154. EPHESUS, SMYRNA AND PERGAMOS – MY HUMBLE VIEW ON THE LETTERS OF THE GLORIFIED JESUS TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES – (PART 1)
(The Information & Edification Series – Batch 3)
I am no expert on the book of Revelations. In fact, it is a book that consists of content that appeared to be quite scary sounding and mysterious to me, when I read it in the past. However, given that it is a book of truth and one that God wants us to read, the proper approach is to ask God to help us understand it as we read and to apply it to our own lives where applicable.
This morning I was reading Revelations Chapter 2, as I have been reading the entire Bible again and I am now on the book of Revelations. In this Chapter, the glorified Lord Jesus Christ (that is, the resurrected Jesus who returned to heaven), sent his angel to John, who, while in the Spirit in the isle of Patmos, records what Jesus told him to write concerning the seven (7) Churches in existence back then.
Although the letters were to seven (7) Churches, like pretty much the rest of the Bible, it is clear, as you read, that the letters, which are now a part of the scriptures were intended to serve as a warning (and encouragement where applicable), to all Churches throughout time, including those that exist today. This is the reason why I believe, that at the end of each letter to each Church, the Lord Jesus Christ said, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the CHURCHES.”
As was stated in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
- “ALL scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
Also, since Churches are comprised of individuals and that they cumulatively reflect the quality or lack thereof of the Christian walk in those individuals, it is my belief that the letters to the Churches can be used by each individual who has professed Christ as Saviour of his or her life, to examine himself, where he or she stands with God, where he or she may need to repent and what he or she needs to guard against.
The letters also highlight the fact, in my view, that the path set for each Christian in this life is not exactly the same. It is not for example, in God’s plan, for every Christian to be wealthy and to be materially prosperous in life, contrary to the lie that is often promulgated today by false teachers and prophets. Conversely, it is not his will that everyone go through poverty and destitution or even death for his sake, although it may be his will for some, who he has appointed to that purpose.
The letters clearly depict therefore, that our journeys and experiences here on earth, although we are forged by one common faith and have one common goal of heaven in mind, will be different. We will also experience different seasons at different times. In one season, God may have a Christian go through a time of abundance and then at another season, have that same Christian go through a time of financial lack and even poverty, as a punishment by the world’s system, for his or her obedience to Christ. Such seasons may also not run concurrently with the seasons being experienced by another Christian.
Having said all that, I can’t claim to understand everything in Chapter 2 of Revelations but I gleaned much from the Chapter, which I wish to share with you. I will also be reading and commenting on Chapter 3 where some of the letters are contained and giving my views on it.
Now, not everybody will agree with what I believe the Lord is saying in each of the letters to the Churches. I am simply sharing what I am convinced and fully persuaded that he is saying, in each case.
In each of the seven (7) letters in Chapters 2 and 3, I have noted the following:
OBSERVATION 1 – The different words that Jesus uses to open each letter to each Church are actual excerpts of those used by John in the preceding Chapter 1:11-18, to collectively describe what he saw of Jesus (who he referred to as “one like unto the Son of Man”).
Here is the proof:
- Chapter 1:12 AND Chapter 2:1,5 – Letter to EPHESUS – golden candlesticks;
- Chapter 1:17,18 AND Chapter 2:8,10 – Letter to SMYRNA – first and the last, liveth and was dead;
- Chapter 1:16 AND Chapter 2:12,16 – Letter to PERGAMOS – sharp two-edged sword;
- Chapter 1:14,15 AND Chapter 2:18, 23,27 – Letter to THYATIRA – eyes as flame of fire, feet like brass;
- Chapter 1:16, 20 AND Chapter 3:1,5 – Letter to SARDIS; – seven stars/angels;
- Chapter 1:18 AND Chapter 3:7,8 – Letter to PHILADELPHIA – keys;
- Chapter 1:11 AND Chapter 3:14 – Letter to LAODICEANS -first and the last, beginning;
OBSERVATION 2 – The Lord Jesus opens with words that have some bearing to the challenging issue or problem that that particular Church faces and which he is about to address in the letter.
In some of the letters, he appears to also uses the words, phrases or ideas to refer again to the challenge or problem, when he is about to close the letter, telling that Church what it needs to do in order to set things right. To show the link or pattern between the opening words and those that Jesus uses as he is about to close, I have highlighted them in each of the letters.
It is important to note as well, that Jesus opens his letter to each Church by telling them that he knows their works. By works, I take it to mean their actions, operations, lifestyle and conduct, all of which were supposed to flow from their faith in Him.
Given that they were saved, they were now supposed to show forth the glory of God through good works. In Matthew 5:16, those who were justified by faith (Christians) were told: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Jesus was therefore speaking to people who had professed to have faith in him and if so were already redeemed and saved but now, he was examining the works which flowed from that faith and letting them know what he was pleased with and of what he was displeased with.
After highlighting the issue or problem with each Church, he informs all seven (7) Churches on seven (7) different occasions (thereby giving them valuable insight) and in a different way, of what will be the joyous portion of the Christian that overcomes whatever he or she may be encountering in this world.
Jesus was reminding them that once a person was truly born of God through faith in Him, that he or she would inevitably overcome, that he or she would have victory over the world and whatever problem or challenge he or she faced, through obedience to his Word and in particular, his New Testament commands.
1 John 5:1, 4-5 states:
- “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God… By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?”
OBSERVATION 3 – When Jesus had the letters written to the Churches, he did not raise a new topic or introduce a new concept never before heard of or set out some new requirement never before explained, commanded or instructed. In other words, the issues, difficulties, challenges, shortcomings and problems he highlighted as existing at each Church were not based on something new. What Jesus communicated to each Church was consistent with what he himself had previously taught, commanded or instructed his followers prior, before he had died or indirectly through his disciples, after he had died. The content of the foregoing New Testament chapters, attest to this fact.
For example, one Church in the letters to the Churches in the book of Revelations, needed encouragement because of persecution and suffering for the name of Christ and their faith in him but the idea of the Church being persecuted was not new. This was an issue that took place before, as is evident in the foregoing New Testament books. Two Churches had in their congregation, those who had embraced false doctrine, an issue of which the body of Christ was warned on several occasions prior. Another Church had a problem with a female usurping man’s God-given authority of leadership in the Church, an issue that was dealt with at length previously, in the book of Corinthians and also Timothy. There is also a Church that had become spiritually slothful which was not watching for the return of Christ and Jesus spoke at length about the need for the Christian’s watchfulness prior, in Luke 12.
The issues, challenges, problems and difficulties were therefore raised based on topics, principles and truths that the Church as a whole was already taught and should have already known but may have forgotten, neglected, abandoned or needed to be reminded of.
This reinforces the fact that the Word of God is really true, consistent, does not contradict itself and that God changes never. Precept is upon precept, line upon line (Isaiah 28:10).
To follow my commentary for each Church, I recommend that you read the portion of scripture for the Church being discussed first and then read my humble views on it.
Let us begin.
THE FIRST LETTER – TO THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS (REVELATIONS 2: 1-7)
This Church was hardworking when it came to doing the Lord’s work. The people were practising separation from whatever was evil, including false teachers and preachers and exercising discernment, by trying the spirits to see whether they were of God or not, as they were commanded to do in 1 John 4:1-3.
For this, they were to be commended. However, although they had a zeal for truth and the things that pertained to God’s Kingdom, it appeared to have turned into nothing more than religious zeal, as in the process, they had forsaken what was most important, which was relationship with Christ and the love that was to flow from it.
Verse 1-4 states:
- “These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast labored, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have some-what against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.”
Jesus therefore urged them to repent and to come back to the loving intimacy they once had with him in their Christian walk and I assume with others, as opposed to their preoccupation with activities. He stated that if they did not, he would remove them, which was within his hands and power to do.
In verse 20 of Chapter 1, he had previously explained to John, that the seven (7) golden candlesticks that John saw, while in the Spirit, represented the seven (7) Churches. In verse 5 of Chapter 2, in his letter to the Church at Ephesus, as he is close to closing, he states that if that Church does not repent from where it has fallen and get back to how it previously operated, that he would “…remove thy candlestick out of his place…”.
He was emphasizing, in my view, that without relationship, love and communion with him (which he values the most), all that they were busy doing for him was to no avail and was now a distraction to the intimacy he once enjoyed with them.
It brings to mind John 15:4-6 where Jesus (while he was on earth and before he died) urged the disciples:
- “Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”
SUMMARY OF THE PROBLEM AT THE CHURCH IN EPHESUS
The problem with the Church of Ephesus therefore was that it had allowed WORKS or activities to take up all or most of its focus, to the expense of relationship with Jesus. Jesus wanted the people there to remember their first love which was Him. He was in essence saying, RELATIONSHIP with me first, work and activities for me, after. It appears that somehow, they had gotten busy doing this and doing that but had forgotten about Him, the one they were supposed to be doing the activities for.
This reminds me of a husband and wife relationship, where the wife is doing everything for the husband, cooking, cleaning, washing and ironing, except spending quality time with just him, to hear from him, to talk to him, to laugh with him and to enjoy his presence. She has gotten so caught up with the activities that she commenced out of love and to be that faithful wife, that it has taken up all of her time, consumed her energy and made her neglect the very one she started doing the things for. She is so precoccupied with doing things for him, that she no longer has time for him. She has long forgotten the sweet moments they used to share, one-on-one. She has forgotten her first love.
Jesus’ words also remind me of what transpired with Martha and Mary in Luke 10:40. While visiting the two sisters, Martha was cumbered with much serving but Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. Martha complained that Mary was not helping her with the work which she was doing FOR Jesus but Jesus informed her that Mary had chosen that which was good. She was focusing ON Jesus. She had chosen to focus on her relationship with Jesus and to grow in her knowledge of him by spending time WITH him, whereas Martha was busy doing stuff FOR him.
The scripture reads:
- “Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But ONE THING IS NEEDFUL; AND MARY HATH CHOSEN THAT GOOD PART, WHICH SHALL NOT BE TAKEN AWAY FROM HER.”
In light of the problem, the challenge of the Church of Ephesus in my view therefore, appeared to be for them to get back into sweet fellowship, communion, intimacy and RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS with lesser focus on the secondary issue of WORKING FOR HIM. If they did not, he would remove them from the earth.
In the opening of his letter, Jesus made it clear that he was the one walking in the midst of all the Churches (the seven (7) candlesticks), therefore, in this is implied, that it was in him that they continued to exist, that he was the life of the Churches and he had the power to remove them at any time. In the closing of his letter, he tells the Church at Ephesus to repent or else he would remove them.
Interestingly, early on in 1 Timothy 1:1-6, Paul spoke about the Church at Ephesus and even back then, the lack of charity or love on the part of some in relation to others was an issue that he mentioned.
- “Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. Now the end of the commandment is CHARITY out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which SOME HAVING SWERVED HAVE TURNED ASIDE UNTO VAIN JANGLING.”
Since back then therefore, the Church at Ephesus seemed to have being growing cold in their love, both for the Lord Jesus (the source of love) and in turn, for each other and people in general. All that they were doing therefore, without having that love (charity) was what Paul referred to as “…vain jangling”, meaning useless noise with no real results.
Preaching, teaching, visiting people with the gospel, giving out Christian material, attending to the needs of the less fortunate or any other ‘good’ Christian thing that we do, will almost always be a complete waste of time and amount to nothing, if we do it without genuinely being motivated by love for Jesus and for people.
This is consistent with 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 which underscores the importance of love as the motivation for which all of our work for the Lord should be done. Anything else (except for where the Lord purposes for his own sake to use his Word which has been released to hearers), renders all our activities to be useless, wholly unprofitable and the Lord Jesus is not impressed. He wants us to work out of fervent love for him first (where we are fuelled and refuelled by spending quality time in his presence, submitting to his will, allowing him to have his way in our lives and to lead our path) and in turn, working for the edification, upliftment, encouragement, help and spiritual success of our brothers and sisters out of a genuine love for them, which flows from our love for Christ and to see lost souls saved because we love people in general.
Love is kind, merciful, compassionate, humble, patient, selfless, well-meaning, hopeful and truthful. As Christians, we must therefore examine ourselves to ensure that these elements characterize our lives in our dealings with others and the work we claim to be doing for the Lord.
The scripture tells us:
- “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
Continuing on in their love for the Lord and then others, seemed to have therefore been a challenge at the Church of Ephesus, although they were busy preaching, teaching doctrine and engaging in other work for him.
THE SECOND LETTER – TO THE CHURCH AT SMYRNA (Revelations 2:8-11)
This Church was suffering poverty and tribulation for the sake of Christ. This appeared to be particularly as a result of the oppression they faced from those who (like Saul before he became converted) were falsely calling themselves Jews and still believed that the law in the Old Testament was what they needed to follow in order to get to heaven and not Jesus Christ.
Despite their earthly impoverished state and the extent of their suffering for his sake, Christ declared to these Christians, that they were rich, which I take to mean, rich in faith and rich in Christ with every spiritual blessing, such as his favour, his righteousness and his eternal inheritance, which they would partake of when they left this earth.
Jesus urged them not to be afraid of anything that the ungodly and unbelieving may do unto them including imprisonment and tribulation, even if it meant dying for Him. He reminded them that the person that overcomes would not be subjected to the second death.
The second death, which befalls all those who did not submit to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ by believing on him, comes after physical death. It is far worse than physical death because it is the spiritual death of the soul, whereby a person is separated from God and placed in hell fire forever, as everlasting punishment.
In 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul, Sylvanus and Timotheus wrote to the church of the Thessalonians, who, like the Church at Smyrna and for their faith in Jesus Christ were enduring suffering, tribulation and persecution at the hands of unbelievers. They made reference to the second death, by which God would repay those that were persecuting them and fighting against the truth of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The scripture reads:
- “So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power“
As an encouragement to the suffering and poverty-stricken Church at Smyrna, Jesus opened his letter with reference to the path that he himself had taken, where he had suffered and died but was raised from the dead and now glorified.
- “These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know they works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life…He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.”
SUMMARY OF THE ISSUE AT THE CHURCH IN SMYRNA
The Church of Smyrna did not have a problem that was worthy of rebuke. Jesus was pleased with the works of its members and gave them high commendation, letting them know that he saw them as rich, not with earthly comforts but with heavenly blessings. Maybe because of weariness, they only needed encouragement to continue as they were doing therefore and not to ever give up or give in to the pressures that they were facing.
Jesus desired that they continue being rich in the faith without fear of man, no matter the cost and despite the suffering (financial, poverty or death) and assured them that once they overcame, they would be rewarded with eternal life.
The challenge for the Church of Smyrna therefore, in my view, appeared to be to not grow weary but to continue to have faith in Jesus and endure suffering and financial lack, for as long as it pleased the Lord to allow them to endure it and to whatever extent, keeping the prize or heavenly reward in mind, that would make it all worthwhile in the end.
He considered them rich, although the world considered them poor and he encouraged them to continue to hold on to him in faith, even if it reached a point, whether through starvation, imprisonment or otherwise, where some of them would end up losing their lives.
Jesus therefore opened his letter by referring to the path of faithfulness to God, unto death and thereafter, the resurrection, which he himself had trod. He then closed his letter with a command to this Church, to follow suit, to be faithful likewise, unto death and of the reward of resurrection and eternal life that they would inherit afterwards.
It is interesting that Jesus would point out to this Church, where members were barely making ends meet and suffering hunger, financial hardship, threat to safety of life and of limb, yet refusing to let go of what they believed, still living for him and still doing his work of spreading the gospel, that they were rich!
What a contrast in the way Christ thinks and what we see becoming so popular in many of the Churches today. The message Christ gave here has been changed by men, so much so, that from many pulpits, suffering is now frowned upon with disapproval and earthly riches encouraged and approved.
This is clearly not the mind of Christ. Paul warned of this corruption of the truth of Christ and godliness in 1 Timothy 6:3-12. He made it clear how Christians are to treat with those that preach riches and prosperity as God’s will for every Christian, while turning their noses down at suffering.
- “If any man teach otherwise and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.”
THE THIRD LETTER – TO THE CHURCH AT PERGAMOS (Revelations 2:12-17)
The Church at Pergamos was dwelling in a very evil environment where the system was dominated by the devil. Notwithstanding, they were to be commended, as they chose to still hold on to their faith in Jesus, even when one of their members, it seems, had been killed as a result of what he believed.
However, this Church had within its circle, those who had departed from the Word of God and were teaching false doctrines, namely, the doctrine of the Nicolaitans and the doctrine of Balaam.
The doctrine of the Nicolaitans
No details are given about the doctrine of the Nicolaitans and some take the view that it is one and the same as the doctrine of Balaam and that Jesus used the two terms interchangeably as verse 15 possibly seems to suggest. I initially took this view but I admit that it is possible that Jesus could have been referring to two different doctrines. I have therefore opted to treat with them as two separate doctrines, given that Jesus referred to them by different names.
Jesus states earlier in verse 6, while writing to the Church at Ephesus “But this thou hast that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” He again repeats his hatred for the doctrine while writing to the Church at Pergamos in verse 15.
Although no further details have been provided about this doctrine therefore and it may very well be the same as the doctrine of Balaam (I honestly cannot tell either way and refuse to speculate), it is sufficient to know that this doctrine was abominable because it represented a deviation from God’s Word which is true.
The doctrine of Balaam
At the Church at Pergamos, there were some who believed in what Jesus referred to as the doctrine of Baalam, apparently deluding themselves into believing that liberty in Christ meant that they could now do anything, such as eat things which had been sacrificed unto idols and engage in pre-marital sexual activity.
Notably, Baalam was a man in the Old Testament who, it appears, counselled Balak, the king of Moab, to get Israel to fall into sin by having them commit fornication with Balak’s people. This of course was met with God’s punishment of his people Israel.
The doctrine of Balaam mentioned in the New Testament appears to have therefore been a licentious view of grace, where it was being taught that since salvation now came by grace through faith and one no longer had to keep the law to be justified, that it now enabled Christians to engage in sinful activities without need for any restraint, as they were now free in Christ from the law of the Old Testament, which is referred to in the New Testament, as the law of sin and death.
Yet, Jesus urged the Church at Pergamos to repent of this false doctrine, as liberty from the law did not give them licence to sin.
It is important to note that Jesus did not tell this Church to repent of the eating of things offered to idols or from fornication, although this was implied. He instead dealt with the root cause of the issue, which was the flawed doctrine. This doctrine was causing them to stumble and to do wrong.
They were doing wrong because the Word of God was clear in the New Testament and under the New Covenant which applied to all Christians, on these issues. The New Testament makes it clear that fornication (premarital sexual activity) and eating something that we have been told or know was offered unto idols is wrong.
The Word was therefore the authority upon which Christians were to abide and being under the law of liberty and grace did not mean that they had freedom to disobey it.
This principle in my view, applies to all situations where it is believed in the body of Christ by some, that they now have liberty under the New Testament to do all things, including to divorce, remarry, to have women preachers and teachers in the Church and women usurping authority over men in the Church by being placed in authoritative, leadership positions. There are many today who say and erroneously teach, that we operate under grace and no longer the Mosaic law of the Old Testament, so that with this new found freedom from the law, women are now equal with men (which they point out was the initial design before sin entered) and they can therefore now teach and preach and lead Churches.
The problem with this is that it goes against the clear Word of God which says, in more than one scripture in the New Testament (not just in Corinthians but also in the book of Timothy and in Revelations), that women ought to keep silent in the Churches, not to teach and not to usurp authority over men.
There is no getting around it, excusing it or dismissing the clear Word of God. Even where people disagree with it, it is still the Word of God and therefore, it still stands and is superior to our ideas and thoughts on the subject.
Liberty from the law under the Old Testament, does not give any Christian the right to sin by going against any command given directly by Jesus or indirectly on his behalf through his disciples, in the New Testament. Such commands are commands of the New Covenant and every Christian is expected to obey.
This is why I believe Jesus opened the letter to Pergamos by referring to the sharp sword with the two edges.
In the description given by John of what he saw in verse 16 of Chapter 1, it says of Jesus that “…out of his MOUTH went a sharp TWO-EDGED SWORD…”. This description of the sword is clearly referring, in my view, to the Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 stated earlier on in the Bible:
- “For the WORD OF GOD is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any TWOEDGED SWORD, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
In Matthew 4:4, we are told that mankind is to live “…by every WORD that proceeds out of the MOUTH of God.”
John 1:1,14 further tells us that:
- “In the beginning was the WORD, and the WORD was with God and the WORD WAS GOD…And the WORD was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”
The WORD is therefore Jesus, in written form.
1 John 1 speaks of Jesus, who the disciples saw with their eyes, looked upon and handled, as “…the WORD of life.” In Revelation 19:13, it also states of Jesus:
- “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called THE WORD OF GOD.“
To reject the WORD therefore and to adopt a false doctrine was to reject Jesus Christ himself and his authority as Lord.
Jesus therefore, in his letter to the Church at Pergamos, opens his letter with the challenge they face, which in my view was to obey his Word (which was Him) above all else and to abandon their intellectual ideas and false doctrines, including the doctrine about what they were now free to do, due to liberty and grace.
- “These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.”
Jesus then urged them to repent or else he would come and “…fight against them with the SWORD of my MOUTH.” He takes the deviation from the WORD as a personal affront to himself and therefore promises to come and fight those who refuse to repent of their rebellion to His authority because he is the WORD.
Since one fights against those that are their enemies, it is my view that Jesus was saying that these people, although in the Church, had positioned themselves against him as his enemy, by exalting their ideas and their reasoning above the WORD and therefore, above himself.
In effect, they had placed what they wanted to do over and above the clear authority of the Word. Yet, it was the same Word, which remained the authority and was still truth and which had proceeded from the mouth of Jesus who is God, that Jesus would use to fight against them.
Notably, Balaam knew the clear counsel of God which was that the people of Israel were blessed, yet he wanted to go against God’s clear Word because he loved money and was promised advancement by Balak if he would curse them. While he did not curse them directly, motivated by his own lust, he went against God’s clear Word and gave advice to Balak as to what to do to get Israel to fall into sin, so that they would fall out of favour with God.
I believe that the doctrine of Balaam was not limited to the eating of things sacrificed to idols and the committing of fornication. That is, the doctrine does not appear to be just a doctrine about idols or fornication but much wider than that. The doctrine appears, in my view, to state erroneously, that all things are now lawful or permissible for Christians to do and indulge in because they are under grace and no longer the law of the Old Testament where these things were prohibited and that under grace, they now have liberty.
It is my view, that the doctrine of Balaam and the rebellion behind it are prevalent in many of today’s Churches, where people have blatantly ignored God’s clear Word, not just in relation to the eating of things offered to idols and pre-marital sexual activity but also on a wide range of other issues, such as the clear command for women to be silent in the Churches, for them not to take up positions of authority in it over the men, for Christians not to divorce but that if it happens, for them to remain unmarried.
God’s CLEAR WORD on these issues is found in these scriptures, yet people choose to deviate from these teachings:
- Eating food offered to idols -Acts 15:19-20,28-29;
- Fornication – 1 Corinthians 6:9, 15-20; 1 Corinthians 7:2; 10:8; Acts 15:20,29
- Women and the Church – 1 Corinthians 14:34-37, 1 Timothy 2:11-15; Revelations 2:20
- Divorce and remarriage – Matthew 5:31-32; Matthew 19:3-12; 1 Corinthians 7:10-11
SUMMARY OF THE PROBLEM OF THE CHURCH IN PERGAMOS
The problem with the Church of Pergamos therefore was that it had allowed false doctrine to seep in and in so doing, had elevated man’s ideas and wishes above God’s will as already provided in the WORD of God. In particular, Jesus wanted them to refrain from teaching and accepting the false doctrine of the Nicolaitans and the false doctrine of Balaam, the latter of which permitted fornication and eating things offered to idols, apparently on the basis that grace brings liberty to disobey. These two doctrines were particularly offensive, as they went against the clear Word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit.
The challenge of the Church of Pergamos therefore was to (1) abandon the false doctrine of the Nicolaitans, (2) abandon the false doctrine held by some, that freedom in Christ through grace, gave them liberty to do as they pleased and (3) to reassert the rightful place of the Word of God, which was sharper than any two-edged sword, on the throne of their hearts. In essence, they were to put away false doctrines and guard the doctrine of Christ.
The Lord Jesus therefore opened his letter with the fact that he had the sharp sword with two edges (which was the Word) and he closed by stating that he would fight against those who held the false doctrine if the Church did not repent, with the sword of his mouth (which was the Word).
Dear Reader, please see Part 2 where I look at the fourth letter to the Church at THYATIRA and Part 3 where I look at the fifth, sixth and seventh letters to the Church at SARDIS, PHILADELPHIA and LAODICEA.
(Written on 25th August, 2018, added to on 24th October, 2020)