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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Living Where Satan has his Throne
Text:Revelation 2:12-17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 56:1,5                                                                                            

Ps 81:7,8,9

Reading – Numbers 25

Ps 91:1,3,4,5

Sermon – Revelation 2:12-17

Ps 35:1,2,11

Hy 55:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, today we’re going on a field trip to Asia Minor, to a place called Pergamos. This city was in the northwest corner of the province, and it was for a long time the capital. The name Pergamos means “mountain” or “citadel,” and if you saw the city, you’d know why. The city was built onto a large hill, kind of cone-shaped—rising about 1300 feet above a river valley.

Though it didn’t have a great position for business, Pergamos was a prosperous place, and famous for its library and its architecture. It was renowned for another reason too, as “the mecca” of idol-worship. Both Ephesus and Smyrna had their idols too, but Pergamos topped them both. One ancient writer put it this way, “Pergamos is given to idolatry more than all Asia.”

If you can imagine it, the entire peak of this hilly city was covered with heathen temples. People came from all over the world to be made better by Asclepius, the god of healing. Or people came to worship the goddess Athena, or to pay their solemn respects to Bacchus, the god of drunkenness. Pergamos too, was home to a cult for the emperor, where citizens could honour Caesar for all his great accomplishments.

But beloved, there was a church there too. The Lord Jesus had been pleased to sow the seed of his gospel in Pergamos, and it had taken root. By his grace this church was getting established, and it was bearing fruit. But there were challenges too—the soil in Pergamos could be rocky, the sun could be hot, the weeds invasive. So the Lord writes a letter to this church too.                               

Christ writes to his church in Pergamos, a church that is:

  1. faithful under Satan’s threats
  2. inclined to Balaam’s teachings
  3. encouraged with Christ’s promises


1. faithful under Satan’s threats: We’ve spoken about all the pagan shrines in Pergamos. But we haven’t mentioned the greatest one, which was a huge altar to Zeus, the chief of all the Roman and Greek gods. This altar was erected on a platform cut out of the rock, and it dominated the skyline of the city. And Zeus’ altar, you’ll be interested to know, was in the shape of a massive throne. It was a place for him to sit, and receive the worship of many thousands.

When Jesus writes to the church of Pergamos, He says that their city is where “Satan’s throne is” (v 13). Not Zeus’ throne, but Satan’s. Why is that? Because all those many idols made one thing clear: this was a city that was firmly in the grip of the powers of darkness. Around these parts, it looked like the devil was in charge! Pergamos was another headquarters of Satan’s opposition to the cause of Christ.

It’s true that an idol is nothing—it has no real life and no power. That was an entire hill of museum pieces: lifeless stone and tarnished gold. Even so, in Pergamos “the prince of this world” sat on his throne and he received great praise. “The prince of the world”—that’s Jesus’ name for Satan in the gospel of John. Even though the crowds weren’t calling on Satan’s name or offering up sacrifices to the devil, it was Satan at the centre. Every time incense went up to the Caesar, every time an animal was slaughtered for Zeus, every time a shrine prostitute was visited, Satan was well-pleased. The worship of any other god but the true God is, in reality, worship of the devil. It’s one or the other—and in Pergamos, Satan was king.

As we tour that city so filled with heathen temples, we may like to think there’s a huge difference between Pergamos and where we live. And there is a distance, in time—it was a long time ago. And a distance in space—it’s pretty far from where we are. You and I aren’t so infatuated by Zeus. We don’t worship the emperor, or even the prime minister. But in effect, the difference isn’t so large at all. For if the true God isn’t worshiped and adored, then Satan’s being served. And he is, treated as Lord by many millions.

Looking at our own multicultural country, we see temples and shrines and mosques. But more than that, we see other idolatry. It’s less obvious than a mosque on a street corner, but all too real. Our own neighbours make regular pilgrimage to the local temples of materialism and greed. Fellow citizens look for fulfillment at the shrines to pleasure, and shrines to entertainment, and they go up to the temples of sports. In the workshop of the heart, people are crafting new idols every day.

In Pergamos, the demonic atmosphere had grown stifling. So much so that the church here too, was being threatened. Christ reminds them of the violent days of “Antipas” (v 13). Who was Antipas? According to an early tradition, he was pastor of the church in Pergamos. And the story goes that he was killed for his faith, slowly roasted to death in a bronze kettle. However he died exactly, Christ describes this man as “my faithful martyr” (v 13).

We know that word martyr. Still today there’s a magazine called “Voice of the Martyrs.” But “martyr” doesn’t just mean someone who dies for the faith. Literally it means someone who’s “a witness.” It’s someone who speaks up for Jesus. In a public setting, wherever that may be, a martyr is someone who is willing to testify about his faith—even if it means he’ll die for it. In a city that rang with the constant chorus of evil, Antipas had dared to speak up for his Lord.

Jesus mentions just one death, so the persecution might’ve been only temporary. Yet reading this letter, you can hear that the threat remains. It’s still there: “You live where Satan has his throne” (v 13). Here we’re allowed to see again that it’s actually the devil who is standing behind all opposition to the gospel: he’s behind every mocking word, every doubting smirk, and every violent attack. As Christ warns us more than once in his Word: the threats of Satan won’t subside in these last days, but they’ll increase. Why is that? Because Satan can’t stand not being worshiped! He can’t stand not being in the centre. So he’ll push and tempt and persuade, until he is being obeyed and served.

Despite the onrushing tide of evil, despite even the looming danger of death, the believers in Pergamos are commended by Christ: He encourages and praises them. For still they worship the true King, triumphant on his throne! Still they kneel to pray. Here they are, living right in the devil’s domain, in view of his throne, yet they’re defying his threats and remaining true to Christ. He tells them so: “You hold fast to my name” (v 13).

That’s a notable thing in this letter—in all seven of these letters to the churches, actually. Sometimes we read these letters in Revelation 2 and 3, and we give our attention especially to the criticism, and we underline the warnings: “Don’t be luke-warm, or I’ll spit you out. Don’t give in to false teaching. Don’t forsake your first love.” Those warnings resonate with us. Because there’s always something to disapprove of in the church. We think that we see luke-warmness and apathy and hypocrisy in many places. That could well be.

Yet even with serious correction to give, notice in these letters how Christ also offers loving words of affirmation: “You hold fast to my name” (v 13). “Despite everything that you face, you’re doing OK.” These Christians in Pergamos weren’t giving in without a fight. I don’t think we are, either. Because we know what’s really true. We understand something about sin’s deadly power. We’ve probably learned that Satan only has lies to tell us, and we’re filtering out some of them. By God’s grace, we’re holding fast.

Yet we also hear Christ urging them—urging us—to stay faithful. For it’s true that those dead and useless idols all around us still have a power. We know where the shrines are—they’re well-lit, and easy to find. They’re interesting to visit, these temples to the gods of our age. The gods can fascinate us. Absorb us. Captivate us. Whatever they are, whether status or celebrity or wealth or pleasure or sports or something else. The gods might even receive the best of our devotion and energy. Even now, we live where Satan has his throne. We have to know this about our time, and about our hearts.

Beloved, if we’re faithful, Christ commends us. He’s glad that we’re here for the worship of the true God. He’s glad we haven’t let go of the good confession. He sees our struggle to resist the world’s temptations. He rejoices over us, and He calls us to keep going. Actually, He calls us to be martyrs: to witness for him. To dare speak up for Jesus. In a world full of deception, we can say something true and powerful about Christ the King. We can say it with our bodies, with our lives, with our words. We can say that we belong to him!


2. inclined to Balaam’s teachings: The church at Pergamos was standing firm, but the danger hadn’t passed. For as they lived in a city saturated with evil, there was a great peril that sin would seep in and contaminate. And that’s precisely the warning Jesus gives: “You have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam” (v 14). From this solitary verse 14, it’s hard to know what exactly was happening in Pergamos. But it’s clear that some in the church were allowing something false into their view of the world, and of the Christian life. Jesus calls it “the doctrine of Balaam.” You might remember Balaam. It was when the Israelites were just outside the Promised Land, and Balak, king of Moab, was getting anxious to stop them. Balaam, the rent-a-prophet, had finally learned that he could speak no evil against God’s people. So he advised the king to set up a little diversion. They’d invite Israel to a “neighbourhood party.” And there at Baal-Peor, disaster struck. The people of God let loose, partying around the pagan statues, committing adultery with the Moabites.

Balaam’s ploy at Baal-Peor worked like a charm. Thousands were seduced, and they were killed because of it. In the Old Testament we read that this incident made a deep impression on later generations. It became the proverbial incident of unfaithfulness. Remember Baal-Peor, the prophets said! Remember how you let yourself be trapped!

Jesus now sounds the warning, for it’s the same kind of invitation: “to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality” (v 14). Someone in Pergamos was trying to fool these believers. Someone was trying to seduce them away from the true God. That’s the classic approach of Balaam, isn’t it? A little corruption here, a little immorality there—you hardly notice it. You even enjoy it. But death isn’t far behind. The believers were giving up far more than they realized.

Some had accepted Balaam’s doctrine. Others subscribed to the “doctrine of the Nicolaitans” (v 15). You can also hear about the Nicolaitans in the letter to the church of Ephesus, earlier in this chapter. Commentators have wondered who these folks are. It seems likely that the Nicolaitans were cut from the same dirty cloth as the Balaamites—just variations on a theme. Jesus applauds the Ephesian believers, because they (by contrast) “hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans” (2:6). The Ephesians had seen this seduction for what it was. But instead of hating it and fleeing from it, Jesus says that the Pergamites “have there those who hold” to such doctrine (v 14).

And it wasn’t so much a “doctrine” that they were selling, as a lifestyle. It’s the notion that Christians can have the best of both worlds! “Living here in Pergamos, you can’t be so stuffy. You’ve got to adapt to your environment, after all. Why not visit the pagan parties? Why not hang out at the temples—those aren’t real gods anyway. What could be the harm? Enjoy it, then leave when you want to. Stuff that we do to the body doesn’t affect the soul, right? You can do all that, and still be close to God.”

It’s a lie. Yet it’s a strategy that’s tried and true. It worked on the Israelites. It worked on the believers in Pergamos. It still works today. Probably the one word that the whole temptation rests on is compromise: “This world that you’re living in has good and fun and interesting things to offer. You’d be a fool to pass up this pleasure. You don’t want to miss out—and it won’t affect you, anyway. Your soul is secure.”

Balaam’s original offer was sexual immorality, paired with idol-worship. The same “combo” was working in Pergamos: idols and orgies. And what does Balaam’s teaching look like today? Sexual immorality is there, of course. Lots of it. It confronts everyone, almost constantly, accessible and anonymous. And there’s indulgence of many other kinds being offered too. And it all amounts to the same thing: idolatry. What do we make most important to us? What do we love? What do we live for? Satan says, “Not the worship of the true God—please, give your love to anyone but him!”

It’s still the case that he’s trying to draw us away in little steps, one sin at a time. So it happens that we make compromises. We make compromises by finding an excuse for our personal sin, the bad habit we’ve formed. We explain it away. We give up the fight, and allow the filth to remain. We accept less than a full effort in our walk with the Lord, because that’s how things have been going lately. 

From what Christ says in this letter, compromise had begun. And that’s cause for concern. For sin is always destructive. When it’s fully grown, it leads to death. No one sets out to deny the Lord, or aims to lose their faith! But we can find out that that’s where we’ve ended up. We’re in a place where Christ isn’t on the throne anymore, but our desires are in control, or something else is.

Therefore Jesus gives that sharp command, “Repent!” (v 16). That’s a message for all of us to consider. Is there a way that I’ve compromised? Have I accepted the doctrine of Balaam and the Nicolaitans? In following after Jesus, is there a stumbling block that’s on my path right now, tripping me up, slowing me down? Do I need to turn? And to change direction? If so, and we want his help, we know that the Lord’s mercy is abounding, and his strength is great.


3. encouraged with Christ’s promises: Do you ever wonder if Jesus really understands what it’s like to live on this earth? Sure, He’s a human, and He was tempted by the devil. But aren’t things really different now? Does He know how we’re faced with seduction, nearly every hour of every day? Well, listen again to his reassurance: “I know where you dwell” (v 13). Those are living words. He’s not a distant Saviour. He’s not a King who receives your prayers with a blank stare. “I know where you live—where Satan has his throne.” He knows what we endure in a world under attack by the evil one. He knows, and He gives us a message of strength and hope.

To the church in danger of being overrun by her enemies, Jesus says this, “I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (v 16). That’s a clear reminder of Revelation 1, where we see that picture of the majesty of Christ, described in all his glory as the King of kings. And one of the details there is that Christ has a sharp double-edged sword coming from his mouth. We know that the sword is the Word of God. And it’s in his mouth, because Christ speaks the Word: saving, also judging. He can destroy his enemies, just by one word of his mouth. We’re encouraged, because we know Christ will fight for us.

Then He also exhorts us again to listen: “He who has an ear to hear, let him hear” (v 17). It’s a call for attention. Jesus says we need to turn down the shrill volume of this world, and we need to give ear to his words. For those who listen will “overcome” (v 17). Literally, we’ll be victors. Champions over every enemy. More than conquerors. 

You wouldn’t think so. Remember the situation faced in Pergamos: a tiny group of believers in a thoroughly pagan city. How could underdogs ever be overcomers? Or what about us: How can we overcome Satan’s threats, overcome the world’s temptations, overcome our own inability and weakness? We despair at times. Can we ever win?

In answer, Christ gives two promises. The first promise: to those who stand fast, He says “I will give some of the hidden manna to eat” (v 17). Manna was how the LORD fed his people throughout their long journey in the wilderness. Then when the Lord Jesus came, He called himself the new manna: the bread from heaven, who gives life to the world. Christ promises to sustain all who belong to him—to sustain us for the fight, and sustain us forever!

Think how perfect this promise is for those Christians in Pergamos. They were being tempted to join in the party. At the pagan shrines, it was all you can eat, all you can drink, all you can stand of physical delight. And everything probably tasted really good. Satan’s always known how to cook up some great dishes. But here’s the thing: a diet of sin will never satisfy. Forbidden pleasures, earthly rewards, material things—they’re never enough. You’ll always need to go back for more. And finally, a diet of sin ends in death. That’s always the outcome.

“Instead,” Christ says, “Try some of my hidden manna. Take the food I have to offer. If you believe in me, and rely on my grace, you’ll never be hungry again, you’ll never be thirsty. You’ll be satisfied forever.” Notice that Christ holds out the hidden manna. Why “hidden?” It’s possible that Jesus is thinking of the jar of manna that was stored inside the ark of the covenant. Some Jews believed that when the Babylonians destroyed the temple, the prophet Jeremiah was able to hide that special jar. And they said that when the Messiah finally came, “the hidden manna” would reappear. And again He’d feed his people, just like God did in the desert. That may well be, but the main point is clear: Christ is our heavenly manna. If we’re hungry, He’s our food. If we’re dying, He’s our life. Christ holds out a gift that’s not available anywhere else, something that can never be spoiled, and will never disappoint. So take Christ, and eat, and live!

Then the second promise: to those who are faithful Jesus says, “I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it” (v 17). That’s an unusual image. What we should probably think of is something like an entrance ticket. Little stones or pebbles were handed out in Roman times, to serve as a token of admission. For example, when an athlete won in the games, he was often given as part of his prize a white stone. It was a ticket into a special banquet later that day for champions. If you had the pebble, you were in. It showed that you belonged!

Again, what a fitting word for Christians living in a world of sin! There’s enough feasts and parties that we’re invited to. Sometimes we think that we belong at them, because we want to belong. We want to be included, and to enjoy all the fun. Yet Jesus says, “I have something else for you. Here’s a white stone—a pure stone. If you’re an overcomer, if you’re a champion over sin, this admits you to a far better feast. A banquet far removed from the dirty trough of sin. An everlasting table.” And says Jesus, “You get to eat with me.”

On that stone in your hand there will be “a new name,” because in Christ you have a whole new status: you’ve been forgiven, you’ve been, renewed, you’ve been glorified. That pure white stone is the mark of belonging. You know Christ, and He knows you. The King will see you at the door, and He’ll welcome you himself.

Beloved, let the hidden manna and the white stone encourage you! For by them, Christ gives us strength. By them, Christ sends hope. The believers at Pergamos—tempted, persecuted, yet steadfast—surely they were so grateful to hear of Christ’s intimate concern for them, to receive his loving correction, and to know his steadfast blessing. May we also rejoice to read this letter from our Saviour. Take it home, and read it again. And then reply to Jesus’ letter—reply, with obedience and trust!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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