The Seven Churches of Asia: The Church of Pergamum

Epidaurus18And to the angel of the church inPergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this: 13 ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. 15 So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth. 17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’

Pergamum was situated approximately 55 miles from Smyrna that was known for its academic and intellectual sophistication. Many of the greatest minds of the day resided in Pergamum and debate was a way of life. It was also for a long time the capital of the province of Asia.

The Lord Jesus begins His address to the church in Pergamum (V.12) in His customary manner by offering them how He perceived them. The two-edged sword proceeding out of the mouth of the Lord was a theme found in the Old Testament seen by Isaiah in 11:4; 49:2 which represents a conquering judge who executes judgment upon His enemies. (See. 1:16; 19:15)The significance of these words issued out of the mouth of the Lord Jesus should not be taken lightly. When Christ Jesus speaks He expects His people to listen and listen well.

It should be noticed in v.13 that He doesn’t say “I know your deeds” for this particular church but uses “I know where you live”.  There is a focus on locality rather than action. This is an important change in that the Lord understood that they were in an incredibly difficult area to bare a testimony to Christ and probably one of the most difficult areas of all seven churches. The KJV has “I know your deeds” however there is a very small amount of textual support for this reading.

The mention of the throne of Satan would be fitting since, as mentioned above, this was the capital of Asia Minor. This was the place where the Roman government and pagan worship was the most prominent in all of Asia Minor. It was a central locality as to the spread of the Devil’s kingdom. Pergamum was renowned for paying homage to Caesar as Lord. It is also where Asklepios, the serpent god of healing, was a primary deity worshipped in this city. The serpent became a prevalent symbol for Pergamum. Pergamum had also erected several temples to pagan gods including Zeus to which the altar looked like a throne. Sexual immorality mixed with religious worship and political power was prominent and the idea way of life. There was really no separation of church and state in this city.

The saints in Pergamum were commended by the Lord of the church for their faithfulness to Christ during a high time of persecution where the enemy came at them with a full front attack. The mention of Antipas would seem to point that he was a prominent figure in this church either by being one of the elders or simply due to his martyrdom.  What we know is that he was faithful even unto death. We are not told anything further about him and there are no historical records available to us to shed some light on his martyrdom.  There is certainly an importance placed on remembering the faithful who had given the ultimate sacrifice for the Lord Jesus and they were to mimicked.

V.13 begins by expressing that the fellowship in Pergamum tolerated a false doctrine which they should have pushed out of the church.  The false teaching they were accepting in their gathering was that of Balaam. (Numbers 22-25; 31:8, 16) In the book of Numbers, Balaam had convinced Balak to send his women to seduce the Israelites through sexual immorality and eating meat sacrificed to idols. This was exactly what was happening in Pergamum. Every trade guild had its own deity and the members were obliged to participate in the festival to that god which meant eating an animal slaughtered to the god and then participating in sexual acts with the priestesses who serve the meal.  If you didn’t then you were no longer a part of the trade guild. Those within the church participated in those religious things but argued not as religious acts but simply as social economical responsibilities.  These acts were, in their minds, empty gestures and they felt no allegiance to these gods however the Lord saw it differently. In most cases the term porneia in the book of Revelation refers to idolatry and not physical fornication.  Their tolerance gave a legitimate spirit of idolatry to them.

V16 is where we are introduced to the teaching of the Nicolaitans which was probably similar to that of Balaam.

  • Balaam = to rule of      consume the people
  • Nicolaitans = To overcome the      people

The term ουτως is used to mean “in the same manner” insinuating that the teaching was at best similar to that of Balaam.

The warning to the church of His coming with the sword hasn’t anything to do with the 2nd coming since it is addressed to “you” but something that would be sudden and soon.  There is probably a parallel between these words and that of Numbers 22:23, 31: When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand, the donkey turned off from the way and went into the field; but Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back into the way… Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground. This is the same sword that Balaam was threatened with by the angel of Jehovah which would fit well with this context.  In our day, idolatry is certainly something that is lacking in focus since we only associate it with religious symbols however Idolatry can come in different forms even in our modern times.

The idea in v.17 of overcoming in this context would probably refer to no longer tolerating this teaching in their ranks. They were to deal with this issue head on much like they had the persecution they had experienced earlier. (James 4:4) This teaching had snuck in and needed to be repudiated as soon as possible. The manna should probably be taken in contrast to “eating of things sacrificed to idols”. It could be argued that this hidden manna should be taken spiritually in regards to salvation. (See John 6:31-35) It is certainly worthwhile mentioning that it could also refer to the eating of a banquet especially in light of the marriage supper of the lamb (ch.19) this fits quite well with White stones which were used to enter into a banquet kind of like a ticket. (See Beale P. 253) The “new name” in the book of Revelation, wherever this terminology is used especially of a name written, refers to the name of God and the name of the Lord Jesus. (3:17; 14:1-4; 22:3-4). That “name” was thought of as a victory name (19:8-12) and was probably a fulfillment of Isaiah 62:2 & 65:15.

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