Allen Raynor Weblog: “Pergamos: The Compromising Church”
(July 11, 2019)
Compromise can both be positive and negative. It is positive when we think of two people each giving up a little of what they want in order to come together for a peaceful solution. It is negative when pure and absolute truth is given away in order to achieve harmony. In our culture, peace/harmony/tolerance is seen as the highest good. However, Christians hold as the highest good, the truth of God. Many Christians, many churches, and many denominations have laid aside the explicit truths of God’s Word in favor of achieving harmony with the world around them. Over the past few decades, we have seen churches, denominations, pastors, and other influential leaders compromising on, for instance, the issue of homosexuality. Well known pastors such as T. D. Jakes is just the latest in a long string of those who have done so. Compromises like this may make the world happy, and they certainly cause Satan to cheer, but they grieve the heart of God. Some denominations have reasoned that the way to reach the world is to become more like the world and the results have been devastating. The Episcopal church, the United Methodist church, and others have experienced sharp decline and church closures since compromising on many controversial issues of which the Scripture speaks clearly. Unfortunately, the one word that apparently most characterized/described the church at Pergamos (Rev. 2:12-17) was “compromise.” Of all the things a church could or should be known for, compromise is not one of them. Sadly, as we look around, in this generation, we have to conclude that the church of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century is a church of compromise.
“Pergamos” was the ancient capital of the province of Asia. By the time John wrote Revelation, Pergamos had been Asia’s capital for almost 250 years. The name “Pergamos” means “citadel” in the Greek language. It was located about 50 miles north of Smyrna, situated on a high hill overlooking the valley below. One of the things the city was known for was its huge library, containing about 200 thousand handwritten volumes. It was second only to the great Library of Alexandria, Egypt. Because of its library, Pergamos was an important center for culture and learning. The city was also the seat/center for Emperor worship, and more so than any other city in Asia, Christians were in danger from the emperor worship cult. Therefore, in the last part of Rev. 2:12 Jesus described the church as being the one “Who has the sharp two-edged sword.” This phrase is a reference to the Word of God. In Eph. 6:17, Paul also uses this metaphor describing a sword as the Word. The writer of Hebrews, in 4:12 says “Now the Word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword.” In Rev. 1:16 The Apostle John recorded seeing a vision of the “Son of Man” and writes “Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.” “Two-edged” pictures the potency and power of the Word. The might and strength of Jesus is strongly reiterated to this church.
Despite their difficult circumstances, the believers at Pergamos maintained their faith with courage. He commends/compliments them for “holding fast” to His name, in spite of the fact they lived “where Satan’s throne is; where Satan dwells.” The possibilities of meaning here are that 1) There was a magnificent alter in Pergamos to Zeus. 2) The Emperor cult was really big in this city. 3) Another possibility has to do with Asklepios, the god of healing. People in the ancient world would come to Pergamos seeking healing at his shrine. Asklepios was depicted as a snake, and non-poisonous snakes roamed freely in his temple. Persons seeking healing would lay down on the temple floor, hoping to be touched by one of the snakes, thereby being healed. Such symbolism, would no doubt, remind Christians of Satan. Perhaps the combination of all 3 of these things were in view by Jesus when He gave the description.
Nothing is really known about “Antipas” mentioned in the text, but he was likely one of the leaders of the church at Pergamos, perhaps even the pastor. According to tradition, he was roasted to death inside a brass bull during the persecution started by Emperor Domitian. Antipas made the ultimate sacrifice for refusing to compromise. He is commended by the Lord and lifted up as a good example.
Jesus’ rebuke of the congregation comes in verses 14-15. Some in the church were holding to what He calls “The doctrine of Balaam.” The account of Balaam is recorded in Numbers 22-25. He was basically a “prophet for hire” without core convictions of his own. He performed duties based on whoever paid him the most. Fearful of the Israelites because of what they had done to their enemies, the Amorites, Balak King of Moab hired Balaam to curse Israel. After trying unsuccessfully 3 times to curse Israel. Balaam came up with another plan. His new plan was to corrupt them by teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the men. He would try to get them to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of sexual immorality. He plotted to use Moabite women to lure these men into ungodly behavior. The theory was that this sinfulness would destroy Israel’s spiritual power. His plan succeeded to a certain extent, but God intervened and stopped it and severely chastened Israel for falling into temptation by executing 24,000 people (Num. 25:9).
Like the Israelites who were seduced by Balaam’s false teaching, some in the church at Pergamos were lured to mix Christianity with an ungodly pagan system. Peter wrote rebuking the Balaamites in 2 Pet. 2:15-16 saying “They have forsaken the right way and gone astray; following the way of Balaam the son of Beor; who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he was rebuked for his iniquity; a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet.” Jude, in verses 10-11 of his epistle, rebukes all who follow this error.
Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor