Building a Strong Relationship with Christ – The Pergamum Example: Hold Fast in a Shifting World – Revelation 2:8-12

This month we are going to continue our study of the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor by focusing on the letter to the church at Pergamum found in Revelation 2:12-17:

"To the angel of the church in Pergamum write the following:

This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who has the sharp double-edged sword: “I know where you live - where Satan’s throne is. Yet you continue to cling to my name and you have not denied your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was killed in your city where Satan lives.  But I have a few things against you: You have some people there who follow the teaching of Balaam, who instructed Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel so they would eat food sacrificed to idols and commit sexual immorality.  In the same way, there are also some among you who follow the teaching of the Nicolaitans.  Therefore, repent! If not, I will come against you quickly and make war against those people with the sword of my mouth.  The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will give him some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and on that stone will be written a new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it (NET).”

The Lord starts out this letter reminding the church that He bears the double-edged sword.  As with the other references to the double-edged sword in Revelation (1:16; 2:16; 19:15), Christ here is reminding the readers that He is the Word and the Word of God has a two fold purpose of separating believers from the world and condemning the world of its sin. 

It was important for Jesus to start the letter with this reminder as the believers in Pergamum apparently lived in a town that was so havocked by sin that He refers to it as a throne of Satan.  Pergamum, at the time, was famous for its wealth (they had lots of money), its pagan worship (they had temples to Athena, Asclepius, Dionysus, and Zeus), and its university (boasting the largest library in the area).  Any one of these things today would lead a community to be resistant and even antagonistic towards the Gospel.  This city had all three.

Despite living in a morally crumbling area the Lord commends the believers of Pergamum for remaining true to and not denying His name.  That is a great commendation and a great lesson for us today.  These believers were dealing with constant verbal and, probably, physical torment along with the murder of a Christian brother.  If there was ever a good excuse (from a human perspective – not from a godly perspective) to deny Jesus it would have been during those severe times of temptation.  The fact is, and Jesus confirms this, the people of Pergamum continued to lift up the name of Jesus and proclaim His Gospel. 

In today’s society it is often easy for us to deny Christ or our relationship with Him simply because we don’t want to offend a friend or lead them to think we are strange.  Why do we do that?  It’s likely we are doing it to take the easy route and deny Jesus rather than to make a stand for Him in our families, at our jobs, and with our friends.  The fact is, the people of Pergamum were unswerving in their devotion and confession of Christ in the harshest of circumstances – and that attitude pleased the Lord!

We must profess and confess Jesus to the world.

In verse 14 the Lord gives the church at Pergamum at swift rebuke by first bringing up their adherence to the teaching of Balaam.  As you recall, Balaam encouraged King Balak to cause Israel to sin through intermarriage with heathen women and through idol-worship.  Multiple times in the Old Testament the Lord forbade the Israelites from marrying those of a pagan faith and from participating in pagan rituals.  The reason why Balaam gave this advice and the reason why Jesus was condemning the practice was that it is impossible to have the dynamic Christian life that the Lord wants you to have while you are constantly surrounded by both temptation and pagan worship.  Along with this, the church was suffering from the same Nicolaitan affliction that plagued Ephesus.  They were blending the world and its morality and standards into the teaching and practice of the church.

Christ was simply calling them out on their relaxed behavior.  That is not to say that we will ever be devoid of temptation (at least not until we receive our glorified bodies) but we must take steps to be different from the world and surround ourselves, in the family and in our worship groups, with those that love and honor the Lord.

We must remain apart from the world.

Christ follows up this rebuke with the encouragement to “repent.”  In fact, He informs the church at Pergamum that swift judgment is coming if they fail to separate their lifestyles from that of the pagan worshipers around them.  That is true today as well.  While we go on about our worldly way and continue to deny Christ we are getting closer and closer to a massive judgment from the Lord.  That judgment may come in the form of physical, family or occupational trials or it will come in the form of judgment at our final judgment before Him – but make no mistake…it will come.

Jesus ends this letter with a simple promise.  To those who conquer compromising morals and deviating from the purity of teaching in the church and their lives will receive hidden manna and a white stone with a name written “that no one can understand except the one who receives it.”  The hidden manna leads us to believe that we are to look toward a spiritual sustenance much like the divinely provided physical sustenance provided by the Lord to the Israelites during their dessert wanderings.  No matter the trials or situation, the faithful servant of Jesus can expect to continue to be fed everything he needs for a fruitful relationship with Christ and an eternity with Him.

Scholars differ on the exact meaning of the closing phrase and the mention of the white stone.  It is possible that the Lord was reminding this wealthy city (who undoubtedly had countless jewels and precious metals) that they have an even greater treasure stored up for them in eternity.

The basic message of the letter to the church in Pergamum is a warning against compromise in morals or teaching and against falling away from the biblical teaching required of all believers.  While it is a heavy letter to read…it is incredibly relevant today in our world.