Week Commencing 18th February 2018   With a PDF found here

Notes for next Sunday’s sermon on Revelation 2:12-18, “To the church in Pergamum.”

We grow closer to the Lord Jesus as we turn our hearts to learning from him regularly. These notes, then, are most useful for us in our personal devotions throughout the week and will prepare us for the upcoming sermon. Remember what we saw in week 1? That if we read this revelation and take it to heart, we will be blessed!

As we explore the seven letters, we see a predictable pattern and outline in the letters, with few exceptions. Our letter this week to the church in Pergamum reflects this in that there is initial encouragement but then another strong word of admonition or rebuke. As a reminder, here’s the typical pattern:

  1. Recap – picking up one of the descriptions of Jesus from ch 1
  2. Commendation – what the church is doing well (missing from Sardis and Laodicea)
  3. Admonishment – where the church is breaking God’s heart (missing from Smyrna and Philadelphia)
  4. Exhortation – how to put things right and get back on track (including a warning about implications if they don’t); and a repeated phrase “whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
  5. Promise – there is a specific promise pictured for the church who overcomes their trials and challenges – drawn from the imagery of chapters 21-22.

 

DAY 1: Read Revelation 2:12-17

After reading through these five verses, we have a sense that a lot was happening in Pergamum. It was the place where “Satan has his throne”, where Christians were severely tested, even killed for believing in Jesus, and where an array of ideologies competed daily for the hearts and minds of the church. Make no mistake: this was a tough place for professing followers of Christ to live. In fact, Pergamum served as the capital of the Roman province of Asia Minor for over 25 years and was considered a crucial religious centre for several pagan cults. It was also the first city in Asia to build a temple to Caesar where it became the capital of the cult of Caesar worship. One ancient writer said Pergamum was, “given to idolatry more than all Asia,” rivalling even Ephesus in its idol worship.

It’s interesting to note that the book of Acts doesn’t mention the founding of this church. On his second missionary journey Paul did pass through the region of Mysia (Acts 16:7-8) where Pergamum was located, but there is no record that Paul either preached the gospel or founded a church there during that time. Most likely, Paul founded this church during his ministry at Ephesus (Acts 19:10) when the gospel was preached throughout Asia. Pergamum comes from the Greek word gamos that means marriage, painting a picture of a church that seems “married” more to the culture than to Christ. Believers here were pressured to compromise or leave their faith.

And yet many in the church, Jesus said in verse 13, did not renounce their faith in Him. The Romans might have used their swords to display their political authority, but Jesus’ sharp double-edged sword (v12) represented God’s ultimate authority and judgment, anchoring his followers in the truth of his promises. No matter what profane or idolatrous trends spread through the city, many of Christ’s followers, like “Antipas a faithful witness” did not back down, (According to church tradition, Antipas, the first martyr of Asia, was slowly roasted to death in a bronze kettle during the reign of Domitian.) Even in the city “where Satan lives,” believers clung to Him no matter what. Can we say the same today as we see our region turning away from Jesus?

DAY 2: Read Revelation 2:12-17

Christ, the Living Word, acknowledged the church’s commitment to remaining “true to my name” and yet he had this against them: some diluted their sincere faith in Jesus with other idols and beliefs. Notice how in verse 14, he said, “They used the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin” so that they “ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.” (See Numbers 22-25 for the story of Balam.) In other words, though many Christ-followers stayed true to Jesus’ name, Jesus rebuked this church for tolerating those who allowed any false teaching that resulted in idolatry and immorality. In fact, the worship of the Roman emperor as a living deity, which spread quickly throughout the whole province, probably arose in Pergamum. This emperor-cult gained acceptance and was easily integrated into existing cultic practices. The church, said Jesus, should have confronted those who brought in and allowed such false teaching.

Put another way, the church at Pergamum failed to obey the biblical mandate to practice church discipline. Jesus wants a pure and whole-hearted church that acknowledges His Lordship and does not water down the truth of the Gospel to tickle the ears of the culture. He does not want a church that is half hearted in its commitment to him or that compromises the Word of God. What Christ desires is that the church maintain a moral and spiritual integrity derived from Scripture, formed by His Holy Spirit and expressed in a vital and healthy church. Anything less means the church is in danger of losing its way and its influence.

Today we sadly hear how some Christian churches deviate from the purity of the Scriptures. “Jesus didn’t really mean this or that”, but the result is a wishy washy faith, a Christianity without spine or focus that is too easily caught up in the “anything goes” climate of our current culture. Instead, Christ calls us to forgo the idols of nationalism, materialism and selfishness so that we might be witnesses like Antipas. As one commentator put it, “Revelation prohibits us loving our lives more than His gospel; it summons us to follow the model of Antipas as faithful witnesses, no matter what the cost.” How are you doing in the area of steadfastness and faithful witness for Christ? How can we live in today’s world and not compromise our Gospel values?

DAY 3: Read Revelation 2:12-17

In spite of blending idol worship and accepting false teaching (from the Nicolaitans), the Lord Jesus offers the church of Pergamum a way through. Consistent with God’s plan expressed throughout the Biblical narrative, we see here a way to overcome the battles of the age and stay faithful to his calling. How? Verse 16: “Repent therefore!” The act of turning from their sinful ways back to worshiping the One True God is how the church would thrive. The rest of this verse, “Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” is not necessarily a reference to Christ’s ultimate second coming but to his intervention through providence, as at Corinth, (see 1 Corinthians 11:30-32).

Though the word “repentance” has lost some of its meaning today and may appear old fashioned, it is the lifeline for Christians of all time. If the church of Pergamum turned away from the evils of the Satanic food and deceptions of the land and toward an unadulterated obedience to Jesus, it was promised hidden manna (v. 17), or food that sustained God’s children both now and in the end-time. The white stone Christ refers to in v. 17 may have symbolized a ‘ticket’ giving admission to the gladiator games where many Christians gave their lives for Jesus. The faithful will each receive such a stone with “a new name written on it”, guaranteeing them access to the presence of God!

We, too, can receive “new names”, new lives and access to God’s presence through the wonderful act of repentance. Confessing our sins offers us daily opportunities to listen to the Living Word and to be transformed into his character. Through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross we can be washed clean, brought back from deceitful ways and walk in the abundant life Christ has promised. By offering his life and blood for us, Jesus promises us new strength, courage and integrity to live as his witnesses in this age of relativism and secularism. Lord, may we not compromise your truth but reflect it in all we do and say, in Christ. Amen!

DAY 4: Read Psalm 17

Psalm 17 is a reminder of God’s refuge for us. Having been tried and tested by the Lord in the midst of difficult circumstances, the Psalmist proclaims, “my steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.” As we call on the Name of the Lord, he will answer us and will reveal his steadfast love to us, so that we, in turn will remain steadfast and faithful to all he has called us to. The more we seek his face daily in Scripture and worship, the more we will see his likeness and reflect it to others!

References: Paul Barnett: “Apocalypse Now and Then: Reading Revelation Today”;
Janene Keith, “Pergamum: The Compromising Church”:
https://bible.org/seriespage/4-pergamum-compromising-church#P58_4754;
ESV Study Bible notes.