The Weekend Word
To the Church in Pergamum
- 50 miles north of Smyrna – 10 miles in from the Aegean sea
- At one time the capital city of Asia.
- A large library of 200,000 volumes – in my town the library boasts of 70,000 volumes.
People like to give nicknames to their favorite cities. In America, we have the Big Apple, the Windy City, the Motor City, the Big Easy, Sin City, the Mile High City, the Queen City, and the City of Progress. Most city nicknames try to highlight a memorable aspect of that city’s history or lifestyle. Most cities are proud of their nicknames, although many have derogatory alternatives like Cleveland’s “Mistake by the Lake.” Even Las Vegas revels in its otherwise shameful nickname.
The ancient city of Pergamum received a nickname from Jesus that it would surely not agree with or appreciate. Jesus referred to Pergamum as the city “where Satan dwells.” This nickname reveals much of what the Christians in this city were facing at the time John wrote these words.
12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.
- The Christological identifier comes from 1:16, the 2nd
- Again all of the letters are flowing from the image of The Son of Man – his characteristics and titles. We see fragments of the chapter one descriptions flowing into each letter.
- The 2 edged sword – God’s word – Law & Gospel
- Sword = word of God. This is the way we conquer, by keeping God’s word out front like a sword.
- It is Jesus who will execute judgment at the end. This will look like Rev 19:15
13 “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
- Hopefully we too today as times get tougher; we will not bend the knee. They hung on; pray that we do the same.
- Where Satan’s throne is – people would come from all over Asia Minor to visit the temple of Asclepius.
- This was the center of healing (a temple of healing).
- The rod of Asclepius was a snake wrapped around a pole – sound familiar? Numbers 21:5-9 – Satan continually imitates God.
- In this temple, they had an altar to Zeus. (Satan’s throne) – Interesting “where Satan’s throne is” – I thought Satan lived in Smyna?
- This is an interesting take on ‘The Faith’. Is my faith in my Jesus? Look what Jesus commends. My name – holding fast to his name and not denying HIS faith.
- What is The Faith? It is his faith, and his faith is his word. The faith of Jesus and the word of Jesus are one and the same.
- We must be careful – we do not hold on to MY Jesus – but The Jesus.
- Who is Antipas? We don’t know – there is only this one reference to him. We know it must have been a notable killing – the people know him and Jesus knows him… by name, as he knows all of us. We can assume he is the example of one who did not deny Jesus.
14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.
- But then… same story, false prophets = false teachings. In Ephesus it was the false teaching of the Nicolaitans.
- False teaching is to be recognized and called out.
- What about Balaam: Numbers 24:15 ff – see also 2 Peter 2:14-15. (this is must read stuff to understand what is going on here.)
- All false worship leads to spiritual adultery, which leads to physical immorality – but in the end, it is all to distract us from God.
- Idolatry = cheating on God
- Balaam wanted both God and money. He is the poster boy for Matt 6:24
- Balaam is in it for the money, a prophet or pastor for hire. If you want the people to fill the coffers, tell them what they want to hear.
15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
- The Nicolaitans preached cultural accommodation – you Christians need to chill out and compromise with society some so we can all get along.
- The church was being encouraged to have the freedom to accept the more modern way – shed some of your old cultural thinking, even if it conflicts.
- So God’s charge against them was 2 fold – hanging on to the false teachings of Balaam, and the false teachings of the Nicolaitans.
- Where do we see this today? The ELCA – Her Church in SF – The Episcopal Church during the leadership of Katharine Jefferts Schori and the notoriety of gay Bishop Gene Robinson earlier on.
- The practices of other religions begin to creep into the church and soon you have traces of paganism. An important point is that paganism etc does not just creep into the church – they are first led in by “other” christians (note the small ‘c’.)
- We see it anywhere the Bible is clear but the church questions relevance.
- Many of these churches can follow the liturgy and have a Christless, culture driven message. You wonder why they even ‘do’ church or ‘call’ it a Christian church. They long to feel they are caught up in the divine and are a part of something that is ancient.
- So, these churches, what do they think of scripture? They do not view the scriptures as authoritative. Their attitude is more like “well that may have been the way Paul expressed his faith in his time and in his local, but not what we do.”
- When they say resurrection, they do not mean physical bodies coming out of the ground – they mean the resurrection of the human spirit, the fight for life, to embrace the good.
- This all sounds good but it is nonsense if you are going to call it Christianity.
- Remember as I said earlier, even this is the devil’s attempt to keep you from Christ.
16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.
- The Cliff Notes version of this verse? Cut it out and repent!
- The call to the church is to repent – it is always to repent.
- These are harsh words from Jesus – repent or face judgment. What is the judgment? He will come and war against them.
17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’
- These promises are to be treasured but they are a bit difficult to understand.
- Is the hidden manna a Lord’s Supper reference? It seems that Jesus prepared them for this in John 6 – written by the same author.
- A white stone could be a reference to being declared innocent. Some literature suggests that courts voted with colored stones.
- A new name could be a baptismal reference as baptism was also a naming ritual.
- When we get to heaven we can share with each other what we got.