In her book, When is it Right to Die: A Comforting and Surprising Look at Death and Dying, author Joni Eareckson Tada makes a statement about euthanasia and assisted suicide that could be applied to any number of social issues today.
“In the last few decades, though no one can say exactly how it happened, the unthinkable became tolerable. And then acceptable. And then legal. And now, God help us, applaudable.”
In Revelation 1:11, Jesus sent a message to each of seven local churches in Asia Minor. Though each message is different, the letters have some similarities. The letters address the problems churches have faced throughout history and provide insight into how Christ evaluates local churches.
The message to the church at Pergamum (2:12-17) is a warning against compromise in morals or teaching and against deviating from the purity of doctrine required of Christians. Jesus Christ does NOT approve of compromise. Don’t Flirt with the world.
The Church (12a) – Not much is known about the church. Most likely it was founded during Paul’s three years in Ephesus (Acts 19:10).
The City (12a) – The city was about 70 miles north and 20 miles inland from Smyrna. As the ancient capital, Pergamum was considered Asia’s greatest city. Pergamum was a wealthy city, but it was wicked. People in pagan cults worshiped Athena, Asclepius, Dionysus, and Zeus. It was a religious hub. Pergamum was the first city to worship the emperor. In other cities, Christians might be in danger one day a year when a pinch of incense had to be burned in honor of the emperor. In Pergamum, however, Christians were in danger every day of the year for the same reason.
The city was an intellectual center. Pergamum was famous for its university with a library of about 200,000 volumes. It was also known for manufacturing parchment resulting in a paper called pergamena. There was a famous hospital and temple of Asclepius located on the plain close to a large modern military command.
The Character of Christ (12b) – Jesus presents himself as the one who has a sharp, double-edged sword. The sword is the long, flat, heavy sword, used by the Romans in battle to kill their enemies. This sword symbolized Jesus’ power to judge and conquer his enemies. This note gives the letter an ominous tone.
The Condition of the Church: Commendation (13) – Jesus recognized the difficulty of their situation. He is well aware of the efforts of Satan to destroy the work of Christ and of Christians in the city of Pergamum through its various pagan affections. They lived where Satan had his throne. This may refer to the great temple of Asclepius, a pagan god of healing represented in the form of a serpent. It may also refer to the huge altar to Zeus that overlooked the city.
The saints were commended for being true, even when Antipas was martyred. Nothing is known about this incident. “Martyr” and “witness” are the same word. A martyr is one whose witness for Christ led to his death. While believers in other places may have buckled under pressure, these believers did not renounce their faith in Christ. Jesus complimented them for this.
Obedience in one area does not cover for or make excuse for disobedience in other areas.
The Condition of the Church: Concern (14-15) – The believers in Pergamum were guilty of tolerance. Rather than testing and rejecting false teachers like the church in Ephesus, they had uncritically accepted people who held the teaching of Balaam. Balaam had counseled King Balak to cause Israel to sin through intermarriage with heathen women and through idol-worship (Numbers 22-25). Intermarriage with heathen women was a problem in Pergamum where any social contact with the world also involved worship of idols. The issue of eating food sacrificed to idols is that Christians are never to violate their consciences. They may have been subtle pressure to say that sin is all right.
They were also condemned for following the Nicolaitans’ teaching. The name means “devourer of the people.” It probably speaks of a group that dominates rather than serves people. While the details are unknown, this sect probably is tied in the practices of Balaam which involved sexual sin in worship. The religion tried to redefine faith to allow Christians to fit in with the surrounding culture with its idolatry, immorality, deceit, and false worship.
The Command (16a) – Jesus rebuked the church with an abrupt command, “Repent!” They were warned. They needed to recognize and forsake their sins. The church must take action if we want to receive the blessings of God.
The Consequences (16b) – If they don’t repent, Jesus will be their enemy. The Lord himself will become their opponent and will fight against them with the sword of his mouth.
There is a distinction between “you” and “them.” The Balaam-like teachers and Nicolaitans are not truly part of the people of God, even though they have succeeded in infiltrating the congregation. Using the sword of his mouth, Jesus would contend with them. The word of God sharply judges all compromise and sin.
The Challenge (17a) – Take the message to heart. Hear and heed the message.
The Commitment (17b) – There is the promise of hidden manna and white stone with a new name written on it.
The children of Israel received manna. The hidden manna may refer to Christ as the bread from heaven, the unseen source of the believer’s nourishment and strength. Whereas Israel received physical food, manna, during their 40 years of wilderness wandering, the church receives spiritual food (John 6:48-51).
There are different meanings for “white stone.” One is found in a legal setting. In a courtroom, a white stone was given to someone who was acquitted while a black stone was given to someone who was guilty and condemned. Another meaning is that a white stone was given to the victors in an athletic contest. The stone, possibly with the athlete’s name on it, was their ticket to the awards banquet. In this sense, Christ promises the overcomers entrance into an eternal victory celebration in heaven.
Principles – (1) It is difficult to persevere in certain environments. (2) Staying faithful to Jesus is directly related to being a faithful witness. (3) Christians are often tempted to compromise with the world in the areas of idolatry and immorality. (4) Jesus’ future promise of acceptance, fellowship, and identity can help us endure now.
Jesus Christ does NOT approve of compromise. Don’t Flirt with the world.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church on January 28, 2018. It is part of a series on The State of the Church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.