This sermon is number 6 in a series of 20
The Book Of The Revelation - Part 6
"Pergamos, The Compromising Church"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2007 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Now let's turn to the Scriptures, to Revelation chapter 2, beginning to read at verse 12: "And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it".
May I direct you back to chapter 1 and verse 19 again, to this outline given to us by God of the book of the Apocalypse, the Revelation. John was told to write the things that he had seen, that is chapter 1, the vision of the risen Christ as the glorified Lord and Judge-Priest among the church. Then we see that he was also told to write the things which shall be hereafter, which comprises the visions from chapter 4 onwards, things that are yet future. But he was also told to write the things which are, that's what we have here, these seven churches are the divine revelation concerning the church age - a complete picture of the moral and spiritual history of the church.
We have seen in past weeks that that can be understood in three ways: first of all it can be understood literally, and the most important way to interpret these churches is in a literal sense; that is, these were conditions that actually existed in each of these cities where an assembly of God's people resided. Then secondly they are to be understood universally, that being that they illustrate the good and bad characteristics in churches everywhere in every age. We noted that there is a marked resemblance between the seven churches and seven characteristics that are shown in Matthew chapter 13 in the mystery parables of the kingdom - every church age will show those characteristics. Then we saw that not only is there a literal approach and a universal approach, but there is a prophetic approach. In our first study of the first church, Ephesus, the loveless church, we saw that that corresponded in church history to the post-apostolic age, just after the death of the apostles we see that doctrine was reasonably pure, but they had lost their first love, or the things they had loved at first. Then we saw last week that Smyrna, the persecuted church, corresponds in church history to a period between the first and fourth century where the church endured persecution under several Roman emperors, in fact ten in total - the tenth being under Diocletian, which lasted for 10 years.
Then we're looking this evening at the third church, Pergamos, which I've entitled 'The Compromising Church'. Now each of these churches say something to us by their name, their name means something that sheds light on the teaching of God's word. 'Pergamos' means 'thoroughly married'. Here we have a compromising church that, in a historical sense, really correlates to the church of the fourth and the fifth century - the church that lost its fidelity to Christ, and actually became allied to the world. 'Now how did that happen?', you might say. Well, you may have heard of a man called Constantine, and Constantine had a spurious conversion. There's a lot of doubt whether he was genuinely saved, and indeed he adopted, for the whole empire, Christianity as the state religion around AD 313. So there was a great influx of people who professed Christianity to get into the empire, and there was much incentive to do that, and with them they brought much of their pagan spiritual baggage.
But of course we are concentrating literally on these churches, and personally - we remember, don't we, that to each of these churches the Lord said: 'Let he who has ears to hear, hear'. There is a personal responsibility that all of us, as we study these letters, put into practice what they're saying to us as an individual. Now we did note, please, and let's look at it again, that with minor exceptions there is the same pattern to the outline of each of these letters. First of all, there is always given to us a characteristic or characteristics of the Lord Jesus that we have already seen in the vision of chapter 1. Here we have it in verse 12, the Lord Jesus reveals Himself as the one who has the sharp sword with two edges. Of course, that's derived from the vision in chapter 1, where it can be seen that this two-edged sword is coming out of the Lord's mouth. Now how was this fitting to the church? We remember that the very characteristics that were revealed to each of these churches are particularly relevant to the problems that are found in each church. If we look at verse 16, we can see what the relevance clearly is: He tells Pergamos, 'Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth'. In other words, if the Pergamos Christians didn't deal with the falsehood, false teachers, false doctrine and false living that was in their ranks, the Lord Jesus Himself would come and fight against those false teachers with the sword of His holy word.
So that is the characteristic of the Lord revealed to Pergamos, He has this two-edged sword. Then in each letter, with the exception of course of Laodicea, there is a commendation to the church, and here we have it to Pergamos in verse 13: 'I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth'. We'll look at that in detail in a few moments. Then each letter, thirdly, has a criticism - except, of course, Smyrna that we considered last week, and Philadelphia that we have yet to consider. In verses 14 and 15 we have the criticism of the Lord Jesus towards Pergamos, and we sum it up just with the first few words of verse 14: 'I have a few things against thee' - and we will see tonight what those were.
Then fourthly, each letter has a corrective command, except those who didn't need to correct because they were not critiqued. But Pergamos did need correction, and we find it in verse 16: 'Repent', or the Lord Jesus was going to take direct disciplinary action against this church. Then, as in each of the seven letters, we have finally a commitment that the Lord Jesus makes to the overcomers, overcoming the conditions that prevailed in each church. We have it here in verse 7, that the Lord promised to give to the overcomer hidden manna, and a stone with a new name written on it.
Now let's, as we have done in previous weeks, look first of all at the city where this church of Pergamos, or Pergamum, resided. Now it is the modern Turkish city of Bergama, it is 55 miles north of where we were last week in Smyrna, and in fact is the ancient Asia Minor capital of this region, and it was for approximately 250 years. So it was no mean city, indeed it was one of the finest cities that was renowned for many features. First of all it was a city of culture and learning. It was known as a common royal residence, there was within Pergamos a university - so it was a university city - it also owned a very eminent teaching hospital where medicine was practised along with various superstitious rituals. Pergamos also owned a prestigious and famous library that was second only to the great library in Alexandria, and that library in Pergamos contained 200,000 books. Indeed, history tells us that that library was later sent to Egypt as a gift from Anthony to Cleopatra. Incidentally, 'parchment', the word 'parchment' is derived from the name 'Pergamos', as the people of Pergamos actually devised their own particular method of producing parchment that ancient writings were scribed upon. Now the Egyptians invented it, but the people of Pergamos had their own particular method of production of it, and were famous for it.
Not only was it a centre of culture and learning, but we see very clearly that Pergamos was a centre of spirituality. You could describe it as like the Hyde Park Corner of ancient Asia, it was a marketplace for all kinds of false religions and beliefs. As you have already observed, high on the Acropolis of the city was an altar to Zeus overshadowing the whole of the populace. There was also, within Pergamos, a temple to Zeus, as well as a temple to Athena, and a temple to Dionysius - all pagan gods, and Dionysius, incidentally, is the same god as Bacchus, who was the god of drunkenness. One of the more renowned temples in Pergamos was dedicated to a god called Asclepius, and in that temple to Asclepius there was a prominent monument and object, that being the wreathed serpent. Now you're familiar with that, whether or not you realise it, if I just go a couple of slides you might recognize it now. On the left you have actually a statue of Asclepius from the Berlin Pergamum Museum, that statue actually from ancient Pergamum; and on the right you have what is the modern symbol for medicine. That is in fact where it derives - it's not from Moses lifting the serpent in the wilderness as many people suppose - but it is in fact from this pagan god Asclepius, who was understood as the god of healing. That is why Pergamos was considered to be the Lourdes of the day, and all sorts of people from all over the empire and indeed the world would come to find healing for various diseases, particularly from the god Asclepius. The supplicants would actually enter into the temple of Asclepius, and lie on the floor, and non-poisonous snakes would come and writhe over them - and they believed that by these snakes touching them, the god Asclepius might indeed heal them. So Pergamum was indeed a centre of spirituality.
A centre of learning and culture, a centre of spirituality, thirdly it was also a centre for the Imperial cult - that's a bit of an offshoot from being a centre of spirituality, but I want to highlight this in particular because it is highly relevant to what we're doing tonight. This was a centre for the Imperial cult that worshipped the Emperor of the day as divine. As early as 29 BC there was a temple dedicated to the worship of the Emperor in Pergamos. In due course there was a second temple added, and eventually a third. So you can imagine how all that has been said would make it very difficult for a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ to live and operate in a place like Pergamos, especially when you consider that it was the centre in this particular region for the worship of the Emperor. Now what did that mean? Well, every single year every Roman citizen was required to go to the temple of the Emperor, to take a pinch of incense, to drop that incense on the altar, and to confess 'Caesar is Lord!'.
Now, obviously a true Christian could never do that - but can I ask you before we paint the picture of Pergamos any more this evening: how do you think you would fare if, by law, you were required to do that? What would your reaction be? That leads us on a little to the characteristic of the Lord that is presented to the church at Pergamos in verse 12, the one who has the two-edged sword. Now Christians who refused to go through this rite and confess that Caesar was Lord may well have to face the sword of the Roman proconsul, and here Christ is revealing Himself to these Christians, fearing persecution and perhaps even death, and gives them a salutary reminder that there is an even greater power than the power of the Emperor. There is a greater power than any earthly governor or government, that is the power of the risen and glorified Lord Jesus Christ!
Now I want you to note that the sword is an instrument of judgement. The sword, as it is revealed to us in chapter 1, is coming out of the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now if the sword is for judgement, the mouth is for speaking, and that gives us a little bit of an indication of what God's method is in executing His will. God's method in executing His will is to use His word. In Genesis 1 God created the heaven and the earth through His word, and God said 'Let there be light', and there was light. When the Lord Jesus came as the incarnate Word and dwelt among us, His miracles, many of them were performed by just the speaking of a word: 'Arise and walk'.
The Bible tells us that there is a day yet to come when the church of Jesus Christ will be translated, those who are alive will meet the Lord in the air, those who are dead will go before them. The Lord will do this, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 tells us, by descending from heaven with a shout. Indeed, in Revelation chapter 19 we shall see later on that when the Lord Jesus comes again to judge the world, He will come displaying a two-edged sword out of His mouth - point is, He will use a word, and in a word He will destroy all the enemies of God! But I think it is proper that we should note that at no point does the Lord Jesus ever strike a blow, not once, but His word does the work, even the work of judgement - and one day is coming when He will speak and vanquish every foe.
But please note here that this sword in verse 12 is not now coming out of the mouth of the Lord Jesus, it's just described in this manner: that the Lord 'has this sword', it's implied perhaps that it's even in His hand - but the thought is that He possesses it, and He wants these Christians in Pergamos to realise: 'I am in control of your destiny. Your life is in my hands, and no matter what the sword of Rome might threaten towards you because you will not comply to the worship of the Emperor, my sheep are in my hand and no man can pluck them out of there'. Isn't that wonderful? He's telling them, listen: 'I'm the one who ultimately will judge everything by my word', that is the characteristic He reveals to this church - and incidentally, let us not forget, He begins His judgement in the house of God. That's why we're here.
Then thirdly, in verse 13, after the characteristic of Christ is revealed we have His commendation to Pergamos: 'I know thy works, and where you dwell, even where Satan's seat', now that really should be 'throne', 'where Satan's throne is'. Now what does 'Satan's throne' refer to in relation to Pergamos? Some people say it was the altar of Zeus that was on that hill that overshadowed the city. Some say it was many, or indeed all of the temples to these various gods - some highlight Asclepius himself, whose symbol you see on the screen, and say: 'Well, a serpent would naturally have spoken to these believers in Pergamos of the devil himself' - and we see from Revelation 12 and 20 that the servant was a symbol for Satan. Was it this imperial cult that worshipped the Emperor, and that threatened death to anyone who would not confess Caesar as Lord? Which one is it? Which corresponds to Pergamos being Satan's seat? Well, I would say all of them do, particularly the emperor worship, but all of them signify how Satan was operative and instrumental in this city of Pergamos.
Now if you remember last week, we highlighted the fact that Smyrna faced the opposition of the synagogue of Satan - you remember that? Satan was coming to hound that church in a religious way, but now we are seeing that Satan is coming to the believers in Pergamos in a different ilk: he's coming through a regime. Now I want to remind you of a verse that is very familiar to most, it is found in Ephesians 6 and verse 12, Paul says: 'We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places'. Pergamos was a place where Satan's throne was, it was the administrative capital for this particular province as far as Rome was concerned, but I want you to see beyond Rome: there were principalities and powers, high spiritual realities that were working through the politics and the regime of the day, and so this wasn't just the Roman administrative centre of Asia, this was the Satanic administrative centre of Asia. It was where Satanic policies emanated from, indeed I believe that the primary aim of the devil at this point from this place was to attack the whole Church of Asia Minor.
Now we've got to remember something concerning the devil: he is not omnipresent, he can't be everywhere at the same time - that's why he utilises his minions, a hierarchy of demons in a network of activity. Some believe that Ephesians 6 verse 12 that I quoted really illustrates that type of rank among demonic spirits - but at this time it seems that the centre of Satanic operations was the city of Pergamos. Now historically we know that the original seat of Satan and idolatry on the earth was Babylon. In Alexander Hislop's book, 'The Two Babylons', one I would recommend for you to read, he details how the Pagan mystery cults at Babylon transferred to Pergamos after the death of Belshazzar, the Babylonian Emperor. So it moved from Babylon, moved to Pergamos, and incidentally Hislop traces how it moved from Pergamos eventually to Rome - and many of the trends we find in the Roman Catholic Church are owed to paganism.
The book of Revelation teaches us that there is a day yet to be when Babylonish mystery religion will be found in another political system, in another ecclesiasticism that will be found in the end times. I think we can see it today in embryo in ecumenism. Let me pause there for a moment: Satan's seat in Genesis was found in Babylon, the centre of idolatry. In the time when John is writing this letter inspired by the Holy Spirit, Satan's seat is found in Pergamos. It moved to Rome, eventually it will move somewhere else, but I wonder if we were to answer the question: where we think Satan's seat might be in the United Kingdom? What would our answer be? Does he have a centre of operations, an administrative centre from which he operates and influences? It's not hard for some of us to imagine where it might be - and before any of you say to me: 'Well, you have to remember that the powers that be are ordained are ordained by God', well that is correct, but you've also got to remember that they might be ordained by God but they're not inspired by God. Some of the Babylonish emperors themselves were chosen by God to discipline Israel, they were even spoken of as God's anointed, God's instrument, but they were inspired by the evil one himself. I think we can see through the administration of our government, even in our day and age, the inspiration of Satanic devices.
Well, Pergamos were to be commended, and in verse 13 we see that in the midst of such opposition and paganism the Lord Jesus commends them and says: 'Thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth'. In the midst of such opposition they remained loyal to Christ: 'You have held fast my name, and not denied my faith, even when it meant death'. Now before we criticise Pergamos, as we will with the Lord Jesus Christ, we need to ask the question: could any of us, under such circumstances, hold fast to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and not deny His faith? Antipas did it to the point of martyrdom. We know nothing about this man called Antipas apart from what legend tells us - that he was roasted alive in a brazen bull - but we don't know anything more about him. But we know this much: the Lord Jesus Christ marked his martyrdom and his faithfulness as a witness to His name, and He even crowns Antipas with his own title, the Lord's own title that we find in chapter 1 and verse 5: 'The faithful witness'. That word 'witness' is the same word for 'martyr' that is designated to Antipas, and the reason why it's interchangeable here is simply because in these early days of Christianity, if you lived in a place like Pergamos or like Smyrna, the likelihood was that if you opened your mouth or displayed in your life a witness for the Lord Jesus Christ it would probably mean your death.
If that's what witnessing meant in our day and age, how many of us would be doing it? Sure we're not even doing it now, and it doesn't mean death! At the most it means a bit of an embarrassment! Yet here we have Antipas, do you know what his name means? 'Against all', I love that. Can I give you an illustration concerning Antipas that is actually taken from the prophetic approach to this church of Pergamos? It was during this particular period of church history that we're talking about, the fourth and fifth century, there was a theological controversy that was raging for over a hundred years. It was called the 'Arian' controversy, it was concerning false teachers who were casting doubt on the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The debate really went like this: is it just that the Lord Jesus was of like substance with the Father, or was He of the same substance as the Father? Now in modern Christianity that would be seen as splitting hairs, but in these early days it was a fundamental issue. Is Christ just like the Father, or is He of the same substance with the Father? In AD 325 at the Council of Nicaea in the South of France, the church there ruled that the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Scriptures teach, was the same substance as the Father, God of very God. Now if that hadn't taken place, and they had decided He was just of like substance, the rest of Christian history would have been characterised by Unitarianism. Thank God that that never happened.
After that ruling concerning the deity of Christ, the teaching of Arianism stayed in the church, many were still espousing it. A godly man called Athanasius, who championed the fight for Christ's name just like Antipas, would not permit fellowship around the Lord's Table to anyone who was of the Arian persuasion. He was so strict in this regard that the emperor, Theodosius, commanded that Athanasius would admit these Arians to partake of the bread and the cup. Athanasius refused the emperor, and Theodosius reproved him sternly for what he saw as insubordination to his emperor, and Theodosius said these words: 'Do you not realise that all the world is against you?'. This was Athanasius' answer: 'Then I am against the world'. Do you think that's a coincidence? Of course it's not! Prophetically speaking this church at Pergamos were commended by the Lord for not denying the name and the faith of the Lord Jesus, the name that is high over all in hell, or earth, or sky; the name of the one who is God's Son and God the Son. It's no coincidence that during this church period this Arian controversy was raging, and with all the faults that there may have been in Pergamos - praise God, they held fast to the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ!
Christ still needs men and women like that, like Luther - who, when all the known religious world was against him, could say: 'Here I stand, I can do no other, my conscience is captive to the word of God'. I think we have lost that today. We need to defend Christ's name and Christ's faith. What a commendation they were given by the Lord Jesus, and yet this letter is not without criticism.
So come with me, fourthly, to the criticism of the Lord Jesus. Now you remember that the first church we considered was Ephesus, and there was one cause for censure that the Lord Jesus brought to them: 'You have left your first love'; but here to Pergamos He says, 'I have a few things against you'. Now, incidentally, let me say that if you look at the screen you will remember that we are saying prophetically that in the history of the church - though the church seems, in an external sense, as the kingdom of God, to progress and even appears to expand just like the parable of the mustard seed that grows into the great tree - the true spiritual condition of the church declines, particularly in relation to purity and doctrine, that being the parable of the leaven.
The Lord Jesus says to Pergamos: 'You have those there' - and before we look at the doctrine of Balaam, and the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, just note this fact that the Lord is saying to this church, 'You have those there'. Now that means there were true Christians in this church, and there were false Christians. I think that's the case in every church, through each period of church history - by the way, that is the parable in Matthew 13 of the wheat and the tares. This church in Pergamos allowed these false teachers to fellowship with them, to stay there, and the Lord was telling them: 'If you don't discipline them and put them out, I'm going to come with my sword of judgement, and I'll do it' - that's the parable in Matthew 13 of the dragnet, when the Lord is going to separate those that are His from those who are false professors. It's interesting, isn't it?
'You have those', look at the verse, verse 14, 'who hold the doctrine of Balaam' - now what's that? We have to go into the Old Testament to find out what that is. Let me recap the story for you from the book of Numbers. The Moabite king called Balac was afraid that Israel would do to the Moabites what they did to the Amorites, so he came to one of the prophets of God by the name of Balaam, and he hired him. Incidentally the New Testament talks about 'the way of Balaam', Peter talks about it, and it's simply covetousness. Just as Balaam served the Lord for filthy lucre, the way of Balaam is to be covetous in the work of God. That's not what we have here, it's the doctrine of Balaam, and Balac hired Balaam to curse the children of Israel. Incidentally, Jude verse 11 talks about the error of Balaam, which was supposing that you could get God, as Balaam thought, to be forced to curse the children of Israel - that's the error of Balaam, that's not what we have here, we have the doctrine of Balaam. What is the doctrine of Balaam then? It's simply this, now come with me: Balaam couldn't get God to curse Israel, so he decided he would give King Balac a plan to corrupt Israel. Now stay with me, we read in Numbers 25 that at the place called Shittim Israel's consecration and separation unto God was completely obliterated when the Moabite women committed fornication with the Israelite men, and they ate flesh offered to idols - that's what we have here in verse 14.
'The doctrine of Balaam', look at it, 'who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock', a trap, 'before the children of Israel', look, 'to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication'. The devil couldn't use Balaam to curse God's people, so he used him to coerce God's people! He couldn't corrupt them, so he courted them into compromise and powerlessness through these Moabite women. As a result they became powerless, now here is a lesson for all of us as children of God and as churches of God, that if the devil can't get at us as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, he'll come as a serpent with subtlety and beguiling. Here we have both in Numbers and in this church in Pergamos what is effectively the breaking down of their holy separation unto God and consecration to His service. We have an encouraging of union with the world.
Now let's come back to Pergamos for a moment. You know, it wasn't easy living in Pergamos, you hadn't much of a social life if you were a Christian. The reason being: there was so much paganism and idolatry, that the meat that was being offered to idols that would be ate by the priest was in such surplus that it had to go to the markets to be sold cheap. So in all likelihood, if you went to someone else's house, or a public festival of some kind, you would be eating meat offered to an idol. The Bible taught that that should not happen. The Christian should not eat meat offered to an idol - and that might even involve fornication. Now it could in a literal sense, because in the temples where this meat was offered there were vestal virgins, and fornication with them was seen in those religions to be an act of worship, and there may have been professing Christians that got involved in that. Whether that was the case or not, one thing is for sure: there was spiritual fornication going on. Because many of these believers, perhaps, were eating meat offered to idols, they were displaying spiritual infidelity toward God, they were betraying God!
Maybe you think that's a bit strong, just over eating a piece of meat. The fact of the matter is, in James 4 and verse 4 we read: 'Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God'. You see, this was a problem. Paul in the Corinthians letter says that he wanted to offer the Corinthian church as a chaste virgin, betrothed and engaged to the Lord Jesus Christ, and if he was going to do that they had to be pure. Now in the book of Revelation, later on we encounter a religious system that is described as a defiled harlot - but there's also the pure spotless bride of Christ, that's what we're meant to be! In Acts chapter 15 verse 29 it is recorded that at the Council of Jerusalem the Apostles and the church there ruled that, among several other things, believers were not to eat meat offered to idols, and were not to commit fornication - but teachers were coming into the church at Pergamos and saying: 'Ah, you don't need to worry about that, that's old hat now. It doesn't do any harm! You don't need to be exclusive in your separation from the world'. Do you know what they were doing? They were challenging the teaching of the Apostles - that's what we're having today in the church of Jesus Christ. People are challenging the principles of New Testament apostolic doctrine, they're watering it down in whatever way you like: critical ways, cultural ways, ways that reflect our modernity today, or our pluralism.
Looking at this from a prophetic approach, we see that this became a problem in the fourth and fifth century - because Constantine professed conversion, he made the whole empire Christian, supposedly. All of a sudden it was popular to be a Christian, all you had to do was be baptised and then you were given a white robe and a few pounds - that was any incentive to someone to get 'saved'. What was happening was that the church was in the world and the world was in the church, and universally this has always been a problem! Whether it is union with the world socially, or union with the world sexually that we have here, worldliness has always been a scourge in the assemblies of Jesus Christ! Socially, let me say, we must beware of any philosophy that says that we must be like the world in order to reach the world - did you hear that? I don't believe we should put unbiblical barriers in the way of people getting saved - no, no. I think there's more that we could be doing, even than we're doing here in the Iron Hall, to see people saved - but don't you swallow this lie of the devil that we have to get like everybody in the world and appease their appetites and attitudes to get them saved!
We need to be socially aware, and we also need to be sexually aware. The doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock, an entrapment, before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. This entrapment used seductive women. Now I'm going to be near the knuckle just now. There shouldn't be any seductive women in the church of Jesus Christ. Whether it is in a literal sense or a mental sense, no man should be seduced because of what you wear, sister. But in a literal sense: we need to be aware that seduction, sexually, is still the honey trap of the devil. I believe personally that the church of Jesus Christ is suffering from a secret epidemic that we're all in denial about.
Let me give you a few statistics. There was a survey done very recently in the United States that found that 5 out of 10 Christian men in America are addicted to pornography, 5 out of 10 - 2 out of 10 women were too. Does that surprise you? I know some of you folk, dear help you, you can't even turn a computer on! You don't realise what's going on out there in the world, but I'm telling you what's going on: 50 percent of men in America who regularly attend a church said they were addicted to pornography - 50 percent, 20 percent of women said the same. There was a recent University survey done in universities, I believe, in the United Kingdom that found that only the cream of Roman Catholic students and only the cream of evangelical students went into marriage with virginity intact. That just tells us that Christians in the 21st century church are bogged in sexual sin - and there are probably several men, young, middle aged, and older, who have a problem with this. All men generally do, and all men have to come to a crisis experience in their life where they put it to death! And that then has to go on daily after that.
The teaching of Balaam. Life was hard in Pergamos, I know life is hard today - you look everywhere, and it's before you, and the temptation is there - but the message is from the risen Christ: 'It is possible to overcome! Not be overcome!'. Listen to what John said in 1 John 2:14: 'I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one'. We have all faced problems similar to this, but it is possible to overcome. People are saying today: 'It doesn't matter if you go out with a non-Christian, or even marry them for that matter', and the unequal yoke doesn't seem to count any more - whether it's in marriage, or incidentally in business - 'Ah, that's old hat now, unequal yoke in business? Who talks about that any more?'. It's an unequal yoke, and 2 Corinthians 6 and verses 14-18, which is often quoted regarding churches, has got nothing to do with leaving one church to go to another, it's got everything to do with the world: 'Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty'.
Whatever happened to holy separation from the world? Whatever happened to holiness? Then we wonder in the next thought why we are blunt instruments for the Lord, why we're not seeing things done for Christ in our day and generation. Though outwardly we might have all the doctrine right concerning the deity and humanity and all the rest of our Lord Jesus Christ, but there could be the teaching of Balaam among us, and it's all secret. The Lord Jesus criticised them also for the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes - I'm not going to spend as much time on this, save to say that the Ephesians, you remember, opposed this doctrine. Isn't it interesting that what the Ephesians opposed, now Pergamos is embracing? That, first of all, shouldn't be a reason to judge doctrine or practice by what another assembly is doing. We are to judge things by the two-edged sword of the word of God. We are seeing Christendom at large embracing things that God hates, and God has said is an abomination in His sight. We sit and watch the news, or read the paper, and we are amazed week after week at what we see going on in the name of Christianity! Why should we be surprised? Here we have it: it will happen until the Lord comes. Now, that knowledge makes a lot of people indifferent, but it shouldn't. It should make us determined to keep our doctrine, our teaching, and our lives pure in the sight of God.
The Nicolaitanes may have been involved in immorality, but it seems that the primary aspect to this doctrine was the starting to divide God's people into two classes: clergy and laity. Prophetically speaking this happened during these centuries, and eventually evolved to the point where these men who were separating themselves as priests were pronouncing absolution over the people of God, forgiveness of sins, taking confessions, sending people to heaven, damning people to hell! Christ says: 'I hate it!'. He hates immorality, He hates heresy, and a good judgement of where you are spiritually before the Lord Jesus tonight is: do you hate what He hates, or do you love what the world loves? You see, people talk about 'grey areas' and confusing questions, but we are moving so far away from this simple Christian holiness that we find in the New Testament: 'Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world, for if you love the world the love of the Father isn't in you'.
Then we have a corrective command in verse 16: 'Repent'. Now the only way these folk could repent was to put these people out. Phew! How often does that happen? This is New Testament discipline that the Lord Jesus prescribed in Matthew 18. Now there are principles that have to be operated, and they have to be operated correctly, but the only way these believers could repent was to put these false teachers out. This was the Lord's ultimatum: 'If you don't put them out, I'll come and fight against them myself!'. You remember a couple of weeks ago we were thinking about how the Lord ministers in the churches, and sometimes maybe when an oversight doesn't do what they ought to do, sometimes the Lord can come in and do it - whether it's taking a person home to glory, or maybe even sending them to hell, who knows? Taking them off somewhere else - but the Lord is moving about in His church. We are seeing Him here in a way, perhaps, we're not used to seeing Him. He is writing these letters, as He inspires them through John, but we're seeing Christ hating and fighting. He says: 'Repent, change your mind about your sin, change your mind about your false doctrine, and change your mind about Me. You as a church, Pergamos, should not tolerate evil!'.
In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul says: 'Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened'. What Paul is really saying is that we need to use the two-edged sword to rightly divide doctrine, to sharpen our lives, and ultimately to judge ourselves by the word of God - judge everything, weigh everything by the balance of the Bible. If we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged! The Lord says to Pergamos: 'Sort it out, or I'll come and sort it out myself'. It's serious, isn't it? Then in verse 17 we have the commitment to the overcomer. He will be given hidden manna and white stone. Now you remember that when the children of Israel came out of Egypt, God provided this bread from heaven - 'manna' means 'What is it?'. It was to replace the onions and the garlic of Egypt, and it was a type of Christ, wasn't it, being fed in the wilderness? It is being given to the overcomer here, and it might speak of heavenly food - remember that these believers were being told not to eat of the meat sacrificed to the idols, so they would have to be fed by something. Remember the Lord Jesus had the disciples coming to Him, and saying: 'Take something to eat, Master', and He said, 'I have food that you do not know of'. Be faithful to Christ and He will feed your soul - but this is hidden manna. The manna in the wilderness wasn't hidden, it was out on the ground. Now if manna is a type of the Lord Jesus, as it is in incarnation, coming as the bread of God from heaven, could the hidden manna be the fact that there is a Man in the glory now, a glorified Man in Christ? He is able to supply all that we need in the church and as individual saints. It might also mean the future glory that we will share with Him. Age upon age and eon upon eon will reveal new glories of Christ to those who have overcome, and enjoy His splendour in heaven.
Not only are they given hidden manna, but a white stone. That has been explained away in many comparisons. In this ancient age the white stone was often a token of acquittal in a legal case, to say that you were not guilty; or it was a symbol of victory in an athletic contest, to let you into the celebrations afterwards. It could also be an expression of welcome to a guest from a host - but whatever it is, it seems to be a reward to the overcomer, expressing individual approval of them by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. They are even given a new name upon it! Acceptance with God, and a title to glory!
Now here's my question, and I'm finished tonight: Pergamos was the compromising church. The Lord Jesus didn't say: 'Get out of that church and go to some other place', did He? He said: 'Overcome where you are'. Would you have overcome? Would you? Are you overcoming now? Or are you wedded to the world? I was speaking to our young people on Saturday night on the subject of alcohol. We used this illustration to end, and I want to use it tonight. It is very very simple, but profound: the moon was eclipsed one night, and it said to the sun, 'Why do you not shine on me the way you used to?'. The sun said, 'I'm shining on you the way I always do, but the world has come between us'. The world has come between us. May God bless His word to all our hearts tonight.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the sixth recording in his 'The Book Of The Revelation' series, entitled "Pergamos, The Compromising Church" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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