Summary: The analysis of Christ's message to Pergamum as set forth in Revelation 2:12-17 teaches us that a church may be orthodox but tolerant.
We are currently in a series of messages titled, “Christ’s Message to the Seven Churches,” that is based on the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation.
In Revelation 1 the resurrected and glorified Christ revealed himself to his Apostle John, and told him to write letters to seven churches in Asia. Today, we shall examine the third of those letters, and learn about Christ’s message to his church in Pergamum.
Let’s read Christ’s message to Pergamum in Revelation 2:12-17:
12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.
13 “ ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. 15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’ ” (Revelation 2:12-17)
During my tenure as pastor at Oakwood Presbyterian Church in State College, PA, we had an influx of visitors to the church one fall. Worship attendance mushroomed about 30% in the space of a month. Then I learned that almost everyone was coming from an evangelical church in town, where the pastor had preached that
Freemasonry was incompatible with Christianity. Soon these new attendees were asking my views on Freemasonry.
Well, our denomination had addressed the question in a 1988 study committee report on Freemasonry. Some of the conclusions of the study committee regarding Freemasonry were as follows: Their statements are incompatible with Christianity because they hold that Freemasonry is another religion. . . because their concept of God is degrading to the God of Scripture. . . because their concept of Jesus Christ is blasphemous.
Of course, the Freemasons did not like the conclusions of the report of the study committee. And there was tremendous pressure to be more loving and accepting of professing Christians who were Freemasons. I remember one lady pressing me to accept them because the Bible said that we were to be “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). She wanted me to be more loving, to be more tolerant, and accept the Freemasons. The problem, however, was that Freemasonry was not the truth; it was error. We did not agree that Freemasonry was compatible with Christianity, and soon all of the visitors stopped attending our worship services.
Christ’s message to the church in Ephesus affirmed their commitment to the truth, but they were not loving. Christ’s message to Pergamum also affirmed their commitment to the truth, but they had become tolerant of error.
The analysis of Christ’s message to Pergamum as set forth in Revelation 2:12-17 teaches us that a church may be orthodox but tolerant.
Let’s use the following outline:
1. The Address (2:12a)
2. The Description (2:12b)
3. The Commendation (2:13)
4. The Complaint (2:14-15)
5. The Command (2:16a)
6. The Warning (2:16b)
7. The Appeal (2:17a)
8. The Promise (2:17b-c)
I. The Address (2:12a)
First, let’s look at the address.
Christ said in verse 12a, “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write. . . .” The letter was addressed to the angel, which also means “messenger.” In context of the letters, I take it to mean that each letter was addressed to the pastor of the church.
Commentator George Beasley-Murray tells us the following about Pergamum:
For many years there was rivalry between Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamum as to which was the first city of Asia. Of one thing there was no doubt: Pergamum was the center of the religious life of the province. The city was dominated by a huge hill that rose to 1000 feet above sea level and had many temples. The most famous was the temple of Asclepios, the god of healing, closely associated with the snake, which gave Pergamum a reputation like Lourdes today. There was also a huge altar of Zeus, built to commemorate a notable victory. Most important of all, Pergamum had the first temple in the area dedicated to Augustus and Rome, hence it became the center for the worship of the emperor in the province. As this was as much a political as a religious affiliation it created peculiar problems for Christians. The titles of Lord, Savior and God were constantly applied to the emperor, which Christians could do no other than resist in the light of their sole rightful ascription to Jesus.