Summary: Pergamum: The Dangers of Tolerance and Compromise
The Seven, part 9
Pergamum: The Dangers of Tolerance and Compromise
July 14, 2013
We have seen that the Revelation was written to address specific issues with seven churches in Asia Minor at the end of the first century. As we look at these letters we see that they are as relevant to us today as they were to the church in the first century. These letters all have a consistent pattern that we are using as our outline – an introduction, an evaluation, an exhortation, and a benediction. We have looked at Ephesus, which was theologically astute but had lost their devotion for Christ. Life and ministry had become a duty, an obligation, so Jesus exhorted them to renew their devotion to him. Last week we saw that Smyrna was enduring persecution so Jesus exhorted them to persevere. Today we look at the letter to the church at Pergamum who were persevering under persecution but in their striving to be faithful they were tolerating and compromising with the enemy.
Jesus commands John to write to the angel of the church. These seven letters are prophetic letters. In the Old Testament, the prophets spoke the very words of God to the people of God. Their words were accepted as inspired by God so were written down as Old Testament scripture. In the New Testament, the apostles replaced the Old Testament prophets as those who spoke the very words of God to the people of God. Their words were accepted as inspired by God so were written as New Testament scripture. But there is also prophecy in the New Testament where men and women spoke merely human words to describe something God brought to their mind to build up the church but because this form of prophecy is fallible we are told to “test everything, hold fast what is good.”
John addresses the church. To follow Christ means to be committed to, submitted to, and actively involved in a local church. Pergamum was forty miles north and ten miles inland of Smyrna. It had impressive temples, a library of 200,000 volumes, state of the art medical facilities, and a ten thousand seat theater. In the center of the city was an acropolis on which was erected various temples to the different Roman gods and on top of the acropolis was the altar of the Greek god Zeus where sacrifices were made around the clock so that the smoke was seen and the stench was smelled around the clock; you could not escape it. Pergamum was also the center for the healing god Asclepius with a famous and thriving medical center. Lastly, it was the center for the Imperial cult. And it was the only place outside of Rome that had the power to enforce capital punishment. Jesus gives us a description of himself as the one who has the sharp two-edged sword, meaning that he, not Rome, has the final power and authority in judgement and in life and death. Do not fear the sword of Rome; fear Jesus' sharp two-edged sword.
Jesus breaks his pattern with this letter. He has been describing his knowledge of their works but here he says 'I know where you live.' The issue for the church in Pergamum is where they live, where Satan's throne is, where Satan dwells. The Smyrnan church may have a synagogue of Satan to deal with but Pergamum has hells headquarters to contend with. A throne represents governance and therefore power and authority. The church in Pergamum was at the very epicenter of the forces of evil in the Roman Empire. “Yet you hold fast my name and did not deny my faith” are two ways of describing the same thing. Positively, you hold fast to my name, that is, you are loyal to me in your words and actions. And negatively, you did not deny me in your words and actions. That is, when the pressures came, you were a faithful witness in both your words and your actions. Then he describes the days of Antipas, apparently referring to some persecution from Rome where at least one member of the church was killed. That word witness is the same word for martyr. This word in the New Testament, up to this point, meant witness but now it is taking on a new meaning, martyr. So he commends them for their faithful witness in enemy territory. But he also has a few things against them. 'You have some who hold to the teaching of Balaam who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the Israelites so that they practiced idolatry and sexual immorality.' Balak was a king who became threatened by Israel while they were wandering in the wilderness so he had hired a prophet named Balaam to prophesy against them. Balaam agreed and on his way to Balak the angel of the Lord confronted him with a sword and told him only to prophesy what God told him. So Balaam prophesies four times, blessing Israel every time, which of course infuriates Balak. But because Balaam wants the money, he gives Balak another plan to bring down Israel. He told Balak to get Israel to intermarry with your people and pretty soon they will worship your gods. This way God will judge them and they will no longer be a threat and that is exactly what happened. This is what the false teachers in Pergamum were doing. They were teaching that you can compromise with Rome and the trade guilds. We don't know exactly what they were teaching but we do know that the result is that they were committing idolatry and compromising with the permissive sexuality of the culture. The enemy had come into the church, in the form of the false teaching of Balam and the Nicolatians, seducing some to compromise spiritually and morally, and the rest stood by and did nothing! But the whole church was guilty of tolerating the false teachers when they should have disciplined them.