Every believer today is confronted with many voices claiming to speak the truth and calling for allegiance. We, as believers, must be on guard and keep our faith in Christ and His Word strong. We must be commmitted to truth!
A similar situation existed in the early church. John wrote seven letters to the churches. The third letter was to Pergamum. This ancient city is in modern Turkey about 20 miles inland from the Aegean Sea. It was a center of idolatry, false teaching, and persecution of Christians.
John recorded the words of Jesus to this church. Jesus deals with the religious and political conditions in the city and the spiritual life of the church. He evaluates how they are doing given the conditions of the times. We can learn several truths from this letter.
One, we must be faithful in spite of persecution.
The saints were faithful in spite of persecution. One of their number was named Antipas. Jesus calls him "My witness, My faithful one." He was a martyr for the cause of Christ. Little is known about this early martyr. It is enough, however, to know that he died for his faith.
Through the centuries, many have been killed because of their witness. Most of the time, these martyrs are unheralded on earth. Without doubt, they are highly celebrated in heaven. When people face persecution now, they must be faithful to God.
Not all opposition results in the death of the saints. Believers suffer all sorts of persecution, from ridicule to physical pain. Jesus told His disciples that they would suffer persecution. And some will even think they are dong God a service when they persecute believers. We cannot control what ungodly people will do, but we can be faithful!
Two, we must avoid false teachings! We cannot compromise with the world.
Although some saints were faithful in the face of persecution, other people held to ideas like Balaam's in the Old Testament. Balaam sought to persuade Balak to put a stumbling block before Israel. Balaam wanted Israel to eat things offered to idols and to commit acts of immorality. In the time of John similar teachings were promoted by the Nicolaitans. Some people at Pergamum had reached the conclusion that it was best to compromise with the world.
The teachings may be different, but there are always false teachers around. And whatever they teach, they want believers to compromise with the world. As true believers, we want to relate to the world and engage them in conversation. But we do not want to take on their habits and actions. To do so ultimately destroys our testimony.
As believers in Christ, we base our faith on the Word of God. When we are confronted with error, we turn to God's Word for the answers that we need. If any teaching does not harmonize with the Word, we must avoid it. It is important to constantly study God's Word and know what it teaches.
Three, when believers stumble, there is a way out-repentance.
Jesus issues a warning to the compromisers. He says (verse 16), "'Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.'" Jesus will come to war against the compromisers. They will face severe judgment.
The command to repent, however, gives hope to those who have stumbled into compromise. Jesus would not challenge them to repent unless repentance were possible. So, those who have stumbled have a way out of their darkness. They can repent and turn again to Christ in full and uncompromising faith.
Four, those who overcome will be fully rewarded.
Jesus said (verse 17), "'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.'" The reward is threefold:
First, while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, God supplied manna as their food. Looking back, God commanded Moses to put manna in a jar and keep it in the sanctuary (Exodus 16:32-34; Hebrews 9:4). This manna became known as hidden manna. The hidden manna of the Old Testament is a type of Christ who is the hidden manna of the New Testament.
Second, those who overcome will receive a white stone. Along with many others, I view the white stone as representing acquittal. In John's day a white pebble was used in judicial matters as a vote of "not guilty." Jesus challenged the compromisers to repent. When they repent, they will be acquitted.
Third, Christ promises the overcomers "a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it." This new name may be Christ's hidden name or a new name for the believer. Either way, the believer is fully identified with Christ.
The churches across Asia faced difficult times and often were persecuted. The saints were often confronted with false teaching. Christ exhorted them to avoid these teachings. Those who had succumbed must repent.
These churches had strengths and weaknesses, but Christ encouraged them to listen to the Spirit. Those who listened and would overcome would be greatly rewarded. Thus, we must pray, "Lord, help me to listen!" The Spirit and the Word will faithfully guide us in all things.