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The Book of Revelation – Write Number Five

Rev Willem J.J. Glashouwer - 5 February 2020

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny your faith in Me even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you…” Revelation 2:12-14a NKJV

In some translations – like here in the New King James Version – the little word ‘and’ links all the seven letters to each other, like seven pearls in a chain. Now a letter is going to Pergamum, a university centre in antiquity. The largest library of the ancient world except for the one in Alexandria was located there, with over 250,000 parchment scrolls (the word ‘parchment’ is derived from ‘Pergamum’).

There was a temple dedicated to Asclepius, the god of medical science (the ‘Aesculapius’, the entwined serpent-symbol of the medical profession). This temple was well known for the great medical knowledge possessed by the priests and derived from the serpent god. There was an enormous altar for the chief Greek god, Zeus which is now displayed in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

It was the first city in Asia to openly support the Emperor cult. A temple was dedicated to ‘the divine Augustus and the goddess Roma’ in 29 BC. Needless to say, living in this city with such a dark spiritual atmosphere posed serious challenges for the followers of the Lord Jesus. It was not so much a commercial centre, but a centre of science, religion and politics, of sophisticated Greek culture, of noble humanism—Hellenism, as it was called, outwardly very refined, but full of subtle poison and hatred against Christians. “I know where you live,” Christ says, “where Satan has his throne.” This is how He describes this sophisticated centre, Pergamum.

Hellenism, as it was called, outwardly very refined, but full of subtle poison and hatred against Christians.

The church can become a synagogue of Satan; and the world, however civilized, can be a throne of Satan. Indeed, the devil rules the kingdoms of this earth. He was able to offer ‘all the kingdoms of the earth’ to Christ when he tempted Him in the desert. Matthew 4:8-11 “Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus *said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.”

Demonic angelic authorities, powers of darkness, appear to be behind the political authorities in several places in the Bible. The angel permitted to bring Daniel the vision about the future of his people was resisted twenty-one days by the prince of the Persian kingdom. It was only because Michael came to his aid that he was able to ‘break through’ to give Daniel the vision, even though he had already departed as soon as Daniel began to pray. He then had to go back to continue the fight with the ‘prince of Persia’, and he already knew that, after that, the ‘prince of Greece’ would come, Daniel 10. Michael is the angel called by name, who stands at the side of the people of Israel in the heavenly realms. Daniel 12:1-2 GNT says: “The angel wearing linen clothes said, “At that time the great angel Michael, who guards your people [Israel], will appear. Then there will be a time of troubles, the worst since nations first came into existence. When that time comes, all the people of your nation whose names are written in God’s book will be saved. Many of those who have already died will live again: some will enjoy eternal life, and some will suffer eternal disgrace.”

Judgment will strike the powers of darkness however—judgment from Christ’s mouth: the Word as a sharp two-edged sharp sword that will slay the Antichrist, says the Apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:8. His appearance is characterised by Him carrying a sharp double-edged sword, says the Apostle John in Revelation 1:16. And now this sharp double-edged sword is directed to a church that has become open and accessible and weak in its attitude towards the pagan way of life.

It is a great comfort to know that Jesus knows where you live, and that He is aware of how difficult your life is and how much you are surrounded by demonic powers. He sees you in your most difficult circumstances, and knows you through and through. He is very near to you and loves you. And He is able and willing to carry you through.

However, He observes His church in this world also going along with what is in fact pagan culture and philosophy, however culturally sophisticated and scientifically packaged they present themselves. And He strongly opposes to that. Judaism and Christianity collided strongly with Hellenism—Greek humanism in which man occupies centre stage instead of God.

“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. 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.” NIV

Antipas, the martyr, is referred to by name. His name literally means: ‘against everything’. This is apparently the impression he gave of a Christian who was against everything and all. Yes, Antipas did not play along with the crowd. He did not play to the gallery. He dared to stand alone, not following the majority in wrongdoing, as Exodus 23:2 says: “You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice.” Antipas were alleged to have been told at his trial: ‘The whole world is against you!’ And he was alleged to have replied: ‘Then I turn against the whole world.’ Antipas did live in the world (Romans 12:2; Galatians 6:14; 1 Corinthians 4:11–13; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15–17 and 3:1) but he did not feel at home in the present world, as Demas did. 2 Timothy 4:10 “…Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me…” says Paul.

However, opposition—being against all and everything—is not the characteristic of the true Christian in the world. Being a faithful witness is the characteristic. Matthew 10:32-33 “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in Heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in Heaven.” And 2 Timothy 2:1-2 “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”

However, opposition—being against all and everything—is not the characteristic of the true Christian in the world. Being a faithful witness is the characteristic.

‘My faithful witness’: how wonderful to be able to hear that from the lips of the Faithful Witness! Revelation 1:5 “…and from Jesus Christ, the Faithful Witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth…” ‘Nevertheless, I have a few things against you…’ Not all were there like Antipas. There were also some who adhered to the ‘teaching of Balaam’. Read Numbers chapters 22-24. What was that exactly?

Balaam was hired to curse Israel. But standing on a hilltop in the Sinai-desert, looking at the tents and the hundreds of thousands Israelites he exclaimed: ‘“How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced? “As I see him from the top of the rocks, and I look at him from the hills; Behold, a people who dwells apart, and will not be reckoned among the nations.’ Biblically speaking there are all the nations of the world (today coming together in the United Nations) plus one more nation: Israel, which stands alone and shall not be reckoned among the nations of the world.

Balaam was unable to curse the people of God, however much he would have liked to do so. He was unable to find anything against them in the end, but his irrational hatred nevertheless sought ways of putting these people down, to render them helpless and powerless. So what did he advise Balak, the king of Moab? “Invite the Israelites to your wonderful feasts, to your sacrificial rites, and then have a group of girls rush in. Soon you will see what will be left of this people’s principled attitude[1]—prostitution and offerings to idols.” Balaam’s evil scheme was to seduce Israelite men into pagan and immoral practices thus turning them from walking in the light to sinning in the dark.

But what does light have to do with darkness? “While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the Lord was angry against Israel. The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel,” says Numbers 25:1-4.

Joshua 24:2, 9-10 and 14: “Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River [Euphrates], namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods… “Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel, and he sent and summoned Balaam the son of Beor to curse you. But I was not willing to listen to Balaam. So he had to bless you, and I delivered you from his hand… “Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River [Euphrates] and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” Deuteronomy 23:5 “Nevertheless, the Lord your God was not willing to listen to Balaam, but the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because the Lord your God loves you.”

2 Corinthians 6:14–18: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership has righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the Temple of God with idols? For we are the Temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.

“And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. “And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty. “

It is God’s will that you be sanctified, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 GNT: “God wants you to be holy and completely free from sexual immorality. Each of you should know how to live with your wife in a holy and honourable way, not with a lustful desire, like the heathen who do not know God.”

In our modern days, meat is not bought from a butcher connected to an idolatrous temple. Yet, this ‘mingling with the world’ can take on many forms—even today. We see it happening around the world, connected as we are to the modern social media and internet. A form of ‘playing along with the world’ can be enjoying and giving your body and senses over to its music, to its parties, to its sexual morals, to its occultism and syncretism. Even in churches. ‘Dialogue’ is the magic word—talking to representatives of other world religions as to people who are on the same religious foot as we Christians are. Learning to practice Hindu and Buddhist meditation techniques such as yoga. Approving sexual intercourse before and outside of marriage, ‘free love’. Considering homosexual and heterosexual behaviour to be on par with the love between a man and a woman. Cohabitation in “lat” relationships (‘living apart together’) with each of the partners living alone and by themselves but them nevertheless are having a sexual relationship. The use of stimulating ‘mind expanding’ chemical substances, drugs, etcetera. There are those who indulge in the above all the while and nevertheless continue to claim to be a true believer, a true Christian. That is impossible!

At the end of the great list of heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 there is a little remark: ‘the world was not worthy of them.’ That is why they wandered around like foreigners. Therefore, says Hebrews 12:1, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, such as Antipas and Polycarp and all the martyrs of church history, let us lay all sin aside, and everything that hinders or easily entangles us. Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us—our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and Perfecter of faith—while we strive for the prize of divine calling.

Philippians 2:14-16a GNT “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may be innocent and pure as God’s perfect children, who live in a world of corrupt and sinful people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky, as you offer them the message of life. If you do so, I shall have reason to be proud of you on the Day of Christ…”

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