Monday, October 24, 2016

24 October 2016

And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword:
“I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication. So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.
Revelation 2:12-17 (NRSV)

Good evening, welcome. Today we visit Pergamum, the site of Satan’s throne. Pergamum was filled with pagan cults, worshiping Zeus, Athena, Dionysus, and Asclepius (whose symbol-the snake-remains to this day as the symbol of medicine and medical healing). Pergamum was also a center for emperor worship, required by Rome as a demonstration of loyalty. Paul had already instructed the Corinthians concerning meat sacrificed to idols that buying such meat in the marketplace was permissible. There must have been some in the Pergamum church who went beyond this teaching and participated in banquets and feasts honoring the Emperor-which probably would have been required for all citizens-and other pagan gods. This is an important point-life for any Christian who remained faithful to worship Christ and He alone would have been extremely difficult and dangerous.

Balaam, unable to curse Israel from without, sought to corrupt them from within by encouraging intermarriage between the Israelites and Canaanites, with the result that the Israelites began to adopt the very customs God had sent them to purge; this seems to have been happening here as well. The temptation is always present for the church-and individual believers-to conform to, rather than transform, the surrounding culture.

The Nicolaitans also show up here. That they are mentioned separately from the teachings of Balaam leads me to suspect they were involved in something other than Balaam’s stumbling block. A quick internet search reveals two interesting possibilities; that the name itself refers to leaders who impose their beliefs by force, and that the grace of God implies freedom to sin rather than freedom from sin (the heresy known as antinomianism). The Nicolaitans may have been leaders in the church who assumed authority they did not have and sought to gain followers by granting license to sin with impunity. Those who followed Balaam’s teaching may have tried to ‘sneak immorality in the back door’; the Nicolaitans would have sinned boldly, assuming God’s grace covered it all.  

The good news is some here resisted these false teachings and held fast to faith in Jesus to the point of death. Persecution was real here and resulted in martyrdom. These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword and Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth indicate the Word of God properly understood will effectively counteract compromise and false doctrine (see also 2 Timothy 3:16); also our Lord graciously offers time to repent, although, at some point, the offer will expire.

Those who conquer receive hidden manna and a white stone with a new name. Jewish tradition held that the miraculous feeding of the Israelites in the wilderness would be repeated in the last days. The white stone with a new name had a double meaning. White stones were often given as tokens which would grant entrance to banquets and feasts; this stone will grant entrance to the wedding banquet of the Jesus and His bride (see Matthew 22:1-13). A white stone with a divine name was thought to have power to protect from evil spirits and cure illness; the name of Jesus has ultimate authority for the salvation of all who believe (Acts 4:12).

Jesus warned the Ephesian church against works without love; here the warning is against false teaching leading to compromise. The Word of God is the one effective cure for false teaching; however, care must be taken to ensure the study and use of the Word will ultimately lead to the Living Word-Jesus, the Christ. The one must always lead to the other.
May the Lord Himself bless you and keep you this day. JRG

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