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  • Writer's pictureSteve McAtee

Week - 5 "When Tolerance is Not a Virtue" Part 1 Revelation 2:12-17

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

Authored by Jerry Marshall

As many of you know, there is in our culture a very strong value for tolerance. As a matter of fact, this term has been used by many in our day as a means for gaining the acceptance within the ethos of our society of what would have been previously viewed as morally aberrant behavior and an ethically challenged lifestyle. This new tolerance view has assisted in getting our culture to shift its focus and value from moral responsibility to personal rights.

The classical definition of tolerance is the capacity to recognize and respect people regardless of their race, national origin or their beliefs. This classical understanding of tolerance was rooted in the belief that all people are created in the image of God and are worthy of our respect regardless of the color of their skin, national origin, or their particular religious persuasion.

In this understanding of tolerance, mutual respect was still exchanged without compromising one’s life view, core values, or one’s particular theological persuasion. And this kind of tolerance when expressed toward others is truly virtuous, for it promotes mutual respect. By now the concept of tolerance, like so many other things in our culture, has been redefined to convey the idea of the carte blanche acceptance and even the celebration of all life views, values, truth claims and moral systems being equal. The new definition of tolerance does not allow for a hierarchy of truth or moral absolutes because it is thought that these things are cultural rather than trans-cultural and universal.

In other words, this new definition of tolerance is implemented at the sacrifices of truth and moral absolutes. It is an understanding born out of the mind set of moral relativism that is dominant in our world. Those who define tolerance using this new definition, indicts anybody with a biblical view of marriage, or biblical view of the family, a biblical view of human sexuality, a biblical view of salvation, or a biblical view of God as being intolerant. A biblical life view on these issues would be perceived to be too restrictive and hostile to other perspectives and worldviews.

The only thing our culture of tolerance cannot tolerate, are people they view as being intolerant on the basis of their new definition of tolerance.

The cultural dynamic of this new view of tolerance like so many other things has found its way into the church; so you have ministers in some denominations who are falling over each other to perform same sex marriages, or who no longer hold to the exclusive Gospel of salvation in order to show themselves to be tolerant on the basis of this new understanding of tolerance.

But we will learn today that the Lord of the church does not view all life views, truth claims, or moral systems as being equals and worthy of acceptance within the body of Christ. And when the church tolerates what it should not, the Lord of the church calls upon them to repent.

The letter to the church in Pergamum highlights the importance of the church remaining biblically discerning for the sake of its doctrinal and moral purity. The pattern of this church also reminds us, that there is a kind of tolerance that can serve as the doorway to the corruption of the local church.

There are four segments to this letter.

I. His Compliment (2:12-13)

As in the previous letters, the Exalted Lord, referencing the vision recorded in chapter one, describes the origin of this letter to the church as coming from the One who has the sharp, double-edged sword. This is an obvious reference to the Word of God; especially in its capacity to judge and to serve as the final arbiter of the beliefs and conduct of the church. God’s word is the ultimate standard for discernment (1:16).

The writer of Hebrews affirms that the Word of God is an animated and active two-edged sword which serves as the final judge of the thoughts and motives of the hearts of people.

Hebrews 4:12

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joins and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

NASB- “…the thoughts and intentions of the heart”

The fact that this sword mentioned in this passage is described as being sharp and double-edged speaks of the powerful potency of God’s Word to expose and judge the innermost thoughts of the human heart – “The Word never wields a dull edge.”

Once again there is a strong correlation between the current condition of the church being addressed and the way the risen and glorified Lord Jesus Christ highlights a particular aspect of the vision of Himself given to John.

The One who holds the sharp double-edged sword says to the church in Pergamum that He is omnisciently aware of the condition in which they must exist –

Wouldn’t you agree that it would be awfully difficult for any church to exist in a city that is described by the Lord Himself as the place where Satan has his throne, the place where Satan lives? What other place in the world has such a distinction? How would you like to drive up to this city and see this unique distinctive spelled out on a road sign? Welcome to Pergamum, the home of Satan and his throne.

The word throne is a translation of the Greek word Thron-os, which literally refers to the throne seat and metaphorically to that place from which one governs and exercises his power in the accomplishment of his will and purposes. It is the place from which a ruler exercises his authority and wields his power.

Now the city of Pergamum, unlike Ephesus and Smyrna was not a port city. It was located about 15 miles inland from the Aegean Sea and about 100 miles north of Ephesus. It was the ancient capital of Asia and it exists today in Turkey as the city of Bergama.

The city itself was located on a sort of large cone-shaped hill about 1000 ft. above the surrounding valley. It was a very wealthy and important city in Asia – The 19th century famous Archaeologist, Sir William Ramsay once said of this city: “Beyond all other sites in Asia Minor it gives the traveler the impression of a royal city, the home of authority; The rocky hill on which it stands is so huge, and dominates the broad plain of Caicus River valley so proudly and boldly.”

Pergamum is said to be the place which developed parchment from treated animal skins. It was also known for its very impressive library. This library was eventually given to Cleopatra by Mark Anthony and moved to Alexandria in Egypt.

It is interesting to me that the city of Smyrna had the synagogue of Satan which was Jewish in nature – but Pergamum has the Throne of Satan which is pagan in nature.

There have been many suggestions as to the identity of this Throne of Satan. Some have suggested that it may have been a reference to one of the many temples of the pagan gods located in this city.

But the fact that Antipas was killed, whom the Lord describes as His witness and His faithful one, points to Pergamum as being the leading city for emperor worship. That is probably the best understanding of the Throne of Satan and the place where Satan lives.

According to tradition, Antipas was roasted to death inside of a brass bull during the persecution instigated by Emperor Domitian. Not for his refusal to worship pagan deities but because of his refusal to worship the Emperor.

In any event, this church remained faithful to the Lord even after this tragic death of one of their own. And no wonder, because no amount of satanic opposition or oppression can destroy genuine saving faith. Such faith comes from God to those of us who believe and are protected by the power of God.

II. His Concern (2:14-15)

(14) Although this church would not “cave in”, in the face of persecution from without, it did allow the pollution of its purity from within. Like so many churches today, there exists this strange blend of faithfulness on the one hand, and compromise on the other in terms of what was tolerated within this community of faith.

This church had the opposite problem of the Ephesian church. Instead of testing and rejecting false teachers, they seem to leave the door open to false teachers because they lacked discernment and the willingness to discipline those whose doctrine and conduct was contrary to the Word of God.

(15) The point being made here is not that all of the church became unfaithful and assimilated the teachings the Nicolaitans – the problem was the toleration of some who promoted this false teaching from within this church.

A. The Teaching of Balaam

The story of Balaam and Balak is recorded in Numbers chapters 22-24. Obviously, time will not permit us to read the entire story, but the gist of it is this: Balaam possessed the gift of prophecy and Balak the king of Moab, wanted to hire Balaam to put a curse on Israel, especially after witnessing what Israel had done to the Amorites as they traveled toward the Promised Land.

After three failed attempts on the part of Balaam to curse Israel, Balaam, still driven by the promise of financial benefits from Balak, came up with a plan wherein they would get the Israelite men to intermarry with the women of Moab. It was through that union, that they would assimilate the pagan worship and practices with those of the Israelites, which would weaken Israel spiritually and strategically; and it worked for a while (Numbers 25:1-9; see Numbers 31:1-8, 16).

Balaam’s successful strategy is called syncretism, which is the blending together of normally alien beliefs and practice into one. Sproul defines syncretism as… “the process by which aspects of one religion are assimilated into or blended with another religion. This leads to fundamental changes in both religions.”

Apparently, this is what was happening to the church in Pergamum. There were some who were tolerated in their midst that advanced the idea that blending the pagan practice of eating meat sacrificed to idols and temple prostitution were compatible with the Christian faith. Thus, they were in effect enticing the believers to sin. They held to the idea that one could attend and even participate in pagan feasts, with all of their excesses and sexual immorality, and still join the church in the worship of Jesus Christ.

Clearly, scripture teaches that the proper context for sexual relations is solely and only within the bounds of marriage and the nature of this sexual relationship is heterosexual (Matthew 19:3-6; Hebrews 13:4).

The church in Pergamum was tolerating this false teaching and the sinful practice of immorality associated with this teaching instead of confronting them and putting them out of the fellowship of this church. Like many churches in our day, they were unwilling to practice church discipline as a means of protecting the doctrinal and moral purity of the church.

B. The Teaching of the Nicolaitans

This toleration of the teaching of Balaam was manifested in the willingness to tolerate some who held to the teaching of the Nicolaitans who also taught that believers could participate in pagan orgies, all in the name of Christian liberty. The Nicolaitans believed that the grace of God somehow provided a license to sin (Titus 2:11 ff).

III. His Command (2:16)

There is here a call to repent on the part of the whole congregation and a threat of judgment against those who would promote the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans.

Tolerance is certainly a virtue when discussing people’s opinions and the need to respect them regardless of their opinions. Although tolerance is lauded in our modern culture, tolerating heretical teaching or sinful behavior in the church is not a virtue, but a sinful disregard of the moral and doctrinal standards established by the Lord of the church.

In many so-called churches today, there is this kind of attitude of enlightenment which promotes the acceptance of heretical teaching and sinful practices that undercut and eventually pollute the essential teaching and practices of the faith; but the Lord of the church would have none of that.

He called upon this church to repent! If this command was not obeyed, Christ would come against those in the church who promoted these false and sinful teachings in judgment with that sharp double-edged sword which is the Word of God.

IV. His Counsel (2:17)

A. To Those Who Hear (17a)

Once again, this mandate from the exalted Lord now addresses all churches to hear and to heed what the Lord has written to this church, and that is that the church of Jesus Christ is not to tolerate false teaching and false teachers. His church is not to blend the sinful practices of this fallen world into the teaching and conduct of the church.

B. To Those Who Overcome (17b)

As in the previous two letters, those “overcomers” refers to all believers, and the nature of the promise that the exalted Lord makes to the overcomers is threefold.

Hidden manna: Manna, as many of you know from the Old Testament was a miraculously provided sort of honey flavored bread that sustained Israel during their wilderness journey to the promise land.

A pot of manna (which by the way means “What is it”) was hidden in the Ark of the Covenant (note: Exodus 16:33-34; Hebrews 9:4). It was traditionally taught that this manna would be miraculously preserved until the coming of the Messiah, and that it would be multiplied in order to feed God’s people.

From the comments of our Lord recorded in John 6:48-51, Jesus is identified as the bread that has come down from heaven. When one partakes of this bread that has come down from heaven, they receive eternal life (John 6:47-51).

The White Stone: There is a whole lot of speculation about what this white stone means. But perhaps the best explanation is the one that comes from the Roman custom of awarding white stones to the victors in athletic contests. Their names were inscribed on the stone and served as a ticket to a special victor’s banquet.

So then, those overcomers have a promise from the exalted Lord of a guaranteed entrance to the eternal victory banquet celebration in heaven.

The New Name: The text makes it clear that the name written on the white stone is a new name known only to the one who receives it. Since the Lord does not tell us in this text what the name is and what the name means, it is best for all of us to wait until this comes to pass – otherwise we will be forever guessing and speculating.

Practical Implications

1. Our mind set in the body of Christ must be one in which we convey the acceptance of all people, but not all teachings and practices. Especially those that are in direct conflict with the Word of God.

2. The church must always have a high degree of sensitivity to any attempt at integrating foreign beliefs and practices into the heart of Biblical faith.

3. Our relationship with the world in which we must exist must be one of contact without contamination (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

4. The Lord strongly values doctrinal and moral purity in the body of Christ. The Lord is not willing to set aside biblical doctrine in the pursuit of some synthetic unity.


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