Counter-Culture: Triumphant Living in a Turbulent World
Week 3: Revelation 2:12-17
Our current series examines the powerful and encouraging messages Jesus Christ sent his church in the book of Revelation. In the first three chapters of the book, Jesus messaged seven third-generation churches about how to live God-honoring lives in a culture that disregards or opposes him. This week we’ll examine the challenges faced by faithful believers in a fallen world. How should we relate to the larger culture – embrace, isolate, or something completely different? The church in a town call Pergamum wrestled with those questions. So do we. Jesus calls us to enjoy this world without forgetting that we’re promised a better world to come. Jesus didn’t ask his Father to take believers out of the world. Rather, he prayed, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world …” (John 17:18). God transforms through the gospel, then he sends us into the surrounding culture to continue that good work.
Have you ever experienced a time when your desire to satisfy more than one of your relatives pulled you in opposite directions? Have you ever encountered a time when the demands of your employer were in competition with your commitments to family, friends, or church?
Getting into the Text:
1. (Rev 2:13) Pergamum was not a safe place for believers because of the conflict between the demands of the culture and the commands of Christ. What specific threats are identified in this passage? Does Jesus imply in this passage that looking for a less troublesome environment is a good solution? Compare with John 17:14-18. What insight do these passages give into what Jesus expects of his church as we interact with the world?
2. (Rev 2:12, 16) The double-edged sword that Jesus uses against his enemies comes from his mouth. (See also Rev 1:16 and Rev 19:11-15.) Compare this with similar language referring to the word of God in Heb 4:12-13 and Eph 6:10-18. Describe the contrast between the way God fights using his word and the ways that others would fight. How is this relevant to our own engagement with the world?
3. (Rev 2:14-15) Balaam is used as an example of those who lead God’s people astray by deception and temptation. (Compare with 2 Pet 2:15 and Jude 11.) The story of Balaam’s deception involving Midianite women is described in Numbers 25:1-18 and 31:7-16. What specific temptations/actions are identified as the problem in these passages? How are these still relevant for Christians today?
4. (Rev 2:16) Is Jesus’ command to repent aimed at the false teachers, the rest of the church, or both? What does repentance mean in this context?
5. (Rev 2:17) Manna symbolizes God’s provision and the stone with a name on it symbolizes God’s invitation to his ultimate celebration, a mark of inclusion and belonging. How are these two promises especially relevant for those in Pergamum given their circumstances? Which promise is most significant to you right now?
1. In his classic book Mere Christianity, written just after World War II, C.S. Lewis describes our world as one created and ruled by God but involved in a long civil war, a rebellion led by Satan. Christians, he says, are living as if we are in enemy-occupied territory. Jesus twice describes Pergamum as a city where Satan has his throne. How do these pictures of reality compare to how you think about the world in which we live and our place in it? In what sense are we strangers and sojourners here?
2. Holy living in our specific cultural setting requires discernment based on sound doctrine. (See Heb 5:13-14.) Jesus takes this very seriously as evidenced by his letters to the churches in Revelation. On which issues today is the church struggling to engage the surrounding culture effectively? Are there some areas where you feel unsure about what God’s word says and how to apply it? What are some next steps you could take to grow more confident in those areas?