The Compromising Church – Revelation 2:12-17

We live in a day where there are many different types and styles of churches. Very few churches are balanced these days. Some have drifted far to the right and have become legalistic. They have become prideful, thinking themselves to be better than others. They are more concerned with defending their doctrinal positions than they are with loving Jesus. Then there are churches that have drifted too far to the left. In the name of love and grace, they have drifted away from the truth of God’s Word. They have adopted false teaching and have fallen into sin. Both of these types of churches have good traits. However, as we see with the church at Pergamos, the negative aspects of the church cloud out the positive things.

Pergamos is a city located in western Asia Minor. The city still exists today under the name of Bergamo. There are many ruins of the ancient city of Pergamos in existence today. The city was a very idolatrous city and, as we see in this letter, elements of such false religion found its way into the church. Sadly, we see the same thing taking place today. Many churches have adopted the ways of its society. The sinful world has crept into the doors of many modern day churches. The church of today has begun to accept the ways and ideas of the world, causing them to compromise on God’s Word.

Characteristic of the sender. In verse 12 we read, And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword:” [1]Jesus identifies Himself as the one who has the ‘sharp two-edged sword.’ This sword is the Word of God. We see this in several passages of scripture. In Ephesians, as part of our armor as believers, we are to have the ‘sword of the spirit which is the Word of God.’ This sword is described to us in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” [2]The sword is to be used as both an offensive and defensive weapon. The sword inflicts pain on the sinner and defends the believer from the attacks of Satan. Lange’s Commentary on Revelations says, “The church of Pergamos was infested with men of corrupt minds, who did what they could to corrupt both the faith and manners of the church; and Christ, being resolved to fight against them by the sword of his word, takes the title of him that hath the sharp sword with two edges. (1.) The word of God is a sword; it is a weapon both offensive and defensive, it is, in the hand of God, able to slay both sin and sinners. (2.) It is a sharp sword. No heart is so hard but it is able to cut it; it can divide asunder between the soul and the spirit, that is, between the soul and those sinful habits that by custom have become another soul, or seem to be essential to it. (3.) It is a sword with two edges; it turns and cuts every way. There is the edge of the law against the transgressors of that dispensation, and the edge of the gospel against the despisers of that dispensation; there is an edge to make a wound, and an edge to open a festered wound in order to its healing. There is no escaping the edge of this sword: if you turn aside to the right hand, it has an edge on that side; if on the left hand, you fall upon the edge of the sword on that side; it turns every way.”[3] The bottom line is that you cannot run from God’s Word. His Word cuts deep into our souls, convicting us of sin and opening us up before God. As believers, we need this sword. Without it, we would be left in our sin and there would be no growth in our Christian walk. The sword is necessary so that we may be transformed and made into the image of Christ. The thought of being cut and open before God is not a joyous thing to think about. It’s not fun to have the layers of our lives peeled back revealing who we really are. However, unless we allow the sword to peel back those layers, our hearts will be left unchanged.

Compliment given to the church. After Jesus identifies Himself as the one with the two-edged sword, He gives the church at Pergamos a compliment. Notice what it says in verse 13, “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.” [4]Two times in this verse it mentions that the church was located ‘where Satan dwells.’ The city of Pergamos was a very wicked city that was given to false religion and idolatry. Satan uses this pagan city to make life miserable for the believers there. We too live in a very pagan society. The pressures of our society often weigh heavy upon the believer and the temptation to compromise is great. The compliment given to the church at Pergamos was two-fold. 1. They held fast to the Name of Jesus. In other words, they continued to believe in Him. Though they were living in difficult circumstances, they still believed. In our world today there are many scholars and leaders that attempt to discredit who Jesus is. Sadly, many Christians have fallen into the trap of questioning what they believe due to the pressures of the academic and philosophical world. As believers, we must never turn away from what we believe. No matter what the world tells us, we must keep our faith strong. 2. They did not deny Christ. Though living in a pagan world, the believers at Pergamos was not ashamed of the name of Jesus. In a day when the name of Jesus is drug through the mud, as believers, we must never be ashamed of His name. Don’t be afraid to speak His name in public. Don’t be afraid for people to hear you pray. Don’t back away from an opportunity to tell someone about Him. Don’t be afraid to defend His name when it is used in an unworthy manner. Never be ashamed of claiming the name of Jesus.

Criticism given to the church. Notice what Jesus says in verses 14-15, “But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. 15 Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.”[5] Jesus rebukes the church at Pergamos because they had those among them who compromised on the truth and have accepted false teaching. The Holman New Testament Commentary gives excellent insight into these verses. “The church in Pergamum apparently had the opposite problem of the Ephesian church. Rather than testing and rejecting false teachers, they had uncritically accepted people who hold to the teaching of Balaam. The risen Lord unleashes stinging criticism and compares it to the teachings of the Nicolaitans. The strange incident of Balaam and Barak is told in Numbers 22–24. The false prophet and the king at first seemed to fail in their direct attempts to curse the Israelites. Later, however, they succeeded in leading the people of God astray indirectly, by idolatry and immorality (Num. 25:1–2; 31:16)The exact form encouraged by Balaam of eating food sacrificed to idols was different from that encouraged within the church of Pergamum. The false deities had changed. The New Testament passage that most extensively addresses this issue is 1 Corinthians 8. There, Paul makes it clear that the real issue is that Christians are never to violate their consciences. Although we have little specific information, the false teachers in Pergamum must have been teaching a subtle distortion: violation of conscience is quite all right, especially if there is not a clear Christian teaching at stake. Balaam had encouraged a form of committing sexual immorality (adultery of Israelite husbands with females from Moab) quite distinct from that form tolerated in the church of Pergamum (probably consorting with temple prostitutes). The New Testament passage addressing this most extensively is 1 Corinthians 5–7. There, Paul makes it clear that the issue is absolute: for Christians sexual relationships are right only within the bonds of marriage. The false teachers in Pergamum must have been teaching grievous moral error: violation of the marriage bond is quite all right if done in the name of religion. Perhaps they were arguing some variation of the following: Christ came to abolish the Law; part of the Law was the command about adultery; therefore, those in Christ are free to engage in whatever sexual relations they find “meaningful.” (Such teachings would appeal to those from pagan religious backgrounds in which promiscuous sex was accepted as a routine part of life.)”[6] So, here we have a church that continued to believe in Christ and was unashamed of His name, yet they allowed false teaching and practices in their midst. They allowed the distortion of God’s Word. Unfortunately, this is a description of many churches today. In order to be accepted by the world and to be ‘relevant’, many churches have opened themselves up to accepting and allowing sin in their midst. Sadly, many believers feel that we should put our arms around people and tell them that everything is okay all in the name of Christian love. Allow me to be blunt. Christian love is not acceptance of sin. Yes, we should we be loving toward people; however, if we really love people, we will show them the error of their ways and their need for Jesus. Too many Christians have the attitude that we should pat people on the back and tell them that it’s okay because Jesus loves them. Let me tell you something, it is not okay! It is not okay to lie. It is not okay to cheat. It is not okay to commit adultery. It is not okay to practice homosexuality. It is not okay to divorce. It is not okay to have an abortion. It is not okay to twist the scriptures in order to justify your actions. It is not okay! Sin is serious business. Instead of putting our arms around people and telling them, ‘O, it’s okay, we love you and Jesus loves you, don’t worry about it, just be yourself and God will accept you as you are’; we should put our arms around them and say, ‘look, you are a sinner just like all of us and as a sinner we are condemned and deserve to go to hell, but Jesus loves you so much that He came to this earth and died for your sin and if you will believe in Him you can have your sins forgiven and you can be set free from your sin and as the Holy Spirit comes into you, sin shall no longer have dominion over you and you can be changed!’ As Christians we need to stop encouraging people to continue in their sin by accepting their lifestyle, instead we should reveal to them the exceeding sinfulness of their sin and their need for a Savior, who alone can transform their life! Jesus condemned the church at Pergamos for their acceptance of false teaching and sinful practices. The same condemnation is given to the church today.

Command given to the church. As a result of the condemnation given, a command is given to the church in verse 16, “Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.” [7]A call is given to the church to repent of their ways. The Matthew Henry Commentary says, “(1.) Repentance is the duty of saints as well as sinners; it is a gospel duty. (2.) It is the duty of churches and communities as well as particular persons; those who sin together should repent together. (3.) It is the duty of Christian societies to repent of other men’s sins, as far as they have been accessory to them, though but so much as by connivance. (4.) When God comes to punish the corrupt members of a church, he rebukes that church itself for allowing such to continue in its communion, and some drops of the storm fall upon the whole society. (5.) No sword cuts so deep, nor inflicts so mortal a wound, as the sword of Christ’s mouth. Let but the threatenings of the word be set home upon the conscience of a sinner, and he will soon be a terror to himself; let these threatenings be executed, and the sinner is utterly cut off. The word of God will take hold of sinners, sooner or later, either for their conviction or their confusion.”[8] I believe that God is calling on the church in America today to repent. He is calling us to repent of our personal sins. He is calling us to repent of our cooperate sins of compromise and division. He is calling on us to repent on behalf of the sins of our nation. He wants His church to be pure and unspotted from the world. With repentance comes change. With repentance comes revival. With repentance, the blessings of God will be restored to our churches and our nation.

Commitment given to the church. The final verse in this appeal to the church at Pergamos says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”[9] “These are two different symbols for eternal life, the first Jewish; the second Gentile. The ancient Israelites had “hidden” a pot of their divinely given bread in their ark of the covenant. Jewish tradition held that this manna had been miraculously preserved and would be multiplied to feed God’s people when the Messiah came (Exod. 16:32–35; 2 Macc. 2:5–7). Later in Revelation the wedding supper of the Lamb (19:9) similarly symbolizes eternal life. In the ancient pagan world, special white stones were often used as admission tickets for public festivals. Possessing a stone with a special name—perhaps the name engraved is “Christ” or “Jesus,” serving to certify the stone as genuine—means that admission to heaven is absolutely sure for believers in Christ.”[10] The good news given to the church at Pergamos is that even though they have failed miserably, their salvation is secure. This is the most glorious and wonderful truth of the Gospel. When one comes to faith in Jesus, their salvation is secure. No matter how bad we mess up, we will always be a child of God. The point here is that though we fail in our commitment to Christ, His commitment to us never fails. What an awesome God we serve!

What about you? Do you find yourself allowing the sins of the world to creep into your life?  If so, repent of your ways and turn to Jesus. Take comfort in the fact that your salvation is secure. Make a fresh commitment to empty yourself of the things of the world and fill yourself with the Word of God.

[1] The New King James Version. (1982). (Re 2:12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[2] The New King James Version. (1982). (Heb 4:12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 2466). Peabody: Hendrickson.

[4] The New King James Version. (1982). (Re 2:13). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5] The New King James Version. (1982). (Re 2:14–15). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[6] Easley, K. H. (1998). Revelation (Vol. 12, pp. 38–39). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[7] The New King James Version. (1982). (Re 2:16). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[8] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 2467). Peabody: Hendrickson.

[9] The New King James Version. (1982). (Re 2:17). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[10] Easley, K. H. (1998). Revelation (Vol. 12, pp. 39–40). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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