Pergamum – Politically Correct Church

Revelation 2:12-17

Is pattern to general condition of churches as are addressed. First and last in most serious difficulty, receive harshest warning: Ephesus, “I’ll remove your lampstand”; Laodicea, “I’ll spit you out”. Next layer of churches in best shape, Smyrna and Philadelphia, no criticism. only commendation. Three in center – Pergamum, Thyatira and Sardis – some things commendable, other aspects drew criticism from Lord Jesus. Taken together, a fair representation of Christ’s church worldwide at most any point of existence. Individually, most any local church of some age can find application from each letter at some point in its existence.

It was the exclusivism of Christianity that was most troublesome – only one Lord, only one way of salvation. No need to deny that Christianity was one way, but the only way? There was great pressure to be inclusive, to accept the notion that a Christian could believe in God and at least give lip-service to Caesar and maybe Zeus or Asklepios. After all, wouldn’t it be harsh and unloving to exclude those from fellowship as Christians who believed that way? Takes somewhat different forms today – God of Christians and of Muslims… the same, of course. If the government says it’s ok for them to be married, must be so… right? What does the Lord of the Church say about that idea?

Church in Pergamum further along in process of suffering than Smyrna. Had done some right, some not so much – Lord Jesus introduces himself in way best suited to Pergamum church. Commends what he can, corrects what he must, offers timeless instruction and encouragement.

A. context

university town, library second only to Alexandria – 200,000 parchment rolls, much more durable than papyrus; city so famous for book production, word parchment comes from its name

began emperor worship early and became focal point for it, promoting “imperial cult” heavily; also temples to Athena, Demeter, Zeus, Dionysus, Demeter, Asclepius and more

one of top five locations of asclepieia, healing temples devoted to worship of Asclepius – Mayo Clinic of the day; emergency services’ Star of Life features a Rod of Asclepius (blue cross, ambulance); also BCBS Blue Shield

is Asclepius cult and rod earlier Biblical symbol reworked by Satan to become object of worship again? Was viewed by Christians in Pergamum as representing the serpent of Eden.

two of primary deities of Pergamum had especially telling titles: Zeus Soter and Asclepius Soter, soter being Gk. word for Savior – Bull God, Healer God

Zeus would save from the barbarians; Asclepius from physical ailments, consequences of sin; now it’s Guns and Government to save from our enemies, Science to supply everlasting health and life

not a port city so not a commercial center; however, was the capitol city of richest Roman province in Asia Minor, frequent destination for Caesar Augustus

B. character of Christ v.12

Christ as: Eternal Word – the sole source of absolute truth for his church and the world

told in 1:16 sword comes from his mouth, 2:16 he will fight with sword of his mouth – Lord Jesus will have last word, is his word that distinguishes between truth and error

an “in your face” challenge by Lord of Church to false pretenders: emperor who threatened with sword those who refused worship, and, ultimate enemy Satan who threatened with deception

expected every adult would at some point toss a little incense on an altar, make the public declaration “Caesar is Lord”

tempting to conform – only words, empty ritual, cross your fingers so it doesn’t count; impossible for faithful believer to even pretend to acknowledge any other Lord than Jesus, even on pain of death

other threats much less obvious – seductions that threatened believer’s spiritual well-being by drawing away from truth… doctrines of Balaam and Nicolaitans

in both kinds of situations, behind-the-scenes instigator and manipulator Satan himself, working through willing agents

Christ comes with sword of truth and sword of judgment – reminder to faithful who wields the important sword

he will defend his church against all enemies – using sword of truth to enable / equip saints to live righteously, using sword of judgment to subdue / defeat every enemy including Satan

great relief to those in Pergamum and us – don’t need to defend the truth, only declare it; don’t be afraid, Jesus will do the rest

can have full assurance: have every element of truth we need to know in order to believe and behave so as to please God

Living Word has given written Word to his Church – God’s Word the Bible is completely sufficient when illuminated and applied by Holy Spirit

Christ has given pastor-teachers to his Church as primary means of teaching believers; has sent indwelling Holy Spirit so teaching and reading and meditating accomplishes God’s purpose in the hearer

C. commendation v.13

remained true to Christ; did not renounce their faith, even in the “hot seat” – had already bid farewell to one of their number

even though Jesus had criticism for them, he understood circumstances – “I know where you live”, a place Satan especially active

Satan is spiritual being, has great power and knowledge, significant resources at his disposal; yet… he is finite – only one place at a time, subject to God’s authority

has many agents, seems at times to have greater concentration in particular places – Pergamum one of those in 1st century

remember Satan’s ultimate goal: destroy Christ, his church, take God’s place as one being worshiped; persecution one of primary weapons, also uses deception/temptation

Satan a good strategist – changes it up to keep other side off-balance; used persecution for a while, now switching to deception

even when pressure to conform most intense, church in Pergamum had held fast – refused to call any Lord other than Jesus

had done acceptably well in resisting attacks from outside, in the culture, from the government; now were at great internal risk

D. criticism v.14-15

Danger: losing distinction from the world; inclusivity, cultural accommodation – what does it mean to “live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” Titus 2:12 – hadn’t reached tipping point but getting close

source of problem: Satan’s agents had infiltrated local church, were in positions of influence, putting entire church family at risk

by tolerating heresy in church, doctrinal errors identified with Balaam and Nicolaitans, would slowly succumb to Satan’s wiles

makes you wonder why this serious situation and sinful teaching was tolerated – was it done in name of tolerance?

they’re a little off in doctrine but say they love Jesus… don’t want people to think we’re harsh, unloving… to reach these folks with the Gospel, you have to accept choices you wouldn’t make for yourself

Balaam: story recorded Num 22-24; asked repeatedly by Balak, king of Moab to curse Israelites; Balaam took money, refused to curse and blamed on God

eventually, counseled Balak – I can’t curse them, God won’t let me; however, here’s how to bait the trap so they’ll bring curse on themselves by own sinful behavior

these are the ones who would not oppose Christians and proper Christian teaching openly, in public; didn’t deny Christ but… encouraged practice of things displeasing to God

justification could have gone this way: God made you, you have particular desires, God wants you to be happy, go ahead and satisfy your desires

Nicolaitans: “They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. …they are represented [Apocalypse, John] as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practise adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. …those termed Nicolaitans, who are an offset of that “knowledge” [Gnostics] falsely so called.” Irenaeus, Against Heresies, ca. AD 180

Gnostics made strong distinction between body and soul, claimed that what the body did or didn’t do was not important so long as soul was in order

E. challenge v.14-15

Satan – teaching within the church that promoted a “god-shelf” mentality: can keep true God in his place on the shelf, give him token loyalty, serve other gods as well

in practice: do the church thing, read or at least hear Bible once a week more or less, profess faith in Christ, keep it under the radar by appearing like everyone else

do what is politically correct to maintain benefits in society, employment, from government; if you’re challenged, be honest and admit you’re a Christian, otherwise keep low profile

behave in way that implies support for or condoning of sinful actions by others – e.g. business evening at a bar, even if you drink Shirley Temples; believing yourself to be a Christian and dating an unbeliever

and then…. what is most troubling, the church does nothing; even when sin is known, is tolerated and tacitly endorsed

F. call v.16

repent – you know better, you know the truth, turn away from this slippery sinful slope back to Lord Jesus

if church doesn’t repent, Lord of the Church has right, may choose to exercise it – bring consequences to bear and clean house

Christ may simply by bringing truth to bear force unrepentant unbelievers out of his church; he may choose more drastic means

ones particularly in his sights – those who promote error and cause others to stumble, fall into sin

G. conquerors’ reward v.17

to the one who hears and overcomes: Christ the Eternal Word promises to provide satisfaction and significance

people in Pergamum and Portland seeking satisfaction in things apart from Christ that make big promises, empty ones

people in Pergamum and Portland seeking significance in worldview that says: is what you do, how you look, what you have that gives value and significance

Christ offers to both – manna from heaven, himself, to nourish and supply every need; he offers purity signified by white stone, a name that says you are his and have lasting value and purpose

that reality will be yours when you deny self, take up cross daily, follow in Jesus’ footsteps wherever he chooses to lead you


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