This is the second strike which comes with a warning (v1). The first was without warning. The consequences of Pharaoh continuing in his intractability is made clear. The king is told that he and his household will be affected. There is much more of this to come before this nation of idolators are brought to their knees. It does us well here in the United Kingdom to reflect on these events for we manifest the same careless, heedless attitude to God and to his cause. We suffer the effects of what is called natural disasters. It may be storms, Tsunamis, earthquakes, even human instrumentality i.e. acts of terror. But few would venture to consider that all such may be manifestations of Divine displeasure being revealed (Romans 1:18). If not a sparrow falls to the earth without Divine decree surely none of these other events take place without the same. The words of Jesus come to mind, “I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). The previous act of judgment was simply shrugged off (7:23). The idea of supernatural phenomena in a society in the grip of atheistic thinking is pushed aside as utter nonsense. Because Egypt is a nation of idolators i.e. false religion you must not make the mistake of attributing belief in God to them. A person or people who do not believe in the God of the Bible, the true and living God, are not believers in God. They are unbelievers, they are no different to those who call themselves atheists, humanists, or secularists. But when the idea of phenomena is suppressed it surfaces otherwise as here in the West in occultism, Satanism. The result is you have major cities in the grip of the powers of darkness. Cities that once abounded with Bible believing churches. Now there are few to be found. When a man is indifferent to God Satan fills the void. This is to be seen in the entirety of Europe today. A naturalistic worldview empty of any hope, joy or peace, just emptiness, a mass of people who believe nothing. So what is filling the vacuum? Islam. But Christian indifference?
This is not a vendetta or an argument about morals. This is about who the people of God worship, there can be no compromise on this let alone indifference. Where’s the zeal for Christ and his cause? Where are the pulpits that uncompromisingly and persistently coming against the enemies of God and the gospel? Where there are any what are they met with what, criticism? Very recently there was a Pastor in Northern Ireland who was taken to court for declaring, rightly, from his own pulpit that Islam was spawned by Satan. He was met with criticism. Before the matter was thrown out court he had to resign from his church. He had some support but not what he ought to have gotten. The blood in the previous strike was a symbol of sins wages (Romans 6:23). The frogs here symbolise the work of Satan, uncleanness. One of the Egyptian goddesses was depicted as a frog with a woman’s head, they relied upon her for fertility, she was their life-giver, not God. They, in turn, would offer their children back to her. The end of false religion is death. The war against God becomes suicidal, murderous. One commentator says of all the miracles God used in the Bible this was the funniest. I find that grossly offensive! Funny? What is funny about the judgment of God? It is solemn, it is tragic. Souls of men and women blinded and hell-bound, funny? It should make us howl and weep. “Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people” (Jeremiah 9:1)!
The Teaching of Balaam – (Revelation Chapter 2 Verses 12-17)
What is meant by the doctrine of Balaam (v14a)? It was cunning counsel that led Israel to fornicate, both sexually and spiritually. “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” (Numbers 31:16). Balak sought to induce Balaam to curse Israel. But the Lord forbids Balaam to speak anything but what he himself gives him to speak. However, Balaam insists on going, because he likes what’s on offer, that’s his thing, money. He goes from one high place to another, but in vain, he cannot curse Israel because God has blessed them. So Balak tells Balaam he can’t have his reward then. But the crafty money-loving Balaam is not done, not yet. He takes Balak aside and tells him of another way. Balaam, of course, is eventually slain, by the Moabites. It was however through his crafty counsel that Israel was led into a coalition with the Moabites. Israel, in turn, were led to fornicate sexually and spiritually with the Moabites. The resultant wrath God came upon Israel. Hence, the doctrine or counsel of Balaam was that for gain, for profit, for personal aggrandisement. This is the motive behind some of the teachers in the church in Pergamum, they hold to the same principles as Balaam. It could be as a result of the economic depression that they were tempted and led into this sin. Their solution to the issue, compromise? Now with regards stumbling (v14), one may stumble and rise again, recover. But that’s not what is meant here. Balaam set a snare for Israel, a death-trap. A plague came out from the Lord that spread like wild-fire, not even Moses acted quickly enough. Thousands perished as a result of the doctrine of Balaam.
The antithesis, the spiritual separation decreed by God himself was destroyed by Israel’s coalition with Moab. One sin led to another. So too in Pergamum. The more they look to the surrounding pagan culture and become welded to it, the more sinful it becomes. A socialising, secularising church. Of course, much self-justification would have to be employed for this to develop. We have to win them for Christ. We’re supposed to love them. Both of these things are true but not by means of compromise. But more sinister is the real motive back of this, the same as that of Balaam’s. Also going deeper still is Satan’s agenda, to wipe out a faithful church, how? By infiltrating and corrupting it. But this is not all, the teaching of the Nicolaitans (v15). All this has come about as a result of poor or a failure to discipline. There are various reasons for this happening in the church. There is little fruit in pursuing the opposers of the truth, why bother? Well, if the fruit of repentance is not forthcoming, they are to be put out of the church. Another is that they tend to gain a following, which is normally what they are after. So the church thinks if we deal with them or put them out the church, others will leave to. Just let well alone, keep the peace. One more, if someone is involved in something gross, hateful to all, the church would be pretty much unanimous, deal with it, get them out. But when it comes to doctrine? Well, it’s just a matter of opinion, isn’t it? The pastor thinks one way and the heretic he thinks otherwise, and so the evil worker is left to seduce other members of the church of God. Therefore, says Christ, repent (v16)!
The Singular Effect of the Strike –(Chapter 7 Verses 14-25)
The king’s heart is further hardened, as the Lord said would be the case (v22-25). He is confirmed in his resolve to withstand the word and the will of God. It is frightening. It is even an act of judgment that the sorcerers are allowed to perform their signs and wonders. But as the king is confirmed in his obstinacy he is not of a mind to make a distinction between the work of God and the devil’s. He is, you might say, borne away by Satanic delusions. We are told this will be the case for many prior to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, “the coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore, God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12). Take no pleasure in unrighteousness, rather forsake it and turn to the Lord and his revealed truth that you might be saved. Seeing what these sorcerers perform, would this be a temptation for God’s servants? I mean as they witness this power that seems to be equal to God’s power, does this shake them? It is indeed a test. Hence, the need for us to be in our Bible’s, studying and learning the truth, growing in Christian discernment. Lest we ourselves be deceived. But take note of the callous indifference of this man Pharaoh (v23). He is stubborn, unmoved. Blinded by his pride and contempt of God. When God warns us we must not sleep through it, his desire is to awaken, arouse us, that we may pay attention to his workings, and be instructed. To reverence him. Doubtless, God’s people Israel are suffering temporarily in this situation. But it is nothing to the suffering Pharaoh is causing his own nation for which God will hold him responsible, by his callous indifference to God.
Some say that their sin is their own affair. It has nothing to do with anyone else, it only affects them. This is not true. It affects everyone around them, themselves yes, their family, friends, society and yes their nation. Ultimately, it is standing against God. This hardness exemplifies the work of Satan. But the Son of God came to destroy his work, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). It is only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ that ultimately Satan’s hold, his snare can be broken. “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:26). Alas, man would rather bow to a thousand idols than the truth of God. The reason? Pride. Egypt trusted in their gods of the Nile, but they failed them. Because what they trusted in was false. To be religious is not enough. The ground upon which you are building today is it rock or sand (Luke 6:46-49)? Or a bit of both? Like Egypt of old if you are not trusting in Christ alone you are going to need a shovel soon. Each and every act of judgment you read about in the Old Testament is a picture of the big one, the day of the Lord at the end of the age. The day of judgment when every false religion and every kingdom raised in opposition to God’s will fall (1Corinthians 15:25-28). Only God’s truth, God’s kingdom will be left standing.
In summary, Jesus Christ overcame death, made us be partakers of the righteousness of God in him at the cost of his death and resurrection. As a consequence we, God’s people have been raised to newness of life and have the pledge of a future resurrection, to eternal glory. As was his descent into humiliation, incarnation, birth, life, suffering, death and burial gradual. So to his ascent to glory was gradual also, resurrection, ascension, enthronement, heavenly advocacy and appointed to judge the world (Acts 17:31). Of course deniers from the start, there has always been (1Corinthians 15:12). This is why the apostle Paul here gathers so many witnesses for the resurrection, but he doesn’t waste words on such. You may ask why? Conducting his defence before king Agrippa Paul asks all those gathered, “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead” (Acts 26:8)? They, Paul says, should have been expecting it, why? Because, “to this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22-23). He takes them to the revelation of God in Scripture. He doesn’t go about trying to prove it, again why? Because their response would simply be, O, what do you know, dead men do rise from the dead! It would not bring them to submission to God in Christ. If men will not believe the Scriptures they will not believe at all, “he said to him, “if they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Luke 16:31). Who is the determiner of what is possible and what is impossible? Our sovereign Lord and God is. Whether it be the creation in six days, a donkey speaking or the dead being raised to live. It is not proof that men need but submission to the self-authenticating, authoritative, word of God. We really need to get out of this penchant for proving everything. Let men learn from nature, the dead kernel of grain germinates and brings forth new life (John 12:24). This is both an image of the new birth and the resurrection of the dead. In everything earthly there is a reflection of things heavenly, it was all designed, made that way, purposely. Alas, all men are born blind, and, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
1. The Prevailing Over Death: The biblical fact of the resurrection is not a matter for argument, but faith. I think we need to learn from this and pay less attention to the deniers, and pay more attention to the confessors in churches today. Those I mean who confess the resurrection, accept the fact but who know nothing of its power. There are way too many today. So this stands as a warning also, assenting to the fact alone is not enough. A man is no better for confessing if he or she has not experienced the power, the blessing, the profit of Christ’s resurrection. There is a great need, as there was in John Wesley’s early days, for a recovery of vital, experimental Christianity. Bringing men to a solid, inward, vital religion, nothing else will do.
a) Death is Overcome: v54f This is mighty is it not, it was certainly in the days of the early church unheard of. I mean death is a fearful thing, “for what can a man give in return for his soul” (Mark 8:37)? Ask someone who is dying, it’s a certainty and ask them this question. What will you give if you could be given another ten or twenty years? What happiness there would be in the world if death could be got rid of? But here is the first profit for the believer, death has been overcome. There was the battle, the struggle first of course, on the cross, in death itself, and then the grave. Then for three days, silence. Hope is gone, “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened” (Luke 24:21). But no, hope is not dead, death is. Death must hold its hands up and admit that he, Jesus Christ, is mightier. Enoch and Elijah cheated death, they skipped it, they did not overcome it. But Jesus Christ did. Now death is dead.
b) Defeated By Christ: v22 Death reigned from Adam to Christ, it has mowed down generation after generation, sparing none. But now, with a hint of mockery? “Death is swallowed up invictory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)? Does Scripture really mean this? Yes! But you say death has not decreased over the last two thousand years? Death for the believer is no longer death, it’s just a shadow, there is nothing there. When I was a little boy back in Glasgow I had an awful fear of the dark. My older sister, and minder, when I had to go down into the dark cellar to fetch coal for the fire, who take my hand and say, “look, Jimmy, it’s just a shadow, there’s nothing there.” This is death for the believer in Christ, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). But instead of my sister holding my hand, the Lord will do that. Death for the believer is sleep (1Thessalonians 4:13-14). Contrast died and sleep. Jesus died so that we don’t, we sleep.
c) Christ”s Dying: v3b He really died and we really sleep. He experienced death fully, he suffered its pangs, he wrestled through it in its fullest extent. He cannot say he fell asleep, he died. Only believers in him can say that. But asleep is not just a word designed to put a spin of death, make it more palatable, a soothing expression, it is the reality. The terror has been removed from the king of terrors, the grievous has been extracted. To die is to go down, to sleep is to go up. One goes to sleep with the expectation of awakening refreshed, renewed. The resurrection is the link between the descent of the fearful dark night and the new dawn. We close our eyes and awake to an eternal day. No more evenings, no more dark nights, the sinners garments are cast off forever and we are adorned with the white robes and golden crowns. This is our first profit from the resurrection of Christ, death has been overcome.
2. The Participation in His Righteousness:
After the victory, the booty is shared. Christ has purchased, he won the fight over sin and death and hell, righteousness is ours. He comes distributing his righteousness amongst all his believing people. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This great and precious treasure is ours. A right relationship with and standing before God. Faultless. Now we know that was not our case, our status before. O yes, man was first made upright, created in righteousness but we all became guilty in Adam and stood guilty before the Judge. But now?
a) No Condemnation: v56f So this the second profit that is ours in Christ’s resurrection? In his dying, he gained this righteousness for us, not for himself. His conviction is our acquittal. He was convicted before the ecclesiastical court, the Sanhedrin. He was convicted before the state’s legal system, guilty, worthy of the death. A criminal before church, state and God, condemned. But in our place, he took what was due to us, his death is our life. So the booty he distributes amongst us is this perfect righteousness, granted, credited to us, we are just as though we had never sinned before God. We are as if we had accomplished the perfect obedience he accomplished. This gift is a very comforting gift (Psalm 68:18). Without this we would yet be devoid of any righteousness of our own, condemned as rebels before a holy and righteous God.
b) Made Partakers: v56f The emphasis here is upon the word made, “that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2Corinthians 5:21 AV). There is a warning to spectator here, you cannot remain such in this the great drama of God’s redemption. You must be sure to possess, to be a partaker of Christ’s righteousness. Otherwise, you remain a stranger to God his covenant of grace and his people (Ephesians 2:19). The resurrection of Christ is necessary to make us partakers of his righteousness. We are so wretched, stubbornly sinful we would never obtain or attain to this righteousness ourselves.
c) Made Not Become: v56f We cannot make ourselves right with God, this is God’s doing, absolutely, “because of him (God) you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). The best meal in the world is of no good if we don’t eat. The purest water will not quench our thirst if we do not drink. But this feast has been prepared at Calvary, all is finished, we are told to come to the wedding feast and dine. But we don’t, we have to be fetched. Thus, he arose mighty from the grave, and he comes and he calls effectually. He gives us the hunger. He gives us the thirst. And so we eat and drink. He gives us the ability to receive his gifts, so he not only gives but applies what he acquired in his death. So each resurrection day, Sabbath, Lord’s Day, the living Christ comes laden with his treasures, calling by the preaching of his word. He gives the gifts of repentance and faith by which we partake of the blessings of his death and resurrection. But his righteousness profits, it only benefits us inasmuch as we embrace him with a believing heart. “But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth, one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 10:8-11).
3. The Pledge of Our Resurrection: It is according to the measure that the old man is mortified, that is the measure that the new life germinates in us. The old life, will, and its desires must needs be crucified. Our having been raised up supposes we have been laid in the grave, died with Christ. And now the new, the heavenly life has begun. The old has gone, it has the stench of a corpse hanging over it. This is the odour that hangs over humanity without Christ. No, not all are as sinful as they could be, for under God’s control, his common grace, a full expression of wickedness is often held back. But remove that? Death and destruction roar and rage like mad. But for the believer…
a) New Principle: v20f When an aeroplane comes into land or a ship to harbour the engines are thrown into reverse thrust, the machine is slowed down and begins to move in a different direction. As a result of this new principle of life planted in the believer, this is also the case. We are thrown into reverse thrust, now we are going in God’s direction instead of our old sinful way. This is more dramatic in some than for others, more noticeable, like the demoniac in the Gadarenes for instance. For others, the beginnings are often small, hardly noticeable to others. But now we have new principles of life, we act differently, we speak differently. We have been raised not resurrected. Like Lazarus (John 11), we speak of him being resurrected, he wasn’t. He was raised to life to die again. Resurrection is a totally different dimension altogether. But the new life is there, the gospel fruit begins to appear, and with it, a renewed battle each day. We are the branches, Christ is the vine, he lives in us, expresses his life through in us, and through us. Thus, we have a…..
b) Sure Hope:v20f Following our justification comes sanctification and glorification. The resurrection of the soul begins in this life, the resurrection of the body comes after. Here we are awakened from our sleep in sin, afterwards, we will be awoken from our sleep in the grave. Our bodies are sown in corruption, raised in incorruption. For his, Christ’s resurrection is our sure pledge, as Christ our Mediator arose, he being the head, we the body, we will follow him. And so we also have…
c) Sure Pledge: v52f When the trumpet is sounded we shall be raised. Alas for some this will be a resurrection to horror, it is not a blessing to all. This profit of which we speak is the believer’s in Christ. Our mortal, weak, infirm bodies will be changed in the twinkling of an eye. My grey hair will be gone, my memory renewed to perfection. I can recall events from my childhood days sixty-five years ago in Glasgow, but today, I move from one room to another and ask myself why did I come in here? The walking sticks and zimmer frames will be a thing of the past. Not infirmities, no growth or development, no decline in years, no invalids, no marriages. We will have the same bodies but they will be different, resurrection bodies, glorified bodies. So if you wanted to reduce the answer to our question, what profit is there for us, believers, in the resurrection of Christ, to three words. Justification, sanctification and glorification.
But as long as we are looking for earthly gain and glory, we are showing that we have no real desire for this profit. Those who do have this desire choose Jesus and those who choose Jesus also choose to live before they die. Because has been raised, their sins are forgiven. “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:16-17). Because Christ has been raised Scripture has been fulfilled, “that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4). We can trust the word of God in its entirety. Because Christ has been raised every other kingdom that opposes his will fall and crumble at his feet. “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him” (1 Corinthians 15:24-27). Rome, Mecca, the kingdom of the Anti-Christ will all give way to the risen Christ. Therefore fear not little flock. Because Christ has been raised, our final enemy death is destroyed, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). Because Christ has been raised we can face danger, even death for the sake of the gospel, “Why are we in danger every hour? I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day” (1 Corinthians 15:30-31)! Because Christ has been raised, we can overcome the condemning power of the law, “the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57).
By faith I say, not rational assent. Faith, I mean, that is produced by a divine, supernatural illapse from heaven. The faith which is the immediate gift of God, a work of omnipotence, by the third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit through the gospel. Therefore, once again, because Christ has been raised our preaching is not in vain, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14-15). Christ has been raised, alive for evermore and reigning supremely at God’s right hand. This is why Jesus Christ is Lord and why you ought to bow the knee to him as your Saviour and Lord.
The Slackness in Discipline –(Revelation Chapter 2 Verses 12-17)
The church at Pergamum had withstood the onslaught of the roaring lion, she wouldn’t be moved. So now Satan comes with a different tactic, he comes smiling. This is a fearful time for the church. Can she escape, flee from this? No, she must stand, continue to confess her Lord. They could have just kept their peace and left the situation as it was. There would have been peace for a time, doubtless. Satan would’ve been more than happy with that. Just be positive, they don’t have to be condemning the paganism. You don’t have to preach against it. You don’t have to preach against the errors of Rome, of Islam or the pervasive statism of our day, just keep the peace, don’t be rocking the boat. Peace at any price, well on my watch anyway says the Pastor. Lift up the banner of Christ yes, positively, yes. But does that not include claiming for him every inch of this whole world and universe for him? Does that not include declaring that every kingdom raised against his rule will fall, will be utterly destroyed (1Corinthians 15:24-27)? Light and darkness cannot live together, for a short while perhaps, but it is impossible that that continue. They are a confessing church and a faithful confessing church will always be a persecuted church. Antipas was known as a faithful witness (13). We don’t know who he is but he is known to the Lord that’s for sure. The reference to my faith (v13) refers to the doctrine of Christ to which Antipas was faithful unto death. He suffered for declaring that Jesus Christ alone was Lord (Philippians 2:11). For declaring that Ceasar, Zeus, the serpent god of healing, Asclepius, were no gods at all and that salvation was found in Christ and Christ alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Antipas, his name means against all, he stood against all the powers of evil. Now, tolerance is the in word both in and out of the church. The pious phrase is bandied about, don’t judge, don’t condemn, don’t disturb the peace, love is all that matters. This is Pergamum.
It’s the slackness in the discipline of the church that’s the issue here (v14-15). How would you feel if your home was intruded? I recall a friend who detected that someone was trying to get into his home. He was not well pleased. But he took measures to ensure the said intruder did not get in. I recall a man who here in the United Kingdom knifed a man to death for breaking into his home. He was duly arrested for this, what the outcome was I forget. But in the United States of America, I’m told that if someone breaks into your home you have the right to shoot and kill that evil person. Does that give you an inclination as to how Jesus Christ feels when someone is seeking to or has, broken into his home, the church? John’s gospel gives you a clue (John 2:13-17). A house of trade? The doctrine of Balaam. Jesus Christ reacts the same way when Christians and churches are seduced by the world. And who in turn bring the principles and practices and music of the world into the church. It’s no harm they claim, we’re just having fun. Fun? Fun? In the presence of Jesus Christ, the mighty, holy Son of God, fun? The flame dies, goes out in the soul of the church. Then there is the same hardness and cynicism that you find outside in the world, except it’s no longer outside, it has been brought in. Well, says Jesus Christ to the angel, i.e., the ministry team, of the church in Pergamum, if you won’t deal with this, I will.
There is yet another significance to these plagues. All who witness these events will know that God is God, the sovereign Lord (v17-18). For the Egyptians, experimentally but not submissively, not penitently. Behold, I am the Lord, I will strike the Nile. In the presence of their Pharaoh whom they deem to be in the place of God. And their river Nile, yet another god they worshipped and venerated, God will turn it to blood. Signifying death, which is sin’s wages (Romans 6:23). Their river which was a life-sustaining source to them will spread death instead, demonstrating that the river is no god at all, just an inanimate object. As the stroke is fulfilled (v19-21), it is an obvious manifestation of the presence of God, or ought to be at least. What also should be obvious to Egypt is that their religion is false. Their religion was expressed in worshipping the creature (Romans 1:25). The sun and the Nile were their chief gods which they saw as a source of life and fertility. It is against this their false, idolatrous religion that God strikes. He turns these objects into sources of death and disease. When a nation’s religion is false it equals death. The river itself was a source of good, of wealth, defence, fishing, irrigation all this and more. Egypt was dependent upon the Nile. But this is the end of taking a good thing that God gives you and turning it into an idol. Beware. Their priests, sorcerers were shown to be powerless also (v20). Now whether you attribute their power to simply slight-of-hand or occult power, their power is under God’s. They are defeated. All they can do is replicate what has been done, produce more blood. Just what Egypt needs? Note also when Pharaoh wants the plague removed, who does he ask? This climaxes with the third plague, the sorcerers cannot copy it, God puts an end to their perceived power. So their gods are defeated.
But don’t leave this without considering the practical outworking of this for ordinary, common folk. The pathetic suffering involved. The chain reaction. The fish begin to die, they decompose and the river is putrefied. How long would it have been before the food chain broke down? The river was a means of transportation, that would cease immediately, no imports or exports. The river was also an irrigation system for crops. The entirety of Egypt’s crop produce spoil in this? Alas, nobody at court, not Pharaoh himself, their prophets, their priests or their sorcerers moves to correct this obdurate folly and its effect on the people. All this is a clear sign of reprobation, an entire nation under the judgment of God. It confounds their wisdom and no nation gloried more in its wisdom than ancient Egypt. (1Corinthians (1:19-20). There is not an ounce of sound intelligence to be found amongst them, “they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:21-23). The calamity is appalling and it will get worse, a lot worse. That which they once worshipped they turn away from in utter loathing. This is the wrath of God, “for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20). Just like you and I they knew of the existence of the true and living God, but they chose to suppress that truth-knowledge, using the idolatrous religion to do so. Wrath and indignation are all that is left for such a people. When God judges a nation it is not pretty.
This is the third of the seven churches, Pergamum. It could be described as post-martyr, it has stood the test and not denied the faith (v13). The church here has rest from her enemies. That though is always a very dangerous time, after you have stood, or won a battle, we tend to let our guard down, to relax. Christ depicts himself here as the one who wields the sharp two-edged sword (v12). He designates himself as is appropriate to the situation at a given time in the church. Remember these letters go to the church universal and all of these situations are that which she will face at different times in different degrees through to the end of the age. Jesus Christ stands in the midst of the church, always. He stands in the midst of the church at Pergamum as a threatening judge with a two-edged sword, she has an angry Jesus in her midst. There are weakness and compromise, a worldly church is what she has become. There was a time when she stood firm but that is in the past, history. That was in the days of Antipas when he was martyred for his faith in Jesus (v13). You recall the great victory of Elijah the prophet on Mount Carmel when all the prophets of Baal were slaughtered. After that victory what do you find Elijah doing? Running for his life from the evil Jezebel. Another lesson we learn from this is you cannot live on past glory. We are told by the Lord Jesus we must take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). Because like Pergamum you took up the cross last week, last year doesn’t mean you will take it up today, or tomorrow. We cannot live on what the saints have done in the past. We love to bask in the glory of our church history heroes, how they faced the stake, the sword and the gallows. But that was them, that was then. What about now, today, are bearing the cross, that is identifying with the crucified and risen, Redeemer? Are you fighting his fight and for his cause? Or maybe as so many fighting a cause of your own, your own pet theological shibboleths. But will you continue to stand in the midst of the apostasy and growing wickedness in our land today? Or when the terror of Islam comes to our down as it surely must, will you stand faithfully with Jesus then?
Satan hasn’t gone away from Pergamum, he has simply changed his tactics. Now instead of as a roaring lion coming to devour he comes as an angel of light to seduce them. He seeks to choke the life-stream of the church, adding evil practices to it. So Jesus is not happy with this church he is ready to judge them. The sharp devouring two-edged sword it does hang over our nation today, doubtless, but judgment the apostle tell us always begins with the church (1Peter 4:17). The sword has two edges it inspires and encourages the faithful it is no threat to them. But to those who are unfaithful, it is a very serious threat. This is a correction who see only a loving, compassionate Christ. I say only, he is all that and more. One of the marks of the early New Testament church was one of fear (Acts 5:11). That is all but gone in this generation. He stands in the midst of this church with a sharp, very sharp two-edged sword. The problem with Pergamum? She tolerates evil men and discipline is slack. Once she made a faithful stance, even here, where Satan has his throne, where he has a stronghold. It’s the centre of Roman rule and idolatrous pagan religion. There was a temple built there, the first of its kind in Asia Minor. It was built for and to worship Augustus Ceasar. The cult of the Emperor it was called. Of course, refusal to do so was tantamount to treason. Then there was the serpent god of healing, the altar of Zeus. Pergamum was a stronghold of Satan, there he held sway, and these were some of the tools he used. We must always remember Satan is a spirit=being, he needs flesh and blood people to do his will and work his purposes in the world. Statism, worship of the state and pagan religion are just some of his tactics to rule completely. But there is one tiny little barricade in his way that he must demolish in order to get his way. It’s the church of Jesus Christ in Pergamum. It’s a fight to the end beloved, put on the full armour of God, be alert, on your guard, you have an enemy, the devil, “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).