Revelation 2:12-17 Keeping God’s Truth

Revelation 2:12-17 Keeping God’s Truth February 29, 2016

Revelation 2:12-17 Keeping God’s Truth

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis says that doctrines are like maps. They are not the reality and may not be as exciting as reality, but they chart reality for us in a vital way. Just as studying a map of the shore of the Atlantic is not as exciting as walking along the Atlantic coast itself, so studying the doctrine of Atonement is not exactly the same as the experiencing the Cross itself. But the purpose of a map is to represent, graph, and explain the reality. If you want to find your way, you need to have a reliable map and consult it frequently.1

SEVEN PARTS OF THE LETTER TO THE CHURCH OF PERGAMUM

1. Address – to Pergamum (Revelation 2:12)

““Write to the angel of the church in Pergamum…” (Revelation 2:12, HCSB)

In this case, the letter was written to the church at Pergamum. What do we know about Pergamum?

There was a towering citadel in Pergamum. Near this citadel was a temple and altar to Zeus. One could see this temple and altar from all directions. According to Paige Patterson, “To some, the great altar appeared to be something of a throne. In 88 BC Mithridates VI came into possession of the realm and was greeted as both theos and sōtēr (god and savior).” 2

The people of Pergamum saw Zeus and Savior and Lord. Yet, from God’s point of view, this temple and altar was “Satan‘s throne”.

I know where you live—where Satan’s throne is! And you are holding on to My name and did not deny your faith in Me, even in the days of Antipas, My faithful witness who was killed among you, where Satan lives.” (Revelation 2:13, HCSB)

2. Depiction of Jesus – Holds the Sharp, Two-Edged Sword (Revelation 2:12)

…The One who has the sharp, double-edged sword says…” (Revelation 2:12, HCSB)

Jesus is called the Word, the moving Spirit and work of God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1–2, HCSB)

However, that is probably not the image John is drawing upon here in this passage. He most likely is recalling another image – the image of a sword. The Word of God is described as a two-edged sword.

For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, HCSB)

A physical double-edged sword can only penetrate the body. Yet the Word of God is a living and effective sword, which penetrates the body (known as joints and marrow), as well as the spirit and soul. This sword has the ability to judge ideas and thoughts.

The sharp sword typically symbolizes warfare or judgment. The sword comes out of Jesus’s mouth, (Revelation 1:16; 2:16; 19:15, 19:21) indicating the power of his words to execute judgment on his enemies. The Roman government had the right to execute capital punishment (known as ius gladii, or the right of the sword). Here Jesus identifies himself as the one who truly holds the power of life and death, far superior to any Roman official.3

3. Commendation or Praise – Held fast to the faith and have not denied the name of Jesus (Revelation 2:13)

I know where you live—where Satan’s throne is! And you are holding on to My name and did not deny your faith in Me, even in the days of Antipas, My faithful witness who was killed among you, where Satan lives.” (Revelation 2:13, HCSB)

In the midst of extreme pressure to compromise to Roman morality and society, the church of Pergamum was keeping God’s truth. They were holding on to Jesus’ name and they never denied Jesus. Unlike Peter, who when the going the got tough, wimped out, these disciples stayed faithful.

However, they were still tempted by false teachers, like Ephesus.

4. Condemnation or Rebuke – Tempted by False Teachers (Revelation 2:14-15)

But I have a few things against you. You have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to place a stumbling block in front of the Israelites: to eat meat sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. In the same way, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” (Revelation 2:14–15, HCSB)

While the Christians resisted the imperial cult of Rome, they were tempted by a group of people who exerted another kind of power.

These Nicolatians were like politicians who try to “lord over people.” Leaders who try to get their own way and they don’t care how much they run over others along the way. Some say that these Nicolatians are followers of a deacon in the early church. Remember in Acts 6, the church appointed deacons? One of them was named Nicolas.

The proposal pleased the whole company. So they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte from Antioch.” (Acts 6:5, HCSB)

Nicolaus was a converted person from Greek culture. He was well acquainted with Roman society. It is possible that he was trying to form a cult for himself.

These infiltrators are called “Nicolaitans,” whom we met already at Ephesus (Revelation 2:6). The name means “to rule the people.” What they taught is called “the doctrine of Balaam” (Revelation 2:14). The Hebrew name Balaam also means “lord of the people” and is probably synonymous with Nicolaitans. Sadly, this group of professed believers “lorded it over” the people and led them astray.4

Do we have people who act like the Nicolatians today? Are there people in the church who are trying to be “lord of the people?” Do we sometimes act like we want to “lord over others,” instead of love one another?

When it comes to keeping God’s truth, it is always a test of faith. Will I trust God with what He has said to me in His Word? That is the test of faith. Will I keep believing in what He has given me? That is a test of faith. I can choose to ignore God’s truth or I can choose to obey it. This test is related to suffering because when the tough times come, we sometimes want to dismiss God’s truth about a matter. We like to take shortcuts. We want to find the easy path.5

With all that pressure, it is no wonder that Jesus wrote to encourage and challenge this church. He warned them of three tests that we encounter when we try to keep God’s truth.

THREE TESTS TO KEEPING GOD’S TRUTH

The three tests are found in Revelation 2:14

1. Intrigue (Trap)

“…You have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to place a stumbling block…In the same way, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” (Revelation 2:14–15, HCSB)

The first test is intrigue, or a trap. The Nicolaitians tried to use intrigue and trap people. They were bullies who tried to “lord over others” to get their way.

2. Idolatry

“…to eat meat sacrificed to idols…In the same way, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” (Revelation 2:14–15, HCSB)

The second is related to the first. This was a teaching that encouraged idolatry. Don’t turn to God. Instead, turn to what we want you to do.

In Pergamum, we are not dealing with the issue that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10:23–30, where Christians are debating whether to buy idol meat in the marketplace. This is not about debatable things and the conscience of individual Christians. The issue in Pergamum is what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 10:1–22, where he flatly prohibits eating meat in a pagan festival/worship setting, where one’s faith would certainly be compromised.667

These groups encouraged Christians to use their freedom to participate in pagan worship activities, including the worship of the emperor. Practices such as eating food sacrificed to idols in the worship of false gods and sexual immorality were often part of festivals associated with local temples and trade guilds. Christians who refused to compromise suffered social and economic persecution or worse.8

3. Immorality

“…to commit sexual immorality…” (Revelation 2:14–15, HCSB)

The third is related to the second. In this case, these groups were encouraged to eat meat sacrificed to idols. The stores where they would buy this meat had a brothel attached to it. You buy meat and you engage in sexual activity, which was related to Emperor worship. You paid the prostitute a tax that went into the Emperor’s bank account.

In the same way today, when one engages in sexual activity outside of God’s design of marriage between one man and one woman, we are in essence worshiping Satan. I hate to put it that way. If you have sex with your spouse, you are honoring God. If you have sex in any other way, you are not honoring God. You are honoring Satan.

Who am I going to honor with my body? Will I honor Satan, or Christ?

Our faith in God is being tested every day. We have people out there who want us to submit to their way of thinking instead of keeping God’s word. We may be bullied into following someone’s way of doing things instead of following God’s ways. We have to stay strong. We have to be a faithful witness.

It is easy to get our witness destroyed by these three tests of temptation. This is why Jesus says to repent. Change your ways.

5. Exhortation – Repent (Revelation 2:16)

Therefore repent! Otherwise, I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of My mouth.” (Revelation 2:16, HCSB)

Jesus strongly tells us to change. Notice that if we don’t change, He will fight us with His word. Jesus has the power of life and death over me. If I honor Him, Jesus can be a strong encourager. If I don’t honor Him, He can impact my life in disastorous ways.

6. Call to pay attention to the Holy Spirit (Revelation 2:17)

““Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches…” (Revelation 2:17, HCSB)

Here again we have a word to listen and pay attention to what the Holy Spirit says to the churches. We need to pay attention to what the Spirit says to our church about keeping God’s truth.

7. Promise to the overcoming Christian – be given hidden manna, white stone, and a new name (Revelation 2:17)

““Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it.” (Revelation 2:17, HCSB)

After this call for repentance and to pay attention, we have a promise. In this case, Jesus tells us a way to overcome these tests that tempt us. There are three tools Jesus gives us.

TOOLS FOR OVERCOMING THE TESTS

1. Hidden Manna – Spiritual Nourishment

““I will give the victor some of the hidden manna…” (Revelation 2:17, HCSB)

When a person is hungry for food and cannot find health-giving food, that person may be tempted to satisfy hunger with junk foods high in refined sugars, salt, and chemical additives. The result of such a diet is insidious. There are bursts of sudden caloric power, but the strength supplied by junk food is a deceptive strength, and in the case of certain finely tuned persons, the resulting nutritional confusion may produce the emotional side effects of depression and sometimes even psychotic behavior.9

These Christians were being tempted with spiritual junk food – meat sacrificed to idols, and sexual immorality. Jesus reminds them that He is the source of spiritual nourishment.

2. White Stone – New Spiritual Identity

““…I will also give him a white stone…” (Revelation 2:17, HCSB)

The second image that this letter presents is an identity image. The white stone was a symbol in the Roman world used in legal trials, academic grading systems, and at athletic games. The stone with the Roman letters SP imprinted upon it was given in Roman games as an award for valor. Also it was first-century practice that after a serious illness a patient who recovered would often take a new name to signify his or her complete recovery. The point is dramatically symbolized for the Christians at Pergamum. Their drift into sinfulness does not need to be the last word for either themselves or for others. In spite of the harm that has happened, there can be healing—a new identity to fulfill the identity distorted by sin; healthy food from God who knows of the human need to be fed and healed, and made whole.10

3. New Name – An Intimate Relationship

““…on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it…” (Revelation 2:17, HCSB)

Unlike the sexual immorality that the temple cults encouraged people to participate, Jesus shares with us true intimacy. When we decide to keep Gods’ truth and be faithful to Him, He opens up to us. A husband and wife open up to one another as they are being faithful to each other. In the same way, we develop our relationship with Jesus. He opens up to us in an intimate way. He shares with us that new name that brings no shame, no condemnation, and no penalties. He wants you to keep His truth, but turn to Him so that He can share with you wonders and joys that you can only experience with Him.

1 Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Annual Preacher’s Sourcebook, 2005 Edition. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, n.d.), 162.

2 Paige Patterson, Revelation, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 39, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2012), 100.

3 J. Scott Duvall, Revelation, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 53.

4 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 574.

5 Jim Erwin, “Revelation 2:1-3:22 Seven Tests of a Healthy Church,” sermon, posted on http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2016/01/31/revelation-21-322-seven-tests-of-a-healthy-church/ on 31 January 2016, accessed on 03 February 2016.

66 See Beale, Revelation, 248–49.

7 J. Scott Duvall, Revelation, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 56.

8 J. Scott Duvall, Revelation, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 54.

9 Earl F. Palmer and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, 1, 2 & 3 John / Revelation, vol. 35, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982), 132–133.

10 Earl F. Palmer and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, 1, 2 & 3 John / Revelation, vol. 35, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982), 133.

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