In His letter to the church at Ephesus, Jesus told John to write that He had something against the Ephesians, namely, that they had left their first love. Their Christian love was lacking and now, Jesus warned them against trying to continue on in cold duty and heartless theology. After that letter, John wrote on behalf of the glorified Jesus to the church at Smyrna. Smyrna was doing well, and the letter was full of commendations for their endurance during a difficult era of persecution. In spite of being tormented, they held fast to their faith and hope in Christ.
As Jesus dictated to John his third letter, a letter to the church at Pergamos, a similarity with the letter to Ephesus appeared. In verse 14, a phrase is repeated from verse 4, “I have something against you.” Here, the church at Pergamos found themselves in the crosshairs of Christ’s judgment. It was not that Christ was just a little bit concerned with the churches. It was not that He was just beginning to see a trend that may become a problem. Rather, the very thing that He saw in them stood as opposition to Him. This was no passing trifle, this was enmity against Jesus. Jesus had something “against” them.
In Ephesus it was their lack of Christian love. In Pergamos, the indictment revealed a more widespread issue. In Ephesus the problem was their heart; in Pergamos, the problem was their whole lifestyle. The city of Pergamos was a vital city in ancient Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). As most other Roman metropolises, Pergamos was a place of polytheistic paganism with temples erected throughout for worshipping the false gods of the ancient world.
However, their love for other gods was matched with an equal hatred for the Christian God. This hatred led to the eventual persecution and even the martyring of Christians in Pergamos. In this letter, Jesus mentions one martyr by name, Antipas. Church history tells us that he was placed inside of a brass bull which had fire under its belly, where he was essentially cooked to death.
But the whole church at Pergamos was not faithful and devoted like Antipas. There were those referred to as “them” in verses 14-17, who clearly were in the church but were not acting like Christians. Instead of being fully devoted to purity, and the truth of the gospel, they found themselves wrapped up in idolatry and fornication. Their lives were marked by superstition, covetousness, and sinful sexuality, yet they called themselves Christians. They had been deceived into thinking that living lives of blatant sin while calling themselves Christians was in some way acceptable to God.
Jesus compared them to the wayward Old Testament profiteer Balaam. In an effort to make money, Balaam convinced an enemy king that to defeat the nation of Israel he must corrupt them through covetousness and sexual sin. His plan worked, and the people of God fell into sin and ultimately were judged by God. Now, in similar ways, the church at Pergamos was living in sin like the world. Some in the church were excusing sin in their lives and encouraging those around them to live equally sinful lives.
“Know ye not that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” - James 4:4
This doesn’t mean that you should not have friends who are non-Christians, rather it means that you shouldn’t pursue the sinful lifestyles of the world and assume that everything is right between you and a holy God. Purity and holiness matters in the life of every believer. Here Christ declares war on all those who have set themselves in lifestyles that are “against” Him. We should see the warning to the church at Pergamos and be reminded that Christ desires us to be a pure people, sanctified and set apart to Him.
Reflect: Read Matthew 10:28. How did the teaching of Christ in this verse cause Antipas to be different from the “them” in the church at Pergamos?