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The Church at Pergamos

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Before we get into God’s word, who can tell me what church we looked at last week, and if no one knows off the top of their heads, it’s okay to look at your Bible headings. Yes, thank you, we looked at the church of Smyrna. And if you remember, the church at Smyrna was under intense persecution, and yet they had held fast to the faith. In fact, Jesus had absolutely no negative words for this church. And we saw how Jesus Christ causes us to place an extremely high value on our faith, and how He urges us to be faithful in all situations, even if it means suffering for our faith in Him. And tonight, we are going to move due north from Smyrna, as we look at Christ’s words to the church at Pergamos. So I invite you to turn in your Bibles to Revelation chapter two, verses twelve through seventeen. Again, Revelation 2:12-17.

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; these things saith He which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; to him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.”

Let’s pray again.

The breakdown of tonight’s devotion will be fairly straightforward. We are going to look at the good things that Jesus has to say about them in verse thirteen. And then we are going to look at the bad things He has to say to them in verses fourteen through sixteen, and finally we are going to look at the promise for us given in verse seventeen. But before we do any of that, allow me to tell you a little bit about the city of Pergamos. Pergamos, more commonly known as Pergamon, was a large city in the northwest part of the modern country of Turkey. Pergamos was one of the most technologically-advanced and religiously-oriented cities in all of the Roman Empire. Has anyone ever heard of the kind of paper known as “parchment?” Parchment was invented right here in Pergamos. And Pergamos blended the field of medicine with their pagan idol worship, as well. Pergamos was world-renowned for their temple to the god of healing, called Asclepius. This temple was essentially an ancient spa resort; except for you had to sacrifice to this pagan deity to use the facility. Pergamos is also famous for having one of the biggest altars ever built. It was an altar to the Greek god Zeus, and the entire altar is still intact in a museum in Berlin, Germany.

So with that background in mind, let’s look at what our Savior says to the church in this city. Let’s begin by seeing how Christ identifies Himself in verse twelve of the text. “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; these things saith He which hath the sharp sword with two edges.” Whenever Jesus introduces Himself to each of the seven churches, He emphasizes a unique quality of His character to the believers there. In this verse, He emphasizes that He is the one that possesses the two-edged sword. Hopefully you remember the week that we talked about the vision of the Son of Man, and how Jesus in that passage was said to have a two-edged sword. And does anybody remember where it was that Jesus had this sword? The Bible says that the sword was coming out of His mouth. And we talked about how the two-edged sword reminds us that Jesus is coming back to judge the righteous and the wicked, and how what He uses to judge the people will be the words that come out of His mouth. So when Jesus addresses Himself this way to this church, He is reminding them that He is coming back to judge the people that are persecuting them, but it is also a powerful reminder that they need to remain faithful, because Jesus will be judging them, as well.

After Jesus addresses the church by reminding them of His coming judgment, He encourages them by citing their good qualities in verse thirteen. Verse thirteen reads, “I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.” First off, we need to note that Jesus commends the people for their perseverance to the gospel. Just like the two cities we’ve already looked at, there was an intense amount of persecution against the believers, because of the city’s staunch idol worship. Notice that Jesus says, “and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is.” The Greek word that is translated as “seat” in this verse is the word “thronos,” which is where we get our word… anybody want to guess what word comes from thronos? It’s where our word “throne” comes from. So Jesus is telling them that they are dwelling in the very throne room of Satan. Like so many passages in the book of Revelation, it would seem that this statement has two different meanings. The first meaning is one that is unique to Pergamos. Because of the humongous altar to Zeus that was located in the city, it would seem that this altar may be what Jesus is calling “Satan’s throne.” Another possibility is that the god of healing I told you about earlier was symbolized by a serpent, so the serpent’s temple could have symbolized Satan’s throne. Either way, you can see how this city that took such pride in their idol worship could be called Satan’s throne. But a second interpretation would be that every place on earth is currently Satan’s throne, because Jesus Himself called Satan the “prince of this world.” So in a more universal sense, Jesus is telling the people that He is proud that they are holding onto the faith, even though they are in enemy territory.

The second half of the verse tells of a man named Antipas who was martyred. While we do not know anything else about Antipas from history, this verse says that he was faithful to Jesus, and he died for his faith. Notice how the last four words of the verse tell us where Antipas was martyred. Where Satan’s seat is. While I could be wrong, my best guess is that Antipas was killed on that huge altar dedicated to Zeus. I can’t imagine the horror of being there that day, when a faithful man of God was hauled in by a crowd and killed right there on the altar of Zeus. I imagine that the crowd probably thought that this was a great symbolic way to please Zeus and show the Christians who was in charge. But church, who’s laughing now? While the people who committed that atrocity have been dead for almost two millennia, and the altar itself is nothing more than a museum artifact, there is a man named Antipas who is with his blessed Redeemer at this very moment. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but nothing in this world can separate me from the love of Jesus Christ, my Lord.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus’ words to the church of Pergamos stopped right there? But unfortunately for them, Jesus continues on in verses fourteen and fifteen. These two verses read, “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.” Over the remaining four verses in this passage, Jesus makes several allusions to the Old Testament. In this verse, Jesus says that there are people in the church who hold to the doctrine of Balaam. For someone here that is familiar with Balaam, can you tell me what it is that he is most famous for? That’s right, he is most famous to riding a talking donkey. But if you read Numbers 25:1-9, you will read a sad story of how the children of Israel rebelled against God by worshipping Baal, and a part of this idol worship involved sexual immorality. And while this chapter does not say who convinced the Israelites to worship Baal, Number 31:16 says that it was none other than Balaam. You see, there was an evil king of the Moabites named Balak, who wanted Balaam to curse the children of Israel so that the Israelites could not defeat him and his people. But Balaam rightly realized that his curse would do nothing, because the one true God was protecting them. But then at some point, Balak and Balaam conspired together to defeat the children of Israel by convincing them to forsake God. And this plan worked marginally well, because Numbers 25 records how God sent a plague throughout the Israelite camp that killed about 24,000 people because of their worship of Baal.

Now fast-forwarding back to the book of Revelation, Jesus says that there are people in the church of Pergamos who are just like Balaam. In verse fifteen, Jesus identifies these people as the Nicolaitans. If you remember from our devotion on the church at Ephesus, the Nicolaitans were a group of heretics that tried to convince churches that the best way to experience God was to commit every sexual sin imaginable. And as ridiculous as this seems, there were some in the church of Pergamos that had fallen into this deception. The King James uses the word “stumbling block” to describe this heresy. The Greek here literally refers to the kind of trap where you touch a certain part of the trap, and it catches you and refuses to let go. This reminds me of one of those big bear traps, that if you step on it the claws spring up and grab your leg. Jesus is saying that this heresy is like a trap that wants to grab anyone that it can. And once the trap has been sprung, it is very difficult to get loose of it.

So once Jesus tells them the immediate danger of allowing this heresy to persist, He gives them an ultimatum in verse sixteen. “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” Essentially, Jesus tells the church at Pergamos that if they do not kill this heresy before it takes over, then Jesus Himself will destroy all of the heretics. While this is very strong language, notice that Jesus gives the church some additional time to win back the heretics to Christ. This is just like God, isn’t it? God is so slow to anger, and it seems as if He is always willing to give us one more chance to follow Him. And that’s what Jesus does in this verse. He gives them another chance to come back to Him, but He warns them that if they don’t, then He will destroy the Nicolaitans within the church.

Now that we’ve seen the good things and the bad things about the church at Pergamos, let’s look how Jesus gives all believers a promise in verse seventeen. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; to him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” Jesus in this verse says that He will give everyone who overcomes the right to eat of the hidden manna. We know from previous weeks that someone who overcomes refers to any person who remains a Christian until the end of their life. And so what is the hidden manna mentioned in this verse? This is yet another allusion to the Old Testament. Hopefully you remember what manna is, and how God provided manna every morning for the children of Israel while they were in the wilderness. What I did not tell you last time about manna is that God told the Israelites to gather together a jar of manna to hide away in the Ark of the Covenant. This jar served as a constant reminder to the Israelites of how God had provided for them. And who can remember where the Ark of the Covenant was kept in the temple? That’s right, it was in the Holy of Holies. While obviously God does not have a body, and He does not need an earthly home, the Holy of Holies was the closest place on earth to being “the home of God.” So in this verse, when Jesus promises us we will get to eat hidden manna, He is essentially telling us that we will go to the very place where God lives. And of course, Jesus is not talking about some earthly temple. He is talking about taking us to heaven when we die.

And after that, Jesus promises to give those that overcome a white stone with a name written on it that no one knows except for him that receives it. This phrase is a real theological doozy, and it has had theologians scratching their heads for over a thousand years. In fact, there are at least five distinct theories about what this white stone could represent. But for the sake of time, I am not going to tell you all five theories. I will just share with you the one that makes the most sense to me. I believe that this white stone is referring to an ancient invitation system in the Greek world. Back then, when a wealthy person was having a large feast, he would have someone carve each name on his guest list onto a small rock, and then he would have that rock delivered to the guest’s house. And so when the night of the feast rolled around, the guest would take his personalized rock, and he would have to show that rock to the guards, who would then let him in. And anyone who showed up without a rock would be kicked out. I think the implications to our Christian faith are fairly obvious. When you accepted Jesus Christ, He gave you a personalized invitation to heaven. He wrote your very name down, and guess what: He’s expecting you! And not only that, just like the rock was their only way into the party, your faith in Christ is your only way into heaven when you die. So in this verse, both the hidden manna and the white rock are Jesus’s creative ways of telling us that if we will simply stand firm until the end, a home in Heaven is waiting for us. Praise the Lord!

Church, I urge you to always stand strong in the faith. And for the Christians in Pergamos, standing strong in the faith meant kicking out the Nicolaitan heretics. And jfust like that church had a cancerous sin growing up within it, sometimes sin grows in our lives like a cancer. If there are any areas of sin in your life that God is convicting you about; please, please, please give them up to Jesus. Jesus is coming back, and I pray that He does not find us sinning against His precious name. May we at First Free Will Baptist Church be found faithful, and may Jesus Christ say that He is proud of the way we are standing up for Him.

Let’s pray.

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