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Holding Fast to Jesus’ Name

Holding Fast to Jesus’ Name

 Chapter 9

Holding Fast to Jesus’ Name

PERGAMUM

1. What congregation received Jesus’ next message, and in what kind of city did those Christians live?

TRAVELING 50 miles north up the coastal road from Smyrna and then 15 miles inland through the Caicus River valley, we come to Pergamum, now called Bergama. The city was renowned for its temple of Zeus, or Jupiter. In the 1800’s, archaeologists transported the altar of that temple to Germany, where it may still be viewed, along with many statues and reliefs of pagan gods, at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. What message would the Lord Jesus send to the congregation living amid all that idolatry?

2. How does Jesus establish his identity, and what is the significance of his having ‘the two-edged sword’?

2 First, Jesus establishes his identity, saying: “And to the angel of the congregation in Pergamum write: These are the things that he says who has the sharp, long two-edged sword.” (Revelation 2:12) Jesus here repeats the description given of him at Revelation 1:16. As Judge and Executioner, he will strike down those who persecute his disciples. How comforting that assurance! Regarding judgment, however, let those within the congregation also be warned that Jehovah, acting through this “messenger of the covenant,” Jesus Christ, “will become a speedy witness” against all professing Christians who practice idolatry, immorality, lying, and dishonesty and who fail to care for the needy. (Malachi 3:1, 5; Hebrews 13:1-3) The counsel and reproof that God causes Jesus to give must be heeded!

3. What false worship took place in Pergamum, and how can it be said that “the throne of Satan” was there?

 3 Jesus now tells the congregation: “I know where you are dwelling, that is, where the throne of Satan is.” (Revelation 2:13a) Truly, those Christians were surrounded by satanic worship. In addition to the temple of Zeus, there was a shrine to Aesculapius, the god of healing. Pergamum was also renowned as a center for the cult of emperor worship. The Hebrew word translated “Satan” means “Resister,” and his “throne” represents his world rulership as divinely permitted for a season. (Job 1:6, New World Translation Reference Bible, footnote) The profusion of idolatry in Pergamum showed that Satan’s “throne” was firmly asserted in that city. How angry Satan must have felt that the Christians there did not bow to him in nationalistic worship!

4. (a) What commendation does Jesus give to the Christians in Pergamum? (b) What did the Roman legate Pliny write to Emperor Trajan with regard to the treatment of Christians? (c) Despite danger, what course did the Christians in Pergamum take?

4 Yes, “the throne of Satan” is right there in Pergamum. “And yet,” Jesus continues, “you keep on holding fast my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas, my witness, the faithful one, who was killed by your side, where Satan is dwelling.” (Revelation 2:13b) What soul-stirring commendation! No doubt the martyrdom of Antipas resulted from his refusal to go along with demonistic practices and the worship of the Roman emperor. Not long after John received this prophecy, Pliny the Younger, personal legate to Emperor Trajan of Rome, wrote Trajan and explained his procedure for handling persons accused of being Christians​—a procedure that the emperor approved. Those who denied being Christians were released when, as Pliny said, “they had repeated after me an invocation to the gods, offered incense and wine to your [Trajan’s] image . . . and, in addition, cursed Christ.” Any found to be Christians were executed. Even though faced by such danger, the Christians in Pergamum did not deny their faith. They ‘held fast to Jesus’ name’ in that they continued to honor his high position as Jehovah’s Vindicator and appointed Judge. Loyally, they followed in Jesus’ footsteps as Kingdom witnesses.

5. (a) What modern-day counterpart of the cult of emperor worship has caused severe tests for Christians in our time? (b) What help has The Watchtower provided Christians?

5 On various occasions, Jesus had made known that Satan rules this present wicked world, but because of Jesus’ integrity, Satan had no hold on him. (Matthew 4:8-11; John 14:30) In our time powerful nations, notably “the king of the north” and “the king of the south,” have struggled for world domination. (Daniel 11:40) Patriotic fervor has been whipped up, and the cult of emperor worship has a modern-day counterpart in the wave of nationalism that has swept the earth. Articles on neutrality in The Watchtower of November 1, 1939, and again of November 1, 1979, and September 1, 1986, have clearly stated the Bible’s teaching on this issue, providing guidelines for those Christians who want to walk in the name of Jehovah and conquer the world, as Jesus so courageously did.​—Micah 4:1, 3, 5; John 16:33; 17:4, 6, 26; 18:36, 37; Acts 5:29.

6. Like Antipas, how have Jehovah’s Witnesses taken a firm stand in modern times?

6 Such counsel has been urgently needed. In the face of unreasoning patriotic fervor, Jehovah’s Witnesses, both anointed ones and their companions, have had to stand firm in the faith. In the United States, hundreds of children and teachers were dismissed from schools because they did not salute the national flag, while in Germany the Witnesses were viciously persecuted for refusing to salute the swastika. As already noted, Hitler’s Nazis killed thousands of Jehovah’s loyal servants because they refused to share in such nationalistic idolatry. In the 1930’s, during Japan’s heyday of Shinto emperor worship, two pioneer ministers sowed much  Kingdom seed in Japanese-occupied Taiwan. The military rulers threw them into prison, where one of them died because of the harsh treatment. The other was later released, only to be shot in the back​—a modern-day Antipas. To this day, there are lands where worship of nationalistic symbols and exclusive devotion to the State are demanded. Many youthful Witnesses have been imprisoned, and not a few executed, because of their courageous stand as Christian neutrals. If you are a youth who faces such issues, study God’s Word daily so that you may “have faith to the preserving alive of the soul,” with everlasting life in view.​—Hebrews 10:39–11:1; Matthew 10:28-31.

7. How did youngsters in India face the issue of nationalistic worship, and with what result?

7 Youngsters in school have faced similar issues. In 1985, in the state of Kerala, India, three young children of Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to compromise their Bible-based faith, declining to sing the national anthem. They stood respectfully while others sang, but they were nonetheless expelled from school. Their father appealed this action right up to the Supreme Court of India, where the two judges decided in favor of the children, courageously stating: “Our tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy teaches tolerance; our constitution practices tolerance; let us not dilute it.” Newspaper publicity and favorable editorials resulting from this case informed the entire nation, then comprising close to one fifth of the earth’s population, that there are Christians in that land who worship the true God Jehovah and that these stand loyally by Bible principles.

Corrupting Influences

8. What censure does Jesus find it necessary to give the Christians in Pergamum?

8 Yes, the Christians in Pergamum are integrity keepers. “Nevertheless,” says Jesus, “I have a few things against you.” What have they done to deserve censure? Jesus tells us: “You have there those holding fast the teaching of Balaam, who went teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication.”​—Revelation 2:14.

9. Who was Balaam, and how did his counsel put “a stumbling block before the sons of Israel”?

9 In Moses’ day, King Balak of Moab had hired Balaam, a non-Israelite prophet who knew something about Jehovah’s ways, to curse Israel. Jehovah resisted Balaam, compelling him to pronounce blessings for the Israelites and woes for their enemies. Balaam pacified Balak’s resultant resentment by suggesting a more subtle attack: Let Moab’s women seduce Israel’s men into gross sexual immorality and idolatrous worship of the false god Baal of Peor! This tactic worked. Jehovah’s righteous anger blazed, as he sent a scourge that killed 24,000 of those Israelite fornicators​—a scourge that was stayed only when priest Phinehas took positive action to remove badness from Israel.​—Numbers 24:10, 11; 25:1-3, 6-9; 31:16.

10. What stumbling blocks have infiltrated the congregation in Pergamum, and why might those Christians have felt that God would overlook their transgressions?

 10 Now, in John’s day, are there similar stumbling blocks in Pergamum? There are! Immorality and idolatry have infiltrated the congregation. Those Christians have not heeded God’s warnings given through the apostle Paul. (1 Corinthians 10:6-11) Since they have endured persecution, perhaps they feel that Jehovah will overlook their sexual transgressions. So Jesus makes it plain that they must shun such wickedness.

11. (a) Against what should Christians be on guard, and what kind of thinking must they avoid? (b) Over the years, how many have been disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation, and mostly on what grounds?

11 Similarly today, Christians must guard against “turning the undeserved kindness of our God into an excuse for loose conduct.” (Jude 4) We are obliged to hate what is bad and to ‘pummel our bodies’ in order to pursue a course of Christian virtue. (1 Corinthians 9:27; Psalm 97:10; Romans 8:6) We should never think that zeal in God’s service and integrity under persecution give us a license to get involved in sexual misconduct. Over the years, offenders disfellowshipped from the worldwide Christian congregation, mostly on grounds of sexual immorality, have numbered into the tens of thousands. In some years there have been even more than fell in ancient Israel because of the Baal of Peor. May we keep up our guard so that we never fall into that company!​—Romans 11:20; 1 Corinthians 10:12.

12. As with servants of God in early times, what principles apply to Christians today?

12 Jesus also reprimands the Christians in Pergamum for ‘eating things sacrificed to idols.’ What would this involve? In view of Paul’s words to the Corinthians, perhaps some were abusing their Christian freedom and deliberately offending the consciences of others. More likely, though, they were taking part somehow in actual idol ceremonies. (1 Corinthians 8:4-13; 10:25-30) Faithful Christians today must show unselfish love in their exercise of Christian freedom, being careful not to stumble others. Certainly, they must avoid modern forms of idolatry, such as worshipping stars of TV, the movies, and sports, or making a god out of money, or even out of their own belly!​—Matthew 6:24; Philippians 1:9, 10; 3:17-19.

Avoid Sectarianism!

13. What words of reproof does Jesus next give the Christians in Pergamum, and why did the congregation need them?

13 Jesus further reproves the Christians in Pergamum, saying: “So you, also, have those holding fast the teaching of the sect of Nicolaus likewise.” (Revelation 2:15) Previously, Jesus has commended the Ephesians for their hatred of the deeds of this sect. But the Christians in Pergamum need counsel on keeping the congregation free from sectarianism. More firmness is needed in upholding Christian standards so that the unity for which Jesus prayed at John 17:20-23 may be preserved. It is necessary “both to exhort by the teaching that is healthful and to reprove those who contradict.”​—Titus 1:9.

14. (a) From early days, with whom has the Christian congregation had to contend, and how did the apostle Paul describe them? (b) What words of Jesus should be heeded by any who may have become inclined to follow a breakaway group?

14 From early days, the Christian congregation has had to contend with proud apostates, who by smooth, deceptive speech “cause divisions and occasions for stumbling contrary to the teaching” provided through Jehovah’s channel. (Romans 16:17, 18) The apostle Paul warned of this threat in almost all his letters. * In modern times, when Jesus has restored the true congregation to its Christian purity and unity, the danger of  sectarianism remains. Hence, any who may have become inclined to follow a breakaway group, thus forming a sect, should heed Jesus’ next words: “Therefore repent. If you do not, I am coming to you quickly, and I will war with them with the long sword of my mouth.”​—Revelation 2:16.

15. How does sectarianism get started?

15 How does sectarianism get started? Perhaps a self-styled teacher sows doubts, disputing some Bible truth (such as our being in the last days), and so a splinter group breaks off and follows him. (2 Timothy 3:1; 2 Peter 3:3, 4) Or someone criticizes the way Jehovah is having his work done and appeals to a self-sparing spirit by claiming that it is neither Scriptural nor necessary to go from house to house with the Kingdom message. Sharing in such service after the example of Jesus and his apostles would keep these ones humble; yet, they prefer to split off and take it easy, perhaps only reading the Bible occasionally as a private group. (Matthew 10:7, 11-13; Acts 5:42; 20:20, 21) Such ones concoct their own ideas about the Memorial of Jesus’ death, the Scriptural command to abstain from blood, celebration of holidays, and the use of tobacco. Moreover, they downgrade Jehovah’s name; very soon they fall right back into the permissive ways of Babylon the Great. Even worse, some are moved by Satan to turn upon and ‘beat their fellow slaves,’ their onetime brothers.​—Matthew 24:49; Acts 15:29; Revelation 17:5.

16. (a) Why should those who waver because of apostate influence be swift to repent? (b) What will happen to those who refuse to repent?

16 Any who waver because of apostate influence should be swift to heed Jesus’ call to repent! Apostate propaganda must be rejected as the poison that it is! Its basis is envy and hatred, in contrast with the righteous, chaste, and lovable truths that Jesus feeds to his congregation. (Luke 12:42; Philippians 1:15, 16; 4:8, 9) As to those who refuse to repent, the Lord Jesus does indeed “war with them with the long sword of [his] mouth.” He is sifting his people in order to preserve the unity for which he prayed during his last evening with his disciples on earth. (John 17:20-23, 26) Since apostate ones refuse the loving counsel and help offered by the stars in his right hand, Jesus judges and punishes them “with the greatest severity,” consigning them to “the darkness outside.” They are disfellowshipped, no more to act as leaven among God’s people.​—Matthew 24:48-51; 25:30; 1 Corinthians 5:6, 9, 13; Revelation 1:16.

‘Hidden Manna and a White Pebble’

17. What reward awaits anointed Christians who ‘conquer,’ and what did the Christians in Pergamum need to overcome?

17 A grand reward awaits all who heed Jesus’ counsel, given by direction of Jehovah’s  holy spirit. Listen! “Let the one who has an ear hear what the spirit says to the congregations: To him that conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white pebble, and upon the pebble a new name written which no one knows except the one receiving it.” (Revelation 2:17) Thus, the Christians in Pergamum, like the Christians in Smyrna, are encouraged to ‘conquer.’ If they are to succeed, those in Pergamum, where the throne of Satan is, must shun idolatry. They must overcome the immorality, the sectarianism, and the apostasy linked with Balak, Balaam, and the sect of Nicolaus. So doing, those anointed Christians will be invited to eat some of “the hidden manna.” What does this mean?

18, 19. (a) What was the manna that Jehovah provided for the Israelites? (b) What manna was hidden? (c) What is symbolized by the eating of the hidden manna?

18 In Moses’ day, Jehovah provided manna to sustain the Israelites during their wilderness journey. That manna was not hidden, for each morning​—except on the Sabbath—​it appeared miraculously, like a flaky hoarfrost covering the earth. It was a divine provision to keep the Israelites alive. As a memorial, Jehovah commanded Moses to keep some of this “bread” in a golden jar inside the sacred ark of the covenant “throughout [Israel’s] generations.”​—Exodus 16:14, 15, 23, 26, 33; Hebrews 9:3, 4.

19 What a fitting symbol! This manna was hidden in the Most Holy compartment of the tabernacle, where the miraculous light that hovered over the Ark’s cover symbolized the very presence of Jehovah. (Exodus 26:34) No one was permitted to penetrate that sacred place in order to eat the hidden manna. However, Jesus said that his anointed followers who conquer would eat “the hidden manna.” Like Christ before them, they get to enter, “not into a holy place made with hands, which is a copy of the reality, but into heaven itself.” (Hebrews 9:12, 24) At their resurrection, they put on incorruption and immortality​—a marvelous provision of Jehovah, symbolized by their being given the imperishable “hidden manna.” How privileged that small group of overcomers is!​—1 Corinthians 15:53-57.

20, 21. (a) What is symbolized by the giving of a white pebble to anointed Christians? (b) Since there are only 144,000 white pebbles, what hope does the great crowd entertain?

20 These also receive “a white pebble.” In Roman courts, pebbles were used in passing judgment. * A white pebble meant acquittal, whereas a black pebble meant condemnation, often to death. Jesus’ giving “a white pebble” to the Christians in Pergamum would indicate that he adjudges them innocent, pure, and clean. But Jesus’ words may have a further meaning. In Roman times, pebbles were also used like tickets to gain entry to important events. So the white pebble may indicate something very special for the conquering anointed Christian​—his being admitted to an honored place in heaven at the marriage of the Lamb. Only 144,000 such pebbles are provided.​—Revelation 14:1; 19:7-9.

21 Does this mean that you are left unconsidered if you are one of the great crowd of companion worshippers? Not at all! While not receiving the white pebble of admittance into heaven, you may, if you endure, come out of the great tribulation to have a part in the joyful work of restoring Paradise on earth. Sharing with you in this will be resurrected faithful ones from pre-Christian times and those of the other sheep who may have died more recently. Eventually, all the other redeemed dead will be favored with a resurrection to life on a paradise earth.​—Psalm 45:16; John 10:16; Revelation 7:9, 14.

22, 23. What is the significance of the name written on the pebble given to anointed Christians, and what encouragement should this provide?

22 What is the new name written on the pebble? A name is a means of identifying a person and distinguishing that one from  others. These anointed Christians receive the pebble after they have finished their earthly course as conquerors. Clearly, then, the name on the pebble has to do with their privilege of being united with Jesus in heaven​—a most intimate position of royal service to be fully appreciated and enjoyed only by those who inherit the heavenly Kingdom. Hence, it is a name, or a designation of office, “which no one knows except the one receiving it.”​—Compare Revelation 3:12.

23 What an inducement for the John class to “hear what the spirit says to the congregations” and apply it! And how this encourages their associates, the great crowd, to serve faithfully with them while they can enjoy their companionship here on earth and share with them in making known Jehovah’s Kingdom!

[Footnotes]

^ par. 20 See Acts 26:10 and footnote, New World Translation Reference Bible.

[Study Questions]

[Pictures on page 43]

These evidences of rampant pagan worship are on display in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin

[Picture on page 45]

A portion of manna was hidden in the ark of the covenant. Being given symbolic hidden manna means for conquering anointed ones that they receive immortality

[Picture on page 45]

The white pebble is for those admitted to the marriage of the Lamb