Pergamum: Truth or Error

Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
2 July 2017
Revelation 2:12-17
Ordinary Time

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OT Scripture Reading before the Sermon – Numbers 31

Collect: Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Proper 8 / BCP)

Sermon text – Revelation 2:12-17

12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. 13 “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. 15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’

May God add his blessing to the reading, hearing, and preaching of his word.

Jesus Considers the Church — vs 12

12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.

Hebrews 4:12-13 – For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Vision of Jesus standing with a sword drawn = he comes to fight sin, he comes to judge,  and he means business.  

Joshua 5:13-15 — 13 When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” 14 And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” 15 And the commander of the Lord‘s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. 

1 Chronicles 21:15-17 — 16 And David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, and in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. 17 And David said to God, “Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand, O Lord my God, be against me and against my father’s house. But do not let the plague be on your people.”

Jesus Commends the Church — vs 13

13 “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.

Satan’s throne = evil stronghold, false religions, pagan cults

mission outpost = surrounded by the enemy

If anyone has valid reasons to disband or legit excuses to abandon the church persecuted Christians in the midst of Satan’s dwelling place and throne do. And yet they were faithful no matter what. Why? The gates of hell shall not prevail against the church of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Confronts the Church — vss 14-15

14 But I have a few things against you:

you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.

Jesus refers to the story of Balaam which is found in the Book of Numbers. Balaam was a televangelist, a prophet for hire. He prophesied whatever his patrons wanted him to prophesy.  On one occasion he advised an enemy of God’s people to set a trap for them.

So, while Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.

God sent a plague among the people and twenty-four thousand died. (Numbers 25:1-9; 31:16)

Like Balaam, the false teachers who plague the church serve only themselves at all costs—even if it means putting others at risk, harm, or danger

2 Peter 2:14-16 14 They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! 15 Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing. 

15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

Nico = victory; laitans = laos — the people

the victory-people = man-centered power religion / proto-charismaniacs (?)

All this reminds me of the Liberate movement which was led by a former PCA pastor in Florida. He statrted out preaching the gospel of grace, but ended up preaching a gospel of grace without restrictions, a grace without limitations. A free grace that was no grace at all. A false grace that did not require him to turn from sin and trust Christ, but one that gave him the freedom to sin against his wife, his children, and his church. In the end he wrecked his life and ministry and damaged many people.

Like the church at Pergamum, we are surrounded by false teachers who urge us to accomodate the teachings of the apostles to please the world, to adjust our theology and practices to suit the situation, avoid hard truths to avoid offending anyone, or to abandon orthodoxy altogether for something more pragmatic — that yields better results.

Jesus Counsels the Church — vs 16

16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.

Why a Sword? = See connection to story of Balaam in Book of Numbers

When God’s people followed the counsel of Balaam, a plague broke out and twenty-four thousand people died.

All the leaders of the people were lifted up on poles and hung out to dry in the sun.

A priest pierced one idolatrous / sexually immoral couple couple with a spear while they were copulation and pinned them to the ground.

But Balaam the false prophet was killed with the sword (Numbers 31:8).

Jesus warns the church that is she does not turn away from her doctrinal errors, theological gluttony, and spiritual adultery, he will cut them down with the sword of his mouth, which is the word of God, just as Balaam was killed by the sword.

Not every single member of the church — only those members who hold to these false teachings. The word of God is infinitely sharp — discerning and dividing.

Doctrinal precision and moral purity seem passé and old school to many in the culture and to some in the church. But according to Jesus they are crucial aspects of the Christian life.

John Murray said “the difference between truth and error is not a chasm but a razor’s edge.”

My brothers and sisters, we need to take doctrine, theology, and morality far more seriously than we do—as if our lives depended on it—or else we will end up on the road to destruction along with the false teachers. This is a life or death matter: either we follow the way of truth unto life, or we follow the way of falsehood and heresy unto death.

Jesus Comforts the Church — vs 17

17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’

Spirit = the comforter and counselor of all the churches

manna = contrast idolatry and the gospel // food sacrificed to idols is a work of man; manna is a gift from God for his people. Idolatry is all about you working for the gods, and making sacrifices for the gods, to feed the gods, in order to keep the gods satisfied and off your back; but the Gospel is all about God who worked for you, to make the once-for-all sacrifice for you, to feed you, in order to satisfy you by grace through faith in Christ.

white stone = the food stamps of the Roman world given to the poor to insure supply of grain; given to victors at sporting events; given as tokens or passes for admission to banquets.

Pastoral Prayer – based on Psalm 51

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