Go

Calvary Chapel Cherry Creek (old)

Revelation 2 vs 12-17

Ephesus the loveless church.  The Church which represented a time of about 33AD to 100AD.  The church that was busy about the affairs of the Lord but in the midst of all the hustle and the programs and the labor…had left its first love.  A simple adoration of Jesus.  And as we looked at that church and Jesus’ letter to them we saw a practical pattern even for us…Remember (from where we have fallen), Repent (from the distractions and the “doing church” mentality) and Return to a simple, personal, intimate walk with the Lord.  (Matthew 6:33)

 

Then we looked at the persecuted church.  The church of Smyrna which represented the church period of about 101AD to about 312AD.  No real correction from the Lord but more of an exhortation.  Jesus said to that church “I know what you’re going through, and its going to get worse.”  And remember we looked at the account of Polycarp who was the pastor there who suffered an amazing martyrs death…

 

Tonight we will look at the church in Pergamos.  This church represents the church period of around 312AD to 590AD.  Pergamos or Pergamum was a prominent city situated about 16 miles from the Aegean Sea.  It was located due north about 50 miles of Smyrna on the coast.  It was the most northern church of all the churches in Asia minor.

 

Pergamos was not a great commercial city like Ephasus and Smyrna but rather it was known for being a center of art…a center of culture and a capital of learning.  It was also well known for its pagan worship.  Most notable the god Dionysus (god of wine) was worshipped prominently in Pergamos.  There were grandeous temples to Zeus and Athena (goddess of wisdom) as well as a temple to “Roma and Augustus” which was a place people could come to simply worship Roman Emperors as gods.  Pergamos was the first city to have this sort of temple…

 

The word Pergamos in the Greek is actually a combination of two words…per meaning “not acceptable” or “questionable” where we derive our word perversion…and gamos meaning “marriage” where we get “gamy” as in polygamy, monogamy…And so what we have here it literal, practical, spitiritual and ecclesiastical translation is a place of an unacceptable, perverted, unholy union.

 

I mean the place was a mess.  You found temples to all sorts of gods from all sorts of cultures…Greeks, Romans, Persians, Mesopotamians, Babylonians…temples just everywhere to everything and some people would go to all of them…you know covering all of their bases and others would lash out against the gods they did not ascribe to.  That happened to Christianity…

 

For the first three centuries of church history Christianity was banned by the Roman Empire.  It was criminalized and Christians were terribly persecuted.  At first the greatest persecutors of the church were unbelieving Jews but soon the Romans joined them in their persecution.  Paul and Peter were both put to death by the Roman Emperor Nero.  Christians were horribly martyred.  Burned alive, fed to the hungry animals of the collesium, tortured…not just killed but murdered maliciously. 

 

You may recall from our last study as we looked at the church of Smyrna, Jesus spoke of ten days of tribulation for the church and interestingly enough between the years 54 AD and 305 AD there were ten waves of horrible persecution under ten different Roman Emperors.  Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Spetimus Severus, Maximinus the Thracian, Decius Trajan, Valerian, Lucius Aurelian and the Diocletian.  These ten emperors, these three centuries, the devils attack on the Christian church was violent, relentless, terrible…yet external.  The church was attacked from the outside…

 

Enter Emperor Constantine.  A man surrounded by mystery even from his childhood.  Born the son of a man who neither accepted nor rejected Christianity, in fact his father Constantius Chlorus was a Roman politician on the rise and was more interested in unifying Rome than he was deciding on a god to serve. 

 

Unifying Rome?  Well yes.  Just like we see in Pergamos, Rome’s expansion had brought under one office, under one nation, under one man, the Roman Emperor many peoples.  Many nations being absorbed and ruled by Rome and really, the position of Emperor was not an easy one.  Many died suddenly, many stepped down, many were murdered…

 

At any rate…tough job.  So tough that at the time Constantine was growing up, Diocletian had divided the Roman Empire into two halves and set a team of men over each half.  In 293, Diocletian instituted what is known as the Tetrarchy.  The Tetrarchy established a Western and an Eastern portion of the Roman Empire and set an Augustus or emperor over each supported by a Caesar.  Each Caesar was given the right of succession once the Augustus or Emperor died.  Constantine’s father, Constantius Chlorus was appointed Caesar over the western division of the empire. 

 

So that put Constantine next in line for Caesar of the western division once his father assumed the position of Augustus.  Ok stay with me here, following the retirement of Diocletian in 305, Constantine’s father dies just a few months later in 306 and the Roman Empire is literally up for grabs…

 

Fights ensue at the leadership level of Rome and mind you Constantine at this point has no dealings with the Christian God but has been brought up in a home that was not particularly anti-christian either. 

 

So you have the year 306, Constantine is Caesar of the western division yet Rome is more divided than ever as a new rank of leaders vies for power…fast forward to the year 312…the fighting had come to a head…thousands had assembled, battled and died in this civil war of types and the scene opens at a place called the Milvian Bridge. 

 

Its October 28, 312 and Constantine is about to go head to head with Maxentius, the son of Maximian who was the Caesar to Domitian and who had become the Augustus of Rome.  Constantine is outnumbered, surely to be defeated and on this morning, he gets alone and lifts up his eyes to the heavens and calls out for help.  He sees a vision.  There in the clouds he tells the story that he saw a Cho-Rah, which is the first two letters of the name of Christ in Greek represented by a “P” intersecting with an “X” and he heard audibly, “by this, conquer.”

 

He walked away, look he knew of Jesus Christ, he knew of Christianity, and he walked away convinced that the God of the Christians had spoken to him so what did he do?  He painted the Cho-Rah on all of his soldiers shields and led them into battle against an army three times the size of his…and he won! 

 

He was outright, by himself, by way of conquer…the sole emperor of a unified Rome…Licinius had assumed the position of emperor of the East but he was subservient to Constantine…but intriguingly, what Constantine found was that Rome was not so unified. 

 

Just like in Pergamos, some of the peoples ascribed to this god, some to that…some worshipped him!  Similarly, some hated him because they were rooting for their Caesar and their Augustus and now Constantine was both!  He was Caesar Augustus and to make it all even more difficult, he was espousing Christianity.  A mess…he had a mess on his hands…

 

So what did he do?  He did what he knew.  What he had learned from his pa…he began to bring the peoples together.  The year before, as Caesar he had drafted and decreed the Edict of Toleration.  This Edict basically gave religious freedom to all peoples of the Roman Empire…but directed them all to pray for Rome.  Now just one year after the Milvian bridge, in 313 AD as the supreme Emperor (there was still Licinius in the East but he was subservient to Constantine) he drafted and decreed the Edict of Milan.

 

The Edict of Milan made Christianity legal.  More so than that, it favored Christianity!  It directed properties to be returned to the Christians…Christians were no longer outlaws…no longer enemies of the Roman Empire.  The Edict of Milan put a stop to horrible persecutions against believers.

 

But what did those persecutions do in the first place?  As the enemy brought wave after wave or persecutions against Christians trying to destroy the church…was it destroyed?  Did believers become an endangered species?  Actually the very opposite happened.  The more it was attacked, the more it suffered, the stronger it grew!

 

We find Stephen brutally martyred in Chapter 6 of the Book of Acts but what did that lead to…Saul of Tarsus being converted and then going on to give us 13 letters inspired by the Holy Spirit in our Holy Bible!  Christianity not only spread under intense persecution and popular rejection…it thrived!  The church could not be defeated.  It came out of each and every wave of persecution victorious and strong…and so the devil changed his strategy.

 

The edict of Toleration, the edict of Milan sought to unify a fragmented empire.  Satan coined the term, “if you can’t beat em…join em” and he did so under the watch of Constantine.  Under Constantine, the empire became “Christianized.”  Crucifixion was abolished.  Infanticide was abolished.  The practice of slavery was for the first time, discouraged.  The gladiatorial games were suppressed. Constantine even incentivized the clergy!

 

He granted them special freedom from taxes.  They were not required to serve militarily.  They were paid good salaries…they were granted the use of the Caesar’s post which means if they wanted to send letters or packages they were given fresh horses at the expense of the Emperor…the life of a pastor, a disciple had gone from horribly hard to luxuriously coveted!

 

He saw toleration and unification as his route to a strong and integrated and cohesive empire.  And really his conversion is somewhat suspect.  Even his coinage had the Cho-Rah on one side and the sun god on the other.  His plan was to accommodate…and unfortunately that plan does not jive when you have a room full of gods and only One is the Truth…problems continued. 

 

So what did he do?  He converged the neo-polytheistic belief systems of Rome and of Pergamos under the umbrella of Christianity.  Now I say that his conversion is suspect because later in his life, around 326 we find that he had his son Crispus and his wife Fausta executed however I am sure he saw something that day on the Milvian Bridge and I am sure that he believed the God of Christianity was the highest God however it seems that his never fully abandoned his pagan gods or his pagan tendencies.

 

Why so sure Matt?  Well because his choice of Christianity is not culturally rational in a way.  Why not pick something else?  Something that was already accepted like Caesar Worship or polytheism?  He embraced a belief system and a Savior that was publically rejected…and so I believe that the clues are solid, that he did see some sort of vision, but I’m not sure he connected ever with John 3:3.  The issue even today with many who embrace Christianity…

 

So he began to issue decrees and edicts that converged all of this neo-paganism under the covering of Christianity.  He assumed the role of Pontificus Maximus which allowed him to not only make judgements and decrees of the state and the empire but also of the church.  Interesting that when the Roman Empire collapsed this title was retained by the leader of the church…even to this day.

 

Heathen customs and practices crept into the church under Constantine’s edicts.  Pagan images and statues were welcomed into the churches but they were given “Christian” names such as Peter or Mary.  Artemis or Diana or Isis or Ishtar or Semiramus worship was changed to Mary worship.  Worshippers called her the “great virgin” and the “Mother of God.”  Some surviving images of Isis holding the child Horus…or Semiramus holding the child Tammuz…can be viewed today and you can’t tell them apart from modern statues depicting Mary holding Jesus. 

 

Heathen temples were turned into nominal churches and pagan feasts continued however were given Christian names...same old paganism…just under a new name.  What was happening?  The devil was changing his strategy.

 

And as people came together seemingly unified and appeased…and while Constantine believed that he was using the church to conquer the world, the opposite was happening.  The world was conquering the church.  Paganism had put on new clothes!

 

We don’t have time to look at an exhaustive study of pagan rituals absorbed into Christianity but I’ll just give you a few.  Mithraism was a religion practiced in the Roman Empire beginning around the 1st Century AD.  One of its key features was a sacrificial meal which involved eating the flesh and drinking the blood of a bull.  When consumed, the people believed that the god of Mithraism was present in the flesh and blood of the bull, and would grant the worshippers salvation.  This practice was replaced with the Christian communion by Constantine but is still very much alive even today known as the Eucharist.  Mithraism also had seven sacraments or ceremonies that point to what is sacred…special occasions for experiencing God’s saving presence…the universal church has how many sacraments today?  Seven.

 

A popular belief system in ancient Rome was henotheism.  A henotheist believes in the existence of many gods but focuses on one primary or particular god considering that god supreme over all the others.  For example, the Roman god Jupiter was supreme over the Roman pantheon gods.  Under Constantine these pantheon gods were renamed, as they had been done many times before, with the names of the saints.  Just as the Romans had a god of love, a god of peace, a god of war, a god of strength…the universal church even today has saints who are “in charge” of each of these, and many other categories.  Just as many Roman cities had a god specific to the city, so the church now has “patron saints” for the cities.

 

The waving of incense, the chanting, the hierarchy of clergy, even the costumes…all originate in early neo-paganism…all the way back to Mesopotamian worship of the Queen of Heaven.  Ishtar became Easter and no longer was the miraculous impregnation of Semiramus worshiped but now the resurrection of Jesus Christ…yet the eggs and the painting of eggs remained…Saturnalia became Christmas and no longer was the birth of Tammuz celebrated but now the birth of Jesus Christ…yet the decorated trees, the yule logs and the jingle bells remain…(Jeremiah 10)…

 

Constantine, instead of proclaiming the gospel and converting the pagans, he instituted the Roman Catholic or universal church that “Christianized” the pagan religions which didn’t Christianize them at all…what happened was Christianity became paganized.  The questionable, unacceptable union…marriage of not the church to Jesus…but the church to the world! 

 

Chapter 2 Verse 12

  • How do you war against false doctrine?  How do you defeat the enemy?  How do you, in your life, in your days, in your decisions guard against that which will paganize you and ultimately cause much pain and destruction?  The word of God!

 

Chapter 2 Verse 13

  • Wow!  Two times Jesus says here “where Satan dwells!”  Boy Satan was at work there in Pergamos…in the church…
  • And Jesus speaks of Antipas his faithful martyr.  Antipas was ordained by John himself as the pastor of Pergamos during the reign of Domitian.  Around the year 92, Domitian executed him by sealing him in a bronze bull and then heating the bull to incandescence.  Horrible.

 

Chapter 2 Verses 14 – 15

  • What is the doctrine of Balaam?  Recall King Balak of Moab desired to stop the Jews from continuing their march to the promised land through nations like his and so he hired Balaam who was a diviner to curse them.  It’s a very interesting story because there in Numbers Chapter 2, as Balaam would ascend a high mountain to overlook the entire people of Israel and cast his curse…what did he see?  Well the book of Numbers tells us how the children of Israel were arranged as they traveled and camped and if you count the people of the tribes and pictorially depict them there in the valley of the wilderness what you have is 151k people on one side, 157k people on the other, 182k people on one side and 108k people on the other…the people there in the valley, what Balaam would have seen…a cross!  So cool.
  • And Balaam came back to Balak after attempting to curse them three times but couldn’t instead blessings proceeded…he devised a dastardly plan to get them from within…send your hot moabitesses into their camp and entice the men to have relations with them and part of that relation will be for them to bow down to an idol and then their own God will have to punish them!  Well it worked!
  • So what is the doctrine of Balaam?  The unholy union of the world with God’s people!  Man we see that rampant today don’t we!!
  • Jesus continued regarding the eating of things sacrificed to idols and rampant sexual immorality…both forms of neo-pagan worship.
  • And also the doctrine of the Nicolaitans…which we saw also as we studied the church of Ephasus however the Ephesian church hated this…

 

Chapter 2 Verses 16 – 17

  • I love this.  Jesus says turn away from this mixture of the world with My church.  Have an ear to hear Me and Me alone and by that you can overcome!  What happens when its just you and Jesus man…hidden manna!  You think you need this ritual or that priest or this ceremony to fill you…to suffice you…no you don’t.  All you need is the Lord.
  • You think you have identity in your religion or in your church.  Not so.  You identity, your true identity, who you really are, who you really were made to be…its on a white stone and no one knows it, or sees it but you and the Lord.  So intimate.
  • And you know what also that means?  God is for you?  Where do we get the term “black ball” from?  You know like in voting, cast your vote of no by placing the black marble in the jar…well Jesus says here He will affirm you…He will confirm you…you need no church or priest or ceremony of confirmation…
  • Jesus says here, refuse this mixing of worldliness with your relationship with me.  Set your mind on things above…on My word…on eternity…I alone will fill you and I will cast a white stone for you securing a place for you with me forever...
  • How many of us dwell in Pergamos in our heart of hearts…How many of us have allowed the world to creep in and corrupt us?  Are we striving for popularity, for money, for equality…or are we striving for Jesus and His grace, His love, His salvation to be clearly and constantly shown not in us…but through us! 
  • In the eyes of the world, Constantine did a great thing…he brought peace, he brought stability, he brought unity…but in the eyes of the Truth…tragic.  His church that he established, not Peter, not the Lord…will end around 590 AD officially when Pope Gregory the Great reforms ecclesiastical structure and administration giving rise to what we know today as the papacy which lead us to the next church we will look at…there in Thyatira…a church that remains even until today…
Read More