(ninth article in our series on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor. Revelation 1-3)
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos, write: ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: ‘I know your works….'” (Revelation 2:12ff).
The cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos were called “royal cities,” and they competed with each other. Ephesus was the great political center, Smyrna the great commercial center, and Pergamos the great religious center.
David Jeremiah calls Pergamos “the inner city church.” Other names by which this church is called include “Adulterous Church” and “the Compromising Church.” I call it “The Scary Church.” Belonging to this church is a risky proposition!
Pergamos was famous for its library, second-largest in the ancient world, behind only the one in Alexandria, Egypt. Said to contain 200,000 rolls of parchment. And none of them on microfilm!
The name Pergamos (or Pergamum) means “Citadel,” for good reason. It was built on a hill with a breath-taking view. We’re told that the poorest people lived at the bottom of the mountain, the business district was located in the middle, and toward the top of the mountain the rich lived in their villas. (Note: Various authors say the name means other things, including pergamena, the parchment on which books in the vast library were recorded.)
Pergamos was known as the center for emperor worship for good reason. We’re told that Augustus spent his winters here when Rome grew too cold. There was a healing spa here. So, in the year AD 29, the city set up an altar to Caesar Augustus, instantly kicking into high gear what had been only a fad until then (emperor worship). This forever distinguished Pergamos. Some said while the city was inferior in trade and commerce, it was superior in history because of its connection with the state religion.
The city contained three imperial palaces: one for Asklepios, the Greek-Roman god of medicine and healing; and one each for Athena and Zeus. The Zeus altar showed him defeating snake-like giants. Some have suggested this is why Jesus said Satan’s throne was there.
The city also boasted an industry mining a white stone. (see below)
The report on this church is mixed…
“I know your works and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. You hold fast to My name and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you….”
It matters to the Lord when we are called upon to serve Him in dangerous, hostile, diffcult situations. I fear that we in America have grown accustomed to our ease and think because we have little opposition from the world around us that no believers are being persecuted for their faith and faithfulness. If so, we need to get out more! (Of course, the situation in this country shows signs of worsening.)
The headquarters for emperor worship made this, to the Lord Jesus Christ, the very throne of Satan. Jesus did not take such idolatry lightly. The Lord, you have noticed, is not as tolerant toward other religions as some of us are. Several times in these seven letters the Lord mentions the Nicolaitans (“whose deeds I also hate” in 2:6). And here He mentions the dreaded Balaamites.
Who was Antipas, this beloved martyr executed for his faithfulness? We don’t know. Some think he had been pastor of that church. According to David Jeremiah, early historians report that he was “slowly roasted to death in a bronze kettle.”
“You have those who hold the doctrine of Balaam…. You also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate” (2:14-15). About the Nicolaitans, we are clueless (other than the Lord saying twice that He hates their work!). Thankfully, the church at Ephesus resisted their toxic influence (2:6).
We know what Balaam did back in Numbers 22-25. The king of Moab gave him money to prostitute his prophetic gift and curse Israel. He came up with a plan to have Moabite women seduce Israeli men into marrying them. The resulting fornication and idolatrous feasts were blasphemous to the God of Israel. We can assume that the heresy the Lord is addressing is accomplishing the same poisonous effect.
He calls on the Pergamos church to “Repent! or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (2:16). “The sword of My mouth” refers to the Word of God, of course. But we should not dismiss this as the Lord hurling mere words at the enemy, as in “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words do not hurt me.” The worlds were created by the Word of God (Hebrews 11:3), so His Word is a power unlike any other weapon on earth.
What the leaders were doing about the false doctrines…
Nothing apparently. “You have there those who hold” those two heresies. So, clearly the leadership is allowing these poisonous weeds to grow in their garden when they should be digging them out with a vengeance!
It’s possible to have too much tolerance. A few verses later, the Lord tells the Thyatira church, “you allow that woman Jezebel” to ply her trade in the congregation of the redeemed, and the Lord of the Church is most unhappy about that!
“Only the courageous should apply.” Leaders without courage are a contradiction in terms. In deacon training, I tell them, “If you’re ever asked to be a leader of deacons but do not have courage, please decline the honor.” After all, I say to them, sometimes you will have to be a part of a SWAT team to deal with false doctrine being taught or even a pastor who has gone rogue. It’s no fun but someone has to do it, and only the courageous will be willing.
There’s a difference in courage and strong personality. Sometimes people with a strong outgoing personality mistake that for leadership ability or even the anointing of the Lord. Actually, it’s something that must be brought under the Lordship of Christ (“brought to the foot of the cross and sacrificed there!”) on a daily basis before it can be used for His purposes.
To him who overcomes….
“I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” (2:17)
Hidden manna? Manna was the “food of the angels” (Psalm 78:25), and bread from Heaven (Exodus 16:4). Clearly the Lord is promising the faithful nourishment for their spiritual health that the world does not know anything about (see John 4:32).
White stone? Here are four possibilities…
–In ancient courts, the verdict of the juries was symbolized by a black stone (guilty) or a white stone (acquittal). In Christ, there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1).
–Former slaves, now free, were given a white stone as their identification. We are free in Christ.
–A white stone given to victors in athletic events. We are more than conquerors through Him (Romans 8:37).
–A warrior returning victorious from battle carried with him a white stone.
Anne Graham Lotz writes: “No one is certain what this white stone represents, but in the Old Testament when the High Priest entered the most holy place, his breastplate was embedded with twelve stones.” Each one was engraved with the name of a tribe. The last was a white stone, or jasper, like a diamond.
A new name? It’s fascinating to think that in Heaven we will be given a new name, which only makes sense since everything else about our existence will be new. “I make all things new,” the Lord says in Revelation 21:5. I love the gospel song that goes, “There’s a new name written down in glory, and it’s mine, O yes it’s mine!”