Introduction to the Pergamum Letter
The letter to Pergamum is quite different from the letter to Smyrna. Although they are under similar pressures, the church at Pergamum is beginning to give in to the pressures of its pagan environment and to compromise its faithfulness to Christ. Some believers at Pergamum have accepted the teaching of the Nicolaitans, which the Ephesian church rejected. The Nicolaitans are encouraging the way of syncretism, that is, it is possible to worship Jesus and to engage in the worship of pagan gods as well. The Old Testament is abundantly clear that this road of compromise is unacceptable to God. In Revelation 2:14, Jesus compares the teaching that has led them astray to the teaching of Balaam in the book of Numbers. Even though the church at Pergamum has strengths (2:13), Jesus’ words to them show that he is deeply concerned about the false teaching, which some of them have both received and taught to others. Therefore, Jesus is coming soon to deliver his church from false teaching by judging those who refuse to heed his call to repent. The promises of Jesus at the close of the Pergamum letter are mysterious promises of great reward for those who remain faithful to him, and his teaching, in the midst of a world that encourages compromise.
The Message of the Pergamum Letter
The letter to Pergamum presents a challenge to that church that is also relevant today. The teaching of Balaam that has taken root at Pergamum encourages a road of compromise that will resurface in Thyatira. This Nicolaitan road of compromise helps Christians to preserve their lives in the face of persecution and to succeed in a pagan environment. They know what happened to Antipas, who did not compromise and died for his faith (2:13). The Christians of Pergamum are under intense pressure to conform to the expectations of their pagan environment. Their city is the very throne and dwelling place of Satan (2:13). We would all like to think that we would remain faithful to Christ in the face of intense pressures to compromise. The best way to prepare to be faithful to Christ in trying times is to be growing in faithfulness to Christ at all times. The rewards promised by Christ remind us that the temporary rewards of Balaam’s road of compromise cannot hold a candle to the wonderful, lasting rewards that he promises to his faithful ones. Furthermore, the road of compromise is not the safe road that it appears to be. Its followers may escape from the temporal threats posed by Satan and his followers, but they will not escape from the judgment of Jesus. The challenges of the Pergamum letter for the church today emerge even more clearly when it is read with the Thyatira letter.
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