TEXT: Revelation 2:12-17, NRSV
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:
God of all Wisdom, we have gathered before You to read your holy Word and to be guided by it. Send your Spirit to this place that we might feast upon Your word and digest its meaning to fill our souls with Your wisdom and truth. In name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. 
If you were to travel to the West African country of Liberia 25 years ago, the danger was clear and present. Civil unrest. Armed insurgencies. Political instability. In the 1990’s, the country had become a killing field. But if you would have traveled to Liberia just five years ago, the danger would not have been so obvious. Most likely, you would not find yourself looking down the barrel of a machine gun. But 5 years ago, a simple sneeze could have killed you. As we now know, the Ebola outbreak was just beginning. As of October 2014, almost 2500 Liberians had died from the disease.
This morning, as we once again explore the book of the Revelation together, we will also discover that sometimes, we can become blind to what is truly dangerous. 
Some of the most dangerous poisons are the ones that go undetected until it’s too late. Nothing will poison the body of Christ like the poison of compromise. 
Just listen to what some of those who have gone before have us about this.
“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…” – C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
“A new Decalogue has been adopted by the neo-Christians of our day, ‘Thou shalt not disagree,’ and a new set of Beatitudes too, ‘Blessed are they that tolerate everything for they shall not be made accountable.’” – A.W. Tozer
“Truth always carries confrontation. Truth demands confrontation; loving confrontation nevertheless. If our reflex action is always accommodation of the centrality of the truth involved, there is something wrong.” – Francis Schaeffer
THE SWORD OF HIS MOUTH
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword” – Revelation 2:12, NRSV
We know from the context clues of the rest of Scripture (Revelation 1:16; Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 19:11-16), that this sword is God’s authoritative word.
- Whatever God speaks, happens. His word doesn’t go forth void.
What the Sword Means
- According to Paul in Romans 13:4, governments bear a sword.
- Swords are symbols of authority, and unless someone isn’t using their authority correctly or their being immoral (etc.) then you typically shouldn’t argue with someone that God has given authority to.
- Just like guns are typically (not always) symbols of authority. A police officer pulled me over on Friday and he said I was going too fast. I didn’t believe him, but I don’t think it would have behooved me to argue with someone who wields a firearm.
- Jesus is telling them to fear the sword of God rather than the sword of the government.
“As the earliest Christians found in Acts, the church always has to be able to say ‘We must obey God rather than human authorities’, even if the ‘authorities’ in question are not the official magistrates (though the magistrates, too, may pose a threat if the Christians refuse to join in with state religion) but simply the insidious pressures of people saying ‘but this is what everybody does’.
Jesus’ response is clear. The Roman governor may wield the sword, but Jesus has the sharp two-edged sword coming out of his mouth (verses 12, 16, as in 1.16). His word will cut through the half-hearted spirituality that is happy to face both ways at once.“ – N.T. Wright, Revelation for Everyone
What the Sword Does
This sword that’s coming out of Jesus’ mouth is the word of God.
God’s word is His is message to us, but it’s not just His message, it’s His authority, and listen to what it does.
“Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” – Hebrews 4:12-13, NRSV
- The word of God reveals everything when it gets inside of us, and it has to. When you go into a room in your house to clean it out, you’ve got to turn on the light to see what’s in there so you know what to throw away, and that’s what God’s word does with us.
- According to James 1, the word of God is like a mirror and when look at it, and don’t do what it says it’s as if you look at yourself in the mirror and then walk away forgetting what you look like.
But our passage in Revelation 2 describes the word of God as a two edged sword. The two edges of the sword are God’s ability to kill and make alive by His word. Look at Deuteronomy 32 just a minute and listen to part of the song of Moses.
“See now that I, even I, am he; there is no god besides me. I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and no one can deliver from my hand. 40 For I lift up my hand to heaven, and swear: As I live forever, 41 when I whet my flashing sword, and my hand takes hold on judgment; I will take vengeance on my adversaries, and will repay those who hate me.”
– Deuteronomy 32:39-41, NRSV
Now, the question is which edge of the sword are you going to get?
Some might say, “Well, that’s just Old Testament stuff. We’re under the new covenant now. God was mean and nasty then, but since Jesus came along He’s really chilled out.”
- A lot of people really interpret Scripture that way, but God hasn’t changed.
This is what’s going to happen, according to Revelation 19, in the New Testament.
“Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war… 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God… 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” – Revelation 19:11, 13, 15-16, NRSV
This is what Jesus means in verse 16 of our text when He says, “Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth.”
A TESTIMONY OF FAITHFULNESS
“I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives.” – Revelation 2:13, NRSV
The commendation here is simple: considering, you live where Satan lives, you’ve been faithful.
“Pergamos was the first city in Asia to build a temple dedicated to the worship of a living emperor. Hence, Satan’s throne, where he holds court, can also indicate the altar where Caesar was worshiped as lord, and/or where the Roman governor sat in his judgment seat, dealing out capital punishment by the “law of the sword.”
– Orthodox Study Bible
- As I said last week, in that time and in that part of the world, there was no separation of church and state. In that time and place, the state was the church, and caesar was their god. The motto of the state was “Caesar is Lord.”
- The phrase “Jesus is Lord” is not simply a religious message, it’s a political message. It’s political message that says we will have no king, but Christ.
“According to tradition, the early martyr Antipas was bishop of Pergamos and was martyred in AD 92 by being burned to death in a heated bronze bull, having witnessed before the Roman governor that Jesus is Lord.” – Orthodox Study Bible
We need pastors and church leaders like Antipas with a backbone who will stand up and say, “Hello, World! Jesus bought this place with His blood. Deal with it.” (Tony Sumpter, Blood-Bought World)
So, so far we see that they have a Testimony of Faithfulness, but unfortunately, they also have a Tolerance for Corruption.
A TOLERANCE FOR CORRUPTION
“But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication. 15 So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” – Revelation 2:14-15, NRSV
The first problem Jesus addresses is that there’s people who hold to the teaching of Balaam.
- In order to really understand that you have to go back and read chapters 25-31 of Numbers. Basically, Balak is a king of Moab and he’s afraid that the people of Israel are going to come in and take up his land. What he doesn’t know is that God commanded Israel earlier not to touch anything that belonged to Moab.
- So, he acts out of fear and contacts a man named Balaam. Balaam is a Moabite, he’s not an Israelite, he’s a pagan Gentile. Brandon Hanson actually describes Balaam like this: “He was a thief and a trickster who meddled with powers beyond his comprehension… He was one who regularly dealt with demons disguised as various deities, making deals and inquiring of them for the knowledge he needed to perform spells and incantations, blessings and curses. Like Prometheus who stole fire from Zeus, Balaam sought to steal “fire” of his own—divine knowledge for his personal gain.” 
- Balaam was the kind of guy you would contact if you wanted a voodoo doll made. He was a Hocus Pocus Hitman.
- Balak contacts Balaam to put a curse on Israel, and Balaam soon realizes that he can’t. God speaks to him several times and actually causes him to bless Israel instead of curse them. Balak finally parted company with Balaam who could do nothing but bless Israel. But as Balaam is leaving, he offers one last piece of advice: Moab might defeat Israel if he told the Moabite women to prostitute themselves amongst Israel and invite them to worship their gods, eat their food offered to their idols, and sacrifice.
- What Balak is really saying is “If you can’t put a curse on them, then maybe you can get them to do things that are conducive to a curse. All you have to do is get them to do things that will invite chaos and destruction into their life, and they will take care of themselves.”
Satan doesn’t have to come into your house and knock stuff around for you to be under a curse. All he has to do is get you to do things that invite chaos into your life, and I’m not talking about something stupid like yoga or whatever.
- Pride, Envy, Lust, Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Gluttony – There’s a reason the Catholic Church called these the seven deadly sins. Every time you sin, it’s because you give in to one of these seven things.
- The cycle of sin is usually the same: we think we’re entitled to something, or we think we deserve better than what we have (pride), so we want something we can’t have (envy, greed, lust), so we lash out at those around us (wrath), and then we’re depressed and we overindulge in the things that we can have (sloth and gluttony.)
So, what then is the teaching of Balaam? The teaching of Balaam is that if you don’t like God’s Word, then just change it. Believe a different word. Balaam basically told Balak that if he didn’t like God’s word of blessing, then maybe he could get Israel to go whoring after other gods and get them to believe a different, a word other than the one God has spoken.
- This is what people do when they don’t like God’s word, they try to change it. This is what society does when they say, “Well, I identify as…. Whatever.” God has established reality, and whenever people think they do something like change their gender, what they’re saying is, “I don’t like what is true so I’m going to change it.” What else do you expect from a society that believes truth is all relative?
- The cry of much of the LGBT community is “Live your truth.” No, live THE truth. There’s only one truth, and you can’t change it.
One more thing that I thought was so profound about this passage is the way that Jesus addresses the church.
- He doesn’t say, “You people are a bunch of heretics and Nicolaitans and heretics.”
- Instead He says, “You have heretics and Nicolaitans among you.”
And what this reminded me of was Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares. That kept coming to my mind all week while I was reading this passage. I want us to think about the parable and see if there’s some comparisons that can be drawn here.
We remember the parable of the wheat and tares, right?
- You’ve got a wheatfield. And then while everyone is asleep an enemy comes in and plants tares or weeds among the wheat.
- One of the slaves notices it and said to the owner of field, “I know you have sown good seed, but an enemy came in and planted these weeds.” And the slave asks, “Do you want us to pull up the weeds?”
“But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” – Matthew 13:29-30, NRSV
So, what you have here is a congregation that has wheat and tares.
- Jesus is addressing the wheat, and He’s saying, “I have this against you that you have some here who are tares.”
And what is Jesus’ solution to all of this? He doesn’t say, “Kick these people out.” He doesn’t tell them to go on an inquisition in an effort to “cleanse” the church – He simply tells them to repent.
THE INVITATION TO REPENT AND LISTEN
“Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth.” – Revelation 2:16, NRSV
What Jesus says is very simple – repent. He doesn’t lay out a 5 step church growth program or anything like that, just repent.
- Repentance means turning to Christ, and turning away from your sin. When the church as a whole begins the process of repenting together, then you won’t have to weed out the tares, they’ll weed themselves out.
People who don’t want the uncensored, unfiltered Gospel of Jesus Christ won’t stay in a place where it’s preached for very long.
Here’s the invitation.
“Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.” – Revelation 2:17, NRSV
Why hidden manna? Why a white stone with a new name?
It’s simple. They’re living in a secular, pagan wilderness where they are in danger of being killed for their faith, and while everyone else is out in the open, running to the temple of Caesar, and worshipping at the altar of Zeus in search of some blessing, they don’t need a temple. Their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Their sacrifice is one of praise and reasonable service. (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 13:15)
It’s the same for us. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, we have been bought with a price, and our sacrifice is one of worship and reasonable service.
- And part of our reasonable service to proclaim to the world that Jesus bought this place with His blood, and He sits on His throne.
Think about it, Jesus tells the church, “You live where Satan’s throne is.” Their job was declare that is Jesus is on His throne even though Satan was on his throne. That’s bold, and that’s possible because Jesus already defeated Satan 2,000 years on an old rugged cross, and Jesus got up three days later to affirm that victory. Jesus lives and because He lives, so do we. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, Your Word is life and light. Give us the power to declare Your name even in the darkest of places, even where Satan’s throne is. Give us strength to share Your victory with those feel as those they’re defeated. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
- Based on the Prayer for Illumination found here: “Prayer for Illumination | Epiphany 3C | January 24th, 2016.” Liturgy & Hymns By Stephen M. Fearing, http://www.stephenmfearing.com/liturgy//prayer-for-illumination-epiphany-3c-january-24th-2016.
- Church Plant Media. “Pergamum: Constant, But Compromised (Revelation 2:12-17).” Way of Grace Church: Buckeye, AZ, http://www.wayofgracechurch.com/sermons/sermon/2014-10-19/pergamum:-constant-but-compromised-revelation-2:12-17.
- Akin, Daniel L., et al. Exalting Jesus in Revelation. Holman Reference, 2016.
- Wright, N. T. Revelation for Everyone. Westminster John Knox, 2015.
- Hanson, Brandon. “Revelation 2:12-17 | To the Church in Pergamum: Part 2 | 016.” Christ Hold Fast, 16 Jan. 2019, http://www.christholdfast.org/blog/revelation-212-17-to-the-church-in-pergamum-part-2-016.
- ” “