Strengthen what remains

Text Revelation 3:1-6 Time 25/07/10 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We are looking at the seven letters to the seven churches found in Revelation 2 and 3. We have looked so far at the first four letters – those to the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum and then this morning at Thyatira. That leaves Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. We've done ESP-T but now it's SP-L. We've looked at Mixed, Praised, Mixed and Mixed. That leaves Mixed more Blame, Mixed more Praise and Blamed. Mixed more blamed is Sardis the church I want us to look at this evening. For Sardis it is mostly blame, though there is one note of encouragement unlike Laodicea, for whom Christ has nothing good to say. Once again we will look at the description of the church and consider ourselves as a church and as individuals in the light of it.
To the angel of the church in Sardis write: So Sardis - Sardis is 30 miles south east of Thyatira and 50 miles due east of Smyrna. At the foot of a mountain and in a fertile valley a number of roads converged on Sardis making it a busy centre for traffic and trade.
It had a distinguished history in that it was the capital of the old kingdom of Lydia and the home of the famous King Croesus renowned for his wealth. (You sometimes hear the phrase as rich as Croesus). This was until his defeat by Cyrus and the Persians around 547 BC. It was later conquered again by Alexander the Great and then fell on hard times reaching rock bottom in AD 17 when a terrible earthquake destroyed much of it. It was under the Romans by this point and the Emperor Tiberius exempted them from taxes for five years which helped towards recovery. We do not know how the church there was founded. One old writer says “Like the city itself, the church had belied its early promise. Its religious history, like its civil, belonged to the past.”

1. Consider the character of Christ and the fact he has at is command the Spirit and the minister in every church
As usual we begin with the phrase These are the words of and picking up from something mentioned back in Chapter 1. This time it is These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
1. The seven spirits of God or possibly the sevenfold Spirit of God refers to the Holy Spirit. See 1:4, 5a John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne,and from Jesus Christ. Another old writer (Trench) explains the term seven this way - “he is regarded here not so much in his personal unity as in his manifold energies”. Seven, of course, is a number of completeness and no doubt ties in with there being seven churches too. He is active in them all. The message this sleepy and practically dead church needed to hear was about the life-giving Spirit who Jesus pours out on believers. As a modern writer puts it, he can refresh a stale church, he can a waken a sleepy church, he can strengthen a weak church, he can make a dead church come to life!
2. The seven stars. This is explained in 1:20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. The stars are the ministers of the churches, who are, as it were, in Christ's other hand. Both the ministers and the Spirit himself are in Christ's hands. The great need is for the ministers to be filled with the Spirit. That was the great need certainly in Sardis. Whether things here are as bad as there or not, it is still the great need.
2. Consider his words of condemnation for a church that was fast asleep
1. Beware of having only a reputation for being alive
Jesus says again I know your and again it is I know your deeds; exactly the phrase he used about Thyatira which was so good. The context, though, shows that things were in a far less healthy state in Sardis than what they were in Thyatira. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. If you asked people about the church in Sardis most people would tell you what a good church it was. People were happy with it. If you went there on a Sunday you would not immediately think, Oh dear what a terrible church, how hopeless. No, you would think it was a good church, a sound church, perhaps even a loving and faithful church, one that had not lost its first love. However, that would be a mistake. And this is quite a disturbing thought. Some of us pride ourselves in knowing what a good church is. We have some experience and so even in just one service we feel we could gain a pretty good idea of whether a church was on the right track or not. In fact, you can be wrong.
It is like anything else, even the experts can get it wrong. You hear of these cases from time to time, sometimes quite tragically, where experts can make big mistakes because of unknown circumstances. Well, sometimes people who think they know what a good church is will tell you this is a good church and it will turn out not to be. There are churches that have a reputation for being alive – large congregations, big budget, lots of activity – but in fact are dead.
It is important that we as a church do not think our reputation with men is what matters – no what does Christ say? If he says we are dead then dead we are. To simply live for reputation si to be a hypocrite.
2. Be alert and strengthen what still remains and is incomplete
And so this church is told (2) Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. This church is half dead. It has fallen asleep. Its deeds are not complete in the sight of my God says Christ. We hear these days of failing schools and failing hospitals, well this was a failing church. In all the important areas it was falling below standard. As sleepiness, a deadness had descended and they were not doing anywhere near enough.
That can be the position of a church, of an individual. What about us? Are we falling asleep? Are we only half alive? Are we failing to live as Christians as we should? What a danger! Watch out!
If we are like that we need to wake up, we need to strengthen the little that remains and is about to die.  It is like the embers of a fire – they need to be fanned into flame again. We need to get going again.
3. Give yourselves to obedience and repentance
What should an individual or a church finding itself in that position do? The instructions are quite clear (3).
1 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard. The people in Sardis were forgetting the message they had received. They had moved on to other things. Other matters were taking up their time and energy. They needed to remember where they had come from, their roots. It is a little like the church in Ephesus that had forsaken its first love. We must not be backward looking people but at times it is good to ask ourselves the connection between where we are now and where we first started. It is so easy to veer off at a tangent. You only have to go slightly wrong at a certain point and within a while you can be way off target. We must not forget what is in the Bible – the basics there. Perhaps we can go further and say that what the people received was the Spirit and they needed to remember that - as we do – and live as temples of the Holy Spirit.
2 Obey it, and repent. They needed to begin to obey again – obey the Word, obey the Spirit who speaks in the Word. They need to turn round from the direction they were headed in and to get back to God and to doing his will. Back to basics – that was the need. They needed to stop living as they were and get back to how it had been in the past.
3. Consider the warning to this church of what will happen if they fail to wake up
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. If they fail to do this then Christ is going to come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. This is ultimately a reference to Christ's Second Coming but Christ can come in the sense of coming in judgement before then. He can judge at any time and we need to keep that in mind. It is vital that the church wakes up.  Do you get the picture? Here is a man who has fallen asleep in the doorway of his home with the door wide open. At some point a thief is going to come and take from him all he owns. He needs to wake up! He dare not lay asleep any longer – or he will lose everything. Wake up! Get ready! That is the message, perhaps, that some of us need to hear more than any other.
4. Consider the brief word of commendation and promise that is given
Thankfully, things at Sardis are not utterly bleak, as Christ is able to add a commendation (4) Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. While everyone else was soiling their clothes rolling in the mud of sin and grubbying themselves in the dirt of the world, some were remaining pure and clean. Such people are given a promise, They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The promise appears to be for the world to come in particular.
If we are not prepared for heaven we will not enter heaven. Without holiness no-one will see the Lord. But if we keep ourselves pure then we will walk with the Lord in holiness and joy.
5. Consider the promises here for those who overcome and the call to hear the Spirit
Finally, again, following the previous pattern we have promises for the overcomer and a call to hear the Spirit.
1. The promises.
1 He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. Again the focus is on the purity and the glory and joy of heaven. This is what awaits those who go on in the Lord.
2 I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. It was the practice of the Jewish cities to keep a list of every citizen’s name in a book. When that person died his name would be blotted out. Here Jesus speaks of The Book of life, mentioned several times in Revelation. The idea of blotting out a name is found more than once in the Old Testament. Overcomers live forever and so their names will never be blotted from that book. Rather, Jesus will acknowledge their names in heaven – before his Father and all the holy angels. Their names will be called. They will not be forgotten. They will be counted worthy through Christ.
When the roll is called up yonder will you be there?
2. The command
Finally in verse 6 there is that repeated command He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
You have heard. What are you going to do about it? Hypocrisy is a great sin. It is (literally) play acting. Christ knows the reality. Where we see any in ourselves our response must be to wake up, to strengthen what remains, to recall how we began and to begin to obey again wholeheartedly, to repent. What we all need to do if we seek to walk in white with Christ in the world to come.
It is a little depressing to think that a church can go so far wrong and not realise but the hope here is that all who sincerely repent and begin again to obey have hope.

An active but over tolerant church

Text Revelation 2:18-29 Time 25/07/10 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We have begun to look at the seven letters to the seven churches found in Revelation 2 and 3. We have looked so far at the first three letters – those to the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamum. That leaves Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. To remember the names try ESP-TSP-L or ESPecially Top SPeed Limit.
Most of the churches receive some praise and some blame, though Smyrna receives unmixed praise and Laodicea only condemnation. For Sardis it is more blame than condemnation and for Philadelphia more praise than blame. The order praise and blame wise is -
Mixed, Praised, Mixed/Mixed/Mixed more Blame, Mixed more Praise, Blamed
This morning I would like us to move on to the letter to the church in Thyatira found in Chapter 2 verses 18-29. To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
We travel another 40 miles south next to Thyatira, halfway between Pergamum and Sardis. The city seems to be the smallest, least significant and most obscure of the seven places represented. Someone has noted how interesting it is that the least important place gets the longest letter! Christ's perspective is not the same as ours.
Despite its obscurity Thyatira was quite a prosperous town. A lot of trade went on there and archaeologists have found a lot of evidence of various active trade guilds. It was, of course, Lydia's home town. She was converted in Philippi but may well have been involved in some way in the establishment of a church back in her home town of Thyatira.
Thyatira was not Smyrna but, as with Ephesus and Pergamum, on the whole the church was prospering but, as we shall see, had a particular outstanding problem that needed to be dealt with. Once again a consideration of what Christ writes to this particular church will help us to think through what the situation is here too and see how we are doing. So
1. Consider the character of Christ, his penetrating gaze and unstoppable progress
Once again we begin with a description of Christ drawn from what has already been said in Chapter 1. These are the words of the Son of God, it says whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. Later on the Lord says I am he who searches hearts and minds and no doubt that is what the idea of eyes like blazing fire is meant to convey. Feet like burnished bronze is more difficult to follow and commentators differ. Perhaps it is best to see it, however, as speaking of his unstoppable progress in doing his will, especially in dealing with sinners. It is quite a frightening phrase really and fits with I will cast her on a bed of suffering and I will strike her children dead and I will repay each of you according to your deeds and He will rule them with an iron sceptre; he will dash them to pieces like pottery.
There is comfort in the I knows of these chapters but it is also a challenge. The Son of God sees it all. He knows exactly what is going on. It is important that we never forget that. Not only does he see what is going on but he is able to take things forward at his own pace and he is able to test it all, as in a furnace – and not everything will survive! Such thoughts ought to fill our minds as we consider these things.

2. Consider a New Testament church with some good points. Are they seen in us too?
1. Are we performing good deeds?
The one whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze knows firstly all about the deeds of this particular church - I know your deeds he says in verse 19. Clearly these are good deeds and he knows about them. The obvious question for us is what about our good deeds as individuals and as a church? Undoubtedly we are justified by faith. However, real faith never remains alone. It always leads to good deeds. That's how it was with the believers in Thyatira and that's how it should be with us. Is it?
2. Are we showing love and faith?
In particular Christ commends the believers in Thyatira for their love and faith. It is like the church at Thessalonica, of which Paul said in his first letter (1:3) We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love. We might tend to put this pair that way round – faith then love - as it is faith that leads to love. However, no doubt in the church in Thyatira it was their love that stood out. Whereas the church in Ephesus was first and foremost a sound church and Pergamum was perhaps a faithful church, with the Christians in Thyatira it was their love that stood out. They were loving and kind to one another and it extended beyond themselves to outsiders too. It was love rooted in genuine faith in God. They really trusted in him.
Now there's a challenge for us. Are we characterised by that sort of loving attitude? Is our faith lading us to love and our love based on a true faith? This is how it should be.
3. Are we serving and persevering?
The missing element here, of course, is hope. Faith, love and hope. It is covered here though when Christ goes on to speak of their service and perseverance. We saw something similar last Wednesday when we were looking at the opening of Titus 2 where Titus is told to encourage the older men to be sound in faith, in love and in endurance. 1 Thessalonians 1:3 is similar – speaking not only of your work produced by faith and your labour prompted by love but also of your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Because the people in Thyatira were filled not only with love and faith but also hope they were people who served and who endured in their serving. That again is the sort of church we really want to see here – a loving, faithful, serving church that endures despite the obstacles and the difficulties that are bound to come.
4. Are we doing more than at first?
The fourth and final thing to notice here is that and that you are now doing more than you did at first. Clearly this was not just a church that was marked by love and faith and hope but a church that was really going forward. They were now doing more than they did at first. The phrase is a little cryptic because we do not know the background. It's implication is clear, however - they are going forward. They are not standing still or backsliding. Increasingly they were seizing opportunities to do good.
Here is the challenge for us then as a church and as individuals – to do more for Jesus. You come Sunday morning, how about Sunday evening and midweek? You spend time in prayer, how about spending some more time? You are helping with one aspect of church life, why not another?

3. Consider the flaw in this church. Are we guilty of a similar failing?
So lots of good things to say about Thyatira. However, it isn't all good news. In verse 20 we read Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. It appears that there was a woman in that church and she was having a really unhelpful influence there. She was enticing God's people into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. Her name wasn't Jezebel in fact, of course, but just as Jezebel had led Ahab into sin and been such an opponent to Elijah so this woman was causing similar problems in Thyatira. And yet the good people of the Thyatira church were doing nothing to stop it! You tolerate that woman Jezebel says the Lord. How on earth did that happen? It wouldn't have happened in Ephesus for sure! This can be the downside of being a loving church, I suppose. Sometimes we can be too tolerant of things that are in the end detrimental to the kingdom and leading people into sin. Clearly, on the one hand, we must be loving and kind to all sorts of people, yet on the other we cannot do anything that promotes evil.
I think there are lesser examples of this sort of thing happening right now. In New York there is a Reformed church pastored by a man called Tim Keller. One would question some things that Keller does but he is basically orthodox. Nevertheless they recently invited Bishop N T Wright to speak, even though he is the main proponent of a false view of justification. You may know the name of John Piper, an influential and popular Reformed pastor in America. He is involved with various conferences and for his next one has invited Rick Warren, the author of The purpose driven church to be one of the speakers. Warren promotes pragmatism and can be guilty of bending Scripture to suit his purpose. He has said “We let the unchurched needs determine our programs; the unchurched hang-ups determine our strategy; the unchurched culture determine our style; the unchurched population determine our goals.” No-one can really understand why Piper has done this but I would guess that with him, like Keller, it is the same sort of imbalance that existed in Thyatira, where love and faith and doing more are distorted so that they lead to unbiblical toleration of what is false.

4. Consider Christ's wrath against perverters of the gospel
In verses 21-23 we have a series of statements concerning Jezebel and her followers.
1. Consider his patience
He begins by saying (21) I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. This situation has been going on for some time now and it seems that all is well. That is not the case. We must always remember to consider things in the long term. God is very patient but his patience can run out if there is no change.
2. Consider his wrath
In verse 22, 23 he says So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. The references to a bed and to committing adultery with her and to her children are all graphic ways of picturing what was going on. This woman was encouraging idolatry and it involved sexual immorality. Punishment was going to follow for this – suffering, intense suffering, even death. This is the future unless there is repentance. Now again, we do not know the exact circumstances but clearly Christ had plans to exercise his wrath against this people in a very decisive manner and would do so if there was no repentance. We can say something similar today. It is very important indeed that we do not tolerate heresy or fall into it. Yes, we want to be loving and kind and it is very nice to be popular and liked but some things cannot be tolerated. We cannot condone heresy, things that are going to lead others into sin. It is a very difficult line to tread.
We have in our hymn books hymns by Stuart Townend and Graham Kendrick. I feel slightly uneasy about it because some of the things these men promote are quite wrong. It could give quite the wrong impression, as if we think the Charismatic movement is a good thing. We certainly must take great care not to tolerate what is false.
3. Consider his purposes
Don't miss the purpose of all this 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. It is the exaltation of Christ that is the end in view and when we look at it like that then being intolerant where we should becomes an obvious must. We cannot play around with these things.

5. Consider this call to hold on to what we have until Christ comes
Next, in verses 24 and 25 we read Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold on to what you have until I come. Although there was a group in Thyatira that had clearly gone for Satan's so-called deep secrets the rest had refused to do that. The guilty have now been given a clear warning. As for the rest, they must hold on to what they have until Christ comes. It is interesting how this is put. Christ says (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold on to what you have until I come. Sometimes there can be an over-reaction when we get into these sorts of issues. We can start coming up with man-made rules to keep us on the right track. The Pharisees were notorious for laying burdens on the people that were eventually impossible to lift. We must not go to extremes and become intolerant of anyone who does not agree with us on everything. Rather, we must hold on to what we have – the faithful record here in the Bible – until Jesus Christ comes again.

6. Consider the call to hear the Spirit and the promise here for those who overcome
Finally there are in verses 26-29 the words To him who overcomes which is defined here as doing Christ's will to the end – going on then in the faith.
The pattern is different to what we have had before in that the phrase (29) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches now starts to come at the end of the section not at the beginning. It is there to remind us that the Spirit of Christ gives these words and they are for all who hear and understand.
There are two promises. To the one who overcomes Christ says
1. I will give authority over the nations - He will rule them with an iron sceptre; he will dash them to pieces like pottery - just as I have received authority from my Father. The quotation is adapted from Psalm 2 and refers to Messiah's future triumph. Here the point is made that just as Christ has received authority from his Father so he gives authority to believers over the nations. How do they exercise this authority? On earth it is limited but when we bring the gospel to people and they are admitted to our churches or when we discipline those who appear not to be believers we are exercising authority. One day, as Paul reminds us, we will share in Christ's judgement at the end of the world too. Such a fact reminds us that we cannot remain neutral but must exercise our authority and make judgements. We must say, I will use a hymn book with the hymns of Stuart Townend and Graham Kendrick but they are errant brothers and we will not sing their songs or condone their teaching if it is false. We will read John Piper books but we will be very careful and distance ourselves from some of his statements and decisions. As for outright heretics like the health and wealth gospellers and the Roman Catholic church, while recognising that true believers may be caught up in these movements the teachers and the movements must be condemned uncompromisingly.
2. I will also give him the morning star. This is a little more difficult but in Revelation 22:16 Jesus himself is called the bright morning star. He is the star out of Jacob prophesied in Numbers. We are talking about having Jesus himself then to lead and guide us. If you have that then you have all. It is hard to show love and faith and hope and yet to avoid tolerating evil. How we must look to Christ always!

Being faithful and true

Text Revelation 2:12-17 Time 18/07/10 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We have begun to look at the seven letters to the seven churches found in Revelation 2 and 3. We have looked so far at the first two letters – those to the churches in Ephesus and Smyrna. This evening I would like us to move on to the letter to the church in Pergamum, found in Chapter 2 verses 12-17.
As we have said Smyrna, the church we looked at this morning, is the only one that receives unmixed praise just as it is only the church in Laodicea that receives only condemnation. Pergamum, like Ephesus, receives a mixture of praise and blame.
Incidentally, if you want to remember the seven churches try – Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea, try ESP-TSP-L or ESPecially TSPeed Limit.
The order praise and blame wise is -
Mixed, Praised, Mixed/Mixed/Mixed more Blame, Mixed more Praise, Blamed
So verse 12 - To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
Smyrna was 35 miles north of Ephesus and Pergamum (called Bergama today) is another 55 miles north again, still on the western end of what we know today a Turkey. Unlike the first two places it was not on the coast but 15 miles inland and a mile or two from the River Caicus. It has been described as “a strong centre for paganism” and had, we know, a massive altar dedicated to Zeus and a Temple to the goddess Athena. There were also places dedicated to Dionysius and Aesculapius, the so-called saviour god or God of healing. Indeed, Pergamum was the centre for the worship of this god. This led to a medical school being founded there and a regular influx of people seeking healing so that it was like a sort of Lourdes of its day. There was also the Emperor cult which thrived as much here as in Smyrna. Pergamum was a centre for the cult, from the time they had a temple dedicated to the Emperor Augustus – the first provincial temple to be built in honour of a living Emperor.
Once we know these things, it becomes clear why in the letter Christ says that this is where Satan has his throne and where Satan lives. Perhaps throne is a direct reference to the altar to Zeus. The letter is of particular interest to a church like this one, existing also, as it does, where Satan has his throne and where Satan lives. Here we find Hindu temples and Roman Catholic churches. The Neasden Temple was the first purpose built stone temple in Europe. Westminster Cathedral is the chief Roman Catholic building and the Brompton Oratory is world famous. All are filled with idols. Here we also find Sikh Temples and Mosques, as well as so called churches where Christ is actually denied and opposed.
I want to say six things arising from this letter.
1. Consider the character of Christ and the power of his Word
Once gain the letter begins These are the words of ... and again something is picked up from Chapter 1. This time it is These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. Back in 1:16 we read that out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. That may seem rather a strange picture but the Roman short sword was shape a little like the tongue. The reference is really to the power of the truth. Paul writes in Ephesians of the Word of God as the sword of the Spirit. Hebrews 4:12 says that the word of God is living 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. Throughout the letter there is an emphasis on truth then and this opening statement reminds us of how central it is. What a powerful thing the truth is. As Jesus said (John 8), If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
2. Consider a New Testament church with some good points. Are they seen in us too?
Next we have that (13) I know where you live - where Satan has his throne. Yet says Jesus you remain true to my name. He says You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city - where Satan lives. This was the great quality of that church – they remained true to the name of Jesus, despite the opposition.
What Smyrna had tasted and was about to fully experience, they had already experienced and, for the most part, had proved faithful.
In Ephesus they loved the truth. They would not tolerate wicked men and they had tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and ... found them false. However, they had forsaken their first love. In Pergamum, however, they did not simply love the truth, it was Christ's name that they were true to. It was faith in him that they refused to renounce, even if it meant death as was the case for this man Antipas.
We don't know anything else about Antipas but we can imagine what happened. He was called upon to come before a stature of Caesar, to sprinkle incense and to say “Caesar is lord” but he would not say it. Jesus was his Lord not Caesar and although he was happy to give to Caesar what was Caesar's, he was also determined only to give to God what was God's.
What an example to us then is Antipas and these other Pergamumians. Despite all the opposition, they stuck to trusting in Jesus. They remained true to his name. They would not renounce that.
What about us? Is that central for us too? Is faith in Christ at the heart of our lives?
3. Consider the flaws in this church. Are we guilty of similar failings?
Despite these good things that Jesus could say, he has to add (14, 15) Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
It would seem that the Nicolaitans are the same people as those who are also described as holding to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin although two different groups may be in mind. The Nicolaitans are mentioned back in verse 6 as a group whose practices the very orthodox Ephesians hated, as did Christ himself. We said then that we don't know anything about these Nicolaitans or who they were, although we can add that the word is probably symbolic as Nicolaitan can be taken to mean victory of the people or destroyer of the people. Balaam we read about in Numbers. He was some sort of prophet and the Moabites wanted him to curse Israel, which he failed to do only blessing them instead. He advised that the Israelites could be undermined nevertheless by sexual enticement, which is what happened. In John's day too there were false teachers who took a very liberal approach to the matters of idolatry and adultery and they were having an influence in Pergamum. Such people are around today.
The thing to note then is that even in a church like Pergamum, where the majority remained true to Christ's name and where people like Antipas would not renounce their faith in Christ yet there were others who held to false teaching. This false teaching involved not only false beliefs but involvement in idolatrous practices and sexual immorality of one sort or another.
The question for us is what about our attitude to such false teaching – are any of us being taken in by it. What great care we must take! If the devil is not rousing the opposition to persecute as in Smyrna then he is endeavouring to undermine Christ's cause with enticements to follow false doctrines. We must resist from wherever he attacks.
4. Consider what those guilty of such sins must do
As for what to do about such sins the message is very simple and straightforward, 16 Repent therefore! There is no other option. Full and immediate repentance – turning round from such sins completely. That must be the response. You cannot toy with false teaching and not get injured. If we have followed false teaching at all, we must repent. If we have taken idolatry or adultery lightly, we must repent.
5. Hear the warning for those who refuse to take such a step
If we do not repent what is threatened against Pergamum applies also to us Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. We are back to the the sword of Christ's mouth. If the people in Pergamum will not hold to the truth then the truth itself will, as it were, turn on them and they will suffer the consequences. To go over to false teaching is to set yourself up in opposition to Christ himself who is the truth. We must not do such a thing, even for a moment. Rather, we must be true to what is true – true to Christ himself, our Lord and Saviour. The gospel can save but it can also destroy – if it is rejected and not believed.
6. Consider the call to hear the Spirit and the promise here for those who overcome
Finally, we have once again those words (17) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches the reminder that these are the words of God the Holy Spirit himself and that they are not only for the faithful in Pergamum but for all God's people – all who have an ear to hear what the Spirit says. The message is a little strange To him who overcomes, the one who goes on being true to Christ's name or if he fails to do so repents to that one Christ promises I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.
We mentioned this morning that originally the ark of the covenant contained a pot of manna. Manna was hidden there. Manna is the bread that came down from heaven to feed the people while they were in the desert. It points ultimately to Christ, the true bread from heaven – the one who came down to this earth to feed us so that we would live forever. The promise is more of himself. That will happen in heaven. What we taste here on earth we will taste more deeply in heaven.
As for the white stone, commentators differ greatly. Given that such stones were used as tickets and that white stones were often sued with black stones to stand for yes and no when important decisions were made, I would guess this point sin one or another to gaining entrance – either a “yes” for “yes you can go into heaven” or a ticket guaranteeing entrance.
The new name written on it is no doubt the name of Christ. When a person is converted it is as if Christ's name is written on their heart so that they know him for themselves.
This is the freedom then that comes from knowing the truth and sticking to it. May we all know it now and forever.