The Corruption in Pergamum

For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

Welcome to week four of our study through the seven churches in Revelation. In week one we looked at the churches as lampstand made to display the light of Christ to the world. In week two we looked at the letter to the church in Ephesus who left their first love. Last week we looked at the church in Smyrna that was suffering. And now, today, we will be looking at the church in Pergamum.

57 miles north of Smyrna, Pergamum was a city on a hill. It holds the oldest temple in all of Asia Minor for Emperor worship. It was also the home to the throne of Zeus (which stood over 40 feet tall), and a temple for Aesculapius, the serpent god of healing. Needless to say, there was a lot of worshiping going on in this city, but they didn’t take kindly to those who refused to bow to their gods.

Let’s take a look at what Jesus had to say to this church:

To the angel of the assembly in Pergamum write:

He who has the sharp two-edged sword says these things:

I know your works and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. You hold firmly to my name, and didn’t deny my faith in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to throw a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans likewise. Repent therefore, or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. To him who overcomes, to him I will give of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written, which no one knows but he who receives it.

Revelation 2:12-17

The church in Pergamum is often referred to as the persecuted church. And they were persecuted, there is no doubt of that. They lived in a city that worshiped multiple gods, but not Christ. Christians were persecuted and killed there. And Jesus said He knew all of that, and the church was faithful to Him. They didn’t give up.

Yet, their biggest battle didn’t come from outside their walls, but within.

Christ’s rebuke for Pergamum was that they allowed false beliefs within their church. We see warnings against false teachings in the early church over and over again in Scripture. However, they weren’t just limited to biblical times. Matthew 7:15 says, Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.”

There are many teachers today who call themselves Christians, yet do not hold to biblical truths. Some of them are extreme and more easily identified than others. Yet some are not. They are part of the church, but they hold to the teachings of Balaam – corrupting the church from within.

If you aren’t familiar with the teachings of Balaam, he was a prophet during the time of Moses. He told Balak, King of Moab, the way to undermine the Israelites was, essentially, to get them to sin against God (Num 31:16). They did that by getting them to eat food sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality(Num 25 and Rev 2:14). In other words, they compromised their faith.

There were people in Pergamum who were following this teaching. People who were willing to die for Christ, but yet, they were still willing to live a life of compromise when it came to their faith. Do we have people like that in our churches – are we people like that?

Are we willing to proclaim Christ from the rooftops, but not willing to live by His standards?

Often times I hear pastors teaching about selective Christianity. Where Christians pick and choose which Bible verses they will follow. Saying others don’t apply to them or Jesus didn’t really mean it the way it sounds.

Peter wrote about Paul’s letters that are included in Scripture that “there are some things that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unsettled twist, as they also do to the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (3:16) When we pick and choose, we end up hurting ourselves. 

The letter to Pergamum doesn’t say if Christ is holding this against them because those people are trying to spread their beliefs – their corruption – to others within the church or not. But I lean towards believing it’s more an issue of preaching the truth.

Pergamum

God’s Word is living and active. If His Word is being accurately preached, it has the power to slice right to the heart of the matter. Not only does it sound like the pastor of this church wasn’t speaking out against these beliefs, but, moreover, the members of this church who knew the beliefs were wrong weren’t going to their brothers and sisters in Christ and lovingly correcting them. They were letting them continue to believe in lies that would ultimately send them to hell.

Which makes me ask:

  • Are there people in our church that follow false teachers?
  • That believe something that is contrary to the Word of God?
  • If so, what are we doing about it?

Those are powerful questions.

Jesus said He is coming quickly, and He will make war against them with the sword of His mouth. In other words, they will find out the truth and where they have gone astray sooner or later. We have the ability to share the truth with them — to bring them back to Christ before it is too late.

But will we?

Jesus spoke a lot about truth and love. Ephesus had the truth, but they lacked love. The church in Pergamum seems to be the opposite. They have love. They were willing to die for their love of Christ. But it sounds like they were fearful of offending those within the walls of the church. They didn’t want to speak up for the truth when it might cause hard feelings.

They were tolerant.

They allowed each other to compromise their faith.

They were corrupted.

And Jesus held that against them.

There is so much more to this letter than we have been able to cover today, but I want to leave you with two questions:

  • Do you love God enough to live for Him? And,
  • Do you love your church family enough to ask them to do the same?

“Teach me thy way, O Lord; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.”

Psalm 86:11

Reflection Questions:

Summarize this letter in your own words. What would you say God wanted us to understand from reading it?

Is there any area of your life, where you compromise God’s truth for the way you prefer to live?

Is there anyone in your church that you know is following a false teacher that you could lovingly correct or should be pray for?

Take it Further:

 

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