Above all things, Jesus’ great concern and reason for rebuke is that if they continue, they will become what they worship . . . and it is just as true for today’s church.
[SW129] 2/21/14 message notes by Rev. Susan J. Wynn ©2014
“Jesus’ Letter to Pergamum”
Text: Revelation 2:12-17a
While the Apostle John is exiled on the island of Patmos (to the east of Greece), Jesus Christ gives him a revelation — an unveiling — of Himself, and what is to come.
The unveiling of Himself:
When John sees Jesus Christ as He is now — Judge, Lord of lords, and King of kings — here’s what happens:
Revelation 1:17 When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. 19 “Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.”
What is to come:
Before He unveils what is to come, the Lord Jesus speaks to seven churches through their messengers (pastors). He is the one that walks among (5281 in the middle of) the seven golden lamp stands like candelabra (the churches).
Why does He speak to them? To encourage them, to exhort them, to correct them, to convict them regarding sin and righteousness and judgment. He commands five of the seven churches to repent.
Background on Pergamum:
The Christians there were persecuted by both Romans and Jews, as with Smyrna.
A great throne-like altar to Zeus was located in Pergamum, and the city-hill itself was shaped like a throne. He was worshiped at the time of this letter, and he is still worshiped today.
Jesus’ words to the church at Pergamum:
He begins by saying he has the sharp two-edged sword. What is that sword? The Word of God:
Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Why does He identify Himself this way, in His first words to this church? I see it as a preview of His call for them to repent. He is about to reprove this church.
He says He knows they dwell where Satan’s throne is. As I noted above, the altar to Zeus, king of the Greek gods, is large and prominent there.
Just as Paul referred to Satan as the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2), Zeus’ kingdom was the sky and air. So indeed, it is Satan’s throne, for he is the one behind Zeus and other false gods. It is an indication that Jesus’ letter will warn this church about idol worship.
Jesus encourages the church at Pergamum in some things:
In spite of persecution, they hold fast (2902 retain, take hold of, cling to) the name of Jesus (3686 His authority, His character), and do not deny their faith in Him, despite the martyrdom of their leader, Antipas.
According to church history, Antipas was burned to death in a bronze bull-shaped altar. Again, it is a reference to Zeus, who often appeared in Grecian art astride a white bull. And again, Jesus Christ repeats that Pergamum is where Satan dwells.
Jesus had one thing against Ephesus: they had left their first love. But is it all that different for some at Pergamum?
Jesus has not just one, but a few things against some at Pergamum:
First, some hold to the teaching of Balaam. Second, some hold to the the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
The teaching of Balaam:
Balak, the king of Moab, wanted to destroy Israel, which had encamped in Moab. He called on Balaam, a diviner, to pronounce curses on Israel, but all that would come out of his mouth were blessings. God spoke to Baalam, and God made it so.
Since Balaam couldn’t curse them, he advised Balak to tempt the men of Israel with Midianite women, daughters of Moab, who were very sensual and beautiful (see Numbers 31:16).
The men took the bait (Numbers 25:1ff), and sinned against the Lord, eating things sacrificed to Baal of Peor and committing sexual immorality. The Lord struck them with a plague, stopped by the intercession of Phineas, a priest of the Lord.
In Pergamum, the false gods were the Roman emperor and Zeus, and orgies and feasts were part of emperor worship. Some of the church at Pergamum had taken the bait just as Israel did, committing adultery and eating food sacrificed to idols.
Even today, sexual immorality is part and parcel of the worship of false Gods. Cult prostitutes are used to “worship,” and orgies and feasts using food offered at the altars of these false gods are part of the “worship service.”
We become what we worship! This is the Lord’s warning to us today, from Psalm 115, and I will speak from that scripture later in this message.
The teaching of the Nicolaitans:
Jesus rebukes the church at Pergamum because some have followed the teachings of the Nicolaitans. He describes that teaching as being “the same way,” as the teaching of Balaam, meaning there is encouragement of sexual immorality and idol worship.
Why does Jesus rebuke Pergamum regarding idolatry and sexual immorality?
In all ages, God says idolatry and sexual immorality are the same as committing adultery against Him. We are worshiping something other than Him, and it is really ourselves that we worship! Moses says this of Israel:
Deuteronomy 32:16 “ They made Him jealous with strange gods;
With abominations they provoked Him to anger.
17 “ They sacrificed to demons who were not God,
To gods whom they have not known,
New gods who came lately,
Whom your fathers did not dread.
18 “You neglected the Rock who begot you,
And forgot the God who gave you birth.
In their selfishness, they satisfied their sexual and material lusts, becoming their own gods, and the Lord was dethroned.
It is the same at Pergamum, and the same today. We spurn the One who bought us with a price and join ourselves to another (1Corinthians 6:20). And in doing so, something happens to us spiritually. We become one with what we worship. Go to Psalm 115, and see that you lose your spiritual senses when you participate in idol worship and sexual immorality. What do you become? Unable to speak the things of God, unable to see or here or smell or feel Him, unable to walk with Jesus Christ. That is His great warning to you, and to the church at Pergamum!
We spurn the One who loved us and stretched out His arms for us so sin is put to death in us.
Lust is still alive and well in some of the church in Pergamum. But Jesus Christ came so they could be set free from slavery to sin, which includes lust — not just sexual lust, but “gotta have it right now,” lust, whatever “it” is.
Some at Pergamum have not asked for the Refiner to cleanse their hearts (Acts 15:9) so their hearts are totally, completely His. So they remain infants in Christ, like some in the church at Corinth.
Can God really take away lust? In 2Peter 1:3, Peter says God grants us divine power in order to live godly lives, if we truly and intimately know Jesus Christ. The result?
2Peter 1:4 For by these [His divine power and intimately knowing Him] He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
Paul exhorts the church at Corinth about participating in idol worship, for some of them did the same as at Pergamum:
1Corinthians 10:19 What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles [unbelievers] sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
It is spiritual adultery to worship false gods, and you will lose the spiritual senses the Lord gave you when you do it.
Jesus is the Bridegroom of the church at Pergamum. Some of them have left Him and gone after orgies at the Roman feasts.
This is really important: Even though the church at Pergamum does not renounce Christ and acknowledge the emperor as god, some commit adultery against Jesus Christ by participating in emperor worship, even while they say Christ is Lord.
When some at Pergamum offer themselves to cult prostitutes at these pagan feasts, a physical oneness is created that binds them spiritually to the prostitute. They cannot be “one” with a prostitute, part of her or him, and still be “one” with Christ. That’s why Paul warns the Corinthians of the same sin (1Corinthians 6:15ff). He did not want the Corinthians to become like that which they were worshiping.
Jesus warns that He is coming quickly (5035 tachu), unless the “some” who do these things repent. The Greek word can mean “in a short time,” but it also means a sudden and unexpected appearance. I believe Jesus means the latter!
When He suddenly and unexpectedly comes, He will make war, He will battle with those who follow the ways of Baalam and the Nicolaitans.
His weapon? The sword of His mouth — the Word of God! He now sits as Judge and will judge them through His word (John 12:48, Hebrews 4:12).
Look to the description of Jesus in Revelation 19:15 —
Revelation 19:15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.
How does this apply to the church of today?
Are we selfish? Do we put our sexual and material desires before our desire to know God intimately? We become what we worship!
We may not literally partake of food sacrificed to idols, but what do we “eat” with our eyes, in magazines, on the Internet, and on television? Again, Satan is the prince of the power of the air, and he controls what comes into your living room every night. What is on television is a product of Hollywood, where worship of self is very visible. You will become like that which you are allowing to enter into your spirit via television and the internet and movies and magazines. It will become one with you, and you will become like it.
And what wisdom do we look to, in order to grow bigger churches?
What are we lusting after?
Certainly we lust sexually, because the divorce rate is the same in the church as in those who do not know Jesus Christ. Many hearts remain unchanged from the way they were before they confessed Christ. They have not asked the Refiner to cleanse their hearts of lust. Many have decided that Jesus Christ cannot cleanse their hearts, or they do not want Him to do so. They like what they are doing, regardless of the consequences. The wages of sin, beloved, is death and hell, where their worm never dies and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:43-46).
Some say, “I will visit You on Sunday, Jesus, and then dally with the world the rest of the week.” They thus make themselves their own god and worship themselves and their lusts, committing adultery against Jesus Christ, regardless of our confession at an altar.
Today’s church brings the world into her midst, offering the world’s idea of entertainment instead of worship, selling trinkets and coffee in the church’s shops (Jesus called the Jews who did the same at the temple “robbers” who had made the temple their den), and demanding that pastors avoid powerful truths of God that might empty a pew or two.
Today’s church says, “Let us the world’s business practices to attract people to us. Since Jesus is not among us but is outside our doors, knocking, let us continue to do it our way.”
Oh, he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches! Repent, or else Jesus Christ will come to you suddenly and unexpectedly, and use the sword of His mouth, the word of God, to slay you.
It was not too late for Pergamum, and it is not too late for us. If you will turn back to Him, if you will ask Him to cleanse your heart so it is pure, without mixture, and totally His, He will do it. But you must act now, because He will suddenly and unexpectedly come to judge.
This is a love letter from the Lord. Those whom He loves, He disciplines:
Hebrews 12:5 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; 5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “ MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM;
6 FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES,
AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”
7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
He loved His church at Pergamum, and He loves you. Do you have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to you today?