The Message to the Church in Pergamum
12 “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Pergamum. This is the message from the one with the sharp two-edged sword:
13 “I know that you live in the city where Satan has his throne, yet you have remained loyal to me. You refused to deny me even when Antipas, my faithful witness, was martyred among you there in Satan’s city.
14 “But I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin. 15 In a similar way, you have some Nicolaitans among you who follow the same teaching. 16 Repent of your sin, or I will come to you suddenly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
17 “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give some of the manna that has been hidden away in heaven. And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it.
Some Background on the City of Pergamos
Smyrna was about 55 mi. north of Smyrna and 20 mi. inland from the Aegean Sea. It was a large and influential city that dominated the countryside in that region and was the capital city of the province in that area.
Statues, shrines, and altars to pagan gods were situated throughout the city. Zeus, Athena, Dionysos, and Asklepios. Zeus and Athena were Greek gods that reflected the engrained influence of the Greek Empire in that region. They believed Zeus, the god of sky and thunder, to be the chief god and he was also known for an immoral and licentious lifestyle. Athena was a female goddess associated with wisdom and military victory.
Dionysos and Asklepios were local, regional gods. They considered Dionysos the god of the royal family and associated him with a bull. They called Asklepios the god of healing and viewed him as a snake. Sick people traveled the world to visit the Asklepios Temple, where they worshiped by feeding a live snake. Then they would spend the night in the darkened temple inhabited by nonpoisonous snakes. If a snake touched a worshiper at night, they believed that Asklepios himself had touched them and they would be healed.
The city also housed a historic temple that honored both Caesar Augustus and the goddess Roma. Shortly after this letter was written, they erected a second temple to Emperor Trajan. In other cities of this region, like at Smyrna, citizens were at risk once a year if they refused to burn incense to Caesar. At Pergamos, this risk existed daily.
The church of Pergamos was in an area of tremendous pressure to conform to the Roman way of life. Jesus praised them for not turning away from Him, even during heavy persecution. However, the issue Jesus had was that they were beginning to compromise by allowing those who wished to indulge in the worldly lifestyle, which would have consisted primarily of idol worship and sexual immorality. The believers would see these people clearly violate the very clear commands about sin, and say nothing so as to not cause a stir. This creates quite a dangerous situation for those in the church. It is very easy to fall into that type of mindset as well, and how easy would the next generation fall away with this type of thinking being allowed right in their own church. How could friends and fellow Christians allow such a thing to happen?
I once knew a guy that was depressed and was doing a bit of drugs, alcohol, and basically hanging with the wrong crowd. He was generally a pretty quiet person, didn’t cause alot of trouble, but you could see this was a terrible path he was headed down. His grandparents took him in, and being Christians, they eventually confronted him on this. the result was this poor guy absolutely snapping. He threatened to kill himself, the police got involved, and he was taken to a safe place to receive treatment. During this time, he gave his life to the Lord and started on a new journey. This would not have happened had someone not intervened.
The reality is, Pergamos represents probably one of the biggest issues in the North American church still today. To solve this issue would involve two things that no one likes to hear or talk about; accountability and discipline. Sadly, it is uncommon for someone to confront another in the church about their particular behavior. We don’t want to rock the boat, hurt someone’s feelings or risk losing a friendship. Or we say it’s not my job to do that. And we certainly don’t like to be confronted. What Jesus is essentially saying to this church is that it’s time to confront these people. As a church, we are expected to speak the truth into these people. And who or what is the church? That is you and I. Either they will accept it and repent, or they will be offended and leave. What we must ask ourselves is “what is more important, the person to be your friend, or to turn them from sin?”
We must be bold for Christ, and not stay quiet when someone is clearly on the wrong path. This must be done seasoned with love and mercy and grace, but yet standing firm.
Lord help us to not turn a blind eye to a brother or sister walking down the wrong path. Give me courage and love to speak truth to them. In Jesus name, amen.