Revelation #7 Revelation 2:12-17 (MSG) End Times Dilemma: Compromise
Revelation #7 Revelation 2:12-17 (MSG) End Times Dilemma: Compromise
The One Who Was and Is and Is to Come has told the congregation in Ephesus that their orthodoxy, their doctrine, and their intolerance for false teachers are exemplary but they lack love motivating all they do. The congregation in Smyrna is entering into a time of great persecution, greater than what they have already endured, and Jesus' message is to fight the good fight of faith and not give up even when they throw you in prison, even when they are going to kill you.
Jesus now delivers His message to the congregation in Pergamum. The name Pergamum means citadel because it was built on a cone-shaped hill that rose about 1000 feet above the valley (the Caicus River Valley). At a distance, the city looked like a giant throne perched upon the mountain. It was known as the finest flower of Greek civilization (Mounce, p. 95). As the finest flower, there was an overabundance of shrines and temples to the various Greek/Roman Gods. The four major deities worshiped were Zeus, Athena, Dionysus, and Asklepios. Asklepios was also referred to as the Savior, the god of healing, whose symbol was the serpent. Pergamum also had a thriving imperial cult. The Roman imperial cult elevated the Emperor to god status, Caesar was Lord, and there was a temple to worship the Emperor Augustus and the goddess Roma. During the time of Emperor Trajan, another temple was erected. The city was a hub of pagan religious activity with the imperial cult leading the way. Worship at these imperial temples “became a test of one’s loyalty to Rome…refusal to take part in the official cult was considered high treason” (Ladd, p. 45).
Jesus message to the congregation:
Revelation 2:12-17 (MSG)
12 Write this to Pergamum, to the Angel of the church. The One with the sharp-biting sword draws from the sheath of his mouth—out come the sword words:
13 "I see where you live, right under the shadow of Satan's throne. But you continue boldly in my Name; you never once denied my Name, even when the pressure was worst, when they martyred Antipas, my witness who stayed faithful to me on Satan's turf.
14 "But why do you indulge that Balaam crowd? Don't you remember that Balaam was an enemy agent, seducing Balak and sabotaging Israel's holy pilgrimage by throwing unholy parties? 15 And why do you put up with the Nicolaitans, who do the same thing?
16 "Enough! Don't give in to them; I'll be with you soon. I'm fed up and about to cut them to pieces with my sword-sharp words.
17 "Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. I'll give the sacred manna to every conqueror; I'll also give a clear, smooth stone inscribed with your new name, your secret new name."
We have already established that the sword that is in the mouth of Jesus is Truth. When Jesus speaks, reality is revealed. When confronted with the Truth one discovers that they have either aligned themselves with God or they have not. There will be no excuses, recall the dualism that John utilizes to relate his vision. Everything is black and white, there is no gray, it’s either or, no compromise. Sword words are undeniable irrefutable Truth that reveals how things really are.
Satan’s throne refers to all the pagan cults in the city but especially the imperial cult. Satan means adversary. The biggest adversary of Christians was Rome, closely followed by Jews who rejected Jesus as Messiah. Here in Pergamum, we don’t read of a large Jewish presence. Allegiance to Rome and worshipping the gods of the city was normal. Not to do so was to become suspect of being up to no good.
Living in Pergamum and proclaiming that Jesus is Lord and that there is only one God would be to publically label you as a traitor to Rome and an atheist. Such a position could lead to murder. Antipas was a disciple of Jesus, bold in his witness, and most likely influential within the Christian community. He drew the attention of the authorities. Being a faithful witness led to Antipas's execution. Jesus commends the congregation for staying faithful even after the adversaries murdered Antipas. It is not an easy thing to be a Christian when society rejects you because of what you believe, yet this is exactly the situation believers found themselves in.
In our culture, there is a similar rejection of Christianity. If you follow Jesus the stereotype is that you are a radical right-wing conservative, a judgmental hypocrite, oppressive of anything contrary to your beliefs, anti-science, downright hateful, arrogant, and phobic. Christianity’s cultured despiser thinks that you must not be very intelligent. Unfortunately, some people who claim to be Christians have earned such a reputation. Their actions reflect poorly on all true followers of Jesus. The only way to overcome this stereotype is through love. The message to the Ephesian congregation is that you can be 100% doctrinally correct while totally missing the mark spiritually. This calls for wisdom for every ambassador of Christ. We must speak the truth, because Jesus spoke the truth, plus we must speak the truth in love. This often puts us in a difficult position, for we are to take a Kingdom stance in a culture that refuses Kingdom morality. It is difficult to communicate that you love someone while telling them they are wrong. Cultural contentions are increasingly becoming militant, which means more persecution for believers. From 1 Peter we know that we are to overcome such prejudice by living an exemplary life and doing something positive to meet the needs of others in the community in which we live. Words of love, deeds of love, we need the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to guide us. For love is not tolerance, love is not compromise, love is not accommodating, love sees a need and seeks to meet it. Tolerance, compromise, and accommodating are just sentimentality. Love is to be empathetic and compassionate, it listens to understand, and it cares. Love embraces the sinner while denouncing the sin. Such behavior is only safe within the confines of a trusting relationship. Everything rises and falls on relationships. If a person doesn’t know that you genuinely care about them, they will receive your instruction as an attack, going into flight or fight mode. Instead of seeing you as a friend who has their welfare, what’s best for them, in mind, they see you as an adversary. You represent God, you are His ambassador, so God becomes the adversary.
Given the difficulty of being a disciple of Jesus in a hostile environment, the temptation is to compromise, to blend in as much as possible. This seems to be the problem within the congregation in this city.
Revelation 2:14-15 (MSG)
"But why do you indulge that Balaam crowd? Don't you remember that Balaam was an enemy agent, seducing Balak and sabotaging Israel's holy pilgrimage by throwing unholy parties? And why do you put up with the Nicolaitans, who do the same thing?
Balaam is a figure from the Old Testament. His story is told in the Book of Numbers. Balaam encouraged the people to sin. We have previously considered the Nicolaitans but failed to learn the exact nature of the teachings that were so reprehensible. But now the Nicolaitans are grouped with the believers who are following Balaam. From Numbers 25:11 we find that Balaam encouraged the women of Moab to entice the men of Israel into worshiping their gods by taking part in their sacred meals. Balaam supported pagan food and pagan women as a means to turn God’s holy people away from God. “Thus Balaam became a prototype of all corrupt teachers who betrayed believers into fatal compromise with [pagan cultures]”(Ladd, p 98). The Nicoaitans similar to the error of Balaam must have also taught that a compromise between fidelity to Jesus and loyalty to the culture could be struck. Some of the believers within the congregation had one foot in the world and one foot in heaven. You can be a Christian and still fit into society.
We get a hint as to what specifically this compromise looked like. In verse 17 Jesus promises to give those who overcome manna and a stone. Manna is the food from heaven, a stone often used like a ticket to enter some venue. The compromise is most likely participating in pagan idol worship which would include eating the food sacrificed to one of the many deities that the city sponsored. It could also include engaging the temple prostitutes. When Paul went to Jerusalem to confer with the leaders of the church concerning his ministry among the Gentiles, the only prohibition given to Gentile believers was to abstain from food sacrificed to idols and immorality. The white stone represents an entrance ticket. Most likely you had to make a reservation to participate in the pagan feast days at the prescribed temple. Jesus gives those loyal to Him an entrance ticket to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb that we will read about later in the Revelation. The compromise most likely was pitched that since these supposed gods are not real, “one can maintain his [or her] loyalty to Christ and participate in pagan feasts provided that he [or she] does not acknowledge the existence of such alleged deities” (Ladd, p. 48). You can blend into the culture and participate in the various feasts honoring this multitude of deities because you don’t believe that they exist. The prevailing culture was polytheistic, it was fine to believe in Jesus as long as you also believed in the other gods as well, go ahead and make Jesus your patron deity, no problem, but also be accepting of the other gods as well.
Compromise with the culture is what Jesus condemns and calls for his disciples who are engaging in such activity to repent. Where are we compromising with the culture today? The most notable are in the areas of worship, sexuality, gender roles, social justice issues, and my pet peeve: adopting the practices of corporate America.
For example, our worship styles reflect the styles of music that are popular within the culture with a focus on entertainment.
For example, scripture and the traditions of the Church call Christians that move in together immoral behavior.
For example, scripture, tradition, reason, and science, tell us that there are only 2 genders, male and female. To accept otherwise is a compromise.
For example, believers are God’s ambassadors yet we tone down or even refrain from sharing the gospel with others because it might be offensive.
For example, believers become social justice warriors, getting caught up with the latest cultural fade at the expense of serving the kingdom of God.
For example, governance within the church should be modeled more like a family instead it is organized as a corporate entity.
When we change the Word of God to fit with the changing world we are compromising. When we seek comfort and convenience over obedience to God we are compromising. When we are more concerned with appearances than with reality we are compromising. When we choose cultural worldly values over Christian values we are compromising. Tolerance can lead to compromise. As we deal with others in love and compassion, we dare not compromise God’s commands and the teachings of Jesus. Tolerance of views other than our own is different from accepting and approving of those views. When those other views are contrary to God’s will and way your consent is a compromise.
The message to the congregation of Pergamum is just as applicable today as it was when first given. The one who bends their knee to Jesus is to refuse to compromise with any anti-Christ aspect of the culture in which they find themselves.
When a believer compromises what he or she has determined, God’s truth is not important enough to stand for. Compromise makes a believer a fool for such an individual believes themselves to be wiser than God, assuming that they know what is best. Compromise leads to a slippery slope, the folks in Pergamum are in danger of being on the wrong side of the truth. Compromise leads to spiritual weakness which makes you more susceptible to the devil’s schemes, that temptation to stray further from the truth is a real danger. Compromise weakens if not destroys your witness. Compromise can kill your spiritual life.
Those who are successful in overcoming compromise are promised manna from heaven and a white stone. To eat the manna is to enjoy the blessings of the age to come. Jesus is telling this congregation give up eating the meals at the pagan temples, if you do, you’ll feast on heavenly food when the Kingdom is consummated.
In some jobs, you need a special ID badge that allows access to restricted areas. No badge, no entry. The white stone with your name written on it may serve as such. In pagan cultures, it was common to wear an amulet or charm on which the name of your god was inscribed as a means of protection over evil, wearing of such an amulet might have been you pass into the temple. This might be the idea behind the white stone. Jesus is telling the folks, throw away your trinkets I will give you access to the temple not built with human hands.
This message to the congregation in Pregagum serves to warn us of the danger of cultural compromise. We must live in the world but we must not be of the world. Ask the Holy Spirit for help in taking a personal inventory to discover if there is some area in your life where you have allowed a compromise. If you find one, you will also find the power to overcome it.