“The Sword of His Mouth” – Part 3

Written on: July 1, 2024

Article by: Paul Birston

Revelation 2:12–17

In addition to those “who hold the teaching of Balaam” we learned about in Parts 1 and 2, Jesus warns of the dangers of another type of teaching in verse 15, “’So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.’”Jesus told the Ephesians in 2:6, “‘You hate works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” Whereas Jesus and His people in Ephesus detested these works, some in Pergamum held fast to the teachings of the Nicolaitans. These are the only two appearances of this group in Scripture. We lack information about the history of this group and its teachings and practices. Jesus is clear that they are out of sync with God and thus in concert with Satan and the dangers of idolatry and immorality.

We see one of the main challenges in Pergamum and in our time is synchronism. Literally this is “with the time.” In simple terms, it is believing in Jesus while living in sync with the times of the world. These are incompatible. The world is completely out of sync with God, His character, His Word and the ethics of His kingdom. At times, Israel confessed their faith in YHWH while worshiping the idols of the land and committing immoral acts. We must stay out of sync with the world while we keep our faith and actions in sync with Jesus.

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16 Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.

As He does in five of these seven congregations, Jesus gives a strong warning and ultimatum with consequence to those among the Pergamene assembly who hold to the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans in verse 16, “‘Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.’”

Jesus told the Ephesians to remember, repent and do. He tells the idolaters and sexually immoral syncretists in Pergamum to repent or else, using a strong conditional clause. There is no other option.

As we have seen, Jesus’ word for repentance, metanoya,literally means “with mind,” to change after with thinking. We noticed that Paul taught the Ephesians in Acts 20:21 “‘of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.’” Repentance is a turning to God directed by the mind and the will. Repentance is a key step in first knowing God and establishing and then maintaining a relationship with Him. “Repent” is the first word Jesus and John the Baptist preach at the beginnings of their ministries (Matthew 3:2; 4:17) and the first response to the gospel commanded by the preaching of the gospel in Acts (2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 8:22; 11:18; 13:24; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20).

Jesus’ condition is, that if the Christians in Pergamum who need to repent, do not repent, He is coming quickly, speedily, and at this immediate time. The problems are so severe that He is ready to bring judgment upon the guilty immanently if they will not repent. He is not waiting for His coming again and the Final Judgment. Judgment for them is now! One of God’s major purposes for Revelation, His apocalypse, is to affect how we live right now.

He will make war against the unrepentant. War is a serious protracted conflict. Imagine holding fast so tightly to sin, idolatry and sexual immorality that one is willing to fight a battle with the eternal infinitely powerful Son of God and Creator of the world as He comes quickly towards you with His battle sword!

Some will object that God wouldn’t do this. We do well to remember this is exactly what happened to those of Israel who caved in, to the teachings of Balaam in Numbers 25:4–5,

The Lord said to Moses, Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.5 So Moses said to the judges of Israel, Each of you slay his men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor.’

We have learned about the differences between the “sword of the Spirit” and what Jesus calls “‘The sword of My mouth.’” The sword of the Spirit, including the words that come from Jesus in the Gospels and His inspired writers Acts and the letters. It is indeed all of Scripture, which can teach, correct, train and encourage. The sword of the Spirit teaches wisdom and judgment in the sense of ethical discernment. The sword of Jesus’ mouth, on the other hand, can pass final judgment and execute its sentence from God on individuals, groups and the world. God spoke life into existence. His Word of judgment can also bring life to an end.

As He does in all seven letters, Jesus includes promises of eternal reward. In 2:17 he says, “‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.

From Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, through the life of Israel and the New Covenant age in which we live, God has always wanted His people to listen carefully to His voice, believe in Him and do what He says. Jesus’ promises His victorious overcomers, in Pergamum, in three eternal blessings: hidden manna, a white stone, and a unique new name.

Manna is a miraculous food from God. Some was preserved and hidden in the Ark of the Covenant. It was to help His people remember His covenant, His promises and His constant care and provision for them. As John reveals in his Gospel, his letters and Revelation, God’s sustaining power is freely available to His people in Christ, the “bread of life” but it is unseen to the world. Psalm 78:5 calls manna “the bread of angels.” In God’s new heavens and new earth, His people will know fully as they are fully known and will understand the fullness of mysteries, musterion, by definition being something hidden. From Revelation 1:20 onward we see God is willing to reveal and help us understand mysteries.

White stone was valuable. As Jesus’ golden lamp-stands indicate the value of His people to Him, His gift of white stone is a further indicator of their value to God. The ancient Greek builders, as we noted when we talked about the temple of Artemis in Ephesus, would often grind white marble into a fine powder then coat their temples with it so they would glisten brightly in the sun. Jesus is the living white cornerstone of God’s living temple and the Light of the World. White stone is a symbol of purity.

Inscriptions, writing on white stones, in Pergamum, as elsewhere in the ancient world, were also an indication of importance. Inscriptions, writing, on stone could communicate royal information from kings and emperors. They could publicly proclaim honour to patrons, such as the patron of the annual procession of Artemis in Ephesus who gave his money in return for a large public inscription. Inscriptions could tell testimonial memorials of healings. They could mark boundaries and signify ownership.

Names throughout Scripture and in our time convey profound meanings. God frequently gave people new names. Abram became Abraham, “‘the father of a multitude of nations’” (Genesis 17:5). His wife Sarai became Sarah, princess. Jacob, the supplanter, became Israel, the one who strives with God, “‘for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed’(Genesis 32:28). Cephas became Peter, Saul became Paul. Wisdom says “a good name is to be more desired than great wealth” (Proverbs 22:1a).

Importantly for Jesus’ people in Pergamum and for us, the new name can mark Christians as God’s and heirs of His glory, honour and privilege, and perhaps most importantly that we are known individually to Him and that we belong to Him. As our Saviour, Head and Leader is always out front of us experiencing what He tells us, from carrying His cross, dying to self and experiencing resurrection and eternal glory. In 19:12 we learn of Jesus that He too “…has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself.” In His promise to His people in Philadelphia, the other assembly like Smyrna that received no convicting rebuke, Jesus reveals that He too will have a new name. He says in Revelation 3:12, “‘He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; 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 out of heaven from My God, and My new name.’”

May we all hold so tightly to Jesus’ name, never deny His faith and avoid the sword of His mouth so we will receive from Him the hidden manna, a white stone and our new names.

Hamilton, Ontario

(Part 1 available at https://gospelherald.org/the-sword-of-his-mouth/)

(Part 2 available at https://gospelherald.org/the-sword-of-his-mouth-revelation-212-17/)