The church is the visual display of Christ—or the body of Christ—in the world today. What the world thinks of the church determines what the world thinks of Christ. That is why in the opening chapter of the Revelation, you see the picture of Christ standing in the midst of the seven golden lampstands, representing seven of the churches in Asia Minor. Christ is inspecting the condition of each of the churches, but He is not checking out the buildings. He is evaluating the spiritual condition of those who make up the church—you and me!
In Revelation 2:12-17, we come to the town of Pergamum and see one of the most corrupted churches in the first century. The believers at Pergamum held fast to their faith and witness for Christ, even though they lived in one of Satan’s strongholds (Revelation 2:13). Satan had moved in next door to the church at Pergamum, yet the believers dug in and held their ground. If only they hadn’t compromised theologically they would go down in history as a shining example of how believers thrive in a godless culture.
The Lord mentions two troubling issues with the church at Pergamum, both of which lead to similar conclusions: the doctrine of Balaam and the doctrine of Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:14-16).
The error of Balaam was the teaching that the people of God could and or should intermarry with unbelievers. Both the Old and New Testaments strictly prohibit marriage to an unbeliever (2 Corinthians 6:14).
A patternof compromise can soon become a practiceof compromise. And that is what happened in the church at Pergamum. Their refusal to deal with the Balaamites opened the door for a group of people the Lord had already said He hated—the Nicolaitans.
The Nicolaitans seemed to adhere to two main heresies. First, they distorted the doctrine of Christian liberty. They taught that we are no longer bound by the old rules and regulations concerning morality, thereby twisting Christian liberty into un-Christians license. Second, they adopted the doctrine of Gnosticism. This taught that the physical world, including the body, is inherently evil and that only the spirit is holy. Therefore, we can do whatever we want with our bodies.
As He did for the Ephesian congregation, Jesus offers the Pergamum church an opportunity to turn around and make things right. “Repent,” He tells them (Revelation 2:16).
What is intended in this one-word command is that the leadership of the church needed to take swift and decisive action against the Balaamites and Nicolaitans and root out such theological compromises. Church discipline needed to be enforced. Never doubt that an unrepentant heart is a sign of hardheartedness, and shows that a person is not a faithful believer.
For the believers at Pergamum the Lord gave three promises in Revelation 2:17: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.”
However, the Pergamum believers understood these symbols, one thing is clear for us: if we remain faithful and take a stand for truth and morality, the Lord will reward us when He returns.
The smallest and least significant city in Asia Minor, Thyatira, received the longest letter from Christ.
Jesus listed six commendable traits (Revelation 2:19): good deeds, love for others, trust in God, service for the Savior, patient endurance in trials, and zealousness. Love shows itself in service and faith demonstrates itself in perseverance. And the believers at Thyatira practiced these with enthusiasm. These should have made the church at Thyatira extremely attractive. But it wasn’t.
Thyatira had all the ingredients for greatness, but the church couldn’t find the right mixture—especially between love for sinners and tolerance for sin (Revelation 2:20-23).
Like the Corinthians, who bragged about being non-judgmental and allowed a man living in open immorality to continue in fellowship, the church at Thyatira tolerated sinful practices. But we are told today to be more like the Corinthian and Thyatira believers. “We’re not to judge, we are to be TOLERANT” we’re told.
Like the Nicolaitans and the Balaamites, a Jezebel-like self-proclaimed prophetess promoted idolatry and immorality among the congregation. The Lord gave Jezebel time to repent, but she refused (Revelation 2:21). And since the leadership in the church wouldn’t take action, Jesus would. He would strike her with sickness, tribulation, and death—and not only for her, but for all who followed her and refused to repent (Revelation 2:22–23).
The epidemic would be so great that surrounding churches, who might also have their own Jezebels, Nicolaitans, or Balaamites, would no longer have doubts that Jesus knows all things intimately and will judge each congregation according to their deeds (Revelation 2:23).
Christ placed no other burden on the rest of the congregation—the faithful who refused to tolerate Jezebel’s heresy—other than to “hold fast” to what they had already been doing by refusing to accommodate her wickedness. If they would do that then they would experience the joy of His promise (Revelation 2:25-29).
The prize for faithfulness is the privilege of reigning with Christ in His earthly (millennial) kingdom. This would have been unimaginable to the believers in a blue-collar, backwater town like Thyatira. The only world power they knew was Rome, which exercised power with an iron rod, smashing other nations like clay pots. But Jesus would overthrow Rome and all other world powers and to His “overcomers” He will give the “morning star”—the symbol of victory and sovereignty.
As long as we individually and together as a congregation remain obedient and faithful to Christ, nothing can come into our life that has not been planned by our loving heavenly Father.