We had a little black poodle one time. Her name was Susi, when I was a kid. One day, we took her to Cades Cove, in the Smokey Mountains. As we were driving around the Cove, I was in the back seat with the dog. We spotted a large herd of black Angus cows grazing in the pasture with the mountains behind them, some deer out there. You know Cades Cove. We had to stop the car and look at the animals because my dad likes to make the animals talk as we drive by, and make them say things and put words in their mouth. That's why he always liked the story of Balaam and his donkey, I think. The Poodle became very excited at seeing such large animals. Our windows were down and she put her paws on the car door and started yapping. You know how little dogs do. "Yap, yap, yap." To our surprise, the cows did not ignore this little creature but looked up from their grazing. Then they slowly approached the car as Susi kept barking. They looked at her with great intelligence as if they could understand what she was saying. Cows can look intelligent. Did your teacher ever recite this poem?
"The gum chewing student, the cud chewing cow, are quite alike yet different somehow. What the difference is, I think I know now. It's the clear thoughtful look on the face of the cow."
My teacher said that. Well, that is how these cows looked; a clear thoughtful look as our poodle yapped away, and my dad started interpreting the tongues. The dog was preaching. It was on Sabbath morning. Our dog was preaching to those cows according to my dad. And he was telling us what the dog was saying. And the cows were staring. And suddenly, they started bellowing and it didn't sound like "Amen." And they turned and stampeded across the field. And then they turned and wandered back and gathered around the car again. And the dog kept yapping. And then they stampeded again. And came back to our utter amazement, and amusement.
I love that kind of stuff. I like watching animals interact with each other. I would have loved to have been there to watch the story of Balaam and his donkey. This would have been even more amusing if it hadn't been so tragic. You remember the story. We had a whole sermon on it not long ago. You know, Balak called Balaam, "Come and curse these Israelites." And Balaam said, "Let me ask God first." God talked to him in the night and said,"No." And Balaam didn't believe that answer. And so God talked to him through the voice of a donkey and said, "Go back home." And Balaam didn't like that answer either, so was a reward involved. You know, it's amazing how much we give up for a few pennies. The will of God for a little treasure. Well, you remember what happened. (This story is in Numbers 22.) Balaam got there and Balak said, "Okay, there's the Israelites, curse them for me." And Balaam said, "I can only say what God puts in my mouth." And God put a blessing in his mouth. And they were blessed, and Balak was upset. "Curse them from over here." He tried it over there and still another blessing. "Over here!" and another blessing happened. Balak was upset and Balaam was upset because Balaam wasn't getting any reward here. So, he went to plan B. Plan B is called, "Compromise."
Turn with me to the book of Revelation 2. Plan B worked so well in the book of Numbers that it is remembered all the way to the book of Revelation.
Today, we look at the third church listed in Revelation, Pergamum. Have you begun to notice something in this series on the Seven Churches of Revelation? Jesus intimately knows each church. Intimately! He is not like a visitor to the Collegedale area, trying to figure out what each church is like. Jesus knows intimately the flavors the churches are! Just has he knew the hearts of people he met in the Gospels. He knew the heart of a man sitting in a tree that was a little on the shorts side. "Zacchaeus, you're turning around. I can tell." He knew what was in the heart of a man He met in the middle of the night, named Nicodemus. If Jesus knows, why do we try to cover anything up. There is no reason to avoid Jesus. He knows us, and He died for us anyway! While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us., Romans 5:8. We can be open before Him. That is why David was called, "A man after His own heart." Not because he was good, but because he was open. "Yes, Lord, I have sinned. Please do something about it. Change it." To be open is the first step in allowing Him to change us!
Jesus knows the Pergamum Church. He knows what they have faced and what they need to do to be an effective witness to their city. He knows the root of their problems, problems that some of them didn't know existed. He also knows what they need to do to overcome those issues and what their reward will be. Jesus knows this about you and me as well. You might fool me and I might fool you and we might fool ourselves, but we're not going to fool God. So we might as well stand open before Him and let Him clean up our acts.
Revelation 2:12, the third church: "To the angel of the church in Pergamum write..."
The city of Pergamum was quite interesting. It was the strongest city of the seven churches, almost impregnable. It was located on a high mountain spur, making it an easy site to defend. In the second and third centuries BC, Pergamum, capital of a kingdom with the same name, was a great cultural center. Its library contained over 200,000 scrolls. Many of these scrolls were made out of a material called, parchment, a highly refined form of leather. Parchment was developed in Pergamum when King Ptolemy V of Egypt cut off the export of Papyrus to Pergamum. They had to do something else. This was done because Eumenes, king of Pergamum in the third century BC, wished to have the greatest library in the world. The only problem was that Alexandria, Egypt had the largest library in the world. So, to do this, he tried to persuade Aristophanes, librarian at Alexandria, to move to Pergamum. This enraged the Egyptian king so much that he cut off all the export of papyrus so they couldn't make any more scrolls, and he imprisoned his own librarian to keep him from leaving. Necessity is the mother of invention, so parchment was developed and eventually surpassed the usage of papyrus.
King Attalus III stipulated in his will that at his death, Pergamum should be made part of the Roman Empire. In 133 BC this was done. Pergamum had major temples to several pagan gods and eventually had temples to three Emperors. Emperor worship was made very popular in this city. In fact, it was compulsory emperor worship that caused widespread Christian persecution and even the banishment of John to Patmos where he wrote this book. The Jews believed that this city was destined for divine destruction.
Look again at Revelation 2:12. "To the angel of the church in Pergamum write; 'These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.'" The two edged sword was the symbol on the clothing worn by the rulers of Pergamum. It symbolized the fact that the Roman Empire had given them the right of the sword, the right to execute people who were seen as dangerous to the state. Yet, we find in Hebrews 4:12 that it is also the symbol of God's judgement and His Word. "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Now, that's God's double-edged sword. Once again, we find that God knows everything. He knows what people wear on their clothes: the double-edged sword. "We have the right to kill you if you mess with us." God said, I'm the double-edged sword. What comfort that was to Pergamum. "Hey, they had the right to kill us, but God is the ultimate judge. We will rely on Him." The church in Pergamum has suffered from the double-edged sword of that city and needs encouragement that God's judgement is the last word.
Revelation 2:13. "I know where you live. You know, that could be threatening. You know, we hear of these stalkers. "I know where you live." No! God knows where we live, and that's a good thing, because He knows our circumstances, He knows what our home is like, He knows what our parents are like, He knows how we were raised, He knows where we live. The Greek word used for live indicates that the Christians of Pergamum weren't just passing through. This was their home. This is where they had decided to stay, no matter what. They meant to stay. They were not running away from their problems. They were not running away from spreading the gospel in a tough town. I know where you live--where Satan has his throne. Remember the Paganism and Emperor worship? Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city--where Satan lives."
We know virtually nothing about Antipas. Theories as to his identification and manner of death abound. But we can take from this brief reference that he stood for Jesus at the cost of his life. You know, our lives are not more valuable than the gospel. The gospel is more important than I am. And Antipas realized that and stood for the gospel at the cost of his life, just as Jesus stood for us when we were against Him. There was no compromise in Jesus and there was no compromise in Antipas. Unfortunately, that can't be said of all of his fellow church members.
Revelation 2:14, 15 "Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans."
You see, since the Israelites were impervious to the direct attacks of Balaam, he brought in compromise. The Pergamum church had withstood direct persecution yet were being conquered by compromise. Balaam convinced Balak to invite the Israelites to a feast. "We can't curse them, invite them to supper." It turned out to be a feast to false gods. But some of the Israelites reasoned, "It was just food anyway. We're tire of the manna. Let's try some of this food. What does it matter. We know those gods aren't real." But part of the ceremony was also immorality. One thing leads to another. Many of the Israelites fell due to this compromise.
In Pergamum, if you wanted to do business, the business guilds met in the Pagan temples and feasted on food offered to idols. So, if you wanted to make business contacts, you went to the temple of the pagan god, or the emperor. Many church members who owned businesses didn't want to be left out. "We need to keep our businesses open, after all, it helps us pay more tithe to the church, so... You know, you can reason anything out, can't you. So they compromised and went to these feasts, but these feasts also included immorality and many were pulled in.
While holding evangelistic meetings in another church, we advertised on the radio. Professional advertising I had ordered and had been sent from the advertising company inviting people to come to our meetings. So, the manager of the radio station came to the meetings. And he sat there the first night. I was a little disappointed with the crowd like we usually are because it was his radio that had advertised it. It was like: "Where are all the people? We advertised this over and over. I'll tell you what. The advertisements you were using were too professional for this town. People won't come to that. You need to come in and make some home-town advertising. And I'll give it to you for free." And so, that's what I did. Day after day I went down to the local radio station. He let me talk live on the radio, inviting people to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And he let me have free use of all of his equipment to make tape recordings that could be played while I wasn't there. We became friends. One day, the station manager called me into his office. His radio station was a religious station and I was a minister, so our talk turned to religion. And suddenly, he said, "You know that you Adventists go to church on the right day, don't you?" "I kind of suspected that." and I invited him to come and worship with us. He hung his head, "I just can't." I figured out why he just couldn't. He was a member of the largest church in town. Many of his business were members of that church. That's where he met them. He feared that by standing firm for what he believed, he would loose business opportunities, loose advertising, and be forced out of business. Compromise.
Immorality was also a part of the festivities in Pergamum and Christians were weakening in their resolve. They are commended for living in a tough place but are condemned for becoming like those they were supposed to be witnessing to.
The Bible doesn't tell us, "Leave sinners." But it doesn't also tell us to be like them, right? We need to be there to witness. Or else, who will do it? The Nicolaitans were very similar to those who held the compromising attitude of Balaam. They were of a Greek philosophy which held that you could do what you wanted with your life and your body because your soul was separate and unaffected by your actions.
This is where the beliefs of Balaam were leading to the beliefs of the Nicolaitans. In Hebrew, Balaam means: "One who swallows the people." In Greek, Nicolaitan means: "One who conquers the people." And that's what was happening.
But there is a remedy for these problems. Revelation 2:16. "Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth."
We've got the sword coming back. This is an interesting sentence. Notice that it calls for the church to repent or else Jesus will deal with the compromisers. "I will come to YOU and will fight against THEM." It is easy for us to wish that God would come and deal with troublesome people we have within our church family. "Oh, they're causing trouble. I wish God would come and do something." But God doesn't wish that. God says, "I want you to repent. I want you to do something about it. I want you to repent for letting that go on. I want you to take care of it so I don't have to come down and do it. Win them back. Winning them back to My way is every bit as important as to winning those not in the church at all."
In the next verse we find the second part of the remedy. Revelation 2:17. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches..."
After we repent, we listen to the Spirit. This advice is given to all the churches in Revelation. It is one thing to turn around, it is yet another to make sure you are going in the right direction. I've watched people that turned away from a life- style of excess, whatever you can imagine, they were doing. And they turned around and repented and went the wrong way into a life-style of excessive legalism. From one extreme to the other. They weren't listening to the Spirit. Repent and then listen to the Spirit. After turning and following the Spirit, we are to keep our eyes upon the reward. "Now wait a minute," you say. "Haven't you said before that it's not the reward that matters, it's being with Jesus that matters." We should follow Jesus even if there wasn't a heaven to be found. Let's see what the reward is, first.
Revelation 2:17 continues: "To him who overcomes, I will give him some of the hidden manna." "What is this hidden manna that I should think of it a reward?" The symbolism behind this statement is mind boggling! We will look at just enough to whet your appetite. There is more here than I can figure out. I wish we had time to go down to the religion department at Southern Adventist University and say, "Help me out here. There's a lot here." You remember that manna was the food from Heaven that sustained God's people after the Exodus from Egypt. When did the manna stop falling? I heard someone say, "When they entered the promised land." But it wasn't just when they crossed the border into the promised land, Joshua chapter 5 tells us that the manna stopped falling during the time of the first Passover that they celebrated in the promised land. This was the day that they began eating the produce of the land. This is Easter weekend. What is that? This weekend is the Passover weekend. It started Thursday night. According to Joshua, the best I can figure out that the day after the passover started, the manna quit falling. That would have been yesterday, Friday. The day Jesus was crucified. There are some connections there. I haven't figured it al out yet. Why did it stop falling? They were beginning to eat the produce of the Promised Land. It was no longer necessary. Hebrew tradition held that manna would once again fall from Heaven when the Messiah came. By this, would He be known. Manna coming from heaven : Messiah. When Jesus fed the 5000, people wanted to crown Him king because they considered this the fulfillment of that tradition. Food out of nowhere.
Look at John 6:25-35. Jesus escaped after they tried to make Him king. This is the day after the feeding of the 5000. When they found Him on the other side of the lake, they asked Him, "Rabbi, when did you get here?"
Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for Me, not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On Him God the Father has placed His seal of approval."
Then they asked Him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent."
*so, they asked Him, "What miraculous sign then will You give that we may see it and believe You? What will You do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"
Jesus said the them, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
"Sir," they said, "from now on give us this bread."
The Jesus declared, "I am the of life. He who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty."
They were looking for manna to eat but Jesus was manna made flesh. He is spiritual nourishment. But when Passover came, they crucified Him and He became Hidden Manna. Just as a pot of manna was hidden in the Ark of the Covenant, Jesus was buried in the tomb.
But Jesus was not hidden for long! He rose again! He is now, even more than before, the Bread of Life. He is the True Manna! He has conquered death. The persecuted Pergumum people need not fear death because they are promised eternal life, and so are we. Jesus' divinity is no longer buried beneath His humanity! In actuality, the reward of those who repent and hear the Spirit is to have Jesus, through His Spirit now. And to have Jesus face to face for eternity!
But that is not all.
Revelation 2:17 continues: "To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it."
This gift of the white stone is nothing less than the assurance of salvation! Those who sat in judgement in those days did not need to read the verdict in a capital case. If the person was guilty and condemned to die, a black stone was placed before him. But if a person was acquitted, a white stone was place before him. Jesus said, "I will give him a white stone, because I died for his sins and I was raised again on Sunday morning so that you need not fear death." As in the old testament, if a person had also gone through a major transition in life, a name change happened. Abram became Abraham, Jacob became Israel, etc. Our new name will reflect our new character, the character of Jesus. This text is assurance NOW that we will be acquitted THEN! We will have that new name.
The people of Ephesus had works but little love. The people of Pergamum had love but little works. It takes both. We must trust and obey! Otherwise, our witness to other is as effective as a yappy poodle to a bunch of cows or Balaam talking to his donkey! But with trust and obedience, love followed by works because we love Jesus. And then our witness will be sure!
Don't allow creeping compromise to diminish your relationship with Jesus. Feed on His Word every day so that we, and those we meet, can live with the Bread of Life, the Risen Savior for eternity.
Sources: God Cares Vol. 2 by C. Mervyn Maxwell Unfolding the Revelation by Roy Allen Anderson The Revelation of John by William Barclay The NIV Application Commentary by Craig S. Keener Mercer Dictionary of the Bible by Watson E. Mills Revelation Tapes by Dr. Jon Pauline Hymn of Praise: #20, O Praise Ye the Lord Scripture: Revelation 2:16-17 Hymn of Response: #590, Trust and Obey
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last updated 4/22/2003 by Bob Beckett.