We look at the church of Pergamos. Tim examines how the ancient community wanted to have Jesus without fully obeying him. The Church in Pergamos was struggling. They didn’t want to change their familiar patterns and behaviors. Revelation calls us to overcome by reading the Word, hearing it, and obeying it faithfully.
We’re going to resume our Revelation study, and we’re going to look at Pergamos, the church that wants to have all this and Jesus too.
Let’s review quickly what we’ve seen up to this point: We saw in our introduction in chapter 1 that Revelation is a very simple book. It talks about what was, what is, and what is to come. We’re now in the seven churches talking about what was and what is, and after these seven churches we’re going to talk about what is to come. The overall message is very, very simple. I want you to read, hear, and do. And what it is I want you to do, Jesus says, is be a faithful witness.
Our circumstances affect what faithfulness looks like
He’s telling us in these seven churches what it looks like to be a faithful witness, and he’s using letters to churches that existed at that time, Greco-Roman cities in the western part of Turkey which was the Roman province called Asia. And he’s telling us what faithfulness looks like in different circumstances because depending on our circumstances will affect what faithfulness looks like.
At our office we use a little tool called the two circles. The two circles has the idea of me standing in the middle of the circle, and I have circumstances acting on me at all times, because all of us live in a pool of circumstances. And the question is—am I going to be in a circle where the circumstances define me, control me? The circumstances are acting on me so I’m a victim, and I have to react to the circumstances however they demand? Am I going to be that way?
Or am I going to be someone who lives in what we call the choice circle? We have the victim circle and the choice circle. And whatever the circumstances are I say, “oh, OK, this is just the opportunity for me to act as a faithful witness. This is my opportunity to do what God has called me to do in this particular station.”
Ephesus is a truth church but not a love church
We saw that that was the case with Ephesus and Smyrna. Ephesus, we saw that this was a church that had truth really nailed down. They were a truth church. Jesus goes on and on about how great it is that they’re a truth church. And after he chastises them for not also being a love church, he doubles back and says, “But I’m really glad you’re a truth church!” because truth is a big, big deal. He says, “If you will not be a love church in addition to being a truth church, I can’t use you as my witness.”
It starts off and says, “I’m the God who has the seven lampstands before me,” representing his seven churches that are his witnesses. And if you don’t add love to truth, I’m sorry, I’m going to have to take your lampstand down.
Because what being a faithful witness looks like if you’ve got the truth, if you’re in an environment where truth reigns, you have to have truth and love.
Smyrna, the persecuted church
Smyrna, the circumstance was persecution. Historically we said the Ephesus church was probably the apostolic era. And then, after 100 AD and before about 330 AD, the church came under intense persecution. And in those circumstances, Jesus says, just hang on. I’m the one who was dead and now is alive. And if you will face death, if you will put self to death, the reward will be life. In fact, if you will live this life and face up to the death of this world and all that comes with that, you will get your refining done here. And when you face me, the consuming fire of the universe, your wood, hay, and stubble will already be burned away. You won’t be hurt by my consuming fire.
In this era, we know historically, the world went from being zero percent Christian to over 50 percent Christian. In fact, at the end of this era, in the model that I proposed, the Roman emperor basically hightailed it out of town and started another capital someplace else.
The legend is that when he left Rome, he turned the keys to the city over to the bishop of Rome. And whether that’s true or not, the reality is true that Christianity really took over the world. And the way Christianity took over the world is with the blood of the martyrs.
If you have a people who will face down death unafraid, what can you do to them if they’re unafraid?
So again, what was and what is. We can learn from what was and what is how to be, because what Jesus is calling us to be is a faithful witness.
The churches represent eras in church history
All seven of these churches existed at one point in time. So while they may represent historical era, they also represent what any church can be at any time in any civilization. And we’re talking about historical era of the western church.
In the world today, I’m sure we have churches that represent all of these circumstances. In our own lives, I would be surprised if we don’t have everyone of these sets of circumstances right in this room.
The church at Pergamos
And today, we’re going to look at Pergamos. Pergamos in Revelation 2:12. Historically, the model is that this represents the church from 330 to 500 AD.
Revelation 2:12. And to the angel—the messenger—of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight 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 overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”’
Sharp two-edged sword represents truth
The angel of the church of Pergamos. Pergamos was the capital city of the Roman province of Asia, and, as the capital city, it would have in it a Roman governor. So, to the messenger in the capital city of Pergamos, he writes that he is the one with the sharp two-edged sword.
Now in scripture, the sharp, two-edged sword typically represents truth. If you travel to Europe and you see the cathedrals you will see a statue of Peter and Paul, very often. You always know Peter is represented if he is holding a certain thing. Anybody know what it is? Keys.
And you always know Paul is being represented if he has a sword. Because Paul is the one who wrote the letters. He has the sword of truth, the sword of the Spirit, the sword of the word of God.
So this is a truth letter.
We saw Ephesus had the truth. It wasn’t enough to be a faithful witness in those circumstances. Now what we’re going to need is some truth. It’s the solution to the problem.
Where Satan’s throne is
I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Now this is very interesting because were we there in person, I’m quite sure, if we were to ask around to the people in the town, “Who is in charge here?” they would not say Satan. They would probably say Governor So-and-so, who would be a Roman governor.
Connection between heaven and earth
Once again, what we have here is this connection between heaven and earth. We’ve already seen it when Jesus says I’ll take your lampstand away, which indicates that their witness is going to be gone on earth when he takes something away in heaven.
I want to take a little sideline here and look at Matthew 16:19 because Matthew 16:19 is one of those verses among many—and probably I should have a lot longer list than I do because I know less than I think I do. But in Matthew 16, it’s always been a real curiosity to me what in the world this is talking about. And I think I might have some insight through this verse.
Matthew 16:13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah—son of Jonah—for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Perhaps what’s going on is, this connection between the spiritual world and the physical world is such that God has righteous people, righteous witnesses, righteous martyrs—remember the word witness is martyreo, so it can be translated martyr or witness—and he says that when you want something, I’m going to cause it to happen by starting it in heaven. In fact, if we look at Revelation 5:8: Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
If we go on over to 8:3, you’ll see here that another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.
So our prayers are somehow being collected and they’re being applied at just the right time to cause major events on earth to be triggered. Very interesting, don’t you think?
In an earlier episode, we went through Daniel 9 when the angel shows up to Daniel and says, “Sorry I got here late! You prayed 21 days ago, and I started right then, but I didn’t make it for 21 days because this prince of Persia held me up. And Michael had to come help me get loose so I could come tell you what this dream is.”
Daniel worked for the prince of Persia, so he’s talking about some demonic entity that is connected with the prince of Persia. It’s the same kind of thing here where you’ve got a Roman governor but he’s connected with Satan.
Satan as a lame-duck ruler
It makes sense because—think about it. Satan has been displaced as the ruler of this world, but he’s a lame duck. The keys of death and Hades have been given to Jesus. All authority has been given to Jesus, but he hasn’t taken office yet.
It’s like the time between the November election and the January inauguration. That’s the kind of time that we’re in.
So Satan still has influence in the world. He’s still the prince of this world even though he’s been displaced; he’s still in office.
There’s a connection between the spiritual realm and the physical realm. And this is something I think we don’t fully grasp.
The impact of our prayers
So, here’s a new image for you. When you’re praying, who knows what all’s happening with those prayers! You may be loosing things. You may be unloosing things. You may be filling up a bowl somewhere that’s going to be poured out some day and cause all sorts of things to happen.
It’s a much bigger impact—and one of the things that we can take away from this is how big little things are! One of the most trivial-sounding things in the world is a prayer. And faithfulness is often going to look very trivial and be rejected, especially if you’re in the truth realm, which we’re going to be this week.
What’s happening is you’re shaking heaven which in turn shakes earth—this wonderful paradox of heaven and earth and how it’s connected.
I know your works, and where you dwell. He’s saying, I understand your circumstances, and I’m judging you based on what your choices need to be given your circumstances. It’s different depending on the circumstances, but he wants us to operate in this circle of choice.
He goes on: And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyreo, My faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
We have taken the word martyreo, and we tend to translate it as witness when it’s not somebody being put to death and martyr when it is somebody being put to death. But the reality is, as we saw in the Smyrna church, we are all to be put to death. Put to death in the flesh, made alive in the spirit, die to self daily. That is being a martyr. And to be an overcomer means to be a martyr. To be an overcomer means to be a witness. When we die to self and live to the Spirit, we are doing what Antipas did.
Notice what he’s telling them about Antipas: When you saw someone be killed for their faith, you didn’t deny me. What does that tell you? When they were afraid, when they saw a reason to be afraid, they did not wilt. They continued to stand, because here we’re talking about truth.
Satan is the author of falsehood
When the world kicks in, what it insists on, what it demands is that you stand for a lie. You must validate their lies, or you have to be killed, you have to be eliminated, you have to be marginalized, you have to be drummed out of your position of influence.
But they did not. They saw the risk, and they stood. These are faithful people.
Then he reemphasizes: This is satanic. When we, in any of our lives, encounter falsehood and it’s being pressed upon us, we know who the author of that is. It’s the prince of the power of the air. It’s Satan. And the proper thing to do is resist.
But he says, I have a few things against you. See, isn’t it encouraging to know that faithful people who God really thinks are doing awesome have warts and problems? Do you have any warts and problems? So join the club! That’s where all of us are. But what he wants them to do is address it, do something about it.
They had false teachers in their midst
This one is very interesting because what he’s going to be concerned about here is that there’s false teachers in their midst, and they’re not fighting them adequately. Listen to the way this is framed:
I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
If you don’t get rid of the false teachers, I will.
Isn’t that interesting? If you don’t fight with them with truth, I will. That will be your punishment. I don’t know about you, but my initial thought is why wait? Come now.
But, I pondered this for some time, and it reminded me of a story that some guys once told me. They were in a small group, and one of the guys in the small group got a big promotion, and he went to the corporate office, and he was commuting for a while until he was going to move his family.
While he was in this corporate office, he was presented with a new way of living, and it was along the lines of why don’t you dump all that responsibility and that old wife? Trade in for a new model. That’s how we live here. And he did.
So, the men in his small group went to sit down with him, and their intent was to shame him by saying we are going to do for your children. We’re going to do for your sons what you should be doing.
And his response was, “Awesome! Thanks! That’s great!”
And I thought maybe that’s what Jesus is saying here. You know, I gave you a job to do. And if you don’t do it, I’ll do it.
Have you ever had a job to do and you were either doing it poorly or not doing it at all, and your parent or your boss just comes up and says, “Here. Give me that!” and starts doing it? And you feel like you’re about that tall? I think that’s what’s going on here.
Jesus says, look, I gave you a job to do. Use the sword of truth! Use my word and go fight against these people. They’re in your midst. They’re corrupting your body. Get them out! Stop accommodating that! If you don’t do it, I will.
When we get to the next church, he introduces himself as “who has eyes like a flame of fire and feet like brass.” How come we don’t have that picture of Jesus in our houses?
You know, there’s a place for truth. Not just truth, but when we’re fighting corruption, and we’re fighting false teaching, the antidote is truth.