Summary: This is the fourth message in this series that looks at the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. This message examines the letter to the church at Pergamum examining the dangers of apathy and accommodation.
We cannot see Satan, but his presence brings with it the unmistakable marks of human suffering and moral perversion. The evidence of his presence is clearly visible: the presence of cults, radical Islamists, terrorism, the persecution of Christians in Iran and China. In fact we can trace it right back through history as we see the Nazi Concentration camps and the Roman Empire’s slaughtering of thousands of Christians in the first century. One of Satan’s favorite places in the Roman Empire was Pergamum. With its temples to Dea Roma, the goddess Rome, the spirit Rome, it was home to Satan. A place of Roman imperial power backed by the Prince of the powers of darkness. Yet even there in the Devil’s back yard, Christians dared to play out their lives. Theirs was a courageous faith, a daring stronghold in the heart of enemy territory. Every day Satan led his forces against them with a strong frontal attack of persecution. Although he managed to kill and imprison a few of the Christians he could not conquer the church. At least not with the obvious frontal assaults. In a very clever change of tactics, he went gently knocking on the backdoor with a gift, a Trojan Horse called apathy and accommodation. That same knock can be heard in the life of every believer in every church in every city and every century. You hear it in that “little white lie,” that rationalization for materialism, that indifference to the poor, the excuse for not getting actively involved in ministry. Do you hear knocking? Before you open the door, let’s look through the window of Christ’s letter to the church at Pergamum and see if it’s a gift horse with apathy and accommodation hidden within.
I. The background information about the city of Pergamum and the letter to the church.
A. The inland city of Pergamum lay about sixty-five miles north of Smyrna along the fertile valley of the Caicus River.
1. Pergamum held the official honor of being the provincial capital of Roman Asia, though this honor was in fact also claimed by Ephesus and Smyrna.
2. Pergamum was known as the “Royal City.”
3. Among its notable features were its beauty and wealth, its library of nearly two hundred thousand volumes (second only to the library of Alexandria).
4. Its famous sculptures; its temples to Dionysus, Athena, Asclepius, and Demeter and the three temples to the emperor cult; its great altar to Soter Zeus; and its many palaces.
B. The two main religions seem to have been the worship of Dionysus, the god of the royal kings, symbolized by the bull, and Asclepius, the savior god of healing, represented by the snake.
1. People from all over the world came to seek healing from Asclepius.
2. The Satanic spirit of persecution was extremely high against the Christians here at Pergamum.
3. The church remained strong despite being divided by deceptive teaching.
4. With all the trials, and being situated along side of Satan’s throne, Pergamum has not renounced their faith in the Lord.
C. The letter to the church in Pergamum, like all of Christ’s letters to the Churches has its own unique introduction.
1. Pergamum was a city to which Rome had given the rare power of capital punishment (ius gladii), which was symbolized by the sword.
2. The speaker identifies himself as "him who has the sharp, double-edged sword".
3. The Christians in Pergamum were thus reminded that though they lived under the rule of an almost unlimited imperium, they were citizens of another kingdom—that of him who needs no other sword than that of his mouth.
4. In dealing with the Pergamum congregation, divided by deceptive teaching, the risen Lord will use this sword to fight against the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans
II. Common to all seven letters is Christ beginning the letter by affirming the strengths and struggles of the individual church before addressing the criticisms.
A. The things the Lord finds to be commendable about the church in Pergamum.
1. The Christians faced the daily life and death tension of remaining faithful to Christ as Lord or bowing to Roman pressure to proclaim Caesar as Lord.
2. To a faithful Christian death loomed as a daily reality.
3. Although Satan dwelled in the city of Pergamum, the Bride of Christ did as well.
4. Jesus commended the believers for putting down their roots there and not seeking to run to greener pastures despite the pressures and danger.
5. They understood a basic principle that so many have forgotten today: the Christian life is not an escape—it’s conquest.
6. Tradition has it that Antipas died by being roasted to death.
7. However he died, he died because he would not deny Jesus and neither would the rest of the church.