Slip Sliding Away
“Slip Sliding Away”(Revelation 2:12-17)
Learning from 7 churches how to choose a church.
· Ephesus–loving church;
· Smyrna–faithful church.
What can we learn from the Church at Pergamos?
· Today, 20 miles inland from Aegean Sea,
· 45 miles from Smyrna
· On rolling hills of Caicus valley,
· Little village Bergama Turkey, it is but a glimpse of the past glory.
· Bible times,
o Capital city of Mysia.
o City of political power, intellectual sophistication and outright paganism.
An INTELLECTUAL center.
· Library, 200,000 volumes, second only to one in Alexandria.
· These 200,000 volumes given as a gift from Anthony to Cleopatra.
· Egypt stopped sending Papyrus (paper).
· Forced them to develop Parchment (animal skins. Degree called sheepskin).
· Attracted finest minds of ancient world.
A MEDICAL Center
· Temple of Aescuplapius, god of medicine.
· Medical school – produced the medical emblem, “snake coiled around staff.”
· Sick come there for healing.
· Solarium–mind-bending instructions.
· Long tunnel, pipes, “gods” speak. Drugged. If snakes slithered over, god touched, be healed (ME TOO!).
A CULT Center
· Pergamum was very wealthy, the center of emperor worship with many temples devoted to idolatry.
· This was the place ‘where Satan’s throne is’ (Rev. 2:13).
· The phrase has been applied to the complex of pagan cults, of Zeus, Athena, and others
· These cults are illustrative of the religious history of Pergamum, but “Satan’s throne” could be an allusion to emperor worship.
· This was where the worship of the divine emperor had been made the touchstone of civic loyalty under Domitian.
Church there – in midst of sea of immorality
· Danger church members drift into world.
· “Pergamos” = married.
· If not careful, church get married to world.
· Many churches, little difference between lifestyle/members, society in general.
· Paul’s letters–doctrine<duty; belief<behaviour.
· Sadly, in our fellowship “Pergamos” members–can’t tell them from anyone else in town.
· But, also members not compromising with world. V.12, “sharp sword” = Word/God. Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12.
· Churches need to hear Word on daily life.
Sin is like a very slippery slope.
It all begins rather innocently and gradually but it can quickly lead the Christian into an out-of-control, slip sliding away experience.
In Rev 2:12-17, we will see how to overcome the Sin of Compromise.
I. Commission (2:12a).
As with the other letters in Rev 2-3, the letter to the church in Pergamum is addressed to the angel of the church (2:12a)
“Pergamum” means marriage.
This church was married to Christ.
However, in spite of their union, they were tolerating compromise in some of their members. Compromise is the cancer of the church.
II. Character (2:12b)
Christ says that He is “the One who has the sharp two-edged sword” (cf. Isa 11:4).4
By using this description Jesus makes it especially difficult for us to ignore this letter.
In Rev 1:16 and 19:15, the “sword” (romfaia)6 is described as proceeding out of the mouth of Christ.
The mouth, an instrument of speech, portrays this as the Word of Christ.
In Rev 19:13 Christ is called the Word of God and then, in 19:15, we have the statement about the sword that proceeds out of His mouth and by which He will slay the wicked.
Interestingly, John 5:24f and 12:48 teach us that Christ’s acts of judgment will be carried out on the basis of His Word.
It seems clear the sword coming out of Christ’s mouth is a reference to the Word and is a symbol of its truth, penetrating power and authority, severity, and the fact that Christ judges men on the basis of the Word.
Thus, the sword of God’s Word separates believers from the world and sinners from God. This is perhaps its double-edged quality.
III. Commendation (2:13).
The exalted Christ knows three things about the church in Pergamum.
First, Jesus knows that this church lives in Satan’s hometown.
· In the space of one verse Jesus acknowledges that Satan’s throne and his dwelling are in Pergamum.
· What a place to live!
· How would you like to be a realtor in Pergamum? Whew!
Apparently, Pergamum was the center of idolatry (i.e., emperor worship).
· It is important to recognize that idolatry is not only worshipping Satan or another false god.
· An idol is anything that takes the place of God.
· Therefore, whenever false worship occurs, Satan is involved.
· This means that idolatry is really an expression of satanism.
How are you worshipping Satan?
· How have you erected an idol in your life that has distracted you?
· How has your affection toward God been stunted?
The second area of Christ’s knowledge centered on the faithful witness of the Pergamum believers.
· Jesus says that they continued to “hold fast My name.”
· The verb “hold fast” (krateo) means to “grasp forcibly” or, in this figurative use, “to remain firm.”
· In 2:1, Jesus “holds the seven stars” as He watches over the churches and here the believers “hold fast” to His name.
· “My name” points to their adherence to the deity of Christ.
· In the midst of a pluralist society this church refused to bow the knee to false gods.
Several years ago talk show host Larry King was asked: “If you could select any one person across all of history to interview, who would it be?”
· Mr. King’s answer was that he would like to interview Jesus Christ.
When the questioner followed with, “And what would you like to ask Him?”
· King replied, “I would like to ask Him if He was indeed virgin-born. The answer to that question would define history for me.”
Mr. King is right!
· Human history is defined by whether or not Jesus Christ is God.
· If you believe that Jesus Christ is indeed God, it will change your worldview and your actions.
· If He is not God then you might as well live for yourself and forget about eternal things.
The third area of Christ’s knowledge is their endurance under persecution.
· The believers in Pergamum were suffering for Christ.
· As a result, Antipas (one of their own) was martyred.
· Yet, in spite of the grave danger of naming the name of Christ,
· Pergamum persevered in their faith, refusing to deny her Lord.
What an inspiration Anitpas must have been to this church.
· He would not cower to the political correctness of his day and was executed for his faith.
· Antipas means “against all.”
· This godly man lived up to his name.
· He stood against Compromise
· What a wonderful benediction is pronounced upon this martyr.
· He is called “My witness, My faithful one.”
Notice the emphasis is upon being “faithful” in our witness.
· We are called to witness for Christ with our lives and our lips.
· Ultimately we are to leave the results up to Him.
· How would you like Jesus Christ to call you by that description?
IV. Condemnation (2:14-15).
The tone of praise for the church quickly disappeared, however, as Jesus moved on to speak of the state of the church (2:14-15).
· Jesus begins His rebuke the same way He did the church at Ephesus (see Rev 2:4).
o The only difference is instead of saying, “I have this against you”; Jesus says, “I have a few things against you.”
o This ought to send chills up our spine. It should grab us by the lapels and jerk us to attention.
Jesus then goes on to say that the church has
· “some there who hold the teaching of Balaam who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.”
o Jesus is saying that the problem was not external it was internal.
o A small group of people were teaching false doctrine.
· Typically, this is how it begins.
o Then rather quickly, the movement picks up some momentum and begins to spread.
o Paul said, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Cor 5:6).
· The teaching of Balaam was to encourage the eating of foods sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality (2:14).
The story of Balaam is found in Num 22-25 and 31.
Balaam was an Old Testament prophet, a Gentile who knew God.
o He was called to be a mouthpiece for God but often spoke for the Devil.
o During the time of Israel’s wilderness wanderings, God’s chosen people defeated the Ammonites, and Moab looked surely to be the next to fall.
o When Balak the king of Moab received a report that the Israelites were advancing his way, he knew there was no way his army could defeat Israel.
o In desperation Balak called on Balaam for help.
o The Moabite king said, “I’ve got an assignment for you. I want you to curse these people. And I’ll make it worth your while.”
Yielding to the temptation, Balaam sold-out. He became a “gun for hire,” a “prophet for profit.”
o Three separate times he tried to curse the people of God.
o But each time, only blessings—not cursings—came out.
o Try as he may Balaam could not curse the people of God.
o So Balaam became frustrated.
o He tried to serve God and money at the same time but he discovered that he couldn’t serve two masters (Luke 16:13).
o Under mounting pressure, Balaam devised an ingenious plan.
o If he couldn’t curse them, his only hope was to get God to do so.
o So Balaam hatched an insidious plot.
The “prophet for profit” would teach Balak to put stumbling blocks11 before the sons of Israel.
o He instructed the corrupt king to place sensuous women before the marching Israelite army.
o Let these beautiful women tempt and lure God’s people into sin.
o God would then judge them for their disobedience.
o Balak did as Balaam suggested, placing enticing Moabite women before the Israelite men.
o The sons of Israel were no match for this temptation.
o They wilted under the seductive power and decided to party with these pagan women.
o Soon with these heathen women and worshipped their idols.
o They even brought sacrifices to their pagan gods and ate meat offered to idols in pagan ceremonies.
o The result was devastating:
o Israel fell into this terrible sin and God went to war against them.
o In doing so, He slew 24,000 Israelite men!12
What Balaam couldn’t do to harm Israel, sin did!
o Balaam’s plan was successful the prophet became a prototype of all corrupt teachers who betrayed believers into fatal compromise (see also 2 Pet 2:12-17; Jude 10-13).
In the case of the church at Pergamum, deterioration began with their participation in the meals that were commonly held to honor heathen gods (2:14b).
o The food served at these celebrations was frequently the leftovers of pagan sacrifices.
o Involvement in these pagan festivities made it easier to indulge in sexual intercourse with temple priestesses who prostituted themselves for the gods that they served (2:14b).
o In short, some of the Pergamum Christians had compromised their faith by allowing themselves to mix with pagan practices.
In 2:15, Jesus says, “So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.”
o The word “so” (houtos) ties these two verses together.
o The adverb “you also” points to the fact that the ancient “teaching of Balaam” and the contemporary teachings of the Nicolaitans were one in the same.
o The repetition of the word “hold” in 2:14-15 also affirms this.
o Jesus is saying, “In the same way that Balaam subverted the Israelites, these false teachers are trying to subvert you.”
The two primary errors of the Nicolaitans had to do with eating things sacrificed to idols and immorality.
o Most likely the problem was not the buying of meat offered to idols, which was sold in the market place, but in joining pagan neighbors in a meal, which involved the sacrifice of the meat to idols.
o It may well be that immorality was also associated with these religious feasts.
o The pagans felt that they could have a relationship with the gods by having sexual relations with the religious cult prostitutes.
o What at first may have appeared to be merely accepting the hospitality of a neighbor resulted in the Christian being defiled morally and spiritually.
Notice that the church is not accused of holding to such doctrine and practice (here the term “doctrine” includes both) as a whole, but is condemned for tolerating it to be held by some.
o While “some” are guilty of moral and spiritual defilement, the rest are guilty of tolerating such sin.
o Just as the church at Corinth failed to deal with the immorality in its congregation (1 Cor 5),
o So the church at Pergamum was tolerating sin within its members.
o Bad “teaching” (2:14-15) always leads to bad living.
The church in Pergamum stands in stark contrast to the church in Ephesus.
o Jesus could commend the saints at Ephesus because they hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans (2:6), while the church at Pergamum was willing to let it go on unchallenged.
Does this sound familiar?
o Many churches / believers are making this tragic mistake today.
o They refuse to uphold the standards of God’s Word.
o Rather, they believe that love, acceptance, and compromise are more important than what God has declared.
V. Correction (2:16).
The word “therefore” (oun) refers back to the acts of idolatry and immorality.
o Jesus calls the church of Pergamum to “repent.”
o Five of the seven churches are called to repent (Smyrna and Philadelphia are exceptions).
o Biblical repentance involves changing one’s mind in a way that affects some change in the person.
o It is important to note that the call to repent is addressed to everyone in the church.
For Pergamum, or any other church that refuses to repent, Jesus follows up with an “or else” statement:
o “or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.”
This is intense!
o This is a threat and a promise.
o Jesus doesn’t wink at compromise.
o He doesn’t say, “That’s okay. I’ve got unlimited grace and unending forgiveness, so it doesn’t matter how you live.”
He says, “I’m coming to you quickly.”
o Jesus isn’t referring to the rapture; He’s referring to a rupture.
o He says, “I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.”
o The change from “you” to “them” indicates that Jesus will not wage war on all Christians in a church marked by disobedience.
o Rather, He will severely judge those who are personally involved in tolerating sin and living a life of compromise.
We MUST deal with its sin or else Jesus will come and deal with the church / us.
o Either the church will discipline its sinning members or else Jesus will come and make war with His sword.
o No one wants to be on the short end of that sword.
o What a wake-up call!
In what ways are you involved in compromise:
o Doctrine, finances, marriage, honesty, business, morals?
o Keep in mind these two truths:
o First, the most deadly sins do not leap upon us; they creep up on us.
o Second, give sin an inch and it will take a mile.
o Compromise can be deadly!
VI. Challenge (2:17).
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Jesus again appeals to the individual for spiritual change.
Jesus closes with two important blessings to the overcomer.
o First, Jesus says, “To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna.”20
o In the Old Testament, manna stood for God’s faithfulness to provide and sustain His people through the wilderness wanderings.21
o In place of leeks, melons, garlic, and onions, MANNA was provided from heaven.
o As a memorial to God’s faithfulness, a portion of the manna was placed and thus hidden in the Ark of the Covenant
o Israel took some of the manna, put it in a jar, and then put the jar inside the Holy of Holies in the Ark of the Covenant to remind them that God had supplied their needs in the wilderness.
o No one knows the site of God’s hidden supply of this special feast.
o But it’s only for the overcomers.
o It is an invitation to throne room intimacy.
Secondly, Jesus continues His thought in 2:17, and says, “and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.”
o By repeating, “I will give,” there is an emphasis on the grace of the Savior and the second gift is highlighted as distinct from the first.
o Though rewards are promised for faithfulness they are still a matter of the grace of God, for it is by His grace and strength that we experience the capacity for faithfulness.
“A white stone” is perhaps the most difficult to interpret of all the rewards mentioned in chapters 2 and 3 because of the various uses of white stones and because no other passage tells us anything about white stones.
o It seems best to understand this white stone like a personal gift.
o The word “stone” (psephos) may be used to designate a precious stone, like a diamond.
o This idea is supported in this verse by the “white” (leuke), which may mean more than just white and can be equivalent to “splendid, shining,” or even “glistening.”
Jesus also says that a “new name”25 will be written on this white stone which “no one knows but he who receives it.”
o Throughout Scripture a person’s name is significant.
o Names typically define a person.
That’s why God changes peoples’ names so frequently.
o Abram’s name was changed to Abraham to portray the fact that he was to become the father of a multitude (Gen 17:1-8).
o Jacob, which means supplanter, was changed to Israel, the one over whom God would rule (Gen 32:27-29).
o Unstable Simon became Peter, the little rock (Matt 16:13-19).
In the same vein, the overcoming believer is promised a new name, which demonstrates something of the character of the overcomer or something of his new responsibilities or both.
o This name shows something of what God has accomplished in his or her life through a walk of faith in faithfulness.
o The gift of this new name marks the believer’s entrance into a new responsibility symbolizing new and greater authority.
o Jesus promises the overcomer a name like this.
o He will have a tender name for her that shall not be known by anyone else.
Whatever rewards await the one who overcomes, I do know this: “things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor 2:9).