The Compromising Church (Revelation 2:12-17)
Compromise is so dangerous in the church. God has revealed what he wants, and who are we to compromise with Scripture? If we compromise with error, error will slowly (and perhaps quickly) creep into the church and the congregation will be overtaken with error. The church at Pergamum stands as a testimony to what occurs when churches compromise with error.
Jesus reveals himself as the One with the sharp two-edged sword. The sword was recognized as a symbol of authority and judgment in Rome. The “sword” throughout Revelation is used as a symbol of war, of killing. The fourth horseman was given power “over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword” (6:8). Revelation 19:15.
Jesus’ revealing himself as the One with the sword shows that he has authority and that he comes in judgment. he is sitting in judgment on the church in Pergamum. His judgment with the sword is seen clearly in verse 16. Let’s examine what Jesus says in judgment to this congregation.
They Held Fast the Name of Christ, v 13
These brethren dwelt where Satan had his throne. The King James Version says “seat” instead of “throne,” but that’s not a good translation—“throne” is the term used here. Throne is a symbol of authority; throne is where a king sits. Notice the uses of the term “throne” in Scripture (Luke 1:32; Acts 2:30). The point is that Satan has authority. He has authority over those who follow him. Jesus referred to him as the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30).
Satan had his throne in Pergamum. This city had a plethora of pagan shrines and was the center of emperor worship. Many of those in Pergamum followed the emperor cult and the pagan deities, for Jesus could say that this city was given over to Satan.
Although these Christians were surrounded by paganism, they held fast to the name of Christ. How fast they held to the name of Christ is obvious by their doing so in the days of Antipas, Jesus’ faithful martyr. Many have supposed that Antipas was the only Christian who had been killed in Pergamum or perhaps in the province of Asia Minor. That seems very unlikely, for Revelation depicts much bloodshed for the faith. Nero, who died shortly before Revelation was written, was notorious for his murder of Christians. Antipas must have been singled out, because he was a pillar in this congregation; he may have been an elder or the preacher. That’s the most plausible explanation, in my mind, as to why he was the only martyr mentioned by Jesus.
Even in the face of death these Christians held fast to the faith. They were not going to turn to paganism or to emperor worship to escape death; they were going to serve Jesus even if it killed them. What about us? What if it came to the point where we had to lay down our lives to serve Jesus?
Too many are not willing to take a stand for Jesus when it is unpopular. In the parable of the sower, the seed sown in stony places grows but “endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away” (Matthew 13:21). Are we, like the Christians in Pergamum, willing to take a stand, even in the face of adversity? Are we willing to stand against denominationalism, although such isn’t popular? Are we willing to stand against immorality—e.g., abortion, homosexuality—although such isn’t popular? Are we willing to stand against women taking a lead in worship, although such isn’t popular?
They Held Fast to False Doctrine, vv 14-16
This congregation had some who held the doctrine of Balaam. According to Numbers 31:16, the Moabite women at the suggestion of Balaam enticed the children of Israel to worship Baal and commit fornication at Peor (Numbers 25). 24,000 died by the plague the Lord sent (Numbers 25:9). Some in Pergamum were teaching the same thing as Balaam—they were teaching one could commit sexual immorality and eat food sacrificed to idols. This doctrine more than likely derived from the idolatry prevalent in Pergamum.
Some also held the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. The doctrine of the Nicolaitans is not expressly spelled out, but it does seem as though this doctrine was close to the doctrine of Balaam.
The church needed to repent or else Jesus would come and fight against the false teachers with the sword of his mouth. Notice that although the church at large did not hold these doctrines the church at large needed to repent. The congregation needed to repent because they were allowing false doctrine in the congregation. They may have not wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings, so they allowed these false teachers to remain in the congregation. Jesus says that we cannot do that. We can’t be afraid of hurting the feelings of false teachers. We need to deal with them. Scripture teaches us to keep false teachers away from our number. 2 John 10-11. The mouths of false teachers “must be silenced” (Titus 1:11). Romans 16:17.
If this congregation did not repent, Jesus would come against the false teachers and fight against them. If the church did not take care of false teachers, Jesus would take care of them. Either way, these false teachers will be dealt with.
Jesus would fight against these false teachers with the sword of his mouth. Since the sword comes from his mouth, the Word of God is likely meant, for it came from the mouth of Christ. We defeat error with the Word of God.
To those who overcome, Jesus will give:
- Hidden manna to eat. The manna was hidden in that it was hidden in the ark of the covenant. A Jewish tradition said that Josiah hid the ark of the covenant when the Babylonians overtook Jerusalem, and that the Messiah would restore the ark to the Hebrews. Manna provided nourishment for the Hebrews in the wilderness, and Jesus will provide nourishment to the one who overcomes.
- A white stone and a new name which no one else knows written on the stone. This is more than likely an allusion to the white stones given to the victors in public games. Those who competed and won in the public games were given white stones with their names inscribed on it. That white stone entitled the bearer to be provided for at the public expense for his entire life. Jesus will, likewise, provide for us in heaven.
Do you have these blessings? Are you overcoming?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.