The Church at Pergamum

By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett – Asbury Free Methodist – May 29, 2022

Revelation 2:11-17

            We have been working our way through a series titled “The Churches of Revelation.” Jesus appeared to the apostle John and gave a direct message to each of the seven churches. I think we have seen that in speaking to them, he is also speaking to us.

Today we are looking at the church of Pergamum. Pergamum was the capital city of the province of Asia. It was a large, influential, beautiful city. If the city of Ephesus is comparable to New York City, the city of Pergamum would be comparable to Washington DC. Or, if you will, Ephesus was like Toronto. Pergamum was like Ottawa.

            The city sported three major temples. They had a temple dedicated to Zeus and another dedicated to Caesar Augustus. They Had another temple dedicated to a serpent god named Asclepius. He was considered a god of healing, and many people would journey to Pergamum seeking cures for their ailments

            Pergamum was the home to the second-largest library in the world. The library had about 200,000 books in it. In many ways, it was an educated city.

Jesus doesn’t refer to any of these things when he speaks to Pergamum. Instead, the most remarkable thing about Pergamum, according to Jesus, is that it is the place where Satan has his throne; It is the city where Satan lives. That can’t be good.

Revelation 2:13 (NIV)

13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

            We don’t know what that was all about. He may have been referring to what was happening at the temples. He may have been referring to the practice of the occult that was rampant in the city. He may have been referring to the idolatry that was prevalent. We are not sure. But he was saying to the church of Pergamum – you are living next door to Satan.

            I have a friend who visits churches right across the country. He tells me that it doesn’t matter what town or city you go to, some people from that place will say that this is a dark and oppressed place. Pergamum really was a dark and oppressive place.

Can you imagine Jesus saying that Satan has his throne in your town? That does not seem encouraging.

            Note the expectation of Jesus. Even though these Christians were living in the same city as Satan – even though they were living where Satan had his throne – the expectation was that they could and would follow Jesus even in that place. Jesus’ expectation was that they could live for him even if they were a stone’s throw from hell.


            We live in a world that seems to be moving closer to the evil one every day. We hear of heinous acts of evil almost every week. This week it was the gunman that shot up an elementary school. It was civilians targeted in the Russia-Ukraine war. Our world seems to be advancing technologically and declining morally.

            We live in a world where things that God has called good are seen as bad. We live in a world where the things that God has called bad are seen as good. Whenever that happens, our world takes one more step towards the throne of the evil one.

            The expectation of Jesus for his people, however, is that even though we may live next door to the throne of Satan, we are called to follow Jesus. We are called to live our lives for Jesus. We are called to imitate Jesus in holiness and righteousness.


            The world has changed a lot in the last 20 years. Twenty years ago, Google was a start-up company; YouTube didn’t exist; Facebook didn’t exist. Websites were static. Now many of us find it hard to imagine life without the internet. We get everything from maps to mail from the internet now.

            There are a lot of upsides to the internet. Some of you who are unable to be here are watching this service because of the internet. There are some significant downsides to the internet as well. There are all kinds of things that can take you right inside Satan’s throne room. Everything from extremist ideology to pornography to illicit affairs can be found on the internet. In some ways, because the internet is not far from us, we are like the people of Pergamum. We live beside Satan’s throne. It is a short walk from where we live to places where Satan reigns.

            The expectation of Jesus, however, is that even though we live next door to Satan’s throne, we will follow Jesus. We will live for Jesus.

            Notice how Jesus introduces himself to this church.

Revelation 2:13 (NIV)

12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword

            Jesus describes himself as the one “who has the sharp, double-edged sword. In chapter one and in Revelation 2:16 we see that sword coming out of his mouth. Jesus shows them this part of his character because they need to know the power of the words of Jesus. This is especially true because they live so close to Satan’s throne.

            The book of Hebrews says this.

Hebrews 4:12 (NIV)

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

            When you put that together with the characteristic that Jesus emphasizes about himself – You get that the words coming out of Jesus’ mouth are alive and active. It cuts sharply to the core issues. His words judge our thoughts and our attitudes.

            Jesus knew that the church of Pergamum needed to be reminded about the importance and power of his words. I want to come back to that in a moment – but let me tell you a little more about the church in Pergamum. Look what Jesus commends them for.

Revelation 2:13 (NIV)

13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

            It is obvious that the church has experienced persecution. They have been pressured into denying Jesus – and yet they have remained true to Him. Even when one of them, Antipas, was martyred, they did not back down. They remained true to his name.

            Can you imagine having one of the members of our church killed for their faith? Let’s say you hear this week that Kevin was arrested and killed for his faith. – Sorry to throw you under the bus, Kevin – but you would have a choice to make. Am I still going to be a follower of Jesus? Am I still going to be part of the church? The people of Pergamum said yes. They remained true to the name of Jesus.

            So, we are not talking about a lukewarm or uncommitted bunch of people. They have counted the cost. They are willing to risk their lives to follow Jesus. They are the kind of people that we would look at and call heroes. In some ways, they are. But look what Jesus says to them.

Revelation 2:14–15 (NIV)

14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

            Jesus says, “I have this against you. You hold to the teachings of Balaam. You hold to the teachings of the Nicolaitans.” You hold to their teaching. You are holding to bad theology.

            Wait a second, Jesus. The people in this church have faced down lions. They have had one of their members killed. They have not denied your name. Yet you are going to criticize their theology. What is up with that?

            There are a couple of things that Jesus knows that the church of Pergamum doesn’t seem to. Wrong belief often leads to wrong action. We will look at that in a moment. The other thing that Jesus knows is that these people are living next door to Satan, and Satan’s power is the power of the lie.

            Jesus was speaking to the people who were looking for ways to kill him. Notice what he says about Satan

John 8:44 (NIV)

44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

            Satan is a liar. When you believe his lies, you give him power over you. Jesus knew that the church of Pergamum, although committed to him, was buying into some lies that were going to let Satan run amok in their lives.

            Jesus mentions two examples of their bad theology. They are holding to the teachings of Balaam, and they are holding to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. We don’t know what the Nicolaitans taught, so I am not going to comment on them. We have an idea of what Balaam taught. His story is found in the book of Numbers, chapters 22-25.

            Balaam was a prophet of God. Balak, the Moabite king, wanted to hire him to curse Israel. Three times instead of cursing the people of Israel, he blessed them. It is a great story, which I don’t have time to go into. The upshot of the story is that Balaam couldn’t curse the Israelites because he could only say what God showed him to say.

Since he couldn’t curse them, but he wanted the pile of money that Balak was offering, he told the king, this is what you should do. Have your women seduce the men of Israel. Then have those women invite their men to make sacrifices to the Moabite gods.

            That is exactly what Balak the king did. While he couldn’t get Balaam to curse them – he figured out a way to pit the true God against the Israelites. He got them to do what God had commanded them not to do. He got them to compromise. God came and destroyed a portion of his people for the sins they had committed.

Numbers 31:16 (NIV) records

16 “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people.

            So, when Jesus says to the church in Pergamum

Revelation 2:14b (NIV)

There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.

            There are some amongst you who are Balaam – who are teaching the church to compromise. They are teaching the church to involve themselves in idolatry and sexual immorality. In other words, when it comes to confession of your faith, you are willing to hold onto it until death, but some of you are compromising in the way you live.

            The more things change the more they stay the same. Idolatry is anything that we put above God’s authority. It doesn’t have to be a carving on a shelf. It can be money, or power, or career – or anything else that has us saying no to God so that we can say yes to it.

            One of the biggest idols in our culture is sex. We are continually told that you can express your sexuality any way you want as long as it is between consenting adults. Even though God’s plan for sex to be expressed within the covenant of marriage.

            You will hear a lot of voices, some of them coming from within the church, that will tell you that it is alright to compromise. It is alright to go against what God has said and do what you want to do. But whenever you give in to the lure of idolatry and give anything other than God authority in your life – you know that it is going to bind you to itself, and you are going to be its prisoner.

            Just a side note. I want to nuance this idea of compromising. Some of the most ungracious, difficult people I have known would see themselves as uncompromising. When it comes to dealing with people, life is the art of the compromise. You want Chinese food for supper and I want Pizza – someone generally ends up compromising – and that is ok. If you want to be happily married, you both better learn to compromise. Part of learning to be gracious is learning to compromise on those things that are a matter of taste or preference.

            The kind of compromising we are talking about here – is your own personal integrity. You know something is wrong – but you do it anyway. Or more accurately, you know God said it is wrong, but you do it anyways. You lie or cheat or steal or get into relationships that you know you shouldn’t be in. That is the kind of compromising I am talking about.

            What does Jesus advise the people of Pergamum to do?

Revelation 2:16 (NIV)

16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

            Jesus says when you have compromised, repent. If you don’t repent, then I will fight against you. It is an awful thing to have Jesus fight against his own people. It happens to the proud. God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. It happens to the compromising. God withdraws his blessing.

            The words of Jesus have the power to unmask lies and set you free from the traps of the evil one. The words of Jesus have the power to cut the cords that bind you and inhibit you from being all that you are meant to be.

            But God can’t bless us when we buy into the lies of Satan. When we make something in our life an idol – we say we know better than God what it takes to live a full life. When we compromise in terms of our own behaviour – we are buying into the lie that immediate gratification is the way to real life. But it is not true. Jesus says if that is you – Repent.

Revelation 2:17 (NIV)

17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

            There has been a lot written about the hidden manna and the white stone. Most of it is speculation. What I think is obvious is that Jesus is promising spiritual nourishment and a special relationship to those who overcome.

            I don’t know where you find yourself today. Maybe you are in the place of the church at Pergamum. You love God. You would die for him. But that is not showing up in how you are living. God wants to set you free from the things that bind you.

            In the next few moments, I want to invite you to confess and repent of your sin. Again, make Jesus Lord of your life.

Sermon Questions May 29, 2022

The Church of Pergamum – Revelations 2:11-17


1. What are you thankful for today?

2. What are you praying about this week?

Digging In.

3. Read Revelation 2:11-17.

4. What are a few things that we know about the city of Pergamum from verse 13?

5. What do you think it means for Satan to have his throne in Pergamum? What would you expect to see if Satan had his throne in a particular place? Do you think that parts of the internet would fit those criteria?

6. As you read what Jesus says to the church in Pergamum, it is evident that it is Jesus’ expectation that we can live for him even in a place where Satan has his throne. What does that tell you about the Christian life?

7. Read Revelations 2:13 and 16 and Hebrews 4:12. Why do you think Jesus reveals this part of his character to the church of Pergamum?

8. Read verse 13. What does this tell us about the church in Pergamum?

9. Read verses 14-15. What does Jesus condemn within the church of Pergamum? How does this fit with being a church that is willing to die for him?

10. How does what Jesus said about the devil in John 8:44 shed light on why false belief is so problematic?

11. Read Numbers 25:1-2 and Numbers 31:16 – what does this tell us about Balaam’s advice to the king? How does this fit into the life of the church in Pergamum? (See verse 14)

12. Read verse 16. What does God call the church of Pergamum to do? What would it look like for Jesus to fight against his people?

13. How does one go about repenting?