Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Even if you’re in some very tough circumstances, God is with you, helping you endure. Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: You can’t say, “God doesn’t understand what I have to put up with." Or, “I know what the Bible says, but surely He wouldn’t expect someone in my circumstances to obey that.” He does know. He does understand, and He does expect us to be faithful, regardless of where we dwell.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Surrender: The Heart God Controls, for Monday, September 4.

Even in an age of electronic communication, isn’t it exciting to receive a real letter? Seven first-century churches received letters dictated by Jesus Himself. Those letters have a lot to say to us today. Nancy’s been describing these letters in several series this year. Today, we begin a series called, "Letters to the Churches in Revelation, Part 4: Compromising Truth."

Nancy: As we continue in our series of studies on the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation, we come now to the first of two of those letters that I think are particularly complex and difficult to understand. I have been living in these passages for many weeks, even months, and a friend said to me last week, as she was preparing her heart for this recording session. She went to Revelation 2 and read through these passages and came out saying, “What in the world is that all about?” You may think the same thing as we get into these. I’m just praying the Lord will give understanding and wisdom and ability to apply these passages to our hearts.

In Revelation chapter 1, verse 19, you find a very basic, simple outline of the book of Revelation. It says this, Jesus said to the apostle John, “‘Write . . . the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.’” These are two categories of things in the book of Revelation—chapters 2 and 3, the things that are. That’s these letters to the churches in Revelation, just to give us some context, the things that are going on now in the churches. Then the rest of the book of Revelation, beginning in chapter 4, is the things that are to take place after this, the things that are future, down the road.

Now, when you think about studying the book of Revelation, that’s a book that has intrigued a lot of people over a lot of centuries, and a lot of people are eager to study the future part of it, the things that are to take place after this. They want to figure out what are the bowls and the judgments, and is there a millennium? How long is it? What are all these? How does all this fit together? What is the great Babylon?

Those are important things to study. I hope someday to do a journey through the book of Revelation here on Revive Our Hearts. But I also think that the focus on those future things can be a little bit of an escape, that it’s easier to focus on things that don’t exist right now. We’re really not equipped to handle or to face the things that are yet to come. We’re not prepared for those things that are to come until we deal with the things that are. That’s why I wanted us to start in these letters to the churches because these are the things that are.

Imperfect churches, in the age of grace, Jesus says, "These are the things that need to be addressed in the churches in the first century and in our century as well."

We come today to the letter to the third church in Asia, Revelation chapter 2. Let me read the letter beginning in verse 12, and then over these next several days, we’re going to just walk through it phrase by phrase and see what it has to say to our hearts. Revelation 2, verse 12: "And to the angel of the church in Pergamum" or some of your translations say, “Pergamos,” same thing—Pergamum.

To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: "The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

“‘Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’” (vv. 12–17).

Now, that is a little bit mind-boggling. You may tend to just kind of glaze over as you read or hear that passage, but you know, in studying the Scripture, we need to remember first of all that all Scripture is inspired by God. It is profitable. We need it. We need this passage.

You need to also remember there are no shortcuts to understanding and studying the Word of God. So if you want to find out what that passage means, you can do the exact same thing I’ve been doing over these past weeks and months. That is reading and rereading and re-rereading and pondering and taking each phrase and comparing it to similar passages elsewhere in the Scripture. That’s kind of the way we’re going to walk through this passage over these next days.

Now, to put this letter to the church at Pergamum in context, remember that the first church, the church of Ephesus, was commended for having their doctrine straight and for dealing with false teachers, but what was the church in Ephesus lacking? They were lacking love. They were lacking heart, passion for Christ.

By contrast, the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira, the third and fourth churches, were commended for various Christian graces, including love in the case of Thyatira, but they had doctrinal issues that needed to be straightened out. So the emphasis in these letters is on truth, which determines the way that we live. Doctrine, belief, determines behavior.

Doctrine, belief, determines behavior.

Love and truth—there’s a tendency in our churches to emphasize one and to neglect the other, but we need both. Scripture talks about speaking the truth in love. Paul said to the Philippians, “I want you to grow in love and discernment.” Both truth and love are marks of a faithful church, marks of a faithful believer or child of God, and of the issues that are confronted in these seven churches, these are the first two issues—love in the case of Ephesus, and truth in the case of the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira.

The Scripture says, “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write.” Now, let’s talk about Pergamum for just a moment. I found it fascinating to go back in and learn more about these cities and the churches in these cities. It helps us understand the context in which they would have received these letters.

As we’ve seen, the seven churches, the seven cities, are in a sequence in order that a postal carrier would have traveled if he had carried the letters from one church to the next. They kind of go in a circle, starting with Ephesus and ending up in Laodicea. So we come to Pergamum now, which is fifty-five miles north of Smyrna, which was the previous city.

Pergamum was the capitol city in the Roman province of Asia, and historically it may have been the greatest city in Asia. It was obsessed with wealth and fashion. Just think of the great capitol cities of world nations today. It was a university town.

It had a famous library that had over 200,000 books. Now, that’s a lot for any library but especially when you think of the fact that all these books that had to be written or copied by hand. It was an academic town.

It was a city that was given over to idolatry and to the worship of many pagan gods. Throughout this city you could see hundreds of temples that were devoted to cults and idol worship. It was also a center of Caesar worship or imperial worship. Pergamum boasted the oldest temple for emperor worship in Asia Minor, and you remember that the Caesars demanded to be worshiped as God.

Just like the Old Testament pharaohs in Egypt, the Roman Caesar said, “I am God. Worship me as God.” So when you take the pagan gods and imperial worship, you realize that this was a particularly difficult and dangerous place for Christians. Because of its political significance as the capitol of the province and the presence of so many Roman soldiers in the city, it was particularly dangerous for Christians. In fact, the first executions of Christians in the Roman Empire had probably taken place in Pergamum.

We read about one of those in this letter. The reason was that the believers there refused to bow to Caesar. They refused to buy into the system of pagan worship. One commentator I read on this passage said, “In Pergamum, a Christian was in jeopardy of his life 365 days in the year,” so being a Christian was a serious and dangerous profession in that day.

Now, to this church, the Scripture says, “The words of him who has the sharp, two-edged sword.” As we’ve seen, the description of Jesus, who was sending these letters . . . In each of these letters, His description is taken from the picture of Jesus given to us in Revelation chapter 1, so there were different ways Jesus was described in Revelation 1. In each of these letters, Jesus picks one or more of those characteristics to focus on with that church. In this case, this is the words of the One who has the sharp, two-edged sword.

Now, when you go back to Revelation 1, the original picture of Jesus there, it says, “From his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword,” (v. 16). You don’t think of a sword as coming out of your mouth. You think of a sword as being in your hand, but this is a picture of the Word of God, the power of the Word of Christ.

It’s interesting that Christ would reveal Himself to His church in this way because Jesus revealed Himself to each church in the way that He knew they needed to see Him. Remember, for example, back in Ephesus. It said, “The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands” (Rev. 2:1). Jesus said, “I’m the One who holds you. I walk in your midst.”

Love and truth—there’s a tendency in our churches to emphasize one and to neglect the other, but we need both.

When He spoke to Smyrna, the suffering church, He said, “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life” (Rev. 2:8). Jesus says to them, "I'm the eternal One; the One who has suffered Himself." He showed Himself to be sovereign and victorious over death. To this church in Smyrna where many of the believers were facing imminent death.

Now He comes to Pergamum, and He doesn’t give a comforting description. He doesn’t give an encouraging description. He says, “The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword,” (Rev. 2:12).

Those are fightin’ words. Those are threatening words, and in this description of Jesus, who is sending this letter, we see the warning of impending disaster. Judgment is coming if something doesn’t change in this church.

When you go toward the end of the book of Revelation, chapter 19, you see a similar verse that talks about Jesus as He comes as a conquering king. It says, “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations,” (v. 15). He’s presented there as a judge, as an executioner against the pagan, wicked nations who are unrepentant. But in this case, the sword of Jesus is in His mouth, not to deal with the pagan nations, but to deal with the church, to deal with people in the church who were believing teaching that was leading to ungodly behavior.

As we said, this sword is a symbol. It’s a picture of the Word of Christ, the truth of God’s Word. It’s the Word of God that exposes doctrinal error and that sets things straight in the church.

Now Jesus says in verse 13 to these believers in Pergamum, “I know where you dwell.” Where is that? Where Satan’s throne is. “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is,” and then the end of verse 13, “where Satan dwells.”

Now, the Christians in Pergamum heard this description. “I know where you dwell, where Satan dwells, where Satan’s throne is,” it may have brought to mind the altar of Zeus, which was a huge, forty-foot-high chair or throne, an altar to the pagan god of Zeus. This throne, this chair, sat on a hillside, towering over the city of Pergamum, so maybe when they thought of the throne of Satan, maybe they thought of that altar to Zeus.

Maybe they thought of Caesar’s throne, figuratively speaking. Caesar or these pagan gods, they all posed a diabolical, a satanic threat to the church. Or they may have been thinking of one of the main gods that was worshiped in Pergamum, the god called Asklepios.

Now, that’s not probably one that you’re familiar with. I wasn’t. But Asklepios was known as the god of medicine and healing. He was sometimes referred to as Asklepios the savior. He was symbolized—this god of medicine and healing—he was symbolized by a serpent. In his temple there were hundreds of non-poisonous snakes that were gliding around loose on the floor.

These snakes were supposed to be incarnations of the god himself. Sick people would come and spend the night on the floor in this temple, and if one of the snakes slithered by him in the dark and touched him, it was thought that the sick person had actually been touched by the god and would then be healed. Now, how would you like this approach to medicine?

Christians who knew the Old Testament understood that this serpent was an emblem of Satan. So when Jesus says, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is,” maybe that’s what they were thinking—one of these pagan gods symbolized by a serpent. Regardless, we know, and we see illustrated in this passage, that Satan is a very real enemy.

  • He opposes God.
  • He opposes God’s people.
  • He opposes God’s kingdom.

He is the unseen force, the king, the ruler behind all false religions and evil in this world. He is the instigator of doctrinal error, of anti-Christ movements, of ungodly behavior. Satan is behind the things that we see going on in this world that are unpleasing to God.

"I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is." We see the reality of this unseen foe. “You dwell where Satan’s throne is.” A throne is a picture of what? Authority, a seat of authority. It’s a reminder that Satan rules over other fallen angels who are under his control. They take orders from him. He tells them what to do, and they carry out his purposes in the world even as the holy angels carry out God’s purposes in this world.

In that sense, Satan has a throne in this world from which he gives orders, and he gives direction to those who follow his bidding. Satan establishes, I believe, a base of operations at different times and in different places. His throne may not just be in one place. It may move around, in a sense, and he takes up residence. He takes up authority and establishes his operations, his seat, at different times and places.

Satan’s seat is often the seat of worldly power and wealth and influence and academic pride. These are things that existed in Pergamum, and they are things that cause Satan many times to say, “Let me take over here. I can find a base of operations here. I can accomplish my purposes through these things that feed the flesh rather than the spirit,” worldly power and wealth and wisdom.

So Pergamum was a place where Satan wielded authority, and there were strong, anti-God forces at work. Now, here’s the point. Jesus says to the people in Pergamum, “I know where you dwell.”

Now, I want to take a look at that word, dwell, for just a moment. There’s a word that is generally used in the New Testament, the Greek language, that speaks of Christians dwelling, and that word is—it means "to sojourn," "to have a temporary residence." The New Testament writers loved using that word for Christians because they wanted to remind Christians, this world is not your home.

This world is a temporary dwelling place, but that’s not the word that is used here. When Jesus says, “I know where you dwell,” He uses a different word, a word that refers to a permanent, settled residence, not a temporary dwelling place, but a settled residence. Jesus is saying in effect, “I know that you are living in hostile territory and that this is not a temporary or a short-term proposition. It’s temporary in the ultimate scheme of things, but you’ve got to live there for quite awhile right now. You’re there, not on a short-term basis.”

By the way, He uses the same word when He says, “This is the place where Satan dwells. Satan’s not there on a short-term basis either. Satan has taken up residence in this city, and he plans to stay there. You live in this city, and you have to stay there.”

Now, there’s going to be a conflict when you’ve got Christians, whose allegiance is to Christ, dwelling in a city and then Satan dwelling in that city. The implication is, there’s no escape. You can’t get out. You can’t just pack your bags and leave this place where there are all these anti-God forces at work.

You are, in a sense, stuck there. You can’t run, but this is the place where you are called to live out your faith in Christ and to demonstrate, in Satan’s dwelling place, where he has established his throne—this is where you are to demonstrate what it means to be a true Christian, a child of God.

Ladies, Jesus knows where you dwell. He knows where you live. He knows the circumstances, the situation in which you find yourself. He knows what you’re up against, the challenges that you face in the place where you live. He knows that some of those circumstances are not going to be short-term, that you’re not going to get out of them easily. You are dwelling in that situation.

It may be your marriage. It may be issues in your home of origin. It may be in your workplace or your school. Maybe you’ve got an atheist roommate or professor who mocks your faith. Maybe in your workplace or your community you’re surrounded by profane, pagan lifestyles and influences and values.

It may feel that where you dwell is Satan’s throne. It’s where Satan dwells. It’s a difficult place to live. It’s difficult to stay in that marriage. Satan dwells there and has set up a base of operations, maybe even through immediate family members, but I want to remind you that Christ knows. He knows where you dwell, and He can give you grace to face those powers of Satan and to conquer in the name of Christ.

In fact, Jesus goes on to say to these believers in Pergamum, “In spite of the fact that you dwell where Satan dwells, where Satan’s throne is,” verse 13, “Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.” He’s saying, “You hold fast my name. You did not deny my faith. In spite of the place where you dwell, in spite of the pressure of the culture and the difficult circumstances and the powerful anti-God forces at work in your surroundings, and in spite of what you have seen happen to other faithful believers, you have held fast.”

He reminds them of somebody that they knew. We don’t know who Antipas was. He’s not referred to elsewhere in the Scripture, but tradition has it that he was the bishop of Pergamum and that he was roasted to death in a brass bowl that was heated up very, very hot. He is called, “My faithful witness.” Some of your translations say, “My faithful martyr.”

In fact, the Greek word there is the word, martus, M-A-R-T-U-S. It’s a word that means witness, one who witnesses to what he has experienced and seen, but in the first-century church, many of those who witnessed of their faith in Christ were killed for their faith in Christ. Those witnesses came to be called martyrs. To be a witness can be costly: economically, reputation, career, friends, and maybe even the loss of life, so Antipas was a faithful witness all the way to the finish line, to death.

Isn’t in precious that Jesus gave to him the title that was given to Christ Himself in Revelation 1, “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness” (v. 5)? Antipas—he won that designation himself, like Christ, a faithful witness. So in this letter to the church in Pergamum, we’re reminded that the Christian life is not a picnic. We live in occupied territory. We’re in a battle, and some will pay a high price to be faithful to Christ.

By God’s grace it is possible to hold fast to Christ and to your faith even when you live in Satan’s territory. 

The encouragement here is that by God’s grace, it is possible to hold fast to Christ and to your faith even when you live in Satan’s territory. You can’t say, “God doesn’t understand what I have to put up with." Or, “I know what the Bible says, but surely He wouldn’t expect someone in my circumstances to obey that.” He does know. He does understand, and He does expect us to be faithful, regardless of where we dwell.

Jesus enabled these first-century believers to be faithful, and He will enable you to be faithful, even where Satan has established a base of operations. Let me remind you that your faithful witness in that dark place will deal a blow to Satan and his kingdom, and as a result, you will lift up and glorify the name of Christ.

Leslie: God knows where you live. It’s a message that provides comfort and requires responsibility. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been providing insight on the letter to the church in Pergamum found in the book of Revelation. She’s taking us through all seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation in several series this year.

To help you get the most out of this series, we’d like to send you a booklet called Ears to Hear. It will ask you some follow up questions to help you make this teaching personal. And it will help you take next steps in living out what you’re hearing and reading in Revelation.

We’d like to send the booklet Ears to Hear when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount. Ask for it when you call 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com. Satan often uses two approaches when attacking the church. They are annihilation and accommodation. Learn about these opposite approaches tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you stand firm in the truth. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scriptures are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

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