Today we continue our study of the 3rd church mentioned in the Book of Revelation. That is the city of Pergamum. Let me show you a few pictures of the Acropolis at Pergamum. This is an aerial photo showing the lake behind the acropolis. I did not take that picture when we were there. Next are a couple of pictures of the Temple of Trajan. He was emperor from AD 98 - 117. Here is another picture - showing both the theater and the temple of Dionysus. Dionysus is sometimes called by his Roman name, Bachus. I show you again a model of what the acropolis would have looked like. Here is another from a different angle.
Now, let's turn our attention to Revelation 2 and begin exploring what Christ said to the church in Pergamum. As I read the verses 12 through 17, I will fill in the 8 parts of the pattern I mentioned last week. This pattern is followed in all seven letters to these churches.
Revelation 2:12-17 NIV
12 To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.
13 I know your work and where you live - where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city - where Satan lives.
14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.
15 Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.
Today, we are going to look at part of verse 12.
Revelation 2:12 NKJV
12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write, "These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword:"
We have already discussed the first phrase of this verse in our last lesson. We determined that the term "angel" is probably a reference to the pastor of the local church. Now let's look at the following phrase. Christ describes Himself to this church. We mentioned early in this series of lessons that the way Christ introduces Himself to each church is significant. Jesus gives a different description of Himself to each of the 7 churches. Undoubtedly, Christ revealed Himself in a particular way to each particular church for a particular reason. We also noted that every description Christ gives of Himself in chapters 2 & 3 are also found in Chapter One.
Let's examine that in the case of Pergamum.
Look at chapter 1.
Revelation 1:16 NKJV
16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.
In Revelation, Chapter One, the two-edged sword is coming out of the mouth of Christ. It can probably be understood that this description is applicable in His message to Pergamum. You can see that later in the letter to this church - in verse 16.
Revelation 2:16 NKJV
16 Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
In this verse, it is not identified as a two-edged sword, but most assuredly it is a reference back to the two-edged sword mentioned in verse 12.
WHY WOULD THIS DESCRIPTION OF CHRIST BE SIGNIFICANT TO THE CHURCH IN PERGAMUM?
Pergamum had a place all its own in Asia. It was not on any of the great roads - as Ephesus and Smyrna were, but historically, some would call it the greatest city in Asia. There were times when the Pergamene empire included most all of what today is Turkey. At other times, it was the capital of this area of the Grecian empire, beginning with Alexander the Great. Back in 282 BC, it was made the capital of the Seleucid kingdom. This was one of four kingdoms that came out of the Grecian kingdom of Alexander the Great.
It remained the capital until 133 BC. In that year Attalus III died, but before He died, he willed his dominions into the possession of Rome. Attalus III was a shrewd king, and saw the beginning of the rise of the Roman Empire, and, seeing other cities and kingdoms being taken over and sometimes destroyed, he thought it better to give his kingdom to Rome rather than chance destruction. Out of the kingdom of Attalus, Rome formed the province of Asia, and Pergamum still remained its Roman capital.
The position granted by Rome to Pergamum made it different than every other city in Asia. When we studied Ephesus, I mentioned that Rome had granted them to be a "free city." That meant they could elect their own governors and statesmen. But Pergamum was granted an additional very significant privilege. Not only were they a "free city" with the ability to choose their own leaders, but they were also granted what in Greek is called "ius gladii" - the right of the sword. The provincial governor in Pergamum could, on his own word, make the decisions of capital punishment. He had the power of life and death. On their word, a person could be executed on the spot. In Roman estimation, the sword was the symbol of the highest order of official authority. At any moment, this "right of the sword" could be used against any Christian.
When Christ described Himself as the One who has the two-edged sword, the Christians at Pergamum knew exactly what that meant. Christ is telling them that it is He, and He alone, who has absolute authority. He has a greater power of life and death. His authority far surpasses the authority of any local or regional governor or king.
Matthew 10:28 (NKJV) tells us:
28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Christ is saying that even though they may face execution for being a Christian, the real power of life and death belongs to Him. He is reminding the Christians at Pergamum that the last word is still with Him. The power of Rome may be Satanically powerful, but the power of the Risen Lord is greater yet.
WHAT DOES THE TWO-EDGED SWORD REPRESENT?
I don't think there is any doubt that this is a reference to the Word of God.
WHAT IS THE WORD OF GOD?
Probably the easiest answer is to say, "the Bible is the Word of God." It is the Word of God because it reflects the mind and will of God.
BUT WHAT ARE WE TOLD ABOUT THE WORD IN THE FIRST VERSE OF THE GOSPEL OF JOHN?
We are told that Christ is, in fact, the Word of God. Collectively, the Bible, as God's Word, is the written, divine expression or revelation of God to humanity. Jesus completed this expression as the literal embodiment of God's Word. Now, back to the two-edged sword as being the Word of God.
Hebrews 4:12 NKJV
12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
The Romans might think they have the ultimate authority, but the Word of God is the final authority in life and death.
Ephesians 6:17 tells us to take... "the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." The cure for the local church - then and now - is the Word of God. Listen to what Christ says about the Word as written by John in his gospel.
John 17:17 NKJV
17 Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.
The Word of God is used to sanctify the church and its members.
John 15:3 NKJV
3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
The Word of God has the ability to cleanse the church and its members.
The apostle Paul said that Christ cleanses the church by the "washing of water by the Word." (Ephesians 6:20)
Indeed, the Word of God is very powerful, and it is depicted here having two edges.
WHY A SWORD WITH TWO EDGES?
IS THERE ANY SIGNIFICANCE IN THAT?
This sword is different that the oriental scimitar, which a curved blade and sharp only on one edge. It has two edges because the Word of God has two purposes.
a. The instrument of Salvation
b. The instrument of Judgment
The Word of God cuts loose the man or woman who is bound by the chains of sin and death. It will convict and convince the ungodly of their sins. The Word of God has the power to cleanse a person from their sins. It is sharp and powerful enough to cut through the most hardened heart. It has the ability to convict - but also to heal. It can perform the impossible.
All saving knowledge comes from the Word of God. That is because it is He that is speaking to us through its pages. It also has the power to keep us in the family of God. That's one reason why we need to read and obey it every day. It is the key to spiritual life and sustenance. Our knowledge of Christ comes through His Word. Direction for our life is found in the Word of God.
But the Word of God is also used in Judgment. That is the other edge of this sword. That will show up again in this letter to the church at Pergamum. In Revelation 2:16, this congregation is told to repent or He would come and fight against those who compromise the Word of God, and He will do that with the "sword of His mouth."
Isaiah 11:4 (NKJV) says, He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, This second edge of the sword will also be used when Christ comes out of heaven on a white horse.
Revelation 19:11, 15 NKJV
11 Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.
15 Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
With this same sword, He executes judgment upon the armies of the Antichrist at this same time. After capturing the Antichrist and the False Prophet, and casting them into the lake of fire, we read, in verse 21, And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse.
One edge of this two-edged sword separates a man from his sin. The other edge separates him from God for all eternity. One is salvation and one is judgment. As Christ writes to the church at Pergamum, He purposefully says, "I am the One with a sharp two-edged sword."
The political leaders in Pergamum may have thought they sat in the seat of authority. But the One who is speaking to this church wears the symbol of absolute authority. And He is invested with the real power of life and death. This statement that Christ is He who has the sharp two-edged sword is an absolutely perfect statement to make to those in this church. They would have immediately understood His meaning.
In Matthew 28:18 (NIV) Jesus says: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. There is no earthly power as great as that of our Lord. We earlier read Ephesians 6:17, which says the Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. The sixth chapter of Ephesians gives us a list of the pieces of armor that the Christian must wear. The Sword of the Spirit - the Word of God - has been placed in our hands.
Christ has placed the authority of his two-edged sword in our hands, and has given us the authority to speak as his ambassador (Ephesian 6:20). We have been commissioned into the army of God, and He has entrusted to us the power of the Holy Spirit. But, since it is the Sword of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, and He alone, can instruct us in the use of it. Again, for us, we need to read and heed the Word of God. Remember what is stated in the 3rd verse of the Book of Revelation.
Revelation 1:3 NKJV
3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.
Believing or not believing the Word of God makes a difference. Our attitude towards the Scriptures, as shown in our obedience, is a vital key to releasing the power of the Lord in our life. Scripture must define the center of gravity for the Christian. Scripture is the central legitimating resource of Christian faith and theology, and is the clearest window through which the face of Christ may be seen." Scripture claims this authority for itself.
2 Timothy 3:16 says:
"All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction , for instruction in righteousness.
1. The word "inspiration" comes from the Greek word "Theopneustos." That word comes from two Greek words that literally means, "God breathed." The Word of God comes from the very life and breath of God.
2. The verse that follows emphasizes the importance of the Word of God. Let's read verse 16 again, and add verse 17.
Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Do you want to be perfect? Do you strive to act and do the will of God in your actions and good works. Then you (and I) need the Word of God, for that is one of its objectives in our life.
Back to the thought that the Scriptures claim authority to itself. The Old Testament prophets often begin their words hundreds of times with introductory phrases like: "Thus says the Lord." "The Word of the Lord came to me saying,…"
Jesus, Himself, citing Scripture, tells the devil, "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." The authority of the Scripture means that all the words in Scripture are God's words and said in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word in Scripture is to disobey God Himself.
We live by the Word and die by the Word. What the Word says, we do. We preach or teach from the Word. We study the Word. We raise our children in the Word. We face our fears and share our faith because of the Word. When storms come, we crawl under the Word for shelter. We give of our resources because of the Word. We stay married because of the Word. We avoid sexual immorality because of the Word.
We do this because the Word is a window into the One who is the Living Word - Jesus Christ. We meet His authority in His Word. And we bow to it there.
Let me summarize what I have shared in the last 5 to 10 minutes. In Hebrews 4:12, we read that the Word of God is alive and powerful. In 2 Timothy 3:16, we learned the Word is "God-breathed."
God didn't give us so many pages of his own words just because He wanted to be a famous author. He gave us the Scriptures because it contains life. It tells us how to live and what to avoid. It even tells us what to do if we're in the wrong position and doing the wrong thing. It gives us straightforward, solid information about God's plan for your life.
The Bible is not merely a list a principles. It is living and dynamic - containing the very breath of God. I hope you are sensing why I get so excited about the Word. Because it is alive and powerful, we should expect divine encounters whenever we pick up and read the Bible. We should hunger for more than good ideas or helpful stories from our time in the Scriptures. We should crave a touch from heaven, a direct word spoken by the breath of the Holy Spirit, into the very recesses of our hearts. I can guarantee you that God longs to have a conversational relationship with us, and his favorite way of carrying on that conversation is through the Scriptures.
Christian growth depends upon our response to the will of God which He communicates to us in a number of ways. But primarily it is through the Scriptures.