Faithless Among the Faithful

Posted: October 24, 2010 in Revelation

Revelation 2:12-17, “Faithlessness Among the Faithful”

“Well done, good & faithful servant.” Who among us does not want to hear those words one day? For a believer in Christ, there’s no more joyous thing than to know that what we did was good, pleasing, and faithful in the eyes of our Lord & Savior. Yet what would happen if the Lord couldn’t say that about you? If you were only sometimes-faithful…or mostly faithful? That seems to have been the case with the church at Pergamos & the Lord Jesus has some words of rebuke for them in His letter.

Where was Pergamos? Another one of the huge, wealthy cities in Asia. Apparently there was a bit of competition between Ephesus, Smyrna, & Pergamos as to which one was the biggest & most influential. Pergamos was known for its production of parchment paper, its massive library (200,000 books!), & its many temples. They had a huge temple of Zeus, Asclepios (a god of healing…we get our symbol of the snake for medicine from it today), and apparently had the 1st temple in Asia dedicated to the worship of Ceasar (who was referred to as “lord, savior, and god”). This was a city steeped in idolatry & pressure to conform to the political realities of the day, and the church had some difficulties standing up under it all.

Over the next few letters, you’ll notice a bit of progression in the churches. Jesus starts bringing more & more rebuke to these churches that were falling away. Pergamos is the compromising church – Thyatira is the corrupted church – Sardis is the dead church. A little compromise leads to corruption – a little corruption leads to a corpse. Things start off small, and they tend to grow like snowballs as they go. Jesus is going to address each church in these various stages & He starts with the compromisers because that’s where it all begins.

Compromise begins in a church when some people think it’s ok to be faithless to God, and the rest look the other way. Beware! Jesus was faithful to God – faithful even to go to death on the cross. As His disciples, we can do no less. We must be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ at all costs. The persecuted church at Smyrna understood the cost & were prepared to be faithful unto death. We may not face that same choice in outright persecution, but we ought to be prepared with the same faithfulness to our faithful King.

Revelation 2:12-17 (NKJV)
12 “And to the angel [messenger/pastor] of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: .

A. Jesus is following the pattern He’s begun for all of these letters. Always starts with a description about Himself/His character. Here, Jesus is the one who “has the sharp two-edged sword.” Reference to the Scripture – the word of God. [Eph 6] Hebrews 4:12 (12) For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. []

a. The word is sharp. It’s one thing for a surgeon’s scalpel to be able to separate skin from muscle; it’s quite another for the word of God to be able to show where soul & spirit divide. From the pages of the word of God we learn of the law of God & as we understand the sinfulness of our sin, it kills us (Rom 7:11) – yet at the same time the law brings us to the feet of our Savior who can give life.

b. The word is two-edged. It cuts both ways – someone can’t handle the blade without feeling its effects. To the non-Christian, the word of God brings conviction & a knowledge of sin. To the believer, the words of the Bible sanctify us, cleanse us, rebuke us, and instruct us.

c. The word can plunge deep. The sword reference in Revelation is specifically a long broadsword; the reference in Hebrews is to the short gladius of the Roman army. The gladius was perfectly suited for close hand-to-hand combat; the broadsword better for use at a distance. In our warfare against the enemy, we often use the sword of the Spirit (the Scripture) as a gladius, fending off attacks & hiding in the shelter of our Savior. Yet when the Lord Jesus brings His judgment, He’ll use the word as His broadsword to pierce hearts in His righteousness.

B. Notice who wields the sword here: the Lord Jesus, described elsewhere by John as the Word (logos) of God – i.e. the thought/expression/revelation of God. Yet the Scripture is the word of God – the written form of that thought & expression (2 Tim 3:16 calls Scripture the “graphe”…the written word). The Word (Jesus) wields the word (Scripture), because the word (Scripture) is about the Word (Jesus).

a. All Scripture ultimately points us towards Jesus Christ…

b. Because the Scripture speaks of Jesus & because it is the very written expression of God, it is endued with authority. Jesus is going to bring correction to this Church, and He’s got every right to do so with authority, because He is the Lord. Yet they shouldn’t have even needed Jesus to write a specific letter to them about this because they already had the authoritative word of God as their guide.

13 “I know your works [typical pattern], and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. .

A. Jesus knows what we endure. For Pergamos, Jesus knew exactly where they were & what their circumstances were. There were many reasons to call Pergamos the “throne of Satan.” Its massive temple to Zeus sat on top of a hill & the landscaping looked like a throne. The sign of the medical god Asclepios was that of a snake (and people waited for healings while snakes moved over them). And of course, the prevalence of the worship of Caesar.

a. There’s no doubt that Jesus knows the sinfulness of our culture better than anyone! He knows what it is for you to drive your route to work (some face more pressures on the road than they ever do in an office) – to endure the criticism of those around you – to be pressured to give up your faith at every turn. Jesus knows what it is you have to push through in order to walk with Him, and He’s available to give you the strength to do it.

B. Jesus knows how we endure. The primary words of commendation to this church were for the fact that they held fast to the name of Christ & did not deny the faith. They apparently refused to burn a pinch of incense to Caesar & call Caesar “lord & savior”…they weren’t going to bow the knee in open denial of Christ, even to the danger of their own life.

a. Jesus knows every step we take as we pick up our cross to follow Him. He knows what we leave behind – the family members that reject us for our faith – the lifestyle that we abandon – He knows everything we’ve laid at His feet in our commitment to Him. Those who left their homes & families & more for the sake of Christ will receive a hundredfold (Mk 10:29-30).

C. Jesus knows who endures. We don’t know much about Antipas. Some scholars claim we know nothing; others point to legends that speak of him being roasted alive. All we truly know is what Jesus tells us. (1) Antipas was killed. (2) Antipas was Jesus’ “faithful martyr” = “faithful witness.”

a. Jesus isn’t merely keeping track of the Peters & Pauls of the world…He isn’t just paying attention when someone famous like Jan Hus or Wm Tyndale is killed for simply being faithful. Jesus knows when the John Does & Jane Does of the world are steadfast & faithful to the end. He knows every single one who has endured & though the rest of the world may have never even knew they existed, the Lord Jesus bought them with His blood & He knows them by name!

D. Notice that Jesus is drawing a contrast here between someone who proved himself faithful & those that prove themselves faithless (vs. 14). We want to be of those who are found faithful by our Lord!

14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. .

A. Who was Balaam? Mercenary pagan prophet used by the Lord to bring blessing instead of a curse…[Numbers 22-24] Balaam could not speak directly against Israel because Israel had been blessed by God. But he could indirectly assault them by showing Balak how to make Israel bring a type of curse on themselves by the hand of God. [Numbers 25] Moses details exactly what happened after the Israelites took Midianite women to themselves after defeating the Midianite army in battle: Numbers 31:15-16 (15) And Moses said to them: “Have you kept all the women alive? (16) Look, these women caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord. []

B. Jude & Peter had already warned the church about false teachers who followed in the error of Balaam – people who treated the ministry like a mercenary career path & abused the word of God just to make a buck (2 Pt 2:15, Jd 11). Apparently the church at Pergamos went a step further: it wasn’t so much the teachers as it was the people who had fallen into error. They weren’t hiring out the word of God to stumble the church; they already bought into the stumbling block.

C. Stumbling block #1: “to eat things sacrificed to idols.” Question: didn’t Paul make the observation that meat is just meat? If someone happened to buy some meat at the market & they didn’t know it was sacrificed to an idol, it wasn’t a big deal (1 Cor 10). Correct – but he also said that we cannot partake of the Lord’s Table and the table of demons. 1 Corinthians 10:27-28 (27) If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake. (28) But if anyone says to you, “This was offered to idols,” do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” [] The problem wasn’t the meat itself; it’s that they knew the meat had been sacrificed to idols. And despite the bad witness of it all, the professing Christians just didn’t care how they stumbled someone else in the process.

a. Which is precisely why the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 warned against the practice! This has always been something the church has been warned against. This isn’t legalism; this is loving one another enough not to put anything between someone else and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

D. Stumbling block #2: “to commit sexual immorality.” Obviously all sexual immorality is sinful (defined as any sexual act outside the boundaries of a husband & wife) – yet this particular act of sexual immorality is tied into the counsel of Balaam. Balaam used the Midianite women to lure the people into sin & away from worship of the one true God. By joining themselves to these women, the Hebrews were joining themselves to the pagan gods of the culture & committing spiritual adultery with the Lord. Pergamos likely had a similar problem with the various temple prostitutes in the city & sexual affairs with pagans. Roman culture was famous for men having multiple “lovers” & Pergamos was no different – the Christians would definitely be swimming against the tide of the culture to remain sexually pure in the sight of God.

E. Keep in mind that these things (as bad as they were) weren’t casual activities. The people who engaged in these things were engaging in the false religious system around them. They knew they were eating meat sacrificed to idols (and others did too, as this was usually a public act) – the sexual immorality was a tie-in with the pagan culture & possibly pagan temples. IOW, they claimed to be a Christian with their lips, and then participated in the pagan rituals & activities all around them. [] The result? These few members of the church became a stumbling block to everyone around them. Those who were Christians were tempted to engage in the same sin & those who were not yet Christians saw no difference between Christ & the culture. These faithless ones not only got in the way of those who were saved, but they kept others from fully understanding the message of salvation to begin with.

a. Whenever we’re given rules & commandments to follow in our walk with Christ, it’s never to put us under a yoke of legalism or bondage. Instead, they are given to protect us from the consequence of sin – to purify us to be used by the Lord – and to provide an opportunity to share the gospel with others. Some would say, “How dare you tell me not to eat this meat! Don’t be so legalistic!” Yet, what is the consequence of eating it? Who does it harm? Isn’t it better to lay down that supposed-liberty in order to walk in love with those around us? As Paul writes to the Romans, we neither ought to judge one another, nor put a stumbling block in our brother’s way (Rom 14:13).

15 Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. .

A. These actions of the doctrine of Balaam seem to be representative of the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. Jesus links them together… How bad is this doctrine? Jesus HATES it. It’s tough to get more clarity than that. Jesus doesn’t tolerate it – He doesn’t dislike it – He doesn’t simply prefer something else…He HATES it. Never forget that our glorious Savior who loves us so much & demonstrated His meekness & humility during His earthly ministry is still the same God who created the Universe by His sheer will & is an all-consuming fire in His holiness. Sin is always rebellion against God – how much worse is it for those who attempt to use the grace of God as an occasion for sin? (Which is basically what the faithless ones attempted to do.)

B. If Jesus hates it, how could the church at Pergamos tolerate it? There’s an interesting contrast here. On one hand, the church at Pergamos was faithful to Christ – they didn’t deny His name or the faith under immense pressure. On the other hand, they tolerated faithlessness to Christ among their ranks. There were people among them who perhaps didn’t deny the name of Christ by their words, but sure showed that they denied the teaching of Christ in their deeds. They were all too willing to compromise with the world around them, all in the name of “fitting in.”

a. This same temptation exists today!

i. “All religions basically worship the same God.”
ii. “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere.”
iii. “It’s only the internet; it’s not like it’s really real.”
iv. “So what? Everyone dresses that way.”
v. “Who’s it going to hurt? This is just between you & your conscience.”
vi. “Sure other people do ___ in their religion, but it’s not like you’re doing it that way. It’s no big deal for you.”
vii. “Surely you don’t mean the Bible still means that for today?!”

C. What’s the big deal about all this compromise? Simple: no one can serve 2 masters. (Mt 6:24) We’ll love one & hate the other, but we can’t have it both ways. Pergamos tried to have one foot in Christ & one foot in the world around them. It’s tough to do the splits when the opposites are so extreme…you can’t straddle the Grand Canyon.

16 Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. .

A. The problem with the church at Pergamos is that they were willing to tolerate all of this. There may have only been a few that were unfaithful, but the entire church was compromising in the process…so everyone needed to repent. [Review repentance]

a. Question: is repentance something people do only when they 1st become Christian? No. Repentance is a lifestyle for a believer. The person who is born-again is continually repenting when the need arises… (Not talking about a pseudo-pious ritual; talking about real confession & repentance as a child of God…) When you need to repent, don’t wait; just do it!

B. What would happen if they didn’t repent? The Lord Jesus would personally discipline them. The church at Pergamos should have been willing to exercise discipline within their own ranks (which is sometimes sadly necessary); instead the Lord Jesus was going to have to do it Himself. “I will come to you quickly” does not seem to be a reference to the 2nd coming; rather it’s a statement of impending judgment. Jesus told us that this is His Church & He would be the one to build it (Mt 16:18); Jesus will discipline us in His righteousness if it’s necessary.

a. Keep in mind that the discipline of God is a confirmation as His love for us as His own people. (Heb 12:6) No one ought to want to experience the discipline of God (simply because we don’t want to grieve our Heavenly Father), but we ought to be grateful when it comes. It’s a sign that He loves us & we belong to Him!

b. On the flip side…what does it mean when you DON’T experience the discipline of God & you can go off & sin with impunity? Perhaps it means you don’t belong to Him… If your conscience never strikes you in the midst of sin – if you don’t think twice before engaging in your favorite activity of which you know the Lord hates – if you never sense or respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit…WAKE UP! A child of God is chastised by his/her Heavenly Father. The person who never experiences that needs to stop playing as if they are a Christian & fall on his/her face before God in true repentance, throwing themselves upon the grace of Jesus Christ.

C. Although Jesus calls the whole church to repentance, He specifically promises judgment against the faithless few: “fight against them.” (God is not indiscriminate in His justice; He’s perfectly righteous with it.) What will the Lord Jesus use to bring that judgment? “The sword of My mouth” = the Scripture; the word of God.

a. This is part of the divine use of Scripture; how God uses the words of the Bible in our lives. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (16) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, (17) that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. [] We like the parts about doctrine & instruction in righteousness; we tend to avoid the reproof & correction…yet those aspects are just as necessary as the others!

b. Can the Scripture cut like a sword? Yes. And sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed to bring us to repentance! The Jews at Pentecost were “cut to the heart” by the gospel & 3000 came to Christ!

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

A. The overcomer/conquerer receives some “hidden manna to eat.” [Review manna – Exo 16] After the ark was built, a special portion of manna was placed within it (hidden), as a memorial to the Hebrews of how God provided for them (Heb 9:4). The picture of it all was completely fulfilled in Christ! John 6:48-51 (48) I am the bread of life. (49) Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. (50) This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. (51) I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” [] Why is the manna “hidden”? Perhaps it’s simply a reference to being in the ark; perhaps it’s because the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18). Two people can hear the same sermon & the same Bible verses & the same gospel, yet one will come to faith & the other will walk away with a hardened heart. It is if the gospel (the manna) was hidden away from them. The only people who partake of the Bread of Life are those who respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit & place their faith & trust in Christ Jesus as Lord.

a. There’s a great contrast here with those who were faithless. The faithless ones ate meat sacrificed to idols. The faithful overcomers eat the manna of Christ.

B. The overcomer/conquerer receives a “white stone.” Scholars have a bit of difficulty actually pinpointing the meaning here. There were times that people who were tried for crimes were declared innocent by receiving a white stone (which would fit well with the idea of a Christian being declared righteous in Christ). Other times, a white stone would be given to victors in an athletic contest (not unlike a crown). Other times, a stone would be used as a kind of “ticket” to a banquet or feast. The person would be received who had the right kind of stone. All three ideas have parallels to the grace a believer has received from Christ. We are declared righteous by Him – we are made victors by Him – we are invited to the wedding by Him.

C. The overcomer/conquerer receives a “new name.” What new name?! Did you receive a new name when you came to Christ? Yes. (Whether or not you know it, you did.) This isn’t so much a reference to being changed in the present (like Abram to Abraham, or Jacob to Israel were changed during their physical lifetimes) – it’s not like we have to go legally change our names in order to be Christian. There are two possibilities here: (1) A reference to a new personal name for ourselves in eternity. We may not know what it is now, but the implication from Jesus is that we’ll know what it is in heaven. (2) A reference to our adoption. When someone is adopted (or even joins a new family by marriage), their name changes. We’ve been given the spirit of adoption (Rom 8:15) – we’ve been given the right to become the children of God (Jn 1:12). We’ve been given a new relationship with God in Christ, and we will forever be called by His name!

D. Bottom line? The overcomer/conquerer is invited to the wedding feast of Christ to which we have an invitation & placecard & where we’ll feast on the manna of the bread of life. We will rejoice with our Savior for all eternity, wed to our Bridegroom.

Those who are faithless are judged by the word; those who are faithful look forward to eternity with the Word. Christian, be ye faithful!

We may not necessarily live in the exact place where Satan has his imposter of a throne, but it doesn’t seem too far from it! We are faced with temptations everyday to compromise our faith. Just a little watering-down of the gospel here…just a little imitation of the world there…after all, all these differences don’t really matter, do they? Dear beloved, they DO matter. God DOES care how we express our faith & walk with Christ. May we be those who walk in holiness & faithfulness to our Lord Jesus.

What if you’re at a place where you’ve been unfaithful in the past? The good news for the ones in Pergamos is that it wasn’t too late. There was still time to repent. Likewise with us…there’s still time to repent, don’t waste the opportunity. Confess your unfaithfulness to the Lord, and commit yourself anew to walking in His power & by His Spirit, being willing to follow Christ wherever He leads.


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