Those saints at Pergamum have had plenty of battles to fight, and now Christ is threatening to bring on some more, unless they shape up soon. Once again their response to John’s message will determine what Christ does with them (2:16a). Is it not enough that they have to live and do ministry where “Satan’s throne is” (2:13)? In fact, the enemy Satan has taken up his residence so strongly in Pergamum that it even cost the “faithful servant, Antipas” his life. Jesus’ warning that he will come “with the sword of my mouth” (2:16b) is focused against both those who assimilate to the culture through sexual immorality and paganism and those church members who tolerate such (2:14-16).
It is more than a little significant that this imagery of God’s servant coming to bring judgment “with the sword of my mouth” comes from Isaiah 49:2 (cf. Isa. 1:20). If one is a long time friend of the writings of Luke (Acts 1:8; 13:47) or Paul (Rom. 14:11; 2 Cor. 6:2), then Isa. 49 is no stranger. It is often missed that some of the heavenly imagery most often cited from Revelation at the funerals of Christians comes from the same chapter as this fighting Messiah who comes with a sword.
The militant metaphor clearly implies that the assault will come through what is spoken or preached; the words of the mouth will certainly become the sword of the Spirit. We saints probably have not protested too much against the notion that God’s earthly agent “will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked” (Isa. 11:4). But do we ourselves ever expect to feel like we have been assaulted or worked over by a message from God, especially for our sin of swimming around carefree in the sea of pagan idolatry that surrounds us?
It is not too many verses later in this same chapter of Isaiah (49:10) where one reads the words and thoughts that guide the promises and blessing stated in Rev 7:16-7: “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.”
This seeming tension, beginning with fighting words but ending with words of consolation, should not seem so unusual to a student of Scripture. –– Being the greatest requires being the least; life only comes after dying; discipline is a sure sign of love.–– The well-known “spiritual” hymn “Get right, church, and let’s go home” captures this theological tension. If Pergamene believers yearn to “let’s go home” when they reflect upon the heavenly, idyllic scene of being led “to streams of living waters,” they had better “get right” or be ready to face the fighting words of the Messiah to get the sins of assimilation and tolerance of assimilation out of their lives. While the “teaching of Balaam” (2:14) would surely prepare a believer and his family at Pergamum to enjoy the good life and culture of Roman Pergamum with its great wealth, pagan sexual ethic, and spirit of pluralism, John’s prophetic message is the only one that confirms the promise to the faithful believer that the “Lamb will be their shepherd” (7:17).