The next church we see is the church of Pergamos which we called the erring church, a church that was straying from sound doctrine. The advice of Paul was to hold fast to the form of sound words. Whereas the Ephesians held so strongly to sound doctrine that they forgot charity this church took on the opposite character. The church at Pergamos did not lack passion but they were beginning to depart from sound doctrine. This reminds us that there must be proper balance of doctrinal truth and charity. We do not need dead orthodoxy neither do we need to abandon orthodoxy altogether. We need a living orthodoxy. We need both heat and light both of which comes from the Spirit. Pergamos reminds us that a little leaven does indeed leaven the whole lump. We should be inclusive but our inclusiveness should end at our doctrine. We cannot bring into our doctrinal fellowship those who deny the faith. We cannot play games with the truth as Samson played games with the truth; who was lulled to sleep in the lap of Delilah. Doctrinal soundness is just as important as charity; they must go hand in hand.
Johnson explained that Pergamos is “the farthest north of the seven churches, a city once the capital of the kingdom of Pergamos, which was great and flourishing when John wrote.” Those who take a church age view of the seven churches would say that the Pergamos age occurred from Constantine on to the full apostasy of Rome in the Dark ages when the church escaped the persecution of the Smyrna age and began a slow decline into doctrinal apostasy. Churches in all ages though are in danger of departing from sound doctrine so there is no sound reason to limit this to one particular age. The Lord would have us in this age to hear what the Spirit says to all of these churches. The word Pergamos itself leads to a clue to the main reason for their fall for the word means lofty or exalted. Pride becomes the fall of many. The warning of Paul was to take heed those who think they stand lest they fall. It is the sense of pride in the modern church that says that doctrine should be compromised for numbers. It is the sense of pride that that craves the praise of men above the praise of God. This then can be seen as the main problem with the erring church.
Consider first how Christ would be known of this church: Christ would be known to this church as the one by whose words they will be judged. “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges….” The two edged sword in the first chapter and in the nineteenth chapter of this book is that which proceeds out of the mouth of Christ. This again is a picture of deity for the Word of God is that which proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). The sword of God’s word (Eph. 6) is seen as that which comes from Christ. In our text the two edged sword is that which belongs to Christ. They are his words. The word of God according to the writer of Hebrews is quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword. It pierces even to the soul of man and discerns all the thoughts and intentions in man (Heb. 4:12). Jamison stated that it was “appropriate to His address having a twofold bearing, a searching power so as to convict and convert some (Revelation 2:13, 17), and to convict and condemn to punishment others (Revelation 2:14-16, especially Revelation 2:16.” Christ then is the one that deals with the hearts of men and He does so by being the sole possessor of truth. He is the one that has, yea who is, the Word of God. It is ultimately by the words of Christ that all men will be judged. Matthew Henry attached this comment to our text: “The church of Pergamos was infested with men of corrupt minds, who did what they could to corrupt both the faith and manners of the church; and Christ, being resolved to fight against them by the sword of his word, takes the title of him that hath the sharp sword with two edges. (1.) The word of God is a sword; it is a weapon both offensive and defensive, it is, in the hand of God, able to slay both sin and sinners. (2.) It is a sharp sword. No heart is so hard but it is able to cut it; it can divide asunder between the soul and the spirit, that is, between the soul and those sinful habits that by custom have become another soul, or seem to be essential to it. (3.) It is a sword with two edges; it turns and cuts every way. There is the edge of the law against the transgressors of that dispensation, and the edge of the gospel against the despisers of that dispensation; there is an edge to make a wound, and an edge to open a festered wound in order to its healing. There is no escaping the edge of this sword: if you turn aside to the right hand, it has an edge on that side; if on the left hand, you fall upon the edge of the sword on that side; it turns every way.” Each and every church needs to be reminded of this side of the character of Christ as the defender of truth in His church. He is the great Captain of our souls; the Great Crusader against all error.
Secondly, Christ would have His church to know that He knows what they have done for Him in the past. I think in this case Christ is preventing an objection. The erring church may after the rebuke of Christ point back to their passionate service for Christ in the past. Christ gives a pre-emptive acknowledgement of their past service and zeal in order to show them that their past work does not blot out their present failure. “I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.” Note the past tense verbs. Christ knows that they are trying to be a witness in a hard area. They were doing their work in a stronghold of Satan. Pergamos was a center of pagan worship. Jamison stated that “Æsculapius was worshipped there under the serpent form; and Satan, the old serpent, as the instigator (compare Revelation 2:10) of fanatical devotees of Æsculapius, and, through them, of the supreme magistracy at Pergamos, persecuted one of the Lord’s people (Antipas) even to death.”This is valuable to us today. We live and are trying to work in a post-Christian culture. The Lord knows how hard it is to reach people who are in the clutches of satanic wiles. This may be an excuse for many churches to compromise a little so they can reach the culture. “If we do not compromise a little we will not be able to preach the gospel.” But what fellowship can light have with darkness and what concord can Christ have with Belial. Our duty is to separate ourselves from everyone that causes offences contrary to the doctrine which we have received from the apostles. Christ knows where we are at and it is no excuse to compromise on the truth. In fact, it is all the more reason for us to cling to sound doctrine as to anchor us. Also our past steadfastness is no excuse for a present compromise. This church was holding fast to the name of Christ and up till now they had not denied, past tense, the faith of Christ. This steadfastness even brought some of those among them to martyrdom at the hand of the pagans. Note that true Christians will find enemies everywhere. In Smyrna it was the Jews and in Pergamos it was the pagans. Just as Jew and Gentile alike put Christ on the cross, both alike in all their forms will persecute His disciples. One notable martyr caught the eye of Christ which leads us to believe that all martyrs do, as we saw in Smyrna. Antipas was this martyr and all we know about him is that he was faithful, he was killed in Pergamos, and that he died among the people of God or in the line of duty. Some have taken in the meaning of the name a deeper picture in our text. John Gill said that the name meant “against the Papacy” and that it was related to a rejection of early Roman Catholic ideology which is depicted as Satan’s seat. Truly the pope claims to be the Vicar of Christ and sits in the temple of God proclaiming that he is God. The word Antipas though simply means “against all” and we may take it as meaning against all for the cause of Christ. Regardless there was a past steadfastness in this church and they had rubbed elbows with great men of God who stood and preached with conviction. Yet their past glory did not shield them from error. Be sober and be vigilant for the devil is seeking to devour us. What the devil cannot do by persecution he will try to accomplish by pride and compromise.
The next point is that Christ will rebuke His church for their failure to maintain their faithfulness. Put the past behind you. What are you doing for Christ now? How are you standing for Him now? “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.” So the problem with this church was a doctrinal problem. It was a doctrinal problem that led to behavior problems. Men will always behave the way that they believe. Evil communications corrupt good manners. We remember the story of Balaam. Balaam was hired by Balac to bring a curse down on the people of God. Balaam, who ran greedily after the hire, discovered that because of God’s grace on the elect people of Israel that they could not be cursed. Now it is not expressly taught in the Old Testament but it is confirmed her in our text that Balaam who was unable to curse Israel instead taught Balac that the only way to harm Israel was to get them to commit idolatry. To do this according to the doctrine of Balaam they enticed the men of Israel to take Moabite wives which seduced them to worship false gods. And this ultimately worked in bringing the wrath of God down on the people of Israel (Num. 25:1, 31:15, I Cor. 10:14). The doctrine of Balaam then is a tactic of the enemy. Since they could not destroy them from without they would invade them and induce them to sin against their God. Note in our text it is the “them” that hold this doctrine. They are not of us. These are those which Jude warned of; the evil men who crept in unawares that turned the grace of God into lasciviousness. I believe this tactic has worked in many churches. There are two distinctive issues here; one is a matter of conscience and the other is a direct sin. The matter of conscience is the matter of eating meat offered to idols. The matter of direct sin is the fornication. Jamison spoke of the matter of conscience. “The temptation to eat idol-meats was a peculiarly strong one to the Gentile converts. Not to do so involved almost a withdrawal from partaking of any social meal with the heathen around. For idol-meats, after a part had been offered in sacrifice, were nearly sure to be on the heathen entertainer’s table; so much so, that the Greek “to kill” (thuein) meant originally “to sacrifice.” Hence arose the decree of the council of Jerusalem forbidding to eat such meats; subsequently some at Corinth ate unscrupulously and knowingly of such meats, on the ground that the idol is nothing; others needlessly tortured themselves with scruples, lest unknowingly they should eat of them when they got meat from the market or in a heathen friend’s house. Paul handles the question in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, 10:25-33.” All things may indeed be lawful but all things are not expedient for the Christian and they should never be brought under the power of any. The enemy knows that if they can get us to violate our own conscience which is a sin, for that which is not of faith is sin; he can get us to dishonor Christ in other ways. So men creep into the church telling us that it is alright to do this and that against our conscience in the name of Christ. And then once our conscience is violated they can convince those within the church to commit direct violations against the Word of God. Is it not funny that people in the church can claim to know Christ and also live in fornication? They can talk about grace and live in sin. This is the doctrine of Balaam and it will destroy a church (and a Christian); this belief that sin is not a big deal. And when one allows one form of false doctrine into the church others will follow. “So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.” A little leaven will eventually leaven the whole lump. The church that will not guard the truth of the Word of God will eventually accept all forms of error.
Lastly, Christ calls His erring church to repent. “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” Repentance is the only thing that can change things. The duty of the Christian, and the duty of the church, is to repent when Christ reveals their sin. The church here stood at a crossroad. Christ had revealed their error. They were either going to turn from their error and throw themselves upon Christ in repentance or they were going to continue down their ecumenical error. The command of Christ was to repent. If repentance will not happen Christ must come in judgment. He will not tarry long. He will not allow His church to live in open disobedience. He will come in judgment and will do so quickly. He will fight against them with His word. The church makes Christ their enemy if they stand against the word of God. And His word will prevail. This is much different than the loss of light for Ephesus. This is worse. This is Christ fighting against them. For all erring churches and for all erring professors of Christ, there is an urgent need for repentance. But it is important to notice that the real enemy is the “them” that crept into the church. The interest of Christ is to purify His church. Gill commented thus: “And it is observable, that Christ does not say, “I will fight against thee”; the true members of his mystical body, though lax and supine, for Christ does not fight against his people, but for them; but he says, “and will fight against them”; the Balaamites and Nicolaitans, for their idolatry and uncleanness.” Christ is jealous of His church.