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04.25.10 We Are the New Temple, Revelation 2:12-17 Sermon Summary

by on April 26, 2010

(1) Where is the throne of Satan today? In the third letter to the churches of Revelation 2:12-17, the throne of Satan is in the city of Pergamum. “Satan” is a Hebrew word referring to God’s Adversary, a personification of the force that opposes God. In Pergamum, there was plenty of opposition to the God revealed in Christ.

While other cities also housed temples to the goddess Roma, Pergamum was the official regional center of emperor worship. The city also had a mountain which contained several other heathen shrines. And the worship of Asclepius Soter, the god of healing, was very popular in Pergamum.

(2) The church in Pergamum is criticized for tolerating those who eat food sacrificed to idols and those involved with sexual immorality. Both of these accusations are types for the kinds of activities that threaten the faithfulness of God’s people. We’ll look at sexual immorality next week.

With regards to food sacrificed to idols, the apostle Paul walked a fine line. On one hand, he argued, we know there are no other gods but the one revealed in Christ, and so food sacrificed to idols isn’t actually sacrificed to anything. The food is fine and available to the Christian. On the other hand, if you’re sitting at table with someone who doesn’t realize this theological truth, and for whom it would be scandalous if you ate such food, then for the sake of that person’s conscience, you should abstain. Paul’s ethic of love trumps doctrinal purity.

But here in Pergamum, there is no gray area. Because the church in Pergamum is vulnerable and constantly threatened, it is imperative that the people do not exercise their theological freedom and risk obfuscating their testimony about the God revealed in Christ. They are not allowed to eat food sacrificed to idols, and that they do so, draws criticism from Christ.

(3) Jesus commends the Christians in Pergamum for their faithfulness despite the fact that Antipas was martyred among them. Antipas is the only named martyr in the Book of Revelation, a notable detail since biblical scholarship until recently thought that Revelation was primarily about encouragement for a violently persecuted church. And yet only Antipas is identified.

He is, in fact, the second martyr named in Revelation—Jesus being the first. And John refers to both Jesus and Antipas as “faithful witnesses.” Jesus faithfully witnessed to God, and Antipas to Jesus, and both died as a result of their faithfulness.

We make heroes of the martyrs, and it is appropriate that we do so. They died as a consequence of their faith. They were courageous in their dying, bearing witness unto the very end. And many of them died horrific, violent, gruesome deaths: stoning, being torn apart by ravenous beasts, burned alive, beheading, and of course, crucifixion. Martyrs, ancient and contemporary, deserve our admiration and our gratitude.

I think we make heroes out of martyrs for another reason, one less conscious and not as edifying. Is it possible that we lionize martyrs because doing so distracts us from the demands of the Gospel upon our own lives? Jesus said of all his disciples that they must “take up their crosses and follow” him. He says we will drink of the same cup and be baptized with the same baptism as he, the cup of salvation through the baptismal life of service to others.

Maybe we make such a big deal out of those who, like Jesus and Antipas, actually die, against their own will but as a consequence of their faithfulness, so that don’t have to contemplate our own calling to die daily in service to others.

(4) Pergamum contained the throne of Satan. As listen to this letter today, it reminds me that we all have thrones of Satan in our lives, places that are still adversarial to God. Like the city of Pergamum, we need to hear Jesus’ word, to have him come with the double edged sword, to liberate us from these thrones. Hebrews 4:12 says, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul and spirit, joints and marrow, as it judges the thoughts and purposes of the heart.” We need to hear that word. . .

We also, as they were told in Pergamum, need to overcome. We need to be faithful witnesses like Antipas. In ancient times, judgments were cast with either black or white stones. Jesus says those faithful witnesses who listen to his word and overcome the thrones of Satan will receive the white stone of acquittal. And as these stones, all God’s faithful witnesses, overcome the thrones of Satan, in their place will be the new temple of God. 1 Peter 2:4-5 beckons us to, “come to Christ, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built* into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Questions for Further Reflection

  • The ethics of Paul and Pergamum conflict with one another. In your life, how has the faithfulness of your behavior ever changed and been subject to the circumstances of your life?
  • In what ways are you being called to be a faithful witness? You’re not likely to face death for such faithfulness, but how are you being called to die to yourself in order that you might live to God?

For a discussion on prayer for healing, check out the sermon scraps.

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