The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations: 3. The Pergamum Experience: Endurance
Rev 2:12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write”
Speaker: In this letter Jesus comes with, “the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.” In chapter 1 we saw that “coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword.” (1:16) This ‘sword’ clearly represents the words he speaks. Paul spoke of the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Eph 6:17) This pointed, sharp, two-sided sword was a serious weapon of warfare. History tells us that Roman governors were of two sorts, those who had ‘the right of the sword’ and those who didn’t. Those who did had the power of life and death and could order a person killed on the spot. When Jesus says he has this sword he is challenging all other authority with an authority that comes with his word. He too only needed to speak a word and it was done. We see that throughout Genesis 1 that God speaks a word and it is done.
Approval & Encouragement: Again we are reminded that Jesus, walking among the lampstands sees and knows all things. Here he says, “I know where you live.” (v.13a) We once had two men in our church, fairly young believers who decided the read the Bible together and they read this passage together and when they came to these words they said it reminded them of some gangster film where the hero was threatened by the chief gangster with, “I know where you live!” They said the Holy Spirit impacted them both with a sense of awe – He knows where I live, He can come for me at any time!!!!
Yet for the church there, this knowledge first comes with approval: “where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.” (v.13b) Now there is much speculation as to what all this actually means, but let’s just leave it that this major city, this city of culture and government administration, was a place where, for one reason or another, it seems Satan reigns. Here, Jesus says, he has his throne, here he lives. Now let’s never lose sight of the fact that he is merely an angel, fallen yes, but nevertheless a created being, created by God for His purposes, and he is limited by only acting according to God’s permission (see Job 1 & 2). He only ‘reigns’ where the human beings give him permission to do so by their willingness to reject God and follow self-centred, ungodly and unrighteous ways. Such was his activity through the people of this city that one of the Christians had been martyred here. Yet in the face of all this, the church had held firm to their faith and remained true to Christ, not giving up on their faith for one moment – despite the demonic environment, despite the opposition and despite one of their number being killed for his faith. This church has endured.
Challenge: “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you:” (v.14a) That sounds worrying – a few things? More than one? Yes, in fact there are two. First, “There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.” (v.14b) In the church – not all, but some – there are people who have fallen to the deception of Balaam (see this two-faced prophet who gave advice to the enemy how to undermine Israel – Num 31:16 – and died for it – Num 31:8). The simplest way, perhaps, to summarize his tactics is to say he persuaded the Israelites that a little conforming to the ways of the world was all right. It wasn’t! I believe there is a blurring today of the boundaries between the church and the world, between righteousness and unrighteousness and so although some commentators suggest historical allegory in these letters, saying Laodicea represents the present day, the truth is that each of these errors are pertinent to every period of history, and now is no exception!
Nicolaitans? “Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” (v.15) This group had been mentioned in 2:6 in Ephesus and we just simply identified them as heretics but maybe we need to say more here. One of the early church fathers, Irenaeus, in his ‘Against Heresies’ wrote of the Nicolaitans, “they lived lives of unrestrained indulgence.” and another early church leader said they “abandoned themselves to pleasure …. leading a life of self-indulgence.” They distorted Christian freedom and turned it into licence. Doesn’t that sound familiar? I don’t know that I have heard that preached but the practice of so many lives in the affluent West seem to be characterized by pleasure and self-indulgence, and when that happens there is a blunting of spiritual sharpness which then gives way to spiritual complacency and spiritual indifference – a disarmed church!
The Challenge: “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” (v.16) I don’t know if you have ever heard the expression spoken out by a parent to a child, ”If you don’t stop that out you’ll get the rough edge of my tongue,” which means unless you sort it out, you’ll get a severe scolding, a strong reprimand. In modern-day language Jesus might say, “Guys, sort this or you’ll be hearing from me – and you won’t like that!” My wife rarely has prophetic words but when she does, they tend to be corrective and you know where they are coming from. Somebody once said, “When she starts prophesying, people start diving under their chairs.” Jesus’s words, that come like this two-edged sword have the ability to wreak havoc with our pride. I’ve also noticed that my daughter, again rarely prophesies but when she does what she brings fits that biblical description, “it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Heb 4:12) When Jesus speaks correctively, beware, his words carve open the heart, revealing the very soul, and then addresses the things needing correcting.
The Reward: For the overcomer in this situation, the one who rejects conforming to the world and living a life of self-indulgence, the promise is, “I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (v.17) Wow, what does that mean? Manna (see Ex 16:11-15) was God’s supernatural provision for His people in the desert. Then it was clearly observable and had to be picked. Today God’s provision is hidden, it comes by the Spirit. If you hold firm to God and refuse the seductions of the world, the promise is that God will feed you through His Spirit and you will be satisfied and never yearn for more, you will have total contentment.
But a white stone? Whatever we say here has to be speculation but years ago I asked the Lord about this and what I saw was this: a husband may give to his wife a locket on a chain to be hung round the neck with a picture of both of them in it. It is a constant reminder of the preciousness of the relationship they have. Now the thing about this white (pure) stone is that it has on it your name given to you by Jesus that no one else knows. Do you have a pet name for your partner, something no one else knows? It is not uncommon. Again it is a sign of something precious and intimate between you. That is what we have here, Jesus is conveying something of the preciousness of your relationship with him, your unique relationship, no one else has what you have, they have their own relationship with special aspects to it, but your relationship is unique between you and him. Don’t try and get your sense of meaning, purpose and even fulfillment from the world around you, get it from that sense of unique relationship with him that he wants to convey to you. Awesome!