by Al Maxey

Issue #179 ------- March 17, 2005
Enlighten the people generally, and
tyranny and oppressions of body and mind
will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Tolerating the Intolerable
Jesus Evaluates the Church in Pergamum
Revelation 2:12-17

The ancient city of Pergamum was built on a huge conical hill in the fertile Caicus river valley. It had a perfect view of the Aegean Sea, which was 15 miles away. When the vast empire of Alexander the Great was divided up following his death, Pergamum became the capital of the powerful, wealthy and independent kingdom of Mysia. In 190 B.C. (with Roman help) they expelled Antiochus III (the king of Syria) from the city. At his death, in 133 B.C., King Attalus III bequeathed Pergamum and his entire kingdom to the Romans. It became the royal city of Asia and served as the political capital for more than two centuries.

In the 2nd century B.C. the king built a library which is purported to have contained 200,000 volumes. Later this library was given to Cleopatra by Antony. The word parchment is derived from the Latin phrase Pergamena charta which means "paper of Pergamum." Some scholars contend that parchment was invented in Pergamum for the purpose of transcribing books for its great library. This was the largest library outside of the one in Alexandria, Egypt.

Pergamum was not a great commercial city (unlike Ephesus and Smyrna), but rather was noted for being a center of art, culture and learning. It was also the administrative center of the entire Roman province. In addition, this city was a stronghold of pagan worship. Christianity in this location was faced with three distinct types of pagan religion:

There is no record of when the Lord's church was established in Pergamum, or by whom. The city is never mentioned in the NT writings, except in this epistle by Jesus in Revelation. Nor is there any reference to it in the Ante-Nicene Fathers. It was most likely established during Paul's work in Ephesus on his third missionary journey (see: Acts 19:10).

"The One who has the sharp two-edged (literally: 'two-mouthed') sword" (Rev. 2:12b) speaks to His saints in Pergamum. The fact that the sword has two edges ("mouths") to it suggests that there are two different things our Lord has to share with the church there --- things to commend and things to condemn. "This may have a twofold symbolism. It may picture His ability to protect them even in the midst of persecution and where martyrs are falling. It may also symbolize the power of discerning judgment .... keen and accurate judgment on the deeds of men, to deal with the false teachers .... and this church which was harboring error" (Ray Summers, Worthy Is The Lamb, p. 114).

"This great sword is, of course, ready to smite the archfiend and his cohorts, but it will make war also against the unfaithful. This sword is to inspire courage in the hearts of the faithful confessors and to dispel all fear, while at the same time it is to inspire fear and bring to repentance all who are unfaithful and have begun to deny Him when they should confess Him" (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Revelation, p. 103).


ONE --- "I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is ..... where Satan dwells" (Rev. 2:13). This is a reference to the city of Pergamum. Jesus says that He is aware of the Satanic environment in which these Christians must live. Satan was "alive and well .... living and ruling" in this wicked city. This would have made it extremely difficult and dangerous to maintain a Christian lifestyle.

Pergamum "exceeded all other cities at that time in wickedness. Its pagan inhabitants lived in luxury, accompanied by great vice. It probably had in it more idols than any other place in Asia" (James M. Tolle, The Seven Churches of Asia, p. 44). "All seven of the cities of Asia were thoroughly pagan, but this one was the worst" (R.C.H. Lenski, p. 104).

Pergamum was a stronghold of emperor worship. In 29 B.C. a temple had been built to "the divine Augustus Caesar and the goddess Roma," and it was served by a powerful priesthood. This city was the political capital of the province and the center of the state religion. Aesculapius, "the god of Pergamum," was also worshipped by these people. This was the god of healing and was worshipped under the emblem of a serpent. The great, throne-like altar of Zeus was here as well. This was built under Eumenes II around 180 B.C. (it is now housed in a museum in Berlin). "The city of Pergamum was a place where Satan wielded a very special authority; a place where the anti-God forces of the universe were at their most authoritative and most powerful" (William Barclay, Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 47).

Jesus tells them "I know where you dwell" (NASB, NWT, KJV, NKJV, ASV, RSV) ..... "where you live" (NEB, LB, NIV, NAB, TEV, SEB, Phillips, Amplified). This is the Greek word katoikeo which means "to inhabit, indwell, to take up residence; to settle down; to dwell fixedly, permanently in a place" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words).

"What the risen Christ is saying to the Christians in Pergamum is this: 'You are living in a city where the influence and the power of Satan are rampant --- and you have got to go on living there. You cannot escape. You cannot pack your baggage and move off to some place where it is easier to be a Christian. In Pergamum you are, and in Pergamum you must stay. Life has set you where Satan's seat is. It is there you must live, and it is there you must show that you are a Christian.' The word 'katoikeo' tells us that it is no part of the Christian duty to run away from a difficult and a dangerous situation. The Christian aim is not escape from a situation, but conquest of a situation" (William Barclay, Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 48).

"Here is something very important. The principle of the Christian life is not escape, but conquest. We may feel it would be very much easier to be a Christian in some other place and in some other circumstances, but the duty of the Christian is to witness for Christ where life has set him. The more difficult it is to be a Christian in any set of circumstances, the greater the obligation to remain within these circumstances. If in the early days Christians had run away every time they were confronted with a difficult situation, there would have been no chance of a world won for Christ" (William Barclay, The Revelation of John, vol. 1, p. 91-92). Christ commends these saints for making their home, and maintaining their faith, in a Satanic environment. It is the area of greatest darkness in which the LIGHT is most needed!

TWO --- ".....and you hold fast My name" (NASB, NWT, KJV, NKJV, ASV, RSV, NAB, Phillips) ..... "holding onto My name" (SEB) ..... "clinging to and holding fast My name" (Amplified) ..... "remained loyal to Me" (LB) ..... "you are true to Me" (TEV) ..... "you remain true to My name" (NIV) ..... "you are holding fast to My cause" (NEB). This is the Greek word krateo which means "to grasp powerfully; to lay hold of and retain with strength; to hold closely and prevent from getting away."

To whom do you bow down? To whom do you render service? To whom are you loyal and true? Do you confess "Lord Caesar" or "Lord Christ"? These were the vital questions of the day! "'My name' stands for all that Jesus is: His deity, authority, and Lordship over God's entire universe" (Homer Hailey, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 130). "Christ's name is the symbol of His person, and these words of praise affirm that the saints in Pergamum had not denied the person of Christ, but continued to acknowledge Him as their Savior, Lord, and Master" (James M. Tolle, p. 44).

THREE --- ".....and you did not deny My faith" (NASB, ASV, KJV, NKJV, RSV, Amplified) ..... "did not leave My faith" (SEB) ..... "did not deny your faith in Me" (NWT, NEB, NAB, Phillips) ..... "did not renounce your faith in Me" (NIV) ..... "did not abandon your faith in Me" (TEV). This is the Greek word arneomai which means "to deny, disclaim, disown, renounce; to reject, contradict." The Aorist Tense is used here which "refers to a specific incident in the past" (Dr. Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John, p. 458).

The translations are almost evenly split over the object of this denial. Some say, "My faith" ... others say, "your faith in Me." The Greek phrase is ten pistin mou which means "the faith of me." In English this would be "my faith." "It can scarcely mean 'your faith in me'" (R.C.H. Lenski, p. 105). "The Lord did not have in mind the faith of the Christian, but HIS faith" (James M. Tolle, p. 45).

This "faith" would be the sum total of our Lord's revealed teachings or doctrine. "Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). "Continue in the faith firmly established" (Col. 1:23). "The church did not deny the doctrine of Christ" (R.C.H. Lenski, p. 105). "He commends them for sticking steadfastly to the Truth, rather than watering it down or perverting it with the aberrations of the pagan religions" (Hal Lindsey, There's A New World Coming, p. 52). Jesus "commends the church in Pergamum for its loyal stand concerning His teaching. Not only had they stood fast for the person of Christ, but also for the doctrine of Christ" (James M. Tolle, p. 45).

As a result of living faithfully in an evil environment, there were those in Pergamum who were losing their lives! Jesus mentioned one of their number by name: Antipas. The word antipas means "against all." According to a 10th century legend, Antipas was Bishop of Pergamum; was brought before an image of Caesar and told to confess that Caesar was God. When he refused, the Roman official said, "Antipas, don't you know that the whole world is against you?," to which he replied, "Then Antipas is against the whole world!" (This legend may well have been built around the meaning of his name.) Antipas was then placed inside of a brass bull which was heated with fire until he was roasted to death. There are other ancient traditions which suggest that the name "Antipas" is symbolic and refers to either Timothy or Athanasius of Alexandria.

Jesus calls him "My faithful witness" --- a title also applied to Jesus Himself (Rev. 1:5). The Greek word for "witness" is martus which means "one who testifies; a witness; one who attests to something." It is from this word that we get the word "martyr." This word later came to be applied not only to those who "testified" concerning the Word, but who also died for it! ("And when the blood of Thy witness Stephen was being shed..." -- Acts 22:20). "'Martus' means both 'witness' and 'martyr,' and the very history of the word shows us that to be a witness is often to be a martyr. To witness for Christ is often to suffer for Christ" (William Barclay, Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 50).

Rev. 2:13 informs us that His servant Antipas "was killed among you" (NASB, ASV, KJV, NKJV, LB, RSV) ..... "in your midst" (Amplified) ..... "by your side" (NWT) ..... "before your eyes" (Phillips) ..... "in your city" (NEB, NAB, NIV). The idea is that Antipas was put to death "in their midst," before their very eyes (see: Dr. A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, p. 614). This may have been an attempt by the persecutors to intimidate the rest of the congregation; however, the church in Pergamum would not be intimidated, and for this Jesus praises them!


After praising them for their commendable qualities, Jesus then says, "But I have a few things against you" (Rev. 2:14a). There were a couple of false doctrines which were gaining a foothold in Pergamum; some of the members were being seduced by these teachings. Jesus condemns both false doctrines, and those who have embraced them. He also rebukes the congregation itself for its toleration of this situation.

ONE --- "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" (Rev. 2:14b). Balaam was "the biblical prototype of religious compromisers" (footnote in the New American Bible, St. Joseph Edition). "The doctrine of compromise is one of Satan's most lethal weapons" (Homer Hailey, p. 131). "Satan's chief method is deception .... and what Satan could not accomplish at Smyrna or Pergamum through intimidation, suffering and death from outside the church, he achieved from within" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 441).

Balaam devised a plan whereby the Moabite women would seduce the Israelite men, causing them to mix in with their pagan religious rites, which not only involved worship of idols, but also eating meat sacrificed to idols and the committing of fornication with the cult prostitutes. The account of Balaam's sin is found in Numbers 22-24; 25:1ff; 31:8,16; Deut. 23:4-5; Joshua 13:22; 24:9-10; Micah 6:5; 2 Peter 2:15-16; Jude 11.

These pernicious false teachers "were urging the Christians of Pergamum to conform to the accepted standards of the world and to stop being different. The early church was in constant danger of being tainted by, and relapsing into, the standards of the world" (William Barclay, Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 52).

TWO --- "You also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans" (Rev. 2:15). Simply put, the Nicolaitans were "a Christian libertine group within the churches of Asia Minor" (Fiorenaz). Misunderstanding the concept of Christian liberty (Gal. 5:1,13; 1 Cor. 6:12) they believed and taught that one was "free in Christ" to engage in worldly activities. This would allow them to maintain a good standing in their community, and yet still be "good Christians." Such compromise was also a means of escaping persecution. Their "freedom in Christ," however, led them to commit numerous acts of immorality.

The "Constitutions of the Holy Apostles" (a late 4th century manuscript) states that the Nicolaitans are "impudent in uncleanness." Tertullian (160 - 230 A.D.; the son of a pagan Roman government official who was converted to Christianity about 197 A.D. after being impressed with the courage of the Christian martyrs) writes, in regard to marriage, "The Nicolaitans, in their maintenance of lust and luxury, destroy happiness of sanctity."

Irenaeus (born in 115 A.D.; educated under Polycarp) says, "they lead lives of unrestrained indulgence, and teach it is a matter of indifference to practice adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols." Ignatius (martyred in Rome in 110 A.D.; a student of the apostle John) brands them "lovers of pleasure, and given to slanderous speeches." He also says they "affirm that unlawful unions (sexual) are a good thing, and place the highest happiness in pleasure." The Nicolaitan movement was an effort on the part of some of the Christians of Asia Minor to conform to their pagan environment so as to maintain their livelihood and possessions, and to escape persecution; and they tried to justify their conformity to the world by the perversion of certain passages of Scripture dealing with their freedom in Christ. For additional insight on this group, I would refer the readers to Reflections #73 --- The Nicolaitans.

THREE --- Not only does Jesus condemn these two groups, but He further rebukes the congregation itself for tolerating these people in their midst. "But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold...." "You, repent therefore, otherwise I am coming to you .... and will wage war against them." Both groups (those engaging in the sins of the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans, and those who tolerate them) will experience judgment from the Lord.

Our Lord's "command includes both a call to the whole congregation to repent, and a special threat to the heretical members if they do not repent. Since those who did not indulge in these things tolerated their practice by some of the church's members, they, along with the guilty, needed to repent" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 441-442). "The church is warned to repent of its attitude of leniency and toleration" (Ray Summers, p. 115). The congregation as a whole "had not become guilty of believing the false teaching, but it was guilty of what we call today 'broad churchism.' This church did not hold to the false doctrine, but they were tolerating this within their ranks" (Albert J. Lindsey, The Apocalypse Unveiled, p. 13). For a fuller discussion of a body of believers who did not tolerate these false brethren in their ranks (the church in Ephesus), and the dangers which may be associated with such, I would refer the readers to Reflections #69 --- A Lordly Lampectomy.

"Two parties were involved in this threat --- those guilty of the sins named, and the rest of the church that tolerated them. The guilty parties would have to reform, or, if not, the rest would have to cease fellowshipping them" (John T. Hinds, p. 46). The big mistake of the church at Pergamum is that they showed "concern for the individual at the expense of their Christian duty to be concerned about the welfare of the church as a whole --- they neglected discipline" (William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, p. 83).

"No doubt these (Balaamites & Nicolaitans) are a small minority of the church; but knowing the danger of even a little leaven, this condition cannot be tolerated. There is no point at which the church can tolerate compromise or wink at sin when the name and faith of the Lord Jesus are involved" (Homer Hailey, p. 131-132). "In his complaint against the church in Pergamum, the Lord not only directs His censure at those who were guilty of holding false teaching, but at those also who had fellowship with them. The Lord here is directly rebuking the church for its compromise with error, for allowing false teaching and sin to remain in its midst. Not only was the church in Pergamum threatened by paganism from without, but also by compromise within. The latter was potentially more dangerous to the cause of Christ than the former. There is a lesson from the Lord's rebuke here for churches of Christ today: When error and sin are tolerated in any congregation, the Lord is sorely displeased. We who claim to be true disciples of Christ must face up to our responsibility to labor for the purity of the church in both doctrine and practice. It is not enough that we ourselves hold fast the name of Christ and do not deny His faith; we must not tolerate within the borders of the kingdom those who persist in lowering the standard of Truth's requirements. We must have the courage and integrity to obey God's Word in denying fellowship to any member of the church who persistently engages in false teaching and ungodly living" (James M. Tolle, p. 45-46).

In the church at Pergamum we have a perfect example of a congregation which has compromised with compromisers. The letter to the Lord's people in Pergamum is a call to church discipline! Jesus is saying, "Either you remove the evil from your midst, or I will; and then I will deal with you for not dealing with them." Perhaps the key word in this letter is "toleration" --- The congregation had bravely tolerated the persecution that had come their way, and in so doing had gained the favor of Jesus; however, they had also tolerated sin in their midst, and in so doing had gained the disfavor of Jesus. May we today learn from their example.

Reflections from Readers

From a Reader in California:

Brother Al, You are no doubt going to catch some flak for THIS article ("Hated by God"). The thing that I most appreciate about the article is that this is not Al Maxey telling us what God hates, this is God Himself telling us in His Word what He hates. He who has an ear, let him hear! What I also appreciate about this article (and your other articles in total) is that you try to expound upon the complete nature of God, not just one aspect. If we are going to be true students of God's Word, and disciples of Jesus Christ, we must be willing to look at all aspects of our Master. If God hates factionalism, and those who spread strife, should we not as well? What I am learning is that I can hate those who do evil, but I must personally avoid bitterness. That only hurts me. It's a fine line, but I think you know what I mean. Keep up the good work, and don't back down from speaking the Truth, no matter how painful.

From a Doctor in Kentucky:

Al, Do you think we should "hate" the people who, for instance, believe instrumental music to be wrong and will make that an issue of "fellowship"? I have my disagreements with people, no doubt, but I've been in their shoes, and I know the sincerity of their hearts and their genuine love for God. Some of them, true, are simply shallow and incautiously malicious. However, many of them are simple people, doing their best to follow the Lord. We are all greatly affected by our past, the baggage we carry with us (that includes you, me, and all the others who have found "freedom" from legalism, etc.). As I grow older, I tend to have more and more patience with people, as I see in myself how much my past thinking influences me yet today. I'm not calling into question all that you wrote (much of your writing was simply quoting Scripture, so I could hardly question that!). I'm just wondering how you meant for this to be applied to, e.g., the "Non-Institutional" brethren, some of whom consider you and me heretics, however sincerely they may do so. Thoughts?

From an Elder in Missouri:

Once again you have produced a thought provoking article ("Hated by God"). I have used this text in lessons and truly enjoyed the added information you have presented. I had not run across the parallelism between this text and the Beatitudes before; I found that truly refreshing and inspiring. As you concluded, it is our task to promote true freedom, and I appreciate your efforts to do so. I think too often "we" are like the man standing and remarking to God, "I thank you that I am not like this sinner." We are often too quick to point a finger in condemnation at the sectarianism of our religious friends, while easily overlooking the damning nature of our own sectarianism and dogmatic teaching. Thank you for helping to take the "log" out of our eyes.

From a Preacher in California:

My heart sure goes out to that young brother in Texas trying to bring grace to the hearts of his congregation. I had a similar start 30 years ago and God certainly does bless faithfulness!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

I was touched by your advice to the young preacher who is running into so many obstacles so early in his career. One would think there would be diplomatic ways to teach the truth to the resistant, but in some legalistic environments the watchdogs are always on the lookout for the most minor deviation. I fear that too many preachers just fall in line and preach what is expected so they can survive.

From a Reader in Nevada:

Brother Al, This "Hated by God" article is an eye-opener. As you said, we have been taught to hate the sin and love the sinner. But if God hates those who sow strife and discord, and divide congregations, how can we love those who do these deeds? I thank God for you, and for your knowledge and wisdom. Many brethren have knowledge, but not the wisdom or courage to use the knowledge. What a great blessing these people could be to so many if they did not allow themselves to be imprisoned by those wall builders of whom you wrote in this article. Thank you, and God bless you.

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, I just finished reading "Hated by God," and once again I am convinced the power from God is overflowing in your messages. We sing about the "tie that binds," but I really don't think many of us realize how this tie transcends our traditional labeling of others! Having spent a great deal of my time playing my horn in services of so many different denominations, and hearing sermons from so many dedicated men, I can verify that a tie exists beyond all of our humanly devised boundaries ... a tie which goes unnoticed by so many of us. All of these groups stress the righteousness of God, and praise Him for sending His Son to live and die for us. All of them strive to live honorably and peacefully among men, and are truly "strangers" to the seven conditions you described in your latest Reflections. I can't help but believe that many of us, if we would drop the patterns of condemnation toward each other, might finally be able to enjoy the like-mindedness of other men and women who also lift high the ideals and pattern of love toward others demonstrated to us by Christ. Keep up the good fight, brother!

From a Minister in Oklahoma:

Dear Brother Al, My eyes just teared up when I read your reply to the minister at the one-cup church in Texas. OH MY!! I can just imagine the battles before him. And these poor people will hang on to their rituals, rules and regulations for dear life. If he were to mention the free gift of grace, they'd surely throw their Bibles at him. Oh, the work before him!!! I pray he endures!

From a Beloved Brotherhood Leader in Louisiana:

Al, I just read your article "Hated by God." It was just great, but that is what I have come to expect from your writings. I have printed out several issues for my wife to read (you may remember her when we were in Hawaii with you after Hurricane Iniki), and she has gotten a friend on your mailing list. God bless you for being so encouraging and instructive. I really do love your writings. My heart also breaks for the young preacher who is trying to help the legalistic church. I join with you in admonishing him to do things in his life that will lift him and his family up and not be pulled down into legalism. It seems to me that Jesus spoke out against this heresy more than anything else.

Last week I was editing some old videos, putting them on DVD's, and came across our trip to the island of Kauai together. I wonder how Danny Sagadraca and the church on Kauai are doing? I have called him a couple of times since the hurricane. If I remember correctly, he had some "gringos" who had moved to Kauai and were trying to spread the cult of legalism among the sweet people of that island with little success. I pray they worked through that and had some repentance. My commendations to the Cuba Avenue elders for enabling you to continue this ministry that is such a wonderful blessing to many, many people. Please keep it up!

From a Reader in Arizona:

Al, I wanted to comment on the minister in Texas who faced opposition to reading a chapter from the Scriptures during each service. Our minister has also started doing that. At the beginning of his sermon, he'll read a chapter that pertains to the topic of his message. I LOVE IT! It's awesome to hear the Scriptures spoken with God's people gathered together to hear it. And I would imagine that there are many people who attend church each Sunday who never open their Bibles at home. This may be the only time during their week that they actually encounter God's written word. That someone would actually think reading the Scriptures at an assembly of saints is "unscriptural" simply boggles the mind.

Special Update
From the One-Cup Minister in Texas
Whose Letter Appeared in the Readers'
Section of Last Week's Reflections:

Al, I want to express again my heartfelt thanks for the prayers and encouragement that you have solicited on my behalf. You put me in touch with a great brother and we have had some good conversations. I do have this to report to you. I gave my "Religion vs. Christianity" lesson this past Sunday morning (March 13th), and then Sunday night I was asked to tender my resignation. I look at this as a positive thing for me. The Lord has allowed me to get out of the situation I was in, and I know that He has great things in store for me. However, the brethren here need prayers. I hope that their eyes and hearts will be opened, and that they will truly give their hearts to Jesus. Thank you for your work, your encouragement, and your prayers. Please pass my gratitude on to your readers. Thanks again, Al. --- p.s. If you would like a copy of the lesson I gave, just give me your mailing address and I will be glad to send one to you. God bless you!

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