“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”- Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22
“…We make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God…”- 2 Corinthians 5:9b-11a
Dear Beloved of the LORD at KCPC: I am writing short messages on the seven churches for our Word of Encouragement so that we might better assess where we are spiritually as a congregation, show us areas that need to be realigned with God’s Word, and how we might more effectively and sincerely make it our aim to please the Lord Jesus Christ!
If you would like to read the introduction to this short series, you may read here: Word of Encouragement
What are our strengths and weaknesses as a congregation? How can we ask God to better search and know us corporately? How are we doing at KCPC as a visible manifestation of Christ’s Kingdom on earth? Are we loving God and others as we did when we were first saved and gathered as Christ’s flock?
We will focus today on Jesus’ message to the Church at Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17)
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and 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 the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’
As we learned in our introduction to this series, it is important to remind ourselves that these seven congregations of the Revelation were real historical churches at the time that John the Apostle wrote his Revelation of Jesus Christ. However, we want to understand that they are also symbolic of the entire church age between Jesus’ first and second coming.
This means that what Jesus says to the churches, we need to consider soberly for ourselves. Jesus is still speaking to us (Hebrews 12:25). Jesus is particularly speaking to His people in these letters as a corporate body and congregation of confessional Christians, and not merely as individuals. This is why it is good to use these letters to be assessed by Christ as we seek to grow in him as a body.
We should understand that through the reading and preaching of the Word in public worship, we at KCPC are also recipients of this important letter. Jesus is addressing us, too!
Dear Ketoctin Covenant Presbyterian Church…Dear Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ, in Purcellville, Virginia:
“Dear Pergamum”: Jesus’ primary message to the congregation at Pergamum is:
A church must be diligent in following Jesus even to death, and must practice biblical disciple because there are ferocious wolves from without and wolves within (Acts 20:28ff). A church must diligently endure persecution but also reject false teaching. A Church must attend to the means of grace God has provided and practice Biblical discipline.
Final Prophet with Two-Edged Sword
The letter is addressed from the Lord Jesus Christ described particularly as “the Christ who has the sharp two-edged sword”—these are HIS words (v. 12; cf. v. 16; 1:16). The sharp two-edged sword is symbolic for Christ’s Word to His people. The two-edged sword is the sword of prophetic salvation and judgment. As Isaiah said:
ESV Isaiah 49:2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away.
Christ is revealed as the Great and Final Eschatological Prophet of God at His right hand. Christ speaks like a two-edged sword that cuts two ways a two-edged message to His people: blessings for those who hear and believe, and curses for those who reject Him and His message. The Apostle Paul describes Christ’s Word as the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17). The Word of Christ cuts deep; the Word of Christ speaks salvation to those who believe and condemnation and judgment to those who reject it. Christ’s Word is living and active upon our sinful hearts, penetrating deep to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12-13).
The Risen-Ascended Christ having the two-edged sword reminds us that the Book of Revelation is a book about the triumph of God’s Truth over Satanic lies and illusions and error and idolatry. Christ’s words are truth and they condemn those who deny the truth. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life no one comes to the Father except through Him! (John 14:6).
Church Planting Near the Beast and Harlot’s Neighborhood
Jesus reminds us of His care for us: “I know where you dwell…” (v. 13a). Isn’t it comforting that the LORD Jesus knows exactly where we live; what time period we are a part of, what our particular struggles are, etc.? The LORD knows those who are his and knows intimately where they live and move and have their being; God never leaves for forsakes his people.
This congregation at Pergamum dwells or has been planted or established “where Satan’s throne is” (v. 13a).
What does it mean that Pergamum is the location of “Satan’s throne”? The City of Pergamum was located about fifty miles north of Smyrna and the church had to contend against extremely strong pagan forces. Pergamum was the location of the oldest temple devoted to idolatry that was first erected for the purpose of worshipping Caesar Augustus. This very old temple in Asia Minor continued for the purpose of worshipping the Emperor of Rome. Pergamum was the Roman capital of the Province of Asia; the city was like an ancient Washington D.C. in that it was the seat of Roman government for Asia Minor.
The congregation at Pergamum had to learn to fight the good fight in this world in the midst of both persecution and wickedness of all kinds. As we learn in the larger Book of Revelation, the Church of Jesus must always be watchful and praying, learning to contend against “the Beast” which is a terrible image of government that exalts itself against God and persecutes believers in every age, as well as “the Harlot” who deceives folks through sexual immortality, wealth and the riches of this world (see chaps. 17-19).
Our congregation still faces today “the Beast” and “the Harlot”. The Beast is an image of Satan to cause Christians to compromise; the Beast is any threat of government opposition to the preaching of the Gospel; this may be more subtle in North America, but nevertheless, we do struggle against different types of persecution from the Beast. The Beast wants to cause Christians to compromise under its power. The Harlot is the sexual immorality, wealth and riches of the world that distract us daily and even on a moment by moment basis to give ups pursuing heaven and settle for the pitiful “pleasures of sin” for a season in this age that is passing away. Let us never forget that whether Satan attacks us with His power or with prostituting ourselves with the world, we are tempted to compromise; LET US STAND in the whole armor of God! (Eph. 6:10ff).
Government was instituted by God as his servant or “minister” (Romans 13) to wield the sword on behalf of God. However, government can also be a tool or instrument used by Satan to hinder the Gospel and oppose Christ’s Church. Pergamum was a great pagan city full of wickedness and idolatry and from the looks of things, from a limited perspective, Satan’s “throne” there seemed to have had much more power and authority than Christ’s Church. The Church was to live by the Truth that proceeded out of Christ’s mouth rather than stumbling because of the way things seemed from their finite perspective.
The good news is that Christ is the Risen-Ascended-Enthroned King and although it may seem that like Satan’s throne is more powerful, the Gospel of Jesus will break through and possess the hearts of His Beloved people. This is the hope for anyone called to preach the gospel in the midst of strong satanic paganism- -Christ’s throne is greater- -and He possesses as King of kings and Lord of lords all authority in heaven and on earth (Phil. 2:9-11; Matt. 28:18-20).
Later in the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John shows to us the reality of Christ’s power and throne over Satan:
Revelation 11:15-18: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. 18 The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants,1 the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”
As we proceed through the Book of Revelation we will see the Triumph of the Lamb who sits upon the throne as He overthrows all of His and our enemies. The Book of Revelation is how the Lamb who sits upon the throne as King of kings and Lord of lords destroys all competing thrones that set themselves up against God and His Anointed One (Psalm 2).
Because of Christ’s intimate knowledge of His people, they can be assured that come what may, he will never leave them nor forsake them as the King who sits upon God’s throne! We can be confident that Jesus is our King and rules and reigns over heaven and earth.
Hold Fast and Be Faithful to the End!
Commendation of the LORD Jesus: Although Pergamum is located where Satan’s throne is they “hold fast” to Christ’s Name and they have not denied their faith in Jesus; even when persecution was so bad that Antipas was martyred as a faithful witness as a sacrifice before Satan’s throne, they did not deny Jesus (v. 13b).
The congregation of saints were walking by faith and not by sight; they were holding to the promises of God in the midst of tribulation (cf. 1:9). Although they had suffered from being in a central pagan location, they had nevertheless been faithful to preaching the Gospel of Christ.
In fact, even though they lost one of their members named Antipas, perhaps even the pastor of the congregation, they did not deny Jesus. Although they Kingdom of Satan dealt them a harsh blow, they kept the faith and did not back down from making the truth known.
Antipas as martyr is identified with Jesus Christ as he is called the “Faithful Witness” or “Faithful Martyr”- -to be a witness for Christ and to receive persecution for Christ’s sake is to be identified with him and to be blessed:
ESV Revelation 1:5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood
Matthew 5:11-12: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
But there were some things out of order that Jesus addressed to them so that the congregation through repentance might align themselves with Christ’s Holy Word!
Humble, Biblical Discipline is Necessary!
Correct/Rebuke to congregation from the Lord Jesus Christ: “But I have a few things against you…” (v. 14a).
What should we learn from Christ’s correction and rebuke from Jesus Christ as a congregation?
Jesus says that the congregation should have practiced humble, biblical discipline: You have as part of your congregation some who hold to the teaching of Balaam who taught Balak the king of Moab to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel… (v. 14b). By not removing the sinful teaching and behavior, it was putting a stumbling block before others in the congregation, causing them to stumble in their doctrine and life.
What does Jesus mean by “teaching of Balaam”? You wil remember back in Numbers 22, Balaam gave Balak advice that led Israel to worship false gods and practice sexual immorality; Balaam advised King Balak to lure the Israelites into apostasy (Numbers 25:1-4; 31:8, 16).
ESV Numbers 25:1-4: While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. And the LORD said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the LORD, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.”
ESV Numbers 31:16 Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the LORD in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD.
When Israel went astray in the Book of Numbers God told Moses to discipline the people and remove all of the sinful folks from the visible church through death. Although this is not how discipline is practiced in the New Covenant era, the message is the same: remove the sinful leaven so that the loaf of the congregation will be holy unto the LORD.
The congregation at Pergamum did not practice discipline as they should have; they had allowed certain elements of unbelief and paganism to contaminate the congregation (this was a threat to the Gospel of Hope in that dark city). If the sinful leaven is not removed, it will work through the whole batch and the light of the Gospel will be forgotten and lost. Jesus’ rebuke is similar to the Apostle Paul’s words about discipline in the congregation at Corinth:
ESV 1 Corinthians 5:1-5: It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
These in the congregation are teaching some of the congregation that they can eat food sacrificed to idols and to practice sexual immorality (v. 14c). Jesus is saying that within a congregation gross idolatry and fornication are not to be tolerated. Behaviors like this are inconsistent with the profession of faith in the visible Church and must be removed.
Secondly, Jesus corrects and rebukes the congregation because they also tolerated some who held to the teaching of the Nicolaitans (v. 15). Jesus ‘hates the works of the Nicolaitans’ which was a threat to the Church at Ephesus as well (Rev. 2:6). The Ephesian Church was commended for hating the works of the Nicolaitans as Christ hates their works (2:6), but Pergamum was tolerating their teaching as well as the sexual immorality.
Jesus teaches to all congregations the importance of church discipline and why it must be humbly practiced in conjunction with the Word of God preached and applied to men’s souls. Christ’s address to this congregation reveals that the Reformation teachers were correct when they made discipline in the visible church one of the key and foundational marks of the True Church along with right preaching of the Word and the proper administration of the Sacraments.
Many congregations then and now could be commended by Jesus for not denying the faith, and for faithfully preaching the gospel, but who would be rebuked by the Lord Jesus for not disciplining those who were idolaters, sexual offenders and false teachers within their pale. This is another reason why the Book of Revelation is so important for those who read it (Rev. 1:1-3). As churches between the first and second comings of Jesus, we can find out more particularly pleases Him, and what we will have to face at the Judgment Seat of Christ if we do not face it now.
We must remember that godly discipline in a congregation is to promote purity in life and doctrine for all the members. Discipline is to threaten in such a way that it will hold members accountable to Christ’s Word. Discipline is a corrective and can restore sinful offenders back to fellowship with God. When discipline is properly practiced, it can save souls from hell, and restore the repentant to full communion with the saints so that the person disciplined might grow in their assurance and joyfully await the return of Christ (rather than dreading it!).
Repentance and Forgiveness!
A call to repentance for the congregation: “Therefore repent!” (v. 16a). God is not willing that any of his people should perish but for all His Beloved people to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). There is always opportunity for true repentance so that we might experience the full and abundant life of being in joyful fellowship and communion with God! God is good to His people when they leave their sins and return to their Lord Jesus in order to follow His two-edged teaching with more sharpness and more carefully!
Consequences for not hearing what the Spirit says to the churches (v. 16-17): “I will come to you soon and war against the false teachers with the sword of my mouth” (cf. v. 12; 1:16). This shows by way of inference that what elders here bind on earth in the visible church by correctly disciplining according to God’s Word, it is bound in heaven; what elders loose on earth according to God’s Word is loosed in heaven (Matthew 18).
If discipline at Pergamum is not faithfully carried out, then Christ himself will come from heaven and discipline the offenders. The implication is that if the pastor-elders use the Word of God to discipline the Nicolaitans in the congregation, then he won’t have to come in judgment- -it will have already been accomplished. How would this happen?
Jesus is not promising to come back and judge, meaning the end of time when he returns to save and judge in his Second Coming. Rather, Jesus is speaking of a providential acting with circumstances that will bring judgment upon the Nicolaitans and the congregation in general (Acts 5).
Blessings for All Conquerors in Christ!
Promises for those who hear what the Spirit says to the churches (v. 17): “To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it” (cf. 19:12; also 3:12; 14:1; 22:4).
The hidden manna is Christ’s promise of the abundant life. In contrast to the pagan meals that some were a part of the idolatry in Pergamum, the believers could partake in Christ’s meal: Christ’s life given to them by faith NOW; the life of Christ communicated to them by faith in the Lord’s Supper NOW; and one day the Wedding Supper of the Lamb with Christ Himself for eternity (Rev. 21-22).
While idolatry and sexual immorality create the illusion of satisfying sinful mankind, Christ will feed his people physically and spiritually with his LIFE and Spirit now and for eternity. Manna was kept in the Holy of Holies or Most Holy Place in the tabernacle (Exodus 16:33-35; Heb. 9:4). This symbolized Christ as the Bread of Life that feeds and nourishes His people.
ESV Exodus 16:33-35: And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the LORD to be kept throughout your generations.” As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the testimony to be kept. The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan.
ESV John 6:32-36: Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.
The promise of the white stone: We should remember that white is the Biblical color for purity and holiness (cf. 7:13). The white stones were white marble that was very valuable in Pergamum in the ancient world. Christ is promising to give something of great value, more valuable than all of the riches of Pergamum, that will reveal his intimate knowledge of His people: He knows his people by name.
ESV Isaiah 62:2 The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.
Christ loves his people and the reason for this letter (as well as the letters to the other 6 congregations) was to teach Christ’s Church in the Inter-Adventual period to continue to persevere by His grace.
Christ’s Word is a means of grace, or a means by which Christ tells His people who he is, what he has done for them, and how they can persevere by faith.
Those who persevere to the end will realize that they are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:31-39), but by His grace they must realize this every day as they persevere to the end keeping their eyes on Jesus the Author and Perfector of their faith.
Let us at KCPC make every opportunity to seek Christ’s means of grace to persevere. May we continue to hear and believe and trust Christ’s Word as He continues to lead us to the Promised Land. Let us partake of the Sacraments, knowing that we are partaking by faith of Christ, the Bread of Life, the Manna from Heaven, and He will satisfy the longings of our hearts, and feed us with heavenly food.
Let us practice as a congregation biblical discipline so that we might remain pure as the people of God, and that sinful offenders in life and doctrine might repent and be restored to fellowship with God before it is too late.
May these devotional studies of assessment from Jesus using the letters to the seven churches of the Revelation cause us to better align ourselves with His truth, and encourage us all to make it our aim to please Jesus who died for us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:6-8).
May we live daily as a congregation before the face of Christ and so before the Judgment Seat of Christ. When we all arrive at our destination and we stand as the congregation KCPC before Christ’s Judgment, may these short devotions have better prepared us, so that we can stand confident and encouraged in the Lord Jesus’ presence.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”- Jesus Christ
In Jesus’ love,