Series on Revelation, I The Vision, D The Perseverance, 3 The Troubled Church, Text: 2:12-17, Title: A Badge for the Penitent


This is a most encouraging letter to a troubled church. In many cases when there is a problem Jesus says to the churches that He will take some action against them if they fail to correct the difficulty or hindrance. To Ephesus Christ says he will remove their candlestick, to Thyatira He will send great tribulation, to Sardis He will come as a thief, and Laodicea will be spit out of His mouth. Only here in Pergamum and in the letter to Philadelphia does the Lord say he will punish others. Here he will destroy the false prophets with the sword of His mouth and in Philadelphia he will make the Satanic enemies worship at the believers’ feet. In this letter he says that He will fight against them with the sword of his mouth. Many people react with aversion to an image of Jesus as warlike. They need to realize the truth of an old proverb, “Good kings never make war, but for the sake of peace.” That is what Jesus does because he knows that war is kinder than a godless peace. Whitaker Chambers was a former communist sympathizer who after his conversion to Christianity wrote, “Within me there is a force. It says that gentleness, which is not prepared to kill or be killed to destroy the evil that assails life, is not gentleness. It is weakness. It is the weakness of the merely well-meaning. It is the suspended goodness of the men of mere good will whose passivity in the face of evil first of all raises the question whether they are men. It is the permanent temptation of the Christian who, in the world of force, flinches from the Crucifixion which alone can give kindness and compassion force." This is Jesus’ view here, He will fight to protect His own.Thus he is described in the image taken from Chapter 1, “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. Here in this letter we view the barbarity, the battle and the badge of honor.

I The Barbarity

The Greeks called anyone who was not Greek, any foreigner, a barbarian. The sound of barbaros onomatopoetically evokes the image of babbling, or, in other words, strange speech. It came to mean cruel and brutal treatment.   That is what we see here in verse 13, I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives. Jesus said to his disciples in John 16:33, I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble (tribulation). But take heart! I have overcome the world. John begins Revelation by identifying himself with those who are persecuted in 1:9, I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. The persecution in Pergamum was intense because it was a hotbed of devotion to Satanic forms of worship, and Jesus says Satan dwelt there. It had a large, forty foot throne to Zeus Soter in front of a temple to Athena, and a local organization to promote the worship of the emperor in several other temples built by the Romans. It was also a city where Asclepios Soter, the serpent god of healing, was worshiped and whenever you see that pagan symbol of a snake twined around a pole today it is associated with a physician.  There was also a temple to Dionysius whose name is derived from the Greek word for God and he was the god born in Nysa and the god of wine, music and dance. In other words he was the god of orgies and the inventor of “let us eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” Add to all this the fact that the whole city looked like a giant throne because of the Acropolis which stood hundreds of feet above the city. The denomination “Satan’s throne” was certainly an apt description. Hendriksen writes, “Notice that the Greek word sōtēr applied to both Zeus and Ascelepius means “savior.” In view of their Savior Jesus Christ it was impossible for Christians to acknowledge these gods as saviors. In addition, they could never utter the motto Caesar is Lord, because for them the title Lord was reserved for Jesus only. Instead of the two hundred thousand or more volumes in the Pergamum library, they came only with the Scriptures. In place of numerous temples, they had no temple and said that their Christian fellowship and even their physical bodies served as the temple of the Holy Spirit. And in lieu of Asclepius’s healing, the Christians taught than Jesus was their Great Physician. In brief, for Christians life in Pergamum was made nearly unbearable." In this terrible place people died for their faith and the foremost among them was a man whom the Apostle John had ordained as a bishop in Ephesus during the reign of Domitian. His name was Antipas. Tradition says he was burned on a pagan altar because of his stalwart faith, and Jesus’ commendation of the believers in Pergamum is that they did not collapse under the pressure but held fast to their faith as we read in this verse, Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city. Like the pagans of today they barbarically murdered those who did not conform to their lifestyle.

II The Battle

The battle that ensued because of this conflict is described in verses 14-16,  Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. Notice again that Jesus is not fighting against the faithful but against those perpetuating the cultural evils in their midst. He comes with a two edged sword which will divide between those that follow Him and those who do not.  Jesus mentions only one thing, namely, the lack of resistance to false teaching and conduct within the congregation. The believers have tolerated teachers who have spread their insidious doctrine and lifestyle, and they have failed to expel them. Their influence is spreading like cancer cells in a healthy body; and radical measures must be taken before it is too late. While the church in Ephesus exercised discipline, opposing the Nicolaitan teaching, the church in Pergamum did not. Those who oppose the truth are first described here in Old Testament allusions. Balaam first failed to curse the Israelites, and then, supported by Balak, lured them into sexual immorality with Moabite women, the eating of food sacrificed to idols, and the worship of these idols. The Nicolaitans were the first century counterparts of Balaamites. They were most likely Gnostics who believed in a “higher” spiritual escape from the body and therefore saw nothing wrong with the sins of the body. To them the actions of the body were of no consequence. Thus they saw nothing wrong with the common Roman practices of sexual immorality, the eating of food sacrificed to idols, and the worship of these idols. In the letter to Ephesus which all could read, Jesus says he hated the teaching of the Nicolaitans, and here he says he will destroy them. The Christians could not, and must not worship both Christ and Caesar. The repentance in view here is the adoption of the proper procedures of discipline by excising these people from the church and this is something they had not done in spite of the fact that those loyal to Christ had paid with their lives. This sort of thing was so common in the first century that in Acts 15 the Apostolic Council decrees that if Gentiles are to be included in the church then they said, It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell. These are the very things which Jesus is disputing in Pergamum. It is also common today because our government keeps passing laws that protect the murder of unborn children and protect those that violate many of the sexual mores that have been given to us by our Christian forbears, and we must be careful to avoid complicity in these things, but rather, fight against them, and above all, keep them out of the Church. So the word to the truth bearers is repent and the word to those who convey the lies of the devil is desist or be destroyed like the Midianites and Balaam.

III The Badge

Now the promise of Jesus to reward the faithful is found in verse 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. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it. As in all the letters there is a warning to listen. From the Shema, Hear ye hear ye O Israel, down to the letters to the churches in Revelation there is this constant refrain to listen to what God has to say. People nowadays are not listening. God calls what Balaam and the Nicolaitans urged "whoring" and "adultery" which are synonyms for idolatry in the Bible. Alan Keyes describes our situation as a nation which is not different from the error of the church in Pergamum. “But once conscience becomes accustomed to a lenient view of these most familiar sins, the scriptural use of terms like "whoring" and "adultery" may instead evoke resentment and revulsion against God. If people come to feel that whoring and adultery are venial offenses, it may seem to them as if God makes much ado about nothing. In their eyes, His judgments may take on an aspect of capricious wrath that give rise to doubts and questions about His justice. But some of the most punishing consequences reported in scripture are associated with the surrender to idolatry, including the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel, the rape and captivity of the Jewish people and the destruction of the edifice intended by God to make manifest their identity as His chosen people, the Temple in Jerusalem.” Thus, we need to listen to the promise of Jesus more than ever. If we resist this idolatrous storm in our culture then Jesus says, To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it. The hidden manna is indicative of being in the holy place. The manna came down from heaven to feed the Israelites in the wilderness. Later it was hidden away in the most holy place in the tabernacle and the temple. Now Jesus says his faithful ones will partake of it and this is the same as saying we have confidence to enter the holiest through the blood of Jesus. The badge of a white stone is the ultimate reward. The white stone had much significance in their culture. Jurors in court trials chose a black stone for the verdict of guilty and a white one for the verdict of innocent. White stones called tessera were also used as badges of admission to events. However, most significant of all is the Biblical background which suggests that the white stone meant the same thing as the hidden manna. The reason for this is that the high priest of Israel was the only one allowed to enter the holiest place. His breastplate had twelve stones, each of which had the name of a tribe written on it. Here in Revelation 2:17 there is a new name written on the white stone. This would signify that the white stone with the name of the individual believer written on it is always in God’s presence. Just as Jesus brings us into the holiest to partake of the hidden manna so our Great High Priest bears us with him into the holiest place as symbolized by the stone with our name written on it. This is the badge of those who are found faithful, a badge for the truly penitent, because according to Isaiah 57:15, For this is what the high and lofty One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.