Understanding The Apocalypse

Revelation 2:12-17
Chapter 4

How true it is that anything can be accomplished through gradualism. I remember when as a teenager I received my social security card. Printed in bold letters across the face of the card was this statement: "For Social Security purposes only, not for identification."

History tells us one of the great fears many Americans had when the system was instituted was that someday the assigned number would be used to catalogue people. Not so, was the promise of our government and yet, today through gradualism the social security number has become our personal identification number.

Today, in the USA, a child must have a social security number to be claimed as a deduction on the parents income tax return. The practical effect is that every American is assigned a number and this number that was promised never to be used for identification, now follows us from the cradle to the grave.

It has been said that gradualism is similar to the camel that is allowed to stick his nose under the edge of the tent - it's just a matter of time before he comes in.

Likewise, the Church in Pergamum had declined through gradualism and is representative of the third period of church history.

As we know from our study of Smyrna, Satan brought great persecution on the Church in an effort to destroy it, but his efforts had instead served to purify the church by purging it of false believers. Therefore, Satan apparently realized it was time to change his strategy.

In 311 AD, Galerus, the Emperor of Rome died and his throne was sought by at least four contenders, including Constantine. Inspired by the vision of a flaming cross with the legend, "In this sign conquer," Constantine moved quickly against his rivals, militarily defeating them and establishing himself as the undisputed Emperor of Rome.

He attributed his successful ascension to the throne, to his "Christianity" and declared that Christianity would be the official religion of the Roman Empire. Almost overnight, worship of pagan gods and idols ceased and Christianity went from being a poor and persecuted minority, to a wealthy and established majority.

Soldiers claimed to be Christians as a condition for advancement. Doctrinal issues in the church became political issues in the government. The emperor became the arbiter of Church affairs and the clergy became a privileged class, exempted from taxes and showered with special favors.

However, lurking behind all this new-found freedom and tolerance was Satan, insidiously trying to destroy the Church through gradualism. Modern-day theologians mostly agree the worst blow Satan ever dealt the church was making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Long before Constantine, declension through gradualism was the situation the Church at Pergamum faced and in the opening sentence of this letter, Christ is characterized as having the remedy or solution to their problems.

I. The Salutation

"And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write: These things saith he who hath the sharp sword with two edges" (Revelation 2:12).

In Revelation 1:16, John saw the vision of the Glorified Christ and said, "Out of the mouth of the Lord went a sharp two-edged sword." In Hebrews 4:12, we find,

"For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thought and intents of the heart."
These passages define the "sharp sword with two edges" as the Word of God. Therefore, as we look at the problems facing the Church at Pergamum, keep in mind that the errors were avoidable by simply reading and heeding the Word of God. Likewise, any problem that churches or individuals face today may be avoided or solved by reading and heeding the Word of God.

However, many churches and individuals are like Pergamum, in that they do not go to the Scriptures for guidance. Rather, they do what they want to do and then cry for forgiveness. Surely, these subscribe to the premise that it is easier to seek forgiveness than to ask permission. No doubt, ignorance of God's Word and disobedience to His will were the root problems in Pergamum as indeed they are the root problems in any church.

Although the Church through gradualism had slipped away from the Word of God, our Lord still finds grounds for

II. A Commendation

"I know thy works and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's throne is; and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days in which Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth" (Revelation 2:13).
Sometimes, in the middle of life's frustrations we get the feeling that no one else could possibly know our situation or how we feel. Apparently, there was a twinge of this feeling going through the Church at Pergamum. Perhaps, they felt that the Lord did not realize how hard they struggled. Therefore, to address their concerns, our Lord says that He knows their work and how they must dwell where Satan's throne is.

To understand where Satan's throne is, we must read 2 Corinthians 4:4, where Satan is called the "...god of this world." This means that Satan controls the world system in which we live and the location of his throne is the world. Because this is true, the world has always been and always will be against God's people.

Because the local church at Pergamum was in the world, it was in a constant battle, as is every other body of Believers. However, they need not be alone in this battle. One of the marvelous aspects of serving the Savior, who became flesh and dwelled among us is that He knows and has experienced every hardship we will experience in the world, even to the point of death. Add to this, His promise to be with us always and we have the assurance that He always knows our circumstances and is there to help in time of need, if we will only turn to Him.

Next, notice in Revelation 2:13, that in spite of persecution the Church had not denied the faith but held fast to the name of the Lord Jesus. Clearly, they were clinging to salvation by grace, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

As we are about to see, two great heresies that would affect the Church even until today were being allowed in Pergamum. But still, they were true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and for this they received a commendation from our Lord. Why? Because, the test of a true church or true believer in Christ is not sinless perfection. The true test is commitment to the pure gospel of Jesus Christ.

When a local church ceases to teach salvation solely by grace, through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, it has forsaken its purpose. When this happens, as we learned in the letter to the Church at Ephesus, Jesus will remove its candlestick. Furthermore, according to Paul in Galatians 1:6-9, those who preach any other Gospel are accursed. But this was not the situation in Pergamum, though they had slipped, they had not fallen away. Still, there is,

III. A Rebuke

"But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate" (Revelation 2:14-15).
From this text we can see that Pergamum had two big problems:
(1) The doctrine of Balaam.
(2) The doctrine of the Nicolaitans.
To understand the doctrine of Balaam, we must first look at the history of Balaam, taken from Numbers 22- 25.

Israel, in her march toward the promised land, asked permission from Sihon, king of the Amorites, to cross his country. Sihon's response was to attack the Israelites in the wilderness. Big mistake! The armies of the Amorites were quickly defeated and Israel took possession of the cities of Ammon.

When Balak the king of Moab, saw what happened he and his people began to fear that Israel would invade them also. Balak and his counselors reasoned that the way to defeat Israel was not through military might but through spiritual means. So, they sent messengers to a prophet named Balaam with the offer of great wealth and power if he would curse the Israelites.

Meanwhile, God spoke to Balaam telling him not to go to Balak and curse His people. Consequently, Balaam refused to go with the messengers. However, Balak would not take "no" for an answer. Again, he sent messengers to Balaam. This time offering even greater rewards if he would come to Moab and curse Israel. The next morning Balaam saddled his donkey and headed for Moab.

However, after arriving in Moab with visions of great wealth swirling in his head, Balaam found that he could not curse Israel. Instead, every time he opened his mouth, he pronounced a blessing on them. Finally, after three failed attempts to curse Israel, Balak became angry with Balaam and sent him home empty handed.

But, Balaam was not through. He wanted the money he had been promised. So, he devised a scheme whereby God would curse Israel and Balak would give him the promised reward. According to Numbers 31:16, Balaam's advice to Balak was to have the daughters of Moab intermingle with the sons of Israel. By seducing the men of Israel with their charms, the women of Moab could lead Israel into idolatry and Balaam reasoned that God would then destroy Israel.

The Bible refers to what Balaam did in three ways:

(1) The way of Balaam, 2 Peter 2:15, "Who have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness."

The "way of Balaam" is to make merchandise of the ministry. There are many today, as throughout history, who do this. They claim to be "sent from God" but when exposed are found using the ministry to amass wealth and power. Just as Balaam had no interest in being obedient to God, but was only interested in what he could acquire for himself, these have no allegiance to the truth, but are motivated by what they can obtain for themselves.

(2) The error of Balaam, Jude 11. "Woe unto them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah."

The "error of Balaam" is to focus on the natural morality of humanity and ignore the Grace of God. Balaam reasoned that God must surely destroy those in Israel who sinned, but he failed to realize that God's people are viewed as righteous because of their faith, not because they are sinless.

This is the same mistake so many make today when they allege that salvation can only be gained or maintained through sinless perfection. Salvation is not based on our own ability to live above sin. It is based on God's grace, appropriated through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave Himself to die in our place, for our sins.

(3) The doctrine of Balaam, Revelation 2:14. "...the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication."

The "doctrine of Balaam" teaches separation from the world is unnecessary to maintain a right relationship with the Lord. The legacy of Constantine was the melding of the Church and the world system. Sadly, the Church at Pergamum was beginning this process long before Constantine. They failed to realize, as the Church at Corinth failed to realize, that a "little leaven leavens the whole lump."

Through gradualism the purity of the Pergamum Church was being compromised as they embraced the world system, rather, than separate themselves from it. The results were that the "way of Balaam," the "error of Balaam" and the "doctrine of Balaam" all gained footholds in Pergamum, as they will in any church that does not maintain its separation from the world.

Also, there was another deadly doctrine in the church - the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. Perhaps, you recall from our study of the Church at Ephesus that the word Nicolaitan comes from the compound Greek word, "Niko-laos," and means, "Conqueror of the people."

From this meaning and from Church history, we understand the deeds of the Nicolaitans mentioned in Revelation 2:6, to be the establishment of an elite and separate priesthood through which other people must go, to commune with God. This was the seed bed of the Papal system that came to full development under the Roman Empire.

Notice, in Pergamum it is the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, not the deeds of the Nicolaitans that is in focus. The deeds of the Nicolaitans are now being defended and taught as doctrine in the church. Clearly, Revelation 2:15 says God hates this teaching just as He said He hates the deeds, in Revelation 2:6.

God never intended under the new covenant:

That man would mediate for man - for Christ alone is our Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5).

That one person would forgive the sins of another - for God alone can forgive sins and He does so only, through the sacrifice of Christ (Luke 5:21, Acts 4:12; 5:30-31).

That a man could require of other men, penance for sin - for God alone is the judge of all mankind (Romans 14:10, Acts 10:42; 17:30-31, Romans 2:16, 2 Timothy 4:1, Hebrews 10:30-31).

That anyone would set himself or others up as being of greater importance in the Church - Jesus said that he who would be great, must be the least (Matthew 23:8-12).
IV. The Solution

"Repent, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth" (Revelation 2:16).

Two major problems had taken hold in Pergamum: Worldliness and Priestly Assumption. Notice, the admonition is to repent, but also notice the reason they should repent is, "I will come unto THEE quickly, and will fight against THEM with the sword of my mouth." This appears to be a reference to the Great White Throne Judgment described in Revelation 20:12-15, when all the unsaved from throughout history will be judged from the pages of God's own Word, which is the "Sword" of His mouth.

One would think that it would be a desirable thing for the Lord to fight those who were promoting heresy in the Church. However, that would be contrary to the mission of the Church, which is to seek to reconcile men with God because when the Lord comes against them with the sword of His mouth it is too late for them to be saved.

Therefore, the Church should repent because it has the responsibility to cleanse itself and to maintain purity in actions and in doctrine so that its testimony is not destroyed. When a Church loses its testimony, it loses its effectiveness in preaching the Gospel and those to whom they should be proclaiming Christ may be forever lost. As the Church in Pergamum should have done, we need to carefully guard our actions and our doctrine not for our sakes only, but for the sakes of those outside the Church that they too may be saved.

V. The Conclusion

"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it" (Revelation 2:17).
Manna speaks of the sustenance that comes from God, unknown or hidden to those who have not placed their trust in Christ.

In ancient times a white stone was given to a person who was acquitted in a court of law, symbolizing their innocence. Those who overcome the world by faith in Jesus Christ are reckoned not guilty, by the Lord God because Christ has paid the penalty for their sins. White symbolizes their purity in Christ.

A new name, is symbolic of the new creation we become when we are born again into the family of God.

The only way to know these blessings is to receive them from God, through faith in the substitutionary death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

"He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says."

From "Understanding The Apocalypse"
A book of sermons by Pastor Jim McColloch, Th.M., Th.D.
© Copyright 1994, 1999, 2006