Category Archives: Revelation

Permissive Pergamos

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; . . . 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 . . . . But I have a few things against thee.” (Revelation 2:12-14)

Retaining a clear identity as a church of the Lord Jesus in an evil environment is worthy of commendation. And indeed, this body of believers at Pergamos held fast to its Christian name—even in a city that was known (at least by God) as the place where Satan had his “seat.” One of their members, Antipas, was killed for his faith. Yet, the church at Pergamos remained faithful with a spiritual testimony, a small light in a sea of wickedness.

But perhaps because of the pressure surrounding them, the Lord warned them that they were allowing two destructive doctrines to flourish among them. The first was compromising with “wages of unrighteousness,” exemplified by Balaam, which had become entrenched among the church (2 Peter 2:15). The second was the “doctrine of the Nicolaitanes,” which their sister church in Ephesus also confronted (Revelation 2:15, 6).

Balaam was a well-known prophet who willingly accepted an assignment with an enemy of God’s people so that he could receive a large sum of money (Numbers 22). And, even though God would not permit Israel to be cursed, as the enemy wanted, Balaam continued to promote his “error,” and Israel lapsed into grave sin (Jude 1:11).

Not much is written in Scripture about the Nicolaitanes. The word basically means “conquer the people.” This early teaching developed into a strong hierarchy of church polity over the next decades, and by the end of the second century, it was well established in the major cities. Jesus taught against such leadership (Matthew 20:26-27) and clearly said that He hated it (Revelation 2:6). HMM III

Faithful Smyrna

“And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; . . . I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) . . . . Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer . . . be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” (Revelation 2:8-10)

The Lord Jesus recognized this struggling church, which is not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament, as one of only two churches mentioned in the book of Revelation that did not receive any warning or condemnation.

He saw them very differently than our “church growth” movement might today. Many tend to envy the churches with big auditoriums or grand building programs. Most of the world praises those churches that are “emerging” from the restraints of godliness and churches that are “driven” to attract and please the ungodly.

Smyrna was poor, troubled by those who hated God’s message, and suffered tribulation for their works. Some were thrown into prison for their willingness to be identified with the truth. Generations have passed since anything like that has happened to churches in the Western world. Those countries that persecute Christians today seem only like scattered incidents that have little bearing on the day-to-day life of “civilized” nations. May God protect us from such attitudes.

But the One who walks among the “candlestick” churches of Revelation (His churches) saw Smyrna as rich and worthy of a crown of life. He praised this little church and encouraged them to remain “faithful unto death” (Revelation 2:10). When the King gives out His rewards from the great judgment seat, these faithful, poor, persecuted, troubled, and imprisoned souls will enter eternity with great riches and joyful liberty in the “general assembly and church of the firstborn” (Hebrews 12:23). HMM III

Careful Ephesus

“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write;. . . 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.” (Revelation 2:1-2)

This church, founded by the apostle Paul, had grown in its doctrinal precision and careful attention to the words of Scripture. They were intensely focused on purity of leadership and were vigilant against any form of false teaching. Most of us would find that kind of church a refreshing example to follow in these days of indifferent (and often heretical) theology.

They hated the “deeds of the Nicolaitanes,” which was a horrible practice that the Lord Himself hated (Revelation 2:6). Peter had warned against this domineering attitude in his first general letter to the churches when he insisted that the elders of the churches should not be “lords over God’s heritage, but [be] ensamples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3).

Ephesus was a “good” church, but the risen Lord Jesus had “somewhat against” them. Apparently, amid all of their careful attention to doctrine and to purity of leadership lifestyle, they had “left [their] first love” (Revelation 2:4). They had fallen from the deep bond of love they had demonstrated years earlier when Paul called the elders to Miletus to encourage and exhort them to remain faithful to “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). They were so much in tune with Paul’s heart for the gospel that they “all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him” (Acts 20:37).

The drift away from that “first love” was so serious that the Lord warned Ephesus to repent or He would take away their “candlestick” (Revelation 2:5)—their authority to represent Christ as one of His churches. Cold, precise doctrine must never take away our love for people or for the truth. HMM III

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