Spiritual Surgery by Rick Renner

Spiritual Surgery
Rick Renner

This is an excerpt from Rick Renner’s soon-to-be-released second volume of his Light in Darkness series, No Room for Compromise: Christ’s Message to Today’s Church. This excerpt comes from Chapter Three: Jesus’ Message to the Church of Pergamum.

Spiritual Surgery Rick RennerThe “sharp sword with two edges” in Revelation 2:12 represents Christ’s ultimate authority in all matters, including those of life and death. However, there is another important insight to be gleaned from this symbolism as well.

The word “sharp” in this phrase is the Greek word oxus. Most translations of this verse render oxus as “sharp” because of its connection with Christ’s sword, and it’s true that this word can convey that meaning in certain contexts. However, in ancient Greek literature, the word oxus is rarely translated as “sharp.” Rather, it most commonly denotes the sanitizing effect of a medicinal cleanser, an astringent intended to attack infection and remove disease, or an anesthetizing wine given to patients suffering with excruciating pain. This was precisely the same kind of solution given to anesthetize and numb a patient before a painful surgical procedure. Although the chemical itself was bitter to taste, it attacked infection and disease and thus produced a healing effect.

In Revelation 2:6 and 12, we read that the doctrine of the Nicolaitans was attempting to get a foothold in the churches of Asia. Although this doctrine had been firmly resisted by the church in Ephesus (see verse 6), it appears that it was spreading quickly in the church of Pergamum like an infectious disease, along with the doctrine of Balaam (see Revelation 2:14,15), and that both false teachings posed a threat to the spiritual longevity of this congregation. The use of the word oxus in verse 12 indicates that Christ was prepared to perform a radical and potentially painful procedure to remove this spiritual infection from the Pergamene church. If those advocating the doctrine of the Nicolaitans and the doctrine of Balaam would not repent on their own, Christ’s sword was positioned to slice into that church and extricate the disease before the entire congregation became infected by it. However, if this procedure was necessary, Jesus fully intended to perform it with a merciful application of spiritual anesthetic (oxus) — in order to ease the pain and stimulate the healing process once the extraction was complete.

No matter how slowly or carefully Jesus proceeds in correcting His Church, the effects of judgment are always painful to some degree. Correction is inherently a painful process and often bitter to the taste, but Christ in His infinite mercy attempts to minimize pain. His sword is “sharp” (oxus) and doused in the anestheticof the Holy Spirit, which numbs the pain of these corrective procedures. Thus we see that the purpose of divine judgment is not to wound, but rather to cleanse, heal, and restore individuals who are being ravaged from within by a deadly spiritual infection.

A Light in Darkness 2

Christ’s surgical instrument is the two-edged sword described in Revelation 1:16 and 2:12. It is significant to note that in Revelation 1:16, this sword issues from Jesus’ mouth. This imagery symbolizes Christ’s words, which contain sanitizing powers that purge and purify. These cleansing properties are described in Ephesians 5:25-27, which says, “…Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”

Furthermore, in John 17:17, Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them [His disciples] through thy truth: thy word is truth.” The word “sanctify” in this verse simply means cleanse, which shows that Christ acknowledges the cleansing and sanctifying power of His Word. Words of correction that proceed from the mouth of Christ may be difficult to hear, but they are words of purification nonetheless. They purge, extract, cut, and sever like a sharp sword in order to remove a spiritual disease.

The word “sword” in Revelation 2:12 is rhomphaia, which denotes a very specific kind of sword. The rhomphaia was essentially a curved, often two-edged blade attached to a long pole that was ideal for thrashing, slicing, and hacking through a densely populated enemy line. This description is particularly significant in the context of this verse because it reveals that Jesus was prepared to hack and thrash through the entrenched teachers of false doctrine and errant leaders in Pergamum if they did not willingly repent. He would send His correcting Word — His sharp rhomphaia — into their midst to purge and remove them, thus making way for His work to continue unhindered. Just as the long pole of a rhomphaia allowed soldiers to attack an enemy line from a distance, the reach of Christ’s Word would allow Him to figuratively “slice away” the rebels from the local body of believers without compromising His holiness by mingling among them in the process.

At first glance, the symbolism of this sword may seem brutal, but this is not the case. Jesus loves the Church, and when He brings painful correction, He does it to help and heal, not to attack or harm. Surgery is a radical procedure, but it is often necessary to save a life. Brutality has no place in the character of Christ, and it is not found in this text. Furthermore, just as a physician delays surgery until it is absolutely necessary, we find that Christ was in no hurry to perform this potentially painful operation on the church of Pergamum. His desire was that this congregation would respond to His Word so it wouldn’t be necessary to extend His sharp sword to extricate the offending members from among them.

In His message to the church in Pergamum, Jesus clearly spelled out the available options for this congregation. They could choose to hear what He was saying, self-correct, and then allow the Holy Spirit to remove the error from their midst — which was both the best and least painful option. Or they could reject Christ’s pleading to repent and suffer the consequences. If they ultimately refused to listen, His sword would attack the error and amputate the source of the spiritual disease.

Christ gave the believers in Pergamum plenty of time to respond to His exhortation because He didn’t want to put them through an unnecessary process of painful extraction. However, if He simply ignored the error, the infection in that congregation would eventually spread into that entire body of believers. True love had to respond to this situation — and because Christ deeply loves His Church, He was willing to inflict a measure of temporary pain in order preemptively remove this dangerous spiritual cancer. Therefore, He was slowly moving in their direction in case the erring individuals chose not to change their ways and correct their error.

Many churches throughout history have experienced painful surgical procedures when the Head of the Church removed longstanding, prominent people from their midst who refused to turn away from error. Often these problematic believers were once beneficial to their local congregations — but over time, they became a breeding ground for false doctrine, excess, and destructive attitudes. Therefore, Jesus was forced to remove them from their influential positions in order to lovingly spare the rest of the congregation from spiritual infection.

Although such events are painful for any church to experience, they would be far more painful if they were done without the Holy Spirit’s anesthesia. When Christ’s rhomphaia slices into a problematic situation within a church, His blade is doused with the Spirit’s anointing. This anointing not only allows the congregation to survive the operation, but it also brings healing and extends the longevity of the church.

Two thousand years of Church history prove that Christ tells His people when they need to repent and provides ample time for them to respond to His call. However, it also reveals that if people continually disregard His call to repentance, severe correction will assuredly follow. Jesus longs for His people to self-correct when He speaks to them. But if they exhaust every opportunity He graciously gives them, He will move His feet of bronze ever so slowly until He finally enters the situation and brings correction with His sharp, two-edged sword.