Overcome idolatry - Revelation 2:12-17

This is a sermon by Abraham Overvoorde from the Riverside Church service on 18th February 2024.

Click here to read the bible passage. Click here to use larger text.

An audio recording of this sermon is available.

Click here to download and save for future listening

Revelation 2:12-17 – Overcoming Idolatry



A & E - Hideyoshi, a Japanese warlord who ruled over Japan in the late 1500s, commissioned a colossal statue of Buddha for a shrine in Kyoto. It took 50,000 men five years to build, but the work had scarcely been completed when the earthquake of 1596 brought the roof of the shrine crashing down and wrecked the statue. In a rage Hideyoshi shot an arrow at the fallen colossus. "I put you here at great expense," he shouted, "and you can't even look after your own temple."


Funny story, Hideyoshi had an idol in Budda and was prepared to go to great lengths for this false God.



I wonder today what are your idols? What are the things that take your time and maybe take your attention away from God? Most people know you can make a god out of money or of sex. The truth is that anything in life can serve as an idol, a God­ alternative.


What is the thing that you’re prepared to give great time and expense to? Is it your pride and how you look to others, is it your accumulation of things or your love of money, is it your sexual desires, your family of loved one God has given you, your hobby, or your thirst for power? Really there are good in all these things but the greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes


My desire today is that we’ll all see Jesus in the preaching of his word and with the help of the Holy Spirit we can ensure that in our lives, in our pain, in our struggles, he will be our first love and no other thing will be greater.





  • The Reigning King –


We heard last week about Smyrna a lovely city which was affluent and secure, battling with Ephesus to be the number 1 city in Asia. It was the first place really adopt emperor worship and treat Cesar as a God. Our city today,  Pergamum is affluent and powerful, it was scholarly with one of the largest libraries in the world with over 200,000 books.

Although we heard last week that Smyrna was the first city to adopt Emperor worship, Pergamum was absolutely the capital of it, this is where the temple was built, this is where it consumed people’s lives. You see Pergamum was in fact the capital city of Idolatry in in general. There were so many dividing loyalties and it is called the place where Satan has his throne. You could worship whichever god you liked here, as long as long you worshiped Cesar too.



So who is the reigning King? Is it Cesar who Pergamum’s citizens were expected to worship, or is it Zeus whose temple is there, like a great throne in the centre of the city. Or maybe it the god Asclepius, who’s cult used snakes and their venom to allegedly heal people. 



Talk about having all your eggs in one basket, Pergamum was probably one of the most diverse and religious places in the world at the time. A hotbed for idolatry. Can you imagine, being a Christian here? It would certainly make for a good mission field, maybe it’s where families like the Tinkers would be back then, a place full of idols that needed to hear about Jesus.



Pergamum was a bit like toy shop where you tell your child they can buy one toy up to £10, well in my experience, they want more things that you even keep up with and the thing they end up with is the first of several hundred things they have looked at anyway. The point is there were so many things to worship and idolise, it was literally where Satan lived. The only way these Christians could stand firm was to keep their eyes on the one true reigning King, staying faithful to him.


However, it is hard for Christians who were persecuted and killed for their beliefs, like Antipas. The Christians here have not renounced their faith in Jesus in the light of this persecution. We see Jesus speaking here and described as the one who has the sharp, two-edged sword. We’ve heard that language before in chapter 1 where Jesus is described as having that double edge sword coming out of his mouth. It is symbolising the Word of God and how it has ultimate authority to exercise judgement, this is opposed to the Roman officials who also had double-edged swords, but they misused their ‘right of the sword’ to persecute Christians who would not worship Cesar.

Yet Jesus says I know where you live, how encouraging. It’s not just a quick check on Find my iPhone or Life 360 to get their location. Jesus knows the wicked place they are in, he knows the pressures and struggles of this world. He knows where we live today, what comfort in the midst of world.



This can be a great encouragement to us if we tempted to be like that kid in the toy shop, where there are so are many things that can cause us to take our eyes off Jesus. Let’s keep our eyes on him today.



  • The Real Problem


The real problem in Pergamum was that the church was being tempted to tolerate teaching that was not true to the Bible.



Let me take you back to the nation of Israel in the book of Numbers 2:1-2; 31:16. The Israelites had crossed over the Dead sea and Moab lay on the east side of the sea.



The king of Moab, Balek, Israel’s enemy wanted to know how to defeat a nation who he knew had miracles accompanying them and God on their side. So he enlists the help of a man named Baalam, he was a kind of prophet for hire guy. Balaam tried to curse Israel but but God intervened and he could only bless them. So to ensure he got his pay day Balaam said that the only way to defeat them was to corrupt them from within, to entice them to participate in the Moabite feasts where they would eat food sacrificed to idols at these events where the enticing of the Moabite women and hence sexual immorality was common place.




This would lead to their downfall and ultimately God to deal with them.

Satan uses two kinds of approaches when trying to draw us from our faith, he tries to crush us through pressures like in Smyrna last week and he tries to corrupt us through impurity as we are seeing here in Pergamum.



Pergamum is tolerating this kind of teaching, teaching that would allow certain sinful practices enter in to the Christian life, it was corrupting them from within and drawing them away from God, becoming idols.


We also we hear about these Nicolaitans again who were mentioned to the Ephesus church, we don’t exactly know what they were teaching but as Pete mentioned it was probably that they were either telling people they had to do more to be saved or that sinful practices were aligned with God’s word.

The Ephesus church hated the Nicolaitans practices and they would not engage with the culture which meant they were not sharing the gospel. The Pergamum church were ill-disciplined and were over engaging with the culture and sin.



Jesus completely rejects both of these false teachings and calls them to repent or he will come in judgement and the righteous judge of men will condemn them for their sinfulness and turning away from the one true King. The slow enticing into liberalism in our culture causes churches to compromise, where one little bit of the Bible is ignored or changed to make it easier on the ears or where they make the love of inclusion greater than the love of Christ.



Where accepting un-natural relationships go against God’s truth of marriage between one man and one woman. Where men and women don’t love the glory of God and think it’s ok to satisfy themselves by scrolling through pornography, watching that movie with sex scenes in it because it’s only one or two or reading the latest lustful novel.




In The Lord of the Rings, the Dark Lord Sauron is trying to regain his Ring of Power, which corrupts anyone who tries to use it, however good his or her intentions. The Ring makes them willing to do anything to achieve them, anything at all. It turns the good thing into an absolute that overturns every other allegiance or value. The wearer of the Ring becomes increasingly enslaved and addicted to it, for an idol is something we cannot live without. We must have it, and therefore it drives us to break rules we once honoured, to harm others and even ourselves in order to get it. Idols are spiritual addictions that lead to terrible evil, in Tolkien’s novel and real life.



The truth is that anything that causes us to stray from God’s word is compromise, anything that draws our gaze away from Jesus, that we put before him is an idol, anything that we give all our attention and our affections to above him is sinful and like the one ring in Lord of the Rings, our idols are addictions that can cause great harm. Jesus says… Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.



It may sound harsh here, but the truth is we are dealing with God who is a just judge and will condemn sin. He is coming to wage war against corrupt false teachers, let us not tolerate it in our efforts to live an easy life. Don’t leave this place without getting right with him, I don’t want to see anyone reject God and end up in hell because they did not love Jesus and the great salvation he offers.



Martin Luther said this, “We easily fall into idolatry, for we are inclined to it by our nature; and coming to us by inheritance, it seems pleasant”.


The William Ullathorne said this, “Whatever a man seeks, honours, or exalts more than God, this is the god of idolatry.



What do you spend your time, effort and money on? What takes your gaze away from the one who has given us everything?



  • The Right Response


Jesus calls us to hear what the Spirit has to say to the churches. We must listen to God’s word too, in John 6:63, Jesus says the words he speaks are full of Spirit and Life”. 




So hear what I am preaching to you today, hear what others who stand in this place are preaching, and we are called to hold teachers of God’s word to account, so we teach Biblical faithfulness, so we preach Christ Crucified and don’t advocate any kind of laxness in our discipline or compromise in allowing sin. That’s a big challenge, so hopefully you’ll listen carefully but you’ll also encourage us as we do that because that is a great joy to do it, but also a heavy burden to carry.



The right response is to hear God’s word and live victoriously. We are victorious in Jesus, he is the one who conquered death and as we repent and live with him as our Saviour and King, he will give the hidden manna.





This takes us back to the Exodus and God’s provision for his people in the wilderness. You see a bit earlier in John 6 again, Jesus refers to himself as the true bread from heaven, in other words, the manna is Jesus himself and just like God’s people in the wilderness were being provided salvation, Jesus comes to bring the ultimate rescue for those in Pergamum and us too as we remail faithful to him.


I love this picture of the white stone with a new name written on it, ‘known only to him who receives it.’ That is what the victor is given, it’s not a diamond or any kind of precious jewel but it’s worth and what is signifies is so much more.


You see in this culture a white stone would be used to symbolise a number of things. In a court of law a black stone would be given to the one who was found guilty, and a white stone would be given to anyone who is acquitted, blameless, free. This symbolises our justification in Christ, we are made right in God’s sight.


Other times, white stones were used as a kind of a celebratory feat like an entrance ticket to an extra special VIP event. This white stone is our entrance ticket into God’s great banquet. His fantastic forever party, we’ll get to live in a new city, the new Jerusalem. A sparkling city where Jesus has prepared a home just for you. Where each day we’ll get to enjoy new things, see new places, meet new people, and learn amazing truths about God. But the best thing of all will be that Jesus will be there.  You see unlike Pergamum where Satan had his throne, in heaven, Jesus is sat on the throne and is the reigning king and rules over all, remember


Revelation 22: No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.

God is on the throne, not Satan!



That’s not the end of the comfort we receive from these verses because there is a name that is written on the white stone, a name known only to the one who receives it. Let me jump ahead to chapter 3:12 where we see a similar verse, where we see this language about the victorious one…



“The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.”





Who’s name? Jesus’ name. That’s what Revelation 22 says as well, his name will be on their foreheads.



That white stone that is given to the believer with the name of Jesus written on it speaks of real intimacy and the recipient knowing their Saviour in a real and personal way. It speaks of belonging, of familiarity, of friendship - or as the old hymn says ‘I am his and he is mine.’



So brothers and sisters, let’s fix our eyes on Jesus. Let’s not live for idols or be enticed by sin like the Israelites or like some in the church in Pergamum were. Let’s not be like Hideyoshi, or the people in the city of Pergamum, giving all our time and great effort to idols because it will never satisfy. Only living for Jesus as king will lead to true satisfaction.


Intro: Hideyoshi’s Colossus

Are there any idols in your life that take your time, money and affection?


  • The Reigning King


The city of Pergamum – Affluent, powerful and scholarly but…


Who is the reigning king of Pergamum? What would it be like to be a Christian in this context?

Jesus says, “I know where you live”


  • The Real Problem


Tempted to tolerate false teaching


Balek & Balaam – Corruption through impurity (Numbers 22-29)


Idolatry: The Lord of the Rings – Ring of Power


  • The Right Response


Listen to God’s word!





The one who is victorious:

  • Hidden Manna


  • White Stone


  • New Name



Questions for Life Group:

  • What are some of the idols in our society today? How much of a comfort is it knowing that Jesus knows where we live and our context?
  • In what ways can we as a church be tempted to water down the teaching of God’s word? Why must we stand firm in the truth?
  • Talk about the comfort and assurance that “the one who is victorious” will receive?






Questions for later:


Memory verse: Revelation 2v17

“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”



Copyright information: The sermon texts are copyright and are available for personal use only. Sermon media provided by Christ Church Network. If you wish to use them in other ways, please contact us for permission.