The Church of Pergamum
This week, the Church of Pergamum in the Book of Revelation, and some teachings about the church, Jesus the Christ, and where we are at right now.
2 Peter 1:20-21 — Above all you must understand that no prophesy of scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation, for prophesy never had this origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Heavenly Father, Lover of our souls, we thank You for this opportunity to come before Your Throne of Grace. We ask for Your Mercy. We ask that you would cover us with Your Blood, that You would allow us, Lord God, to approach Your Throne. Hear our prayer, oh, Lord, Most High God, Creator of everything, Lover of life, Maker of Heaven and earth, the only one true God. Father, we ask that You would forgive us for all of the things we’ve done against You that would keep us from being close to You. Help us, Lord God, when we don’t believe. Help us to understand the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart. Let these things be done as You say, according to Your Will. Help us to grow closer to You. Help us to defeat the enemy in this time period, in this season of our lives. Help us to overcome our struggles no matter what they are. In the name of Jesus, we pray — Amen.
Last week, my friend, we were talking about the Church of Smyrna, and the challenge of Christ to those who have spiritual ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches, and there is a challenge to overcome. As you’ve already heard, this is dependent upon one’s personal faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible says that he who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. We’re already heard in the vision of the Christ of the churches of Revelation 1:18 that Christ holds in His Hands, the keys to Hell and death. God’s children have Christ’s personal promise that they will never be hurt by the second death that’s described in Revelation 20 as “a time when Hades the present abode of the unbelieving dead and death are cast into the Lake of Fire.” This Lake of Fire is the second death. We’ll talk about it when we get to chapter 20, verse 14. Understand what the Bible means by the second death. It is the Bible’s term for the complete ruin of a person’s life so that they can never fulfill God’s Plan for their life, which is eternal. We think linearly, in a straight line. We think what we can see, feel, touch, hear. There’s much more to this world. Death occurs when a person is forever separated from God instead of being united with Him as is His intention. The second each is that stage when people who have died in unbelief are resurrected, and cast alive in an eternal separation from God in a place called the Lake of Fire — not the Ring of Fire that Johnny Cash sang about, but the Lake of Fire. This second death need never cause the child of God to fear for it will have no power over them. I made sure I said that again because sometimes, this stuff makes you think that you’re doomed. And, if you’re listening to this, if you’re a child of God, then you’re good to go! The Church of Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17), have we talked about this yet? Well, let’s get on down to it, all right?
Pergamum was the capital city of Asia until the close of the first century. It was a dirt given over to the worship of Greek idols. We haven’t changed too much. You know, a local Roman rulership, unable to cope with the multitude of religious differences in the city, demanded cooperation of all the groups. So, two of the most prominent religious systems of that city were the worship of Bacchus, the god of revelry and parties, basically, and the worship of Asclepius, the god of healing. If you look at verse 13 in chapter 2 in the Book of Revelation, verse 13 twice refers to the city as the place “where Satan has his throne,” or “where Satan lives.” A detailed commentary on this condition can scarcely be given with accuracy for we don’t have access to this thing. We were never there, right? But, we can say that the following conjecture to a large degree is representative of the truth: Satan has a kingdom. Babylon, from the earliest times, has been considered the capital of his kingdom. Idolatry gained its start in Babylon through Nimrod and his mother, inspired by Satan. As long as Babylon was a dominate world power, it made a pretty good headquarters for Satan’s attack on the human race. However, when Babylon’s glory began to decline, and it was left desolate, Satan looked for another location. He selected Pergamum because of its strong idolatrous religions. Missionaries have been in this area so pagan in its religions, that it seemed as though the very atmosphere was charged with the presence of Satan. No doubt that these were the conditions in which this little church in Pergamum was faithfully preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It reminds me of when you see a little storefront church next to a liquor store, or in a really bad part of town, and it’s struggling — whether it’s like five or ten members to do what saith the Lord. They called the Church of Pergamum the indulged church. The actual church was around 312 to around 606A.D. The commendation that Christ gave this church was: I know where you live, where Satan has his throne, yet you remain true to My Name. You did not renounce your faith in Me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness who was put to death in your city where Satan lives. He did have something to condemn in this church, though. He said, “nevertheless, I have a few things against you. You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols, and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teachings of Nicolaitans. The counsel, repent therefore, otherwise I will soon come to you and fight against them with the Sword of my Mouth.”
The challenge here, for this church: “to him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden mana. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” You know, as soon as you say the words “Satan” and “church,” folks’ ears perk right up. I mean, it’s like, “oh, man, he’s talking about some good stuff today!” Why is that? I don’t know. Maybe we like being scared, or nobody else is talking about this stuff. They called this the indulged church because Satan learned from his attack on the Church of Smyrna that persecution only causes the church to flourish and continue in a perpetual state of revival. After the Diocletians’ unsuccessful attack on the church, Constantine seceded him as Emperor of Roman. Constantine’s ascendancy to the throne was not without controversy, and it had far-reaching affects on the Christian Church, way back in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries. Now, Roman history tells us that Constantine contended for the throne with Maxentius after the death of Galerius, and both Roman history and church tradition indicate that Constantine, already attracted Christianity, allegedly saw a vision of a fiery cross in the sky, and saw the words, “in this sign, conquer.” Constantine believed his vision was a message from God, that if he would embrace the Christian religion, he would be able to conquer his enemies. He accepted the Christian faith, and declared himself to be its defender and protector.
There are some who accept this as a bona fide conversion on the part of Constantine, however, a careful examination of his life indicates that he either he had a poor concept of Christianity, or he had never been truly born again by the Spirit of God. One commendable thing he did, though, he ordered his bishop Eusebius to supervise the production of fifty copies of the Holy Scriptures to be used by the churches. Some of these manuscripts are the oldest existing copies of God’s Word. When Constantine became Emperor of Rome, he became the virtual emperor of the western world. As the self-styled protector of the Christian faith, he issued an edict of toleration for Christianity, and showered many favors on the Christian Church. The government provided money for the operation of the church, and many of the pagan temples were taken over by the Christians. To please the emperor, these leaders adopted customs that were parallel to pagan practices. And, this right here, is really going to mess some of you guys up. One compromise invariably leads to another, and what seemed at the start to be a great blessing, ended up to be a great curse. During the seceding three centuries of this period, many anti-Christian practices of pagan origin were adopted, which robbed the church of its fire and its evangelistic fervor. Now, what am I saying? There was this church that went around the world in the sign of the Cross, and it would meet other religions, pagan religions, and instead of casting them out or changing them, it would say, “all right, we’ll just name your god, Boo Boo Boo Boo, the Virgin Mary, and we’re going to build a church here over on top of your other temple.” That happened throughout the world. The influence of Paganism on the church increased over the years, step by step. The church began to shroud itself in a “mystery and ritualism that had a strong resemblance to Babylonian mysticism.
The Greek Tao, which is the elevation of the large T at the end of a pole, was changed to the sign of a Cross. The rosary of pagan origin was introduced. Celibacy of priests and nuns, which has no scriptural verification, finds a counterpart in the vestal virgins of Paganism and was conceived. I can give you a list of non-scriptural changes introduced during this age. Gradually, these changes became more prominent than the original teachings of Christianity. In 300A.D., Prayers for the Dead. Also, the making of the sign of the Cross. 375A.D., the worship of Saints and Angels. 394A.D., mass was first instituted. 431A.D., the worship of Mary began. 500A.D., priests began dressing differently from lay people. 526A.D., extreme unction. 593A.D., the doctrine of purgatory was introduced. 600A.D., worship services were conducted in Latin, and in 600A.D., prayers directed to Mary. From 312A.D. on, the church became more Roman and less Christian in its practices. The Roman Catholic Church of today is hard-put to trace its ancestry beyond 312A.D. Until that time, the church was an independent collection of local churches working together whenever possible, but not denominated by a central authority.
The name Pergamum literally means “marriage” or “elevation.” As the church became married to government authority and elevated to a place of acceptance, it declined in spiritual power and blessing. You know how everybody talks about the imminent return of Jesus? Well, that was big in the first three centuries, and it produced evangelism, it consecrated and made a fervent church, but that changed when Christianity became a state religion, a countrywide religion. As the church became rich and powerful, it was suggested that the world was getting better and better, and that Christ’s Kingdom was already ushered in, and that He would come at the end of the thousand-year reign. This demanded a reinterpretation of the status of Israel, which was accomplished by suggesting that Israel had been cast off forever, and the promises of Israel now applied to the Church. It was not until 1,400 years later that the coming of Christ was reemphasized, and with that came a return to evangelism. Whenever a local church or denomination has maintained a strong emphasis on the second coming of our Blessed Lord, it has been an evangelistic, missionary-sending station. Where this doctrine has been neglected, the church becomes cold, old, indifferent, and worldly. Just sayin’.
You know, the nature of Christ is revealed in Pergamum. Scripture says, ‘these are the world of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.” We had previously heard that Christ selected one of the aspects of his nature as revealed to John in his vision, and presented it to each individual church. To Pergamum, he revealed the sharp, double-edged sword, which, without question, is the Word of God. The cure for the problems of the local church at Pergamum, of the Pergamum-age of the church, or any church that is of God, Christ used that word to sanctify His Churches, as in John 17:17, to cleanse it in 15:13, to bring it joy in 15:11, and to bring it peace in 16:33. Had the church, or any church of Pergamum, heeded the Word of God, the evils of the dark ages could well have been avoided.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, You said in Your Word, “be still and know that I Am God.” There are so many things going on right now where we need to hear that more and more. There is nothing that You can’t stop, that You can’t fix, that You can’t help, that You heal. We ask, Lord God, that You would help us to move towards You so that we can hear Your Voice, follow Your lead, and get the blessings that we desired. Thank You for everything. It’s only in the matchless and wonderful Name of Your Son Jesus that I ask this thing. Amen.
There’s a common phrase that you’ll hear almost on any news station or any talk radio thing where they say, “speak your truth.” That’s a load of crock. That’s some B.S. That’s some bovine excrement. If all truth is subjective, everybody must be right, no matter how ridiculous, perverse, or immoral their beliefs are. You know, back in the day, back in the 70’s, a lot of R&B songs, there was a phrase that we used to say: Yo, man. Everything is everything. Well, today, they say, “speak your truth.” If all beliefs are true, then non-beliefs are false. How could anybody learn anything in the scheme of things? Also, if true is subjective, then we can hardly attempt to challenge or correct somebody else. Everybody would be just as right as the next person. Logically speaking, it’s only the absolutist who can actually challenge a belief or philosophy, and that’s because the absolutist believes people can be wrong in their beliefs. If truth is relative, it includes all moral truth, which means no one should complain about robbery, murder, or slander by those who have the moral right to do so.
See, one big problem we have with relativism is that no one can live it out consistently. So, in essence, it is much easier to consistently accept the idea that absolutes do exist in the sphere of morality and truth. How does this relate to religion? All religions claim to be the truth, even scientific ones. And, as a result, a lot of people are confused. Of course, not all religions can be fully true since they clearly contradict one another in spite of a few similarities. I always say that all of us — every religion, every faith, every belief — have some commonalities and at least one thing that is right. So, how does one know which religion is really true? Well, to answer this question, one would need to consider the claims made by each religion. Any religion claiming that it, alone is fully true and produces solid evidence to that affect is worth serious consideration for that reason alone. Of all the world religions, biblical Christianity is the only religion that makes the claim it does.
In fact, Christianity makes bold claims that other religions do not, including salvation and forgiveness of sin based on grace not merit or deeds, assurance of salvation and eternal life through faith and belief in Jesus Christ, and in Jehovah God being the only one and true God, Creator and Sustainer of all that exists. Either Christianity is the greatest thing for mankind or the biggest lie ever told to mankind. What really makes Christianity unique among world religions? Jesus. If you want to see how everybody is rollin’? Ask them what the Jesus thing is in their faith. Who is Jesus to you? That separates everybody. You want to draw a line? Bring up Jesus. So, why is it that you can talk about God, and nobody gets upset, but as soon as you mention Jesus, people want to go and stop the conversation? Why don’t the names of Buddha, Mohammed, and Confucius offend people? What makes Jesus so different from other religious leaders? I’ll tell you what. These others didn’t claim to be God, but Jesus did. That is what makes Him so different. For many people, this claim is too exclusive, too narrow for them to want to believe, as if one’s belief is the key element. See, that’s not so for Christianity. One’s belief is important, but not the key element. Christians do not accept the cliche that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe it enough.
The Christian faith is an objective faith, therefore it must have an object. Jesus Christ is that object. For the Christian, the value is not in the one believing, but in the One who is believed in. Faith’s object: Jesus Christ. The issue is not what we want to think or believe, but rather who Jesus Christ is, and who He claimed to be. You follow me so far? I’m going to try to tackle at least one big, audacious subject like this every week, if I can.
One of the things that happened, and one of the things that is a big misconception is that folks say that Jesus didn’t really claim to be God. They try to find an out. One assumption is that those who lived at the time of Christ misunderstood Him as we are misunderstanding Him today. In other words, Jesus didn’t really claim to be God. But, He did. Jesus not only claimed equality with God as His Father, but He also asserted that He was the one in essence or nature with God. Go to the Gospel of John. Jesus continually spoke of Himself as being One with God. In the Book of Mark, Jesus claimed to be able to forgive sins, which, according to Jewish Law, only God could do. Folks were ready to stone Him every time He brought this up. The Scriptures attribute characteristics to Him that can be true only of God — self-existent, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, possessing eternal life. And the Gospels present Jesus as the actual embodiment of truth and love.
It’s important to understand than an attribute isn’t something that is a part of God, but something that is true of God. How about the trial of Jesus? Unique among criminal trials is this one, which, not by the actions, but by the identity of the accused. That’s the issue. Jesus was tried for blasphemy. In most trials, people are tried for what they have done. Jesus was tried for what he was claiming to be. You see, the people of His day, were highly cultured and intensely religious people. They did not misunderstand Him, just as we are not misunderstanding Him today. The references are abundant and their meanings are clear. In Mark 2:10, Jesus claimed to be able to forgive sin. He said that He was Lord over the Sabbath. That’s in Mark 2:28. In Mark 14:62 and Luke 22:66-71, Jesus called Himself “I Am,” the name God used of Himself in Exodus 3:14. Jesus said He was the one who sent prophets to Israel in Matthew 23:43. He referred to Himself as fulfillment of the Scriptures, like, a few times. Luke 4:21, and John mentioned it in 5:39. He claimed that to reject Him was to die in sin. Ain’t my words, it comes right out of the Book, in John 8:24. In the Book of John, chapter 8, verse 51, Jesus said that those who kept His Words would never see death, and in a few verses later in verse 58, He attested to His own eternalization. In John 10:30, He claimed to be of the same nature as the Father. He claimed to be Lord in John 13:13, and the only way to God (John 14:6), which people just go crazy over. And in John 14:9, Jesus said, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” Equally significant, though perhaps not as noticeable to our 21st century Western minds, our Jesus’s repeated references to Himself as the Son of Man. More than eighty times, Jesus uses “Son of Man” as a title for Himself. Jesus’s use of the term was referenced to Daniel 7:13 and 14 in which the prophet speaks of “one like a Son of Man seated with the Ancient of Days who presided with authority over the world and all its people.”
See, Jesus’s listeners would have known that passage as well. We find one such use of this title, Son of Man, during Jesus’s exchange with the Jewish high priest in the Book of Mark, chapter 14, verses 60-64. The New American Standard version says, “The high priest stood up and came forward to question Jesus saying, ‘Do you not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against you?’ But, He kept silent and did not answer. Again, the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am. You shall see the Son of Man, sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of Heaven.’ Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, ‘What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy. How does this seem to you?’ And, they all condemned Him to the deserving of death.”
The reason they called for Jesus’s execution was because, in their minds at least, He had committed blasphemy. He said that He was God. And, that is why nobody wants you to say that Jesus word.