Revelation – The letter to the compromising church in Pergamum – (4) So …

In Part 4 of The letter to the church in Pergamum, we’ll look at the “So …” section. As in, so what’s next? In this letter, the next thing is to get an answer to the question we still had at the end of part 3, regarding whether Jesus’ words, Yet you remain true to my name, were for everyone or just for some people in the church.

So how is it that we have the same word now, with the same repetition, but it’s in the negative sense?  And why is it that the first instance was translated as a generic “you”, implying everyone – while the second one was translated as being only some of them?  

If there’s any way at all to know, then it will have to come from the words Jesus has after this.

Revelation – The letter to the church in Pergamum - (4) So ...

You did not renounce your faith in me

But – who is “you”?

Everyone in the church?
Or just some of them?

Revelation – The letter to the compromising church in Pergamum – (4) So ... is article #16 in the series: Seven Letters to Seven Churches. Click button to view titles for entire series

Before we resume with the letter to the church in Pergamum, here’s the breakdown for this particular letter.

Tothe angel of the church in Pergamum
Fromhim who has the sharp, double-edged sword.
Divine KnowledgeI know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. 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.
But -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.
So -Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
HearHe who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
To those who overcomeTo him who overcomes, 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.

So …

Uh oh.  This isn’t good.  The next thing Jesus says in the letter is:

Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

The sword of his mouth.  That, of course, takes us back to the beginning of the letter:

Rev 2:12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.

The double-edged sword.  The one that cuts both ways.  In one way, it points to the ultimate victory, which is what Revelation is all about.  But we can’t stop there.  Because the other way the sword cuts is punishment and vengeance.

What does soon mean?

We need to ask this question.  Sometimes, soon means in a short time.  Other times it means quickly.  As usual, in this instance, it can mean either one.  Given other things about the timing of the End Times, quickly at an unknown time seems like the way to view this.

The Day and Hour Unknown – Mark

Mk 13:32 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

Mk 13:35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ”

Not necessarily soon.  Although, at some point it will be soon – but we won’t know it was soon until after it happens.  So the best thing for us is to always live as if it was imminent.

Not exactly helpful in terms of figuring out what the double-edged sword from Jesus’ mouth means to the church in Pergamum.  But very important, nonetheless.

Is the double-edged sword in Jesus’ mouth meant for the entire church?

So let’s return to the question of exactly who is Jesus talking to?  If the double-edged sword was meant to bring destruction to the entire church, I suspect the image would have been more like the church in Ephesus, where Jesus threatened to take away their lampstand.  The lampstand that represented their standing as a church in God’s eyes.

In addition to that, we must pay close attention to what Jesus said.  Here it is again: Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth

Notice – come to you – and – fight against them.

In the Greek, “you”, in come to you is singular.  The only way this makes sense is if it represents the church as a whole.  Jesus is coming to everyone in the church.

However, “them” in fight against them is certainly not everyone in the church, since the wording isolates only a portion of the church. In other words, it’s not: come to you and fight against you.

So, let’s go back to something we looked at earlier, in the “But:” portion of this letter.  Back when we look at :

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. 15 Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

So far, we were unable to answer some questions about who exactly was Jesus speaking to in those verses.  My question was:

Interesting.  It’s more like, you have there a hold on the teaching of Balaam.  Everyone?  Most?  Many?  Some?  The translators put some.  But is that realistic?  Hold that thought and let’s keep going.

I believe we now have an answer.  We still don’t know whether it was everyone, most, many or some.  But I think we can say it wasn’t all.  At least not all were holding onto the teaching of Balaam. 

However, it also appears that no one stood up to say that some number of people in the Pergamum church were following the teachings of Balaam.  Or that some were following the evil practices of the Nicolaitans.  I say that because of a verse we’ll see later, from the church in Sardis.  In that letter, we read:

Rev 3:4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.

Apparently, it wasn’t the entire church in Pergamum that was following evil practices.  And it wasn’t so many people that Jesus said something like we just read in the letter to Sardis.  Therefore, the number of people in that church must have been, let’s say, moderate.

Even one is bad.  So I’m not minimizing what was going on.  The thing to notice is that each church is different.  And Jesus has something different to say to each of them.  That’s why it’s so important to pay close attention to what is going on in the church in each letter.  To what’s going on in our own lives. 

And to our church.  Even though the “So” portion of the letter says Jesus is going to fight against them, I have to believe the warning about Balaam is meaningful.  I mentioned earlier that I’m doing a series on Balak and Balaam.  One of the things from part 1 is:

Here’s how the root for the Hebrew word we read as divination is defined:

7080 קָסַם [qacam /kaw·sam/] v. A primitive root; TWOT 2044; GK 7876; 20 occurrences; AV translates as “divine” seven times, “diviners” seven times, “use” three times, “divination” once, “prudent” once, and “soothsayer” once. 1 (Qal) to practice divination, divine. 1A of diviners of the nations, Balaam. 1B of false prophets of Israel. 1C prohibited.  [1]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

Balaam is even specifically mentioned as an example of a false prophet.  But let’s look at the rest of what’s going on and see how we view Balaam – how Balak views Balaam – and while we’re at it, how we view ourselves.  After all, the point of this is to bring it into today, when we weave our own webs to deceive not only others but ourselves.  And, oh yeah – when we try to deceive God with our tangled webs of deceit.

Balaam was a false prophet.  People in the church in Pergamum were listening to him.  By not saying anything about what was going on, the church allowed people to be deceived by those who were following things like sorcery and divination that were practiced by Balaam. 

In effect, that means false teaching was being allowed, if not outright supported, by that church.  That’s one huge problem when Jesus says things like His answer to what is the greatest commandment.

The Greatest Commandment – Matthew

22:34-40 pp — Mk 12:28-31

Mt 22:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Mt 22:37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

As Christians, God is supposed to be number one in our heart, in our soul, and in our mind.  That leaves no room for false teachings.  And if we love our neighbor, we will not allow false teaching to go unchallenged.  Therefore, I suspect this is a problem for both the leadership in the church, as well as the members who knew better, but remained silent.  After all, there were enough people who knew the truth that Jesus said, Yet you remain true to my name.

So yes, it’s a message for the church in Pergamum.  But also for every church, from the time of the Revelation all the way to the end of the age.  And if we really are responsible for ensuring pointing out that false teaching is going on in our churches, then it’s also a message for every Christian.  If you think that last part is going too far, saying that each of us is responsible even if we’re not pastors, remember something Paul wrote to Timothy.

Warning Against False Teachers of the Law

1Ti 1:3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith. 5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

1Ti 1:8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

So Paul wants Timothy to be sure that false teaching, meaningless talk and other things that lead us away from a pure heart and sincere faith.  That’s very much in line with the problems Jesus told the Pergamum church they must deal with.  The question is though, is Timothy a church leader?  To answer that, let’s look at some background on him.

As Paul contributes a full portrait of his spiritual son, many years his junior, let us string together the salient features of Timothy.

    1. He was the child of godly heritage (2 Tim. 1:5). His mother was a Christian Jewess and the daughter of another devout Jewess, Lois. His Greek father’s name is unknown. It may be that Eunice became a Christian when Paul visited Lystra, a town not far from Paul’s birthplace, Tarsus.

    2. He was a youthful reader of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:15). From a “babe” he had had knowledge of the Truth. How blessed children are if cradled in the things of God!

    3. He was Paul’s child in the faith (1 Cor. 4:17; 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2). Probably Paul, a visitor of Timothy’s house, led the young lad to Christ during his ministry in Iconium and Lystra since he refers to his persecutions there, which Timothy himself knew about (2 Tim. 3:10, 11). One writer suggests that when Paul recovered from his stoning at Lystra it was in Timothy’s home he found shelter and succor.

    4. He was ordained as a minister of the Gospel (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6, 7). Conscious of Timothy’s unique gifts, especially of evangelism (Rom. 16:21; 2 Tim. 4:5), it was fitting that Paul should choose him as a companion and fellow-worker. Faithfully he served Paul “as a son with his father,” in the furtherance of the Gospel (Phil. 2:22). How indispensable he became to the apostle (Acts 17:14, 15; 18:5; 20:4)! Paul had no other companion so “like-minded” as Timothy, who enjoyed Paul’s constant instruction (2 Tim. 2:3; 3:14).

    5. He was an ambassador charged with difficult tasks. The responsible and delicate mission of restoring a backsliding church required both gift and grace (1 Cor. 14:17), as did the comfort of believers in the midst of tribulation (1 Thess. 3:2).

    6. He was co-sufferer with Paul in the afflictions of the Gospel (2 Tim. 1:8). Tradition says that Timothy died as a martyr for his faithfulness as a bishop in the reign of Domitian or Nerva. While attempting to stop an indecent heathen procession during the Festival of Diana, this God-honoring minister sealed his testimony with his blood. The two epistles Paul addressed to Timothy are rich in their pastoral counsel.

It sounds like Timothy was a church leader, in spite of his age.  However, we also need to remember – we’re talking about the End Times in this letter.  Yes, Timothy died a martyr.  But then, so will lots of Christians at that time.  So are many Christians in various parts of the world even now.

Plus, let’s not forget what the author of Hebrews wrote about milk and solid food.

Warning Against Falling Away

6:4-6 Ref—Heb 10:26-31

Heb 5:11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Heb 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2 instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And God permitting, we will do so.
Heb 6:4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
Heb 6:7 Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end, it will be burned.
Heb 6:9 Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation. 10 God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. 11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Check out especially that second underlined section:

Heb 6:4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

That’s scary.  As we’ve gone through the earlier letters, we’ve looked at the possibility for someone walking on the path to be taken off of it – and being able to get back on it.  Is this passage really saying it’s not possible?

No, I don’t think so.  After all, Jesus said:

Mt 19:26 “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

So yes, with the Holy Spirit, someone who strays can come back.  And God will welcome them and they will be forgiven.  The word impossible is hyperbole, overstatement for emphasis  However, there’s a very high probability that the person who achieves a good walk with Jesus and then turns away will find it extremely difficult to even ask for help from the Holy Spirit to return to the path.  

Given that, and given the Great Commission and the Greatest Commandment, isn’t it a responsibility for every mature Christian to help our brothers and sisters not even reach this point?  To try to stop the false teachings before they take hold?  If that was done in Pergamum, they wouldn’t be in the condition they were when the letter was sent.  Furthermore, since those were the only things Jesus had against that church, they would have received a very different letter.

If we find ourselves in their place, shouldn’t we remember this letter and call for repentance?  And yes, maybe that includes looking in the the mirror and saying, Repent!

And doesn’t that become ever more important when we’re talking about, and maybe even reaching, the End Times?

So no – I don’t believe the warning was only for the church leaders.  Think about it.

Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

If we knew that was the condition of our church, or of some of our brothers and sisters in Christ, do we have so little love for them that we’d just let them get that warning?  Especially now that we know it’s a warning that some (many?) of them will not be able to do anything about?  That they could end up with Jesus fighting against them because we did and said nothing?

Some will say something like, “once saved, always saved”.  I say, maybe they (you / we) were never really saved in the first place.  Either way, is it a risk we’re willing to let people in our church deal with because we didn’t do anything?

Next – the conclusion of the Letter to the Church in Pergamum.


1Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

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