Summary: We can prevent the implosion of the church by holding fast to the face value of the Bible text and refusing to tolerate false teaching.
[Video of Texas Stadium implosion]
At 7:07 a.m. CDT on April 11, 2010, 11-year-old Casey Rogers, who won an essay contest for the job, pressed the button that began the process of demolishing Texas Stadium. Although the stadium had survived continuous onslaughts from the elements over its nearly 40 year life, it was brought down from the inside by over 2,700 pounds of carefully placed explosives. In a sense, that implosion is a pretty good picture of the church that we’ll look at this morning – the church at Pergamum. Go ahead and turn in your Bibles to Revelation 2 and I’ll begin reading in verse 12:
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.’
We’ll use the common outline that the messages to all seven churches share as the basis for examining this message to the church at Pergamum.
1. Church - Pergamum
The city of Pergamum was situated about 50 miles north of Smyrna and about 100 miles north of Ephesus. It was built at the base of a coned shaped hill about 10 miles inland from the Aegean Sea. The city was famous for its library, which contained 200,000 parchment scrolls, which were later given to the library in Alexandria as a gift from Anthony to Cleopatra.
During John’s time, Pergamum had become the center of Caesar worship for the entire province of Asia. In addition to the temples to the Roman emperors a whole host of pagan temples and altars had been built on the hill which rose 1,000 feet above the city.
Among them were two prominent temples. The first was the temple to Zeus, the greatest of the Greek gods. The second, which is even more relevant to the message to the church in Pergamum, was a temple to Asklepios, the god of healing, who was designated as “soter” or “savior”. The symbol for Asklepios was the serpent and snakes were even used in the healing process there. People flocked there from the surrounding areas in order to receive the healing touch of one of these snakes.
Just as we saw with Smyrna, we really don’t know much at all about the church in Pergamum. It is not mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament. Although we can’t be sure, it was most likely established as an outreach of the church at Ephesus during Paul’s time there.
…him who has the sharp two-edged sword.
This is certainly an appropriate description of Jesus for the church at Pergamum for several reasons. First, we know that the symbol of the city was the sword, because Pergamum was one of the few cities that had been give the “right of the sword” by Rome and thus had the ability to carry out capital punishment on its own.
As we saw in the vision of Jesus in chapter 1, the sword which comes out of the mouth of Jesus is also a picture of judgment. We’ll see this same sword again in Revelation 19 as it is used by Jesus to smite the nations. This is quite a contrast to the reassuring picture of Himself that Jesus gave to the church at Smyrna when He described Himself as the first and the last and the one who became dead and was now alive. There is a clue here that there is a serious problem in the church at Pergamum that is going to require Jesus to deal with it in a severe manner.
Last week, we saw that the church in Smyrna was being slandered by a group of Jews that Jesus called the “synagogue of Satan”. But in some respects, the situation in Pergamum must have been even worse. Jesus describes Pergamum as the place where Satan’s throne is and as the place where Satan dwells.