By Pastor Glenn Pease
Is there any truth to the popular idea that hell is right here on earth? There were a lot of Minnesotans who believed it in Jan. of 1873. The morning of the 8th was beautiful and the snow was melting. Masses of people made plans to travel, visit, and shop. But about 4 in the afternoon the wind came blowing in, the temperature dropped 40 degrees in one minute, and the worst blizzard in Minnesota history had begun, and it wouldn't stop for 3 days. Hurricane winds driving the snow forced all living things to find shelter or perish.
A youth in school in New Ulm only had to cross the road to his house, but his body was later found 8 miles away. Some buried themselves in snow drifts and survived. William Trier and his bride and father were returning home to Fergus Falls. The men got out of the sleigh to look for shelter and perished. The bride stayed in t he sleigh and lived. A St. Peter woman was just out feeding her chickens and died trying to find her door step. Many died within feet of their own houses because they could not find them in the blinding blizzard. Thousands of people narrowly escaped death, but 70 people actually died in this hellish storm. If you took a pole then, the hell on earth would have won by a landslide. People always tend to associate the hell on earth idea with terrible suffering and hardship. This is legitimate, for that is what we see in the church at Pergamum. They were having tough times, and at least one by the name of Antipas had died for his faith.
I want to call your attention to the fact that Jesus says in verse 13 that the throne of Satan was in that city. He ends the verse by saying Satan lives there. So here is the city where Satan lives, and where he has his throne. This is none other than the capital of hell. If the devil has his home and his office there, he does not commute from hell to do his dirty work. He can do it all right there in Pergamum. So there is truth then to the idea that hell is right here on earth. Now this does not sound like the best place to start a church. This is like trying to start a Sunday School class for the hell's angels. But Jesus started His church there, and the Christians were remaining true to His name. They were not renouncing their faith even though the pressure was on.
Why would Pergamum be any more the capital of hell than any of the other cities? It had been a capital city for almost 400 years. Pliny, the ancient, called it, "The most famous city in Asia." Sir William Ramsay, the modern traveler and scholar wrote, "Beyond all other cities in Asia Minor, it gives the traveler the impression of a royal city, the home of authority." There were a number of reasons that Pergamum was the capital of hell. It was the center of Caesar worship. In 29 A. D. a temple to the godhead of Caesar was erected there. People had to call Caesar Lord or risk death by the sword. The Roman governor had the power to kill anyone on the spot with his sword if they did not conform to the law of Rome. That is why Jesus starts this letter by reminding them that He has the sharp two edged sword, and He will have the final word on who lives or dies. Hell's headquarters has some tough swordmen, but their swords will be no match for the sword of the Savior.
Satan knows that power corrupts, and that is why Pergamum is his capital. It was the capital of the seleucid kingdom back in 282 B.C., and it had remained a capital for nearly 4 centuries. Where there is power to rule and make policy, and establish values, you can count on it, Satan will be present. The implication is clear. Any capital where the forces of power operate is a capital of hell, for that is where Satan can get most of his agenda accomplished the quickest. Satan can get more evil done through those in high places than he can by means of the poor sinner who has no power. But get evil into the laws that govern a nation, and then you have a real impact for the goals of hell. Satan is no political dunce. He knows where to set up his office.
Not only does he know the best place for getting his agenda done is where the power is, but he knows the best place is where the education is. Pergamum was famous for its 200,000 volume library. It was second only to the largest in the world in Alexandria, Egypt. The king of Pergamum bribed the librarian of Alexandria to leave there and come to Pergamum. He did and this enraged the king of Egypt when he lost his outstanding scholar Aristophanes. He put embargo on the export
of papyrus to Pergamum. If they had no paper, they could not have books. But the scholars of Pergamum invented parchment made of skin, and this was better and more lasting for books, and it made papyrus obsolete.
Pergamum became a center for learning and culture, and that too is why Satan made it hell's headquarters. It was the center of the latest fashions also. You can get a lot more evil done with educated sinners. Educated sinners can foul up whole nations and lead them astray. Power and brains together can cook up schemes that the devil can really delight in. The brilliant and powerful Nazi party was filled with educated and cultured people. They did more evil than millions of poorly educated sinners could ever do. Show me a center of power and learning and I will show you a capital of hell.
Pergamum was also the center of religious worship with temples to Zeus, Aphrodite and Aesculapius, the god of medicine. Jupiter was supposedly born in Pergamum. So if you add up power, education, and religious worship, you see why this was the capital of hell. Politics, education, and religion are three of the most powerful tools in the world for evil. This is why the church was there also, for these are three of the most powerful tools for good and the achieving of the will of God. It was not just the capital of hell, it was heaven's headquarters as well. Just because the devil uses something for his cause does not make it an evil tool. Jesus can and does use it as well, and the church is to be as wise as that old serpent the devil, and use power, learning and the religious nature of man for the glory of God. The church and hell are in the same town because they are competing for the same tools to be used for the cause of good or evil.
Jesus did not say to the church of Pergamum, "I am sorry I didn't realize I set you up in the capital of hell. It's no place for a nice girl like you. I'll relocate you in a better setting where you won't have to contend with the devil." Jesus did not pull out for a better location. He said stay there, keep up the fight, and be overcomers. The church is not to run from evil, but stand fast and try to take that territory for the kingdom of God. It is sword against sword-the Sword of the Spirit against the sword of Satan. The Christian with the sword of the Spirit has the power of life and death. It is this sword of the Word that Jesus used when He faced Satan head to head in the wilderness, and it is the sword by which the church still conquers and overcomes the temptations of Satan. How do you fight evil power in government, education, and religion? There is only one Christian weapon, and that is the sword of the Word. It can succeed even in the capital of hell.
They were like Daniel in the lion's den with Satan going about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, but his mouth can still be shut by the power of the Word. He can be overcome even in his home court and capital city. The gates of hell will not prevail against the church said Jesus, but by the use of the Word of God as the churches battering ram they can even penetrate his capital and claim it for the kingdom of Christ. The church does not reject political power, learning, and religion, but rather, he links all of these tools to the Word of God and invades the capital of hell and turns it into a capital of heaven. Don't give up any tool just because the devil uses it. Use it for his defeat and be an overcomer of evil by the use of that same tool.
The problem with the Christians in Pergamum is they were themselves falling for some of Satan's clever tricks. In the Old Testament they were represented by Sodom, and in the New Testament by the Nicolaitans. It was a single teaching that seduced God's people in both Testaments. They taught that God's people should use the same tools as the world does. The difference is, they taught they should use them the same way as the world does, and not according to God's Word. They said religion is good and so go along with the religions of the world. They said sex is good and so go along with the sexual practices of the world. A little idolatry and a little immorality will help you fit into the culture and be accepted. This sounded good to many Christians who felt being Christian in a pagan culture put to many limits on life. Sex with temple prostitutes was popular and God's people reasoned that there was no harm in a little recreational sex. Nobody gets hurt and it makes you more hip and acceptable to your pagan neighbors.
If you are 90% Christian and only 10% pagan, that should be good enough they thought. This kind of thinking ensnares Christians all through history, and does so today. All of us are in some sort of battle to overcome this subtle satanic logic that makes us part time servants of his kingdom. Popular sins in any culture are always somewhat popular even with Christians. The problem is not that power, money, sex, or any other tool of Satan is in itself evil, but he entices men to use them in evil ways. All of these tools can be used in a way consistent with the word and plan of God.
The big danger of the Christians in Pergamum was self-centeredness. It is one of Satan's best weapons. Get Christians to so enjoy the pleasures of life that they not only become like the world in sensuality, but they forget the cross completely and its meaning for life. Jesus, who had infinite joy and pleasure for all eternity, gave it up and entered a world of suffering to endure the cross, and all that Satan can throw at Him. He experience hell on earth because He did not grasp at equality with the Father, and His right to escape all pain and suffering as the perfect Son of God.
To be Christlike means to give up our right to be equal to the world in self-centeredness and self-indulgence, and be willing to suffer, at least to some degree, for the benefit of others, and to take up the cross and follow Jesus denying self for the benefit of others. This is hard even for Christians because we are conditioned by our culture to focus on self. Jesus does not like it when His people are unwilling to suffer, but only striving to get pleasure. This lust for pleasure leads Christians to fall for Satan's snares and become so worldly they no longer know how to bare the cross. It just does not fit their life-style. It was a problem in the early church and it is a problem today.
None of us are free from this defect, and the call to be overcomers is one we need to heed and work at or risk loss of great reward. Crossless Christians are suckers for the schemes that are concocted in the headquarters of hell. The more we can take up the cross and follow Jesus the more we can add the light of heaven in that hellish darkness. Jesus commended the Christians in Pergamum, for many were being faithful in that hell hole, and Antipas even died for his faith. Why should a good and godly man have to die? Why is the world full of unjust suffering and the innocent dying because of the folly of man?
E. Stanley Jones tells of the soldier who asked the chaplain to pray for him to get back safely as he went out on a dangerous mission. The chaplain said, "No I won't do that, but I will go with you." That is the answer of God to man's cry-why? I won't guarantee you safety in this battle with the capital of hell, but I'll go with you. Jesus endured the worst that hell could design for the totally innocent. Jesus came into the capital of hell and suffered its worse to set up the kingdom of God in that very place. And He calls his church to fight the forces of evil and help rescue others from the schemes of Satan. We are to take the risk and pay the price, and be willing to suffer so that others might discover that hell on earth can become heaven on earth by finding Jesus as their Savior.
We began this message with how horrible weather convinces people there is hell on earth. We want to end with an equally strong illustration of how bad weather is a sign of the kingdom of God on earth. It was Christmas night in 1776. George Washington faced a crisis. Most of his army had not reinlisted and they were due to go home at the end of the year just a week away. The morale was as low as it had ever been. There was lack of ammunition and division among the generals. The fight for independence seemed to be going down the drain. Washington needed a victory or all was lost.
He reasoned that the Hessian guards would likely have been drinking heavily on Christmas, and so he decided to attack in the pre-dawn hours of Dec. 26. Just as he did, the most violent snow storm came up reducing the visibility to zero. It was just what Washington needed. In a 45 minute battle in that storm he took nearly a thousand prisoners while losing only two of his own men with three who were wounded. This startling victory changed the whole war. The moral was sky high, and volunteers came pouring in, and the war was pursued. The British were saying it was hell on earth, but the Americans in gratitude for that same storm were saying, it is heaven on earth. They were both right, for wherever you find the capital of hell, there you will also find the capital of heaven.
These letters to the churches make it clear that sometimes the forces of evil are clever enough to overcome those who are supposed to be the forces for good. Many Christians fall for the propaganda coming out of the devil's headquarters, and they are not just neutralized but actually become a tool of the kingdom of darkness. These letters are orders from the heavenly Pentagon from our Commander in Chief to do an about face, and stop marching to the drum of the enemy, and become again a soldier of the kingdom of light.
Jesus knows that some Christians live in places that are harder than others, and the pressure to conform is greater. He knows what a clever opponent Satan is, and why Christians are deceived. They are no less responsible, however, because of it. In any warfare some soldiers have the worst of it and have to confront the enemy at his strong point. Others get to face the enemy at his weak point. Their task is the same, and that is to be faithful and be overcomers whatever the foe throws at them. We each need to commit ourselves to fight for the victory of Christ even in the capital of hell.