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THE CHURCH IN PERGAMOS
Scripture Reading: Rev. 2:12-17
The church in Ephesus was the church at the end of the apostolic age, the church before the apostle John passed away, the church which John himself referred to as in the last time, and the church spoken of in 2 Peter and 2 Timothy. This we have seen. Then we saw in the preceding chapter, the age wherein the church was persecuted, which is the prophecy of the church in Smyrna as shown to us by the Lord. Now we will look at the church in Pergamos.
The name Pergamos means "marriage'' or "union.'' Here we see how the church has taken a turn. I think the believers at that time, when they read concerning Pergamos, probably did not understand what this letter meant. But when we look back upon the history of the church it is quite clear. Gibbon, a historian, said that if they had killed all the Christians in the city of Rome, the city would have become uninhabited. The greatest persecution in the entire world was not able to destroy the church. Therefore, Satan changed his method of attack. The world not only ceased to oppose the church, but even the greatest empire on this earth—Rome—accepted Christianity as the state religion. It is said that Constantine had a dream in which he saw a cross with the words written on it, "By this sign conquer.'' He discovered that the cross was a sign of Christianity; so he accepted Christianity as the state religion. He encouraged people to be baptized, and whoever was baptized was given two white robes and a few pieces of silver. The church was united with the world; therefore, the church became fallen. In the previous chapter we read that the church of Smyrna was the church of suffering and that the Lord had nothing to say against her. Here Pergamos and the world are united to become the biggest state religion. According to men, this would be an advancement; yet the Lord is displeased. When the church unites herself with the world, the testimony of the church is wrecked. The church is a sojourner in the world. It is all right for the boat to be on the water, but not for the water to be in the boat.
"He who has the sharp two-edged sword...'' (Rev. 2:12). The Lord speaks of Himself as the One who has the sword with two edges. Here is judgment.
The church has fallen, but this does not mean that the church in that age had no testimony at all. No matter what circumstance she is in, the reality of the church is always there. Pergamos is the church which continues immediately after Smyrna. In what kind of situation is she? In verse 13 the Lord said, "I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is.'' The Lord recognizes the difficulty of Pergamos's situation. Since she dwells in the very place of Satan's throne, it is rather difficult for her to maintain a testimony. Here is a person who is very special, that is, "Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you.'' We cannot find his name in history; therefore, since this is a prophecy, we must discover the meaning from the name itself. Anti means "against''; pas means "all.'' Antipas is a faithful man who is against all; he opposes all things. This does not mean that he intentionally creates troubles regardless of the situation, but that he stands on the side of God to oppose all things. Of course, this person must become a martyr. History does not know his name, but the Lord knows.
Regarding this faithful man who is slain, in verse 13 the Lord said, "You hold fast My name and have not denied My faith.'' Two matters are mentioned: the Lord's name and the Lord's faith. The children of God are those whom God has chosen out from among the Gentiles unto the name of the Lord. There is a basic difference between the church and religion. In religion it is sufficient to accept teachings, but in the church it is meaningless if one does not believe in the Lord. The name of the Lord represents the Lord Himself. This is a special feature. Not only so, this name also tells us that He has been here and has gone back, He died and lives again; therefore, He leaves a name in our midst. If we lose the name of our Lord, we no longer have the testimony. Pergamos receives the name of the Lord. There is one thing to which the children of God must especially take heed: We must manifest ourselves as those who are in the name of the Lord. This name is a special name, a name which will keep us from losing the testimony.
He also said, "You...have not denied My faith.'' The word "faith'' here in Greek is pistin. The meaning of this word is "belief.'' It is not an ordinary belief, but the unique belief, the belief which is distinct from all other beliefs. The Lord said that Pergamos had not denied His unique faith. The church is not something of philosophy, natural science, ethics, or psychology. These are not things of the church. The church is something of belief, something of faith. "You...have not denied My faith.'' What does this mean? This means, "You have not denied believing in Me.'' The children of God must maintain this belief. Our belief in the Lord Jesus must not change at all. This faith is what separates us from the world. So "You hold fast My name and have not denied My faith''—these two points are the things for which the Lord praised her.
But I have a few things against you, that you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat idol sacrifices and to commit fornication'' (v. 14). Balaam was a Gentile; we do not know why God also called him a prophet. As in the case of Saul, the Spirit of God moved him but did not enter into him. Because the people of Israel were continually victorious, Balak was afraid and called for Balaam. He said to him, "You are a prophet. Please curse the people of Israel.'' Balaam coveted the money offered to him and was desirous to go, and though God hindered him at first, He later permitted him. But Balaam could find no way to curse the people of Israel. Since he had accepted Balak's money and had done nothing in return, he felt uncomfortable. Therefore, he conceived a scheme in which the Moabite women would draw near to the people of Israel. The people of Israel took these Moabite women and were united with them. These Gentile women also brought their idols with them, causing the people of Israel not only to commit fornication but also to worship idols. God was angry and slew 24,000 Israelites, but Moab was preserved. In Numbers 25, we see that the Moabite women were united with the Israelites, but it is not until chapter thirty-one that we discover the scheme was designed by Balaam.
God shows us what Pergamos is: The meaning of Pergamos is marriage to the world. Originally, the world opposed the church; now the world and the church are married. I have said many times that the meaning of the "church'' (ekklesia) is the called-out ones; not united, not placed in the world, but separated, called out—this is the church. The method of Balaam is to destroy the separation between the church and the world, and the result is idol worship.
Here we must pay special attention to two things—fornication and idol worship. It is very strange that these two are put together. In 1 Corinthians these two matters are also mentioned together. In the flesh these are the two things which God hates, and in spiritual things these are also the two things which God hates. Hear what James 4:4 says about this: "Do you not know that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?'' To be united with the world is what God hates. Mammon also stands in opposition to God. "You cannot serve God and mammon'' (Matt. 6:24). Men either serve one or the other. Here we see a most important matter: Mammon stands against God. Many idols exist only because of mammon. Today no Christian would kill people or worship idols, but if we covet money and trust in the power of mammon, it is equivalent to idol worship. Mammon is the principle of idols, and God desires to separate men from mammon. Fornication is connected with idol worship, and coveting money is connected with union with the world. I like to place the opposite sides in the Bible before you. If you can see the negative side, then you can see the positive side. The Bible always puts Satan in opposition to Christ, the flesh in opposition to the Holy Spirit, and the world and mammon in opposition to God the Father. The world is opposed to the Father. According to 1 John 2:15, "If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.'' Mammon stands against God. Whenever man serves mammon, he cannot serve God.
The work of Balaam is to unite the world with the church. The need for Constantine to exalt us is the teaching of Balaam. Nothing is more difficult than keeping the work of Balaam from getting in. Today the children of God all want to be great, to have more, and to pay no attention to holiness and cleanliness. Thus, they yield to sins, they yield to the teaching of Balaam, and they allow the Lord's name to be denied.
The Lord specifically mentions Balaam in this epistle. Balaam was the first to make money from his gifts. There are several passages in the New Testament which speak of Balaam. Second Peter 2:15 says that Balaam "loved the wages of unrighteousness.'' Jude 11 indicates that Balaam was one who was greedy for reward. Let us consider this. Do you think it would be possible for the church at Corinth to invite Paul and yet first discuss the matter of reward? Do you think the church in Jerusalem signed a contract with Peter for a certain amount of compensation every year? We absolutely cannot conceive of such things happening. Originally, those who worked for God depended upon God for their living; they asked nothing from man and they would not accept money from the Gentiles (3 John 7). But during the time of Constantine, all those who served God received salaries from the state treasury. It was a little after A.D. 300 when this practice began. When everyone received a salary, the method of Balaam came in. Balaam's method has no place in God's plans. If you asked the apostles how much salary they received each month, would this not be a joke? But today this condition has become commonplace. If we can trust in God, then we go to work; if we cannot trust in God, then we do not go to work. We must pay special attention to this matter before the Lord.
Immediately following Revelation 2:14, the Nicolaitans are mentioned again. "In the same way...''—these words especially form a link with the preceding words. The Lord shows His disapproval of the teaching of Balaam; in the same way the Lord disapproves of the teaching of the Nicolaitans. In the Bible God Himself has ordained what the church should be like. Read Matthew 20:25-28: "But Jesus called them to Him and said, You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever wants to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.'' Do you see? The church is established by the Lord; a class of princes and those who are great is not permitted. The Lord said that whoever wants to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever is the servant is the chief. Greatness is not decided on the basis of position, but on the basis of service. If you look into Matthew 23:8-11, it is even more evident. The basic principle of the church is: All are brothers; there are no rabbis, no instructors, no fathers.
When Constantine accepted Christianity, the teaching of Balaam occurred and the teaching of the Nicolaitans appeared. We see here the system of the fathers. Among the many fathers, the one who stands above them all is the pope. When anyone kisses his feet, he must cry, "My Lord.'' At the same time there are high officials in the Vatican, and many countries are represented by ambassadors and ministers. There are kings and high officials; there are those who are called father and those who are called rabbi. This is the teaching of the Nicolaitans which we have seen. Those who have position and reputation in the world must be careful not to bring the things of the world into the church. If you cannot call the humble one who sits beside you a brother, something is wrong with you. When you are sitting among the brothers and sisters, and yet you cannot be a brother or sister, then the Nicolaitans appear. The word laos in the original Greek word nikaolaos not only means laity (common people), but it also means laymen in contrast with experts and specialists. For example, the medical doctors are specialists, and those who are not are called laymen. When a carpenter meets another carpenter, they are of the same trade and both experts. When he meets one who is not a carpenter, he calls him a layman or one who is outside the trade. Nicolait means to conquer the laymen, indicating that there is a group of people who are experts, that is, men inside the trade, while the rest are laymen, that is, men outside the trade. The Lord says that this is what He is "against.''
The condition of the church in Ephesus and that of the church in Pergamos are different. The church in Ephesus only has the behavior of the Nicolaitans, while the church in Pergamos has the teaching of the Nicolaitans. It takes some time for behavior to become a teaching. If a certain behavior is manifested and then a doctrine is preached, this involves not only the ability to behave, but also the ability to produce a theory based on that behavior. This is a further step. Behavior comes before teaching. When teaching appears, that is quite serious. Several years ago I met a church member who took a concubine. Someone asked me to advise him. Not only did he think that it was all right to take a concubine, but he also brought out examples in the Bible to cover his sin. Taking a concubine is behavior; quoting the Bible becomes a teaching. So likewise today, there is the open teaching of the Nicolaitans. How did Pergamos form this teaching? We have already said that after Constantine accepted Christianity as the state religion, the church became married to the world. As long as one was a Roman, he could be baptized; hence, the church was filled with unbelievers. Originally, only brothers were in the church, and all the brothers were priests. Then a mixed multitude came in. To ask them to serve God was impossible. For convenience sake then, they chose a group of people, saying, "You attend to the spiritual matters; the others can still be the common people, the laymen.'' Many of those who became church members did not know the Lord Jesus at all; therefore, those who knew the Lord Jesus became the experts. As a result, the Nicolaitans appeared. This is the inevitable result of a marriage between the church and the world. What the Nicolaitans did was only a kind of behavior in Ephesus, but in Pergamos it became a kind of teaching. Thereafter, the church became the business of the experts, not the laymen. It became a teaching that it is all right for men not to be spiritual, that spiritual affairs can be entrusted to the care of the experts, and that the common people may just attend to secular affairs. It became a doctrine that there are two kinds of people in the church: Those who undertake spiritual affairs and those who take care of secular things. For the ordinary, common people, it is enough just to attend the meetings; they need not care about other things. If someone tried to bring in the principles of meeting in 1 Corinthians 14, it would not work. The doctrine of Balaam brought in the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
I believe this matter is what the Lord hates the most; therefore, we have to pay special attention to it. I recognize the matter of the ministry. I also acknowledge that Paul engaged in tent-making at the same time, and also that Peter, James, and John devoted themselves entirely to preaching. But today what we call the position of the brothers is not related to the position of the ministry. In the local church, the brothers of the locality should be the deacons and the elders. All the brothers and sisters should take care of spiritual matters; they are the priests. The elders should not do everything for them; the elders only "oversee.'' As for the workers, when they come to the church, they have only the position of a brother. This is where the difference between the Nicolaitans and the brothers lies. The Bible shows us that all the children of the Lord testify, but the apostles testify more. The difference is a matter of degree, not of nature. The nature is identical; only the degree is different. But the teaching of the Nicolaitans changes this—spiritual affairs are taken care of by a special class. This is rebuked by God, for if this is the case, the church may be worldly and content just to have a few spiritual deacons. Several especially spiritual people will be selected from the church to take care of the spiritual affairs. They will become another class to undertake all the spiritual things. The system of fathers of the world church, the clergy system of the state church, and the pastoral system of the independent churches are all the same in nature. They are all Nicolaitans. In the Bible there are only brothers. There is the gift of a pastor, but no system of pastors. The pastoral system is man's tradition. If the children of God are not willing to return to the position of that in the beginning, no matter what they do, it will not be right. The church must not unite with the world and must not receive unbelievers into the church. Otherwise, it will be easy to accept the teaching of the Nicolaitans. People must be separated from the world before they can be brought into the church. Whenever we allow an unbeliever to come into the church, the church is no longer the church, but the world. The holiness and separation of the church must be maintained at any cost.
"Repent therefore; but if not, I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war with them with the sword of My mouth'' (Rev. 2:16). Here the Lord speaks very strong words. If they will not repent, He will punish them with the sword of His mouth—that is, He will punish and judge those who rebel against Him. We pray God that there will be no Nicolaitans among us! I feel that if the church is spiritual, then Nicolaitans cannot be produced. Once the church becomes worldly, the Nicolaitans appear. God's requirement in the beginning for the people of Israel was that the whole nation be priests. God separated the Levites to be priests because the people of Israel sinned. When the church became worldly, the matter of serving God was committed to a few people. Now God wants all the people in the church to do the spiritual things.
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give of the hidden manna, and to him I will give a white stone, and upon the stone a new name written, which no one knows except he who receives it'' (v. 17). Two things are promised to the overcomer—the hidden manna and the white stone. The hidden manna and the manna in the wilderness are two different things. When the people of Israel were in the wilderness, manna came down from heaven daily for them to eat. Then Moses told them to take a golden pot, fill it with an omer of manna, and keep it in the ark. When later generations would ask about the matter, they could tell them how God sent down manna from heaven to feed them while they were in the wilderness. They had the manna in the ark as evidence (Exo. 16:14-35). Those of later generations who did not know what manna was could be shown the manna in the ark. Then they would know. But those who had eaten of the manna would have another feeling towards the hidden manna. They had known the taste; thus, when they saw it again, they would have a kind of recollection. Those who had not tasted it would not have such a recollection, even though they knew what it was. To him who overcomes, the Lord will give to eat of the hidden manna. This means they will have recollections.
All our experiences before God are valuable and will not be lost. Many brothers ask me whether what they have passed through before God will be of any use in eternity. If you know the meaning of the hidden manna, you will know whether or not these will be of any use. If we have the opportunity to see the "hidden manna,'' then we will be able to review the "daily manna'' once more. Whatever difficulty we go through and whatever tears we shed today will become our review. To me the hidden manna is the daily manna. Those who have never seen the manna will not have any recollection of it when they see the hidden manna on that day. Although they know the leading of His grace, they have not eaten of it. But those who have eaten of it will be full of recollections. The hidden manna is a very great principle in the Bible and also a great treasure. One day we shall eat of the heavenly, hidden manna. If we do not have any scars here, we are not overcomers. If we have never passed through things here, there will be no recollections or retasting of experiences in the future, even if we are given the hidden manna. Never say that what we encounter today is meaningless. No experience is a lost experience. On that day we all will be able to recall our experiences. We must not say that everything in the kingdom is the same. No, it is not the same! Our experience on this earth is related to what we will enjoy in that day. The hidden manna is known to those who know and unknown to those who do not know. Today we pass through hardships and tribulations, but on that day the Lord will wipe away our tears. How can those who have no tears know the preciousness of the wiping away of tears?
There is another reward, that is, the white stone, and the overcomer's new name is written upon the stone. The Lord gives him a new name which corresponds with his condition before the Lord. A brother wants me to change his name for him, but I do not know whether the name will need to be changed again after I have changed it. The Lord writes the name on the white stone; only the Lord and you will know it. The overcomer does not receive a special name; rather, he receives the name which he deserves. I hope that the Lord will open our eyes that we may know the way of the overcomer and that we may receive the hidden manna and the new name.