In this series of blog posts, we’re diving into the seven letters from Jesus to the churches in Revelation chapters 2-3. As we do, we’ll discover what Jesus has to say to these churches that, with one exception, needed to be revitalized.
The third letter in Revelation is written to the church at Pergamum. Pergamum was a city about 50 miles north of Smyrna and served as the leading religious city of Asia Minor. Emperor worship was strong in Pergamum, which led to the persecution of Christians there, because they refused to take part in such idolatry. This is, perhaps, one reason why Jesus referred to Pergamum in verse 13 as “where Satan’s throne is.”
A comfort, vv. 12-13
In the beginning of this passage, Jesus offers some words of great comfort to believers in Pergamum.
First of all, He reminds them that He has the sharp, double-edged sword. This is a reference back to Revelation 1:16, where John says that Jesus “a sharp double-edged sword came from his mouth.” This most likely refers to the power of the Word of God, and is similar to what the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 4:12 – “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (CSB)
In addition to reminding the church that He has the power of the Word of God, Jesus also tells them that He knows exactly where they are. As I mentioned above, Jesus describes Pergamum as a city “where Satan’s throne is.” That doesn’t sound like a very Christian-friendly city, does it?
However, in the midst of the persecution they are experiencing, Jesus says He knows they are holding on to His name and have not denied their faith in Him. They are standing strong, even though one of their own, a man named Antipas, had already been killed.
The Confrontation, vv. 14-15
Even though many in the church were remaining faithful to Christ, all was not well at the church in Pergamum. Some are holding on to the teaching of Balaam, a reference to Numbers 22-25. In that story (which includes a talking donkey!), Balak, the king of Moab, summoned a prophet named Balaam to put a curse on the people of God.
Jesus here says that Balaam led the Israelites to eat meat sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. Apparently, this wicked teaching persisted and had taken some in the church in Pergamum captive.
While we aren’t completely sure what the teaching of the Nicolaitans is, it’s possible that false teaching is somehow linked to the teaching of Balaam as well.
The Command, vv. 16-17
Jesus offers a simple command to this church: Repent! If they refuse to do so, Jesus says that He will come and fight against those who hold to the false teaching “with the sword of My mouth.” They will find themselves fighting against the very Word of God!
What we see here is that Jesus takes the doctrine of His churches very seriously. Often, one characteristic of declining or dying churches is that they have failed to hold faithfully to what Scripture teaches about the local church. When that happens, they can find themselves fighting against King Jesus Himself!
So, what are churches to do when they find themselves out of step with Scripture? Repent! We must constantly reassess our beliefs and actions in light of God’s unchanging Word. If we find discrepancies between what we believe or how we live, we must realign ourselves with His Word, not rearrange it to match our wayward churches and lives.
As individuals and churches repent and submit themselves to the Word of God, Jesus Himself has promised He will bring new life. Jesus reminds His audience that God Himself miraculously fed those in the wilderness with manna, and He promises that God will continue to take care of His people.
He also says He will give the one who conquers a white stone, which may be a reference to first-century athletic games, where the victor was given a white stone that allowed that athlete to retire permanently. In other words, Jesus promises to provide for His church.
So, pastor, if you find your church in need of renewal, ask the Lord to reveal areas where He has not been followed faithfully. Then lead your church to repent and follow Jesus anew, that you may be revitalized – brought back to new life – through Him!
You can find the previous posts in this series here:
Published September 28, 2023