12“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live—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.
14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: 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. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
17 Whoever has ears let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, 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.” Revelation 2:12-17 NIV
In the message to the church at Ephesus Jesus reminded them that He knew the works they did, and He comforted the church at Smyrna by stating that he knew the suffering they endured. The message for the Pergamum church is “I know where you live,” (v. 13)
The environment that we grow up in makes a great deal of difference regarding our faith and spiritual growth. Pergamum was notorious for its pagan worship, temples and Emperor worship. To be a Christian in that city was a serious challenge.
In the message to Pergamum we find the third mark of what constitutes a true church and Christian character. Love was the first mark in the message to Ephesus, suffering the second in the message to Smyrna and now in Jesus words for Pergamum He states His concern for truth. “I know where you live— where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me,” (v. 13)
In spite of living in the same city that is notorious as where Satan has his throne the people cherish their relationship with God and love the truth of the Gospel. God not only wants us to love Him, but that we should also trust Him and cherish truth. However, there were some church members in Pergamum who were not pursuing truth and living in the light of that truth, as they should. Jesus says, “There are some among you who hold to the teachings of Balaam,” (v. 14) and, “Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teachings of the Niclations.” (v. 15)
Rupert Meldenius wrote in the seventeenth century some very wise words, “ Unity in the essentials, liberty in the non-essentials and charity in all things.” The Christian church has often forgotten this and we end up trying to force unity in the non-essentials and giving liberty to the essentials and refusing charity to anyone who doesn’t agree with us.
Every church and denomination may differ on the non-essentials and even elevate some of them to essentials, but there must be a core belief that all people who call themselves Christians adhere to by faith. I believe, as does John Stott, that the bare minimum of our faith must include the belief that “Jesus of Nazareth is the unique Son of God and He died to be the savior of the world,” What Christ thinks of the Church, p. 55
In verse thirteen Jesus states, “You hold fast my name and you did not deny my faith.” As Christians we must not only have an intellectual acceptance of who Jesus is and what His ministry consists of, but we must also allow the grace of God to live within us and transform our hearts. To know about Jesus is never good enough, we must know (experience) Him personally within our life.
The church at Pergamum while facing temptation, derision, and persecution on all sides remained true to the core teachings of Scripture and refused to compromise, even to the point of having one of their own martyred. “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)
Antipas, was probably summoned by the city officials to burn incense to the Emperor and repeat the words, “Caesar is Lord,” but as a devout Christian he could not say such a blasphemous thing because the Holy Spirit had written on His heart the truth that only Jesus is Lord. He would rather die than substitute Caesar for Jesus.
How easy it has become for us as Christians, however, to pay homage to Caesar while pretending that we are dedicated to Jesus as Lord. We compromise so easily on our morals, ethics, beliefs and personal relationship with Jesus. We adhere to legalism and still mouth the words that Jesus is Lord. We compromise our core beliefs by including non-essentials into their midst and still think Jesus is Lord. We ignore Bible study, prayer, worship and Christian fellowship and still convince ourselves Jesus is Lord.
If there is one thing that we, as western Christians, are good at it is lying to ourselves by pretending we can compromise with the culture and principles of the world and still have Jesus as Lord. I often wonder how many of us here in the west would honestly be willing to die over something so small as saying, “Caesar is Lord.”
In contrast I was reading a few weeks back about four twelve year old Christian boys who were captured by ISIS and told to convert or die. Their response was “we are Christians we will not change.” They were all immediately killed. It is a much different world for people who lived in Pergamum or live under ISIS rule where the “throne of Satan” reigns than it is for us in the comfort of our western churches.
The New Testament writers are adamant that Christians are not to compromise with sin. We are called to be a holy people and a people who allow Jesus to reign in our hearts as Lord and King. To be holy is to manifest Godlike love to the world and has nothing to do with the perfection of character. Of course, a Christian who walks in love will have his/her character transformed by the indwelling Spirit and will shun participating in sinful pursuits, but we will always be sinners.
Love streams from every pore of the New Testament. Love brings Jesus into our world; love allows Him to live the perfect life that we couldn’t. Love allows Him to suffer and have His heart wrenched with such sorrow over us that He would sweat blood for us in the garden of Gethsemane; love took Him to the cross.
Do we honestly believe that Jesus now says to the people He redeemed by His blood, “Now you have to prove yourselves to me by working real hard to obey everything written in Scripture?” Or does He hold out His nail-pierced hands to all who believe and welcome us to Himself with open arms and love? If by doing even the smallest of things could add to what Jesus did on the cross it would make the cross of no importance because we could, in all reality, save ourselves if we were only good enough. To be holy is to be wholly Jesus, reflecting His love to those who live where the “throne of Satan,” reigns.
There is so much more in the Church at Pergamum and will pick up part two of this post next time.
* Please remember to pray for the Christians that are suffering under persecution for their faith in Christ in many countries around the world. Some of their stories can be found at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/