Living for the Final Reward: Revelation 2:12-17
By Thomas Schreiner
I received an email from a friend ministering in India reporting on the persecution taking place in India. The main area where persecution is taking place is in the state of Orissa in Western India. There is a history of violence against Christians in this state going back several years (this is where the Australian missionary Graham Staines was murdered along with his two sons in 1999). The latest persecution is in the district of Kandhamal, which is a very poor region and where 25% of the population is Christian. The attacks started almost two months back when a Hindu leader was allegedly murdered by Christians. The resulting violence against Christians has been brutal and unrelenting. Over 50 people have died, hundreds of churches have been destroyed, and thousands of homes have been burned to the ground. Even today about 15,000 Christians are living in camps, and they have even been told that they can not return to their villages unless they first ‘re-convert’ to Hinduism. Until very recently the local and state authorities had done little to end the violence, despite pressure from the central government and the fact that the persecution has been on the front page of the newspapers everyday for the past several weeks now.
Over the past couple months the violence against Christians has also spread to other parts of India, though this has been more sporadic. It seems that Hindu fundamentalist groups all across India are becoming increasingly bold in their attacks against Christians these days, for whatever reason. With that in mind, consider 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. 13“‘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. 14But 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. 15So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17He 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.’
1. God’s Word has Power: Revelation 2:12
The first truth we learn from this passage is that God’s word has the power to judge and the power to save, for God’s word is effective. It is sharp and two-edged. Consider the effectiveness of God’s word from the following verses:
Genesis 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
Isaiah 55:10-11 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Psalm 107:20 He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.
Jeremiah 1:12 Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.”
Jeremiah 23:29 Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?
Zechariah 1:5-6 Our fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? 6 But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers? So they repented and said, As the LORD of hosts purposed to deal with us for our ways and deeds, so has he dealt with us.”
Ezek 16:6 “And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’
From these passages in the Old Testament we discover that God’s word creates life and destroys. One of the core values of our church is expositional preaching. It is what drives our Sunday School program from nursery through adults. We believe that lives are transformed by hearing the gospel, the word of God. Faith comes from hearing! The church did not create the Bible, but God’s word created his people. We see that in Ezek 16:6. God’s word said, “live,” and we came to life! And if you have new life it is because God’s word said “live!”
2. God Knows Our Pain and Joy: Revelation 2:13a
In Revelation 2:13 God says to the church in Pergamum, “I know where you live, where Satan’s throne is.” Pergamum is where Satan’s throne is because this is where worship of the emperor took place. It is also where all kinds of other religious sects flourished. Pergamum was the first city in Asia Minor to build a temple for a Roman emperor (Augustus). It was also a well-known center for the worship of many other deities. It must have been remarkably difficult to live in that culture, for he repeats again: where Satan dwells. There was an incredible pressure to give in. Think of what it must be like to be a Christian in India where this persecution was occurring.
Nevertheless, God never abandons his own. He knows where they live. So often, when we suffer we long for someone to understand what we are going through. But no human being can fully understand. We read in Proverbs 14:10, “The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.” But the Lord understands everything we are facing. He understands who we are and the situation we are in better than we understand it or ourselves. And He loves us and cares for us and wants to show us his strength and power. As 2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” Let us pray that we will believe this great promise from God’s word.
3. God Calls Us to be Courageous: Revelation 2:13b
If God calls upon you to die for the Lord Jesus, remember it is a great privilege to die for your king, your Lord, and your Savior. When we read Revelation, let’s remember it is not a prophecy chart book. It encourages Christians to take up their cross and follow Jesus. It reminds us to pray for our brothers and sisters who are suffering.
4. God Calls Upon Us to Repent of Our Sins: Revelation 2:14-16
The church in Pergamum was doing well in standing against worship of the empire. But they were still suffering some internal problems. They were eating the sacrifices of false gods in pagan temples and were involved in sexual immorality. It would be difficult to belong to the trade guilds of the day without participating in such activities. Jesus sees a parallel between what Balaam did of old and what was happening in the church of Pergamum. First, let’s read about what happened to Israel in Balaam’s day. Remember, Balaam was summoned by Balak the king of Moab to curse Israel. But God threatened Balaam’s life and turned the curse into a blessing. Still, Balaam continued to hate Israel. Let’s read what happened to Israel in Numbers 25:1-5,
While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. 4 And the LORD said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the LORD, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.” 5 And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.”
Israel committed sexual sin and ate the sacrifices of false gods. Now see Balaam’s role in Numbers 31:16, “Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the LORD in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD.” The Nicolatians of John’s day probably advocated the same teachings as those who hold the teaching of Balaam. Interestingly, the meaning of both the word Balaam and the word Nicolatians is: to conquer the people. So, this points to the Nicolatians as those who advocate the teaching of Balaam. Some Christians in Pergamum were compromising with the culture of their day by worshiping false gods in pagan temples and by committing sexual immorality.
For most of us the temptation is more subtle. We may be compromising with the world by being obsessed with something rather than the glory of God. We could be obsessed with our bodies: are we tan enough, or muscular enough, or attractive enough? Or, we can be obsessed with sports, so our joy and sorrow is found in our performance. Or, we can be obsessed with what others think of us, so that we never say anything that would elicit a frown from someone else. Or, we may pursue our education or our job for the praise of others. What Jesus has against the church at Pergamum is their compromising spirit, so that they will remain comfortable. Let us repent of our tendency to fit in with the world and to live for our own selfish ease. May we have a renewed sense of urgency to live for the gospel in a society that is at a loss about which way to go forward.
5. God Promises Us a Great Reward: Revelation 2:17
In Revelation 2:17 we read, “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.” The Lord promises a great reward if we conquer, if we overcome. But what is the hidden manna, and the white stone, and the new name? Let’s look at these one at a time.
In many Jewish writings manna had become a symbol of end time joy and the fulfillment of God’s promises. There was a Jewish tradition that Jeremiah hid the manna and it would be revealed on the last day. Hidden manna stands for the joy of final fellowship with Christ on the last day. The white stone in the culture of the day was used for a vote where someone is acquitted, while a black stone indicated guilt. White stones were also used as a kind of entrance ticket for special occasions. So, the white stone means that those who overcome will gain entrance on the last day into the heavenly city.
The new name is what God promises Israel in Isaiah 62:1-3 where we read, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. 2 The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. 3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.” This promise given to Israel is fulfilled for all who trust in Jesus Christ for their salvation. It does not belong to those who trust in their works but to those who rely on Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. The promise of a new name is the promise of eternal life. Revelation 3:12 says, “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” And in Revelation 22:4 we read, “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” To know someone’s name was to enter into a personal relationship with someone and to share in that person’s character. The new name is likely the Lord’s name which is given to believers as a gift. The new name means that those who receive it will enter the new Jerusalem.
This is a call to all of us, whether we are believers or unbelievers. God promises us a great reward if we keep trusting in him. We don’t get this reward by working for God but by believing in him, by trusting him for the gift of eternal life. Is it worth it to suffer? Is it worth it for Christians in India and Iraq to lose their lives for the gospel? It wouldn’t be worth it if there wasn’t a great reward. Suffering is sheer futility if there isn’t something better on the other side. But there is something better. Praise the Lord!
Thomas Schreiner joined the Southern Seminary faculty in 1997 after serving 11 years on the faculty at Bethel Theological Seminary. He also taught New Testament at Azusa Pacific University. Dr. Schreiner, a Pauline scholar, is the author or editor of several books including, Romans, in the Baker Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament; Interpreting the Pauline Epistles; The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law; The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance; Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives of Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, co-edited with Bruce A. Ware; Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of I Timothy 2:9-15; Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, Magnifying God in Christ: A Summary of New Testament Theology, and Galatians.