David Jeremiah - The Church of Satan's City
The Bible tells us that the destination of this letter was to a place called Pergamos. Pergamos describes a sort of union of pagan cathedral city, a university town, and a royal residence. And if you were to follow it on the map, you would discover it is the most northern of the seven cities that were located some 60 miles from each other. And when the book of Revelation was written, Pergamos was the capital of the Roman government in Asia. Pergamos was different from all of the other cities in Asia. It could not boast of its strategic location, like Ephesus and Smyrna. But it was considered the greatest city of Asia, and it had been the capital city for almost 400 years. It was built on the top of a dominant hill. On a clear day, the Mediterranean Sea, 15 miles away, could be seen from this city.
The Bible tells us in verse 12 that the Lord had something to say to this city. The Bible says that the Lord is described as, "The one who had the sharp two-edged sword". We've run into this phrase a couple of times in the book of Revelation. It's the shortest and simplest description of Christ in all of the letters. The message to Pergamum comes from he who has a sharp, two-edged sword. Here in this letter, the Lord is said to have a sword. And this sword is going to be used to smite the nations according to Revelation 19. In Roman times, the sword was a symbol of might. And interestingly enough, the Roman proconsul in charge, residing in Pergamos during this time, had as his symbol the power of the sword.
The mention of the sword to the Christians in Pergamos would have reminded them that Jesus is Lord and not the Roman officials. Jesus has the sword they should be worried about and not the Roman officials who were banding about the city. In verses 13 to 15, the Lord gives a little diagnosis of this church, the same pattern he follows with every church, and this is what he says. He begins every one of these letters with these words, "I know your works". Let me just pause for a moment and say Jesus said that of all seven of churches, and he says it of us, doesn't he? "I know your works". The Lord God knows what's going on in our life. I know we pray and tell him, but we don't tell him because he doesn't know. We tell him because it's important for us to know that he knows and that we know.
The Lord Jesus says to the churches, "I know your works, and where you dwell. I know what's going on in your life". How encouraging that is to us to know that Almighty God knows what's happening in our life. And even in these dire circumstances, he says, "I know where Satan's throne is. And you hold fast to my name, and you do not deny my name even in the days in which Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was killed among you, in this city where Satan dwells". Here is his fourfold diagnosis of this city. He says, "Where you dwell, where Satan's throne is, where Satan dwells". Jesus knew the circumstances of their faith. The Christians in Pergamos had their permanent address in the city of Satan. From Pergamos, heathenism, idolatry, and paganism radiated all over Asia Minor. From a Christian standpoint, it was one of the worst of the seven cities.
Notice in your Bible two times it says "Satan's throne" and "where Satan dwells". This illustrates the darkness and blackness of this place. One of the ancient wonders of the world is the magnificent altar of Zeus. On a ledge jutting out from the Acropolis was built the most ornate, the largest, the most famous altar in all of the world. It was over 100 feet square, 40 feet high, and around the base of it, one of the most impressive pieces of sculpture created by ancient art. The German government in the last century sent an expedition to excavate Pergamos, and they found a large part of that altar in their excavation. This altar, high on the side of the mountain, looked something like a throne. And some have thought this is what the Lord Jesus meant when he talked about the throne of Satan in the city of Pergamos.
The Lord knew the circumstances of their faith. They lived in a very difficult place. And he knew the conviction of their faith. He said, "You hold fast to my name". And even though they were persecuted and threatened, they held fast to the faith. It proves to you that no matter where you live, you can be faithful to God. Tell you what, if you're going to be a Christian in Pergamos, you better really mean what you say and say what you mean because you were going to pay a price for being a Christian. Not only that, but he knew the courage of their faith. Verse 13 says, "And you did not deny my faith even in the days in which Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was killed among you".
Now, Antipas is the name of a man, a noble witness for Christ who sealed his testimony for Jesus Christ with his blood. Actually, the word "martyr" means witness. He was a witness for the Lord, he was a martyr for the Lord. The early Christians, to be a witness meant eventually being a martyr. And Antipas is a word which means against all. This man was a faithful witness unto death, against all. In calling him his faithful witness, Christ gives to him his own title. He is a faithful witness. That is used of Jesus Christ on two occasions in the book of Revelation. Jesus knew the circumstances of their faith, that they lived in a tough city. He knew the conviction of their faith, that even though they were surrounded by all kinds of evil, they stood true to what they believed. He knew the courage of their faith. At least one of them had given his life for what he believed. He knew the compromise of their faith, and this is where they get into trouble.
You know, you're reading along, and you're reading all these good things, and you hope that the word "but" doesn't come into the conversation, the word "nevertheless," or the word "but". Now, as we learned, the church in Smyrna, there isn't anything bad said about Smyrna. There's one other church like that, the church of Philadelphia. But in all the other letters, the writer of the letter gives you all the things that are good about the church, and then slips in these few things that aren't so good. You remember Ephesus was a good church, had a lot going for it, dominant, very dynamic, but they had left their first love. Notice what the Lord says about this church. "But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold 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".
Now, let's break that down, let's talk about that for just a moment. Satan was not able to destroy the Christians in Pergamos by coming in as a roaring lion. But he was making inroads as a deceiving serpent. A group of compromising people had infiltrated the church fellowship in Pergamos, and Jesus hated their doctrines and their practices. He refers to this doctrine as the doctrine of Balaam. Now, I know some of you know this story, but this is a great story from the Old Testament, so let me just tell you the story like we were just sitting around a fire, and I wanted to tell you this great Old Testament story. The Bible says there was a man by the name of Balaam, who Satan used against the people of God.
Balaam was a prophet, who professed to be able to influence the gods for or against people by his incantations and his offerings. He ran a wholesale business in divine favors, and he would negotiate with any god for whatever price. Balak, who was the king of Moab, promised Balaam a fat fee if he would come to Moab and curse Israel for him. Balaam responded, but he soon discovered that he could not command Jehovah. Instead, God of Israel took command of him, and this is kind of humorous. When he was forbidden by God to go to Moab on the first invitation, he assumed that God might change his mind the second time around. Balak offered him a larger fee, and Balaam thought it profitable to argue with God if he could make that kind of money. God allowed him finally to go, but after he got there, he compelled him to bless Israel instead of curse them, which didn't make his hirer very happy. Balak offered him a larger fee.
Frustrated by his failure to meet the terms of his contract, Balaam said, "I won't do this, but let me show you how you can corrupt the people of God. What you have to do is use a stumbling block in the form of enticement. Get the people of Israel to intermarry with the Moabites. These adulterous women will seduce them, and take part of their religion, and marry it with theirs, and cause them to offer idolatrous sacrifices, and commit fornication". Thus, Balaam was the prime mover in the fall of Israel. And if you know the story, you remember that it led to a plague which caused 24.000 Israelites to die. The doctrine of Balaam is this, listen carefully: if you can't curse them, corrupt them. If you can't curse them, corrupt them.
If somebody says, "What's the doctrine of Balaam"? What the doctrine of Balaam is if you can't curse them, just corrupt them. The sin of Pergamos was the toleration of evil and the toleration of evil men. And the error of Balaam is mentioned in the New Testament in Jude verse 11, "Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, they have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah". And also in 2 Peter 2:15, we read, "They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness". The error and the way of Balaam are embodied in the evil practice of using God for personal gain.
The late Donald Grey Barnhouse once wrote, "The very word 'Pergamos' has in it the same root from which we get our English word for bigamy and polygamy. It is the word for marriage. Pergamos signifies they mixed marriage in the most objectionable sense of the word. It is a marriage of the organization of the church of Jesus Christ with the world". The doctrine of Balaam. Then he mentions this other very strange thing, the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. He says, "You people have done a lot of good things, but you allowed compromise into your church. You allowed people to come in and cause you to break down your convictions, and you began to act like the world, and you brought the world in among you". And then he says, "You have the doctrine of the Nicolaitans". And the word "Nicolaitan" is derived from two words which means "to conquer the laity".
And once again, most scholars believe that Nicolaitanism is the subjugation of people in a hierarchy so that some were lording it over others. This is where the clergy and the laity came into play. where some were promoted to places of high influence and given authority over the laity. We'll have more to say about that in a moment. Now, Jesus has something to say to this church in verse 16. He said, "If you don't repent of the doctrine of Balaam, and of allowing the priesthood of the believer to be compromised in a laity-clergy division, I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth". In the city of Pergamos, what happened was the church was married with the world.
Now remember, in the letters to the churches, we have representation of periods of time in the history of the church. Remember, the church in Ephesus represents the early church, the apostles, the church that we read about in the book of Acts. And the church in Smyrna was the persecuted church. Remember, right after the church was born, after the first ages of the church, the church in history went through a time of great persecution. That's the Smyrnian period of the church, when suffering was incredible. Remember, it was the persecution that thrust the disciples out of Jerusalem and made it possible for the gospel to be spread. Isn't it interesting, the Lord said, "Go into all the world and preach the gospels," and nobody ever left Jerusalem. Kind of like us, right?
Sometimes, I think that we haven't done enough to reach the world for Jesus Christ, so God's just brought the world around us. It's like the Lord said, "If you won't go into all the world, I'll bring all the world to you". Well, the book of Acts chapter 8, I believe in verse 4, we're told that they wouldn't go into all the world and preach the gospel, so the Lord sent persecution, and they were scattered abroad, everywhere, except the apostles. And guess what happened? The Word of God was broadcast throughout all the world. God sent persecution and the gospel was spread. Those are the first two periods, the period of apostolic love and the period of suffering. But now, we're in this third period. And this third period is most interesting. During the Smyrnian period, when the church was suffering, for 250 years Satan persecuted the church.
How many of you have ever read "Foxe's Book of Martyrs"? It's not bedtime reading. I suggest you don't read that before you go to bed. It is a very disturbing book, not only describing how Christians suffered for their faith, but the ways in which that happened. And people are telling me that in the last 10 years, more people have suffered for Christ than during this 250 years, when persecution rained among Christendom. Diocletian was the emperor who was reigning during that time. He literally tried to stamp out the church by persecuting them. And then, Constantine came into power. And for the next many years, Rome ruled the world using the church as its number one vehicle. Walter Scott said, "Constantine offered his gold and patronage to the church, and it eagerly swallowed the bait, sacrificed its conscience and allegiance to its Lord, and the church and the world which hither fore had walked apart were soon locked in each other's arms, a fatal union".
Paul wrote to the Ephesians, and he warned them about the savage wolves. But in the next paragraph, he said something like this, "After my departure, there will be those who rise up from among you who will carry you away from the truth". You know, Satan doesn't really care how he ruins your life, he doesn't care how he ruins mine. He doesn't care how he corrupts a church. He will try anything. If it doesn't work this way, he'll come back with another way. So, what was the Protestant Reformation? The Protestant Reformation was the pulling back of the church from its union with the Roman Empire. It was the pulling away from the government's influence in the life of the church. I visited all the places where the Protestant Reformation took place, and I'll never forget some of the prices that were paid for men like Martin Luther, who stood up against the evil of the church that had been corrupted by the Roman government.
All of that's what happened during this period of time. The lesson of Pergamos is this, it's the lesson of Balaam. If you can't curse them, you can corrupt them. And God knows that in our world today, in our churches, in our families, in our homes, Satan is still using that strategy wherever it can be used. Years and years ago, I found a statement that was written. This is apparently a statement that belongs to G. Campbell Morgan. And I had forgotten where it was, I couldn't find it until I was getting ready to preach this message, and I want to read this statement to you. This is what it says.
There is a toleration which is treachery. There is a peace which issues in paralysis. There are hours when the church must say no to those who ask communion with her, and in the doing of her work upon the basis of compromise. Such standing aloof may produce ostracism and persecution, but it will maintain power and influence. If the church of God in the cities of today were aloof from the maxims of the age, separated from the materialistic philosophies of the schools, bearing witness alone to the all-sufficiency of Christ and the perfection of his salvation, even though persecuted and ostracized and bruised, it would be to the church that men would look in the hour of their heartbreak and sorrow and national need. The reason why men do not look to the church today is that she has destroyed her own influence by compromising with the things of the world.
So the people say today there's so much world in the church and so much church in the world, you can't tell the difference between the two. And I could cite all of the statistics that come from all of the surveys that say when it comes to how we live, it's not a whole lot better than how the rest of the world lives. And people say, "Why has the church lost its influence"? We have become so fixated on being relevant that we've become totally irrelevant. We've been so fixated on taking our mantra from the media, and taking our marching orders from the marketplace instead of from the Word of God, we now have nothing to say to the world that's different than what they can get just about anyplace else. So, when we no longer are the church in the world, why should we expect the world to ever come and ask what we think about anything? And I want to tell you there's time for us to get back. Maybe this is the time. Toleration is a word that is being overlooked. There is a toleration which is treachery, and there is a peace which is paralysis.
Now, I'm not a rabble-rouser, I'm not a fighter. I don't like to get in shootouts with other people, you know that. But ladies and gentlemen, we're walking into a period of time that's very Pergaminian, where, if we're not careful, we're going to lose our sense of who we are, and the church will be just a byword, as it has become already in so many places. So what do we do about that? We ask the Lord to make us vigilant, we ask the Lord to give us courage, we ask the Lord to help us understand that we can still be the church. If people want to ridicule us and say that we're intolerant because we speak the truth, so be it. But when we speak the truth, we stand in the train of the Lord God who called us, who Himself is the truth.