I want to begin this morning by reading a passage from Ephesians 6. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”
One of the reasons today’s church has become weak and powerless is because we have accepted the belief that Satan is not real and that he cannot hurt us. Let me ask you something: do you believe that Satan has taken a holiday and is no longer at work in the world? Is Satan still alive and well and living on planet earth?
As Jesus evaluates the 7 churches in Revelation one of the things that becomes very obvious is that Satan is attacking believers, and he is attacking the churches. To the church in Smyrna Jesus writes that there is a synagogue of Satan in their city, and that those from the synagogue of Satan are attacking the Christ-followers. When these people became Christ-followers they placed themselves squarely in Satan’s crosshairs. They became Satan’s primary targets.
When you become a Christ-follower you become one of Satan’s primary targets. That’s why Paul says to the Ephesians, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” And the reason Paul says to put on the “full armor of God” is because Satan has more than one plan of attack.
When we consider the church at Pergamum in Revelation 2, we see a church who has fallen prey to Satan’s schemes. (Read Rev. 2:12-17)
This church was enduring intense persecution, much like the church at Smyrna. At Smyrna there was a synagogue of Satan. Jesus sees something else in Pergamum: “I know where you live—where Satan has his throne.”
Satan is closer than you think. The majority of us go through our days not thinking or considering what Satan may be up to. That’s foolish. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” I believe that the majority of Christ-followers are unaware of Satan’s schemes, are unprepared for his attacks, and are rarely self-controlled and alert for what our enemy is doing.”
Jesus tells the church in Pergamum, “You’re living right where Satan has his throne. He is closer than you think.” If there is anything that I can pass along to you today that will help you in your Christian walk it is to remind you that Satan is closer than you think. Satan is our enemy and he will use employ every strategy at his disposal to try and hurt you and move you away from God.
One of Satan’s primary strategies is to crush you. The church in Pergamum was being persecuted. One of their own had been martyred right there in their own city: Antipas. In spite of the suffering and persecution they remained true to Jesus’ name. They did not deny their faith. While Smyrna was a city of wealth, Pergamum was a city of power. Pergamum had the first temple dedicated to Caesar and was a rabid promoter of the imperial cult. They were literally living where Satan had his throne. And through intense persecution from the Romans Satan tried to crush the believers, but they took their stand and remained loyal.
In many parts of the world today this strategy is being used to crush the church. Some cannot take the pressure and renounce their faith. Thankfully, many do not. Do not be unaware of Satan’s strategy to crush you with suffering and hardship. The pressure we endure may not be from persecution, but it may come in other forms. But if Satan cannot crush us through persecution and hardships, he has other strategies.
His second strategy is to deceive you. Jesus had something against the church at Pergamum. They had allowed in their fellowship those who followed the teaching of the Nicolaitans. The Nicolaitans were first introduced to us in the letter to the Ephesus church. Jesus commended them because they hated the teaching of the Nicolaitans just as much as Jesus did. Here they are again affecting the church in Pergamum. Jesus compares them to Balaam.
Balaam was a prophet of God, but was hired by a pagan king to curse the nation of Israel as they were on their way to Canaan. Balaam was willing to curse the Israelites for money. God intervened and each time Balaam tried to curse the Israelites it came out as a blessing instead. Balaam was unable to defeat Israel by cursing them, but he told Balak what strategy to employ to defeat Israel.
Balak followed Balaam’s advice and had the women of Moab invite the men of Israel to their feasts, which were nothing more than sacrifices to their gods. The men of Israel fell right into the trap. They committed physical and spiritual adultery. They had sexual relations with the Moabite women at their religious feasts, and they defiled themselves by worshipping other gods.
Balaam couldn’t curse them or crush them, but he could deceive them. The Nicolaitans were encouraging the Pergamum church to compromise with the world. Make friends with the enemy, accept the culture of the world, worship God, but live like the world.
The teaching of Balaam and the Nicolaitans is alive and well in our world today. The church is weak and powerless today because we are attempting to make friends with the world. We are willing to compromise and worship at the world’s altars and idols. Rather than keeping ourselves separated and sanctified we have allowed ourselves to be deceived by the great deceiver and become polluted by the god of this world.
There is a way out. Jesus very clearly shows the church what they need to do. In v. 16 he says, “Repent of your sin.” Unless we repent we will remain in Satan’s trap. The church is in need of Christ-followers with the discernment to see the schemes of the devil, and to point out it out to the rest of us. The church is in need of Christ-followers with the courage and humility to call us to repentance. The church is in need of Christ-followers who will put on the full armor of God and stand against every strategy that Satan will use against us. It’s time for the church to take it’s stand against Satan. Jesus says to all the churches, “To him who overcomes I will give…” We can be overcomers.