Let us continue our study with the next letter to Pergamum or Pergamos. This letter begins rather ominously and aggressively with “These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live—where Satan has his throne.” Yikes! This doesn’t sound good at all. Look out Pergamum!
This is not the first time this phrase, “sharp, double-edged sword” has been used in the Bible. In Hebrews 4:12-13 it says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints, and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account”. This phrase is used similarly in Ephesians 6:17 by saying, “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
While other passages may be speaking literal swords made of iron or metal, these passages are speaking of the “word of God”. Just as a sword can cut us open physically, the word of God can penetrate, divide, or cut us open spiritually. Ephesians 6:17 calls it the “sword of the spirit” for that reason. Its purpose is to open or “lay bare” what is inside. The thoughts, attitudes, and intentions of the heart. We’re pretty good at hiding what’s inside, but God wants to pull that out, so it can be exposed, examined, and dealt with according to His will. I guess you could call it a purge, but it’s more like a cleansing. God wants us to be sanctified and purified, so that we will be who He created us to be.
If you’ve read the Bible, you’ve felt it. Call it conscience, conviction, intuition, tension, guilt, discomfort, or whatever, but that’s what happens when the word of God or sword of the spirit opens us up. Just like a physical cut, it hurts. In Malachi 3:3 it says, “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness,” Gold, silver and other precious metals are refined by fire. Sometimes they are completely melted down and reformed or made new. In the same way God wants us to be purified, refined, reformed by His spiritual fire, and made new. There are other passages that use this same analogy.
Despite the ominous opening to this letter, there is a brief reprieve. Jesus says, “Yet, you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me”. The key word being “yet”. So, a big sigh of relief, right? Well don’t get too comfortable Pergamum Jesus isn’t finished with you just “yet”. The pressure ramps back up quickly in Revelation 2:14-15 that says, “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” There are those Nicolaitans again that we talked about from the first letter to the Ephesians. But instead of hating them the church in Pergamum has conformed to them and let them infiltrate the ranks. As if that wasn’t enough, they’ve also added another unholy element, the “teachings of Balaam”. Who the heck is Balaam?
Balaam was a prophet that goes way back to the book of Numbers in the Old Testament. While his account in the book of Numbers doesn’t really talk about any teachings associated with Balaam, just blessings and curses, the events surrounding his story aren’t good. It may be more guilt by association or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s like, “Do you remember that time back in the days of Moses that the Israelites were engaged in pagan idol worship, offering sacrifices to false gods, and sexual immorality in Moab?” It’s an example used to help us understand more about the Nicolaitans who were engaged in similar practices and behavior.
Again, Jesus offers them a solution, but it comes with a condition. “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” It’s “repent and clean house” or else. Get that element out of Pergamum or there is a fight coming. There is a recurring theme of repentance throughout not only Jesus’ earthly ministry, but again in revelation. It is the key to a right relationship with God or righteousness, and “yet” we resist it so vigorously.
While this may be the harshest criticism yet, it isn’t the worst. Remember the “worst” has been saved for last. On another trivial note, the word “Pergamos” is likely where we get our word “polygamy.”
Letter to Thyatira:
They get good marks on their deeds, love, faith, service, perseverance, and unlike the Ephesians they are doing better than they did “at first”. (Revelation 2:9) They haven’t lost their “first love”, so that’s good. BUT here it comes. In Revelation 2:20 it says, “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.”
First of all, it’s not because it’s a woman. It’s because of what she is teaching and doing. She’s not only misleading and a false prophet or teacher, but she is immoral. And like, Pergamum, Thyatira has “tolerated” or allowed this false teacher to deceive them and infiltrate the ranks. It’s like a cancer or an infection and Jesus is going to cut it out because in Revelation 2:23 Jesus says, “I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” Remember that Jesus is “the Word” (John 1:1). He is the physical manifestation of the sword of the spirit who searches, divides, and penetrates hearts and minds.
This is not the Old Testament, but it sounds like it doesn’t it? According to verse 18, “These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” (Revelation 2:18 NIV) Again, this doesn’t fit our current cultures watered down version of Christianity where Jesus is just a buddy instead of a holy and righteous God or Judge that requires obedience and repentance for salvation. Remember that Jesus was present and in existence when the world was created, when the flood happened, when the 10 commandments and other Jewish laws were given. He was also present when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. He didn’t resist or revolt against God the Father, but was a participant in pronouncing and carrying out judgement on those who chose to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord. Yes, Jesus died for our sins and offers us grace and forgiveness, but He didn’t give us a loophole or a license to sin. He said, “go and sin no more”. (John 8:11)
Letter to Sardis:
Like Thyatira, Jesus wastes no time getting to the point. Revelation 3:1-3 says, “These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.”
While Ephesus may have “fallen” and was in danger of losing their “lampstand” or “light of Christ”. Sardis is in much worse shape. They are “circling the drain” or in “death throes” leading to inevitable utter failure, destruction, and death. From the way it sounds they have left a lot unfinished. Their fire has gone or is going out and they are encouraged by Jesus to reignite the pilot light before it’s too late. There is still time, but again they have too “repent”. Plus, there is the “I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you” if they don’t repent part. Uh, no that’s not scary at all. I’m being sarcastic of course because it’s a terrifying possibility. Again, this is a Jesus that very few want to talk about, one who is actively carrying out judgment from God.
The good news for Sardis is that there is a group of people “who have not soiled their clothes”. Apparently not everyone there is circling the drain. These “few people” have not been “soiled”, contaminated, or polluted by the rest. They haven’t quit, let their deeds go unfinished, or let their spiritual fire go out. Jesus tells them in Revelation 3:4-5 that “They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.” What a contrast and promise at the same time. This is a great example of what happens when we do it the right way. We get rewarded, acknowledged, affirmed, and exalted. WOW!
Letter to Philadelphia:
Okay, Philadelphia is the other church that doesn’t have anything “held against them”. It’s all good. There is a lot more to it, but they have faithfully kept God’s commandments, and because of that they will be protected or pardoned from the persecution that is to come, and it is coming in a big way. The kind of persecution that isn’t just nasty words or bullying. It’s life and death. Real suffering and tribulation. However, while the Philadelphians will be spared the coming calamity, we know from history that being obedient to God doesn’t always mean we won’t have to suffer. If we go back and revisit the church in Smyrna, we discover that they didn’t receive the same promise, the same pardon and protection from persecution. Why not? Unfortunately, we don’t know. The answer is above my paygrade.
Okay, we’ve come to the infamous last letter that I’ve previously built up as the “worst”. Instead of saving the best for last, Jesus is doing the opposite. So here it is. Are you ready? What could be worse than what we’ve already seen? What could be worse than Jesus coming like a thief in the night, right?
“Alright enough build up. Just get on with it already!”
Unfortunately, it will have to wait until next week because we are all out of time. Not really, but I just didn’t want it to be super long because the last letter is a doozy.
“There you go getting us all hyped up again. Please stop now!”
Ok, I’ll stop. It’s really mean of me to keep building you up like that and just stop. I’m such a jerk.
Have a great weekend and 4th of July! Love y’all!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC