Confronting the Gates of Hell

Title: Confronting the Gates of Hell

Bible Book: Revelation 2 : 12-17

Author: Johnny L. Sanders

Subject: Pergamos, Letter to; Church Life



We come today to a church with which you and I can identify - to a degree. The Lord has some commendations for the church, and He has some complaints. The reason I stress that we can identify with this church only to a degree is that they were guilty of sins of an especially serious nature. But before we go into that, Let me remind you of some of the basic things we should remember when we look at the letters to the seven churches in Revelation.
1) These are historical churches.
2) They are prophetic.
3) Smyrna and Philadelphia receive only praise.
4) Sardis and Laodicea receive only condemnation.
5) Ephesus, Pergamos, and Thyatira receive both.

The letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor are not haphazardly written, but carefully constructed by the Lord Himself. Let me briefly review the literary scheme these letters follow (even though there will be some variation from letter to letter). There is:
1) A superscription to the church.
2) A description of the divine Author.
3) An account of the spiritual condition of the church.
4) Either a commendation or a condemnation for the church.
5) An exhortation in view of conditions in the church.
6) A promise to those who overcome.
7) A command to pay attention to the voice of the Spirit.

The only exception to this order is that in the first three letters the command precedes the promise and in the last four it follows it. Now, Let us see what message the Lord has for us in the letter to the church at Pergamos. And believe me, if you cannot find yourself in one or more of these letters you will deny yourself the blessing you are promised in the beginning of the Revelation to all who read it and to all who hear it.

Let me first remind you of what we have already seen in this series. There are seven letters and there are seven churches. The number seven is the number for perfection or completion. The seven churches represent the whole church, since there were many more than seven churches in existence at the time. The seven letters will find application in any church of any place of any time. While no one letter may fit any particular church today perfectly, one or more of these letters will address problems and solutions for any church, of any age and any place.

The church at Pergamos was an historic church, a real church in a real place at a real time. In other words, this letter is neither fiction nor some mysterious allegory. Pergamos (modern Bergama), was the capital city of the province of Asia. It was also the site of the famous temple to Aesculapius, the Greek god of healing. Thousands of harmless snakes (if there is such a thing!) inhabited the area around the temple. From the ends of the empire, people came to seek healing in this temple. Physicians today still display the staff of Aesculapius on signs and office buildings.
The pride of Pergamos was one of the greatest libraries in the world. The Attalid kings built a magnificent library of 200,000 volumes. Plans to build a library to rival that of Alexandria were thwarted when Egypt cut off the supply of papyrus. The need for a new material for their scrolls led to the development of writing material made from the skins of animals, called parchment. It is significant that parchment was first used as a writing material at Pergamos. When you read about parchments, remember that they got their name here.

The city of Pergamos featured temples to Roman emperors. It was emperor worship which most concerned the Author of this letter. That, however, was not the only practice of pagan worship. There was a one thousand foot hill or Pergamos which was covered with pagan temples and altars - as opposed to the mountain of God. Now, let us look at the letter to the church at Pergamos.


"And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this..."

1) He has a sharp two-edged sword.
The letter is addressed to the pastor of the church at Pergamos, with the obvious understanding that he would read it before the church (1:3). There is no question as to the identity of the speaker here. In Revelation, Jesus is often portrayed with a sword:
In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength (1:16).

From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty (19:15).

2) He know this church.
We do no injustice to the divine Author of this letter if we stress that He has perfect knowledge of each church. In 1:14, we read that Jesus has eyes like "flames of fire." He has eyes like lasers, penetrating each heart and each mind. Even the human Jesus, Who had to take on certain limitations with the Incarnation, knew what others were thinking.


1) You live where Satan’s throne is.
Peter wrote, "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).

The word translated to devour describes what the Red Sea did to Pharaoh’s army. That is exactly what Satan wants to do to you. (I wonder if President Bush ever feels like that when the media goes ballistic over any statement he makes about being a Christian.) He is on the prowl everywhere, but he a strong foothold in Pergamos. In fact, Jesus says, this was hell’s headquarters on earth (thought there were many other places that might have competed for the honor). The demonic temple to Aesculapius, the Greek god of healing, was one expression of the reign of Satan in Pergamos. People came from all over the region, bringing the sick and diseased to have them placed in a room where snakes could crawl over them to administer their healing powers. I can tell you right now, if I had to lie there and let a snake crawl over me it would not promote healing. They would have to bury me!

Emperor worship was another issue. In some places emperor worship was forced on the people, here they were especially proud of it. Emperor worship brought persecution to Christians all over the Roman Empire, but the pressure was especially great in Pergamos.
When I was writing a commentary on the Gospel According to Luke I was strongly impressed with the need to ask, Where have all the demons gone? Jesus found them everywhere He went. They recognized Him when the saw Him. Tongue in cheek, I asked, "Isn’t it amazing that Jesus got rid of all the demons and we do not have to worry about them today?" Of course that was facetious, but I am not hearing a lot of sermons on Satan, I am not seeing a lot of Sunday School lessons on demons.

My brother-in-law recently attended an important meeting for Directors of Missions and while at the meeting he had the opportunity to visit with the Sunday School Director from one of the state conventions. They were talking about various things that would make Sunday School fun and my brother-in-law said, "I may be a little old fashioned, but I thought the purpose in Sunday School was to teach the Bible." To which the state SS Director replied, "A lot of things have changed."

When a church takes the Bible out of the Sunday School and the pulpit, that church may well be in danger of installing Satan on the throne. When a denomination ordains homosexuals to the ministry they are offering Satan a seat in their headquarters. When a professor from Notre Dame explains that Bishops must be very careful in denying John Kerry communion because of his aggressive crusade for abortion, because they are looking at the issue from a theological perspective and he must look at it from a political perspective, that church is inviting the devil to take the throne. I am not saying that Satan has taken control of those churches, but I am saying they have opened to door, and they are in danger.
I observed some twenty years ago that the World Council of Churches had adopted a Marxist philosophy and agenda. When that happens, Satan has taken the throne. The local church must be ever vigilant because Satan is looking for and opportunity to make that church his headquarters in the community. Bill O’Reilly interviewed a minister who had written a book about conversion - that may have been the title. When asked what he meant, the "reverend" explained that we need to be converted to the poor. Congress needs to be converted to food stamps! If members of out churches were genuinely converted to God and conformed to the image of His Son, the church would be meeting the needs of the people around us - and congress could cut taxes!

2) You have been faithful in the face of Satan’s forces.
The believers in the church at Pergamos had been faithful to the Lord in the face of Satan’s reign in the city. The Lord desires, and recognizes faithfulness under all circumstances. Believers are never more like their Lord than when they are loving him and being faithful to Him. Those are two of His great attributes. God is love, and God is faithful (1 John 1:9).3) Antipas had been a faithful martyr.
We are not given any information about Antipas, other than the fact that he was a faithful martyr. The word martyr is from martus, a Greek word that may be translated either martyr or witness (as in Acts 1:8). A witness in Pergamos was taking his life in his hands when he became a witness for Jesus Christ. Any witness today must be faithful to the Lord, even if it means martyrdom. That is what it means to take up the cross and follow Him. When Satan moves into the church you won’t hear many sermons about the Cross, not about the command to take up our cross and follow Him.


1) Some hold the teaching of Balaam.
The doctrine of Balaam reminded the speaker, Jesus, of the connection between the attitude of some in the church at Pergamos with one of the most shameful incidents in the history of Israel. In Numbers 22; 23 and 31:15, 16, we find the tragic story of Balaam's counsel to Balak to employ Moabite women to seduce the men of Israel, which brought disaster to God's people. A sinister philosophy of sensuality and antinomianism (opposition to all law) was being propagated and tolerated at Pergamos. Immorality was often associated with ancient pagan religions, especially the fertility cults, like Baal.

2) Some hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.
These may have been the libertines of Gnosticism. The Nicolaitans may well have been followers of one Nicholas who sought to establish an hierarchy within the church (the name means "conquering of the people)). However, it seems more likely that there were people in the church who taught that sexual immorality, a sin committed in the body, could not effect the soul. Some of the Gnostics taught this and some of those members may have been converted from this budding philosophy and they brought this philosophy into the church.
What does the Bible have to say about this attitude? Paul wrote, "Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body" (1 Cor. 6:18). Literally, Paul challenges them to make a practice of fleeing immorality, just as Joseph fled from Potiphar’s wife.


The prescription is simple- repent! We tend to think others should repent of their sins. Church members may well reach the point that they adopt the attitude that the preacher is really stepping on "their" feet. I always love it when I hear someone declare that he wants to hear a preacher who is not afraid to step on our toes. He is lying. He does not want the preacher to step on his toes, he wants him to step on his neighbor’s toes so that he can shout amen when he feels that the pastor has scored a direct hit.

The people at Pergamos who were guilty of the charges Jesus directed against them needed to repent. Please do not assume that since you are not addicted to drugs, gambling, or pornography, that you have no need to repent. I found it amusing when I discovered that some members of a former church were squirming when I was preaching on personal relationships within the church. They thought I was really preaching when I talked about the drunk in the gutter, but it was a little too much for some when I stressed that your sin problem lies in your attitude toward the person across the aisle from you. Today, I am going to ask you to repent if you are guilty of any of these serious sins - or if you are guilty of either of two other sins. First, you must repent if you are doing less that your best for the Lord. Some of you may remember the old VBS motto, "I will do the best I can with what I have, where I am, for Jesus sake today." Anything less than that is sin. The only response is to repent.

In the second place, I am going to ask you to repent if you are not only not doing your best, but especially if you are holding back, obstructing the work of the church, resisting progress, thwarting the efforts of the whole church.

I have a personal confession, and an embarrassing one at that. When I was growing up on a cotton farm seven miles west of Sledge, Mississippi, we worked "from can to can’t", from the time you could see until you could not see. To tell the truth, it was worse than that. My mother called me at 4:14 every morning and I put in a lot of work before it was light enough to see without a light or a lantern.
When my friends left their fields to go to Sledge, the MISSISSIPPI COTTON PICKING DELTA TOWN, made famous by Charlie Pride. That song was written by my friend Harold Dorman, author of MOUNTAIN OF LOVE, which earned gold records for Harold, Johnny Rivers, and Charlie Pride.

The reason I mentioned that is that the song describes what my friends were doing in town while I was home working - they were "walking up and down the street licking a dust covered ice cream cone."

One summer day when I was about twelve years old I watched with great anticipation the formation of clouds in the southwest. When folks prayed for rain during those long dry spells they immediately began looking at the southwestern sky. Sure enough, it got darker and darker, and the darker it got the more concerned my parents became. We had a long way to go before we were ready to "lay by" (stop cultivating and hoeing and wait for the cotton to open so we could start picking). We had had a lot of rain that year, and before farmers began using pre-emergence chemicals to kill grass, we really had to fight it on a wet year. Of course, I was not worried about laying by the crop, which usually came sometime after the Fourth of July. I was more concerned about lying around for a day or two.

We got caught that day, much to the chagrin of my parents and the joy of their number one son. We all loaded onto the truck and started toward the house. No twelve year old boy could have asked for more. By the time we got to the house, I learned that my parents had taken a close look at the rain cloud and decided that it might not be raining on the lower place.

On the way to the lower place, we had to drive down a dirt road, which was almost always passable because it was on a sandy ridge. However, there were two or three mud holes in the middle of the road that day. We made it through two of them, but when Daddy tried to drive through the last one he got stuck. Immediately, he told everyone to get out and push. They - shall we say "we" did get out of the back of the truck and two people got out of the cab. They all lined up on either side of the truck and pushed until all progress to the front ceased. Then everyone pushed the other way as Daddy put it in reverse and backed up for a longer run at the deepest part of the mud hole. At his signal, every one got into a new position and began pushing forward as Daddy gunned it in low gear.

Now here is the embarrassing part of the story. I was not on either side, I was behind the tailgate. I know that does not seem like it should be embarrassing, unless you consider how dumb it was. After all, you could get a better hold on the truck and do more good there, if you were willing to get soaked with mud and water. Let’s face it, I was desperate - desperate not to go to another field after the Lord had mercifully delivered me from the first one.

When my father put the truck in low gear and everyone lined up on the sides and pushed forward, I was pulling back for all I was worth. They dragged me through most of the mud hole (toes spread, feet sliding) until the truck stopped, tires spinning and slinging mud and water all over me. When he put it in reverse and everyone pushed to the rear, I pushed against the truck and skidded along in the mud once again. As I look back now, it was also dangerous!

After several attempts, Daddy got enough momentum to hit the deeper part of the mud hole fast enough to get on through it. Everyone loaded back into the truck and for the next thirty minutes we talked about how we pushed the truck out of the mud hole. "We" got it our all right, but it was in spite of every thing I could do to prevent it. I had never worked so hard in my life to keep from working. When we got out, however, and people saw how muddy I was they assumed that I had been trying harder than anyone else to push the truck out of the mud hole. I accepted the praise!

I have seen times when some church has gotten together on a project, and while most people were pushing, some disgruntled member was pulling back for all he was worth. When they completed the project or fulfilled the mission commitment, they joined all the others in talking about what "we" did. I remember the very nice educational buildings one church built while listening to some of the older member warning that the wolf was at the door. Another church built a building against the wishes of a few older members, but when it was finished, they were quick to take credit for it. For that matter, they did help pay for it.

I knew a lady who did everything she could to prevent her women’s missionary society from helping a needy family. When they decided to go forward with the project, guess who volunteered to go to town and buy the food and clothing for the family? If you guessed the lady who tried to block it, you guessed right.

There is another person who needs to repent. That person does not work against the church. He or she does not try to take credit when the job is finished. He or she may simply sit back and do nothing but criticize what others are doing. That person needs to repent. There are also people who do nothing at all - they do not work, they do not take credit, they do not criticize, they do nothing at all and seem as though they could care less. If you fit into either category, you need to repent.

Bob Moore stood up in a business meeting and spoke against building a new gym before they built a new auditorium for worship. Young adults had rallied a lot of people to vote for the new Christian Life Center like the one at a large church in a large city. They were in a basketball league and wanted to be able to host games and other events. This was a worthy goal. What they wanted was good, but not the best thing for their church. Bob spoke against it, but when the church voted, those who wanted to build the new gym were in the majority. Immediately, Bob asked to be recognized and when he was given permission to speak he said. "My church has voted to build a Christian Life Center and I want you to know I am one hundred percent behind what my church has voted to do. I will give money, time, and anything else I can to see this project completed. But I want to challenge those of you who have just voted to build the building to support the building program. Some of you sitting right here have never done one thing to support this church, but since you have voted to build this building, I want to challenge you to do your part to see it through." I love that!


1) "Or else I am coming quickly."
When my earthly father said, "stop it or else," you had better believe he had my attention. If I had not obeyed him I would have faced the consequences. When my heavenly Father says "Stop it or else," I had better give Him my undivided attention. The consequences could be severe. If that was the case in ancient Pergamos, how can we take His warning lightly today. Have you stopped to consider the price of infidelity today? The price of unfaithfulness?

2) "I will wage war against them with the sword of my mouth."
In verse 12 we read, "And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this," and then he gives him the message. Jesus is seen in verse 12 as One wielding a sharp two-edged sword as a mighty warrior. Here, He makes war against the unrepentant sinners in the church with the sword of His mouth. That is His word, and less you take that lightly, let me remind you that the first chapter of Genesis declares over and over, "God said...and it was so." God said it and it was so!
The Lord will chastise those who belong to Him when they are unfaithful. Sadly, Jesus may well be waging war against unsuspecting church members today with the sword of his mouth. They wonder why God does not answer their prayers, why He does not bless them. The reason in some cases may well be that they are under the judgment of Jesus Christ. That is a terrible price to pay for being unfaithful to Him.


"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." My Old Testament professor, Dr. T. J. DeLaughter, used to stress that a certain Hebrew word means to hear with a mind to obey. You have probably had an occasion to say to a child, "Did you hear what I said?" I often had to ask John after correcting him, "John, did you hear what I said?" To which he would say, "Yes sir." I would then ask, "What did I say?" Then I knew I had his attention when his response was, "Ugh." He could look you in the eye and agree with everything you said, and by the time you finished he would have the plans for a model car drawn up in his mind - if he didn’t know he would asked to repeat what you had said.


1) The promise is to the one who overcomes.
Those who over come are those who remain faithful to the end. The believers in Pergamos faced trials and tribulations you and I can hardly imagine, but many of them remained faithful. The Lord here challenges all believers to remain faithful - where ever they are, what ever the circumstances.

2) Jesus said, "I will give some of the hidden manna."
Hidden manna implies the sufficiency of Jesus Christ to meet the needs of His followers, just as God met the physical needs of the Children of Israel in the wilderness. He promises to be with us always and to supply all our needs. He is the Bread of Life, the Bread of Heaven.

3) Jesus promises a white stone with a new name on it.
"I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it."

A white stone with an inscription was given to:
a. One who was acquitted of a crime.
b. Soldiers after a victory (as a medal today).
c. Free men of the city(ticket to public events, state meals).
d. A sign of unending friendship.


 Jesus had some good things to say about the church at Pergamos, but He also had some complaints. I really believe that if He spoke to us today, He would commend us for certain things. I am also afraid He would also have some complaints. The fact that our sins may not be as blatant as those in Pergamos does not mean that we do not need His forgiveness. Whether one has strayed, either doctrinally or morally, or whether he has simply not been faithful to the Lord and His church there is but one answer. We must repent - or else. If we repent, He will give us that white stone of identification, fellowship, and victory.

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