Thursday, May 29, 2003

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

Letters to Pergamum and Sardis

For those who would like to start at the very beginning of this series, click here.

A comparison of the letters to Ephesus and Thyatira is instructive concerning the balance between upholding high standards of righteousness and doctrine (Ephesus) and demonstrating God's love and mercy (Thyatira). A comparison of the letters to Smyrna and Philadelphia demonstrates God's sovereignty over the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Today we look at Pergamum and Sardis. Here we have the weakened and near dead churches.

Here are the two letters side by side:

Pergamum

Sardis

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

This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who has the sharp double-edged sword: 

‘I know where you reside, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you continue to cling to my name and you have not denied your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was killed in your city where Satan lives. But I have a few things against you: you have some people there who follow the teaching of Balaam, who instructed Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel so they would eat food sacrificed to idols and commit sexual immorality. In the same way, there are also some among you who follow the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore, repent! If not, I will come against you quickly and make war against those people with the sword of my mouth. The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will give him some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and on that stone will be written a new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it.’ (Revelation 2:12-17)

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write the following: 

This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: 

‘I know your deeds, that you have a reputation that you are alive, but in reality you are dead. Wake up then, and strengthen what remains that was about to die, because I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Therefore, remember what you received and heard, and obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will never know at what hour I will come against you. But you have a few individuals in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes, and they will walk with me dressed in white, because they are worthy. The one who conquers will be dressed like them in white clothing, and I will never erase his name from the book of life, but will declare his name before my Father and before his angels. The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ (Revelation 3:1-6)

 

And here are the essential points of contact between these two:

Pergamum

Sardis

  • Holds fast to the Name and does not deny the faith.
  • Have some who hold to false teaching
  • They can expect judgment against the false teachers at any time.
  • Have a reputation for being alive, but is dead
  • Have a few who have not soiled their garments.
  • Will have no idea when judgment might come.

As I look at these two churches I see a transition from weak to dying. I also see the future troubles of an uncorrected church at Thyatira. Whereas, the Ephesian church was in danger of being removed for lack of love, the Thyatiran church was in danger of slipping into the church at Pergamum, which in turn is in danger of slipping into the church at Sardis. The Thyatiran church had great love and demonstrated mercy so that sinners felt welcome. But because it tolerated immorality among professing believers, that number could grow and soon there would be many who held to false teachings, as in Pergamum. By the time we get to Sardis, only a few would not have soiled their garments.

Pergamum, at least, knows the Savior and understands the dynamics of a life of faith. Sardis is a church of appearances only. We are not told the base of their reputation for life, nor among whom they had it. I would guess that they had the admiration of other churches. To extrapolate it to today's culture, Sardis would be the large church with lots of programs and fellowship, but no teaching or leadership that pierces the heart and steers it to fundamental change.

Both Pergamum and Sardis are told they can expect judgment to come against the ungodly in their midst. We must view this judgment in terms of mercy. If the cancer in the body is not removed, the body will die.

When I combine the churches of Ephesus, Thyatira, Pergamum and Sardis, I reflect on what would mark a good and effective church in today's world--or at least the US. I picture a place where any could enter and find a welcome. The list would include couples living together, but not married. It would include gays and lesbians. It would include druggies and alcoholics. It would include single moms and dads. All would be able to come and meet Jesus, the Savior of their lives. It takes hearts with big compassion to create such an open environment. But, often those with big enough hearts do not have the heart to also say, "Its time to leave the lifestyles behind and live according to the biblical model." But that is what salvation is partly about, the ability to discern right from wrong and choose the right over the wrong. It is not just heaven, it is a new life in this age as well. The manifest presence of God through the Holy Spirit is a powerful force for changed lives.

It is interesting that the church at Pergamum would have an idea when judgment would come. Sardis would not have a clue. This reminds me of Paul's words to the Thessalonians:

Now on the topic of times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you. For you know quite well that the day of the Lord will come in the same way as a thief in the night. Now when they are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the darkness for the day to overtake you like a thief would. For you all are sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness. So then we must not sleep as the rest, but must stay alert and sober. For those who sleep sleep at night and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But since we are of the day, we must stay sober by putting on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet our hope for salvation. For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)

Here Paul speaks of the world being taken unawares by the return of the Lord. But Paul tells the saints that they the return of the Lord will not be totally unexpected. We can stay alert and perhaps discern the general season of His return.

Friday: Laodicea compared with all the others

<>< Test Everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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