“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolatians. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’” -Revelation 2:12-17

It was a difficult time in Pergamum. The people had ample resources, both in wealth and in knowledge. They had a massive library along with a financial fortitude which rivaled Ephesus and Smyrna, which we’ve heard about over the past weeks in our series “7 Churches of Revelation.” Those in Pergamum experienced the comfort and ease of these assets and, as can be all too true of us today, let their guard down as a result. Dwelling where Satan’s throne was (13), this wasn’t a great strategy.

We recently finished a series from Galatians called “Bound To Be Free.” Paul tells the Galatian church, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (3:1a). The same idea of compromise Paul had identified in the Galatian church was prevalent in the church at Pergamum. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ,” Paul writes (Galatians 1.6-7). People had crept in and undermined true faith among the church at Galatia and Pergamum. Subtle compromise had led these churches to places of rebuke, which Paul and John both administer.

Compromise is an easy thing to come by in our experience. We might let something slip here or there, thinking a deviation from what we’ve committed to will not be that big of a deal. Yet, that same compromise carries weighty reproof in the Scriptures. Jesus recognizes the difficulty the church at Pergamum faces, dwelling where Satan’s throne is, but reminds them that, in midst of the difficulty, He has called them to something different, something better in the end.

It’s easy to loosen things up a bit and to indulge different areas of our lives. We might spend more than we should, lust after people or things, withhold from those to whom something is due or for whom we need to care, gratify the desires of the flesh, think too highly of ourselves, or, as is true of all of these examples, undermine the gospel because of other people or even ourselves. The church in Pergamum had adopted teachings apart from the gospel and that led to sin. How has your deviation from truth caused sin? How has your commitment to Christ wavered and landed you in a place you know isn’t right and didn’t ever expect?

In 1 Kings, Jeroboam compromises what the Lord commanded of Israel. 1 Kings 12:26-31 say:

And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” So the king took counsel and make two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one. He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites.

Jeroboam had turned from sacrifice in Jerusalem and ushered in a man-made, inferior place of sacrifice for the people. They didn’t go to Jerusalem, they went to Bethel and Dan, because of how Jeroboam had led them. How have you been led astray, by others or even yourself? Like Pergamum, the Galatians and the Israelites, we can quickly find ourselves in a place we never expected because of our subtle or explicit compromise. We can tell ourselves, “It’s not a big deal” or “I’ll make sure it doesn’t get out of hand,” but even in that moment we turn away from what God desires and turn toward ourselves, a gospel different than the truth we know. Paul tells those who preach that deviant gospel to be accursed (Galatians 1:8-9).

If we endure, we have Christ Himself. John says that those in Pergamum who overcome will receive some of the hidden manna (sustenance and sufficiency) and a white stone (purity and strength), with a new name written on that stone (God’s acceptance). One commentary says, “This may be an allusion to the Old Testament practice of the high priest wearing twelve stones on his breastplate with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed on it. Though believers at Pergamum may not have had the precious stones or gems of this world, they had what is far more important, acceptance by Christ Himself and assurance of infinite blessings to come.”[1]

Believers, we have a great high priest who has answered all that could ever, ultimately, be demanded of our lives. Our devotion to Him cannot waver, and our allegiance as we go through life and circumstance must be sure. It’s easy to get sidetracked and compromise here and there, but it matters what you do in your own life and in your proclamation, for the gospel. Pergamum had trials and hardships, they had problematic people and difficult circumstances, but Jesus calls them out to remain true to Him. He recognizes their trials but doesn’t let them get away with that excuse. In all we do, we should point toward Him.

It’s easy to settle and let things slip. Compromise is easy; God wants something more. He wants faithfulness. And, even when we are faithless, He is faithful (2 Timothy 2:13). Keep striving to live faithfully and uphold the gospel you’ve been given. Keep staying vigilant in midst of a world that could not care less about a God who cares for them. Stay true and keep your guard up in defense of Him. Just like Pergamum, we can let our guard down and yield to falsities, to compromises which undermine what God seeks to do among us. Stay true. Stay strong. As Doug Cecil says as he leads tours in Israel, “Don’t substitute God’s best on the altar of cheap substitutes.” If we take anything from Revelation it’s that Jesus is coming back and it’s going to be okay. Let’s not compromise our worship.

Amen.

 

Owen Engstrom

 

[1] John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985).

 

 

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