Your New Name

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Revelation 2:12-17

Are you happy with your name? How about your personality? Or your nature? You know, a new name could mean a whole new “you.”

Jesus promises to give each of his faithful followers a new name. Something about that rivets my attention. A new name, a new identity, a name that captures who you’re meant to be, and finally will become, a name that only you and Jesus will ever know. Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? But more about that later.

This third letter from the risen Lord to the churches in Asia Minor is addressed to a congregation in Pergamum:

And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword:

“I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication. So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

Revelation 2:12-17, NRSV

HE KNOWS WHERE WE LIVE

The first words of the exalted Jesus to these believers in Pergamum are most encouraging, “I know where you are living.” He had told the church in Smyrna, “I know your affliction and your poverty” (Rev. 2:9). That is, he is aware of, he feels with them, their suffering and their great need. Now it’s where his people live. He knows the situation they’re in. He’s acquainted with their neighborhood. He sees the environment in which they are struggling to live out their faith. And it’s a tough one. Jesus describes it this way: “where Satan’s throne is,” where the Evil One holds sway.

We don’t know exactly what that phrase meant, but there was much about Pergamum that seems to fit the description. It was a city, a kingdom, that had been voluntarily given over to imperial Rome in 133 b.c. It was the first city in all of Asia Minor to have a temple dedicated to Augustus and to Rome. It became the center of emperor worship in the whole region. Imagine what it was like for Christians to live in an area where Caesar was hailed as Lord and where anyone who refused to give him that tribute was seen as unpatriotic, even traitorous. Satan was surely enthroned in this cult of imperial power. In such an environment, how could the followers of a crucified Jewish Messiah hope to survive?

But there was more. On the towering heights of Pergamum (quite a climb to reach the top, even when you start from half-way up!), there were many other temples. There was a massive altar to Zeus, first among the Greek gods, celebrated in power and shamelessly immoral. Another huge one was for Apollo, another for Asclepius, another for Aphrodite, goddess of love. Pergamum was like one of those “high places” thundered against by the Old Testament prophets, a scene of degrading idolatry and gross licentiousness. It was difficult for believers in Jesus even to walk around on a hilltop like that without feeling outraged. It must have seemed to them that the powers of evil were truly enthroned above Pergamum.

But the Lord finds in these embattled believers much to praise. In spite of all the pressures on them to worship Caesar, to bow before idols, they are holding fast to the name of Jesus. Among the “gods many and lords many” of Pergamum they continue to confess Kurios ‘Insous, “Jesus is Lord.” For them, his was still the name above all names.

They refused to deny their faith in Christ even in a tempest of persecution when one of their number, Antipas, was killed. This was probably not an official government crackdown or many more would have been executed. It sounds more like a popular uprising, like mob violence, in which an outspoken Christian was trampled down as a traitor to Rome. But whatever the murder of this believer meant, it didn’t intimidate the others into renouncing Christ.

Once again, the risen Lord describes Pergamum, where Christians walk, and where Antipas died, as the place “where Satan lives.” It was a toxic area, fraught with perils for the people of God, an enemy stronghold.

TROUBLE IN THE CHURCH

But not all the dangers came from the outside. Jesus has something against the Pergamene Christians because of what he saw happening within the church. There were some there following the teaching of Balaam (an Old Testament figure) and of the Nicolaitans (a contemporary sect). It seems that a certain group was intent on bringing the mores of the surrounding world into the church. They encouraged others to eat food which had been sacrificed to idols and to practice sexual promiscuity. These were the very evils that had bedeviled God’s people for centuries – false gods and fleshly lusts. The false prophets in Pergamum claimed that such things were permissible for believers as part of their “Christian liberty.”

The Lord was grieved over that, and called for swift, decisive repentance – both from the teachers of this doctrine and from all who had tolerated it. If they did not turn back from these evils, the Lord would come to them in purging judgment.

So if you had been living in Pergamum in those days, you would have faced the palpable power of evil, both outwardly in the society and even within the Christian fellowship. For all God’s people, it was a decidedly hostile environment. How could they remain godly and true to Christ in that hellish place?

A GREAT HOPE

The Lord heartens them with a great hope. Listen again: “To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

Think with me about what is promised here. First, “the hidden manna.” Manna, of course, was the food which God had provided for his ancient people Israel when they were wandering in the wilderness. It was their sustenance for the journey, and also a sign of something still to come. The manna, Jesus taught, could not finally preserve life. “Your ancestors,” he said, “ate manna in the wilderness, and they died” (John 6:48). Then he spoke about a bread from heaven which people could eat and not die. He himself was that bread. Listen: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever” (v. 51). Jesus is the true manna. He promises to all who follow him a heavenly feast which will forever satisfy every hunger of their hearts. They can afford to spurn here the delicacies offered to idols. Theirs is a food of which the world does not know – the hidden manna.

“And,” Jesus says, “I will give a white stone.” In the ancient world, a white stone stood for acquittal in a court of law. A defendant on trial, after all the evidence had been heard, and a verdict had been passed, would receive a stone. A black stone spelled doom. The verdict was “guilty.” Punishment was soon to follow. A black stone was a grim sign of imprisonment, torture, or death.

But a white stone – what a joy that was for the accused! It meant that all charges were dismissed. It spoke of vindication, freedom, new life. Jesus gives that to his people, a stone of gleaming white. The prophet foretells it: “Though your sins be as scarlet,” he says, “they shall be as white as snow, Though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” The Apostle celebrates it, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

A white stone functioned also as a badge of membership, a ticket for admission. If you held the white stone, all doors were open to you, all privileges yours. They rolled out the red carpet for you. It was the ultimate credit card. A white stone meant that you belonged. You were accepted.

That’s the promise of Jesus, isn’t it? “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. . . I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7). The gospel is this, “There is one God, and one mediator between God and humankind, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5) Christ has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). He, crucified for us and risen, is our acceptance, our white stone.

THE NEW NAME

But now, finally, that marvelous word about the new name: “on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

In the thought-world of the Bible, a person’s name is freighted with meaning. It isn’t merely a title, or a distinguishing mark like a number. It says something about the person – his or her nature, character, destiny. So it happened at times that God would give to one of his servants at life-changing moments new names: Abram becomes Abraham – a father of many nations. Jacob the supplanter becomes Israel, striver with God. Simon son of John becomes Peter, the Rock. Joseph of Cyprus becomes Barnabas, called by his fellow believers, “son of encouragement.”

But none of us, even in our best moments, live up to our names. We’re always falling short, failing to be what we’re meant to be. Sometimes we feel within us the hint of a self struggling to appear, a better, truer self than we’ve ever been. But then the vision fades.

George McDonald, mentor of C.S. Lewis, has written much about the new name that Jesus gives. Listen: “The giving of the white stone with the new name is the communication of what God thinks about the person . . . the true name is one which expresses the character, the nature, the meaning of the person who bears it.”

But, McDonald goes on to say, we can’t receive the new name until we have become the new person. “It is only when the man has become his new name that God gives him the stone with his new name on it, for then first can he understand what his name means.”

The Lord’s name for you, friends, is the expression of his idea of you, the person he had in mind when he made you. To give the name is to seal the fulfillment, to say, in effect, “You are my son, my daughter. In you also I am well pleased.”

That name will capture what is essential about us. It will be the flowering of all that is in us to become. It will be our inmost, truest self, conformed at last to Christ. It will be the fulfillment of God’s vision for our lives.

And friends, Jesus will give it to us. He will make it reality. He will perfect his new creation in us. He will fulfill our deepest longings and give us the desire of our hearts.

And it will be a name, he says, that no one else knows. Just between us and the Lord. No publicity here, no comparisons. The Lord will say, for our hearing alone, “this, my child, is who you really are.” And we will say, in a flash of grateful recognition, “Yes, Lord, that’s my name. Thank you! That’s the person I’ve always longed to be.”