Writing to the church at Pergamum in Revelation 2:12-17, Christ confronts a congregation that had become too open-minded for its own good. What do we learn when we read this letter from Jesus?
I. NO CHURCH CAN LIVE ON ITS PAST
The church at Pergamum certainly had a
great heritage. During days of intense persecution,
a man named Antipas had paid the ultimate
price for his faith (Rev. 2:13). We know
nothing more about Antipas than what is said
here. What matters is that Jesus knows his
name and knows that he would not give in to
the pressure around him. Though forgotten on
earth, he is remembered in heaven.
So it is for all the brave martyrs, most of
them unnamed and unknown to the church at
large. Their blood has become the seed of the
church worldwide. But where there is heroic
virtue, great danger lurks. A church with such
a great past may assume that it is meeting the
challenge of the present. Was the church at
Pergamum guilty of honoring Antipas while
neglecting to follow his godly example? It is
right and good for a church to honor those
who came before, but where are the heroes
like those of the past?
II. NO CHURCH CAN LIVE ON COURAGE
We should not miss the good words Christ
has to say about this church (Rev. 2:13).
Pergamum was located 65 miles north of
Smyrna. As the ancient capital city of Asia Minor,
it was filled with beautiful palaces and pagan
temples. Taking center stage was the massive altar
to Zeus, the god of all gods. Pergamum combined
a toxic mix of political power, pagan ritual,
Greek philosophy, and the worship of Caesar.
Once a year, every citizen was expected to offer
incense and declare that “Caesar is Lord.” No
Christian could do that in good conscience. Thus
the stage was set for all-out spiritual conflict.
When Jesus says that Satan had his
“throne” there, He meant that Satan had found
a place where he could exercise diabolical influence
over an entire region. Through some
combination of idol-worship and sensual pleasure,
Satan held sway over that city. It was a
region covered with a dark cloud of evil.
I believe Satan still has his “thrones” today.
It was not easy to be a Christian in Pergamum, and it is not easy in many places to
be a Christian today.
A great battle rages between the god of this
world and the God of the Bible. In that battle,
the believers at Pergamum had not yet yielded
ground. What, then, was their great failing?
III. NO CHURCH CAN LIVE WITH ERRORS
IN ITS MIDST
In Revelation 2:14 and 15, Jesus points to the great weakness of this church: They would not practice church discipline. In the misguided name of love, they refused to cast out those who held the “teaching of Balaam” and the “teaching of the Nicolaitans.” Both phrases evidently refer to the same general tendency. There were some in the church who advocated a loose doctrine and an even looser morality. In the name of being “openminded,” they held that the Christian church should be an exceedingly broad fellowship.
It is very seductive. We all like the idea
of the “church of the open door.” Come one,
come all, come just as you are. But when that
is pressed too far, the church becomes a mixture
of truth and error, purity and impurity, and
sooner or later, evil tends to spread so that sin
no longer seems very sinful. The end result is
a church that receives both a commendation
and a harsh warning from the Lord.
IV. NO CHURCH CAN LIVE IN A DIVIDED
That brings us to the Lord’s call in verse
16. Christ takes personal offense when His
church harbors immorality in its midst. He
threatens to pay a personal visit to Pergamum
and fight against the evil teachers.
This verse raises an interesting question.
Who exactly is supposed to do the repenting?
Certainly the false teachers need to repent.
In the name of “open-mindedness” and “toleration”
and even “building common ground,”
many churches have subtly compromised the
gospel. I believe the Lord Jesus is speaking
more to the church itself than to the false teachers.
Pastors, elders, deacons, and each one of
us must repent.
The church must decide what it wants to
be. Jesus warns that if the church doesn’t take
strong action, He will do it Himself. The same
Jesus who says, “Come to me” also says, “Depart
It’s a frightening thing when Jesus says, “I
will fight against you.”
V. NO CHURCH CAN LIVE WITHOUT A
WORD OF HOPE
Christ’s message ends in a series of wonderful
promises to those who overcome by
faith (Rev. 2:17). In contrast to the pagans who
offered hidden mysteries, Jesus offers something
much greater to those who follow him.
Hidden manna speaks of personal communion
with the Lord. Jesus is saying, “I am greater
than all the allurements of the world. Those
who eat the Living Bread and drink the Living
Water will never hunger or thirst again.”
The white stone speaks of acquittal and
purity. But what is the “new name written on
it, known only to him who receives it”? No one
knows for certain because no one living has
ever received that white stone with the new
name on it. That awaits us in heaven.
Our text offers us a wonderful assurance.
Jesus will call us by a name that only we will
know. In heaven no one will ever be lost in
the crowd. Despite the great throngs, we will
say of the Lord, “I am my beloved’s, and He
It is not enough to be orthodox in our theology.
It is not even enough to have courage in
the face of community opposition. We must go
beyond that to say that we will not tolerate in
the church those who threaten the purity of its
testimony to the world.
We cannot help sinners by saying that sin is not sinful. Christ came to save sinners, but if the church no longer believes in sin, we have nothing to offer to the world. Where sin is winked at or renamed or where the church turns a blind eye to moral compromise in its midst, precisely to that extent, the church commits spiritual suicide.
This is the message of our Lord to the
church at Pergamum, and it is His message
to our church today. If people call us narrow-minded,
let us take it as a compliment and
stay the course. Let’s be as narrow as God’s
truth is narrow and as broad as God’s grace is
broad! May God help us to stand strong for the
gospel in this age of moral compromise!