesus (John 15:26), He reminds us of what Jesus taught (John 14:26), guides us into all truth, and reveals things to come (John 16:13). The whole subject of the Holy Spirit is a large one, but this must suffice for our purposes here for now.
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What does Jesus have to say to this congregation and, by extension, us? Is it still relevant for us 2000 years later, or is it just a bit of historical trivia suitable for “Jeopardy”?This message begins, as our original paradigm suggests, with a portrait of Christ, taken from the description in chapter one. The attribute selected for the particular needs of this church seems somewhat bizarre, something like a circus sword swallower. However, in that case the sword goes into the mouth whereas here it is coming out of the mouth. It also says it is two-edged and sharp. What can this mean? Often Jesus used symbolic language to represent Himself and His work, such as shepherd, vine, temple, light of the world, bread of life, eating His flesh/drinking His blood, etc. Allowing the Bible to interpret itself, the symbolism of a sword is also seen in 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.” Obviously we’re here talking about spiritual issues, not physical ones. The fact that the sword is pictured coming out of His mouth reinforces the idea of this referring to the words that would come from His mouth.

Interestingly, the apostle Paul uses the same symbolism in referring to the spiritual armor the Christian is to wear: “….the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:17. As Jesus Himself proclaimed, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” John 6: 63. Two-edged? It can cut both ways, inwardly and outwardly; and it’s sharp enough to do its job quickly and effectively. It may be painful, but is for our good in the long run. You can read Hebrews 12 for more thoughts on God’s discipline. Apparently this congregation needed a good dose of this symbolic activity in real life. And Jesus cares too much about people and their salvation to be merely “politically correct.” So His words might sting a bit sometimes, but they uttered in love andare ultimately for our blessing in order for us to become the people He longs for us to become.

But before Jesus exposes the underlying problems of the church, He first looks for something to commend about it, and He finds a few things that are in fact commendable about Pergamos. ” I know your good works.” He has noticed the positive things they are doing and acknowledges them. There is more. “You live among Satan’s seat.” At first this sounds like a criticism, but it is actually letting them know He realizes the challenges they face in daily living. Some scholars believe this is referring to the heathen temple overlooking the city. It is no longer at the Pergamos site, but is now in a museum in Berlin where German archaeologists transported it many years ago. I have personally been there and walked up the stairway to the temple proper. As in many cities of the time, the local temple would have a strong (negative) influence in the community, as the apostle Paul found out on more than one occasion. There is yet one more praise. “You hold fast to God’s name and have not denied the faith.” That certainly sounds praiseworthy.

In view of these praises, the censure that follows certainly seems to counteract the them. But the church is not perfect, and the “faithful witness” must be honest–He can’t lie. He is anxious for the church to succeed, but first they must understand the truth about themselves. In Hebrews 12:6 it reminds us that “whom the Lord loves, He chastens.” So it is out of infinite love that He disciplines us. Perhaps in another sense it might be also seen as a sort of “vetting” process, as God can’t take rebels to heaven, for they would start the whole sin problem all over again. Think about this–would you be comfortable flying on a plane with known terrorists aboard? Ultimately, God’s desire is for His children to be with Him for eternity in a safe and peaceful location.

But what are the problems of this particular congregation? Why now the need for censure? He begins this section by stating, “You have some there who believe the doctrine of Balaam.” And what was wrong with that? “He taught King Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel–to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality.” As if that weren’t enough, they also accepted “the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.” So what’s the issue here and who were Balak and the Nicolaitans? It appears that though Pergamos had some things going for it, it was also tolerant and accommodating to idolatry and sexual immorality amongst their membership and no one was doing anything about it. It would put out the light of this church if it continued as it was. And Jesus loves the church too much to leave these issues unaddressed.

The reference to Balaam takes us back into the Old Testament to Numbers 22. It seems that Israel was on the march toward the land God had promised them, but King Balak, who ruled a territory east of the Jordan River, was quite anxious and looked for a way to mess up their plans so he could defeat them. He had heard of a prophet in the region named Balaam and decided to enlist his support. He sent a delegation with an “honorarium” to help grease the request he was making, namely to come and curse the Israelites for him. You can read the whole story in Numbers 22, including the story of Balaam’s debate with a talking donkey. The bottom line was that God refused to allow Balaam to curse Israel–only to pronounce God’s blessings on them. But Revelation 2 gives us some additional insight into the story. Apparently Balaam was so eager to get Balak’s money he thought of a way to get Israel to bring a curse upon themselves without Balaam’s direct involvement. So the Israelites were invited to come to a great festival the Midianites were having where they would engage in worship of idols and prostitution. At first it seemed succssful as there was apostasy at the Jordan followed by God’s discipline of their behavior. Yet Balaam shortly thereafter lost his life in a battle with Israel (Numbers 31:8), so “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36) And the Nicolaitans? They were a more contemporary group that had an issue with the law of God, sort of forerunners of “antinomians,” those who were against law as being a valid guide for Christians, notwithstanding Jesus’ words “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) And Paul’s statement in Romans 7:7 that he would not even know what sin was if it wasn’t for the commandments. Apparently Jesus saw that Pergamos harbored these teachings and was deeply concerned for the church’s future.

Having said all that, was there hope for the church in Pergamos? Jesus always holds out hope, but first it must include repentance in order to be truly hopeful, otherwise Jesus’ words in John 12:48 will come true: “The word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.” The good news is that as they receive His counsel, and through His grace overcome their deficiencies, they get “hidden manna”–the truth of the gospel; a white stone–perhaps the sign of acquittal in the judgment; and a new name–representing the new and loyal character they have developed by God’s grace. This is the special covenant promise for those overcomers.

So how do we apply all this? To begin with, the congregation in Pergamos would recognize itself in the description of its condition. Secondly, this congregation is also a symbol of the church in general during a period of history which historicist scholars date to approximately 313-538 A.D. More could be said about that but perhaps that is sufficient for now. And thirdly, what about us? We face some of the same challenges, such as worldliness/idolatry (anything that takes priority over God or substitutes for Him). But the same hope is also for us as we repent of our sins and allow Jesus to have full sway in our lives, so that like the apostle Paul we can say, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I Iive, yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

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