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Withstanding Persecution

Nothing is worth compromising and conforming with the world. Hold fast to the words, worth, and works of Jesus.


Revelation 2:12-17 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.


“‘I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold 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. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’


What is the biggest challenge that you are facing today?


Whatever it is, it cannot be greater than what more than 360 million persecuted Christians face every day around the world. That is more than the total population of the United States.


Did you know that every day, 13 Christians are killed worldwide because of their faith, and today will be no different? How do they withstand persecution to the point of death?


The problem is most people with relatively comfortable lives don’t have any reason to think about withstanding persecution because they are focused on their everyday struggles. What they need is a reminder of imminent persecution so that they can pray, plan, and prepare for it and when the time comes withstand persecution because it is coming and is already here.


In Revelation 2:12-17, the church in Pergamum was withstanding persecution coming from non-Christians, but they were failing to withstand persecution coming from within, meaning from those who said they were Christians, but they were not.


In verse 16, Jesus said that if they don’t change and turn away from it, He will come soon and war against them with the sword of His mouth. However in verse 17, He promised that if they conquer, they will be rewarded with hidden manna and a new name hidden from everyone else.


The big idea is, if we do not want Jesus to wage war against us with the sword of His mouth when He comes but instead reward us with hidden manna and a new name hidden from everyone else, we must learn to withstand persecution whether it’s from internal or external sources.


As we continue through our series, “Uncovering Revelation,” verse by verse, Revelation 2:12-17 sheds light on that and lays out three truths that will surely enable us to pray, plan and prepare to withstand persecution, whether internal or external.


We withstand persecution when we hold fast to the words, worth, and works of Jesus.


Hold Fast to the Words of Jesus


In Revelation 2:12, being consistent with the needs of the church in Pergamum, Jesus addressed them as “the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.” We first saw this in Revelation 1:16 which says “from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword.”


What is this sharp two-edged sword that Jesus has coming out of His mouth and what purpose does it serve?


Revelation 19:15 says, “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron.” So, this is a weapon of destruction of nations. Looking further down in Revelation 19 to verse 21, once the beast and false prophet were captured, and thrown alive into the lake of fire, regarding the rest of all their allies, kings, rulers and their armies, it says, “… were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse.


The Greek word used here for sword is rhomphaía. It was a long and heavy, broad sword used by the Thracians and other barbarians. They were despised by the Romans as were the Christians. Their swords cut and pierce at the same time; the sword Jesus has does the same.


When compared with Hebrews 4:12, the sword in our text is symbolic of the words of Jesus and its purpose is to judge. With the Word of His mouth, God created everything and with it, He will judge and destroy nations assembled to fight God and His chosen people.


Verse 13, the commendation for holding fast to the Words of Jesus, reads “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas [a known martyr] my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.”


Notice Jesus knows where they dwell, where Satan’s throne is, and where Satan dwells. It was in Pergamum, a wealthy place with temples devoted to the Greco-Roman pantheon of gods and the home of the first temple built to worship the Roman emperor.


I live in Metuchen, zip code 08840, which is in central NJ, which is in the United States of America. Similarly, according to John 12:13, Satan is the ruler of this world but his zip code, where he was most active was Pergamum, and yet believers there held fast to Jesus’ name and faith in Jesus.


Hiding our identity as Christians out of the fear of financial frustration, social isolation, or imprisonment is denying the name of Jesus and thus Jesus Himself. Do you deny Jesus by hiding your identity?


The application for us, here, is hold fast to the name of Jesus and do not deny your faith no matter where the attack comes from or where it lands, whether on the body, mind, family, work, or any other area of your life.


Hold Fast to the Worth of Jesus


Christians in Pergamum received commendations for laying down their lives for Jesus because only Jesus was worthy of their worship. However, they also received condemnation for two issues.


The first issue was upholding moral purity, “But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold 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.”


What is the Balaamite teaching? In Numbers 22-24, we find the story of Balaam who self-professed to be a prophet of the Lord.


Balak, the king of the Moabites, invited him to come and curse Israelites so that he could defeat them.


In the days of Moses the Israelites were undefeatable because no human king could beat the one true king of Israel in heaven. The Lord forbade Balaam to curse them and commanded him to bless them.


King Balak offered Balaam all sorts of riches, but he refused to go against God’s orders even though his heart wanted to please King Balak. He figured out how to curse the Israelites without violating the Lord's command by corrupting them through sexual immorality.


In Numbers 25, the Israelite men gave in to sexual immorality with the Moabite women and soon these women turned their hearts from God to worship idols. This led to arousing God’s anger against Israel and He sent a plague and killed 24,000 Israelites.


In Numbers 31:16, we discover that it was Balaam who counseled the king to tempt Israel into marrying the women of Moab. This defiled them and broke down the separation between them and the world.


That was the very reason why God chose them to demonstrate to the World what it is to follow the one true God in heaven. 2 Peter 2:15 and Jude 1:11 also talk about the ways and error of Balaam in the first-century church.


Somehow, the Christians in Pergamum found Jesus worthy of their worship, and worth dying for, but not worthy to live morally pure lives. Satan is smart; he knows that he cannot curse God’s people, but he creates situations in which when they fall and provoke God’s anger.


Ask yourself, in what way is the devil creating situations for you to provoke God's anger against you? Is it moral impurity? Are you compromising and conforming to the world?


The second issue was upholding doctrinal purity. Verse 15 says, “ So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” In Revelation 2:15, to the church in Ephesus, the commendation was that they hated the Nicolaitans but here, to the church on Pergamum, it is a condemnation.


Most Bible scholars agree that they were teaching sinful freedom, a form of antinomianism.


Apparently, the external attacks on Pergamum did not work, but the internal attacks from within worked.


Syncretism might have been the core issue. Perhaps the false teachers were saying, “Well, Jesus knows your heart belongs to him, and it really does not matter if you bow to the emperor, eat food offered to idols, and observe religious festivals which seem to involve sexual immorality.”


These false teachers like Balaam were causing God’s people to fall into sin for personal gain. They creatively brought the culture into the church and corrupted the church with idolatry and adultery which by the way is both extra-marital sex as well as pre-marital sex.


Once I was talking to someone who left their faith to avoid feeling guilty for pre-marital sex and not committing to the biblical mandate of sex within the marriage covenant between a man and a woman.


Unfortunately, today, professing Christians are victims of the Balaamite doctrine that mixes culture with faith in Jesus.


The application for us is that no one can curse God’s people and turn His grace away from them, but when we do not hold fast to the worth of Jesus in all areas of our lives, especially sexuality, we invite destruction into our lives. So, we need to withstand persecution both external and internal.


Hold Fast to the Works of Jesus


The Christians in Pergamum not only accommodated a culture of sexual pervasiveness but also probably justified it with theological reasons.


In Revelation 2:16, Jesus said, “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.” This weapon of judgment as the Words of Jesus performs two functions in the world: It offers blessed hope of eternal life to the saved but excruciating pain for the unsaved.


By the divine power of His Word in our hands and hearts, we have been separated from conformity with the world and the just condemnation of the world for rejecting the words, worth, and works of Jesus.


In verse 17 Jesus says to them, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’” It means that unless they conquer, that is overcome, the moral pervasiveness and doctrinal error, it literally says that he will come without delay.


To the victors, Jesus promises two things: a new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it and a portion of the hidden manna, the heavenly food that the Israelites ate in the wilderness.

If you read the 2023 Open Doors World Watch List, you can see where Satan’s throne is today. It is where God’s people are holding fast to the words, worth, and works of Jesus. Satan always concentrates on regions where the church is growing.


While in the West, Christianity is declining, it is growing in Asia and Africa. With that growth, the persecution is growing, also. The underground Church in China and Iran is one example and Africa is another where Islamic Jihadists seek to make Africa the first Islamic continent. Boko Haram and Fulani militants want to eliminate Christianity from the region.


A Bible Gateway resource called it the “Christian Genocide in Africa.” All of that is an external attack on Christians but there is an internal attack that is mostly coming from the United States and ripping the church apart with the rapid growth of the false doctrine of prosperity, and the name it-claim it movement.


How do we apply this? Just as the Israelites did not work to receive manna in the wilderness that was provided for them freely, Jesus promises provision and security of sustenance to those who hold fast to the works of Jesus to save us, preserve us, and to present us before the throne of God blameless.


There is a tradition that says Jeremiah took the Ark of the Covenant from the Temple and buried it somewhere on Mt. Sinai. It is said, that at the coming of the Messiah, it will be recovered, and manna will be made available to all.


In John 6:32, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven [referring to Himself].” Jesus is the spiritual everlasting food that no one needs to work for. It is done for us, but we need to hold fast to the words, worth, and works of Jesus.


On this International Day of Prayer for the Persecution Christians, pray knowledgeably for the persecuted church, plan and learn how to withstand persecution whether from internal or external sources, and prepare for coming persecution in the United States.


Repent of any moral or doctrinal impurity and do not compromise and conform to the world. The agents of the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans are inflicting pain to the body of Christ from within. They justify and theologize their perversive immoral unbiblical teachings to sanction sexual sin in the church and shame the Bible-believing believers for being unloving backward people.


If we do not want Jesus to wage war against us with the sword of His mouth when He comes but instead reward us with hidden manna and a new name hidden from everyone else, we must learn to withstand persecution whether internal or external by holding fast to the words, worth, and works of Jesus.


Be warned: The two-edged sword either will cut off sin in us or cut us in our sin. Nothing is worth compromising and conforming with the world. Hold fast to the words, worth, and works of Jesus.


Study Questions

1. How does Jesus identify Himself to the church in Pergamum (Revelation 2:12)? What is its significance? How is it relevant to the charge Jesus had against them?


2. What possible purpose(s) did the two-edged sword serve?

  • Revelation 1:16

  • Revelation 2:12

  • Hebrews 4:12

  • Ephesians 6:17

  • 2 Corinthians 10:3-6


3. Why would Jesus want them to know that He knows where they dwell and where Satan’s throne is (Revelation 2:13)?


How would the church in Pergamum be encouraged by the statement that Jesus knows where they dwell?

  • 2 Corinthians 4:4


4. Jesus talks about hidden manna and the hidden name that only the ones who receive will know (Revelation 2:17). Discuss what both mean and why Jesus promises them to Pergamum.

  • Exodus 16:33–35

  • Hebrews 9:4

  • John 6:32–58


Deeper Study Questions


1. In what way are you holding fast to the name of Jesus and refusing to deny your faith?


2. Is there anything you need to do to stop being influenced by the surrounding culture?


3. Read Revelation 2:14-15 and discuss what the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans mean and how they live on in our times.

  • Revelation 2:14-15

  • Numbers 22, 25:1-4


Personal Study


Jesus’ address to all seven churches in Revelation 2-3 has a specific pattern. To better learn to how to make observations in Scripture, spend a few minutes seeing the pattern by inserting the correct verse against the statement below, focusing only on Revelation 2:12-17.

  • Specific church addressed

  • Description of Jesus

  • Jesus commends the church

  • Jesus rebukes the church

  • Jesus gives a solution for the rebuke

  • Jesus gives a high-stakes warning

  • Jesus’ promise for those who conquer


Read More


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