Have you seen this new symbol on t-shirts called COEXIST? Each letter in COEXIST is a symbol representing a religion or belief. The C is for Islam with its crescent moon. The O is for peace with the peace symbol that we have seen for decades. The E represents male/female, indicating no difference between males and females with an eye toward acceptance of homosexuality. The X is the star of David which represent Judaism. The I is a lowercase I and the dot of the letter I has a star inside a circle, representing Wican and pagan religions. The S is the yin and yang symbol representing eastern religions like taoism and confucianism. Finally, the T is a cross, representing Christianity. Now, this would be great if all this symbol meant was that we need to quit killing each other and coexist on this planet. However, this is not what this symbol means. The symbol represents tolerance. This tolerance is summed up on a quote on the homepage of the coexist foundation website. “God has given us many faiths but only one world in which to co-exist.” Shockingly, the person who said this is the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations. A rabbi said that God has given us many faiths. We live in a world that is conditioning our minds to be tolerant. There is no right or wrong. There is no truth or error. Just coexist and believe what you want and it is good enough.
The church at Pergamum was dealing with a similar problem. They were tempted to tolerate teachings that were not true. The city of Pergamum was an important center for pagan and imperial religions in the Roman province of Asia. Pergamum was the center of four pagan cults. The city was a center of learning and education as it had a 200,000 volume library, quite an accomplishment for that time. Pergamum was the first city in the province of Asia to build a temple to a Roman emperor, and it was to Augustus Caesar. The city was considered the capital of the whole area for Caesar worship. They were tempted to coexist with error. Let’s look at what Jesus says to the church in the city of Pergamum in Revelation 2:12-17.
Jesus Knows (2:12-13)
Jesus’ self-description is interesting and gives us a clue about what Jesus is going to speak about. Jesus is the one “who has the sharp two-edged sword.” In Revelation 1 we see this sharp two-edged sword coming out of the mouth of Jesus. The image symbolizes the power of the word of God. Christ’s message is like a sword, not a pat on the back. We may not like sermons that cut to our core, but Hebrews 4:12 reminds us that the word of God is a sword that has the purpose of cutting us so that we can be what God calls us to be.
Jesus knows where these Christians live. They live where Satan’s throne is. This is a very severe statement about the wicked condition of this city. You are living where Satan’s throne is established. You live in a place that is the center of worship to pagan gods. You live where people do not care about God and will worship anything and anyone else but God. Even worse, one of God’s people has been killed for their faith. Jesus says that he knows about Antipas who was killed. Can you imagine one of the faithful people of this congregation being killed for his or her stand for Jesus? Without a doubt this would impact these Christians for a long time. This church has much to be commended. Even living in a place that Jesus could call, “Satan’s throne,” these Christians remained faithful to the Lord. They did not deny the faith even when a Christian was killed for not denying the faith.
The Problem of Tolerance (2:14-15)
However, Jesus says that he has some things against them. The problem is that they are tolerating all of these different teachings within their assembly. There are people who hold to the teachings of Balaam. There are people who hold to the teachings of the Nicolaitans. Jesus tells them that these teachings cannot coexist. There is no room for some to believe what they want to believe and others believe what they want to believe.
What is the teaching of Balaam? It does not seem that the teaching of Balaam was the name of the false teaching. Rather, Jesus is giving this description to this false teaching to show the church that what they are tolerating is false. Balaam is a reference to a prophet of God in the Old Testament. The Israelites were conquering their enemies as they made their way to Canaan. Balak, the king of Moab, hears that the Israelites are coming and wants to stop them. So he pays Balaam money to pronounce curses on the Israelites so that they will not be victorious when they come through Moab. Balaam attempts to prophetically declare these curses three times. But each time blessings come out of Balaam’s mouth rather than curses. Of course this makes the king of Moab irate. Balaam then comes up with another plan to curse the Israelites. Balaam devises a plan to have Moabite women seduce Israelite men into intermarriage. Therefore, the Israelites engaged in sexual adultery and spiritual adultery, as their hearts were taken away from God.
IGNITE: Before we leave this illustration, we must recognize that this is one way we lose our fire for the Lord. We get involved with people who are not passionate for God. We marry people who do not love the Lord. We spend time with friends and companions who are not zealous for Jesus. Being around these people rubs off on us. Just as much as our zeal is kindled when we are around others who are zealous for God, we also lose our zeal when we are with those who do not have a fire. This is the grave danger of our assemblies. If all of us are coming to worship and we are not excited about singing, excited to pray, excited to remember Jesus’ death, excited to hear the word of God, and excited to be together, our lack of enthusiasm will rub off on each other. If you are not engaging your heart and your mind in worship, not only are you dead toward God, but you are spiritually killing everyone in this room and everyone in your family. You are teaching them to be dead toward the Lord. Balaam’s plan worked as they united themselves with foreign women and lost their love for God.
Look at Revelation 2:14 and you can see that what is going on in the Pergamum church is similar to what Balaam had done. There are people who are teaching that it is acceptable to eat meat sacrificed to idols. When we read 1 Corinthians 8-10 we learn that eating food offered to idols was directly condemned. Also, some are teaching that sexual immorality is acceptable. We are reading about a liberal Christianity. These people did not deny Jesus or reject him. The problem was that they did not reject any other teachings either. They tolerated the teachings that others had, even if the teachings were directly in conflict with the word of God.
This is a very large problem in the religious world today and a problem that we must be warned against. We cannot accept all teachings. We cannot accept all beliefs. The word of God is not subjective. Following Jesus is not a matter of personal preference. There are so many churches that are happy to have you sit in their building and will let you believe what you want to believe and let you do what you want to do. You can be a member and full participant in the church all the while teaching and believing things that are directly contrary to the scriptures. The world tells us to be tolerant and coexist. We are told to find the church of your choice that will let you do what you want to do and let you teach and believe what you want. We could have a very large church and need a new building if we simply said what you can teach what you want to teach and believe what you want to believe. The church at Pergamum was compromising the truth of God’s word.
There will always be teachers advocating sinful behaviors. There will always be teachers saying that sex before marriage is fine, living together unmarried is fine, affairs are acceptable, open marriages are great, divorce is fine, remarriage is good, a promiscuous lifestyle is fine, and homosexuality is acceptable. We cannot compromise Christ’s teachings. We cannot belong somewhere because we like the music, like the people, like the worship, or any other selfish reason. We must serve and worship where the truth of God’s word is revered and honored and where God’s word is never compromised. This does not mean that we act ugly or nasty toward people. Rather, in love we stand unwavering for God’s word.
IGNITE: We lose our fire for evangelism when we think that every teaching and every belief is acceptable. If what the rabbi said is true, that God has given us many faiths, then there is no need to evangelize or teach because everyone is included. When we recognize that this teaching is nonsense and contrary to God’s word, then we will be emboldened to tell our friends that they must come to the Lord because what they believe now is leading them to eternal punishment.
Jesus’ Solution (2:16)
Jesus commands for the people to repent. If they will not repent, Jesus says he will come to them soon and war against them with the sword of his mouth. Notice the “you” and the “them” in this declaration. Jesus will come to you and war against them. I believe Jesus is warning these Christians to get these who are teaching false things to repent. If you don’t do something I am going to come to you and fight against them. Notice also that Jesus says he will fight with the sword of his mouth. We already pointed out that the two-edged sword that comes out of his mouth is a symbol of the powerful word of God. The image seems to be saying that Christ will use his word against us if we will not use it. His word tells us of a coming judgment if we will not listen to his words. We can either use his words and obey his words or Jesus will use his words against us in judgment. Christ’s truth and message is a sword, not a feather. Christ’s words graciously cuts to purify our lives.
To Those Who Conquer (2:17)
Jesus says that those who listen and overcome will receive some precious things. First, they will receive the hidden manna. The hidden manna reminds us of the manna that was hidden in the ark of the covenant. The manna was a reminder of God’s grace and faithfulness as he provided for his people through difficult times. The point is that those who listen and conquer will receive God’s grace and faithfulness as he provides for his people.
The second image is more difficult. To those who listen and overcome they will also receive a white stone with a new name written on the stone that no one knows. The white stone was used often as a picture of an acquittal in a court of law. But having a new name on that white stone causes some difficulty. There are a number of options given by scholars. The one that makes the most sense to me is something similar to a trophy with our name engraved on it. The stone with one’s name on it allowed the victor admission into the victor’s feast. To those who overcome, they will receive the victory trophy with a new name on that trophy that no one knows. The image is that of victory in the face of living where Satan’s throne is established.
We must not be tricked into this tolerant coexistence that says there is no absolute truth. “Teach what you want to teach and believe what you want to believe,” they say. Jesus says that he will come against us if we allow all teachings to have equal footing. The word of God is the truth and is not subject to our opinions. God has clearly revealed his will in this book and we must follow it.