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Jesus Addresses Pergamos, the Carnal Church
The Book of Revelation includes seven letters Jesus instructed the Apostle John to address to seven separate churches which were in existence at the time John was given this Vision.
In this article we will look at the third of these seven letters written to the congregation at Pergamos (Chapter 2, verses 12-17).
We will begin with an overview, then the actual verses taken from the Book (with my commentary added), concluded by an historical summary about the city of Pergamos.
May you be exhorted by the rebuke Jesus imparts to the Pergamos congregation, "the carnal church".
The Letter to Pergamos
This letter to the church at Pergamos is a rebuke for opening its doors to ungodly men with carnal doctrines.
2:12-13 "And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, 'These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: I know your works, 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.
The "sharp two-edged sword" Jesus holds is the Word (Heb.4:12). By His use of the symbol here, Jesus is letting the pastors know that He has used His Word of truth to cut into their doctrinal heart, and in the light of holy doctrine has carefully examined them.
As a result, Jesus acknowledges the church's courage to hold fast to His name; recognizing that they had suffered martyrdom because they were dwelling in a demonic stronghold "where Satan's throne is". Moreover, to this church's credit, though apparently surrounded by temples and shrines and innumerable idols in the darkest center of pagan abominations, Jesus commends them for keeping the idols out of the church.
2:14-15 "But I have a few things against you, because you have those who hold to 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. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
With the same two-edged sword by which He exposed all that was good and commendable, Jesus also uncovers that which He finds deplorable. In spite of all their success to keep the idols out, Pergamos had failed miserably to keep the ungodly doctrines of the idol worshipers out.
The first doctrine Jesus identifies is "...the doctrine of Balaam".
According to the Biblical record, Balaam was a soothsayer (Josh.13:22) with some knowledge of God, though Scripture never refers to him as a prophet. Because of his fame, Balaam was offered a huge sum of money by Balaak the king of Moab to use his powers of divination to help Balaak defeat Israel (Num.22:5-7). Though warned by God to speak only the words God gave him to speak (Num.22:35), the magician's wanton greed for reward and honor drove him to ignore God and align himself with the heathen king instead. As a result, the nation of Israel was introduced to both the idolatry and fornication that eventually caused her to stumble into depravity (Num.31:16). And thus, it was with Pergamos. The church allowed insincere (perhaps greedy) teachers to introduce worldly doctrines that caused many in the congregation to stumble into carnality (perhaps out of greed).
The second doctrine Jesus identifies is "...the doctrine of the Nicolaitans." This also surrounds the practice of idols and idolatrous worship, and at the same time might include a form of tyrannical lordship over the church (see notes-Rev.2:6).
2:16 'Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
This serious admonition to "repent, or else" is intended to correct the congregation for tolerating the false doctrines and neglecting to rebuke the corrupt teachers. Jesus makes it an ultimatum, either the church see to it that the ungodly tolerance stop and judgment be brought against the false doctrines and teachers or He would intervene and make war against the corrupt members Himself.
It's not clear how our Lord's intervention would play out, yet it's safe to say that any congregation upon which Jesus makes a declaration to fight against its teachers wouldn't be a pleasant experience. If I were to speculate, the outcome would be an outbreak of dissention between the leadership and faithful members resulting in the cutting off of the wrong doers but leaving the faithful hurt and the surrounding community confused. In other words, what the church could have done by taking corrective action with perhaps little incident, would become a full-scale confrontation leading to broken hearts and broken relationships.
For this reason, dear ones, we must always be on watch for false doctrine; always be ready to rebuke it before it can germinate; and always remain mindful that it can spring up at anytime inside any congregation (see-2 Tim.4:3-5).
2:17 "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." '
"I will some of the hidden manna to eat." This speaks of the miraculous provision of God in the person of Jesus Christ Who is "the living bread"; a promise that we shall partake of Christ and thereby "shall live forever" (John 6:51). "And I will give him a white stone..." The white "stone" (Gr. psephos) means white "pebble" and alludes to a marble-sized stone once used in some cultures to cast a ballot. Wherein the white stone meant approval and a black stone meant disapproval, the thought is that we won't be "blackballed" from heaven, but instead will receive a white stone of "approval" bearing a name Jesus has secretly chosen for us.
In its early history Pergamos stood as an illustrious symbol of Greek dominance. It included a 200,000 volume library (second only to the Egyptians), a medical center, and a trio of renowned temples situated on the top of a high and lofty hill behind the city. In the days of Rome it became the capital of the Roman province of Asia, and was the first city in Asia to erect a temple (AD 29) for the worship of the Roman Emperor. Today Pergamos lies in ruins about 15 miles from the Aegean Sea in Turkey.
About the Author
James Kobzeff is an evangelical born-again Christian who has long had a passion for the Church to know the Revelation. His commentary is the result of having studied and taught the Book many times over the past thirty years and is considered a continual work-in-process.
You can read more at his blog Learn the Revelation
Other Church Letters
- Revelation 2 (1-7): The Letter to Ephesus, the Insincere Church
The letter Jesus addresses to the church at Ephesus is a grieving lament. See why, and what did He mean they left their first love, they could have their lampstand removed, they resisted the Nacolaitans?
- Revelation 2 (8-11): The Letter to Smyrna, the Suffering Church
The letter Jesus addresses to the church at Smyrna is one of comfort. See why, and what He meant by the synagogue of satan, tribulation ten days, and the second death.
- Revelation 2 (18-29): The Letter to Thyatira, the Idolatrous Church
The letter Jesus addresses to the church at Thyatira is one of strong rebuke. See why, and what did He mean by the woman Jezebel, cast her into a sickbed, rule them with a rod of iron?
- Revelation 3 (1-6): The Letter to Sardis, the Spiritually Dead Church
This letter Jesus addresses to the church at Sardis is a call for them to wake up. See why, and what did He mean they were alive but dead, that He would come as a thief, that names will not be blotted out of the Book of Life?
- Revelation 3 (7-13): The Letter to Philadelphia, the Faithful Church
The letter Jesus addresses to the church at Philadelphia contains no rebuke. See why, and what He mean by the synagogue of Satan, hour of trial, and does Jesus suggest the rapture?
- Revelation 3 (14-22): The Letter to Laodicea, the Lukewarm Church
The letter Jesus addresses to the church at Laodicea contains a strong rebuke. See why, and what He mean I wish you were cold or hot, I will spew you out of my mouth, I stand at the door and knock?