The Seven Churches of Asia - Pergamos (part 2)

Robert E. Surgenor

With the vivid memories of Antipas' martyrdom burning in our mind, we gather on Lord's Day with the Pergamos saints to break bread. A seat is empty and there is soberness in the gathering. We wonder at some of the saints there whom we have seen during the past week entering various heathen temples to participate in their idolatrous feasts. It was Balaam's teaching that caused the children of Israel to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab and called them to the sacrifices of their gods (Num. 25). In spite of a faithful remnant in the assembly, there were Balaamminded teachers. Their theme would be, "Let us be more liberal, for after all, we have to get along with the heathen if we are ever going to influence them." A brother rises and reads the Lord's letter again.

The Judgment of the Lord

"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" (Rev. 2:14-15).

The saints claimed to be the bride of Christ, but alas, they were married to the world! Their social relations with the heathen had led to the partaking of the heathen feasts which led to drunkenness and fornication. Christ was not only against such activities, He was personally against them! His anger was not for the fact that they were in the world, but rather that the world was in them. However, there is more to the world than just heathen, idolatrous feasts. When we consider that the world is everything from which God is excluded, no matter how lovely and innocent it may appear, no matter how humane, how generous, how intellectual. If the glory of God is not the avowed end - it is the world! In view of this, let us search our own hearts. How do we stand in relation to the world? Do we indulge in its amusements, its theaters, its sports, its politics, and celebrate its holidays? Are we linked with social groups and associations to make this a better place to live? If so, we have swallowed and digested Balaamite councils. Our society has put on a dress of Christianity and this helps to confound the distinction between saint and sinner and give plausibility to many Balaamite teachings.

The teachings of our Lord are very clear on the subject. "If ye were of the world, the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you" (John 15:19). Check your status, does the world love you or hate you? Their attitude of love or hate depends on whether you are living a separated life or not.

Not only had they been influenced with Balaam's doctrine, but they were also holding the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. Clerisy was getting a foothold on this assembly and some were holding the teaching that one-man control was the solution to their dryness. What they failed to recognize was the fact that their worldliness was sapping the spiritual strength out of them. What they needed was not clerisy, but a confession of their worldly ways and a return to the old paths. The language is very strong concerning Nicolaitanism – "Which thing I hate." Thus the doctrine of Balaarn was, "Be more relaxed in your loyalty," while that of Nicolaitanisrn was, "Be more restrictive in your leadership."

The Warning of Christ

"Repent,- or else I will come to thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth" (Rev. 2:16).

As the stern words are read we notice various expressions exposed on their faces. Some are looking down and others express worry. The more hardened are rolling their eyes while others begin to silently weep. How can they repent? Simply by putting away the false teachers. Christ says, 'Or else'! He threatens them with war! Either they act immediately, or He will fight against the false teachers who had seduced many. His instrument is the sword. Pergamos being the capital, the saints were well acquainted with the power of the sword. It either defended or killed. In this situation, it was about to kill! Christ, in undisputed government, has the power of life and of death. The evil tolerated in this assembly was a direct challenge to I His authority. He has judged them and found them guilty! Divine Persons accomplish their end, simply by speaking. Christ spoke - the fig tree withered. Christ spoke - Lazarus came forth. Christ spoke - the universe came into existence. Thus, with the sword of His mouth, He will slay them! He will come quickly. Their time is up!

The Promise of Christ

"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth except he that receiveth it" (Rev. 2:17).

Notice the godly remnant. The brethren among them are humble and satisfied with the path of reproach and danger. One whose fellowship they had often enjoyed is no longer with them. His ashes bearing witness to his faithfulness, even unto death, Antipas is gone! We appreciate the modest apparel and shamefacedness of the sisters (1 Tim. 2) as they manifest hospitality to us as visitors. They do not have much in the way of materialistic things as do the worldly-minded. They have been looked upon as legalistic, tight, narrow-minded, hairsplitters, and division makers. The jewelry, the cosmetics, the tight form-revealing attire, the long hair on men and the cropped hair on women and the blazing, outlandish colors, are all trademarks of the world. Also, Balaamism and Nicolaitanism were fully accepted. Thus, the godly would be termed nonconformists (Rom. 12:1,2).

Christ promises the overcomer the richest food in the universe - the hidden manna. In the gospels, Christ is revealed in His humanity as, "the living bread which came down from heaven" (John 6:51). This was the Manna before our eyes. However, just as the hidden manna in the ark was never seen until that ark was placed on the golden floor of Solomon's Temple, in like manner, there are things concerning Himself that have never yet been revealed, nor will they be until we reach the city of gold above. Then it will delight the Lord to eternally reveal to us things concerning Himself that were never realized while on earth. "There are also many other things which Jesus did, which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen" (John 21:25).

Many ideas have been offered as to the meaning of Christ giving to each overcomer a white stone with a new name written, known only to the receiver. People used to drop a white stone into an urn if it was a day of happiness and a black stone if it was a day of calamity. Upon death, the urn was broken and the pebbles counted to disclose whether the person's life had been happy or otherwise. I believe that we all will be happy in the glory, but I don't believe that the white stone given by Christ portrays this. Others tell us that in the Pergamos Court, the members would indicate their verdict by casting a white stone into a bowl if the person was considered innocent and a black stone if guilty. Thank God, we shall reach heaven guiltless, but the white stone conveys something other than this. The people of Pergamos were very familiar with the tessera, a white stone given to those who were invited to partake of the temple's sacred feast, which consisted of meats offered to the idol. That stone bore the secret name of the deity represented by the idol and the name was only known to the recipient. Since the overcomer had refused such a stone in Pergamos, the Lord promises to bestow upon him a stone which would give him entrance to the heavenly temple and there to feast upon all the provisions of heaven. The Lord's new name would be Christ known in a unique way. The Lord will see that each saint will have their own personal and intimate knowledge of something concerning Himself, known to no other saint.

There are smiles of gratitude in the circle as the Lord's promise is declared and the godly in the assembly rise after the meeting with fresh desires to live not unto themselves, but unto Him who holds the white stones. Others who have failed in their separation from the world consider. The meeting is over and we bid them all good-bye, noticing tears in the tender eyes of those who have been termed as "hard," and "legalists." Good-bye beloved brethren, until we meet in heaven, to receive the hidden manna and the white stone. The breeze blows gently as we commence our 40-mile journey down the mountain and towards the southeast with great searching of heart.