“you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you”
The gospel makes certain demands on our lives. It not only calls us to believe and affirm truths about the person and work of Jesus Christ, even at the risk of losing our lives; but also to live lives that demonstrate the transforming power of the gospel, namely lives of righteousness and separation from the world.
The church of Pergamum was commended by our Lord for holding fast to their faith in Him, even in the face of severe persecution that cost them the loss of the life of one of their members, Antipas. They lived in a city where “Satan’s throne is”–a city steeped in idolatry, full of temples and altars to various Greek gods and even one dedicated to Caesar himself. We are told that Pergamum was considered the center of worship for four of the major cults of the day: Zeus, Athene, Dionysos, and Askelpios. The shrine of Asklepios, the god of healing, also known as the Pergamum god, attracted people from all over the world.
The believers there were commended by our Lord for holding fast to His name and not denying the faith. But He had this against them: they tolerated in their midst those “who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.” (It would be beneficial to read the account of this in Numbers 22-25.) There were those among them, the Nicolaitans, who essentially taught that as long as we are saved by the blood of Christ, then what we do in the flesh doesn’t really matter. Christ’s blood covers all of our sins. “Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds.”
Did Christ agree with their logic? Not at all! He calls them to repent or He will “come to you (them) soon and war against them with the sword if his mouth.” Christ calls His church to be separate from the world. He wants her to be sanctified by the word, that He might present her to Himself without spot or blemish (Eph 5:26-27).
We too live in a culture that is hostile to Christianity and is steeped in idolatry and sexual immorality. The exhortation not to deny the faith and to keep ourselves from the world is just as applicable to us today as it was to the church of Pergamum, 20 centuries ago. May the Lord help us to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” so that we may do the things that are pleasing in His sight, no matter what the cost.