Revelation 2:12-17

It has been said that Christians ought to live with a newspaper in one hand and a Bible in the other, for it takes one to understand the other. The newspaper records the visible events that take place across the face of the earth, day by day. The Bible looks beyond, to the invisible realm where the councils of God determine what events take place upon the earth and also what is the eternal significance of those events. You cannot really understand life in all its scope and meaning unless you look into both realms.

There is no book in the Bible which more clearly discloses that invisible, eternal realm to us than the book of Revelation. As we open its pages we learn not only what will someday happen upon the earth, but we learn about what is happening now and why. We learn the invisible, eternal counsel of God about how we are to live out our lives in the world and in the church.

In recent years the newspapers, news magazines, and television news reports have been focused on many of the same problems which are addressed in the Lord's third letter to the churches in Revelation problems of scandal, immorality, and corruption in high places in the Christian church. For example, the second-highest-rated segment of ABC's Nightline show was one which featured an interview with a televangelist involved in a major sex-and-hush-money scandal. These well-publicized religious debacles have brought shame, scorn, and disgrace upon the Christian church and the Christian gospel. So it also was in the church at Pergamum.

2:12-16 "To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live where Satan has his throne. 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.

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. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth."

Notice how sharply these words contrast with the Lord's previous message to the church in Smyrna. The church in Smyrna was enduring enormous pressure and persecution. The church in Pergamum was flirting with corruption and immorality.

It seems that the devil has two very effective weapons which he delights in using against the church: intimidation and/or enticement. He either seeks to make the church knuckle under or he tries to tempt and lure the church into destroying itself. The church is hemmed in on one side by the violence and terror of a roaring lion, and on the other side by the cloying corruption of a fallen angel of light. The fellowship at Pergamum is fast being undermined by corrupt practices and corrupt teaching.

In His letter, Jesus identifies Himself as the One having "the sharp, double-edged sword." As we previously discovered, the sharp, double-edged sword is a symbol of the Word of God, proceeding with power from the lips of Jesus. Because it is double-edged it cuts two ways. I believe this is a reference to the fact that the Word can cleave the skull so as to reach the mind, and it can also pierce the heart so that it can touch the emotions.

The Word of God awakens us to objective reality. It appeals to the thinking, reasoning dimension of our humanity. It speaks to the mind. By its light, we can see truth that would otherwise be hidden from our sight. The Word of God is a reasonable book, through which God appeals to us, saying, "Come now, let us reason together."

The Word of God also awakens feelings within us. It inspires our awe and our reverence. It touches us with the message of God's unconditional love and forgiveness toward us. It thus activates the will. It appeals to the soul and spirit. By its fire, our hearts are warmed and energized.

The emotional power of the Word of God was demonstrated on the day of Pentecost. Peter stood before a crowd in the Jerusalem marketplace and preached a message about Jesus Christ from two Old Testament books, the Psalms and the prophet Joel. After Peter had finished preaching the people who listened to him "were cut to the heart" and asked Peter and the other apostles standing with him, "Brothers, what shall we do?" In other words, "Tell us what we can do to be saved!" As a result, three thousand people found faith in Jesus Christ that day.

Clearly, the Word of God has power to touch both the intellect and the conscience.

Pergamum was the Roman capital of the province of Asia, boasting a population of around a quarter of a million souls. Located about fifty miles north of Smyrna, it was a center of pagan idol worship and emperor worship. Jesus calls Pergamum the place "where Satan has his throne" that is, the place where Satan rules. He also calls it the city "where Satan lives" that is, where Satan has his headquarters.

Many Bible scholars think this is a reference to the great altar of Zeus which stood on a hillside overlooking the city. This altar was in the form of a great throne or chair, forty feet high. From almost any place in the city, you could look up and see what the Lord called "Satan's throne." Because Pergamum was such an influential center of pagan worship, the Lord portrayed it in His third letter as the very focus of satanic evil.

There is a fascinating historical footnote in connection with "Satan's throne" in Pergamum. In 1878, an archaeological team, working under the auspices of the Berlin Museum, began excavating in and around the site of ancient Pergamum. The team unearthed several fabulous historical finds, including a beautiful hillside terrace theater, a magnificent temple to the goddess Athena, and most amazing of all the great altar of Zeus, "Satan's throne" itself!

Considered one of the most valuable and intriguing artifacts of Hellenistic culture, the throne of Zeus is richly ornamented with carved figures from pagan mythology. It was removed from Pergamum and shipped to Germany where, for over a hundred years it has remained on display in the Pergamum Museum in East Berlin. Such sites as Hitler's bunker, the Nazi Reich Chancellery, and the pre-unification communist government's Palace of the Republic are all located within twenty-five miles of "Satan's throne."

Could there be some connection between Pergamum's satanic altar-throne and the black rise of Nazism or the gray oppression of East German communism? I leave that for you to judge.

The first half of the Lord's assessment of the Pergamum church is an affirmation of its strengths. He affirms the Pergamum believers because they have remained true to His name. They have refused to budge on the issue of who Jesus Christ is. They hold sound doctrine concerning the fact that Jesus is the God-man not godlike, not half-man, half-God, but fully God and fully man in one completely whole person. Almost all the heresies from that day until our own day flow out of a corruption of this basic truth, out of a denial of the deity of Jesus.

Jesus also affirms the fact that the Pergamum believers risked their own lives for the faith. He says, "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."

The name Antipas means "against all." We do not know much about this man, although he is said to be the first martyr under the Roman persecution in Asia. Tradition holds that Antipas was tortured to death, seared alive inside a hollow brass statue in the form of a bull which was heated until it glowed white-hot. That is the price Antipas paid for being true to his faith in Jesus Christ. He had to literally stand "against all."

The second half of the Lord's assessment of the Pergamum church is a rebuke for the serious errors that undermine the soundness of this church. One such error is what Jesus calls "the teaching of Balaam." This is a reference to Numbers 22 to 25, where Balaam, a false prophet, is hired by King Balak of Moab to place a curse on the nation of Israel. Balaam attempts to impose the curse, but every time he opens his mouth, out comes not a curse but a blessing! God would not let Balaam and King Balak curse His people.

Numbers 22

22:1 THE ISRAELITES journeyed and encamped in the plains of Moab, on the east side of the Jordan [River] at Jericho.

2 And Balak [the king of Moab] son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.

3 And Moab was terrified at the people and full of dread, because they were many. Moab was distressed and overcome with fear because of the Israelites.

4 And Moab said to the elders of Midian, Now will this multitude lick up all that is round about us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field. So Balak son of Zippor, the king of the Moabites at that time,

5 Sent messengers to Balaam [a foreteller of events] son of Beor at Pethor, which is by the [Euphrates] River, even to the land of the children of his people, to say to him, There is a people come out from Egypt; behold, they cover the face of the earth and they have settled down and dwell opposite me.