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To the Church in Pergamum

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this: ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. ‘But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. ‘So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. ‘Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.” (Revelation 2:12-17)

Sixty kilometers past Smyrna along the Romans postal highway we see the city of Pergamum. The name of the city Pergamum in Greek mans “mixed marriage.” The religious culture of the city was inherited from Babylon and the citizens of Pergamum worshiped the sun. This is the place where the famous altar of Zeus stood on a terrace along the slopes of the mount. In verse 13 Jesus called Pergamum the throne of Satan. Today the city of Bergama sets at the base of the mount where Pergamum once was. When Pergamum was excavated a large medical library was found containing a medical symbol of a serpent wrapped around a pole, which is similar to the medical symbol of today. Pergamum, “mixed marriage,” finds is esteem in that it could be that it represents the mixture of the Christian faith and the pagan worship of the sun god. The two religions merged in the fourth century AD when the official religion of the Roman Empire became Christianity.

As in the two previous letters to the Churches this letter is addressed: “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write.” We have discussed before that the angel of the Church could be the anointed Pastor or an actual angel assigned to minister to the Church at Pergamum.

Last week we looked at the interpretation of the angel of the Church being a literal angel assigned to the individual Church. This week we will look at the other possibility that the angel of the Church is the Pastor. Let us look again at Revelation 1:20. “As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” We are clearly told that the lampstands are the seven individual Churches and the stars are the angels of the Churches. These seven stars are held in the right hand of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The word angel defined is a messenger of God. We correctly think of angels as supernatural spiritual beings in God’s creation. In the Old testament Prophets were the messengers of God but in the New Testament Jesus is now the Prophet. In the definition of angel as a messenger of God it can also mean the Pastor who is God’s messenger to the individual Church.

These letters are addressed to the “angel of the Church” and read to the congregation. Let us look at a verse from the letter to the Church at Smyrna. “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10) The letter is written to both the Angel of the Church and the flock, if the angel of the Church was a spiritual angel, then how can he be thrown into prison or put to death? Sinful man does not have power over a spiritual being.

The angel of the Church is responsible and accountable to Jesus in the matters of the Church. Having responsibility is a position of authority and it should be exercised with diligence. “Or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:8) There us enough reasonable doubt here to be comfortable with a conclusion that points to the angel of the Church being the anointed pastor.

The qualifications of a Pastor are: “For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” (Titus 1:7-9)

It is my own conclusion that the Angel of the Church is both, an actual spiritual being appointed to the Church to watch over and the ordained Pastor who is God’s messenger to the Church.

Title

“The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this.” Jesus is the One who is addressing this letter and this is the title He is using in this letter to the Church in Pergamum. Jesus is the Word of God as we read in John 1:1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) Creation came into being through the Word of God and is held together by the Word of God. “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17) The Word of God is able to discern all things and the innermost parts of man. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) The Word of God is the one offensive weapon in man’s arsenal for spiritual warfare. “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17) There is no power in the universe greater than the Word of God.

Commendation

“I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.”

Antipas

Many Christian traditions believe Saint Antipas to be the Antipas referred to in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 2:13) as the “faithful martyr” of Pergamum, “where Satan dwells”. According to Christian tradition, John the Apostle ordained Antipas as bishop of Pergamum during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian. The traditional account goes on to say Antipas was martyred in 92 AD by burning in a brazen bull-shaped altar for casting out demons worshiped by the local population. (Wikipedia)

The Ancient city of Babylon was the major distribution center between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea and went into decline after Alexander’s death. At this time the original mother/child cult religion moved from Babylon to Pergamum. Later the cult moved to Rome. At the time of the writing of this letter to the Church in Pergamum the city was identified by Jesus as the seat of Satan’s throne as this was the source of their false religion. Jesus commends the Christians there for not denying the faith.

Criticism

“But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.” The sins that Jesus spoke of were not actual physical sins in the time of Balaam. Balaam is a diviner in the Torah, his story occurring towards the end of the Book of Numbers. Every ancient reference to Balaam considers him a non-Israelite, a prophet, and the son of Beor, though Beor is not so clearly identified. Though other sources describe the apparently positive blessings he delivers upon the Israelites, he is reviled as a “wicked man” in the major story concerning him. Balaam refused to speak what God didn’t speak and would not curse the Israelites, even though King Balak of Moab offered him money to do so. (Numbers 22–24). But Balaam’s error and the source of his wickedness came from sabotaging the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land. According to Numbers 31:16 and Revelation 2:14, Balaam returned to King Balak and informed the king on how to get the Israelites to curse themselves by enticing them with prostitutes and unclean food sacrificed to idols. The Israelites fell into transgression due to these traps and God sent a deadly plague to them as a result (Numbers 31:16). (Wikipedia)

The sin of the Church in Pergamum was the spiritual sin of idol worship. Idol worship can be anything you venerate, whether a false god or part of creation or material possessions. Therefore there adherence to the teachings of Balaam were spiritually immoral.

“So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” This was also a problem with the Church in Ephesus that they listened to the teachings of the Nicolaitans. The Nicolaitans are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles. They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The character of these men is very plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John, [when they are represented] as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practice adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. (Wikipedia)

Call

“Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.” Jesus is telling the Church at Pergamum to repent, turn away from these evil practices of Balaam and Nicolaitans and return to the true teachings of His gospel truth. God is love and God is just. God is righteous and requires righteousness. To stray from the truth of God’s Word is to be disobedient and therefore sinful. If we cannot abide in His words of Love and Justice then we will abide in His word of wrath.

Challenge

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Repentance is a daily thing for the Christian as we sin each and every day. We must be in truth and confess to our Lord who loves and cares for us, and who is always willing to forgive. In our lives and even in our Church there are plenty of idols. Anything that takes priority or hinders our spiritual service to our Lord is an idol. Idol worship is adultery in its simplest definition. Maybe our idol is parked outside in the parking lot, maybe we shaved the face of our idol this morning, and maybe we keep our idol in the bank.

Promise

“To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.” In the day that this letter was written it was too dangerous for a businessman to travel to a distant city to complete a business transaction. In his stead he would send a trusted servant who was empowered to act on his behalf. The servant would carry with him a coin like form of baked clay. The seal of the businessman was pressed into the clay with a secret name that only the businessman of the distant city would know. With the white stone the servant would authenticate himself as being the one with rights and privileges to complete the transaction. When the Christian enters into heaven Jesus will identify him as being entitled to all rights and privileges due him in the presence of the Father in Heaven.

The Disciples were instructed to take the Church into all the world (Matthew 28:19-20) but to the Church in Pergamum the world came into the Church. In the 4th century the Edict of Milan made Christianity legal and ultimately the official religion of the Empire. When that happened, pagan festivals became Christian holidays.

Satan had failed to destroy the Church through persecution so instead he endeavored to destroy her through compromise. Christian standards were lowered, and a union was formed between Christianity and paganism.

During this time the Church in Pergamum incorporated many pagan practices into their worship. Paganism had already planted its seed in Rome when King Attalus III gave his title Pontifex Maximus to the Roman Emperor in 133 BC. In 322 AD Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity but kept the title Pontifex Maximus. In an effort to bring unity to his empire Constantine combined the pagan practices with the Christian faith. F.J. Foakes-Jackson writes, “In dealing with the Church, his object was gradually to transfer from heathenism to Christianity all that had hitherto made it attractive in the eyes of the people.”

Emperor Gratian refused to take the title Pontifex Maximus in 387 AD, as he felt it improper for a Christian. The Roman Catholic Bishop of the Church then took it as his title. This was not unusual as the Roman Catholic Church had taken many symbols of the pagan sun worshipers.

Pergamum represents a time in history when the Church compromised true Christian faith for the ways of the world. Much like some Churches are doing today.

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, October 26, 2014

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