Christ’s Letter to the Church in Pergamum

Sermon for Midweek Lenten Service based on Revelation 2:12-17 (Nu. 25, I Cor. 5)

Dear conquerors who will receive some of the hidden manna: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We know Balaam best as the prophet whose donkey spoke to him. The people of Moab had come against the people of Israel, and the Moabite king, Balak, summoned Balaam to curse the Israelites in exchange for honour and many rewards. God told Balaam not to go. However, upon being promised even greater honour and rewards by King Balak, Balaam again asked God if he could go because he wanted honour and rewards from the Moabite king. God permitted Balaam to go, but was not pleased with him or that his heart was attempting to serve two masters, both God and mammon (Nu. 22:1-20).

The angel of the Lord would have killed Balaam on the way, had his donkey not turned off the road, pushed against a wall, and eventually laid down under Balaam. Balaam beat his donkey, to which his donkey proceeded to speak with him until God opened his eyes to see the angel. The angel rebuked Balaam’s way as perverse, and once again he was told not to say anything that God didn’t command him to say, thus he was not to curse the people of Israel (Nu. 22:21-35).

Balaam did not curse the Israelites because God told him not to, but he was nevertheless instrumental in encouraging the Israelites to commit immorality and idolatry with the Moabites (Nu. 31:13-16). He couldn’t curse the Israelites, so he advised the Moabite women to invite the Israelite men to their idolatrous feasts. Balaam thus schemed to make the Israelites turn away from God and worship idols so that they would incur God’s wrath and thus be cursed by God.

Part of the worship of Baal included sexual orgies to gain the favour of Baal. The Israelite men were enticed by the Moabite women to join them for these orgies. Thus, God commanded the judges to execute those who had whored with the Moabites and yoked themselves to Baal. God also struck the people with a plague so that twenty-four thousand of them died.

As the people were mourning over these executions and deaths, a chief of a house of Israel brought into the camp a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses and all the congregation of Israel, and they went into his tent. Brazenly, and openly, he went to commit fornication even while God was punishing the very sin in the congregation.

Phinehas, being zealous for God, went and slew both the man and the woman with a spear, following God’s command to execute those who sinned in this way. Because of Phinehas’s actions, God stopped the plague and blessed Phinehas to be the high priest, and his descendants after him in perpetuity. Balaam, on the other hand, was killed when Phinehas and the Israelites attacked the Midianites, with whom Balaam dwelled.

The church in Pergamum did not heed the warning that these historical events teach. Christ condemned them for having those in their midst who held to the teaching of Balaam and thus committed idolatry and sexual immorality. These are the same teachings of the Nicolaitans, as we heard two weeks ago in the sermon on the letter to Ephesus, whose works Christ says that He hates (Rev. 2:6).

Should the church in Pergamum have speared the idolaters and adulterers like Phinehas did? No, because the command to execute was given by God through Moses to the judges of Israel who had authority to execute justice over the people of Israel. The church of Christ has no such command or authority.

Rather, as we heard in the letter to Corinth (I Cor 5), the church of Christ has the command and authority to deliver such impenitent idolaters and adulterers to Satan, to cleanse the leaven out of the church. That means they are to be put outside the fellowship of the church through excommunication. Outside of fellowship with Christ, there is only fellowship with Satan, thus excommunication is called being delivered to Satan.

The church is also commanded to not associate with those who claim to be Christians who are sexually immoral or greedy, idolaters, revilers, drunkards, or swindlers – not even to eat with them. This is to give no impression of fellowship or implied acceptance of their sin, lifestyle, or values. The church is called to judge those inside the church, not those outside the church, and to “purge the evil person from among you.”

This the church in Pergamum was not doing, thus Christ tells them to repent or He’s going to war against them with the sword of His mouth. They are thus commanded to repent and purge the evil persons from among them. Rather than being arrogant and puffed up about the sinners in their midst, they should have been mourning over the sin and over the spiritual death of the sinner (cf. I Cor. 5:2).

Understand that this is not a command to excommunicate every sinner in the church. If that were the case, there would be no one remaining, not even a single pastor. Rather, it is a command to excommunicate the sinners who refuse to repent; sinners who boldly and openly live in sin and refuse to turn away from it, like the Israelite who went to fornicate with the Midianite woman in front of Moses and the whole congregation of Israel.

Thus, we do repent. We hate our sin. We hate our weaknesses. We repent of those times we have been sexually immoral or greedy. We repent of our idolatry – all those times when we have feared, loved, and trusted in anything other than God. We repent of those times we have reviled others through verbal abuse; those times we have had too much to drink; those times we have swindled others by taking advantage of them. We also repent of those times we have tolerated open sin in our midst instead of mourning over it and mourning over the spiritual death of the sinner.

The entire life of a Christian is to be one of repentance. It is a daily drowning of the Old Adam along with all sins and evil desires. We repent daily, because we sin daily.

Christ does not threaten the repentant sinner, but the unrepentant sinner. He says, “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.” The sword of judgment is for those who do not repent.

To the repentant sinner, however, Christ promises to give him some of the hidden manna. In Scripture, manna is called the grain of heaven and the bread of angels (Ps. 78:24-25), thus this promised manna is a promise of eternal life in heaven – hidden now, but to be revealed when Christ returns. We have the promise of a place at the wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end, where we will eat the food of angels.

We also have a foretaste of the feast to come in the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is hidden manna because the future banquet is hidden from view, and the presence of Christ in the Supper is also hidden, not visible, but nevertheless real and as certain as Christ’s own promise: “This is my body… This is my blood.” (Mt. 26:26, 28; Louis Brighton’s Commentary on Revelation) In the Lord’s Supper, repentant sinners receive the forgiveness of sins earned for them by the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, thus the body and blood of Jesus give us eternal life.

Repentant sinners are also promised a white stone, with a new name written on the stone. Stones were used by judges in declaring a verdict: a black one for conviction, a white one for acquittal (BDAG). This white stone can thus be seen as a declaration of innocence, an acquittal of all charges. Through giving us a white stone, the Judge of the living and the dead declares us acquitted of all charges and sins which we have committed.

The new name on the stone suggests Baptism, when the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is placed upon the baptized. We are baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38), and our name is written in the book of life (Rev. 21:27). This goes together with the declaration of innocence that God makes when He baptizes us and calls us His own.

Christ declares us innocent and gives us the hidden manna of His body and blood not because we have been so good, but because we have sinned. He knows we need forgiveness, so He gives it to us freely.

Christ was found guilty of our sins and suffered and died for them, so we are declared innocent and acquitted, free from all charges. We are called by His name, and He will take us to heaven to eat the food of angels when we die from this life. Christ keeps us in fellowship with Himself by giving us body and blood in holy communion, that hidden manna that gives us eternal life. And He will take us to His eternal wedding banquet, where we will live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives, and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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